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The Tapeworms are Coming for Direct Primary Care

When Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan (AmBerGan) announced their healthcare partnership, Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett declared “the ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.”  He is right. Our broken system is infested with tapeworms. Tapeworms are parasites; they exploit their hosts, drain resources, and suck the life out of their prey. Unfortunately, Buffet failed to call attention to the tapeworms specifically –they are insurers, hospital conglomerates, pharmaceutical companies, and pharmacy benefit managers.

As healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, Americans increasingly find themselves struggling to make ends meet. Direct Primary Care (DPC) is a tapeworm-free medical concept whereby: 1) a periodic fee is charged for comprehensive primary care services, (2) the arrangement is free from billing through third parties, and (3) if additional fees are charged, those are less than the monthly fee.  Depending on age, fees range between $60-150 per month. Patients gain direct access to their physician coupled with unprecedented levels of affordability.

DPC physicians provide protracted office visits, after-hours appointments for emergencies, and occasionally, even home visits. DPC practices can dispense chronic medications at wholesale prices, perform basic procedures in-office, and when outside testing is necessary, these physicians can negotiate discounted “cash” prices on behalf of their patients.  This model goes a long way toward restoring the sacred relationship between a patient and their physician. It is no wonder patients are leaving the health care system in droves.

The last obstacle facing expansion of the DPC practice model is their misclassification as an “insurance” product rather than a “healthcare” entity. Legislation, known as the Primary Care Enhancement Act, already exists to repair this mistake and has 29 cosponsors. H.R. 365/ S.R.1358 would allow for two things: 1. Taxpayers participating in a DPC arrangement may qualify for an HSA plan and 2. HSA funds could be used for monthly fees for a DPC arrangement. According to the Moran Company, this legislation is nearly “deficit neutral.”Continue reading…

Health in 2 point 00, Episode 16

Jessica DaMassa asks me about money in (Livongo) money out (Theranos), and how much is enough money for challenges (AMA & Google); all in this episode of #healthin2point 00–now on its own Youtube channel. Look for the weird 30 second extreme psoriasis I get in this video!–Matthew Holt

Another Myth that Refuses to Die: As Medicare Goes, So Goes the Nation

Medicare is a big deal in U.S. healthcare: no doubt.

It’s the $683 billion federal program that provides insurance coverage to 59 million Americans, up 3 million from 2015. It covers 16% of the population and accounts for 20% of total health spending today. By 2020, it will cover 64 million and 81 million by 2030.

Its beneficiaries are a complex population: One in six is disabled, two of three have at least 2 chronic ailments, half have an income less than two-times the federal poverty level ($26,200 in 2016), one in four has less than $15,000 in savings or retirement accounts, and the average enrollee pays 17% of their total income on out of pocket health costs (30% for those above 85 years of age).

It’s a complicated program: Medicare Part A covers hospital visits and skilled nursing facilities, Part B covers preventative services including doctor visits and diagnostic testing and Part D covers prescription drugs.

So, Medicare is the federal government’s most expensive health program. It gets lots of attention from politicians who vow to protect it, hospitals and physicians who complain its reimbursement stifles innovation and seniors who guard it jealously with their votes. But policymakers and many in the industry might be paying too much attention to it. After all, 84% of the U.S. population and 80% of our total spending falls outside its span of coverage and responsibility.

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Health in 2 point 00, Episode 15

Jessica DaMassa asks me every question about health & technology she can fit into 2 minutes. Topics include Facebook looking for hospital data, the EU starting a VC fund, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon blowing up the hype about ABC & the ACA under more assault. Jessica called this a “painful episode” but I thought it was rather good! BTW THCB will be featuring Jessica’s new video series WTF Health very soon so get prepped!–Matthew Holt

From EHR to Paper to EHR .. to Paper??

I can’t help myself from telling patients how things really work in health care. But I feel they have a right to know.

When I see new patients their jaw usually drops when I sit down with them next to the computer with a stack of papers held together with a rubber band or a gigantic clamp and with yellow sticky notes protruding here and there with words like LAB, ER and X-RAY.

Patients always assume that medical records transfer seamlessly between practices. They don’t, even between clinics that use the same EMR vendor. The stack of papers gets scanned in, as images or PDFs, but they don’t appear in searchable, tabular or report-compatible form. Often, they don’t each get labeled, but are clumped together under headings like “Radiology 2010-2017”.

In one of the clinics I work in, a Registered Nurse enters patients’ medical history in the EMR before each new patient’s first appointment. In the other, it is my job. In both cases, only a fraction of he information is usually carried over from one EMR to the other, and the patient’s life story risks getting diluted, even distorted.Continue reading…

Fix the EHR!

After a blizzard of hype surrounding the electronic health record (EHR), health professionals are now in full backlash mode against this complex new tool. They are rightly seen as a major cause of professional burnout among physicians and nurses: Clinicians are spending almost half their professional time typing, clicking, and checking boxes on electronic records. They can and must be made into useful, easy-to-use tools that liberate, rather than oppress, clinicians.

Performing several tasks, badly. The EHR is a lot more than merely an electronic version of the patient’s chart. It has also become the control panel for managing the clinical encounter through clinician order entry. Moreover, through billing and regulatory compliance, it has also become a focal point of quality-improvement efforts. While some of these efforts actually have improved quality and patient safety, many others served merely to “buff up the note” to make the clinician look good on “process” measures, and simply maximize billing.

Mashing up all these functions — charting, clinical ordering, billing/compliance and quality improvement — inside the EHR has been a disaster for the clinical user, in large part because the billing/compliance function has dominated. The pressure from angry physician users has produced a medieval solution: Hospital and clinics have hired tens of thousands of scribes literally to follow clinicians around and record their notes and orders into the EHR. Only in health care, it seems, could we find a way to “automate” that ended up adding staff and costs!

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We Should Use Both Medicare Advantage for All and Medicaid As A Package to Cover Everyone And We Should Do It Now

A growing number of people want to set aside all of our current health care financing approaches as a country and set up Medicare For All as a Canadian like single payer system to cover every American and pay for our care.

When we spend three trillion dollars a year on health care and still have thirty million people without insurance, the possibility of covering everyone using the most direct and simple approach has some obvious appeal.

That Medicare for All approach being proposed to Congress today would be funded with a half dozen taxes that would include making income tax more progressive and inheritance tax levels significantly higher than they are now.

If we do have enough political momentum and enough alignment as a nation to actually replace everything in our health coverage world with a national Medicare for All system that is financed by those new taxes, then we should seriously consider going even further and spend the same amount of money buying better coverage and better care for everyone by setting up a Medicare Advantage program for Everyone and using that approach and program to cover all Americans.

Medicare Advantage has better benefits, better care coordination, better quality reporting, and a higher level of focus on better care outcomes and better care connectivity than standard Medicare.

Standard Medicare buys care entirely by the piece.   Buying care entirely by the piece rewards bad care, bad care outcomes, bad health, and inefficient care connectivity.

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The Greatest Decision Trump Has Ever Made

Dr. David Shulkin once gave me this advice, “stop whining and complaining and lead with solutions.” To the many frustrated physicians in this country, this critique is a fair one. I took his words to heart.

Let me start by saying my husband served 20 years in the United States Army and is a proud Veteran. I think our veterans deserve better than Dr. David Shulkin. His ousting as VA Secretary by President Trump this past week is akin to “leading with solutions” from my perspective.

Dr. Shulkin appears to have engaged in considerable double-speak throughout his 13-month tenure in Trump’s Cabinet. In his New York Times op-ed, he wrote, “I will continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the V.A. by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans.”

When it comes to personal agendas, there are few who are as laser focused as this man. Initially endorsing campaign pledges by Trump committing to increased accountability at the VA, his European trip—for which taxpayers paid $122,334—involved more sightseeing and shopping with his wife than “official” government activities. When the Washington Post first reported this story, Shulkin assured the public “nothing inappropriate” took place.

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Can Amazon, Chase, and Berkshire Help Medical Malpractice Victims?

A New Era of Amazon Healthcare Should Take a Cue From Germany to Provide Support for Medical Malpractice Victims

Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway recently announced plans to form a joint non-profit enterprise aimed at providing affordable, high-quality, transparent healthcare to hundreds of thousands of their U.S. employees. Although a healthcare venture departs from their prior expertise, the companies’ combined wealth, resources, and history of market innovation provide hope that this new alliance can reshape the delivery and cost of healthcare in the U.S. As Amazon and company attempt to tackle America’s healthcare problems with a new delivery model, there is also potential for them to support patients who encounter another critical problem in America’s healthcare system – the problem of medical errors.

Johns Hopkins estimates that 250,000 deaths in the United States are caused each year by preventable medical errors. Eliminating medical errors is admittedly difficult. It requires interdisciplinary collaboration, unlikely political alliances, and changing the longstanding “culture of silence” in healthcare. In contrast, supporting patients who are damaged by medical errors, which can have a larger positive effect on the healthcare system, can be easily achieved. And it doesn’t even require innovation. Germany has implemented a model for patient support that can be adopted in the United States.

In Germany, patients who suspect medical errors have a legal right to assistance from their healthcare insurers. This support can include assistance obtaining medical records, the examination and evaluation of documents submitted by patients, helping patients find an attorney or support groups, and providing patients with a free expert medical assessment. In addition, German public healthcare insurers, which insure 90% of the country’s population, are required to fund the Unabhängige Patientenberatung Deutschland (Independent Patient Counseling Germany – UPD). UPD is established pursuant to German federal law and provides patients with free expert medical and legal consultations. At UPD, patients who suspect that they were injured by a treatment error can receive a free online, telephone, or personal consultation from experts to help them understand their legal rights.

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MyFitnessPal and the State of Data Privacy in America

This week MyFitnessPal announced that it had suffered a massive security breach which exposed or compromised 150 million MyFitnessPal accounts. Data that is affected included usernames, email addresses and hashed passwords. Luckily for those affected, the company claims that the affected data did not include government-issued identifiers or payment card data.

In some good news for MyFitnessPal users, the stolen passwords were encrypted. However, Under Armour continues to be vague about which percentage of the stolen data was protected by bcrypt, a secure algorithm employing key stretching, and what used SHA-1, a legacy hashing algorithm no longer considered to be “any good”.

That such data breaches occur should no longer be a surprise to anyone particularly given other high-profiles breaches involving companies such as Equifax, Yahoo and Target. However, what is surprising in this case is that cybersecurity experts are beginning to commend Under Amour for their “prompt response to the data breach after its discovery and their public announcement alerting users to the danger”.

Such praise for simply engaging in what most consumers would consider obvious moral behavior may shock many Americans. After all, isn’t it intuitive and legally responsible of companies that suffer data breaches to engage in proactive disclosure?

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