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Category: OP-ED

Do Doctors Deserve Mercy?

This past week a video went viral when a woman complained about the lengthy wait time at a clinic.  On video, we see the physician asks if the patient still wants to be seen.  The patient declines to be seen, yet complains patients should be informed they will not be seen in a timely manner.  The frustrated physician replies, “Then fine…Get the hell out. Get your money and get the hell out.”  While we do not witness events leading up to the argument between doctor and patient, we do know staff at the front desk called the police due to threats made by the patient to others. 

Based on the statement released by Peter Gallogly, MD, he is a humble, thoughtful, and compassionate physician who was very concerned for the safety of his staff, which he considers “family.”  Physicians like Dr. Gallogly do their best to serve patients, ease their suffering, and avoid losing ourselves to burnout at the same time. Every human being deserves our compassion, kindness, and clemency.  Patients and physicians must accommodate each other when possible.

Do physicians actually deserve our mercy when necessary?  Yes, they do.  I should know.  The kindness shown to me by my patients over the past month has been unparalleled, leaving this physician thankful beyond words. 

My father has been a practicing pediatrician in our community for 47 years.  As I type these words, he is dying in a hospital bed.  We have worked side by side for the last 16 years.  It is difficult to make it through the day, desperately hoping to hear his voice one last time in the clinic hallway.  He was carrying a full patient load before an unexpected cardiac arrest ended his career.  The patient load doubled overnight; it is a burden I am carrying alone.

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Could OpenNotes Transform the Analytics Marketplace?

Could OpenNotes help push predictive analytics from paternalism to partnership?

As new payment incentives make it profitable to prevent illness as well as treat it, new technology is offering the tantalizing prospect of accurately targeting pre-emptive interventions.

At the recent Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference, for example, companies like Cardinal Analytx Solutions and Base Health spoke of using machine learning to find those individuals among a client’s population who haven’t yet been expensively sick, but are likely to be so soon. Companies seeking to make that information actionable touted their use of behavioral theory to “optimize patient motivation and engagement” via bots, texting and other technological tools.

Being able to stave off a significant amount of sickness would constitute extraordinary medical progress. Along the way, however, there’s a danger that an allegiance to algorithms will reinforce a paternalism we’ve only recently begun to shed. A thin line can separate engagement from enforcement, motivation from manipulation, and, sometimes, “This is for your own good” from “This is for my bottom line.” It is here where OpenNotes could play a critical role.

In a recent article for The BMJ, I proposed a concept called “collaborative health” to describe a shifting constellation of relationships for maintaining wellbeing and for sickness care. Shaped by each individual’s life circumstances, these will sometimes involve the traditional care system, as “patient-centered care” does, but not always.

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EHR-Driven Medical Error: The Unknown and the Unknowable

Politico’s Arthur Allen has written a useful report on recent findings about EHR-related errors. We must keep in mind, however, that almost all EHR-related errors are unknown, and often unknowable. Why?

  1. The most common errors involved with EHRs are medication prescribing errors. But we seldom find those errors because those type of errors seldom manifest themselves because so many hospitalized patients are old and sick, have several co-morbidities and are taking many other medications. Key organs, like the liver, kidney and heart, are compromised. Bad things can happen to these patients even when we do everything right; conversely, good things can happen even when we do much wrong. We usually miss the results of, say, a wrongly prescribed medication. (Note: these types of ‘missed’ medication errors contrast to leaving a pair of hemostats in the gut or to wrong-site surgery—where most errors soon become obvious).
  2. As the experts referenced (Dr. Bob Wachter, Dean Sittig and Hardeep Singh) noted, very, very few cases make it to litigation, further reducing the numbers examined in the study discussed.
  3. Perhaps worse, few clinicians want to report problems even if they know about them. This is a litigious society and few medical professionals want to spend time in court. Also, as the authors Allen interviewed (all of them my friends and respected colleagues): some of the errors that were known did not result in harm and many were caught by others or by the professional involved in the error before they harmed.

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Six Assertions on Knowing the Unknowable Future of Healthcare

Some things never change. Joe Flower is one of those things. Pay attention. Joe was the keynote speaker at Health 2.0 Silicon Valley earlier this month. We’re excited to feature the text of his remarks as a post on the blog today.  If you have questions for Joe, you can leave them the comment section. You’ll find a link to a complimentary copy of his report Healthcare 2027: at the end of this post. You should absolutely download and read it. And take notes.

The future. The Future of healthcare. 
Here are the seven words at the core. If you take nothing else away from this, take these:

Everything changes.
Everything is connected.
Pay attention.

— Jane Hirshfield 

We are gathered here on holy ground, in Silicon Valley, the home of the startup, the temple of everything new, of the Brave New World.

And healthcare? Healthcare is changing — consolidation, new technologies, political chaos, a vast and growing IT overburden, shifting rules, ever-rising costs, new solutions, business model experiments.

So when I say, “The Future of Healthcare,”
what are the pictures in your head? Catastrophic system failure? The dawn of a bright new day of better, stronger, cheaper healthcare for everyone, led by tech? Do we have all the confidence of a little girl screaming down a slide? Do we just say in denial about the future and end up in a kind of chaotic muddling along?

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I’m 35 Years Old And I’m Realizing My Life May Be About to End. And I’m Panicking, Just a Little.

It’s been a while since I put a piece of writing in the public domain, but suddenly I have a lot to get off my chest, well my colon actually.

Just three weeks ago life was good. Correction. It was awesome. The newest edition to our family had arrived on Christmas Eve, joining his two sisters aged 5 and 3. A month later we were on a plane home to Sydney, having spent four great years working for Google in California. My beautiful wife had been working at a startup on NASA’s Moffett campus and was worried about finding something equally interesting in Australia, but she managed to land a very similar gig with an innovative logistics start-up in Sydney. We’d come back primarily to be closer to family, but also to pursue a dream of setting up a family farm in partnership with my parents — intended as a great place to bring up our three kids but also as a new sideline income stream. We’d spent every weekend scouring Sydney for areas that met our criteria (good schools, commutable, cost of land etc) and we were settling on Kurrajong in Sydney’s west. I was just getting into a training routine for the CitytoSurf run having done the Monteray Bay half marathon a few months prior.

I’m 35 years old.

On July 19th I went for what I thought would be a routine GP visit. In my mind it was primarily to re-establish a GP relationship in case my kids needed an urgent care visit (the practice is literally around the corner from our place). I’d also noticed a bit of unusual bleeding from, well, my back passage and very recently a change in bowel habit. I wasn’t alarmed by either of these symptoms but my GP was concerned enough to refer me for a colonoscopy. So began the roller coaster.

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Why Competition In the Politics Industry Is Failing America

Year after year, Congress fails to reach consensus on important issues, the electorate screams for change, and voters become more polarized along party lines and ideology. These struggles aren’t causes of America’s political malaise, says Michael E. Porter, co-chair of the U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School; they’re symptoms of a much larger problem. U.S. “democracy” is a weak, uncompetitive industry controlled by a duopoly that pursues private interests at the expense of public good.

“To fix our political system, we must see politics as the major industry it has become, the major economic benefits it provides for its participants, and how today’s political competition is not serving the public interest,” as Porter explains in “Why Competition in the Politics Industry Is Failing America,” a just-released groundbreaking study co-authored with business leader and former CEO Katherine M. Gehl.

Experts in the benefits and drawbacks of competition in the private sector, Porter and Gehl describe the four fundamentals of a healthy political system:

  1. Practical and effective solutions to solve our nation’s important problems and expand opportunity
  2. Legislative action to advance those solutions
  3. A reasonably broad-based public consensus on policy
  4. Respect for the Constitution and the rights of all citizens

Measured by these success factors alone, America’s system has already failed. But Porter and Gehl are adamant in their belief that we can recover our former sense of bipartisanship and dynamism.

Read Porter’s and Gehl’s paper to learn more about their poignant perspective on our nation’s most urgent problems and how business, strategy and competition can help solve them.

Danny Stern is Managing Director of the Stern Strategy Group

Hi, I’m Rob. I’m a Recovering Doctor

Yeah, I know I used that line once before, but it’s a special day for me today.  Humor me.  Five years ago today I earned my last money from an insurance company.  Yep, today is my five year sobriety date.

Five years.

That was before the Affordable Care Act, before the Cubs won the World Series.  Before anyone knelt for the national anthem, and if they had, people would’ve probably not minded.  It was before the election of a reality TV star to our highest office, before “fake news” became a thing (there was plenty of it, but nobody called it that).  It was before half of the rock legends died, before Anthony Wiener went to jail, back when Hamilton was a guy nobody knew much about who was on the 10 dollar bill, when the world wasn’t quite this warm, when Oprah hated me.  Actually she still does.  I’m not sure why.

I left my old practice because of “irreconcilable differences” with my ex-partners.  Instead of going to the VA, joining another practice, or moving to New Zealand, I started a different kind of practice.  My Yoda, Dave Chase (who wrote a book that you MUST read) told me about “Direct Primary Care,” where doctors don’t charge a lot, but are able to see a lot of people and give good care because they are paid by their patients.  It made sense to me.  There were a few folks doing it, and I talked to a couple (I’m looking at you, Ryan) who made it sound possible.

So I did it.  I dumped all insurance and started charging people a flat monthly fee.  People were skeptical and only my most loyal patients followed me (about 200).  It took a while, but we figured out how to make it work, and my patients figured out that this was the best experience they ever had in healthcare.

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An Op-Ed Ghostwriter Speaks

Is it “a breach of trust” for a publication to publish an opinion piece that was written with the participation of public relations professionals?  That was the conclusion of a recent article in Health News Review, a publication that bills itself as “Your Health News Watchdog.”(“Another ‘breach of trust’ at STAT: patient who praised TV drug ads says pharma PR company asked her to write op-ed”).

The article traces the origins of an op-ed that appeared in STAT, the respected medical blog published by the Boston Globe,  headlined  “You can complain about TV drug ads. They may have saved my life.” Health News Review managing editor Kevin Lomangino found that a public relations firm working for Gilead, a pharmaceutical company that makes the hepatitis C drug Harvoni, had reached out to a patient named Deborah Clark Duschane and asked her to write about her experience with drug ads.

Lomangino quotes Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University, who called the situation a “breach of trust.”

“The whole point of ghostwriting is to hide the hand of an actor — to make an industry position seem like it’s coming from an unaffiliated individual,” Seife said. “That’s deception. It’s meant to disarm the natural skepticism that we have when an industry makes self-serving statements. And when someone tries to disarm our skepticism, well, it ain’t good.”

As a professional ghostwriter, who has been hired by public relations professionals to work with authors on op-eds that have run in respected publications, I disagree.

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Maintenance of Certification: Who’s Regulating the Regulators?

When four physician certification boards founded the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) in 1933, those forward thinking organizations—and their professional society sponsors—launched a national movement toward ever increasing physician accountability. Back then, quackery was rampant, so “board certification” meant a lot to patients. The ABMS has since grown to 24 member boards, all ostensibly dedicated to serving “the public and the medical profession by improving the quality of health care through setting professional standards for lifetime certification.”

Because information and technology now advance so rapidly, those one-time lifetime certificates from years ago may no longer be enough. A doctor who passed a test in 1990 isn’t necessarily competent today. The boards have thus changed their approach to certification; for newly minted physicians, time-limited (e.g., 10 year) endorsements now replace the lifetime ones granted to their predecessors. Initially contingent on additional examinations each certification cycle, these newer time-limited endorsements now additionally require ongoing participation in Maintenance of Certification (MOC®) programs.

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How the Government is Failing Health Tech Startups and What to Do About It

As the Senate debated the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Washington this past summer, healthcare was front and center in newspapers and conversations around the country. While insurance coverage and the affordability of care certainly warrant the level of nationwide attention they received, they comprise only one dimension of the systemic deficits in US healthcare: access to care. Meanwhile, the pressing need to reform our broken delivery and payment structures and address the more than $1 trillion of waste in our system was being overlooked by lawmakers in DC.

Luckily, on the other side of the country, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists throughout Silicon Valley are paying plenty of attention to opportunities to improve the efficiency of healthcare. In the first quarter of 2017, while policymakers fought about repeal-and-replace, investors poured almost $1.5 billion into digital health startups (mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area). This is on top of over $29 billion invested in healthcare startups between 2010 and 2016. Many of these budding companies are poised to significantly improve the way healthcare is administered and enhance the experience of providers and patients in novel, tech-enabled ways. Unfortunately, in addition to the myriad barriers facing any new startup, healthcare startups also encounter several unique obstacles rooted in policy failures that severely limit their potential to disrupt a system badly in need of disruption.

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