Month: July 2010

Introduction to Health 2.0 Goes to Washington

SUBTEXT: At the start of  the Health 2.0 Goes to Washington Conference, June 07, 2010, Matthew Holt and Indu Subaiya welcomed all of the conference attendees with an introduction to Health 2.0. In the middle of that introduction Wil Yu, Director of Innovation at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), gave his opening remarks and spoke about health innovators and initiatives.

How About “Meaningful Exchange”?

At last, we have received from Mt. Olympus those much awaited writings….the definition of “meaningful use”!


I understand how we got here. I could put myself in the shoes of government  decision-makers at every step of the way and see myself doing the same thing. “Step in and help … EMR adoption is too slow and costs are rising too high … the free market isn’t working, so step in.” I get that.

“Make the definitions hard and truly meaningful so that after we are thrown out of office, the social benefit of this program of ours will outlast the pure stimulus effect and create real social change in the health care market.” I get that too.

“Let hospital-owned practices into the mix. Even though we know they have the money, we want their leadership. Also, lots of docs are affiliated with hospitals.” This one was tough for me even though I have a lot of hospital clients that own practices and are growing that business.

“Delay a little to see if we can get more people to our higher standard.” Okay.Continue reading…

The Insurer’s Dilemma

Paul Levy

This has to be a very difficult time for insurance companies in Massachusetts. Notwithstanding that they are non-profits, they are under a lot of scrutiny with regard to reserve margins and profitability. Much of this is unfair, but I think that is just a sign of the times. Hospitals face a similar issue, too. Doctors are certainly next in line.

But the Massachusetts insurers have an additional problem. As we have discussed here, they have been participants in creating a very large disparity in payment rates among hospitals, rate differentials based mainly on providers’ market power. They are now under pressure to limit rate increases to hospitals, but the ones that come up for renewal are not necessarily the ones that have received higher rates.

Nonetheless, insurers are telling those who are up for renewal that they should expect no rate increase at all, or at best, an increase well below the rate of medical cost inflation. Those hospitals, by definition, are the ones without market power. So if the insurers hold them to low rate changes, the disparity between the have’s and the have-not’s will grow. This enhances the market power of their competitors, allowing them to poach doctors into their networks and gain still more market power. This increases the percentage of patients who go to the high-rate providers, aggravating the overall health care cost situation.

Continue reading…

The Original Individual Mandate, Circa 1792

Revolutionary-war-soldiers  Regardless of one’s opinion on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality, most commentators-and no less an authority than the Congressional Budget Office)-agree (or concede, as the case may be) that Congress has never required Americans to purchase a good or service from a private entity as a condition of citizenship.  But, importantly, they are wrong. The ongoing debate over the mandate’s constitutionality has uncovered an unlikely precedent to the PPACA’s individual mandate to possess health coverage. I recently wrote about this overlooked original individual mandate in an article, “The First Individual Mandate: What the Uniform Militia Act of 1792 Tells Us about Fifth Amendment Challenges to Healthcare Reform.”

The Militia Acts of 1792, passed by the Second Congress and signed into law by President Washington, required every able-bodied white male citizen to enroll in his state’s militia and mandated that he “provide himself” with various goods for the common weal:

 [E]ach and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States . . . shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia . . . .provid[ing] himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein . . . and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service

This was the law of the land until the establishment of the National Guard in 1903.  For many American families, compliance meant purchasing-and eventually re-purchasing-multiple muskets from a private party.

This was no small thing.  Although anywhere from 40 to 79% of American households owned a firearm of some kind, the Militia Act specifically required a military-grade musket.  That particular kind of gun was useful for traditional, line-up-and-shoot 18th century warfare, but clumsy and inaccurate compared to the single-barrel shotguns and rifles Americans were using to hunt game.  A new musket, alone, could cost anywhere from $250 to $500 in today’s money.  Some congressmen estimated it would cost £20 to completely outfit a man for militia service-about $2,000 today.

Continue reading…

Health 2.0’s Role in a World of “Data Liberacion”

This is the complete panel debate on the Role of “Data Liberacion” from the Health 2.0 Goes to Washington on June 10, 2010. The panel featured Todd Park from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Kenneth Buetow from the National Cancer Institute & the Founder of caBIG, Patrick Soon-Shiong of Abraxis Health and Josh Sommer from the Chordoma Foundation. It’s about 40 minutes and was rated one of the best panels ever at Health 2.0–we’re sure you’ll really enjoy it.

What if All Americans Had at Least Catastrophic Health Care Coverage?

Picture 9I really dislike the term healthcare reform. I think our system needs to be changed not reformed. I assume that I am not the only person who suspects that the recent health care reform act is not going to be the final solution for America’shealth care problems. The cost of healthcare is not really addressed at all, and even if it works better than expected some Americans will not have even catastrophic health carecoverage.

This post is really just my first shot at suggesting a way I think makes sense to address the problem of the large number of uninsured people in America, while at the same time leaving lots of choice and personal responsibility that seems to be needed and a part of the American culture. I am certain that I have not thought through all of the gritty details, and really don’t profess to have the talent or knowledge to write legislation, but I think this basic tenant might be a starting point.First my assumptions:Continue reading…

Interview with Josh Sommer

SUBTEXT At the Health 2.0 Goes to Washington conference on June 10, 2010 Josh Sommer, Executive Director of the Chordoma Foundation gave this brief interview were he talks about the future he wishes to see in healthcare research. Josh has a deeply personal reason for this improvement as life expectancy for Chordoma patients is less than 10 years.

Beating up on ONC, mostly unjustified

Earlier this week there was a curious little hearing at Pete Stark’s committee. Much of the Q & A—mind you post the announcement of the final meaningful use rules—was (apparently, as I can’t find the transcript) a beating up on the poor folks at ONC for reducing the barriers towards meaningful use. Here’s Jonathan Hare of upstart privacy/identity/network vendor Resilient explaining that things are not tough enough.

While Jonathan is having a bit of fun here (and, oh by the way, he does actually have a solution for the inadequacies of current HIEs which we’ll be showing you more about in the world of Health 2.0), some of this and the other stuff the ONC folks had to deal with was a little tough. They got a fair amount of abuse from the committee.

Continue reading…

My Side

I was planning on leaving behind the seriousness of the past few posts and going back to my usual inane writing, but some of the comments have made it too hard for me to keep quiet.  The response has been largely positive, and overall it has been overwhelming.  More people have read or commented on my letter to patients with chronic disease than any in recent history.  I am grateful that it is circulating around the web for others to contemplate, perhaps understanding the intent of what I wrote and improving their relationship with their doctors in the process.

The purpose of the letter was to give some helpful insight into the emotion on the other side of the equation.  I can’t understand what it is like to have a chronic illness without having the disease, but it is still fruitful for me to try to figure this out.  In the same way, patients with chronic illnesses benefit from a better understanding of the doctors they see so frequently and depend on so greatly.  I can sympathize, but I can’t feel the pain.  Still, I do need to listen closely to patients so I can have the best relationship possible.

Some folks felt that I was saying that doctors need their egos stroked and to be treated special, but that is not what I meant to say.  Each person needs to be understood and treated as their situation dictates.  People with chronic illness want to be understood (as witnessed by the incredible response to my letter!) and treated based on that understanding.  Doctors want to be understood as well.  So let me tell you my side of the story.  What is it like to sit in my chair?  I don’t say this for sympathy or pats on the back, I say it to be understood.  If I am better understood by my patients (and readers), my relationship with them is better, which is good for both of us.  I think I represent a fair percentage of primary care docs in these ways.

1. I care about my patients – As hard as I try to “just do the job,” and not expend the emotion I do during the day, I couldn’t live with myself if I let my patients down.  They depend on me for a lot, they pay for my service, and they deserve my best.  I’ve been told I do this to a pathological degree (along with my llama obsession), but it is there.  I want to help them.  I get frustrated at my powerlessness and am genuinely happy when they do well.

2.  I am tired – Each day demands an emotional price.  Some days the demand is not so high, others suck the life out of me.  Being “needed” cuts two ways; on one side it is nice to truly help people when they need the most help, it’s satisfying to see your life making a difference.  On the other side, it is a never-ending river of need, pain, and crises to be handled.  Being patted on the back (or patting myself) is nice, but it doesn’t mean anything for the future.  Each day brings new hands to hold, needs to meet, problems to be solved.  Each day is as much a burden as it is an opportunity.  That burden won’t leave me until I take down my shingle, yet the opportunities to make a difference will make it hard to take that shingle down.

3.  I also run a business – In terms of priorities, I need to pay my staff, pay the rent, and pay my personal bills to even have the chance to take care of patients. I get frustrated when patients insinuate that I value money too much.  I get very frustrated by that, actually.  People seem more willing to pay for cable TV, cigarettes, or eating out than to pay me for what I do.  I earn less than most other medical specialists, yet some people resent my income.  The mess of a system we have works against primary care and works against complex patients.  If I spend 30 minutes with a complex patients (I do spend 30 minutes with people regularly), I am paid about 50% more than if I see a 5 minute ear infection visit.  Doing the math says that my mind is not valued and that I should see more ear infections and less chronic patients.  All of this adds to my daily stress.

4.  I am actually a person, not just a doctor – I have four children and a wife, and being a dad and a husband isn’t easy when I come from work with the emotional life sucked out of me.  I struggle with my own emotions and I get sick.  I worry a lot about money, and I feel insecure about the fact that despite being a doctor, I am not saving enough.  Hence I also struggle with working too much.  Life’s not easy for anyone, and despite my title I am not exempt.

5. I hate bad doctors – Many of the comments to the letter I wrote were lamentations about doctors who suck.  Unfortunately, doctors who take bad care of their patients make my life miserable too.  I have to clean up their messes, I have to re-teach their patients on what medicine should look like.  I have to wean their patients off of addictive drugs that they didn’t have the guts to deny. I am personally frustrated when I send a person to a specialist and they don’t do anything or upset my patient, and I hate the fact that they almost never communicate with me.  It makes my already hard job even harder.

6. My blog is a refuge and a tool – I am thankful that I have this blog as a means to vent, to use another part of my brain (some may argue that point on some of my posts), and to make a difference.  I actually have a voice in the whole healthcare reform debate.  I actually can reach a large number of people and make their medical experience better (which was the most gratifying thing to hear in the comments to my letter).  I’ve made practically no money doing this, but I’ve gotten a whole lot out of it.

That’s my story.  Like it or not, it is what it is.  I am just a guy who happens to be a doctor – the same as the rest of the doctors out there.  There will always be angry people and idiots on both sides of the doctor/patient relationship, but no matter what, the doctor-patient encounter is a human thing.  Love is human, war is human, murder is human, and so is childbirth.  You can’t put humanity into a bottle, you can’t throw a single label on it.  The highest calling is to enter into another’s life, to see things from their perspective, and to add good to it.

That goes for all of us, regardless of letters behind our names.

Thanks for listening.
Rob Lamberts, MD, is a primary care physician practicing somewhere in the southeastern United States. He blogs regularly at Musings of a Distractible Mind, where this post first appeared. For some strange reason, he is often stopped by strangers on the street who mistake him for former Atlanta Braves star John Smoltz and ask “Hey, are you John Smoltz?” He is not John Smoltz. He is not a former major league baseball player.  He is a primary care physician.


Forgotten Password?