Author Archives

Simon Nath

The Legend of the Avoidable Hospital Readmission

Screen-Shot-2012-12-14-at-11.05.59-AMA long, long time ago, hospitals existed to admit patients when they were sick, treat them with medicines or surgery and good nursing care, and discharge them after they became well.

Hospital care was at one time a charity, which evolved into a nonprofit service, before it became a Very Big Business.

In olden days, nonprofit hospitals charged patients straightforward fees for their services. Then, when you were just a young whippersnapper or perhaps merely a gleam in your father’s eyes, Medicare and Big Insurance started collecting premiums from workers and dole it out to hospitals when the workers or retirees needed hospital care.

At that point, hospital fees became confusing. The people who received care didn’t see what the charges were, and the payers didn’t really know how much care was medically necessary or even actually delivered by the increasingly profit-driven hospitals, let alone how much it cost to provide those services.

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Using EHR Data to Manage Hypertension More Aggressively

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The NIH (National Institutes of Health) recently released initial results from its SPRINT (Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial) study, suggesting more aggressive treatment for hypertension may reduce risk for cardiovascular events by 30 percent and the risk of death by 25 percent.

The SPRINT group recruited over 9,000 non-diabetic subjects aged 50 or older with systolic blood pressure (SBP) over 130. Individuals were then randomly assigned to either a standard treatment goal of lowering SBP below 140 or a more intensive treatment goal of lowering SBP below 120. The findings were sufficiently compelling that results were released more than a year in advance of the study’s planned conclusion.

While the SPRINT researchers have only released very high level findings, the general sentiment appears to be supportive of releasing this information early as the New York Times Op-Ed by Eric Topol, MD, so rightly notes. However, the lack of detail has generated sharp questions on several issues, including whether a reduction of cardiovascular risk by 30 percent actually translates into substantial numbers of individuals affected, potential side effects of increasing the number of medications, and general caution regarding findings released before peer reviewed publication.

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Will Watson Replace Radiologists? Ask a Radiologist.

Screen-Shot-2012-12-14-at-11.05.59-AMBack in August, 2015 IBM announced their bid to acquire Merge Healthcare for $1B dollars. (Forbes article here) Merge is a product that helps to manage, store, report, and bill for the medical images of patients as read by Radiologists.   (More here) Today between the 7500 Merge customers they have access to roughly 30 billion images.

The promise for Watson Health is to learn how to “see” through machine learning from the vast amount of medical images that Merge Healthcare manages. Currently, Watson reads 66 million pages a second. It is predicted by IBM researchers that 90% of all “Big Data” stored by healthcare systems is related to medical imaging.

The offer to hospitals, healthcare systems, Radiologists, and ultimately patients is that Watson will be able to have information, including medical images, uploaded to the cloud for analysis. Based on the symptoms and a cross referencing of medical images against images of previously diagnosed medical conditions and diseases, Watson would be able to provide an initial recommendation. (supporting article)

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Texas Hasn’t Banned Telemedicine: Why The TMB Regulatory Approach Makes Sense

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 7.45.56 PMThere has been at least one report that the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is looking into anti-competitive practices based on the Texas Medical Board’s telemedicine regulations.

As a telemedicine company operating in Texas, we maintain that the rules put in place by the Texas Medical Board are by no means insurmountable and do not seriously limit competition. The rules merely allow better integration of telemedicine offerings with existing medical services and help ensure a better patient experience.

Telemedicine is possible in Texas as defined by the guidelines of The Texas Medical Board (TMB), but it has to be telemedicine done right. Telemedicine must be provided in a way which conforms with modern clinical safety standards, including ensuring continuity between traditional care encounters and telemedicine encounters.

The TMB regulations mandate that:

1. An individual must have a face-to-face visit with the provider group providing virtual care to establish a doctor/patient relationship;

2. Doctors treating a panel of patients virtually must have reciprocity (communication, accountability) with each other and should be under common medical direction; and

3. Physicians engaging in telemedicine must be able to follow-up with patients and vice versa.

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Tyson’s Law

Optimized-MichaelPainterFor more on this session at Health 2. 0 on Monday October 5, see the agenda here.

I’m reading the morning news on my iPad at 32,000 feet en route from New Jersey to Silicon Valley for the annual fall Health 2.0 meeting. I love coming to this place with its promise and hope pushing us toward better futures.

Of course, much of that hope is hitched to faster, smaller, cheaper driven by trusty Moore’s Law. Just when it seemed our Moore’s Law golden goose would soon be waddling a little more slowly, the New York Times reports today that IBM scientists may have found a way to keep the eggs coming. Apparently, they’ve discovered a chip manufacturing approach that may get around the looming laws of physics by using transistors with parallel rows of carbon nanotubes separated by a distance of just a few atoms. Whew.

In another Times article, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, takes us from that atomic level way up here to the macro where most of us live, work, learn and play. Business, Cook says—presumably especially the dynamic technology sector—has civic responsibilities beyond pushing profit.He and Apple, for instance, have made recent stands about equity, and he noted Apple would “continue to evangelize” about it.

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Why More Physicians Will Adopt Electronic Health Records

Niam YaraghiWhen President George W. Bush issued an executive order in April 2004 to establish the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, he had a clear vision in mind: to create a secure, nationwide interoperable network that allows authorized users to access medical records of anyone at anytime and anywhere in the U.S. President Barack Obama knew very well that his plan for providing health insurance to all Americans would not be successful unless it was paired with a plan for controlling the quality and cost of health care services.

Ironically, Bush’s health IT network was (and remains) the instrumental element that guarantees the financial sustainability of Obamacare. It was no surprise that the economic stimulus package of 2009 allocated $25.9 billion for promoting the adoption and use of electronic health records systems among American physicians and hospitals. But a decade and $30 billion later, only half of the U.S. office-based physicians have adopted a basic electronic health records system and a mere 20 percent of them use such software, according to the latest statistics by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.Continue reading…

Speak Softly and Carry (Good) Data

Dale SandersAfter a recent talk, a client came up to me with a puzzled expression.

We made small talk. We talked about the weather. We talked about sports. Finally, he got to the point.

“When are you going to talk about Big Data?” he asked somewhat impatiently.

“I’m not,” I responded.

It transpired that he was expecting to hear about all of the miraculous things Big Data was going to do for his healthcare system. He had come expecting to hear my Big Data talk.

Apparently, this was something he had been looking forward to all week. He was to be disappointed.

As a matter of fact, I almost never talk about Big Data.

And for the most part, nobody at my company, HealthCatalyst, does either.

Which might seem a little strange for a company in the data and analytics business. You’d think we’d be singing the praises of Big Data from morning till night. But we aren’t. There’s a reason for that, which I think is important.

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It Costs Nothing to Care: Why We Need to Provide Health Insurance for Undocumented US Residents

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The cost of medical service provision in the United States is one of the most palpable strains on the healthcare system, but we must not forget that cost is the sibling of quality and access—without considering the three as such, we will undoubtedly fail to navigate our country’s healthcare quandary. Low quality care inevitably results in the need for more care in the form of readmissions, while lack of access to primary care leads to increases in the utilization of expensive, emergency services. Of particular concern in our country, a growing contributor to cost, and driven by low quality care and even less access to that care, is the systematic exclusion of undocumented patients. This was made very clear to me through the example of a single suffering patient, Mr. Gomez.Continue reading…

Healthcare’s Perpetual War

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There are three visions of peace in the seemingly never ending, but really rather brief, Israeli-Palestinian perpetual crisis. One peace features two independent countries living in collaborative harmony on a piece of land approximately the size of New Jersey. Another peace yearns for a messianic Jewish state stretching from the blue Mediterranean shores to the Jordan River, and possibly beyond. The third and final peace is expected to materialize after the Zionist entity has been permanently erased from the face of this earth, or at least from the face of that New Jersey size holy piece of land.  Each definition is amenable to slight compromises in form, but not at all in substance.

There are three visions for the future of medicine in the seemingly insurmountable, but really rather minor, perpetual health care crisis in America. One future of medicine sees physicians unencumbered by useless administrative tasks, wielding sleek and useful technology tools, offering the best medical care to all patients who need and want attention. Another future is yearning for the revival of chickens and charity as bona fide methods of payment for whatever medical care the free market wishes to bestow on the less fortunate. The third and final future is one devoid of most middling and often faulty doctors, where the health of the nation is enforced by constant computerized surveillance with fully automated preemptive interventions.  Each definition is amenable to slight compromises in form, but not at all in substance.Continue reading…

America’s Nursing Crisis

Many of the nation’s nurses understandably erupted in anger when the co-hosts of ABC’s The View mocked Miss America contestant Kelley Johnson for her pageant-night monologue about being a nurse — and for wearing scrubs and a “doctor’s stethoscope” (their words) in the talent competition. The co-hosts, Joy Behar and Michelle Collins, have since apologized, especially for implying that only doctors use stethoscopes. “I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about,” Behar later said.

It would be easy to attribute this episode solely to the ignorance of some TV personalities, but as most nurses know, the problem goes far deeper. The fact is that much of the nation doesn’t really understand nursing, either.

It’s true that the public rates nursing in Gallup surveys as the most honest and ethical profession. Yet it’s unlikely that most Americans understand the range of critically important roles that nurse’s play across the health care continuum, from health promotion, prevention, and research, to palliative and hospice care.

How many Americans know that patients who obtain organ transplants will have far more contact with – and obtain more hands-on care from – a transplant nurse than a surgeon? Or that two-thirds of all anesthetics given to US patients are delivered by certified registered nurse anesthetists, rather than anesthesiologists with medical degrees?

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