OP-ED

flying cadeuciiThe Dallas/Fort Worth Healthcare Daily ran a fascinating excerpt from the Steve Jacob’s book So Long, Marcus Welby, M.D.* The excerpt contained some very interesting assertions and statistics. For example:

  • Consultant PwC, relying on that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, estimated that malpractice insurance and defensive medicine accounted for 10 percent of total health-care costs. A 2010 Health Affairs article more conservatively pegged those costs at 2.4 percent of healthcare spending.
  • In a 2010 survey, U.S. orthopedic surgeons bluntly admitted that about 30 percent of tests and referrals were medically unnecessary and done to reduce physician vulnerability to lawsuits.
  • A 2011 analysis by the American Medical Association found that the average amount to defend a lawsuit in 2010 was $47,158, compared with $28,981 in 2001. The average cost to pay a medical liability claim—whether it was a settlement, jury award or some other disposition—was $331,947, compared with $297,682 in 2001.
  • Doctors spend significant time fighting lawsuits, regardless of outcome. The average litigated claim lingered for 25 months. Doctors spent 20 months defending cases that were ultimately dismissed, while claims going to trial took 39 months. Doctors who were victorious in court spent an average of 44 months in litigation.
  • A study in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that by age 65 about 75 percent of physicians in low-risk specialties have been the target of at least one lawsuit, compared with about 99 percent of those in high-risk specialties.
  • According to Brian Atchinson, president of the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), 70 percent of legal claims do not result in payments to patients, and physician defendants prevail 80 percent of time in claims resolved by verdict. Continue reading “A Culture of Overtreatment”
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Montoya

“Prepare to Die”, said Inigo Montoya to the six fingered man.

Reimbursement, prepare to die.

Doctors get reimbursed? Interesting….

Do Lawyers get reimbursed? Do accountants get reimbursed? When you send your check to pay for your Aetna premiums, are you reimbursing them?

The last time I checked, the act of being reimbursed implies that a person gave money and awaiting for someone to give them the money back.

Let’s take a quick look at Webster’s Dictionary.
reimburse |ˌrē-imˈbərs|
verb [ with obj. ]
repay (a person who has spent or lost money): the investors should be reimbursed for their losses.

• repay (a sum of money that has been spent or lost): they spend thousands of dollars that are not reimbursed by insurance.
#wtf
How did it come to pass that doctors don’t get paid, but reimbursed?

Continue reading “Reimbursement, Prepare to Die!”

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flying cadeucii“Traditionally, doctors used to be called in when needed. But this is now changing. Increasingly it is the doctor who calls the person in by issuing an invitation. Healthy people are asked to visit the surgery for a ‘check-up’, or ‘screening’, when their computerized records show they are ‘due’. Non-attendance is known as ‘non-compliance’, indicating an element of recklessness and irresponsibility.”

Petr Skrabanek. The Death of Humane Medicine and Rise of Coercive Healthism.

If CMS endorses MEDCAC’s recommendations regarding low dose screening CT for lung cancer, we may see a coverage scenario that might be mistaken for an episode of Saturday Night Live.

Continue reading “No Country for Old Smokers”

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Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 1.40.57 PM

Let’s see a show of hands. Who among us, doctor, nurse, patient, family member, wants to give or get health care inspired by a factory—Cheesecake or any other?

Anyone?

I didn’t think so.

True confession: I have never actually eaten at a Cheesecake Factory (hereinafter referred to as the Factory). My wife, Mary, and I did enter one once. We were returning from a summer driving vacation. Dinnertime arrived, and we found ourselves at a mall walking into a busy Factory.

It seemed popular. The wait was long—really long. We got our light-up-wait-for-your-table device. We perused the menu. There was a lot there. Portions seemed gigantic. We looked at each other and, almost without speaking, walked back to the hostess, returned our waiting device and left.

You got me—I cannot say 100 percent that I wouldn’t love Factory food. We were so close that one time!

A young woman in our small New Jersey town recently opened a new restaurant here. We tried it the other night. She and her business partner tended us and all the other patrons with such attention and care. We waited some, true, but she seated us near the bar while we waited—brought over pieces of cheese (no light-up device) for us to enjoy. The menu was ample and varied—not enormous. It’s also true that two items on the menu—including my first choice—were no longer available that evening. The chef however crafted the dishes that we did select with flare and pride. Dinner was a delicious, wonderful, relaxing experience—made better because of the human touch.

It’s probably not fair to contrast my one near-Factory dining experience with this other. Big chain restaurants have clearly figured out a way to provide a consistent meal for millions of satisfied customers. But the Factory way is not for everyone. People, I think, crave customized, attention-to-detail service experiences—in their dining choices. And—I’ll go out on a limb—in their health care too.

Continue reading “Big (Box) Medicine”

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flying cadeuciiSome years ago I was in Australia’s Northern Territory. The intrepid explorer that I was, I was croc-spotting from the comfortable heights of a bridge over the East Alligator River. The river derives its name because it is east of something. And because it’s croc-infested.

I was reading a story about a German tourist (it’s usually a German) who was attacked by a saltwater crocodile in the vicinity (1). The story concluded to reassure that one is more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a saltwater crocodile.

I imagined what the apotheosis of a left brain thinker, the data-driven Renaissance man, might have done with that statistic. Might he have peeked in to the East Alligator River looking for a vending machine and seeing none, jumped right in?

This empirical fact is useful if you suffer from croc-phobia and live in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and the biggest voyage you ever plan to undertake is to the Hamptons. But it’s not terribly useful, and marginally harmful, if you’re deciding whether to kayak rivers in Northern Australia.

The vending machine has reared its deadly head again. It seems that more Americans have been killed by vending machines than have died from Ebola. Well let’s head to Liberia for the winter, because there are fewer vending machines there.

Sorry, I jest. But this is not a joke. Some actually think this is a relevant statistic to put Ebola in perspective. And some are actually reassured by it!

Continue reading “The Antifragile CDC”

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Texas Health Presbyterian

A group of nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian has come forward with a very different picture of what happened when Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Duncan arrived at the hospital with Ebola-like symptoms on September 28th.  If true, the allegations are certainly unsettling.

In an unusual move, the nurses spoke anonymously to the media, conducting a blind conference call in which none of the participants were identified.

After arriving at the emergency room with a high fever and other symptoms of the disease , the nurses said the patient was kept in a public area, despite the fact that he and a relative informed staff that he had been instructed to go to the hospital after contacting the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to report a possible case of Ebola.

Continue reading “Angry Nurses Tell of Ebola Patient’s arrival at Texas Hospital”

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Risa preferred headshotFor the past several months the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been promoting a particular vision– of a Culture of Health in America, where everyone  has the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible, no matter their income, or where they live, or work, or play.

With  that vision in mind, geriatrician Dr. Leslie Kernisan asks an important question in her Oct 7 Health Care Blog post, “Why #CultureofHealth Doesn’t Work For Me.”  She writes: “Is promoting a Culture of Health the same as promoting a Culture of Care? As a front-line clinician, they feel very different to me.”

For physicians treating the chronically ill and patients facing the end of life, good health might seem like a pipe dream. Kernisan and some of her commenters even wonder if the phrase “Culture of Health” could be misconstrued as “blaming the victim.”

Continue reading “Let’s Make Sure “Health” Encompasses “Care””

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Leslie Kernisan new headshotEarlier this month, I attended the Fall Annual Health 2.0 conference. There was, as usual, much talk of health, total health, and of extending healthy years.

And this year, there was a special emphasis on promoting a “Culture of Health,” a meme that has become a centerpiece of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s work.

So much so, that when I approached a conference speaker, to briefly comment on my interest in helping beleaguered family caregivers with their carees’ health and healthcare issues, I was advised to work on promoting a culture of health.

Hm. Funny, but as a generalist and geriatrician who focuses on the primary care of older adults with multiple medical problems, I’d been thinking more along the lines of:

  1.  Promoting the wellbeing of older adults and their caregivers.
  2. Optimizing the health – and healthcare — of my aging patients.

In other words, I’d been thinking of a “Culture of Care.”

Continue reading “Why #CultureofHealth Doesn’t Work For Me”

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John Mandrola MDIt was a mistake to send the Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan home from a Dallas emergency room after he presented with fever and pain, which were early signs of Ebola infection.

It would be a larger mistake to miss an important learning opportunity. This case demonstrates what I believe to be a major threat to patient safety—caregiver distraction.

Doctors and nurses are increasingly prevented from giving full attention to the important things in patient care. The degree of value-added nonsense has reached the point where delivering basic care has gown dangerous. This morning, in Canada, news of a case of deadly drug interaction occurred because of alert fatigue—or distraction.

I am a cardiologist; I am also a patient. I want the Duncan case to be a turning point, a wake up call, a never event that serves as a spark to improve the delivery of medical care. Right now, all that this case has changed are tweaks to EHR protocols and checklists. We need more than tweaks; we need big changes.

An uncomfortable truth is that medical mistakes are normal. Errors, like this one in Texas, have occurred since doctors started treating patients. The good news is that technology has made medical care better. No credible person suggests a return to the paper-chart era. Yet, it is still our duty to face mistakes, learn from them, and in so doing, improve future care. Being honest about root causes is necessary.

Another truth about medical mistakes is the ensuing rush to inoculate against blame–which always comes. In the Duncan case, initial blame was assigned to the electronic health record. The computer software failed to flag the travel history in the physician “workflow.” (Just using the word, workflow, hints of the bureaucracy problem.) And you know there is trouble when hospital administrators use the passive voice. “Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurse…”

Continue reading “An Extremely Teachable Moment”

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Medicine and public health have had a long history and strong roots in experimentation and solving problems through iteration. As healthcare now begins to intersect with tech like never before, the health focused hackathon offers an unprecedented opportunity for us to embrace this past while giving a home to the tinkering, experimentation, and solution-building that is needed now more than ever in our industry.

The first recorded use of the word “hack” occurred 900 years ago, but the more common and positive use of “hack”—to write a computer program for enjoyment—originated in the hallowed halls of MIT in the 1950s. The “hackathon, a portmanteau of ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’,” was first born out of a challenge posed to programmers at a conference in Silicon Valley by John Gage of Sun Microsystems in 1999.

Borrowing from what became a tech sector institution, one of the first health focused hackathons was launched at a national scale over a decade later in 2010 as a part of a public-private partnership between the US Government and Health 2.0 (co-launched by Aman Bhandari and Indu Subaiya as the Health2.0 Developer Challenge).

Since that time, the practice has expanded rapidly: we have found and analyzed over 100 health-focused hackathons (the full living database is available for download, analysis and editing on the MIT Hacking Medicine website here:

Continue reading “3 Reasons Why Healthcare Needs Hackathons”

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