Dr. RobI’ve been getting winded lately.”

He’s a middle-aged man with diabetes.  This kind of thing is a “red flag” on certain patients.  He’s one of those patients.

“When does it happen?” I ask.

“Just when I do things.  If I rest for a few minutes, I feel better.”

Now the red flag is waving vigorously.  It sounds like it could be exertional angina.  In a diabetic, the symptoms of ischemia (the heart not getting enough blood) are atypical.  It’s the pattern of symptoms that is the most important, and to have exertional shortness of breath which goes away with rest is a pattern I don’t like to hear.

What he needs is a stress test – more specifically in his case, a nuclear stress test (because his baseline EKG is abnormal).  But there’s a problem: he has no insurance.  A nuclear stress test will cost thousands of dollars.

I can refer him to the hospital, but I know the financial situation he and his wife face.  They have no money because of a chronic pain problem he has.  He hasn’t worked in several years, but hasn’t ever been able to get disability either (“I tried, but was denied three times”).  Without insurance he’s not able to get his problem fixed, so he’s disabled.  But he can’t get disability, so he can’t get insurance to get his problem fixed and no longer be disabled.

But the problem on hand is this: he needs a test he can’t afford.

There are many folks out there in this same situation.  It may not just be the people with no insurance, and it may not even be people who don’t have money.  In fact, my own family is facing this same problem.  Multiple family members (myself included) need dental work done.  Some need it done badly, yet we don’t yet have the money to pay for it.  So we wait for the money to show up while the problems gets worse.

Continue reading “One of Those Patients”

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As you might expect from a blog, we’re big fans of HBO’s VICE, the cable giant’s slickly-produced answer to staid network news magazine shows like Sixty Minutes. Over it’s first two seasons, the show has established a small cult following with fast-paced, drop-you-down-in-the-center-of-the-action investigations of stories that are usually owned by the major television news organizations.

The recipie works and works surprisingly well as entertainment. It’s also pretty damn good journalism, much to the dismay of traditionalists.

Continue reading “Vice Special Report: Killing Cancer [Full Episode] HBO”

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 4.23.13 PMIn the past, the AMA published an article questioning the merits of patient portals — the primary tool for engaging patients. Rob Tennant, senior policy adviser with the MGMA-ACMPE, the entity formed by the merger of the Medical Group Management Association and the American College of Medical Practice Executives raised the fundamental issue: “The business case just hasn’t been made.” I’ll attempt to make it.

Perhaps the best evidence of the business case is when industry visionaries/organizations/leaders such as HIMSS (the professional association for healthIT), Aetna and Kaiser Permanente have made significant investments in patient engagement.

I’ve excerpted a couple sections of Pam Dolan’s article on the topic to set context and then I will address the business case. The patient portal benefits assume that it’s more than a simplistic silo’ed patient portal tethered to an EHR since they are broadly available. [Disclosure: My company, Avado, is one many patient engagement companies.]

This is why I would call it the patient portal & relationship management system or simply patient relationship management system to distinguish it from traditional limited patient portals.

Continue reading “Is There a Business Case For Patient Engagement?”

flying cadeuciiAt 6:30 AM, I kissed my 14-week-old son Joe on the forehead and headed off to work at the hospital. By 3 PM I was back in bed with a hacking cough and a fever.  I had influenza.

As a doctor training in infectious diseases, I knew that the flu can be dangerous in vulnerable populations like little babies. I had visions of Joe being admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, as I swallowed a pill of oseltamivir (brand name “Tamiflu”) and shivered under the covers.

Should I also give my little boy Tamiflu to prevent him from getting sick? The answer should be clear to an infectious disease physician-in-training, right?

I felt competing instincts. Paternal: to “do something” to prevent Joe from getting the flu. Medical: “do nothing,” as the rampant overuse of antibiotics in children has had negative consequences and the same might be true for antivirals.

As I researched the question further, I learned that the decision to give prophylactic Tamiflu is anything but simple.

Close contacts of people with the flu (including babies) can receive Tamiflu if they are at high risk for influenza complications. One Greek study of 13 newborns found that the drug was safe but did not address its effectiveness. Moreover, the number of babies who would need to receive Tamiflu to prevent one serious case of influenza is unknown.

Continue reading “Dad Has the Flu and There’s a Baby at Home”

Fred's HeadThe US has spent several billion dollars on medical records, as part of the HITECH program. The goal of that spend was simple: portable medical records for patients. On our current path, we will have medical records, but without that magic word: “portable.” Ironically, the reason for this is identical to the root-cause of the problems with healthcare.gov

The root-cause of the initial failure of healthcare.gov was a lack of accountability and empowerment. There was no one person who was in charge of the operation, and those who were presumed to be in charge did not have the skill-set or political clout needed to make decisions about the project.

The result was the healthcare.gov train wreck. Thankfully, healthcare.gov was turned around.

That turn-around was the result of decisively fixing these exact issues.

Accountability restored, disaster averted.

You would think that the Obama administration and HHS would have learned the “accountability with empowerment” lesson well, if not for IT projects generally, then at least for projects involving Health IT.

Yet we are repeating this mistake with Meaningful Use. For those who are living in a cave with regards to healthcare reform, Meaningful Use is a set of standards designed to ensure that the money that the federal government spends on Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs) for doctors results in clinically productive outcomes.

Continue reading “What Can Meaningful Use Learn From Healthcare.gov?”

When the latest post from Michael Cannon–he who seeks to sink the subsidies attached to the Federal exchange–hit my inbox, I wondered, “Why don’t his opponents stop arguing the specifics, and instead explain what the Supreme Court ought to do. I also don’t see why Mark Andreeseen (@pmarca) should have all the fun with long Twitter essays. So in only 5 tweets complete with misspellings and other contortions to get my thoughts into 140 characters, this is what I sent back

Cochran THCBThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recent announcement to move the Medicare program toward value-based payments is among the most promising recent developments in health care.

While changing the way we pay for care will not be easy, we believe that shifting away from fee-for-service to value-based payments could be a catalyst to a better, more affordable health care system in our country.

Three Benefits of Paying for Quality
There are numerous potential benefits to paying for quality rather than quantity, including the three we want to focus on today.

  1. We believe this payment shift has the potential to accelerate progress toward achieving the Triple Aim – defined as better individual care, better population care, and lower cost.
  2. We believe the payment shift by Medicare will accelerate the transition to value-based payments among commercial insurers – a major benefit to employers in terms of improved health for employees and greater affordability.
  3. We believe value-based payments have the potential to help slow – and possibly reverse – the epidemic of physician burnout in the United States, particularly among primary care doctors. Continue reading “Value-Based Reform”

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SCOTUS ROBERTS

By now, every reader of THCB must be aware the Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week in a case that could undermine much of Obamacare. Simplifying somewhat, the plaintiffs in King versus Burwell argue that the phrase “exchange established by the state” in the Affordable Care Act’s section 1311 dealing with tax subsidies precludes making such subsidies available to those who enroll through the federal exchange(s).  The government argues (a) that other sections of the law make it apparent that all exchange enrollees are potentially eligible for subsidies, and (b) that language in section 1321 providing that HHS shall “establish and operate such exchange within the state,” where a state is unable or unwilling to create their own exchange, essentially establishes a state exchange.

As many media articles have commented, the implications of a SCOTUS ruling for the plaintiffs are huge. Some five to eight million enrollees in the 34 federal exchange states would lose their subsidies, making insurance unaffordable for many of them, and premiums in these states would skyrocket—all while leaving the existing tax fines for being uninsured in place.

Continue reading “King v Burwell: Three Scenarios”

flying cadeuciiWhile your correspondent is tantalized by the prospect of healthcare consumers using mHealth apps to lower costs, increase quality and improve care, he wanted to better understand their real-world value propositions.

Are app-empowered patients less likely to use the emergency room?

Do they have a higher survival rate?

Do they have higher levels of satisfaction?

In other words, where’s the beef?

That’s when this paper caught my search engine eye. It’s a report on using an app to monitor post-operative patients at home. Continue reading “Using a Mobile App for Monitoring Post-Operative Quality of Recovery”

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