If I could invite four people for dinner, alive or dead, they would be Mark Twain, William Shackleton, Christopher Hitchens and Homer Simpson (Bart’s dad). If Mehmet Oz turned up with a bag of Garcinia Cambogia I would excuse myself.

Few things drive me to the abyss more reliably than the banality of status updates on Facebook and the monotony of health freaks. I would rather face the aftermath of Vindaloo followed by industrial strength Picolax than watch an episode of the Dr. Oz Show.

Did you catch that? Show. Like Dog and Pony show. Punch and Judy show. The Dr. Oz Show is a show. Not to put too fine a point, but physicians asking Columbia University to fire Dr. Oz are giving his show more profundity than it self-evidently deserves.

The obvious retort is that Oz is using his position as faculty of a prestigious university to promote dodgy metaphysical claims. Ah, the narcissism of academics! Priceless! As the saying goes, for everything else there is master card… Continue reading “Ridicule Mehmet Oz, Don’t Have Him Fired”

Farzad MostashariLast week, I was riveted to the deliberations on the Senate floor, as the fate of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA – so far, more commonly called the “SGR fix”) was decided. One amendment after another failed to pass; the legislation ultimately passed by a vote of 92-8, and was signed into law shortly thereafter.

To date, much of the coverage of MACRA has focused on how it has fixed the “doc pay” problems of the last 18 years – rescuing us from a yearly round of negotiations about how to temporary avoid painful cuts in Medicare’s physician reimbursement rates.

It’s true that MACRA wiped out (and only partially paid for) the accumulated burden of postponed pay cuts. But it also took a huge step in ending the volume-based “fee-for service” payment system that the pay cuts were trying to restrain in the first place. In a volume-based health care world, the only way for the government and other payers to control runaway medical inflation is to make it harder for doctors to get paid (through rejected claims, paperwork, and prior authorizations), and to reduce the price they pay for each office visit, test, or medical procedure. Providers, paid less and less for each visit and service, can try to maintain their income by further increasing volume — seeing more and more patients in less and less time — or routing patients through increasingly questionable services, tests, and procedures. That is the dysfunctional state of US health care today, with patients caught in the middle of the arms race between those who pay the bills, and those who bill them– collateral damage. Continue reading “SGR Appeal: Fixing the Present, Setting a Foundation for the Future”

Why do star ratings?

Ashish JhaNow we’re giving star ratings to hospitals? Does anyone think this is a good idea? Actually, I do. Hospital ratings schemes have cropped up all over the place, and sorting out what’s important and what isn’t is difficult and time consuming. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) runs the best known and most comprehensive hospital rating website, Hospital Compare. But, unlike most “rating” systems, Hospital Compare simply reports data on a large number of performance measures – from processes of care (did the patient get the antibiotics in time) to outcomes (did the patient die) to patient experience (was the patient treated with dignity and respect?). The measures they focus on are important, generally valid, and usually endorsed by the National Quality Forum. The one big problem with Hospital Compare? It isn’t particularly consumer friendly. With the large number of data points, it might take consumers hours to sort through all the information and figure out which hospitals are good and which ones are not on which set of measures.

To address this problem, CMS just released a new star rating system, initially focusing on patient experience measures. It takes a hospital’s scores on a series of validated patient experience measures and converts them into a single star rating (rating each hospital 1 star to 5 stars). I like it. Yes, it’s simplistic – but it is far more useful than the large number of individual measures that are hard to follow. There was no evidence that patients and consumers were using any of the data that were out there. I’m not sure that they will start using this one – but at least there’s a chance. And, with excellent coverage of this rating system from journalists like Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News, the word is getting out to consumers.

Our analysis

In order to understand the rating system a little bit better, I asked our team’s chief analyst, Jie Zheng, to help us better understand who did well, and who did badly on the star rating systems. We linked the hospital rating data to the American Hospital Association annual survey, which has data on structural characteristics of hospitals. She then ran both bivariate and multivariable analyses looking at a set of hospital characteristics and whether they predict receiving 5 stars. Given that for patients, the bivariate analyses are most straightforward and useful, we only present those data here.

Continue reading “Finding the Stars of Hospital Care In the US”

Dale SandersMatthew Holt: I’m talking with one of the most interesting people in healthcare, Dale Sanders who these days is the Senior Vice President for Strategy for Health Catalyst, a really fast growing data warehousing analytics company. Dale, before that, did a bunch of stuff in the Air Force, at Intermountain, was involved with starting the Health Data Warehouse Association, and even for a while running the National Health IT System in Cayman Islands

Anyway we’re here to chat about some work that Health Catalyst is doing, that you guys have been doing these webinars, very successful ones, a few months and years. You actually had a big conference last year, which you’re repeating again this year, I know, but specifically coming up on April 22nd 1 – 2 PM PST is a webinar about Microsoft.

So let me tell you my Microsoft story from HIMSS last week I was in one of the last sessions in Thursday, actually, and it was a guy named Dave Francis talking about the future of consumer health. Someone said, “I am a Microsoft guy. I work for Microsoft. They send me out to health systems and I help in dealing with technical issues. You’re talking about the future of online consumer health. The Google Health guys, they had that thing, it failed. We have Healthvault, we failed and close it down. Oh no, we didn’t officially close it, so I’m not supposed to say that, but anyway”. So that’s the kind of way people think about Microsoft and healthcare. But you’re saying not so fast. So what’s the story here?

Dale Sanders: Yeah, it’s very interesting. In this webinar, I spend the first few minutes talking about my life on Microsoft. So I’ve been an IT now for 32 years, starting out in the Air Force and now in Health Catalyst. So I put this timeline together and I put all these significant events in my life that had some relationship to some event in Microsoft. Most of the time, it’s like horrible, right? I want to poke my eyes out. My Microsoft experience as a healthcare IT guy or just an IT guy in general has been terrible, right? Security problems, backwards compatibility problems, scalability problems. But now I’m very bullish in Microsoft, so it’s kind of unusual that I’ve completely turned my opinion

Matthew Holt: Perhaps because they’re no more the evil monopoly, they’re David vs Goliath?

Dale Sanders: Yeah. Really, it’s fascinating. This webinar is about their cultural transformation as much as it is their technical transformation. It’s fascinating, and I was never a big fan of Bill Gates, never a big fan of Steve Ballmer. They’re just contrary personalities to me.

Matthew Holt: They may care less about what you think.

Continue reading “Why Microsoft May Be the One to Watch”

flying cadeuciiI had a HIMSS 2015 hallucination.

Walking through the crowded exhibit halls of the premier health information technology trade show, the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of beating swords into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb suddenly unfolded before my eyes. Even if we were in McCormick Place in Chicago, not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Although we were on an upper level.)

There ahead of me, the maker of the A-10 Thunderbolt “tank buster” dwelled in a booth a few steps from a maker of fasteners for tractor engines: sword and plowshare. Elsewhere, the PAC-3 missile manufacturer contentedly cohabitated with a company that sells baby strollers: lion and lamb.

However, what prompted this copacetic condition was not a prophet, but profits. As tens of billions of dollars pour into digital technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. health care, companies large and small all want a cut.

“Swords into plowshares” at HIMSS 2015?

Total U.S. spending on health care is closing in on a staggering $3 trillion.Entrepreneurs from everywhere in the economy are making a pilgrimage to this sector. Venture capital funding in health IT roared to $4.7 billion in 2014, according to the Mercom Capital Group, more than double the $2.2 billion in 2013. Small wonder that more than 42,000 attendees flocked to HIMSS this year, a jump of some 10,000 from as recently as 2011.

Here’s where we come to the part about world peace. The U.S. health care system is by no means the only one needing modernization and rationalization. Several years ago, HIMSS issued awhite paper examining electronic health records from a global perspective. The group now boasts regional offices and puts on events in Europe and Asia. As global capital markets recognize the potential of health IT, it’s not too much to hope that individuals of all religions, races and nationalities can come together in search of the “new, new thing,” the next big deal and the large pot of cash that comes with both.

Ideology is one thing, but, as the saying goes, business is business. Co-existence fostered by capitalism.

Admittedly, this isn’t quite what Isaiah had in mind. Still, if a prominent Middle Eastern country decides to switch from centrifuges to Software As a Service, I’ll be looking for the Iranian booth at HIMSS next year.


flying cadeuciiIt’s taken me two days to recover from 3-1/2 days of HIMSS15 and I wonder how the other 43,138 attendees are faring. Actually I am pretty confident that few people escaped Chicago without swollen feet and exhausted minds and bodies.

The convention is a mammoth event that offers a little something for everyone, whether you are interested in policy, technology, education, networking, buying, or selling. Some folks, including Greg Rakas of epatientfinder, believes the event is almost too big and overwhelming. In Greg’s words, “We have the most professional people and vendors in all of medicine there resorting to magicians and games of chance to lure people in. I found that to be a little disappointing and pandering.”

Others, like Houston Johnson, CEO of Practice Insight, were quite satisfied with the overall experience.  “We met with many of our partners and that’s really why we come here,” Johnson shared. “It gives us a chance to talk to our existing resellers and meet new resellers.”

The exhibit hall – which supposedly measures 22 football fields – creates a bit of a sensory overload. While walking the floor with a friend of mine, he remarked that it’s a bit like New York City with all the big crowds and flashing lights. Over 1,000 exhibitors pay thousands of dollars for the opportunity to draw the attention to their offerings, hence the magicians, late afternoon cocktail receptions, and iPad, Apple Watch, and GoPro giveaways.

Continue reading “HIMSS15 Wrap up”

flying cadeuciiNo Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision enjoys more bipartisan support than the provision encouraging employers to pay or fine employees based on their health and health behaviors, a practice known as “workplace wellness.” Both the House and the Senate are likely to pass the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act and the President is likely to sign it.

It appears that neither the President nor Congress seem to have access to the internet, because for all its support and corporate popularity (most large companies now require employees to participate or else forfeit hundreds of dollars), wellness is generally agreed to be the worst idea in the ACA. Wellness damages employee morale and increases the cost of insurance.

And that’s not according to opponents. That’s according to its promoters – the two official trade associations, Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and the Population Health Alliance (PHA). These two leading wellness advocacy groups convened a joint committee of 39 self-described “subject matter experts” from 27 wellness vendors and health plans, which produced a free, downloadable, 88-page tome ostensibly to justify wellness.

Yet despite its pro-wellness agenda, this expert report admits wellness harms both employee morale and corporate reputations. The report categorizes these two concerns as “tangential costs” of wellness. As a former CEO of a NASDAQ company, I disagree with that assessment. My shareholders would have demanded a major financial benefit to even slightly jeopardize those assets.

Alas, the report claims no financial benefit, major or otherwise. It optimistically lists wellness’s gross annual savings as about $12 per employee (“optimistically” becauseUS government data shows that the 23 percent reduction in heart attacks and related admissions they attribute to their wellness program happened to match the 23 percent reduction in heart attacks that took place everywhere over the same multi-year period). In other words, most major corporations are subjecting millions of employees to demeaning weigh-ins and uncomfortable (plus, often inaccurate or misinterpreted) blood draws…all to save the price of lunch.

Continue reading “It’s Official: Employee Wellness Is a Total “Scam””

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 7.59.18 PMAlthough this March marked the fifth anniversary of passage of the Affordable Care Act many of its promises to place patients at the center of care remain elusive. No where is this more evident than in the law’s provision to improve shared decision making.

Oftentimes there is more than one reasonable medical treatment to choose from. Shared decision making helps patients partner with health care providers to make more informed decisions about treatments based on patients’ personal beliefs and values and their informed understanding of their medical choices. Frequently, patients are simply told what course of treatment they are to undergo without considering alternatives.

A well-accepted path towards aligning patients’ preferences with medical care is to use decision aids. These tools include written educational materials, informed face-to face encounters, or videos with instructional images that explore different options for care by providing the risks and benefits of interventions and their alternatives, exploring individual values and preferences, and offering testimonials from other patients who have experienced the various choices.

It is an astounding fact that after five years the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has certified only a single decision aid. Even in a city infamous for bureaucracy, this is inefficient at best – especially given that the overwhelming number of studies demonstrate that decision aids align medical care with what patients want, while also saving the health care system billions of dollars.

Continue reading “Five Years of Failing Patients”

new adrian gropperI mean: Last chance for patients as first-class citizens in Meaningful Use.

The ghetto is abuzz. As I write this #nomuwithoutme  is just hitting Twitter. The reason the natives are restless in the patient ghetto is a recent proposal  by our Federal regulators to downgrade a Meaningful Use (MU) requirement for Stage 3, in the final stage of a $30B + initiative to advance interoperable digital health records. The focus is on something called View / Download / Transmit (V/D/T) but the real issue and the Last Chance is broader and more important. The bad news is that MU may leave patients as beggars for own data. The good news is that the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC)  and Congress are paying attention and patients still have a chance to shift the terms of the debate to what HIPAA calls “the patient’s right of access” and demand that it apply strictly to MU Stage 3 Appication Programming Interfaces (API).

To find the core of the downgrade, search the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking NPRM  for the word “download”. To experience the ghetto first-hand, search the NPRM for “4 business days”. The issue is plain: patients are to get degraded, delayed information through a “portal” that forces us to take whatever the “providers” are willing to grant us.

Continue reading “Last Chance for Meaningful Use”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 3.50.49 PM

The Designer’s Oath brings together designers from disparate disciplines and backgrounds to create collaborative Oaths that speak across design practices and organizations. The traditional boundaries of design are quickly expanding, and our code of ethics needs to be as flexible and easy to redefine as the process of design itself. The Designer’s Oath must become a tool that is applied to the process of design to ensure that the end result does good.

Continue reading “Designing For Good: A Designer’s Hippocratic Oath”


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