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cindywilliams

Have We Not Been Looking at Things We Should Have Seen?

A remarkable aspect of the Parkland Memorial Hospital saga was the degree to which the hospital’s Board was not given information by senior management about the clinical outcomes in their hospital.  The lack of transparency, in other words, even went to management’s relationship with its fiduciary board.

A recent article by the Dallas Morning News outlines some of these points:

On August 19, the hospital’s seven-member board of directors got its first chance to read the full report by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  Almost 10 days had passed since [the CEO] first received the findings.  As members began leafing through pages of the report, surprise, even shock, began to register.

The Chair of the board said, “We had direct culpability, but none of us even knew we were in the report.”

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The Anti-Injunction Act Complications

The big news from [last Friday’s] two decisions was not that Virginia lacks standing; that was a problem lurking in that case from the beginning, a nettlesome issue going all the way back to Judge Hudson’s first opinion (in August 2010) rejecting the United States’s motion to dismiss on 12(b)(1) grounds. Virginia would have stood on much stronger ground had it also alleged an injury in fact from the effect of the minimum essential coverage provision’s necessarily pushing more Virginia residents onto the state’s Medicaid rolls, and thus imposing a significant financial cost on the state. But the Commonwealth failed to do this, instead resting on the claim that it had standing based on the alleged “conflict” between its Virginia Health Care Freedom Act and the individual mandate. This was a weak argument from the beginning, and the Fourth Circuit’s holding was entirely unsurprising.

What is surprising–perhaps not on the merits, but in relation to the attention the issue has received to date, from the courts and the parties–is the court’s holding in Liberty Universityv. Geithner that federal courts lack any subject matter jurisdiction over a suit seeking to enjoin enforcement of the individual mandate because such jurisdiction is precluded by the Anti-Injunction Act. In this respect, there are some important points worth noting:

* This is a potential problem in every lawsuit currently challenging the individual mandate. That is, if the Fourth Circuit’s analysis is correct, then the Supreme Court would lack jurisdiction to hear any private plaintiff’s claim that the minimum coverage provision exceeds Congress’s enumerated powers until after a taxpayer was assessed a penalty under ACA 1501, paid the penalty, and sued the federal government for a refund. The case thus would not reach the Supreme Court until somewhere in the neighborhood of 2015 or 2016.

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We’re From The Government. We’re Here To Help …

The clock is ticking for Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Earlier this month, Parkland was cited by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for several “serious threats” to patient safety. As a result, the hospital is now in jeopardy of losing its ability to participate in the Medicare program unless it submits “correction plans” to CMS by August 20, 2011.

According to a CMS spokesperson, two violations relating to infection control and emergency care issues were “so serious that they triggered ‘immediate jeopardy’” for the hospital. In fact, the reasons for the citation were so heinous that CMS won’t even disclose them to the public until Parkland submits plans on how to fix those super secret problems. That’s the subject of another WTF discussion, but we’ll save that one for later.

The event triggering the CMS investigation involved a schizophrenic psychiatric patient with a heart condition who died while in the emergency department. The report states that the technicians who subdued the man did not have “effective training” and that the patient was not closely monitored before his death.

According to the article and an interview Parkland’s Chief Medical Officer, Parkland was cited for several reasons. Based on what I can gather from the article, two of the hospital’s citations were for:

– Moving patients with less serious symptoms to a separate urgent care center for medical screening
– Staff touching a patient and then touching other surfaces that people would come into contact with

Think about how grave these dangers are.

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Time to Make Joint Commission Surveys Public

Can anyone doubt that the recent kerfuffle faced by Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas would have had a greater chance of being avoided if earlier reviews by the CMS-designee, the Joint Commission, would have been made public?  Yet, JC surveys are held in confidence.  This is a matter of federal law.

Currently, the results of hospital accreditation surveys cannot be accessed by the public under Section 1865 [42 U.S.C. 1395bb] (b) of the Social Security Act, which reads as follows:

“(b) The Secretary may not disclose any accreditation survey (other than a survey with respect to a home health agency) made and released to the Secretary by[615] the American Osteopathic Association[616] or any other national accreditation body, of an entity accredited by such body, except that the Secretary may disclose such a survey and information related to such a survey to the extent such survey and information relate to an enforcement action taken by the Secretary.”

When I was CEO of a hospital, we voluntarily made our JC surveys public, posting them on our corporate website.  We felt that it was important for all staff in the hospital to have the chance to review the findings and act on them, and we also felt that public confidence in our hospital would be enhanced by this kind of transparency.  While this practice has spread somewhat, most hospitals still do not make their surveys public.

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How We Ration Care

There are not very many good things you can say about a deep recession. But from a researcher’s point of view, there is one silver lining. This recession has given us a natural experiment in health economics — and the results are stunning.

But, first things first. Here is the conventional wisdom in health policy:

  • In the United States, we ration health care by price, whereas other developed countries rely on waiting and other non-price rationing mechanisms.
  • The U.S. method is especially unfair to low-income families, who lack the ability to pay for the care they need.
  • Because of this unfairness, there is vast inequality of access to care in the U.S.
  • ObamaCare will be a boon to low-income families — especially the uninsured — because it will lower price barriers to care.

As it turns out, the conventional wisdom is completely wrong. Here is the alternative vision, loyal readers have consistently found at this blog:

  • The major barrier to care for low-income families is the same in the U.S. as it is throughout the developed world: the time price of care and other non-price rationing mechanisms are far more important than the money price of care.
  • The U.S. system is actually more egalitarian than the systems of many other developed countries, with the uninsured in the U.S., for example, getting more preventive care than the insured in Canada.
  • The burdens of non-price rationing rise as income falls, with the lowest-income families facing the longest waiting times and the largest bureaucratic obstacles to care.
  • ObamaCare, by lowering the money price of care for almost everybody while doing nothing to change supply, will intensify non-price rationing and may actually make access to care more difficult for those with the least financial resources.

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U.S. Hospitals Face Gloomiest Economic Outlook in 20 Years


Revenues = volume x price. This is the financial reality for every organization that makes its money serving customers, whether for-profit or not-for-profit.

For the U.S. hospital sector, both volumes and prices are falling, leading to a depressed top-line. Reimbursement reductions from Medicare, Medicaid and commercial health plans are all under pressure: that’s the ‘price’ part of the equation. On the volume multiplier, the recession economy has caused patients to delay care, such as elective surgeries. Hospitals are forced to scrutinize every aspect of operations, according to Hospital Revenues in Critical Condition; Downgrades May Follow, from Moody’s Investors Service.

Moody’s points to declines in inpatient admissions, and falling outpatient indicators including ER visits, outpatient visits, and outpatient surgeries, all due to the “sluggish economy,” the agency wrote.

Exacerbating the negative bottom-line impact is the continued growth of uncompensated care: that is, health services provided to patients who leave the hospital without paying their bill.

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Shifts in Humanitarian Aid: A Look at Post-Recession Data

A few agencies have recently published their concerns that the “double dip” recession will negatively affect humanitarian aid, even as the worst famine in decades continues to hit East Africa. Have aid levels really been affected by the recession? If so, which countries are likely to feel the most impact? What factors are shaping aid decisions? In this post, we look at the latest data from the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), the definitive source for international humanitarian aid data, and discuss the changes in aid that have transpired since the start of the 2007 recession.

Overall trends

If humanitarian aid shifts during this recession, such a shift would be a new phenomenon; when we investigated global aid trends during prior recessions, we found that aid usually didn’t significantly change during or soon after economic downturns, probably because foreign assistance is such as small part of government budgets, and because aid changes are often driven by disasters and conflicts rather than supply-side politics alone.

The first graph above depicts global humanitarian aid from 2006 to 2009 (all graphs are courtesy of GHA; note that the colors in this graph are incorrect for the last column, which should be black on top and green on the bottom). As shown in the graph, humanitarian aid actually increased a bit during 2008, likely reflecting commitments made before the recession. But aid then decreased 11% to $15.1 billion in 2009. The 2010 numbers won’t be released until later this year. The available figures refer to forms of aid that reach “delivery agencies” such as United Nations subsidiaries, non-governmental organizations and the Red Cross. Of note, while the 2008 contribution from governments is smaller than 2007, it still remains higher than earlier years. Of particular interest is that private donations have increased almost 50% since 2006 and have remained steady during the recession.

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The Cleveland Experiment

There have been a number of research studies published that question the value of Electronic Health Records (EHRs), particularly as it pertains to improving quality of care and ultimately outcomes. Chilmark has always viewed these reports with a certain amount of skepticism. Simple logic leads us to conclude that a properly installed (including attention to workflow and thorough training) of an enterprise software system such as an EHR will lead to a certain level of standardization in overall process flow, contribute to efficiencies and quality in care delivery and ultimately lead to better outcomes. But to date, there has been a dearth of evidence to support this logic, that is until this week.

Last week the New England Journal of Medicine published the research paper: Electronic Health Records and Quality of Diabetes Care, which provides clear evidence, albeit a little fuzzy around the edges, that physician use of an EHR significantly improves quality metrics over physicians who rely on paper-based medical record keeping processes.

The research effort took place in Cleveland as part of Better Health Greater Cleveland from July 2009 till June 2010 and included 46 practices representing some 569 providers and over 27K adults with diabetes who visited their physician at least twice during the study period. Several common quality and outcome measures were used to assess and compare EHR-based care to paper-based. On composite standards of quality, EHR-based practices performed a whooping 35% better than their paper-based counterparts. On outcome measures, which are arguably more difficult for physicians as patients’ actions or lack thereof are more integral to final outcomes, EHR-based practices still outperformed their paper-based peers by some 15%. The Table below gives a more detailed breakout.

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New Research Finds EHRs Improve the Quality of Diabetes Care

Two years ago in an address to Congress, President Obama declared his commitment to invest in electronic health records (EHRs), saying he thought it was perhaps the best way to quickly improve the quality of American health care. Just two years later, that hunch is proving true in Cleveland, Ohio.

New EHR Research Findings:

This week, the New England Journal of Medicine released research authored by my colleagues and me at Better Health Greater Cleveland showing that physician practices that use electronic health records had significantly higher achievement and improvement in meeting standards of care and outcomes in diabetes than practices using paper records.

Though most of us assumed EHRs would have some effect on patient care, we were delighted by what’s proving to be the reality in greater Cleveland. Just consider:

Care is better: Nearly 51% of patients in EHR practices received care that met all of the endorsed standards.

  • Only 7% of patients at paper-based practices received this same level of care– a difference of 44%.
  • After accounting for differences in patient characteristics between EHR and paper-based practices, EHR patients still received 35% more of the care standards.
  • Just fewer than 16% of patients at paper-based practices had comparable results.
  • After accounting for patient differences, the adjusted gap remained 15% higher for EHR practices.

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The Wonks Are Wrong

I’ve heard critics express the idea a thousand times in a thousand ways.

The idea goes like this:

The system is terrible. It is fragmented. It is inefficient. It is too costly. It relies too much on specialists. Patients with chronic disease see too many over-paid specialists who don’t talk to each other. What we need is more well-paid primary care practitioners. They will provide accessible, continuous, comprehensive, coordinated, connected-electronically, and patient-centered rather than specialist-centered, care.

The Shadow

The problem is between the idea and reality falls a shadow. Patients aren’t listening.

They prefer the choice and freedom of picking their own doctor. In many cases, this doctor is a specialist who treats their specific problem. Patients feel they have enough information to make their own decisions as to what physician to choose. The American public is specialist-oriented. This is why the typical Medicare patient with chronic disease sees 5 or 6 specialists a year, rather than going through a personal primary care doctor who directs their over-all care

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