Lub-SHHRRR. Lub-SHHRRR. Lub-SHHRRR.
“Can you hear it?” she asked with a smile. The thin, pleasant lady seemed as struck by her murmur as I was. She was calm, perhaps amused by the clumsy second-year medical student listening to her heart.
“Yes, yes I can,” I replied, barely concealing my excitement. We had just learned about the heart sounds in class. This was my first time hearing anything abnormal on a patient, though it was impossible to miss—her heart was practically shouting at me.
Her mitral valve prolapse—a fairly common, benign condition—had progressed into acute mitral regurgitation. She came to the hospital short of breath because her faulty valve was letting blood back up into her lungs.
Though it was certainly frightening, surgery to fix the valve could wait a few weeks. But before doing anything, the surgical team wanted a picture of the blood vessels in her heart.
If the picture showed a blockage, the surgeons would have to perform two procedures: one to fix the blockage, and another to fix her valve. If her vessels were healthy, though, the surgeons could use a simpler approach focused just on her valve.
So she came to the interventional cardiologist who was teaching me for the day. Coronary angiograms are the interventionalists’ bread-and-butter procedure, done routinely to look for blockages and to guide stent placement. They involve snaking a catheter from the groin or arm through major blood vessels and up to the heart.
Under fluoroscopy (like a video X-ray), the cardiologists shoot contrast medium into the arteries, revealing the anatomy in exquisite detail.
The images are recorded electronically and accompanied by the cardiologist’s interpretation for anyone else who opens her medical record.
Though routine, these catheterizations aren’t trivial. Whenever you enter a blood vessel, you introduce the risk of bleeding and infection. Fluoroscopy is radiation, and contrast medium can damage the kidneys. And let’s not forget cost—reimbursing the interventional cardiologist, a radiology technician, and nursing staff costs Medicare almost $3,000 per case.
So I asked the cardiologist if such an invasive approach was really necessary.
Continue reading “Actually, High-Tech Imaging Can Be High-Value Medicine”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: angiograms, Costs, CTA, FutureMed, Imaging, Interventional cardiology, Karan Chhabra, MRI, Quality
Mar 6, 2014
The administration has confirmed that the individual policies that were supposed to be cancelled because of Obamacare can now remain in force another two years.
For months I have been saying millions of individual health insurance policies will be cancelled by year-end––most deferred until December because of the carriers’ early renewal programs and because of President Obama’s request the policies be extended in the states that have allowed it.
The administration, even today, as well as supporters of the new health law, have long downplayed the number of these “junk policy” cancellations as being insignificant.
Apparently, these cancelled policies are good enough and their number large enough to make a difference come the November 2014 elections.
As a person whose policy is scheduled to be cancelled at year-end, I am happy to be able to keep my policy with a better network, lower deductibles, and at a rate 66% less than the best Obamacare compliant policy I could get––presuming my insurance company and state allow it.
But for the sake of Obamacare’s long-term sustainability, this is not a good decision.
The fundamental problem here is that the administration is just not signing up enough people to make anyone confident this program is sustainable.
Continue reading “What Extending the Obamacare Cancelled Policy Moratorium Really Means”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: enrollment numbers, Health Plans, Obamacare Fix, Robert Laszewski, The ACA
Mar 6, 2014
I was reading a medical home advocacy group’s upbeat approach to a recent JAMA study that had found scant benefit in the concept when, suddenly, we tumbled into Alice in Wonderland territory.
The press release from the leadership of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) started out reasonably enough. The three-year study of medical practices had concluded that the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) contributed little to better quality of care, lower cost and reduced utilization. This was an “important contribution,” said the PCPCC, because it showed “refinement” of the concept that was still necessary.
That was just the set up, though, to this challenge from Marci Nielsen, chief executive officer of the group. “It is fair,” said Nielsen, “to question whether these pilot practices (studied) had yet transformed to be true medical homes.”
Where might one find these true medical homes? The answer turns out to be as elusive as a white rabbit. Formal recognition as a medical home via accreditation “can help serve as an important roadmap for practices to transform.” However, accreditation as a PCMH “is not necessarily synonymous with being one.” Conversely, you can be a “true PCMH” without having received any recognition at all!
But maybe the true medical home does not yet exist, since, “the evidence base” for the model “is still being developed.”
In Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty scornfully informs Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” And so we learn that a true medical home means just what the PCPCC says it does.
It’s confusing. If the truly transformational medical home lies in the future, why does the PCPCC chide the JAMA researchers in this “otherwise well-conducted study” for failing to “reference the recent PCPCC annual report which analyzed 13 peer-reviewed and 7 industry studies and found cost savings and utilization reductions in over 60 percent of the evaluations”?
Continue reading “The Medical Home’s Humpty Dumpty Defense”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: health care delivery, Michael Millenson, patient centered medical homes (PCMH), patient centered primary care collaborative (PCPCC), Population Health, primary care
Mar 6, 2014
When Barack Obama was merely a senator running for the White House, he told one physician association, “I support the concept of a patient-centered medical home” and would encourage the model if he ever became president.
Six years later: Mission accomplished.
Nearly 7,000 primary care practices have officially been accredited as PCMHs, and thousands of other providers have adopted some features of medical homes, which use a team-based approach to coordinated care. And while the movement toward medical homes might have evolved without Obama, his health reforms clearly laid the groundwork for rapid adoption.
The only problem? There’s still no clear evidence that the model even works.
A prominent Journal of the American Medical Association study last month found that after three years, one of the nation’s largest medical home pilots didn’t lead to lower costs or significantly higher care quality.
“There are folks who believe the medical home is a proven intervention that doesn’t even need to be tested or refined,” lead study author Mark Friedberg told the Wall Street Journal‘s Melinda Beck. “Our findings will hopefully change those views.”
An accompanying editorial also sounded caution. “It is time to replace enthusiasm and promotion with scientific rigor and prudence,” Thomas Schwenk wrote, “and to better understand what the PCMH is and is not.”
Continue reading “Obamacare’s Payment Pilots Are Struggling To Prove They Work. Here’s Why It’s OK.”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: bundled payments, PCMHs, Pioneer ACOs, Readmissions
Mar 5, 2014
There are many stories of patients who suffer when we make errors prescribing antibiotics. 75-year-old Bob Totsch from Coshocton, Ohio, went in for heart bypass surgery with every expectation of a good outcome.
Instead, he developed a surgical site infection caused by MRSA. Given a variety of antibiotics, he developed the deadly diarrheal infection C. difficile, went into septic shock, and died.
A tragic story and, probably, a preventable death.
Today, we’ve published a report about the need to improve antibiotic prescribing in hospitals. Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent health threats facing us today. Antibiotics can save lives.
But when they’re not prescribed correctly, they put patients at risk for preventable allergic reactions, resistant infections, and deadly diarrhea. And they become less likely to work in the future.
About half of hospital patients receive an antibiotic during the course of their stay. But doctors in some hospitals prescribe three times more antibiotics than doctors in other hospitals, even though patients were receiving care in similar areas of each hospital.
Among 26 medical-surgical wards, there were 3-fold differences in prescribing rates of all antibiotics, including antibiotics that place patients at high risk for developing Clostridium difficile infections (CDI).
CDC has estimated that there are about 250,000 CDIs in hospitalized patients each year resulting in 14,000 deaths.
Continue reading “CDC: Together We Can Provide Safer Patient Care”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Antibiotic resistance, CDC, Clostridium difficile infections (CDI), Hospitals, MRSA, Patient Safety, Tom Frieden
Mar 4, 2014
One thing that is known about electronic cigarettes: they’ve become a serious business in the United States.
Although e-cigarettes represent only a tiny percentage of the U.S. tobacco market, the industry is growing.
The number of people currently “vaping” has increased substantially over the last few years, with sales of nearly $2 billion in 2013.
Some analysts predict that this could grow to $10 billion by 2017 and eventually overtake sales of conventional cigarettes. It’s worth noting that the industry is maturing without much in the way of oversight or regulation.
We also know how e-cigarettes work—mechanically speaking. Using a battery-powered heating element, they convert liquid nicotine (sometimes flavored with food additives) into a vapor that users then inhale or “vape.”
This unique system delivers nicotine without the cancer-causing and other harmful elements associated with burning tobacco.
Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of the certainty ends. Currently, evidence for the safety, harmfulness, utility, and addictiveness of e-cigarettes is lacking.
The questions that research needs to answer, however, are clear as day—particularly since business is booming.
Are E-Cigarettes Bad for You?
Some of the food additives that flavor e-cigarette vapor may be dangerous when inhaled; the long-term health effects of inhaling the vapor are unknown. And of course, e-cigarettes still deliver nicotine, the main addictive ingredient in cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Nicotine from e-cigarettes could have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health and may impair breathing among those with already compromised lung functioning.
Continue reading “Where There’s Vapor, Is There Fire? We Need Evidence on E-Cigarettes”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: E-cigarettes, Joan S. Tucker, RAND Corporation, smoking cessation, Steven Martino, William G. Shadel
Mar 4, 2014
There’s scant disagreement that a key to transforming the U.S. health system is strengthening its primary care foundation. But there’s no consensus about how.
In last week’s new cycle, evidence of our dysfunction on this central issue was apparent:
Last Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics fired a volley across the bow at retail clinics, calling them an “inappropriate source of primary care for pediatric patients (1).” Instead, the society that represents the nation’s 62,000 pediatricians encouraged an alternative—the patient centered medical home it originated in 1967.
In its policy statement, while acknowledging the growing popularity of retail clinics, the AAP affirmed its opposition to models that are not physician driven. Never mind that the 1600 retail clinics deliver comparable outcomes for treatment of a dozen uncomplicated medical problems, offer extended hours and cost less than half for a medical office visit. And their caregivers are nurse practitioners.
Then Tuesday, a robust Canadian study was released that cast doubt on the suitability of the patient centered medical home (PCMH) as the transformative model for primary care (2). The Canadian research team compared results from 32 medical home practices in Pennsylvania that had achieved certification from the National Committee on Quality Assurance’ medical home program to 29 non-medical home primary care practices in the same region from 2008-2011.
They concluded “a multi-payer medical home pilot, in which participating practices adopted new structural capabilities and received NCQA certification, was associated with limited improvements in quality and was not associated with reductions in utilization of hospital, emergency department, or ambulatory care services or total costs over 3 years. These findings suggest that medical home interventions may need further refinement (3).”
And the same day, the White House announced it would spend $5.2 billion over 10 years to train 13,000 additional primary care residents and $3.95 billion over 6 years to expand the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) program from 8900 primary care providers to 15,000.
Continue reading “Primary Care 2.0: A Vision for a Transformative Solution”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: American Academy of Pediatrics, NCQA, PCMH, primary care, Retail Clinics
Mar 3, 2014
I wish I had a better story to tell you about why I am typing this with one hand (and some help from Dragon Dictate).
A shark attack would be interesting. An assassination attempt would be intriguing. Skydiving mishaps always make for good copy. An out-of-control quad copter that turns on its master would be entertaining (and would come complete with a grim, potentially viral, video).
No, the reason I am now one-handed is a little more prosaic than those scenarios.
I had finished my last shoot after a long reporting trip to Japan and the Philippines and was stacking the Pelican cases brimming with TV gear onto my cart. As I tried to bungee cord them into some semblance of security for movement, one of the cases toppled onto my left forearm. Ouch! It hurt, but I wasn’t all “911” about it. It was painful and swollen but I figured it would be okay without any medical intervention. Maybe a little bit of denial?
The next day, February 13, things seemed status quo. It was sore and swollen but seemingly no worse. Then, that night, things got worse. Both the pain and swelling increased.
So on the morning of February 14, I asked the hotel for a referral to a doctor and went to see him right away. While my concern was already growing, the look on his face when he saw my forearm got me a little more nervous.
The doctor told me he suspected that I might be having an Acute Compartment Syndrome. I had to Wiki it, but in essence it is an increase in pressure inside an enclosed space in the body. This can block blood flow causing a whole host of serious, life-threatening consequences.
He had me admitted to the hospital. Over the next few hours, I endured probably the longest, most painful experience I could ever imagine. My forearm developed some dusky discoloration, but more alarming was the numbness. I could not feel my forearm!
The doctor recommended an emergency fasciotomy to relieve the pressure. This is a gruesome enough procedure on its own, but the he was clear that the problem was progressing rapidly and there was a clear and present threat to my limb.
Continue reading “Just a Flesh Wound”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Acute Compartment Syndrome, Emergency amputation, Fasciotomy, Miles O'Brien, Wellness
Mar 3, 2014
The dude writes:
“I’m looking into a new EMR for our just incorporated small group practice. I’m diligently doing my Google research. Frankly, I’m not at all impressed by the quality of the information I’m finding out there. Both the professional and the customer reviews I’m finding leave a lot to be desired.
The tone of many of the reviews I’m reading makes me wonder how reliable and objective they are. A suspicious number of customer reviews are blandly positive, as if they were written by a corporate drone in a cubicle somewhere. They’re full of industry buzzwords and praise: “Met all of my expectations ” and “is everything I could ask for in an EMR system.”
I’ve read enough patient and restaurant reviews online to know that reviews generally fall into two categories: angry customer and worshipful. The former almost always outnumber the latter by a margin of 4:1 But not here. Here its the other way around! The tone of the professional reviews also seems strangely subdued.
At least one popular review site (Software Advice) appears to take a direct commission from EMR vendors for each referral. They say this doesn’t impact them and that they’re objective, but this clearly biases them in my mind. What resources do people recommend?
And why doesn’t THCB run user reviews???
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Comparison shopping, EHRs, EMRs, Reviews, Software Advice, Tech Journalism, THCBist
Mar 3, 2014
Narrow Networks: Boon or Bane?
Bigger Hospitals Mean Bigger Hospitals with Higher Prices. Not Better Care.
Metrics: Surprisingly, people who were uninsured last year remain undecided about the ACA,
Clinic: A cautionary note about the risks of blood pressure treatment in the elderly.
In Defense of corporate wellness programs.
Do workplace wellness programs make business sense?
Doctors without (state) borders.
Amazon.com as a delivery model for population health.
How Mayo Clinic is using iPads to empower patients.
Can Oscar succeed in making health insurance fun? Maybe not just yet ….
That vitamin over there could kill you.
How Reliable are EMR reviews, anyway???
Transparency a go go …
CVS Caremark is entering CommonWell.
Seven reasons your doctor is still using technology that sucks.
Are payors changing what they’re are paying for medical billing codes to adjust for supply and demand?
What you need to know about patient matching and your privacy and what you can do about it.
Filed Under: THCB
Mar 2, 2014