In my previous blog, I made the argument that whatever strategy we use to improve care in hospitals will not be implemented and executed well without proper focus by hospital leadership. So, it is in this context, that we recently published some pretty disappointing findings that are worth reflecting on.
We examined the pay of CEOs across U.S. hospitals and found that some CEOs got paid a lot more than others. This was not surprising. CEOs of larger, urban, teaching hospitals get paid a lot more than CEOs of small, rural, non-teaching institutions. But the disappointment was around quality: we found no relationship between a hospital’s quality performance and the pay of the CEO. Holding size, teaching, and other factors constant, what was the pay of CEOs of hospitals with high mortality rates?
About the same as CEOs of hospitals with low mortality rates. What about other quality measures? Most of them didn’t really seem to matter, with the exception of patient experience, which correlated nicely with CEO compensation. It seems that when setting CEO compensation, patient outcomes are not a big part of the discussion. How could this be, and why does it matter?
How you set incentives for senior managers says a lot about your priorities. Boards generally set the salary for their CEOs and they clearly reward patient satisfaction scores. That’s good. They also seem to reward the things that build hospital reputations: having the latest technology such as a PET scanner or academic status. But are boards rewarding CEOs based on mortality rates or adherence to basic quality metrics? Not so much. Why not? I’ve spoken to a lot of board chairpersons over the years and the answer is not that they don’t care. Most boards want to reward quality and believe that they do.
The problem is that most board members lack sufficient expertise on quality metrics and can’t decipher, from the large number of quality metrics, which ones are important (like mortality rates) and which ones are not. Hamstrung, they focus on satisfaction but also end up rewarding things that feel like proxies for quality, such as having the latest technology. And here’s the part that’s frustrating – our national efforts on quality measurement and improvement are not helping. We seem to have done very little to prioritize what’s really important, and shine a light on them.
So what do we do to move forward? Some states have started requiring that boards undergo training in quality. Medicare, as a condition of participation, could certainly require that boards (or at least some members thereof) show a degree of expertise with quality. I like these ideas but worry that training programs would themselves be of variable quality, and for some boards it would become an onerous requirement without achieving real gains in expertise.
Of course, if we really want to help boards be more effective and engage healthcare leaders, the biggest thing that we could do is actually reward hospitals, in a meaningful way, based on quality. Yes, we have the value-based purchasing program, and it is well-intentioned. But, as I’ve written before, it has several big problems. First and foremost: the incentives are very weak and there is little reason to believe it will have a meaningful impact on patient outcomes. Second, the measures are diffuse – we have too many of them, some of which matter (mortality) and many which don’t in the absence of the appropriate clinical context (checking the ejection fraction on a heart failure patient). It’s hard for hospital boards to really get a clear signal on what matters if they aren’t seeing it clearly and consistently from national leaders on quality.
Continue reading “Hospital Exec Pay: If P4P is Good Enough for Doctors, Why Not the CEO?”
Filed Under: Hospitals, THCB
Tagged: Ashish Jha, Hospitals, Quality
Nov 8, 2013
I was recently chastised by a colleague for being too negative in one of my pieces on hospital care. His is a remarkable story of what happens when things go well, and it has made me think a lot about why, in some places, things seem to work while in others, not so much.
He told me how a few months ago, soon after returning to Boston from a trip to China, he had started feeling short of breath. When his cardiologist convinced him to be evaluated, he found himself at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), arriving in the ER late one evening. He was triaged within minutes, had an EKG within 15 minutes, at which time comparisons were made to previous EKGs. After ruling out a heart attack, his ER physicians quickly ordered a CT Angiogram.
That test, completed within an hour of his initial arrival to the ER, revealed the reason for his shortness of breath: he had a large saddle pulmonary embolus. He was started immediately on IV heparin and sent quickly to the ICU, experiencing essentially no delay in care. He spent three days there and reports receiving care that was attentive, expert, and consistently of the highest quality. Even after discharge, he received two nursing visits at home to ensure he was doing OK. In discussing his experience, he repeatedly emphasized the fantastic communication and teamwork that he witnessed. Weeks after discharge, he continues to get better and feels the benefits of the excellent care he received.
This is the story we all hope for. And when I heard it, I have to say that I wasn’t surprised. There’s something about the BIDMC that’s unusual. Of the 4,500 hospitals that report their mortality rates to Medicare’s Hospital Compare website, only 22 (less than 0.5%) have better than predicted mortality rates for all three reported conditions: heart attack, congestive heart failure, and pneumonia. And, we know that the combined performance on these three conditions is remarkably good at predicting hospital-wide outcomes, including outcomes for pulmonary embolism.
If you are a patient and care deeply about good outcomes, BIDMC seems to be a good place for you.
So what’s so special about them? What do they do that’s different? I don’t know, specifically, all of their tactics, but I have some guesses about what seems to differentiate high performing institutions from the rest. And in a word, it’s leadership. BIDMC has had two CEOs over the past few years, and both of them have been unusually committed to achieving high quality care. That commitment translates into real activities that make a big difference. Let me divert us with a story of what this might actually mean.
A few years ago, I was working on a strategy for improving the quality and safety of VA healthcare. As part of this effort, I called up senior quality leaders of major healthcare organizations across the nation. One call is particularly memorable. Because I promised anonymity, I will not name names but this clinical leader was very clear about his responsibility: every month, he met with his CEO, who began the meetings with three simple questions: “How many patients did we hurt last month? How many patients did we fail to help? And did we do better than the month before?”
The CEO and the entire hospital took responsibility for every preventable injury and death that occurred and the culture of the place was focused on one thing: getting better. When I looked them up on Hospital Compare, they too had excellent outcomes and they regularly get “A” ratings for patient safety from the Leapfrog Group.
Continue reading “How Many Patients Did We Hurt Last Month? Learning (But Not Too Much) From The Best Hospitals”
Filed Under: Hospitals, Tech, THCB
Tagged: Ashish Jha, BIDMC, Hospital Compare, Quality, VA Health System
Nov 6, 2013
The dull whir of the computer running in the background seemed to have gotten louder as the patient fell quiet. She was a young woman, a primary-care patient of mine, seeking a referral to yet another gastroenterologist. Her abdominal pain had already been checked out by two of the city’s most renowned gastroenterologists with invasive testing, CAT scans and endoscopic procedures.
But she wasn’t satisfied with her diagnosis — irritable bowel syndrome — or the recommended treatment and wanted a third opinion. I tried to reason with her but failed to convince her otherwise. Even when I acquiesced and gave her the referral, she walked out visibly unhappy. I sat there listening to the whirring, feeling disappointed.
Physicians love being liked. They also love doing their jobs well. With other incentives, such as monetary returns, dwindling, the elation we get from satisfying a patient as well as providing them good care is what still makes being a doctor special. But is keeping patients satisfied and delivering high-quality care the same thing? And more important, can patients tell if they are getting good care?
Policymakers certainly think so. In fact, under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid hospital reimbursements are now being tied to patient satisfaction numbers.
But the association between patient satisfaction and the quality of care is far from straightforward, and its validity as a measure of quality is unclear.
In fact, a study published in April and conducted by surgeons at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine showed that patient satisfaction was not related to the quality of surgical care. And a 2006 study found that patients’ perception of their care had no relationship to the actual technical quality of care they received. Furthermore, a 2012 UC Davis study found that patients with higher satisfaction scores are likely to have more physician visits, longer hospital stays and higher mortality. All this data may indicate that patients are equating more care with better care.
Although patients and their physicians generally have similar goals, that is not always the case. As a resident, who is not paid on a per-service basis, I have no incentive to order extra testing or additional procedures for my patients if they’re not warranted. But one study found that physicians who are paid on a fee-for-service basis and therefore have an incentive to deliver services — needed or not — are more likely to deliver these services (such as an MRI for routine back pain).
On top of that, as another study found, they also are more liked by their patients. It is no wonder then that the number of patients with back pain, one of the most common reasons for physician visits, are increasingly being overmanaged with MRIs and narcotic pain medications.
Continue reading “In Medicine, More May Not Be Better”
Filed Under: Physicians
Tagged: Haider Javed Warraich, Outcomes, Overtreatment, Patients, Physicians, practice of medicine, Quality
Oct 23, 2013
A year and a half ago, my husband, James Morgan, and I moved back to the U.S. after living 10 years in France.
We returned more or less kicking and screaming. We had been away long enough to lose some of our American culture and to prefer the European way of life, despite our squabbles with it–and every American abroad has some squabbles. I had discovered I was a born expat, something I’d suspected my entire adult life — from my first trip to Europe when I was 19 years old–but hadn’t arranged to test until my younger daughter graduated from high school. Jim and I are both writers, and I’d thought of a book idea for him (Chasing Matisse) that would take us to France, and my intention was for us to stay there.
But there were things we’d left undone for the 10 years we’d been away that needing tending to — life was calling us back. And if the truth be known, I felt France was falling behind in the world, and her inability to change was grating. Paris was stuck in her perpetual stupendous, effervescent beauty, while nothing new happened there at all. This city I love more than any other had long since lost the artistic dynamism that had propelled it forward with Picasso, Matisse, and the other artists that the Lost Generation had adopted and promoted in the early part of the 20th century, when Malcolm Cowley wrote his classic Exile’s Return.
The World Wars had crippled France for a time, and she had gotten back on her feet. But what the French do so very well is the past — not the present or future — and this is even truer in our digital global society. The French refusal to change defines the Gallic nation in every way imaginable, and the centuries-long celebration of their grand culture is what we love about them — and is also placing them in the rear of the international pack.
Except for this — their Number One in the World (as determined by the World Health Organization) health care system.
One of the things I most dreaded about returning to America was having to deal with a health care system that was an embarrassing national wreck.
Continue reading “My Return to American Health Care”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Beth Arnold, insurance coverage, Quality, The Affordable Care Act
Oct 10, 2013
Why readmission penalties are controversial
Penalizing hospitals for high readmission rates has been pretty controversial. Critics of the program have argued that readmissions have little to do with what happens while the patient is in the hospital and are driven primarily by how sick or how poor the patient is. Advocates of the readmissions program increasingly acknowledge that while readmissions may not reflect the quality of care that occurred within the hospital, someone should be accountable for what happens to patients after discharge, and hospitals are the logical choice. While the controversy continues, there is little doubt that the metric is here to stay. This October, the CMS Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) will increase its penalty on excess readmissions from 1% to 2% of total hospital reimbursement.
So far, CMS has focused on readmissions that occur after patients are discharged with one of three medical conditions—acute myocardial infarction, pneumonia, and congestive heart failure. The data on the impact of the program are mixed: while readmission rates appear to be dropping, the penalties seem to be targeted towards hospitals that care for some of the sickest patients (academic medical centers), poorest patients (safety-net hospitals) and for heart failure, some of the best hospitals (those with the lowest mortality rates). No wonder the program has been controversial.
Why surgery may be different
In 2015, CMS extends the program to focus on surgical conditions, which provides an opportunity to think again about what readmissions measure, and what it might take to reduce preventable ones. And if you think about it, surgery may be different. Most patients who are admitted for Acute MI, CHF, and pneumonia are chronically ill and bounce in and out of the hospital, with any one hospitalization likely just an exacerbation of underlying chronic illness (especially true for pneumonia and heart failure). Not so for surgery—at least not for the major surgeries.
Continue reading “Finally Some Good News on Readmission Rates”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Ashish Jha, CMS, Hospitals, Quality, Readmissions, Thomas Tsai
Sep 19, 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
A few weeks ago, a middle-aged man decided to tweet about his mother’s illness from her bedside. The tweets went viral and became the subject of a national conversation. The man, of course, was NPR anchorman Scott Simon, and his reflections about his mother’s illness and ultimate death are poignant, insightful, and well worth your time.
Those same days, and unaware of Simon’s real-time reports, I also found myself caring for my hospitalized mother, and I made the same decision – to tweet from the bedside. (As with Simon’s mom, mine didn’t quite understand what Twitter is, but trusted her son that this was a good thing to do.) Being with my mother during a four-day inpatient stay offered a window into how things actually work at my own hospital, where I’ve practiced for three decades, and into the worlds of hospital care and patient safety, my professional passions. In this blog, I’ll take advantage of the absence of a 140-character limit to explore some of the lessons I learned.
First a little background. My mother is a delightful 77-year-old woman who lives with my 83-year-old father in Boca Raton, Florida. She has been generally healthy through her life. Two years ago, a lung nodule being followed on serial CT scans was diagnosed as cancer, and she underwent a right lower lobectomy, which left her mildly short of breath but with a reasonably good prognosis. In her left lower lung is another small nodule; it too is now is being followed with serial scans. While that remaining nodule may yet prove cancerous, it does not light up on PET scan nor has it grown in a year. So we’re continuing to track it, with crossed fingers.
Unfortunately, after a challenging recovery from her lung surgery, about a year ago Mom developed a small bowel obstruction (SBO). For those of you who aren’t clinical, this is one of life’s most painful events: the bowel, blocked, begins to swell as its contents back up, eventually leading to intractable nausea and vomiting, and excruciating pain. Bowel obstruction is rare in a “virgin” abdomen – the vast majority of cases result from scar tissue (“adhesions”) that formed after prior surgery. In my mother’s case, of course, we worried that the SBO was a result of metastatic lung cancer, but the investigation showed only scar tissue, probably from a hysterectomy done decades earlier.
Continue reading “#MomInHospital”
Filed Under: Hospitals, THCB
Tagged: Bob Wachter, End of Life Care, ER Visits, hospitalization, Hospitals, LEAN, Nurses, Patient Safety, Patients, Quality, Scott Simon, Social Media, Twitter, UCSF
Aug 17, 2013
The Bike Path:
On a warm and sunny August Sunday, I was rollerblading with my kids on the Shining Sea Bikeway. On mile nine on the trip, I hit a tree root, went flying, and landed on my shoulder. I could tell immediately that something was wrong — I couldn’t move my arm and was in the worst pain of my life. Feeling for my left shoulder, it was obvious that I had dislocated it. What happened next was that I received some of the best care of my life – unfortunately it was not from our healthcare system.
As I was lying on the bike path, nearly everyone stopped and asked how they could help. A pediatric nephrologist offered to pop my shoulder back into place. I declined. This wonderful couple on a two-person reclining bike stopped and insisted on pedaling me to the hospital. We were far from the road and knew that calling an ambulance was not straightforward. So I sat with my left arm dangling, in excruciating pain, while David rode the bike to Falmouth Hospital. It was a 20 minute ride finishing with a very steep hill. David apologized after each bump on the road as he heard me swear and wince.
The Emergency Room:
We finally made it to the ER, and, ironically, it was then that my care stopped being so wonderful.
It started off well enough – a triage nurse saw me walking in holding my arm, in distress. She got me a wheelchair and brought me into triage. I explained what happened, gave my name, date of birth and described the pain as the worst of my life. I was then shuttled to registration, where I was asked to repeat all the same information. It felt surreal: I had moved all of 10 feet and yet somehow my information hadn’t followed me. The registration person asked me question after question. Initially, the same ones: name, address, phone #, etc. Then, my Social Security number (presumably so they could go after me if I didn’t pay my bill), my primary care physician’s name, his address, his phone #, my insurance status, my insurance #, my insurance card, my emergency contact, their address and phone #, etc. etc. etc.
I told her I was in excruciating pain and needed help. A few more questions, she said. She needed the complete registration.
I was wheeled to radiology and sat in a hallway for what felt like forever, groaning in pain. I couldn’t find a comfortable position. Six or seven people walked by – and as they heard me groan, they would look down and walk faster. The x-ray technologist avoided eye contact. It was hard — I was right outside her room. Finally, I asked a passerby if she could help. Caught by surprise (I must have sounded human), she stopped. She looked at me. She then went into the x-ray suite. A few minutes later, a second technologist came out, saw my arm, and was the first to acknowledge that my arm looked painful. He told me the ER was pretty quiet and he would get me in right away.
Continue reading “Average Care at a Typical Hospital on an Ordinary Sunday in August”
Filed Under: Hospitals, OP-ED, THCB, The Insider's Guide To Health Care
Tagged: Ashish Jha, emergency care, Hospitals, Patients, Quality, Quality measurement, Wait times
Aug 14, 2013
My wife Mary and I recently got a series of early morning calls alerting us to the declining health of Mary’s mom, who was in her 90s. She died later that week. We were stricken and so sad, but took comfort that she died with dignity and good care on her own terms, and at her home in San Francisco.
Ten years ago, we received a very different early morning call, about my father. An otherwise healthy and vigorous 72-year-old, Dad had fallen at home. Presuming he’d had a stroke, paramedics took him to a hospital with a neurosurgery speciality rather than to the university trauma center. That decision proved fatal.
A physician in Seattle at the time, I arrived the next day to find Dad in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. Dad’s head CT revealed a massive intracranial hemorrhage. Dad also had a large, obvious contusion on his forehead.
The following day, the physicians asked to remove Dad from the ventilator. He died that night. We were profoundly devastated by his death and upset with the care he’d received.
Our family wasn’t interested in blame or lawsuits. We did, however, want answers: Why hadn’t Dad been treated for a traumatic injury from a fall? Shouldn’t he have had timely surgery to relieve pressure from bleeding? What went wrong?
I’ve spent the last decade searching for answers, for myself and countless others, to questions about how to improve health care. I’ve had the honor of working with many people pushing health care toward high value, at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(RWJF) and elsewhere.
We’ve worked hard to find solutions. We all get it: The health care problem is a big, complex one without silver bullet answers. Still, we’ve made incredible progress with efforts like RWJF’s Aligning Forces for Quality Initiative in which community alliances work to improve the value of their health care.
We’re searching for ways to help us all make smarter health care decisions. We’re helping health care professionals improve and patients and families be more proactive. We’re exploring the price and cost of care, and ways to automate health care information with technology.
And importantly, we’re working to align the incentives that health care professionals need to support and deliver great care. We strongly believe that unless we reward great results, we won’t get them. That means payment reform, with a focus on financial incentives for those who hunt for waste, resolve safety problems, sustain improvement, and, most of all, innovate to save more lives.
But do financial incentives to promote and reward behavior work?
Continue reading “Aligning Physician Incentives Doesn’t Do It”
Filed Under: OP-ED, Physicians, THCB
Tagged: AF4Q, behavioral economics, financial incentives, HCI3, Michael Painter, Patient Safety, payment reform, Physicians, Quality, RWJF
Aug 6, 2013
Good for Healthcare?
Sarah Jones was an anomaly in contemporary healthcare. Despite shifting alliances between physicians, hospitals, and insurance companies, she had been under the care of the same physician for over 20 years. Over this time, patient and physician had gotten to know each other well and had developed a fine relationship. Mrs. Jones had always assumed that, should she ever need to be admitted to the hospital, this relationship would pay big dividends, ensuring that her medical decision making would be based on long acquaintance and strong mutual understanding.
When the dreaded day came that she finally needed inpatient care, however, her hopes were dashed. Her physician explained to her that he no longer sees hospitalized patients. Instead she would be under the care of a team of physicians known as hospitalists. When she arrived, the hospitalist on duty introduced herself and told her that she would be the physician responsible for her care, while colleagues would be responsible during off hours. Unlike her regular physician, who would have been on hand only once or perhaps twice per day, the hospitalists would always be in house and ready to address her needs.
Mrs. Jones was surprised and disappointed to discover that her primary physician would not be involved in her hospital care. She had always assumed that she would be able to rely on their longstanding relationship for counsel and support. She imagined that if she were facing some really important decision, such as whether or not to proceed with a risky operation or how to manage her own end-of-life care, it would make a huge difference to know that she could count on a physician she knew well. Instead her hospital-based physician was a complete stranger.
Mrs. Jones’ experience is far from unique. In the past 15 years or so, medicine has seen the birth of hospitalists, a new breed of physicians who care only for hospitalized patients. There are now over 30,000 hospitalists in the US. From a patient’s point of view, such physicians offer a number of advantages. In many hospitals, a specialist in hospital medicine is always on duty, day or night. Moreover, because such physicians work only in the hospital, they are often more familiar with the hospital’s standard procedures, information systems, and personnel.
It is not difficult to see why hospital medicine might be so attractive to young physicians. For one thing, it provides them with a high degree of control over their working hours. They come on and off shift at regular times, and do not bear patient care responsibilities outside these hours. In addition, they are usually employed by the hospital, which means that they do not need to attend to a host of practice management issues that self-employed physicians confront. They can also focus on acute-care, in-hospital medicine, avoiding the challenges associated with long-term care of chronic-disease patients.
Some non-hospitalist physicians also find the rise of hospital medicine attractive. They do not need to travel to one or more hospitals each day to see patients, which takes considerable time and generates little revenue. They do not need to work so hard at staying abreast of changes in hospital procedures and technologies, which often vary from institution to institution, as do requirements for acquiring and maintaining hospital medical staff privileges. And finally, they can focus their energies on outpatient care, avoiding the more acutely life-threatening and complex situations associated with hospitalization.
Continue reading “The Rise of the Hospitalists”
Filed Under: OP-ED, Physicians, THCB
Tagged: doctor/ patient relationship, hospital medicine, Hospitalists, hospitalization, inpatient care, outpatient care, practice of medicine, Quality, Richard Gunderman
Aug 4, 2013