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: Hospitals, 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, The Insider's Guide To Health Care
Tagged: Charles Ornstein, Geriatrics, Medicare Part D, painkillers, Physicians, prescription drugs, Senior Care, Tracy Weber
Jul 16, 2013
This past week, the NYT New Old Age Blog featured a post about me and my practice. Titled “Walking Away from Medicare,” it describes my decision to opt-out of Medicare and create a different kind of geriatric practice.
It has generated quite a lot of comments: 163 at my latest count. Most of them judge me pretty harshly. It seems that many people feel that I’m doing this for the money. And that I don’t care about society or older people.
Of course, if you know me or if you’ve been reading this blog, then you’ll know that nothing could be further from the truth. My practice is fairly small, in part because my goal in having this practice was to have a way to keep working with patients and families, while having the flexibility to pursue my other professional interests. Since I started the practice, I’ve spent most of my time writing for this blog, learning about the worlds of digital health and healthcare innovation, and thinking about how we can teach geriatrics directly to caregivers.
Continue reading “Not Walking Away From Medicare”
Filed Under: Physicians
Tagged: Geriatrics, Leslie Kernisan, Long Term Care, Medicare, practice management
Jul 1, 2013
Even before I launched my geriatric consultation practice, I found myself often pouring over another doctor’s outpatient notes, trying to explain to a patient what the other doctor was doing.
Sometimes these other doctors were specialists to whom I’d referred the patient. But often they were simply clinicians – either previous PCPs or currently involved specialists — whose involvement with the patient predated my own.
Not every patient had questions and concerns about what their other healthcare providers were saying, and doing, but a fair number of them did. And family caregivers, in particular, were often concerned that perhaps their older loved one hadn’t been getting the “right” medical care.
These are, in truth, legitimate concerns patients have. In a busy outpatient setting, doctors often don’t have the time to explain the assessment and plan to a patient and family. And in many cases, the care that clinicians provide may not correspond to best practice guidelines – if applicable to the situation – or to the patient’s preferences and values.
So if you are a concerned patient or family member, and you’re not entirely sure about the medical care you’re getting, what to do?
- Look up the provider’s quality ratings online, through a government, non-profit, or other website?
- Figure that the ACO or payer is on top of it, now that we are moving to pay-for-quality and fee-for-value?
- See what other patients have said about the provider’s care?
- See how many doctors are referring to the provider in question, and assume that if many doctors refer to this clinician, the clinician must be good?
- Look up your medical problems online, and try to determine for yourself whether you’d been getting the right medical care?
- Get a second opinion from another doctor?
My guess is that most patients and families end up trying one – or both – of the last options. In this post, I’ll explain why I’ve come to believe that facilitating second opinions is integral to empowering patients, and to improving the quality of outpatient care.
Why seek a second opinion
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve found myself trying to solve a problem in which I lacked adequate expertise, I’ve turned to a professional for help. (I haven’t had to do this for medical reasons in the past decade, but have done it for issues such as home renovation and website design.)
And in many cases, after meeting with an expert for a while, I’ve then turned to yet another expert to get an additional perspective on the issue at hand.
Continue reading “How Patients Can Assess the Quality of Their Outpatient Care”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Geriatrics, Leslie Kernisan, Patients, primary care, second opinions
Jun 27, 2013
An 85-year-old woman with moderate Alzheimer’s disease who enjoys walking in her nursing home’s garden with her walker has fallen and broken her hip. An advance directive signed by the patient states a preference for “Comfort Measures Only,” and specifically states that she does not want to be transferred to the hospital. The physician believes that surgery would provide long-term pain relief and the chance to maintain some mobility.
What do you do? How do you reconcile her previously expressed hypothetical wishes in an Advance Directive with what is now a rather unanticipated scenario?
In a paper published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine, Alex Smith, Bernard Lo, and Rebecca Sudore developed a 5-question framework to help physicians and surrogates through the decision making process in time like this. The framework proposes 5 key-questions to untangle these conflicts:
- Is the clinical situation an emergency?
- In view of the patient’s values and goals, how likely will the benefits of the intervention outweigh the burdens?
Continue reading “When Is It Appropriate to Ignore an Advance Directive? Is It Ever Appropriate to Ignore a Patient?”
Filed Under: THCB, The Insider's Guide To Health Care
Tagged: Advance directive, Eric Widera, Geriatrics, Palliative Care
Jun 12, 2013
What user personas do healthcare technology designers and entrepreneurs have in mind as they create their products? And how often is it the family caregiver of an elderly person?
This is the question I found myself mulling over as I wandered around the Health Refactored conference recently, surrounded by developers, designers, and entrepreneurs.
The issue particularly popped into my head when I decided to try Microsoft Healthvault after listening to Microsoft’s Sean Nolan give a very good keynote on the perils of pilots and the praises of platforms (such as HealthVault).
As some know, I’ve been in search of apps and services that can help older adults and their families keep track of lengthy and frequently-changing medication lists. For years now I’ve been urging family caregivers to maintain some kind of online list of medications, but so far I haven’t found a specific app or service to recommend.
Why? Because they all require way too much effort to enter long medication lists. Which means they are hardly usable for my patients’ families.
Could HealthVault do better? Having heard generally promising things about the service these past several months, I signed up and decided to pretend I was the daughter of one of my elderly patients, who had finally decided to take Dr. Kernisan’s advice and find some online way to keep track of Mom’s 15 medications.
Sigh. It’s nice and easy to sign up for HealthVault. However, it’s not so easy to add 15 medications into the system. When I click the “+” sign next to current medications, I am offered a pop-up box with several fields to complete.
Continue reading “Designing for Caregivers”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: caregivers, Design, Geriatrics, Health: Refactored, HIT, Leslie Kernisan, Long Term Care, Microsoft Healthvault, Tech
May 25, 2013
One of the many challenges I face in my clinical work is keeping track of a patient’s multiple health issues, and staying on top of the plan for each issue.
As you might imagine, if I’m having trouble with this, then the patients and families probably are as well.
After all, I don’t just mean keeping up with the multiple recommendations that we clinicians easily generate during an encounter with an older patient.
I mean ensuring that we all keep up with *everything* on the medical problem list, so that symptoms are adequately managed, chronic diseases get followed up on correctly, appropriate preventive care is provided, and we close the loop on previous concerns raised.
This, I have found, is not so easy to do. In fact, I would say that the current norm is for health issues to frequently fall between the cracks, with only a small minority of PCPs able to consistently keep up with all health issues affecting a medically complex adult.
Continue reading “Zen and the Art of Charting”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: Care coordination, Charting, Diagnosis, EHR, Geriatrics, HIT, Leslie Kernisan, Patients, primary care
Mar 1, 2013