Navigating Healthcare – Patient Safety and Personal Healthcare Management

Health Insurance Reform – It’s Not a Bumper to Bumper Warranty

We have some Healthcare reform in the US but we are still challenged with a system that is failing to deliver results. This piece recently: America Ranks No. 1 for Over-Priced, Inefficient Health Care featured the chart from the Commonwealth fund

That ranks the US last in a group of 11 industrialized countries.

As he puts it:

There is one way America is clearly exceptional:  we have a healthcare system that is dramatically more expensive than the rest of the industrialized world, but it doesn’t manage to make us any healthier.While  the Affordable Care Act attempts to address access it does little to address the cost of the system and the inefficiencies. This does not require a reduction in premiums it needs to address the costs built in to the system that we are all paying for in on form or another

Dr Hans Duvefelt wrote this piece on the healthcare blog: A Swedish Country Doctor’s Proposal for Health Insurance Reform that draws on his personal experience in “socialized medicine, student health, cash-only practices and government-sponsored rural health clinic working for an underserved, underinsured rural population.”

His focus is as a primary care physician but most would agree this is one of the most challenging areas for reform with the shortage in clinicians and low reimbursement rates that is driving doctors out and certainly no encouraging our new generating of clinicians to dive into this essential area.

His main proposals center on basic services that are covered by a flat rate for populations

  • Have the insurance company provide a flat rate in the $500/year range to patients’ freely chosen Primary Care Provider, similar to membership fees in Direct Care Medical Practices.
  • Provide a prepaid card for basic healthcare, free from billing expenses and administration.

but importantly changing the responsibility and feedback on the cost from a central purchasing authority (the government for example) to the user themselves.

  • Unused balances can be rolled over to the following years, letting patients “save” money to cover copays for future elective procedures.

And offers a pathway to specialty care with some appropriate oversight and appriroate levels of reimbursement.

  • Keep prior authorizations for big-ticket items, both testing and procedures, if necessary for the health of the system.
  • Keep specialty care fee-for-service.

 These are clever suggestions and would do much to encourage the patient engagement that will be, as Leonard Kish stated

Patient Engagement is the  Blockbuster drug of the century

He rightly points out that the current health “insurance” products are often poorly named – given that insurance that pays and copiers to identify diseases with screening but then stops short of paying to treat conditions and diseases when they are found through that screening. But most of all Insurance should be user driven and priorities and decision left in the hands of the individual and their clinician and not relegated to others who sit in offices emoted from clinical practice and focused on fiscal drivers not on care and quality fo life

Health insurance is not like anything else we call insurance; all other insurance products cover the unexpected and not the expected. Most people never collect on their homeowners’ insurance, and most people never total their car. Health insurance, on the other hand, is expected by many to be like a bumper-to-bumper warranty that insulates us from every misfortune or inconvenience by covering everything from the smallest and most mundane to the most catastrophic or esoteric.

His point about setting of priorities is important – no matter how you cut it there is no unlimited pot of money o resources to treat everything and everybody. These are difficult conversation and ripe for abuse by those with their own agenda’s through fear mongering and use of emotive terms like “Death Panels”.

None of this aspect of reform is simple but it needs to be addressed and included.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) may not be perfect but they have started this process of addressing the challenge of allocating resources in an open manner. They developed the the quality-adjusted life years measurement (QALY) out of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). There has been criticism and push back as there will always be but the concept and methodology use is not limited to the UK. While imperfect as Laozi (c 604 bc – c 531 bc) stated: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

There is lots of detail in this piece and I would encourage you to go over and read it

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We Must All be Engaged in the Design, Delivery, and Re-imagination of Healthcare

Previously posted on HITConsultant

On a recent flight, I had my headphones on and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”

began to play.

It’s a song I have heard hundreds of times over the years, but I was struck by the difference listening to it with headphones made. With no distractions, I noticed the bass line, in time with the percussion, provides the perfect offset to Mick Jagger’s distinctively strained voice. It was a completely different experience than hearing the track play in the background of a movie or while at a restaurant. Being fully-immersed and listening only to that song allowed me to pick out and appreciate subtle details I had never noticed previously. It’s no surprise that things sound differently when you’re able to concentrate your full attention on what is being said, but as I was sitting there, I became acutely aware of the function headphones serve—they enable the wearer to listen, blocking out distractions.

That is exactly what we are seeking in healthcare and it has proven to be difficult to achieve – in part because of pace, complexity of care, and technology. For centuries, physicians have listened to their patients and relied on their senses— their powers of observation— and matched these insights with clinical experience to heal. Clinicians need to be able to listen and concentrate on what their patient is telling them and noticing those distinctive symptoms he or she may be exhibiting. As Sir William Osler

famously advised:

“Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.”

Being able to dedicate your undivided attention to anything these days is a rarity, but in healthcare, it is a crucial but frequently missing element. The last thing you want to feel when you are at your most vulnerable is that your physician is multi-tasking. Patient satisfaction scores will suffer, but more concerning are the clinical risks and missed opportunities of distracted physicians.

Distracted clinicians are the result of what Dr. Steven Stack of the American Medical Association refers to as an “over-designed” health IT system.” In a recent discussion with industry leaders, he explained that we seem to have become victims of our own ambition. We have devised structures that don’t work for everyone and policies that create very real, very expensive consequences for those who don’t abide. And this has left physicians stretched too thin, trying to do more in less time without any direct impact on improving their ability to care for their patients.

So, maybe it’s time we scale back. Dr. John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and co-chair of the nation HIT Standards Committee, noted that while we are in this period of transition and growth, we need to focus on parsimony, or determining the smallest number of moving parts that need to be adjusted in order to create seamlessness in HIT. Quite simply put, while the cart has been upset, there is no reason to trample all over the apples.

The MIT Technology Review recently interviewed Sarah Lewis, a doctoral candidate at Yale, about her recent book that explores how different unlikely circumstances or paths, like failure, have often spurred innovation. Citing creative geniuses such as Cezanne and Beethoven to Nobel laureates, she defines failure as the gap between where one is and where one would like to be. Confronting this gap, she asserts, is important because it “lets people go deep with their failure while letting it be an entrepreneurial endeavor if they like, or an innovative discovery.” We, in health IT, are currently at that gap where there is a disparity between where we are and where we would like to be.

The recent ICD-10 delay has provided the perfect opportunity for us to find Halamka’s parsimony, leveraging solutions that work for physicians and creating consistency and impact wherever possible. Like medicine itself, there will be no one perfect solution for every physician or organization, but we need to begin finding things that work – from re-skinning EHRs with easy to use tools like single sign-on or mobility to systems that respond to voice, touch or swipe to improve the experience for clinicians and patients. We need to start thinking of health IT more like headphones, coming in different styles to suit preferences, but providing the same function of reducing distraction and enabling the clinician to focus on the inflections in their patients’ voices, and truly hearing what is being said.

As Mick Jagger poignantly remarked, “The past is a great place and I don’t want to erase it … but I don’t want to be its prisoner, either.” We have accomplished a lot, but it is time to learn from the past and break free from what isn’t working. I think we can get health IT satisfaction (despite what the song says), but to do so we must all be engaged in the design, delivery, and re-imagination of healthcare and its intersection with technology. This truly is the art of medicine and we are all virtuosos contributing to the next masterpiece of healthcare.

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