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cindywilliams

Lessons Learned from Steve Jobs

I recently spoke with several reporters about Steve Jobs’ impact on healthcare, thanking him for the past 15 years of innovation.   In preparing for those interviews, I reviewed Steve’s career milestones,

In 1997, Apple Computer was in trouble.  Its sales had declined from 11 billion in 1995 to 7 billion in 1997.  Its energies were focused on battling Microsoft.   It had lost its way.

Steve Jobs made these remarks at MacWorld 1997, a few months before becoming Apple’s CEO.  He outlined a simple go forward plan:

1.  Board of Directors
2.  Focus on Relevance
3.  Invest in Core Assets
4.  Meaningful Partnerships
5.  New Product Paradigm

How can we apply these 5 ideas to the work we’re doing in HIT?

It’s clear that Health Information Exchanges across the country are in trouble – CareSpark closed its doors,  the CEO of Cal eConnectresigned, and Minnesota Health Information Exchange ceased operations.

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How to Avoid Death in the ICU

Some­thing I learned as a medical intern is that there are worse things than dying.

As I recall, it was sometime in April, 1988. I was putting a line in an old man with end-​​stage kidney disease, cancer (maybe), heart failure, bac­teria in his blood and no con­sciousness. Prince was on the radio, loud, by his bedside. If you could call it that – the uncom­fortable, cur­tained com­partment didn’t seem like a good place for resting.

An attending physician, a smart guy I respected, approached me as I com­pleted the procedure.

“It’s kind of like Dante’s seventh circle,” he noted.

Indeed. A clear, flexible tube drained greenish fluid from the man’s stomach through his nose. Gauze covered his eyes, just par­tially. His head, hands and feet swelled with fluid. A semi-​​opaque hard-​​plastic instrument linked the man’s trachea, through his paper-​​taped mouth, to a noisy breathing machine. His skin, barely covered by a stained hos­pital gown, was pale but blotchy from bleeding beneath. An arterial catheter inserted by his wrist, just where I might have taken his pulse had he been healthier. A fresh adhesive covered the cotton gauze and brownish anti-​​bacterial solution I’d placed over his lower right neck.

“Yeah,” I said as we walked out of the room to review another patient’s chart.

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The Untold Obama Administration Success Story

One wonders what the Obama administration has to do to get a little credit. I’m sitting on vacation, looking at the ocean most of the day, and spending about a half hour on line at night erasing unread emails, killing out unread RSS feeds, and checking up on my declining retirement prospects. Amid the clutter, a series of press releases from the Inspector General of the Health and Human Services Department caught my eye. Here are the headlines, with links (I’d link to the press coverage, but near as I can tell, there was none):

That was Tuesday. On Monday, the HHS sleuths put out this press release:

FORMER CHAIR OF TEMPLE’S OPHTHALMOLOGY DEPARTMENT CONVICTED OF HEALTH CARE FRAUD
PHILADELPHIA – A federal jury today convicted Dr. Joseph J. Kubacki, 62, of Destin, Florida, of 150 counts of health care fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements in health care matters, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger. Kubacki was the Chairperson of the Ophthalmology Department of the Temple University School of Medicine and also served as the Assistant Dean for Medical Affairs when, between 2002 and 2007, he caused thousands of false claims to be submitted to health care benefit programs with false charges totaling more than $4.5 million for services rendered to patients whom Kubacki did not personally see or evaluate. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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Work Hour Restrictions – A Painful Gift to Medicine

When I completed my overnight shift and left the Medical ICU the morning of July 1, I raised my arms victoriously. I uttered, “Finally, internship is done!” I may have been one of the last to speak such words.

As of July 1, 2011, intern year forever changed. In the world of medicine the first year of residency, or intern year, is when doctors earn their stripes. Traditionally it is the most demanding year in a decade-long quest to become a practicing physician. But this year, the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) mandated that interns can no longer work more than 16 hours straight, and must have 10 hours off between shifts. Second- and third-year residents can still work 28-hour shifts, but no more 30-hour shifts for interns.

To the outsider, this may seem like a common sense change that would only improve patient safety.  Within the medical field, however, this change is arguably the most controversial in the history of medical education.

Advocates believe these duty-hour modifications will decrease medical errors and improve unacceptable working conditions for residents. ACGME officials still believe that residents should be able to handle the vigorous hours and workload, but believe launching the least experienced physicians — new interns — into those demanding conditions just days after medical school is inappropriate and unsafe. As well, the general public generally favors the new changes.

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The Emperor Remains Unclothed

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when two of the architects of the health care reform act write an op-ed that continues in the deception that the law would deliver access, choice, and lower costs.  But that is what Ezekiel Emanuel and Jeffrey Liebman offer in their New York Times article, “Cut Medicare, Help Patients.”

The authors start by saying some things that make a lot of sense.  They point out that it would be smart to “eliminate spending on medical test, treatments and procedures that don’t work — or that cost significantly more than other treatments while delivering no better health outcomes . . . [and that} can be made without shortchanging patients.”

But they quickly give up that fight:  “The sad truth is, Washington is never going to do a good job of making smart cuts to Medicare.  Elected officials hate being blamed for directly restricting access to medical treatments — even when those treatments are proven to be worthless.”

So then they revert to their underlying bias, er, theology:  “The responsibility for ending unnecessary medical spending needs to be placed in the hands of doctors and hospitals.  This can happen only if we change our fee-for-service payment system.”

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And What Happens if the Individual Mandate is Struck Down?

An alarming article in Politico.com looks at what could happen if the Supreme Court determines that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate provision is unconstitutional—something that the current conservative leaning of the Court seems to indicate is somewhat more likely than not.

Assuming that such a possible decision by the Court follows that of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in ruling that the mandate is unconstitutional but the remainder of the ACA may stand, the Politico.com article anticipates some potentially disastrous consequences.

The provisions of the ACA—some of them already in force—include guaranteed issue, elimination of annual and lifetime limits, and a ban on basing premiums on health status, essentially decoupling coverage and premiums from insurance risk. Without the requirement for almost everyone to have coverage, there will be nothing to ensure that the risk pool contains a large percentage of individuals in good health as well as those with medical problems, and nothing to stop anyone from waiting until they’re sick or injured to demand coverage.

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Peter Pronovost is a Liar. He Must Be. Isn’t He?

Peter Pronovost and his subversive friends are at it again.  Imagine, first they assert that implementation of a standard protocol and checklist could reduce the rate of central line associated bloodstream infections.

“It wouldn’t work here.  Our patients are sicker.”

Then, to make matters worse, they go and contend that reducing the rate of central line infections saves money.  Here’s the abstract from the American Journal of Medical Quality:

This study calculates the costs and benefits of a patient safety program in intensive care units in 6 hospitals that were part of the Michigan Keystone ICU Patient Safety Program. On average, 29.9 catheter-related bloodstream infections and 18.0 cases of ventilator-associated pneumonia were averted per hospital on an annual basis. The average cost of the intervention is $3375 per infection averted, measured in 2007 dollars. The cost of the intervention is substantially less than estimates of the additional health care costs associated with these infections, which range from $12,208 to $56,167 per infection episode. These results do not take into account the additional effect of the Michigan Keystone program in terms of reducing cases of sepsis or its effects in terms of preventing mortality, improving teamwork, and reducing nurse turnover.

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A Student’s Summer Reflections on Price Transparency

I can’t think of a single industry that is more inherently personal—more emotional than health care.

Everyone has a story of how the health care system has impacted their lives. My family’s experience with the healthcare system had both positive and negative results. Thankfully, my brother survived a brain tumor as a young child and my father’s heart disease was treated early enough to prevent a heart attack. However, the bills for these procedures were astonishing. Perhaps even more shocking was the complete inability of doctors and insurance companies to give an accurate estimate of what the procedures would cost. There was no more clarity with routine follow-up procedures like MRIs and stress tests. On any given day, a doctor may order the same test several times, so how does uncertainty exist about how much it costs? And if doctors don’t know the cost, how are patients supposed to be informed consumers of health care?

Many insured patients don’t worry about how much a procedure costs—frankly, with third-party payers, they often don’t have to. In fact, if you are sick and diagnostic tests are covered, you might push for your doctor to administer all potentially beneficial services. However, at some point the over-utilization of services at unclear prices results in detrimental care that is ultimately more costly than helpful. In some cases, particularly for patients with high deductibles or loop holes in their insurance plans, these costs may even cause significant financial harm.

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Meaningful Use Requires Meaningless Data

Race is a medically meaningless concept.

Spare me the few tired cliches about prostate cancer, diabetes, and sarcoidosis being more common in blacks than whites, or even the slightly increased risk of ACEI cough in patients of Asian descent. We screen Jews of Ashkenazi descent for Tay Sachs without any racial labeling. All that information is readily accessible under the Family History section of the medical history. It is no more than custom which dictates the standard introductory format including age, race, and gender. It turns out I’ve blogged about this before at some length (pretty good post, actually). What is new is the advent of electronic medical records.

Much hullabaloo has been made about federal stimulus funds allocated to doctors as payments for adopting EMRs; “up to $44,000!” Here’s the problem with that figure, though, including how it breaks down (source here):

[M]aintaining [an EMR] costs multiple thousands of dollars a year. Bear in mind that they’re not talking about a lump sum payment of $44,000. It’s $18,000 the first year, $12,000 the second year, $8000 the next, $4000 the next, and then $2000, for a total of $44,000 spread over five years. FOR A SYSTEM EXPECTED TO COST AN AVERAGE OF $10,000 PER DOCTOR PER YEAR, not counting the start up costs, which run in the vicinity of $50,000. $44,000 over five years for something that will cost us $90,000 over the same period? And that’s even if they actually get around to giving out the money in the first place! According to this, in order to qualify for “meaningful use,” EMRs must be used for ePrescribing, for communicating with other EMRs like labs and hospitals, and for transmitting information on performance measures (the paternalistic proxy for “quality”) to the government.

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Health Policy Schizophrenia

The Obama administration has told us how it intends to change Medicare many times and in many places.

It wants to replace fragmented decision making by independent doctors with coordinated care delivered by doctors working in teams, connected to a medical home. It wants Medicare to purchase quality, not quantity. It wants decisions to be evidence-based. It wants electronic records in order to standardize care and reduce errors.

So how does the administration plan to get all this done?  It plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on pilot programs to try all these ideas out and then ……

Wait a minute. Aren’t these ideas already being tried out somewhere? Yes. In Medicare, as a matter of fact. How well are they working? As a long-time critic of managed care, I admit the results look pretty good.

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