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

May the Fourth be With You

It’s the artificial holiday that celebrates the play on words from Star Wars movies – a rallying cry

The list of suggested actions from the Starwars site may not be to everyone’s taste and includes everything from

  • Holding movie marathons
  • Dress up as a Star Wars Character
  • Star wars food including blue milk!
  • Getting a Star Wars Tattoo

 

But this year I follow Yoda’s advice:

“Pass on what you have learned”

Specialty Pharmacy

This year I attended the Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit held this time each year in Vegas at the Wynn/Encore resort. This is the largest conference for specialty pharmacy but as Alex Fine noted and I agreed –

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

All pharmacy is moving rapidly in the direction of specialty as we head into a world filled with precision medicine customized to the individual. On the one hand, this is an exciting proposition – at least to me. I am always reminded of the great scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian

You are all individuals…..we are but medicine has not treated us that way. Historically the path to understanding disease was based on grouping patients, diseases, signs, and symptoms into logical groups that helped decode underlying cases of a disease.Just think of the seminal work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch who established the germ theory of disease and the resulting incredible advance in outcomes that derived from that block of work when Joseph Lister published in 1867 his Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery (met by substantial skepticism and took years to be widely accepted and adopted). This was just the start as we came to understand causative agents behind diseases that had vexed the profession. Treating someone with an infection with Penicillin thanks to Alexander Fleming’s work in 1928 was just one of many advances that grouped patients based on similarities of their disease. This methodology has served us well but the sequencing of the human genome- completed in Jun 2000 would have a big impact on this thinking.

Just think of the seminal work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch who established the germ theory of disease and the resulting incredible advance in outcomes that derived from that block of work when Joseph Lister published in 1867 his Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery (met by substantial skepticism and took years to be widely accepted and adopted).

This was just the start as we came to understand causative agents behind diseases that had vexed the profession. Treating someone with an infection with Penicillin thanks to Alexander Fleming’s work in 1928 was just one of many advances that grouped patients based on similarities of their disease. This methodology has served us well but the sequencing of the human genome- completed in Jun 2000 would have a big impact on this thinking.

From: http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2016/02/happy-birthday-human-genome-sequence.html

Over the course of the last few years, we have seen a clear move towards the individualized understanding of patients and disease accompanied by the inclusion of patients (Patient Engagement).

Patient Engagement and Access

There was a clear theme in the messages from various presenters that offered a clear vision of the push towards the consumer and patient engagement and a clear desire to find a path to delivering access to everyone that was captured by Liz Barrett from Pfizer in her keynote presentation and summarized with her slide – The 4 Tenets for Healthcare:

Access to quality
Incentives
Long-Term Value
Competitive principles

Providing access that overcomes the current challenges but builds in incentives for everyone in the system – not just the providers and hospitals but also patients and everyone involved in healthcare. This is the principle of competition without which systems tend to decline and ultimately stop working. There are people who perceive competition and capital principles as contraindicated in healthcare that we want to provide to everyone. I think these ideals can and should co-exist – without competition motivation disappears and efficiency will decline.

To achieve this we should take a book out of Yoda’s wisdom to pass on this wisdom and my key message for this day. Benefiting from the extended community. Our ability to connect and access people and resources has never been better. The need to remember data is much reduced:

GIYF

This access goes far beyond the data and to people and resources. Can you imagine making a purchase without looking at ratings and reviews on sites – I can’t. Yet the reviews are from people I don’t know and have not met – yet I trust them. This works because of the human desire to help others (this, by the way, is the reason that social engineering as carried out by hackers is so successful – this will be the subject of a post coming up in the future). But this creates an incredible set of resources and talent available to you.

Patient Communities

Some of it is formalized like the early website entry in this area: Patients Like Me. But extends to informal interactions on social media channels like facebook and one of my favorite: Paying till it Hurts. Then there is your extended family and friends who all want to help. You will find people who have been through similar experiences, will have tips and ideas on how to deal with problems that others have faced and have conquered

I was lucky to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger present as the keynote at this recent conference – his recurring theme was that he was not a self-made man but his success was the result of all the help and support he received from others

So use the power of the Force – it is your network, your friends, family and those around you.

Derive strength from them, have them provide tips on what small changes you can make to improve your health and then help keep you on track – nothing like knowing that you are being watched to help keep you on track.

One of my most successful personal health drives was base don a weekly self-reported weigh in for myself and two colleagues. Anytime I felt I was going to make a poor choice on food or exercise I just thought of the weekly chart and where my line would be relative to my colleagues and I did not want to be the outlier.

Have you had success helping friends and family? What works and what doesn’t. Is there a special trick or insight you could share that might help someone else – share it now and help the community.

 

May the Fourth be With You was originally published on Dr Nick – The Incrementalist

Patient Centered Systems

What will it take to move our healthcare system to a truly patient-centered system? We know based on multiple data points that engaged patients have a big impact on the successful outcome of treatment. Leonard Kish cited the phrase back in 2012

Patient Engagement is the Blockbuster Drug of the Century

Referencing a 2009 Kaiser study of coordinated cardiac care and comparing to those not enrolled in the study

“patients have an 88 percent reduced risk of dying of a cardiac-related cause when enrolled within 90 days of a heart attack, compared to those not in the program.”

“clinical care teams reduced overall mortality by 76 percent and cardiac mortality by 73 percent.”

And this study in Telemedicine and e-Health. Dec 2008; Vol.14 (10): 1118-1126 that showed impressive results for chronic disease management:

  • 19.74% reduction in hospital admissions
  • 25.31% reduction in bed days of care
  • 86% patient satisfaction
  • $1,600 average cost per patient per year, compared to $13,121 for primary care and $77,745 for nursing home care
  • 20% to 57% reduction in the need to be treated for the chronic diseases studied, including diabetes, COPD, heart failure, PTSD, and depression

 

Patient Data Ownership

I believe as do many others that the patient is at the center of everything we do and deliver in healthcare. By placing the patient and their information at the center of care and allowing them access and control we empower them and enable a model that moves away from the historical paternalistic delivery of healthcare to patient-centered and enabled care. It does come with challenges since many people contribute to that care and the current administrative and financial configuration focus the management and ownership of data with providers, healthcare systems and payors. While many patients want access to their data and some even want to own and manage it, many do not and are ill equipped to be responsible for this data. Perhaps what we need are some independent services and providers who aggregate, manage, secure and maintain patient data on behalf of patients – much as banks do with our money. There was some hope when Google and Microsoft jumped into healthcare offering Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault respectively. Microsoft’s version continues to this day – google withdrew theirs and Sergey Brin was widely quoted when he said

“Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in, I think the regulatory burden in the US is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.”

But while complex, not insurmountable and as he rightly points out

“I am really excited about the possibility of data also, to improve health”

I am too and while there remain many challenges associated with securing and sharing that data the “entrance” of these alternative participants into the healthcare space – some perhaps looking at this from a simple employee perspective, is an opportunity for new ideas, insights, and people applying the collective brain power to one of our most pressing problems. I continue to hear from colleagues and friends of companies that are exploring and looking at healthcare. UPS highlighted their healthcare focus and the potential for 3-D printing in a recent tweet:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
And I heard from a friend that Dyson even has a healthcare “focus”.

Protecting Patients

There are some major concerns as these data-focused companies offer access but do so with agreements that contain so much legalese as to be unintelligible and opaque to the consumer who may well be giving up much more than his own personal data but potentially giving up his future health. The GINA act offers some protection to individuals who in sharing personal genomic data that tag them with a “pre-existing’ condition could have found themselves unable to access care. But the act did not go far enough failing to address the issue of other insurance and employers who can use this data to deny access or coverage and perhaps even employment?

We need the combined power of this patient data to create the insights into diseases but not at that personal expense. There are many technologies on the horizon that offer a potential path to help achieve this and blockchain represents an interesting innovation of decentralized secured data that offers individualized control and dynamic revocation options for access. If you are interested in learning more about Blockchain this article in HealthcareIt News is a good primer for its potential in Healthcare: How does blockchain actually work for healthcare?. It is not a panacea and the fundamental rights and ownership still need to be addressed without giving away the farm to corporations and businesses.

Interoperability

The existing healthcare system incentivizes behavior that is in opposition to a scalable nationwide vendor neutral interoperable patient-centered data. Our model has multiple groups who have a vested interest in the control and ownership of data (for example Payers, Providers, Patients and even employers). Each has their own economic and commercial drivers and in many instances, these do not coincide with open sharing of data. In a system that is driven by activity and delivering care (Fee for Service) sharing data could mean a reduction in work and income. Until our reimbursement system moves to a more holistic care model that focuses on wellness and outcomes and incentivizes behavior that delivers better health and outcomes for patients through cooperative and coordinated care and ultimately equitably rewards all the contributors to these outcomes we will remain stuck in the quagmire of limited interoperability.

The key to a patient-centered interconnected care model is the free flow of data between all the areas responsible for delivering care. We moved away from the single index card medical record held by your personal physician who was the focal point of care and care coordination to a distributed team-based model of care that encompasses multiple areas and people. In some instances, thatcher coordination may be carried out, at least in part by the patient or their family members, and they need to be included and ultimately in control of the data and its flow. The only way this team can deliver excellent care is through the frictionless flow of enhanced data and knowledge. This information flow must include the patient and all their family members that are authorized, interested and engaged in their care. Data should be shared with the patient’s consent with everyone concerned and available for as long as it is needed to deliver care but this access should be flexible enough to allow it to be revoked or removed when it is no longer needed or necessary

Welcome to the Fray

I am a big fan of learning from other industries and perspectives and spoke about this at HIMSS Conference in Orlando

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and I am excited to see the rush of companies and people into the healthcare space but for those stepping in and thinking about data and the ownership and control of this data, I would suggest this requires a new way of thinking. Much like security – patient access and control needs to be baked in from the start. Taking ownership and rights away from patients will stall progress and anger your constituents and community. As ePatient Dave would say or better yet sing:

Give me My Damn Data

Here’s hoping that these new players see the value of the engaged patient and include some of these principles in their march towards our common goal of better more cost effective healthcare. For the large organizations thinking about the data, remember you and your family members are patients too. The following thoughts are offered as some basic guiding principles on data stewardship:

  • Patients want control of their own data,
  • Patients want to be able to share safely and securely share their data with all their care providers and participants (this will include family members and friends)
  • Patients want granular control of some elements of the data limiting individual access to certain elements and areas
  • Patients requires a full audit capability tracking who has access and has accessed their data
  • Patients want to be able to easily and dynamically revoke access
  • Patients will share their data for research and benefit of others but their contributions need to be recognized and accounted for
  • Data cannot be used against Patients to deny coverage or increase their costs

 

What have I missed – what controls or limits would you place on your data that would make you more willing to share your data. What would stop you from sharing your data and why?

 

 

Patient Centered Systems was originally published on Dr Nick – The Incrementalist

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

Joining the MedicAlert Board

MedicAlert

I am excited to be elected to the MedicAlert Board joining Jessica Federer, head of digital development at Bayer. As Barton Tretheway, CAE, chair of the MedicAlert Foundation Board pointed out

Their collective experience aligns with our priorities and will be immeasurable to us as we look to leverage the power of new technology to expand the mission of MedicAlert Foundation, which is designed to help save lives

Which succinctly captures my feelings around this additional role. I personally experienced the value of the MedicAlert solution, brand and promise when I practiced as an Emergency Room physician in the United Kingdom. It was part of the standard procedure for any patient who arrived unconscious or confused to look for the signature bracelet

Traditional Medical Alert Bracelet

 

With its iconic Caduceus (similar but different to the Rod of Asclepius) which was the traditional sign of the God Hermes and became established as the symbol of medicine in the United States in the late  19th Century.

History of MedicAlert

The Original MedicalAlert User – Linda Collins

The history of MedicAlert dates back to the Early 1950’s developed by parents of Linda Collins who had an who had an anaphylactic reaction to tetanus anti toxin (which in her instance she only received a small scratch test as was the practice in 1953) and had a severe reaction. She survive but her parents Dr Marion Collins and his wife Chrissie realized that she was at risk and made a paper bracelet and note that was attached to her coat detailing her severe allergy.

 

 

 

 

 

In fact the original MedicAlert Bracelet is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Today

The Original Bracelet stored in the Smithsonian in Washington DC
The Original Bracelet stored in the Smithsonian in Washington DC

From these modest beginnings things have developed with early recognition by “Peace Officers”. The California Peace Officers magazine even ran an article back in January 1957 highlighting the MedicAlert bracelet to their members. In the era before mobile phones and always on communication it was a reliable way of identifying individuals and providing immediate access to a 24- hour phone line linked to critical and life saving information for that individual. This function continues today with a live 24/7 Emergency Response Service

I worked on one of these switchboards as a Medical Student many years ago

 

 

with full health and personal information including your personal health record and emergency contacts information and available in other countries including Australia, the UK, Canada and South Africa to mention a few through affiliates and partnered with many groups including AAFP, Alzheimer’s Association, ACEP, Autism Association, Philips LifeLine, National Alliance of Mental Illness, Food Allergy Initiative – to mention but a few

The age of computing brought new innovations and the ability to more readily store and retrieve more information for members and track and follow membership and presidential recognition dating back as far as April 9-16, 1978 when then President Jimmy Carter commemorated the occasion of MedicAlert and their contribution to Medic Alert week in April. Even Hollywood got in on the act with appearances of the MedicAlert in everything from the Today Show and Good Morning America to CHiPs

and Columbo

Peter Falk in Columbo

 

Moving into the Digital Age

The organization is moving into the digital age with solutions around stored medical records, moving to digital mobile formats and storage solutions and even exploring the potential for RFID enabled solutions and in partnership with the American Medical Association has a joint venture on advanced directives.

Back in 1956 Dr Marion Collins commented that

“I think I can save more lives with MedicAlert that I’ll ever save with my scalpel”

Which is much like my own perception of medicine and the opportunity of Digital Health that I saw 30 years ago and continues to be the case. It’s this combination of a storied brand and concept from MedicAlert as a foundation and the opportunity to update for the new Digital world we live in that presents such an exciting opportunity. We are facing a Silver Tsunami of people who struggle to age in their homes and technology and solutions that help them do so, safely and with the support of their relatives and the health system will be in high demand.

I’m looking forward to working with my fellow board members and the MedicAlert team to continue the tradition and build on the brand with a Digital update and twist

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joining the MedicAlert Board was originally published on Dr Nick van Terheyden, MD

Tagged with:

Digital Health for the Undeserved

A recent report published by Jane Sarsohn-Kahn for the California Health Foundation: Digitizing the Safety Net Health Tech Opportunities for the Undeserved offers some deep insights into reaching the population most in need of help but often left out in the discussions of the latest and greatest technology to break into the news cycle.

As pointed out low-income households have access to mobile technology with 8 out of 10 sending and receiving text messages – in fact mobile phone usage and ownership mirrors the experience in Africa where many of the communities have little choice given the paucity of existing infrastructure and have bypassed the traditional communications systems in favor of mobile networks
Adults who own a cell phone, Africa

and gave rise to a whole innovation of mobile banking that originated that pre-dated, is more flexible and is more widely used than anything developed in the west (The M-Pesa system) – servicing the unbanked people of Africa without requirements to have a smart phone nor to use an app. I’ve written about the opportunity we have of learning from our African friends in the past)
In the case of the undeserved here in the US many of these people mirror these experiences and providing easy access using simple tools is effective not just from a cost standpoint (as Healthcrowd showed $1 for mobile messaging vs $34 for paper mailing) – and that’s even before you consider the engagement/response rate we find with mobile applications and interactions…think about it, when you want to reach your children do you send them an email or text them

Textpectation

 

Take the time to read about the multiple projects that are reaping big benefits and doing so cost effectively. These are real working projects with a range of technology that has demonstrable impacts and could be applied to many more groups and environments. The extensive piece takes you on a journey from everything as simple as text messaging from Healthcrowd to the medication adherence and tracking concepts of Proteus Digital Health of digestible sensors that track your pill from manufacture to ingestion.

There are a few guiding principles to help steer you to success

  • Meet people where they are – widely varied and none are typical
  • Build Trust – under promise, over deliver; everything is fragile for this community and failure can be far more catastrophic for them than “average” users
  • Address social determinants of health – just providing a ride to get to the clinic could mean the difference between success and failure and an Uber Ride is a lot more cost effective than an ambulance required for the crisis that could have been averted
  • Consider the cost of data service – data is expensive on many plans treat it like memory used to be in the days of 640K
  • Recognize the many layers of health literacy – not just comprehension but basic literacy and even language
  • Speak in the Vernacular – and make it culturally sensitive too

As Aman Bhandari said

“The new sexy is scaling what can work”

Proven solutions that have been effective provide great opportunities for those looking to make that impact on their own area.

 

 

 

Digital Health for the Undeserved was originally published on Dr Nick van Terheyden, MD

Healthy Living Starts with You

Human capital – the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value.

When reading the above definition of human capital, a particular word jumps out… habits. I am passionate about habits because poor lifestyle choices—or bad habits—are the number one driver of today’s health crisis. Chronic illnesses—such as heart disease, stroke, asthma, diabetes, and obesity—are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths each year, and treatment of chronic diseases accounts for 86% of U.S. healthcare costs. However, while they are among the most common and costly of health problems, chronic diseases are also the most preventable and manageable, because they often result from choices we make in our daily lives. To conquer chronic illness, we have to change our bad habits. And that’s not easy.

If I had to prescribe one medication to cure bad habits, it would be patient engagement. When we are effective at engaging patients to participate in their care, they begin to take more responsibility for their own health and adopt healthier habits. Effective engagement of chronic disease patients can lead to reductions in hospital visits, decreased morbidity and mortality and improvements in treatment adherence and quality of life.

To truly influence positive behavior changes, health goals must fit meaningfully in patients’ everyday lives. People must be surrounded by opportunities to embrace healthy lifestyles, and that requires the involvement of the entire community – care providers, governments, businesses, and of course, the people living there.

It’s no surprise that 7 of the top 10 Future-Ready cities overlap with the American Fitness Index’s list of healthiest U.S. cities. These developed cities are arguably some of the most connected and most educated, and they have infrastructure that supports recreational activity. But health is not only an outcome of development, it is a prerequisite for it, and never before have communities had such an incredible tool to engage people in making healthy lifestyle changes… technology.

Just as technology is giving providers more ways to care for and engage their patients in more places, it’s also providing the means for governments to reach constituents, businesses to tailor wellness programs for their workforce, and people to take charge of their own health.

Care providers

Technology gives caregivers unprecedented opportunity to engage patients and provide excellent care, anywhere, while also giving both patients and doctors a valuable feedback loop. Telehealth, remote biometric monitoring, and technology-assisted health coaching are powerful tools in the fight to improve chronic care outcomes because they provide in-the-moment support to patients struggling with diet, exercise habits, and medication routines.

BlueStarDiabetesAppFor example, an FDA-cleared mobile app that delivers real-time motivational messages, behavioral coaching and educational content right to the mobile devices of patients with Type II diabetes has demonstrated significant drops in their A1C levels.

Even simple text message programs can make a difference. Text2Breathe, a program of the Children’s National Medical Center, sends care information and reminders to parents of children with asthma and has helped help reduce emergency room visits.

State and local government

State and local government agencies have immense power to use technology to spearhead healthy lifestyle and disease prevention programs. For example, in response to Philadelphia’s high rates of chronic disease, city officials recently launched PhillyPowered, a multi-media campaign designed to encourage Philadelphians to become more physically active. The campaign features a mobile-friendly website, which lists free or low-cost places to get fit in the city, provides educational information, and includes a social media component that enables Philadelphians to share tips on how to fit exercise into their busy lives.

Portland University, in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Transportation, is piloting a smartphone app called ORcycle

designed to collect data and feedback about bicycle routes, infrastructure and accidents in order to improve infrastructure suitability for bicycling in Oregon.

Businesses suffer from the impact of chronic illness through absenteeism and retention problems, yet they are uniquely positioned to promote healthy lifestyles for workers and their families. Employers can work with their health plans to identify need for wellness programs and services such as preventive screenings, tailored to lowering both health risks and costs.

 

 

Companies are increasingly integrating technology into their wellness programs. For example, Dell’s Well at Dell program includes a virtual wellness portal that imports numbers from onsite health screenings and provides employees with an action plan, educational information, and email and text reminders to stay on track. Some companies are adopting wearable technology as part of their wellness programs to incent employees to get fit. It is worth noting that data security and privacy is paramount to protect employee health information and need to be designed in as part of all of these initiatives to maintain the trust that is essential for an effective healthcare system.

Technology today gives communities in all geographies the means to invest in the health of human capital and very real opportunities to shape the future of healthcare… now.

 

This article previously appeared on Future Ready Economies site

Healthy Living Starts with You was originally published on DrNic1

Doctors and Patients – Who Knows Best

The Power of Knowledge

Life has changed and access to information is no longer the definition of value – we have seen these changes in the past as far back as 1494 when the printing press was introduced making books and knowledge more widely available:

Fear of the New Techno Panic TImeline

And proceeds through newspapers, the steam engine, photography and the death of painting, the telegraph, movies and the death of theaters, the telephone, phonograph, radio, television, computers and the internet and if anything the speed of change is accelerating. So too in medicine have things changed with a shift away from paternalistic experts to wide knowledge access and cooperative systems of healthcare delivery.

The Sorry State of Medicine

But the physician is still a key part of healthcare delivery and for many in the profession there is a sense of despondency and even despair with profession and their ability to deliver the care they aspire to deliver each and every day.  This recent piece in the Wall Street Journal Why Doctors Are Sick of Their Profession captured the spirit – only 6% of doctors surveyed describe their morale as positive and that’s not just bad for the doctors – its bad for patients too.

The sad part is we chose medicine because we thought it was worthwhile and noble, but from what I have seen in my short career, it is a charade

Running out of Time - Walking Gallery Jacket
Running out of Time – Walking Gallery Jacket

Physician suicide remains high with doctors the most likely to commit suicide with a rate of 1.87 times that of the average population (the US alone loses ~400 physicians to suicide per year) and their “success” measured as a completion rate is far higher than the general population (x 1.45.5).

 

As this piece The Painful Truth: Physicians Are Not Invincible highlighted (South Med J. 2000;93(10) ):

Physicians fulfill a special role within our society. While they are given many privileges and rewards, they also carry serious responsibilities. Physicians are expected to be healers, available to others whenever a crisis occurs or a medical need arises. They are expected to have unfailing expertise and competence, to be compassionate and concerned, and to provide universally successful care in a cost-effective manner. Such idealized expectations emanate from patients, from families, from society (including payers and regulatory and accreditation agencies), and from within the profession of medicine itself. Self-imposed expectations inhere in the institutions of medicine — medical colleges, clinics, hospitals, professional associations, and collegial relationships — and are internalized by students of medicine as they are socialized to become practicing professionals. These expectations become a part of how physicians define themselves.

So when I came across a picture of this mug:

Dont Confuse Google with Medical Degree

I posted it to my social media feed with a commentary

I wanted to highlight that clinicians are still an essential part of the healthcare system and their contributions are valued. This mug captured a strength of feeling that caught me by surprise.

It is available for purchase from a British eBay store and has been subject to several posts including this one from ePatient Dave – here and here and plenty of likes, dislikes, tweets, and even some fairly hefty criticism including one comment about starting a holy war.

Doctors Under Siege

I know many of my colleagues feel besieged. The system has drained every last ounce of empathy and compassion out of many with overhead requirements that detract from direct patient care and turn highly qualified, talented and well intentioned clinicians into data entry clerks and automatons. I have always believed and still do that every clinician gets up in the morning with all the best intentions to deliver high quality, compassionate car. There may be a small percentage of individuals who do not but  if they exist are a tiny minority.

We selected the career because we care. We selected the career because we want to offer support and compassion to our fellow human beings. We get our reward from these actions and there is no replacing the privilege of the trust that is placed in our hands in a personal and intimate relationship with our patients.

To get into medical school required an incredible climb up an academic mountain that was littered with others who did not make it. The experience tends to reinforce the sense of importance and verges on narcissism for some as the course and hurdles demand a level of self confidence in our own skills and knowledge. It is little wonder that what emerges from the medical school sausage machine can appear devoid of compassion, over confidant and unwelcoming of other opinions. It is any wonder that there is any compassion left by the time a doctor emerges with his degree and board certification – and that’s before he steps into a the healthcare quagmire and finds himself unprepared for healthcare as it is delivered today.

But many patients and patient advocates perceived this negatively and as an affront to their place in participatory care. The perception from patients appeared negative and there were multiple reports of patients who had been blocked when bringing information to their doctor and Dave even cites the sad instance in the UK  of the 19 year old girl who had fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma (a rare cancer that with ~200 cases diagnosed worldwide annually) that was treated and then returned. Despite her pleadings to the contrary the Hospital and clinical team refused to believe her and told her to “stop googling”

There were even a few physicians who saw this mug negatively – as Bryan Vartabedian a pediatrician at Baylor  said:

and he posted this piece “Doctors and the Google Threat“. I don’t disagree with him that information access brings huge value and makes healthcare more accessible to a wider population but the systems in place don’t support the time aspect that this new sometimes unfiltered and unscientific data brings to many of the clinicians I talk to. One of the main challenges with this was captured by one friend who said:

You came in to see me with 9 minutes of reading material but I only have 7 minutes of time to care for you

And James Legan said:

And the deluge of information that arrives on everyone’s phone is replete with snake oil and pseudo science oftentimes amplified by celebrities who’s impact with their millions of followers can be incredibly damaging to individuals health.

Dave did take a constructive approach to the participation of patients

I personally am completely opposed to a patient going in and saying “I’ve decided I have condition X, and I want you to prescribe 42mg QID of medication Y.” I mean, have you ever seen the things medical students have to learn to get their license?? But I’m all in favor of a patient saying, “I have symptoms A and B, and from what I can tell from websites J and Q, that sounds like it could be M.” Explain your thinking, identify your source, and try to solve the diagnostic puzzle together: Collaborate.

While there are still doctors who see this as a challenge to the traditional model of care and the paternalistic distribution of knowledge and care, most do not.  I leave it with these two tweets that for me captured the underlying spirit I felt when I posted the original image:

and this one

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Everyone on the Same Side

Most physicians say the best part of their jobs is taking care of people – its the human moments, the taking care of people that make our jobs so satisfying. We are all on the same side – the structure of  the  system forces behavior that is not always ideal but despite this physicians do want participatory interactions – we love patients, especially ones that are engaged in their own health and care and we do not (and cannot) know everything.

You may well bring information to us that we are not aware of or have not read or heard about and we hope there will be enough time and opportunity to review this and help include scientific knowledge, no matter the source, in our review and guidance on the best course of treatment for you.

Doctors and Patients – Who Knows Best was originally published on DrNic1

Personal Healthcare Management

This piece by Aaron Carroll detailing his personal experiences with the healthcare system for what should be an easy and simple activity represents the frustration and challenges everyone faces on a daily basis including myself

I have the exactly the same challenges with renewal of what is a long standing formulation

I know this is not good for anyone and as pointed out it is not good for personal health – in my case as my wife and family will attest it definitely raises my blood pressure as I spend countless hours on the phone fighting with systems.

Everyone’s story will be different and in my case I don’t love the drug company who have taken long standing medication mixed them in a standard way and patented this to make it extraordinarily expensive for a formulation that contains one over the counter medication (OTC) and one generic prescription medication. And because of the artificial limits placed on supplies (90 days supplies with a maximum 1 year) behavior is modified attempting to reduce unnecessary costs. Ultimately everyone is behaving in the way the system incents.

Imagine that experience in the store – CostCo refusing to allow you to buy your supplies in bulk limiting your purchase to 3 months supply of toilet paper

and having to keep going back to an external party to require approval for purchasing when CostCo offers a special deal to purchase 12 units that might cover you for a year. Costco want you to purchase more and if you have the space and storage and will use it you want to buy in volume because it saves you money and the manufacturer wants purchasing their product. Costco is focused on making the process and cost as efficient as possible.

Before the deluge of complaints that buying drugs is not the same as buying toilet paper – true but take many maintenance drugs with excellent efficacy and safety. Even if it does require regular blood tests forcing the workflow to link the two in an sequence that tortures everyone in the process makes no sense. Engaged patients want an efficient process, will follow sensible and safe treatment guidelines and don’t need to be squeezed into a sequential process that includes steps that are linked for clinical reasons but remain disconnected in real life and difficult and expensive to follow for everyone concerned

As the costs shift to the individual the frustrations rise with the process and the necessary costs and waste – expect a rising voice of complaints and frustrations that might hopefully start to effect change

Personal Healthcare Management was originally published on DrNic1

Dunkirk Spirit: How physicians support patients overcoming adversity

One in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.  In 2014 alone, an estimated 295,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed.  That’s approximately 808 cases per day.

That’s ~640 cases per day or a little over 1 case per hour (26 per day)1

But these statistics don’t matter.  Whether it’s one-in-eight or one-in-3 million, the impact of the illness is what matters—not the numbers.  It immediately becomes a reality to you.  We can never forget that healthcare is personal, something my colleague, Melissa Dirth, articulated beautifully in her recent post “When 1 in 8” was no longer just a statistic to me.”

As a physician, sharing unfavorable findings and test results is always a sobering moment, no matter how many times you’ve done it before.  We all struggle to find the right words, and look for ways to be supportive as you allow your patient to handle the shock that accompanies such news.  We all have different viewpoints and our perspective on the disease is colored by our own life experiences and the individual circumstances.

What never ceases to amaze me, however, is the strength of the human spirit.  Despite the hard road stretching before them, so many of our patients face breast cancer with what the British would term “Dunkirk Spirit,” that inner strength that helps patients and their families overcome tremendous adversity.

Dunkirk Spirit

It is, in my opinion, one of the reasons that make cancer sufferers and survivors such an important and compelling tableau of courage.

Unfortunately, one of the essential elements that quickly becomes lost in the morass of technology is the Art of Medicine, and our ability as doctors to spend the time focused on our patient and their relatives.  As clinicians, we intuitively know the statistics associated with the disease and can interpret them to understand the impact the diagnosis we have just communicated with the patient is likely to have, but there is so much more to providing care.  We don’t just treat the condition, the physical body—we are caregivers and healers, and we seek to help the whole patient.

Technology can help in healthcare, but it is not the goal nor should it ever be the focus.  Yet, in some cases, it has detracted from our ability to provide care and compassion.  To deliver on the promise of great healthcare we have to return to the Art of Medicine and enable, not disable, our clinicians with the technology we develop.

To learn more about the role technology plays in the Art of Medicine, read: “There’s no room in technology in end-of-life care decisions

 

This article originally appeared on WhatsNext: Healthcare