Navigating Healthcare – Patient Safety and Personal Healthcare Management

Healthcare – Its Personal

The Great Healthcare Debate

Healthcare is personal and front and center in our minds not just because we all intersect with it in some way but it employs 1 in 9 people in the United States. With the current state of our media and political system with polarized debates, he said she said talking heads on the media, the echo chamber of social media and the 24/7/365 barrage of news and fake news it can be hard to see a pathway out of the quagmire we find ourselves in. But we all want to see that path. I just don’t believe that people get up in the morning wondering how they can decimate the healthcare services and the lives of their fellow human beings. We don’t get up out of bed every day wondering how best to punish people who may have made bad choices in their lives or who find themselves in unfortunate positions though geography (the zip code effect) or genetics. I know I don’t and I don’t think you do either.

Yet the stream of coverage and what we read, see and hear online and sometimes even in person suggests that this is the case. I can’t answer the reasons why but I’ve read a string of articles and reporting that variably suggests its always been like this to this is the fault – and then insert the name of your favorite whipping horse. Ultimately it does not matter – unless you believe that people wake up with malintent every morning it’s better to start with an understanding of the problem and then thinking about possible solutions and how we can apply them quickly and effectively

So Let’s Start with some of the fundamental problems in our healthcare system – to be clear we are not alone in the world. I have seen and heard from many others in different countries who are all struggling to varying degrees and with different focus and priorities the same issues. If I had to boil it down to one issue I would say

Limited Resources and the Prioritization of the Allocation of those resources

It’s a familiar equation to anyone trying to balance their budget or allocate their time. If you are like me you may find there are just not enough hours in the day for the task list you created in the morning and wishing either to stretch time (time dilation) or perhaps be able to turn time back with the Wizarding world’s  Time Turner. There are two basic options available – reduce the inputs or reduce the outputs. In the vernacular of budgeting – either spend less or make more money. Both may be viable and depend on personal circumstance but undoubtedly there will be easier and harder solutions. Ultimately we all have to make our own personal decisions – so one solution or size does not fit all.

Photo from jenga.com

It would be foolish to suggest that this covers all the complexity of the healthcare system as we all know healthcare is incredibly complex and always reminds me of the game Jenga.

 

This does not cover everything and there are many other elements in play but it is certainly a start and one that individuals and organizations can focus on to start to make incremental improvements.

As one Chinese proverb states:

Every journey starts with a single step

And turning that step into a habit is one of the best ways of setting a path to improvement.

Demand Side of Healthcare

This is the access and use of the system and the burden does not just fall on the individual. But it does start there as it is out personal choices to access and use available services that creates demand. Historically in the United States, the cost and payment of this access have been disassociated from the individual. When you visit the doctor or pharmacy you don’t pay the actual cost of the service – your insurance carrier does. Ultimately we do all pay for this through our insurance premiums and for many the contributions made on our behalf by our employer that is part of the compensation we receive for working for them but at the point of care, we are disconnected from the price and cost of a service.

Patient Accessing Care

To a varying degree individuals have some form of co-pay – a personal cost that is defined by the insurance coverage and is shifting increasingly to the individual under the new insurance plans called High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP). One of the intentions of this policy is to make the individual responsible for this cost in an attempt to influence behavior and decrease unnecessary access. But this comes with the inevitable unintended consequences with cost avoidance strategies by individuals who knowing they will be held responsible for the full cost of a visit, drug or test may elect to decline to have or use the service.

 

I’d count myself in that crowd having been on a HDHP plan for several years. I can point to several decision where I have declined tests, treatment and access to care because of the nature of my personal responsibility – I have an associated health savings account (HSA) which should cover the capped amount of cost for the year. But the crippling nature of potential costs associated with a catastrophic medical problem – a serious accident, cancer, heart attack are all so terrifying that I see the HSA as a buffer against the potential of medical insolvency that might result especially when you consider the impact on a family with one source of income that would be impacted by any medical disability.

 

Insurers Paying for Care

Insurers want to reduce their costs – and even the non-profits have to make money so are focused on the bottom line if they want to continue to serve their customers and population. So they look to find ways to reduce the unnecessary access to care imposing barriers and limits. There was a gate keeper concept that requires a referral letter from a primary care physician before you can access s specialist – that service by the way costing you additional fees to see the primary care provider. There are formulary requirements that exclude certain drugs from coverage and attempts to limit access to specific doctors and networks to strengthen the buying and negotiation power of the payor with the providers in the system.

 

Providers Delivering Care

On the provider side the clinal professionals delivering the care all arrived at this point having selected the expensive assault course of education to train and qualify to be able to deliver care. For doctors, it’s persistence and endurance that win out. The barriers to entry are high and tied to economics. They all have the same desire to help patients – but economics and the burden of the educational system can overwhelm just about anyone and they have bills to pay both for their education but also the infrastructure they must use to be able to both deliver care but also bill and be paid for delivering. They want to reduce their overhead and spend as much of their time and resources on the delivery of care but to survive in the system must allocate significant amounts of money to non-clinal systems and activities. Estimates of these costs suggest that at least 30% of the healthcare costs we as a society pay in the United States are tied to administrative and billing functions. The data’s still lagging but projections for 2016 put the total healthcare bill at $3.207 Trillion (thats $3,207,000,000,000 or more than $10,000 per person in the USA)

Healthcare Administrative Cost: $962 Billion Dollars

$962,100,000,000

 

Reconciling the Differences

Credit Imgur

The difference of opinion often centers on what is unnecessary – in the eyes of the patient they need and want the care they think is appropriate to them. Some of this is fed by a constant stream of information that even for an well informed clinically experienced specialist can be difficult to comprehend and make informed decision. We want wants best for our personal health and the health of our family and loved ones. But sometimes what the patient may think is best may not be – a great example is the steady stream of requests for antibiotics for treatments of minor infections. Not every sore throat or cough demands the use of antibiotics and in fact, in many cases, their use is damaging as we face a future where this line of defense is increasingly being overrun with smartly adaptive bacteria who develop resistance with terrifying speed.

 

Payors Perspectives

The same is true of payor and insurers – they face a rising tide of costs associated with care that is increasingly complicated and expensive and struggle to balance their budget.Faced with one patient who’s costs for treatment might be hundreds of thousands of dollars or more so they limit or decline this in favor of treating multiple other patients where their cost of treatment is thousands of dollars or less? The utopian answer is treat everyone but we they like each of us do not have unlimited budget or resources and have to make hard decisions. And the problem with healthcare fundedfor the population but access individually.

 

Healthcare is funded for the population but access individually

 

Clinicians Perspectives

Clinicians also have a view on what’s appropriate – and the vast majority act with total integrity (I would like to say all of them but sadly there are occasional stories of clinicians and healthcare professionals who game the system – sometimes with simple prescription based fraud or other times over treatment of stenting in cardiac cases). Sadly for a profession that is so dependent on trust the rare cases of fraud and abuse unfairly tar everyone with the same brush. As I said above – I believe everyone gets up in the morning with the best intentions and this is true of the clinal professionals who each and every day battle a system to deliver the care and compassion they set out to deliver when they took the path into healthcare. They want to say no to unnecessary treatment but the personal pressures applied and the underlying compassion and the innate drive that was the foundation of why they entered the profession can influence them to order and prescribe because they are unable to explain the lack of value and offering this option makes their patient happier and comfortable.

So how do we reconcile these differing opinions

 

Economics and Making Choices

Which path is best

There’s a sad fact in the US healthcare system – we do not talk about cost effectiveness. Its not just a taboo subject but also a forbidden topic, As Aaron Carroll (The Incidental Economist) noted in his piece Forbidden Topic in Health Policy Debate: Cost Effectiveness we avoid talking about cost-effectiveness in the United States.

Some think that discussing cost effectiveness puts us on the slippery slope to rationing, or even “death panels.”

As he points out – if there was a pill available that could extend your life by one day but costs a billion dollars, most would accept this as an unacceptable trade off and decline it. But that’ extreme – as you decrease the cost where does that line become blurred?

what’s to stop us from deciding that spending a couple hundred thousand dollars to extend grandma’s life for a year isn’t worth it either?

More troubling is the shackles that have been placed on the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute – who were founded but explicitly prohibited it from funding any cost-effectiveness research at all! How can an outcomes institute assess healthcare if cost effectiveness is not part of the equation?

“We don’t consider cost effectiveness to be an outcome of direct importance to patients.”

In fact, we in the United States are so averse to the idea of cost effectiveness that when the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the body specifically set up to do comparative effectiveness research, was founded, the law explicitly prohibited it from funding any cost-effectiveness research at all. As it says on its website,

PCORI was established to fund research that can help patients and those who care for them make better-informed decisions about the healthcare choices they face every day, guided by those who will use that information.

 

Quality-Adjusted Life Years

As he points out there is actually a fairly robust strategy and measure that can offer insights into the value of measuring health outcomes – QALY’s (Quality-Adjusted Life Years) which the National Health Service has been using fro some time in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that provides guidance, advice, quality standards and information services for health, public health and social care. Also contains resources to help maximise use of evidence and guidance. There is no doubt they are imperfect but very little in life is perfect and perfection should not be a barrier to progress. The use of this is not a sole determinant – but offers some measure of science and data to making what are incredibly difficult tdecisions

So in the current debate of what health system we need to put in place I would advocate the inclusion of cost effectiveness as one of the factors that must be considered and the QALY and perhaps even the Incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) as part of this difficult discussion.

I’m all about incremental changes and while including a cost effectiveness as a measure may seem a bigger stretch I feel it is a smaller step in the right direction. Can we achieve this? Is there a better incremental step we can take to resolve the challenges of our healthcare system? Leave your thoughts below.

Healthcare – Its Personal was originally published on Dr Nick – The Incrementalist

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Wise Up to Hidden Healthcare Fees

It’s perverse but the healthcare system in the United States is making you sick. Don’t believe me – then maybe you have a high-end plan with no deductible and full access and no ceiling. But there are not many of those and for the rest of us, I imagine your interaction with the system is as frustrating and stressful as mine – probably on a spectrum depending on your plan (High deductible plan or the more traditional Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and co-payments.

 

Fee for Service Healthcare

The cynical view might be this is deliberate since our system remains firmly stuck in a fee for service model – healthcare providers are paid to do something…anything. From its original development, this made sense – our capacity to treat conditions was limited and the cost of these treatments in line with our ability to pay for them. But along this journey science and in particular the incredible progress of medical research got involved and we have been on a veritable tear of progress and innovation, or as the Exponential Medicine group would say Exponential progress.

Original from Foundation Teaching Economics

There is a continued push towards a more robust and accountable model – Accountable Care Organizations have been set up and these models of total care and coverage and responsibility tested for effectiveness and economic effect. There is lots of disagreement on the success or failure of ACO’s and it is fair to say that the jury is still out. But intuitively we know that taking care of the complete picture and being responsible for the total care of patients health is better for the patient and for outcomes. I have seen it time and again where individual mandates or focus induce unwanted/unexpected/unintended consequences elsewhere in the whole system.

Discharging Patients Early – Unintended Consequences

Discharging patients from the hospital early typically results in better outcomes. Early programs that incentivized this behavior and rewarded programs that got patients out of the hospital early were deemed successful but failed to take account of the downstream impact of readmissions resulting from too early a discharge and subsequent complications for that patient that could have been avoided.

Fixing a Broken System

The recent book “American Sickness” by Dr Elisabeth Rosenthal “An American Sickness” takes on the existing system and is filled with strategies for patients faced with mounting medical bills, an intractable and aggressive healthcare system that is unflinching in seeking payment and by many estimates the leading cause of personal financial crisis and insolvency. While the figures remain under debate my own personal reality living with a High Deductible Plan that has found me

  • Self-treating Fractures
  • Becoming my own compounding pharmacy and
  • Spending months and many hours fighting multiple bills

 

In the case of one screening procedure, that under the current regulations are fully covered but thanks to either mistaken coding or perhaps even deliberate coding, remains outstanding and in two of the three cases, the billing organizations despite my attempts at regular communications, response and protests were handed over to debt collection agencies.

So I am with Dr. Rosenthal and “breaking down the monolithic business”.

The situation is far worse than we think, and it has become like that much more recently than we realize. Hospitals, which are managed by business executives, behave like predatory lenders, hounding patients and seizing their homes. Research charities are in bed with big pharmaceutical companies, which surreptitiously profit from the donations made by working people. Americans are dying from routine medical conditions when affordable and straightforward solutions exist.

Employer Sponsored Insurance

Central to the challenges is the arcane concept that you access to healthcare and health insurance should be linked to your employment. As one friend of mine commented, “There are some who believe this is a deliberate policy on the part of employers to lock in employees to jobs they may not want but have to take because they need the health insurance and can’t afford the challenge or cost of changing (health insurance”. I don’t quite go down that rabbit hole and think Dan Munro’s explanation in his great book “Casino Healthcare

that detailed the history linked to the war effort and the need to find other incentives after they introduced: “An Act to further the national defense and security by checking speculative and excessive price rises, price dislocations, and inflationary tendencies, and for other purposes.” (EPCA) in 1942 – wages were frozen to stop inflation but as is so often the case left the door open for unintended consequences that found employers looking for ways to compete for a shortage of labor. And as they say what follows is history – Employer Sponsored Insurance (ESI) was born.

History of the NHS

It is interesting to note that the NHS model was also a product of the war that found the wounded servicemen and women in need of healthcare. A need that was serviced by the “Emergency Hospital Service” (aka Emergency Medical Service) that provided a model and experience to the country that became the model for what is now the NHS established in 1946.

But whatever the history, reasons, and background – this remains a millstone around American’s. It can add to job reductions and General Motors have stated that their employee healthcare costs add $1,500 – 2,000 to the price of every car they produce. It makes us less competitive internationally and crippling many with overheads that add to the cost of goods sold. It also puts employers at the table on healthcare decision making for their employers that present potential conflicts of interest given their need to service their share holders and remain profitable.

Finding a pathway to resolving this big intractable healthcare mess is going to take some major re-thinking and compromise on all sides. In the meantime, I suggest focusing on individual incremental approaches locally.

 

Incremental Steps to Coping With Healthcare

The list of 6 Questions to ask your doctor before your appointment and 5 questions to ask before you stay in a hospital are excellent resources from Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, that are featured in the book and on the website. So in the spirit of the incremental approach, I offer up two credit card size templates containing the

  • 5 Questions to Ask During Your Hospital Stay
  • 6 Questions to Ask Before Every Doctor’s Appointment

 

Formatted in a handy Avery 5371 White Business Card Template that can be printed – double sided and put in your wallet: Questions When Using Healthcare Avery Template 5371

Do you have any tips or suggestions in dealing with the healthcare system? Disagree with any of this – feel free to leave your comments or reach out.

Wise Up to Hidden Healthcare Fees was originally published on Dr Nick – The Incrementalist

Population Health is a Team Sport

Designing an Effective Population Health Program

Population health is the topic du jour for the health care industry, and I’m glad to see us all focusing on this important issue. But there is a lot of confusion as to what, exactly, constitutes population health. Or more correctly, an effective population health system.

A good population health program consists of four major components:

  1. Identification and stratification of risk within a discrete population
  2. Dissemination of information to physicians, care coordinators or others designated to contact patients and arrange follow up.
  3. Appropriate follow up to further understand the risks for individual patients, identify gaps in care and design a care plan to help the patient improve his/her health status.
  4. Ongoing care individualized to each patient’s need. That might be coaching, medication reminders, telehealth visits, remote monitoring or other strategies customized to each person’s condition and socio-economic environment.

The key to making a population health program effective is ensuring that all four components are in place and working well. If there is a break anywhere in the chain, you lose the opportunity to improve patients’ health. The best analytics in the world are useless if the results do not quickly and easily pass into the hands of the people who can take action. And very good follow up and care planning can be ineffective if the ongoing support is lacking.

Friction

One of the biggest barriers to effective population health improvement is friction in the flow of information between health plans, hospitals/health systems and physicians. This has been a constant source of difficulty for the entire healthcare ecosystem for years, but with the new focus on population health and improving outcomes, it has reached a new level of urgency.

African heart disease is much lower
African heart disease is much lower

In traditional African societies coronary artery disease is virtually nonexistent, but in the migrant population to Western societies the rates are similar to those of the local population indicating that the primary determinants of these diseases are lifestyle and diet and not genetic. These indicators are a key asset in changing our healthcare system and addressing the current 75% of our healthcare spending that is focused on patients with chronic conditions which have their roots in lifestyle choices and behaviors. To address these challenges we need a way to better target our limited healthcare resources more cost effectively for maximum effect and identification and targeting with a robust population health system is no longer a nice to have – it’s a must.

To help patients improve their health, not just react to a situation that has already developed, requires information and insights. But in a survey of primary care physicians by The Commonwealth Fund, only 31% of U.S. physicians said they are notified when a patient is discharged from the hospital or seen in an emergency department. This is important information for primary care physicians, and is not that difficult to fix. All you need is standard protocol in place and a mechanism for notification. It could be a standard action that happens at every discharge. It could even be automated. If the retail industry can automatically send an email to confirm an order, hospitals and health systems should be able to send an automatic email to a physician with discharge information. But hospitals and health system executives haven’t made it a priority, so it doesn’t get fixed.

Get to know your team mates

This is just one example of the inward-looking approach that still permeates much of healthcare. Hospitals, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and other care providers pay attention to what happens within their organizations, but they neglect to look beyond. Organizations act as though the care they give is the only care patients receive. They forget that there are a multitude of other professionals who are also responsible for care and need to know what’s going on. We don’t just have data silos in healthcare, we have attitudinal silos that make data transfer and exchange an afterthought at best.

It’s like each care provider is a golfer alone on the course and the patient is the ball. As long as that lone golfer moves the ball forward, it’s all good.

The reality is that healthcare is a team sport, more like football (or soccer as it is called in the US) than golf. If you can’t make an accurate, effective pass to your team mates, you lose the ball.

Population Health a Team Sport
Team Sport

But patients aren’t balls, they’re human beings. When one member of the healthcare team fails to inform the rest of the team, a human being gets lost in the confusion with poor outcomes and frustrated patients.

In population health improvement, you have to play on a team, because it takes a wide variety of skills to make this all happen. And you have to be aware of all the other players on the team. The successful population programs include everyone who is part of the community – not just the healthcare system and resources but all aspects of the community. Dell Medical School held an inaugural event to crowd-source their population health strategy, coming up with areas of focus and metrics for success that included input from a wide range of stake holders. This is the kind of team based approach to population health that will help the whole community win – getting people healthy and staying healthy.

 

It starts with leadership

Most healthcare organizations are at least partly aware of the problem and are making efforts to solve it. But it is a complex problem, involving, as I noted above, attitudes as well as technology. To make data flow freely to those who need it, you have to have effective technology to integrate, manage and analyze the multitude of data streams in healthcare, and you also need leadership who prioritize data sharing over the competitive interests of conflicting health delivery systems. With free flowing information routed to all the interested parties including the oft forgotten but all important patient, in understandable and actionable form that includes the insights and management options we can successfully identify those at risk and develop appropriate interventions. By including the patient and personal care team that typically includes multiple family members we capitalize on underutilized resources that are both essential and highly effective at improving the trajectory for the patient’s outcome.

 

Custom Communication and Targeting

Traditional systems and methods have targeted the existing clinical systems and communications which, while suited to some, fail to adapt to the changing world of technology and the fact that people no longer go online – they live online. This doesn’t just apply to patients and their families; it’s increasingly true for clinicians. It can be as simple as a text based reminder for medication, timed to coincide with the patients personal schedule and preferences or as complex as an automated avatar with augmented intelligence that engages with the patient to assess their status and determine the need for additional intervention or personal follow up by the care team.

 

Each year HealthIT week raises awareness of technology in healthcare, bringing together innovators and key healthcare leaders who are diligently working together to make the best use of information technology to improve the healthcare systems and ultimately our each and everyone’s individual health. This past year we lost one of the titans whose personal journey of uncoordinated care she shared in her attempt to correct the system – Jess Jacobs (#UnicornJess). It might be too late for Jess but let this be the year we move past the individual approach in healthcare driven by underlying economics and focus on the team sport of population health and democratize access to the best possible care and outcomes to the widest swathe of people…worldwide.

 

This post originally appeared here

Population Health is a Team Sport was originally published on DrNic1

Value-based care Making proprietary PACS and basic VNAs extinct

Posted in Health Care Costs, Health Reform, quality, Quality of Care, radiology, Technology by drnic on March 11, 2016

The move toward value-based reimbursement is shaking up traditional healthcare in all kinds of ways, as connectivity and cost-effectiveness become critical attributes in care delivery. Proprietary PACS, used in image acquisition systems, are starting to feel the squeeze from this dual pressure, as vendor-neutral archives take over many of their functions.

ExpectBetter

A recent study by Markets and Markets predicts a PACS-less Radiology world by 2018. Donald Dennison, Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) Board director-at-large and the chair of the American College of Radiology (ACR) Connect Committee told attendees at the opening session for SIIM 2015, there are three external market forces that are trickling down into the imaging informatics world and leading to the demise of PACS: Money, EMR adoption and consolidation.

While PACS have traditionally been the workhorses of diagnostic imaging, providing workflows, viewing and archiving, their use of proprietary formats severely limited the ability of an organization to freely share images and created unnecessary and expensive complications in managing storage. They are a prime example of the episodic-care model, in which care delivery processes were created without regard to the broader needs of a patient. With the move toward value-based care, this episodic approach is rapidly being replaced by a patient-centric model, and proprietary silos are rapidly and rightly going the way of the dinosaur. In this case, value-based payments are the meteor strike that will so radically change the environment that these beasts are no longer equipped for survival.

Vendor-neutral archives (VNA), which can gather all the images into a standardized, patient-centered storage model, makes image sharing much easier. And VNAs have added on workflow and viewing capabilities that make PACS mostly superfluous. While having a VNA to unify all your diagnostic imaging is a good idea, it also has limitations. A simple VNA is more evolved than a PACS, but without more evolution and growth, it too will be unable to survive in the changed environment created by value-based payments. Fortunately, the VNA model is more adaptable than most PACS and is rapidly evolving to be far more than a DICOM-image repository.

An important part of value-based care is the ability to unify all data associated with a patient and deliver the right parts of that data where and when they are needed. That requires not only DICOM images, but also associated clinical data and documents and non-DICOM documentary images (such photos to document wound care). And all of that data must be integrated with the patient’s electronic health record. Finally, a layer of analytics is needed to ensure that relevant data can be extracted as needed.

Beyond individual patients, we have an opportunity to learn more about the progression of diseases if we can use this unified data in our predictive and population health analytics. In an article in Clinical Innovation+Technology, radiologists Eliot Siegel, MD and Gary Wendt, MD noted that this larger, unified data may soon offer unique value for diagnostic purposes and new clinical insights.

 

The article quotes Dr. Wendt (Dr. Wendt is the vice chair of informatics, professor of radiology, and enterprise director of medical imaging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) saying

“Today when people are talking about big data and data mining, they are still talking about text. They’re not talking about actually mining content out of images. I think that’s probably the next generation, actually processing image data, not just text data. Ultimately, the clinical impact of such next-generation image archiving would come from the creation of more relevant reports [..based on data mining…]. This would be especially beneficial in oncology, where treatments can be modified based on tumor progression, and comparisons to similar cohorts of patients at an oncologist’s fingertips would be useful,”

As the VNA grows beyond image archiving, maybe a new name will be needed. The pre-release statement for a new IDC report (due out in December 2015) suggests a new description: Application Independent Clinical Archive. But I still like Dell’s name for our version of this archive (I work for Dell): Unified Clinical Archive.

By whatever name you call it, we are moving toward a truly patient-centered archive that will offer far more value than PACS or the simpler versions of VNAs. That’s good for all of us.

This article originally appeared on Autnminnie

 

Value-based care Making proprietary PACS and basic VNAs extinct was originally published on Dr Nick van Terheyden, MD

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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

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

Thanksgiving, Decency and End of Life – Be Thankful you had the conversation now #health

Patients deserve the same standard and car that doctors receive when they need treatment. But as I have said before (Doctors Die Differently and more recently Treatment Creep in Medicine – sucking Decency out of Patients) we remain challenged especially when it comes to dying.

This piece by Dan Gorenstein, How Doctors Die: Showing Others the Way touched on these issues in a moving a thoughtful way.

Dr. Elizabeth D. McKinley’s battled breast cancer for 17 years but this past spring discovered the cancer had spread to her liver, lungs and brain. Her choice was to undergo more treatment that would have potentially debilitating and mind altering effects on her or change course, accept death and work on getting the best out of what was left of her life…as she put it

..time with her husband, a radiologist, and their two college-age children, and another summer to soak her feet in the Atlantic Ocean…“a little more time being me and not being somebody else.” 

And some of her fight was with her own family – the non-medical members

clinging to the promise of medicine as limitless

And the medical members of her family (her husband is a radiologist)

looking at her disease as doctors, who know the limits of medicine

Its not a difference in the effects of disease and death but rather an advantage of knowledge and information that lead to truly informed decisions “doctors have control over their quality of life before they die and this sadly is control that eludes most other members of society” and it would appear especially try here in the USA. More than half of deaths take place in hospital and not at home surrounded by people we love which is the way most say they want to “go”.

So if you do nothing else this Thanksgiving – take the time to talk about the subject with the people you love and create and advance directive or living will. In many respects no better way to be thankful than to set out what is important and let everyone know, now when you are fit and healthy.

Wishing you all a very happy family and friend fill Thanksgiving

Treatment Creep in Medicine – sucking Decency out of Patients

This recent post on the Atlantic: How CPR Became So Popular reminded me of a piece I wrote some time back – Doctors Die Differently. As I said then:

Its not that doctors don’t want to die, its just that they knwo they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits, importantly they have talked about this with their families as they want to be sure that no heroic measures will be used during their last moments in this reality

And the chart demonstrating the big discrepancy between what doctors want in life saving measures vs the general public pretty much said it all

So this piece in the Atlantic took it a step further – tracing the history of CPR from the 1960 at Johns Hopkins where the surgeons had

…successfully resuscitated every one of the first 20 patients they treated, 14 of whom (70 percent) survived without brain damage or other ill effects

But their source patients were not typical (young and mostly healthy) and when you extrapolate that out to an elderly population survival can fall to as low as 0% a variation in the effectiveness when performed in the real world
But it was Hollywood adn the media that pushed these procedures into the general awareness suggesting

…that two-thirds of all (fictional) cardiac arrests portrayed on ER (and other doctor shows) involved young patients who had suffered rare events like drowning or lightning strikes, rather than old people with heart disease (who account for 90 percent of cardiac arrests in real-life settings…..most of these fictional TV patients did well, unlike the vast majority of CPR recipients in real life

Dr Peter Benton was well known as all in life saving heroics

In fairness Hollywood was dramatizing some real life events – and they applied their pixie dust to this as they have to many other things.

But the problem remains and health care professionals need to help their patients understand their disease and make good choices, bearing in mind that heroics and life saving may well be a significant driver as it was for Stephen Jay Gould who was diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer with a median survival of eight months…but as he said in his essay “The Median Isn’t the Message“.

this median survival means that one-half of patients die within eight months but the other half live longer. Most important, because the mesothelioma survival curve has a very long “tail,” a few lucky patients will live a lot longer

In his case his experimental treatment may have contributed to his 20 year survival past the original diagnosis…leaving a legacy of hope.

Science at Work – Number Of Early Childhood Vaccines Not Linked To Autism

Posted in EBM, Health Care Costs, Personal Health Management, science, vaccine by drnic on April 2, 2013
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds no link between the number of vaccinations a young child receives and the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds no link between the number of vaccinations a young child receives and the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders.

Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

A large new government study should reassure parents who are afraid that kids are getting autism because they receive too many vaccines too early in life.

The study, by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. It also found that even though kids are getting more vaccines these days, those vaccines contain many fewer of the substances that provoke an immune response.

The study offers a response to vaccine skeptics who have suggested that getting too many vaccines on one day or in the first two years of life may lead to autism, says Frank DeStefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office of the CDC.

To find out if that was happening, DeStefano led a team that compared the vaccine histories of about 250 children who had autism spectrum disorder with those of 750 typical kids. Specifically, the researchers looked at what scientists call antigens. An antigen is a substance in a vaccine that causes the body to produce antibodies, proteins that help fight off infections.

The team looked at medical records to see how many antigens each child received and whether that affected the risk of autism. The results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, were unequivocal.

“The amount of antigens from vaccines received on one day of vaccination or in total during the first two years of life is not related to the development of autism spectrum disorder in children,” DeStefano says.

The finding came as no surprise to researchers who study the immune system, DeStefano says. After all, he says, kids are exposed to antigens all the time in the form of bacteria and viruses. “It’s not really clear why a few more antigens from vaccines would be something that the immune system could not handle,” he says.

The study also found that even though the number of vaccines has gone up, the number of antigens in vaccines has gone down markedly. In the late-1990s, the vaccination schedule exposed children to several thousand antigens, the study says. But by 2012, that number had fallen to 315.

That dramatic reduction occurred because vaccines have become much more precise in the way they stimulate the immune system, DeStefano says.

The sad part is, by focusing on the question of whether vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, [researchers are] missing the opportunity to look at what the real causes are. It’s not vaccines.

– Ellen Wright Clayton, professor of pediatrics, Vanderbilt University

Hardcore vaccine skeptics are unlikely to be swayed by the new research. But many worried parents should be, says Ellen Wright Clayton, a professor at Vanderbilt University who helped write a report on vaccine safety for the Institute of Medicine.

“I certainly hope that a carefully conducted study like this will get a lot of play, and that some people will find this convincing,” Clayton says. That would let researchers pursue more important questions, she says.

“The sad part is, by focusing on the question of whether vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, they’re missing the opportunity to look at what the real causes are,” she says. “It’s not vaccines.”

Autism Speaks, a major advocacy and research group, seems ready to move beyond the vaccine issue. Geraldine Dawson, the group’s top scientist, praised the new study and says the result should clear the way for research on other potential causes of autism.

These include factors like nutrition, which can affect a baby’s brain development in the womb, Dawson says. Other factors could include medications and infections during pregnancy, she says, or an infant’s exposure to pesticides or pollution.

“As we home in on what is causing autism, I think we are going to have fewer and fewer questions about some of these things that don’t appear to be causing autism,” Dawson says.

More coverage and science referring to a recent study showing no link between vaccines and autism. This was covered in the SBM Site
The Final Nail in the Coffin – sorry if some of yo have trouble getting to the site as it appears to be having problems

As one commentator articulated

“The sad part is, by focusing on the question of whether vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, they’re missing the opportunity to look at what the real causes are, It’s not vaccines.”

If you are interested in a detailed analysis of the science and statistical analysis the SBM article is excellent. The analysis

They sliced and diced the data in a variety of ways looking for correlations and didn’t find any

And does an in depth debunking of the lack of science in the broadside from antivaccinationists who’s fear mongering seems to date back to the widely and roundly debunked falsification of data by Andrew Wakefield that was described as the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years. He was struck of the GMC register and barred from ever practicing medicine in the UK.

As David Gorski in his title the study had not intended to disprove the relationship between the “toxins” used as part of vaccine make up. This study came as close as one can to disproving that relationship:

Which brings us to “too many too soon.” It appeared to be a “hypothesis” that was impossible to falsify, but DeStefano et al came about as close as it’s ethically possible to do to falsifying the hypothesis. No wonder that all that antivaccinationists are left with are calls for “vaxed versus unvaxed” studies and pharma shill ranting.

Science at work!

Why EHRs Really Haven’t Made Us Healthier: A Response To Glen Tullman

Posted in EHR, Health Care Costs, HealthIT, Healthstory by drnic on March 19, 2013

Brian Klepper

Brian Klepper, Health Care Analyst and TDWI Writers' Group

Brian Klepper, Health Care Analyst and TDWI Writers’ Group

Glen Tullman

Recently-fired Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman waxed progressive in a self-promotional Forbes article last week, describing the ways past and forward for electronic health records (EHRs) and health information technology (HIT). It may have been a way of trying to recover from a damning New York Times article that clearly illustrated the relationships between campaign contributions, influence over health information technology policy, and business success.

Tullman recalls building EHRs that moved many physicians away from paper and the errors it fosters. He calls out David C. Kibbe, MD as an example of the forces wanting to preserve paper and opposing EHRs, with quotes from a 2008 blog post suggesting that the current crop are “notoriously expensive,” “difficult to implement” and unable to demonstrate care quality improvements. He predicts that, in the future, the industry will leverage open platforms and interoperability, yielding new monitoring and management utilities that can facilitate better care at lower cost.

Tullman’s forecasts are hardly news, and there are two problems with his portrayals. The first is the dissonance between what he says now and actually did. Tullman became a multi-millionaire crafting products and policy that delivered intentionally costly, unfriendly and incompatible systems. Under his leadership, Allscripts products never embraced a national standard for health information exchange, even though those standards were available, or developed the capacity to seamlessly trade information with other systems.

As a Trustee of the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT), a quasi-governmental credentialing agency and offshoot of the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS), he oversaw policies that favored large, established HIMSS members and set up roadblocks to innovation by technology startups. I testified on this topic to a Health and Human Services (HHS) panel in July, 2009. HHS subsequently rescinded CCHIT’s monopoly on EHR certification, and CCHIT’s Executive Director, Mark Leavitt, resigned shortly afterward.

Tullman’s strong support of and relationship with President Obama facilitated his role as one of the architects of the Meaningful Use (MU) subsidies. Those actions brought billions of dollars to EHR vendors between 2010 and now, but these EHR systems still can’t talk with one another. As I’ve described elsewhere, even while the health IT industry extolled the benefits that would come from easy sharing of health data, they nearly unilaterally resisted interoperability. (If you can’t easily move your data to another vendor’s platform, you’re less likely to make them your vendor.) The result is that our inability to seamlessly exchange health information continues to undermine our ability to coordinate care, costing America thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

Tullman also paints Kibbe and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) as obstacles to HIT progress, when in fact it was Tullman and his EHR vendor colleagues who engineered the barriers to interoperability. The quotes by Dr. Kibbe are taken out of context and misrepresent him as an opponent of EHRs. In fact – and Mr. Tullman knows this – Dr. Kibbe has been in the vanguard of EHR use. He was the lead architect of the Continuity of Care Record (CCR) standard, the forerunner of the Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (CCDA) which has become the standard of choice for MU data structure during health information exchange. When he was Executive Director of the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Center for Health Information Technology (AAFP CHIT), his campaigns resulted in a five-fold increase in the percentage of family physicians with EHRs, from 10 percent to 50 percent between 2003 and 2007. Today, he spearheads DirectTrust, an approach to securely and privately transfer health information by email, independent of platform. If anyone has moved health information generally and EHR technology specifically forward in this country to the common benefit, it is Dr. Kibbe. By contrast, Mr. Tullman has represented the special interest, blocking advances to make as much money as possible.

Physicians, purchasers and patients should take umbrage at Tullman’s article. Along with EPIC, Cerner, NextGen and other old guard EHR vendors, Tullman and Allscripts are directly responsible for most current EHRs’ outrageous costliness, lack of usability and interoperability, and their limited clinical decision support. Through their scale and influence over policy, they have effectively manipulated the EHR market, gouging purchasers and delivering marginally capable products. Health care costs more, and outcomes have suffered as a result.

Most Forbes readers won’t have enough health industry background to place Tullman’s comments into context. They are opportunism masquerading as good policy. Past performance is indicative of what we can expect in the future. Caveat emptor.

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Tagged as: Allscripts, CCHIT, CDA, Continuity of Care Record Standard, Electronic Health Record Technology, Glen Tullman, health information technology, HIMSS

Nice piece responding the the disingenuous quotes and references taken out of context suggesting David Kibbe is against implementation of EHR’s. HE like many of us is in favor but has long been an advocate of and vanguard of EHR use

Dr. Kibbe has been in the vanguard of EHR use. He was the lead architect of the Continuity of Care Record (CCR) standard, the forerunner of the Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (CCDA) which has become the standard of choice for MU data structure during health information exchange. When he was Executive Director of the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Center for Health Information Technology (AAFP CHIT), his campaigns resulted in a five-fold increase in the percentage of family physicians with EHRs, from 10 percent to 50 percent between 2003 and 2007. Today, he spearheads DirectTrust, an approach to securely and privately transfer health information by email, independent of platform. If anyone has moved health information generally and EHR technology specifically forward in this country to the common benefit, it is Dr. Kibbe

Quite! Long standing advocate and unlike many of the commercial interests who spend much time, energy and resources blocking open access.

There remain challenges and the competing interests embedded in commercial incentives but to call out an icon in #HealthIT and unnecessary

Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us

Posted in ACO, EHR, Health Care Costs by drnic on February 26, 2013
Media_httptimewellnes_gazce

THere is something fundamentally wrong and flawed with a system that bills patients at highly variable rates, the highest to those with no “insurance” or poor “insurance”.
Insurance in this instance seems like a poor term to describe a system that even with full standard coverage still costs patients thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars of unexpected cost.

It has gotten worse and as the McKinsey study cited in the article highlights

we spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia. We may be shocked at the $60 billion price tag for cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy. We spent almost that much last week on health care. We spend more every year on artificial knees and hips than what Hollywood collects at the box office. We spend two or three times that much on durable medical devices like canes and wheelchairs, in part because a heavily lobbied Congress forces Medicare to pay 25% to 75% more for this equipment than it would cost at Walmart

There are many drivers but central to them are the disconnect between the payers and the people accessing care. Without any personal accountability it is easy to access the care with no thought of the cost or the possible alternatives and better choices.

Some of the reasons behind this are vested in the history of healthcare and how we got here – but just because that was the way it was done before does not mean it is the way we have to do it now.

There has to be a better way – the same as there has to be a better way of compensating the healthcare providers fairly for the work they do. The system currently is designed to pay for things done not for outcomes and results. And clinicians are locked into a system that forces them to document in great detail, oftentimes repeating information that is already in the medical record – because if they don’t they don’t get paid
Many wi ll tell you the information is unnecessary and we see some of the effects with reports of duplicate data. So much better to capture decision making, real information and allow the documentation to be the communication tool between clinicians (which was always the original intent) and then determine the care provided and a fair compensation for the hospital, the provider and everyone involved for delivering that care (and importantly linked ot results not to just delivering the care)

I know I am hoping this is on a pathway to getting fixed. At some point I will be facing bills and challenges such as these – and since the education system (thats a whole other blog posting on the meteoric rise of education costs) has essentially stripped me of any savings and value in my one big investment (my house) I like many others are probably tapped out and have little to call upon when we will inevitably face these challenges. That puts me rooting for major change in healthcare, the system with a move to pay for performance much of which is embodied in the ACO initiative.