I was enjoying drinks last week with Jody Holtzman (AARP), Terry Booker (IBC), and Doug Ghertner (change:healthcare) at a wonderful conference sponsored by Oliver Wyman. Jody was waxing eloquent about how every start-up needs a strategy for the senior population, when – after a few too many drinks – I emphatically told everyone at the table that I had the senior market cracked. I had experienced first hand the ills of the American health care system for seniors and had identified the perfect solutions.
My father-in-law grew up on a small, Kosher dairy farm outside of Pennsylvania (insert Jewish farmer joke here). He is 72 years old, he was about 40 pounds overweight, he has been widowed for about four years, and, about 30 minutes after my mother-in-law passed away, he started dating a woman that my wife never quite accepted, which is akin to saying that Russia is watching events unfold in the Ukraine from the sidelines (and to be clear, I don’t condone either position).
In January of this year, he was jumping from a backhoe onto a helicopter pad (don’t ask), fell 6 feet, and shattered his heel. The heel is a terrible bone to break in general (poor circulation) and, in particular, for someone who is older and a bit overweight (my goal is to not use the word “patient” once in this article because we aren’t patients, we’re people). Continue reading “Starvation: The Cure For the Obesity Epidemic. Or Will Esther Dyson Be My Next Mother-In-Law?”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: AARP, Esther Dyson, Geriatrics, Humor Not Legitimate Policy Proposals (HNLPP), Obesity
Dec 12, 2014
A friend called me the other day: he is moving his 93 year old father from New England to the Bay Area.
This is, of course, a relatively common scenario: aging adult moves — or is moved by family — to a new place to live.
Seamless transition to new medical providers ensues. As does optimal management of chronic health issues. Not.
Naturally, my friend is anxious to ensure that his father gets properly set up with medical care here. His dad doesn’t have dementia, but does have significant heart problems.
My friend also knows that the older a person gets, the more likely that he or she will benefit from the geriatrics approach and knowledge base. So he’s asked me to do a consultation on his father. For instance, he wants to make sure the medications are all ok for a man of his father’s age and condition.
Last but not least, my friend knows that healthcare is often flawed and imperfect. So he sees this transition as an opportunity to have his father’s health — and medical management plan — reviewed and refreshed.
This last request is not strictly speaking a geriatrics issue. This is just a smart proactive patient technique: to periodically reassess an overall medical care plan, and consider getting the input of new doctors while you do this. (Your usual doctors may or may not be able to rethink what they’ve been doing.) But of course, if you are a 93 year old patient — or the proxy for an older adult — it’s sensible to see if a geriatrician can offer you this review.
Continue reading “What PHR Should I Use? It’s Complicated.”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: Care management plan, Caregiving, Chronic conditions, Geriatrics, PHRs, Relocation
Aug 24, 2014
Here’s a design approach that I really, really dislike: the scrolling wheel that is often used for number entry in iOS apps:
I find that the scrolling wheel makes it very tiresome to enter numbers, and much prefer apps that offer a number pad, or another way to touch the number you need. (Or at least decrease the number at hand in sensible increments.)
You may think I’m being too picky, but I really think our ability to leverage technology will hinge in part on these apps and devices being very usable.
And that usability has to be considered for everyone involved: patients, caregivers, and clinicians.
Why am I looking at an app to enter blood pressure?
Let me start by saying that ideally nobody should be entering vitals data manually. (Not me, not the patient, not the caregivers, not the assisted-living facility staff.)
Instead, we should all be surrounded by BP machines that easily send their data to some computerized system, and said system should then be able to display and share the data without too much hassle.
But, we don’t yet live in this world, to my frequent mild sorrow. This means that it’s still a major hassle to have regular people track what is probably the number one most useful data for us in internal medicine and geriatrics: blood pressure (BP) & pulse.
Why is BP and pulse data so useful, so often?
To begin with, we need this data when people are feeling unwell, as it helps us assess how serious things might be.
And of course, even when people aren’t acutely ill, we often need this data. That’s because most of our patients are either:
- Taking medication that affects BP and pulse (like cardiovascular meds, but many others affect as well)
- Living with a chronic condition that can affect BP and pulse (such as a-fib)
- All the above
As we know, the occasional office-based measurement is a lousy way to ascertain usual BP (which is relevant for chronic meds), and may not capture episodic disturbances.
Continue reading “An Example of Bad Design: This App’s Interface for Entering Blood Pressure”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Apps, Blood Pressure, Caregiving, Geriatrics, Leslie Kernisan, Tech, Telemonitoring, Wellness
Apr 14, 2014
When it comes to high blood pressure treatment in the elderly, the plot continues to thicken.
Last December, a minor controversy erupted when the JNC hypertension guidelines proposed a higher blood pressure (BP) treatment target (150/90) for adults aged 60+.
And now this month, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that over 3 years, among a cohort of 4961 community-dwelling Medicare patients aged 70+ and diagnosed with hypertension, those on blood pressure medication had more serious falls.
Serious falls as in: emergency room visits or hospitalizations for fall-related fracture, brain injury, or dislocation of the hip, knee, shoulder, or jaw. In other words, we talking about real injuries and real patient suffering. (As well as real healthcare utilization, for those who care about such things.)
How many more serious falls are we talking? The study cohort was divided into three groups: no antihypertensive medication (14.1%), moderate intensity treatment (54.6%), and high-intensity treatment (31.3%).
Over the three year follow-up period, a serious fall injury happened to 7.5% of those in the no-antihypertensive group, 9.8% of the moderate-intensity group, and 8.2% of the high-intensity group. In a propensity-matched subcohort, serious falls happened to 7.1% of the no-treatment group, 8.6% of the moderate-intensity group, and 8.5% of the high-intensity group. (Propensity-matching is a technique meant to adjust for confounders – such as overall illness burden — between the three groups.)
The methodologists in the audience should certainly read the paper in detail and go find things to pick apart. For the rest of us, what are the practical take-aways?
Continue reading “Clinic: A Cautionary Note About the Risks of Blood Pressure Treatment in the Elderly”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Blood Pressure, Geriatrics, Leslie Kernisan, Telemonitoring, Wellness
Feb 28, 2014
When it comes to the health care of a frail older person, families really need a good personal health record (PHR) system. So I am once again preparing to take a look at what’s available, in hopes of finding something that I can more confidently recommend to the families I work with. (To see what medical info I urge families to track, see this Geriatrics for Caregivers post.)
I have — yet again — met a family with reams of paper health records. On one hand, they’ve done very well: at our first visit they were able to show me labs, MRI results, and even some specialty consultations from last summer. They even had a hospital discharge summary, although unfortunately not the one from the most recent hospitalization.
And they’d taken steps to digitally organize, having scanned several key items, as well as created an online space providing shared access to their parent’s information.
So this is better than the situation I often encounter, which is that an elderly person has seen multiple outpatient doctors, has been hospitalized in a few different facilities, and no one has a copy of anything handy. (See why new elderly patients are a killer in primary care? If there is no data you fly blind, if there IS data it can take hours to review it.)
Still, there are clearly many ways a little well-designed technology could improve things for this family – and for the doctors trying to help them.
Here are the problems we have right now:
- Hard to search the whole pile, whether on paper or via the family’s online repository of PDFs. These were not OCRed and searchable until I manually converted them with my own PDF editor, after which I had to upload them to the patient’s chart in my EMR. Now each file is text searchable (for me), but the pile still is not.
- Cannot trend the labs. Figuring out what has happened to this patient’s key lab values over the past year has been very labor-intensive. This remains a problem once the lab data is uploaded to my EMR, because it’s still in PDFs which have to be looked at one at a time. Being the nerdy doc that I am, I’ve spent a fair bit of time creating a note that summarizes the key lab data over time. Ugh. Better than nothing but a far cry from being able to graph and trend the patient’s labs as needed.
- Takes ongoing time and effort to get records from the hospitals and other involved doctors. Kudos to this family for being diligent and persistent in asking for copies of everything they can. But wow, it’s a lot of effort for them, and I can tell you that in my practice so far, I’ve generally had to expend a fair amount of energy repeatedly asking for information from other providers. (And then I’ve had to try to organize all this info which comes in as scanned images via fax. Oy!)
Continue reading “In Search of a Really Usable PHR”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: caregivers, Design, FutureMed, Geriatrics, health records, Leslie Kernisan, PHRs
Jan 11, 2014
Last month an intriguing new decision support app launched, created by experts in geriatrics and palliative care. It’s meant to help with an important primary care issue: cancer screening in older adults.
Have you ever asked yourself, when considering cancer screening for an older adult, whether the likely harms outweigh the likely benefits?
Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. The sentence above, after all, is a bit of wonky formulation for the following underlying questions:
- How long is this person likely to live, given age and health situation?
- Given this person’s prognosis, does cancer screening make sense?
The first question seems like one that could easily occur to a person — whether that be a patient, a family member, or a clinician – although I suspect it doesn’t occur to people perhaps as often as it should.
As for the second question, I’m not sure how often it pops up in people’s minds, although it’s certainly very important to consider, given what we now know about the frequent harms of cancer screening in the elderly, and usually less frequent benefits.
Furthermore, there is abundant evidence that “inappropriate” cancer screening remains common. “Inappropriate” meaning the screening of people who are so unwell and/or old that they’re unlikely to live long enough to benefit from screening.
For instance, one astounding study found that 25% of physicians said they’d order colon cancer screening for an 80 year old with inoperable lung cancer. So it’s clear that improving the decision-making around cancer screening would help improve healthcare safety, quality, and value.
Continue reading “The ePrognosis App: How Calculating Life Expectancy Can Influence Healthcare Decision-Making”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: ePrognosis, Geriatrics, Leslie Kernisan, Screening
Nov 22, 2013
I recently attended the flagship Health 2.0 conference for the first time.
To avoid driving in traffic, I commuted via Caltrain, and while commuting, I read Katy Butler’s book “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”
Brief synopsis: healthy active well-educated older parents, father suddenly suffers serious stroke, goes on to live another six years of progressive decline and dementia, life likely extended by cardiologist putting in pacemaker, spouse and daughter struggle with caregiving and perversities of healthcare system, how can we do better? See original NYT magazine article here.
(Although the book is subtitled “The Path to a Better Way of Death,” it’s definitely not just about dying. It’s about the fuzzy years leading up to dying, which generally don’t feel like a definite end-of-life situation to the families and clinicians involved.)
The contrast between the world in the book — an eloquent description of the health, life, and healthcare struggles that most older adults eventually endure — and the world of Health 2.0′s innovations and solutions was a bit striking.
I found myself walking around the conference, thinking “How would this help a family like the Butlers? How would this help their clinicians better meet their needs?”
The answer, generally, was unclear. At Health 2.0, as at many digital health events, there is a strong bias toward things like wellness, healthy lifestyles, prevention, big data analytics, and making patients the CEOs of their own health.
Oh and, there was also the Nokia XPrize Sensing Challenge, because making biochemical diagnostics cheap, mobile, and available to consumers is not only going to change the world, but according to the XPrize rep I spoke to, it will solve many of the problems I currently have in caring for frail elders and their families.
(In truth it would be nice if I could check certain labs easily during a housecall, and the global health implications are huge. But enabling more biochemical measurements on my aging patients is not super high on my priority list.)
Continue reading “Knocking on Health 2.0′s Door”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: caregivers, digital health, End of Life Care, Entrepreneurs, Geriatrics, Health 2.0, Health 2.0 Fall 2013 Conference, Knocking on Heaven's Door, Leslie Kernisan, Tech
Oct 16, 2013
I assume by now that you’ve heard the news: Google wants to tackle aging. Specifically, they announced this week the launch of Calico, “a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.”
Because, says Larry Page, with some “moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.”
“Can Google Solve DEATH?” shrieks a TIME cover.
Google’s goal, it seems is to find ways to extend human lifespan and essentially stave off aging.
Coincidentally, on the same day Physician’s First Watch directed me towards this NEJM editorial, announcing that NEJM and the Harvard Business Review are teaming up on a project on Leading Health Care Innovation.
Here is the paragraph that particularly caught my eye:
“The health care community and the business community today share a fundamental interest in finding ways to achieve higher value in health care. The ultimate objective for both communities is to keep people healthy, prevent the chronic illnesses that consume a large fraction of our health care dollars, use medical interventions appropriately and only when needed, and create an economically sustainable approach to the delivery of health care. While we want to foster innovation and novel therapies against disease, we also recognize that, whenever possible, prevention of disease before it is established is the better solution.” [Emphasis mine.]
And therein lies the rub. Whether it’s Google or a high-powered partnership between NEJM & HBR, everyone is enamored of prevention and innovative cures.
Let’s prevent those pesky chronic diseases! Let’s cure aging!
Ah, spare me.
Continue reading “Who Will Solve Healthcare For Our Parents And Grandparents? Probably Not Google.”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: aging, Calico, Caregiving, Geriatrics, Google, Innovation, Leslie Kernisan, prevention
Sep 25, 2013
Huge numbers of older persons transition from hospitals to the nursing home. Often, an older hospitalized patient needs skilled nursing care before they are ready to return home. In other cases, a nursing home patient who needed hospitalization is returning to the nursing home. Older patients and their families certainly hope that great communication between the hospital and nursing home would assure a seamless transition in care.
But a rather stunning study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests the quality of communication between the hospital and the nursing home is horrendous. The study was led by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, including nurse researcher, Dr. Barbara King and Geriatrician Dr. Amy Kind.
The authors conducted interviews and focus groups with 27 front line nurses in skilled nursing facilities. These nurses noted that very difficult transitions were the norm. Sadly, when asked to give the details of a good transition, none of the nurses were able to think of an example.
Most of the nurses felt that they were left clueless about what happened to the their patient in the hospital. They lacked essential details about their patient’s clinical status. The problem was not the lack of paper work that accompanied the patient. In fact, nurses often received reams of paper work, often over 80 pages. The problem is that the paper work was generally full of meaningless gibberish such as surgical flow sheets that told little about what was actually going on.
Often the transfer information had errors, conflicted with what the facility was told before the transfer, and lacked accurate information about medications.
Continue reading “An “F” for Quality”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: elder care, Geriatrics, Hospitals, Journal of American Geriatrics Society, Ken Covinsky, Nurses, Nursing Homes, Outcomes, Quality, skilled nursing facilities
Aug 27, 2013
The following column appears today on THCB, in the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times and at ProPublica.
Your doctor hands you a prescription for a blood pressure drug. But is it the right one for you?
You’re searching for a new primary care physician or a specialist. Is there a way you can know whether the doctor is more partial to expensive, brand-name drugs than his peers?
Or say you’ve got to find a nursing home for a loved one. Wouldn’t you want to know if the staff doctor regularly prescribes drugs known to be risky for seniors or overuses psychiatric drugs to sedate residents?
For most of us, evaluating a doctor’s prescribing habits is just about impossible. Even doctors themselves have little way of knowing whether their drug choices fall in line with those of their peers.
Once they graduate from medical schools, physicians often have a tough time keeping up with the latest clinical trials and sorting through the hype on new drugs. Seldom are they monitored to see if they are prescribing appropriately — and there isn’t even universal agreement on what good prescribing is.
This dearth of knowledge and insight matters for both patients and doctors. Drugs are complicated. Most come with side effects and risk-benefit calculations. What may work for one person may be absolutely inappropriate, or even harmful, for someone else.
Antipsychotics, for example, are invaluable to treat severe psychiatric conditions. But they are too often used to sedate older patients suffering from dementia — despite a “black-box” warning accompanying the drugs that they increase the risk of death in such patients.
Continue reading “Why You Should Care About the Drugs Your Doctor Prescribes”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Charles Ornstein, Geriatrics, Medicare Part D, painkillers, Physicians, prescription drugs, Senior Care, Tracy Weber
Jul 16, 2013