NEW @ THCB PRESS: Surviving Workplace Wellness. Spring 2014. Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. e-book edition. # LIGHTHOUSE Healthcare. Illuminated.

Physicians

In writing about OpenNotes last summer, I argued that the practice of sharing clinicians’ notes with patients had moved beyond the question of whether it was a good idea (the landmark study published in Annals of Internal Medicine was pretty clear on that) to questions of how best to implement it.

As more organizations adopt the practice, it’s clear that we’re now in a phase of implementation, and experimentation with different approaches and learning.  Tom Delbanco, MD, one of the project leads, often compares open notes to a drug — it does have some side effects and some contraindications for some people and some circumstances — and we all need to understand those nuances.

To make it easier for health care organizations to offer the service to their patients, the OpenNotes project team has just released a new toolkit.

The toolkit focuses on two challenges:  helping organizations make the decision to implement open notes and helping organizations with all the steps involved in implementing open notes.

It includes a slide deck that lays out the results of the study and makes the case for implementation, a video profile of how a patient and her doctor have used the practice, profiles of the implementations at the pioneering sites, FAQs for clinicians and patients, and tips for clinicians on how to write open notes.

Please check it out and tell the OpenNotes team what you think:  is it valuable? How could it be better?

Continue reading “The OpenNotes Toolkit”

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Late last week, House Republican leaders declared their intention to bring H.R. 4015, the bipartisan, bicameral SGR repeal measure, to the floor for a vote.

Good news, you’d think, for doctors and the broader healthcare system, that we might finally be rid of the SGR’s broken machinations and perverse cycle of congressional intervention.

But House leaders added a footnote: the measure would be paid for by delaying the individual mandate, which CBO opined last week would save money through reduced enrollment in Exchanges and Medicaid. To cover the approximate $150 billion cost of the SGR measure, the mandate would probably need to be delayed by at least 10 years.

While sparing us a rehash of the individual mandate debate here, suffice it to say that the Obama Administration, the authors of the Affordable Care Act, and most healthcare insurers and providers consider it to be a linchpin of the health reform regime.

Without it, most agree, the consumer protections established by the ACA would precipitate spiraling premiums that would quickly destroy the market.

In other words, the House measure is DOA in the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House, which House leaders know all too well. In a move whose political deftness is hard to quibble with, they are coupling two very popular measures into a single package that they know the vast majority of Democrats can’t support.

Good politics? Probably. Good for enactment of SGR repeal? More like the opposite.

But don’t blame House leaders for the demise of SGR repeal. This move is a symptom, not a cause, of its end. As previously reported, the well-intentioned negotiators were having difficulty finding common ground on the so-called extenders package that would be included, and were miles apart on the offsets that would be used to fund it.

This train had already come off the tracks.

Continue reading “The Death of SGR Reform”

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Quality improvement (QI) and patient safety initiatives are created with the laudable goal of saving lives and reducing “preventable harms” to patients.

As the number of QI interventions continues to rise, and as hospitals become increasingly subject to financial pressures and penalties for hospital-acquired conditions (HACs), we believe it is important to consider the impact of the pressure to improve everything at once on hospitals and their staff.

We argue that a strategy that capitalizes on “small wins” is most effective. This approach allows for the creation of steady momentum by first convincing workers they can improve, and then picking some easily obtainable objectives to provide evidence of improvement.

National Quality Improvement Initiatives

Our qualitative team is participating in two large ongoing national quality improvement initiatives, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Each initiative targets a single HAC and its reduction in participating hospitals.

We have visited hospital sites across six states in order to understand why QI initiatives achieve their goals in some settings but not others.

To date, we have conducted over 150 interviews with hospital workers ranging from frontline staff in operating rooms and intensive care units to hospital administrators and executive leadership. In interviews for this ethnographic research, one of our interviewees warned us about unrealistic expectations for change: “You cannot go from imperfect to perfect. It’s a slow process.”

While there is much to learn about how to achieve sustainable QI in the environment of patient care, one thing is certain from the growing wisdom of ethnographic studies of QI: buy-in from frontline providers is essential for creating meaningful change.

Frontline providers often bristle at expectations from those they believe have little understanding of the demands of their daily work.

Continue reading “The Dangers Of Quality Improvement Overload”

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March 2nd through the 8th were National Patient Safety Awareness Week – I don’t really know what that means either.  We seem to have a lot of these kinds of days and weeks – my daughters pointed out that March 4 was National Pancake Day – with resultant implications for our family meals.

But back to patient safety and National Patient Safety Awareness Week. In recognition, I thought it would be useful to talk about one organization that is doing so much to raise our awareness of the issues of patient safety.  Which organization is this?  Who seems to be leading the charge, reminding us of the urgent, unfinished agenda around patient safety?

It’s an unlikely one:  The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Yes, the OIG.  This oversight agency strikes fear into the hearts of bureaucrats: OIG usually goes after improper behavior of federal employees, investigates fraud, and makes sure your tax dollars are being used for the purposes Congress intended.

In 2006, Congress asked the OIG to examine how often “never events” occur and whether the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) adequately denies payments for them.  The OIG took this Congressional request to heart and has, at least in my mind, used it for far greater good:  to begin to look at issues of patient safety far more broadly.

Taken from one lens, the OIG’s approach makes sense:  the federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on healthcare for older and disabled Americans and Congress obviously never intended those dollars pay for harmful care.  So, the OIG thinks patient safety is part of its role in oversight, and thank goodness it does.

Because in a world where patient safety gets a lot of discussion but much less action, the OIG keeps the issue on the front burner, reminding us of the human toll of inaction.

Continue reading “What the Work of the Inspector General Tells Us about Patient Safety…”

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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”

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Did you ever walk into a doctor’s office and then have to fill out a long paper intake form with the same information you’ve filled out multiple times before (name, date of birth, insurance etc)? Or notice that your doctor is writing notes on pieces of paper that remind you of your days in school? Did you ever see someone carry a pager around? Was that person wearing a white coat?

You can bank and pay for your Etsy/Amazon/Target/Apple “gotta have that now” stuff online. You can Skype with your family who lives thousands of miles away. You can order a pizza & know the exact moment it comes out of the oven. You can interact with @Oreo, @TacoBell @Grumpycat online.

So why can’t you easily see your health charges online? Why can’t you get a quick text or email that you’ll be seen by your doctor in 10 minutes? Why can’t you Skype with your doctor?

1. Until recently, your doctor has probably had little to no training or exposure to the world of digital health.

If you do a quick and dirty poll and ask the MD’s in your life what it is, you’ll likely get a ?-mark look or an answer related to apps, electronic medical records, or meaningful use. How can that be? Don’t most doctors have smartphones & tablets? Yes, a lot do but their use in a professional capacity isn’t 100% yet.

Until recently, there were no courses in med school or noon lectures in residency related to health information technology, wearables, personalized medicine, medical apps etc

It’s hard to use something or integrate it into your daily life if you’ve never heard of or really used it before. Continue reading “Seven Reasons Why Your Doctor Is Still Using Technology That Sucks”

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To the two certainties of life, death and taxes, add another two: mammograms and controversy surrounding mammograms.

The Canadian National Breast Screening Study (CNBSS) has reported results of its long term follow-up in the BMJ: no survival benefit of screening mammograms.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra “it’s mammography all over again.”

Is the science settled then?

No.

Before I wade further it’s important to understand what is implied by “settling the science.”

Einstein said “no amount of experimentation can prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”In physical sciences a theory need only be disproven once for it to be cast aside. Heliocentricity cannot coexist with Ptolemy’s universe. The statement “all swans are white” is disproven by a single black swan.

What do we do with the studies that showed survival benefit of screening mammograms? Why does the CNBSS not close the debate over mammograms, like Galileo did with celestial egocentricity?

The simple and simplistic answer is because there are powerful advocacy groups, special interests; the pink-industrial complex who have a vested interest in undermining the science.

But that lends to conspiratorial thinking. Special interests cannot undermine Maxwell’s equations or Faraday’s laws just because they do not like them.

The testability of Maxwell’s equations is inherently different from verifying that screening mammograms increase life expectancy. We must acknowledge two types of science; the former, physical science, a hard science; the latter, a hybrid of biology and epidemiology, soft science.

Soft science is a misnomer. There is nothing soft about performing a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the methodological gold standard; in ensuring factors that falsely augment or attenuate impact of screening mammograms are evenly distributed, data reliably collected, cause of death accurately recorded and correctly inferred. But the human factor and all its inevitable foibles are unavoidable in soft sciences.

Continue reading “In Defense of the Defense of Mammograms”

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A few months ago, CBS Moneywatch published an article entitled “$1 million mistake: Becoming a doctor.” Aside from the possibility that devoting one’s life to helping others might be considered a mistake, I was struck by the “$1 million” figure.

Was it actually that much? I mean, $1 million is a lot of money. When I was younger, millionaires seemed a rarefied breed. They drove expensive cars and had houses with names like “Le Troquet” or “Brandywine Vale.” The figure was supposedly calculated using the following factors:

  • The cost of school, inclusive of tuition, fees and insurance
  • The interest on the loans incurred to pay for the above items
  • The income lost by not working full-time for 10 years, assuming an average income of $50,000 per year

Before coming to medical school, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry. I even turned down a hefty promotion to start my education as soon as possible, rather than defer for a year or two.

Thus, my back-of-the-envelope calculations made it fairly obvious that, including benefits, bonuses, and potential promotions, my medical decision was not a $1 million mistake, but was more like a $1.3 million dollar disaster.

Of course, people tell me that I’ll be profitable and that I’m a good credit risk, but what I really am is one of a rarefied breed that drive economy cars and have houses with names like “Apt. #203.” What I really am is an anti-millionaire.

Continue reading “Medical Students: The Anti-Millionaires”

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Partisan gridlock in Washington regarding health policy has been so pervasive and bitter that any bipartisan co-operation on any important health issue should be applauded by a frustrated public.

That is why the emerging bipartisan compromise regarding the fifteen-year long policy embarrassment known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) problem needs to be taken seriously.

Remarkably similar solutions — a new hybrid physician “value-based” payment methodology — have emerged from three of the four key committees in Congress, and seemingly the only stumbling block is finding the $115-120 billion to pay for it.

Moreover, key physician interest groups, including the American Medical Association, appear to have signed off on this approach.

This makes it all the more troubling that the approach taken is unsound health policy that will damage practicing physicians in diverse settings: private practice, medical school practice plans, and hospital employment.

This is because the proposed legislation casts in concrete an almost laughably complex and expensive clinical record-keeping regime, while preserving the very volume-enhancing features of fee-for-service payment that caused the SGR problem in the first place. The cure is actually worse, and potentially more expensive, that the disease we have now.

The SGR fix would basically freeze or severely limit future physician fee updates for Medicare Part B (a serious problem for primary care), while permitting physicians to earn modest “value-based” bonuses if they can document quality measure attainment, cost reductions, participation in alternative payment schemes, practice enhancement activities, or meaningful use of EHRs.

Physicians who meet all these standards could expect to supplement their existing Part B fee by about 4 percent in 2016, going to 10 percent in 2020, with the aggregate bonuses subtracted from the pool of total Part B physician payments to preserve budget neutrality.  Non-compliant physicians would see corresponding reductions in their updates.

There are sensible opt-outs for physicians who can report in groups, virtual or real, as well as for physicians who participate in as yet unspecified “advanced payment models” (APMs).
Continue reading “Why the SGR Fix Won’t Work and Could Actually Make Things Worse”

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Large coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act have reignited concerns about physician shortages. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) continues to forecast large shortfalls (130,000 by 2025) and has pushed for additional Medicare funding of residency slots as a key solution.

These shortage estimates result from models that forecast future supply of, and demand for, physicians – largely based on past trends and current practice. While useful exercises, they do not necessarily imply that intervening to boost physician supply would be worth the investment. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Most physician shortage forecast models assume insurance coverage expansions under the ACA will generate large increases in demand for physicians. The standard underlying assumption is that each newly insured individual will roughly double their demand for care upon becoming insured (based on the observation that the uninsured currently use about half as much care). However, the best studies of this – those using randomized trials or observed behavior following health insurance changes – tend to find increases closer to one-third rather than a doubling.

2. A recent article in Health Affairs found that the growing use of telehealth technologies, such as virtual office visits and diagnoses, could reduce demand for physicians by 25% or more.

3. New models of care, such as the patient-centered medical home and the nurse-managed health center, appear to provide equally effective primary care but with fewer physicians. If these models, fostered by the ACA, continue to grow, they could reduce predicted physician shortages by half.

Continue reading “Is There Really a Physician Shortage?”

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MASTHEAD


Matthew Holt
Founder & Publisher

John Irvine
Executive Editor

Jonathan Halvorson
Editor

Alex Epstein
Director of Digital Media

Munia Mitra, MD
Chief Medical Officer

Vikram Khanna
Editor-At-Large, Wellness

Maithri Vangala
Associate Editor

Michael Millenson
Contributing Editor










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