THCB

THCB

Will ACA Implementation Lead to a Spike in Demand for Care?

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As the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) exchanges open and Medicaid expansion takes effect, millions of uninsured Americans will gain new coverage. This raises a key question: how are we possibly going to meet the demands of all of these new individuals entering the system? The physician workforce is growing slowly, at best, at a time when an aging population is increasing demand for care.

Predictions include long lines for everyone, rising prices and premiums as physicians are able to command greater market power, and reduced quality of care. Some have recommended additional government funding to help train more medical residents as a response.

But while studies predict ACA implementation will prompt an increase in demand for medical services, there is evidence that the increase in demand will not be as great as the raw number of newly insured Americans might suggest.

The latest CBO forecast projects the reduction in the number of uninsured Americans under the ACA will be 11 million people next year and 24 million by 2016. That’s an increase in the percentage of Americans with insurance of roughly 5% in 2014 and 12% in 2016. If the uninsured used zero health care today, but upon becoming insured used the same amount as a typical insured person, then the increase in demand for care would be the same as the increase in coverage.

In reality, the uninsured use substantial amounts of health care – but only about half the care that the insured use today. One reason is because they are uninsured – paying full prices for care rather than a small copay discourages use. Another reason also explains why many (but not all) are uninsured in the first place: they are healthy and don’t anticipate needing or wanting medical care.

When the uninsured gain coverage, demand does increase, but not dramatically, studies show. Evidence from the Oregon Health Insurance experiment, in which a funding cap forced the state to grant Medicaid coverage to some applicants but not others using a lottery-type system, found that those who did gain coverage increased their use of both hospital and physician care by about one-third relative to controls.

Health Care Jujitsu

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Not surprisingly, yesterday’s debut Supreme Court argument over the so-called “individual mandate” requiring everyone to buy health insurance revolved around epistemological niceties such as the meaning of a “tax,” and the question of whether the issue is ripe for review.

Behind this judicial foreplay is the brute political fact that if the Court decides the individual mandate is an unconstitutional extension of federal authority, the entire law starts unraveling.

But with a bit of political jujitsu, the president could turn any such defeat into a victory for a single-payer healthcare system — Medicare for all.

Here’s how.

The dilemma at the heart of the new law is that it continues to depend on private health insurers, who have to make a profit or at least pay all their costs including marketing and advertising.

A chat with Ian Morrison

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My old friend and former boss Ian Morrison will be giving the keynote at Health 2.0’s 10th Annual Fall Conference on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 27thIan was President of Institute for the Future in the 1990s, founded the Strategic Health Perspectives service, and is in more health care board rooms and conference halls than almost anyone. At Health 2.0, Ian will share his latest insights into the future of health care. Did we tell you he’s the pre-eminent jokester on the health care speaking circuit? Well he is! You can still Register and come hear what else Ian has to say! But here’s a taster — Matthew Holt

Our Cancer Journey – Week 6

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We’re halfway through the most challenging cycles of chemotherapy, Kathy has lost her hair,  and her fatigue is getting worse but her mood is still very positive.

On Friday January 20th, Kathy received Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) 1200 mg, Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)  120 mg and her pre-chemotherapy supportive medications Fosaprepitant 150 mg, Dexamethasone 12 mg and Ondansetron 8 mg.

She tolerated it well.

Her Complete Blood Count shows that her Granulocyte Count has dropped from 6690 to 3610 since the chemotherapy affects her fast multiplying white cells as a side effect of targeting the cancer.   Her hematocrit has fallen from 42 to 32.   She tires more easily but her appetite is good.   Small frequent meals enable her to overcome any GI symptoms.

We’ve been told that the Adriamycin/Cytoxan is the most difficult chemotherapy.  Only two more cycles to go.

The photograph above shows Kathy and me at age 21 in our Stanford graduation photo.  She’s always had long, luxuriant hair, even a waist length braid at one point.

On January 21st, her hair began falling out in clumps.   It was not exactly painful, but felt very odd, as if her hair had not been washed in months and just did not lie on her scalp properly.   In consultation with her cancer survivor friends, she decided to shave it off.    Her hairdresser gave her a “GI Jane” cut realizing that the small hairs left will fall out soon, but in a more manageable and comfortable way.    I seriously considered shaving my head in solidarity, but she asked me not to.

ONC Signals a Shift From Documents to Interfaces

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flying cadeuciiAll of you Meaningful Use and Health IT junkies should read Data for Individual Health  Although long, it’s definitely worth a scan by everyone who cares about health tech. This is the third JASON-related report in a year out of ONC and it comes a month or so before the planned release of the first details of ONC’s announced 10yr plan. I think there’s a reason for that much of it introduced by ONC’s earlier post.

There are three key points I would highlight:

First, and most important, this report suggests that HIPAA Covered Entities (mostly hospitals, doctors and their EHRs) are no longer the center. The future, labeled as the Learning Health System, now makes mobile and patient-centered technology equally important as part of the architecture and talks about interoperability with them rather than “health information exchange” among HIPAA CE’s and their Meaningful Use mandates.

Second, this JASON report, unlike the previous two, does not talk about Meaningful Use any more. That money is spent. A lot of orgs are lobbying against any more MU mandates and, although I’m pretty sure there will be a Stage 3, it could be toothless or very much delayed.

Third, Direct, the original Blue Button, Blue Button Plus Push, and CCDA files are pretty much history.  Although the JASONs don’t say it as plainly as I am, document-based interoperability has failed and we’re moving on to Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that don’t use CCDA or any of the stuff mandated by MU 1 and 2. Blue Button Plus Pull and FHIR, both with a modern industry-standard OAuth security scheme, are the future for all sorts of good reasons which you need to read the JASON reports with some care to understand. It’s all there.

Finding Common Ground in the Search for Better Patient Care and Outcomes

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A basic rule of scientific discovery is that the answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask.

That is certainly the case in health care. Traditionally, it has been the sole responsibility of health researchers to develop questions for study that, when answered, can provide reliable and relevant information for patients and clinicians. For the most part, they’ve done an exceptional job, as evidenced by countless discoveries about the nature of disease and remarkable advances in diagnosing, preventing and treating them. But when researchers are the only ones determining scientific inquiry, other critical perspectives can be missed – most notably, the practical, frequent questions asked by patients, caregivers and clinicians about the best choice among two or more for options that are available.

But what if we tried something different – still soliciting the best ideas for studies from the research community but focusing on questions most important to patients, their families, clinicians and other healthcare stakeholders not traditionally involved in the research process? What if we then brought those same stakeholders, plus top scientists, into the room where proposals to study those questions are judged? What if we also sought to make them partners on the research teams that design and conduct the studies and help get the word out on results that could improve care and outcomes?

Making Hard Decisions Easier

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Shortly after I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer a scan showed a hot spot on my lower spine.  Was it the spread of cancer?  My oncologist scheduled a bone biopsy at my hospital, Maimonides Medical Center, in order for us to find out.

A few days before the procedure, I went in for preadmissions testing.  As part of my formal intake, in addition to collecting my insurance information and poking and prodding me a few times, the nurse asked me if I would like to fill out an advance directive. This was not because she was a miraculous oracle who knew the outcome of my biopsy, which would leave me with a Stage IV  diagnosis. No, her question was merely standard procedure.  I said yes, and shortly, a specially trained social worker arrived to walk me through the process.

A cheerful young woman reminiscent of camp counselor sat down next to me with papers neatly attached to her clipboard.  The first step, she explained, is appointing a health care proxy, someone you trust to make health decisions for you should you become incapacitated.  Being a nurse, I knew this, but it was comforting having someone there with me while I filled out the form. I chose my mother.  Since my diagnosis, she and I had had numerous conversations about what I wanted should my disease progress and take away my quality of life. I trusted that she would respect my wishes, even if that meant making painful decisions as my disease progresses.

There is another form of advance directive that I haven’t completed yet—but will—with the assistance of that same social worker.  It is nationally known as the POLST or Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment.  Developed in Oregon and disseminated by the California Healthcare Foundation, POLST turns the treatment wishes of seriously ill individuals into physician-signed medical orders that the health care team must follow.

When Is Closing an Ongoing Clinical Trial a Betrayal of Participants?

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We have become aware of several instances of precipitous and, in our view, egregious and unjustified closures of on-going clinical trials in which a substantial number of patients were already participating in investigational efforts, some involving biopsies for research purposes.

These closures raise serious ethical issues for the research community. We will discuss those issues and some possible changes in how trials are conducted to address the problem. It is our premise that closing on-going clinical trials without scientific, efficacy, or safety justification is an abhorrent affront to all participants in clinical research as well as a fundamental betrayal of the trust that motivates patient participants to enroll in clinical trials.

Cancer patients who accept the risk of an investigational drug are true partners in bringing new agents to market. They hope they will benefit but, regardless of personal benefit/response, they hope the researchers will learn something to help other patients. Patients participate in clinical research for multiple reasons but, particularly in the case of agreeing to undergo mandatory research biopsies, do so because the research has the potential to improve the care, treatment approach, and standards for cancer patients.

They engage in a relationship with researchers based on their trust in the integrity of the researchers and the system within which the researchers work. Any cavalier approach to the commitment patients make to research is indefensible and particularly reprehensible when participants undergo internal organ biopsies.

Violating the trust of these patients also violates the trust the patients place in the investigators, undermining patient confidence in and availability for research. That trust and any violation of it are deepened when the researcher is also a given patient’s treating oncologist.

It is with good reason that human beings who enroll in clinical trials are called participants, not subjects. A participant is one who takes part in something—an active, volitional partner or colleague. A subject is one, mouse or human, who is under the power or authority and at the incontestable will of another or others. That difference between a participant and a subject is significant and germane to this discussion of when and why it is or is not appropriate to close a clinical trial.

Bringing Nurses Into the Cost Containment Discussion

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Why are nurses not usually integrated into the cost containment discussion? Why have we not been invited to the table? Likely, it is because we don’t have the power to order (or discontinue) tests, labs, or medications, all of which are major factors in the rising costs of care. Even so, a nursing perspective can be important and should be considered when doctors make treatment decisions.

For example, I recently treated a patient who had undergone abdominal surgery. Despite uncomplicated post-operative days 1 and 2, on day 3, he developed nausea, vomiting, and an increasingly distended abdomen. I administered intravenous anti-nausea medications, along with back rubs and cool cloths on his forehead. None of the treatments worked. While waiting for the doctor, I sat with the patient and spoke to him about the possibility of receiving a nasogastric tube to alleviate his symptoms. Given an understanding of the process, the patient agreed to this possibility and I paged the doctor once again. The doctor eventually placed the nasogastric tube, the tube was connected to suction, and out came a liter of gastric contents.

I then noticed that the doctor had put in an order for an abdominal x-ray to “check nasogastric tube placement.” Seeing this, I initiated a conversation with the doctor to discuss the patient’s symptomatic improvement as well as his current state of exhaustion. I assured the doctor that nurses would be at the patient’s bedside to monitor for signs and symptoms of tube malfunction. As a result, the doctor cancelled the x-ray, which not only eliminated an unnecessary test for the patient, but also reduced the cost associated with his care.

Sony Hack Reveals Health Details on Employees and Their Children

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The Interview
On top of everything else, the Sony data breach revealed employees’ sensitive health information:  Top Sony executives saw lists of named employees who had costly medical treatments and saw detailed psychiatric treatment records of one employee’s son.

Like last year’s revelation by AOL’s CEO, it shows US corporations look at employees’ health information and costs. By ‘outing’ the fact that 2 of AOL’s 5,000 employees had premature infants whose treatment cost over $1 million each, the CEO violated the employees’ rights to health information privacy.

Trusted relationships simply cannot exist if individuals have no right to decide who to let in and who to keep out of pii. Current US technology systems make it impossible for us to control personal health data, inside or outside of the healthcare system.

Do you trust your employer not to snoop in your personal health information?  How can you trust your employer without a ‘chain of custody’ for  your health data? There is no transparency or accountability for the sale or use of our health data, even though Congress gave us the right to obtain an “Accounting for Disclosures (A4D)” for disclosures of protected health data from EHRs in the 2009 stimulus bill (the regulations have yet to be written).  And we have no complete map that tracks the millions of places US citizens’ health data flows. See: TheDataMap.