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Category: Hospitals

Why Medicare for All Will Not Cure What Ails the Hahnemann

By ASEEM R. SHUKLA, MD

The impending closure of Hahnemann University Hospital is a local tragedy.  Eliminating a 170-year old institution is certain to exaggerate the daily travails of the economically disadvantaged inner-city population that Hahnemann serves as a safety-net hospital.  The closure is also a national tragedy. Hospitals are the towering, visible monuments of our healthcare system, and closings imply that something insidious ails that very system—that all is not well.  

Hospitals are complex entities with varied financial drivers, and the solution is never simple.  And the moment is too rich for politicians who see Hahnemann’s failure as the culmination of their dystopian predictions.  Bernie Sanders, most prominently, stood on the hospital’s doorstep and pitched his deceptively simple solution—Medicare for All.  Medicare for All, Sanders said, would ensure that every patient carries the same coverage, hospitals are paid a predictable rate, and voila, no hospitals need to close.  Private insurance would disappear, and no one would be without coverage.  

Even physicians have jumped on the Medicare for All bandwagon.  Some doctors insist that once profit is removed as a motive for hospital bottom lines, and government bodies decide which hospitals can buy a surgical robot, build a new wing or offer proton beam treatment cancer treatment centers, then all hospitals will do better.  

But these arguments miss a fundamental point: why pitch government insurance for all, like Medicare and Medicaid (a federal and state insurance plan to cover low income adult and children) as a remedy, when it is precisely government-run insurance that is killing Hahnemann and other hospitals in distress? 

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A Patient in the Lobby Refuses to Leave: Medical Emergency, Unhappy Customer or Active Shooter?

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

The receptionist interrupted me in the middle of my dictation.

“There’s a woman and her husband at the front desk. She’s already been seen by Dr. Kim for chest pain, but refuses to leave and her husband seems really agitated. They’re demanding to speak with you.”

I didn’t take the time to look up the woman’s chart. This could be a medical emergency, I figured. Something may have developed in just the last few minutes.

I hurried down the hall and unlocked the door to the lobby. I had already noticed the man and the woman standing at the glassed-in reception desk.

“I’m Dr. Duvefelt, can I help you?” I began, one hand on the still partway open door behind me.

The husband did the talking.

“My wife just saw Dr. Kim for chest pain and he thought it was nothing. He didn’t have any of her old records, so how could he know?”

While I quickly considered my response, knowing that Dr. Kim is a very thorough and conscientious physician, the man continued:

“Can we get out of here, and step inside for some privacy?”

My mind raced. This was either a medical emergency or an unhappy customer situation. We had the door locks installed not long ago on the advice of the police and many other sources of guidance for clinics like ours. It was a decision made by our Board of Directors. In this age of school, workplace and church shootings, everyone is preparing for such scenarios. We are always reminded not to bring people inside the “secure” areas of our clinics who don’t have an appointment or a true medical emergency.

I figured I had to find out more about this woman’s chest pain in order to make my decision whether to let her inside again; after all, she had just been evaluated.

“Ma’am, are you having chest pain right now?” I asked.

“A little”, she answered.

“How long have you had it?” I probed.

“A couple of years now.”

“And you just saw Dr. Kim?”

“Yes, and he said my EKG looked okay, but he didn’t bother to ask me about you heart valve operation three years ago in, Boston. He just said ’we’ll get those records’, and he told me I was okay today.”

The husband broke in, “It’s the same everywhere we go, everybody just says it’s not a heart attack, but we need more answers than that. we know what it isn’t, but we need to know what it is!” He added, again, “can’t we go inside for some privacy?”

“Have you been seen elsewhere for the same thing?” I said without answering the request.

“Yes, at the emergency room in Concord, New Hampshire when we lived there…”

“Did Dr. Kim have you sign a records release form so we can get the records from Boston and New Hampshire?” I asked.

“Yes”, the woman answered.

“Then that’s all we can do today,” I said. “I hear you telling me this is an ongoing problem, you’ve already been assessed today and Dr. Kim told you that you’re safe today and we’ve requested your old records. That’s what needs to happen.”

“You mean you’re not going to help us today?”

“You’ve seen Dr.Kim, your records will get here, I don’t know what more we can do for you today.”

“You’ll hear about this”, the husband said as they stormed out. Another man in the lobby introduced himself to them and said “I’ll be your witness.”

I closed the self-locking door and wished I had somehow been more skilled and more diplomatic, and I wished the world wasn’t the way it has become in just a few years, with more concern for bolted doors, gun violence and mass shootings than simple customer relations.

Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. This post originally appeared on his blog, A Country Doctor Writes, here.

Pulling Care Out of Hospital—By Phone, Ambulance, and Good Ol’ House Calls.

By REBECCA FOGG

In the 20th century, hospitals completed their transformation from the hospice-like institutions of the Middle Ages, into large, gleaming centers of advanced medical expertise and technology that save and improve lives every day. But an unintended consequence of hospitals’ dazzling capabilities is a staggering cost burden that’s proving toxic to the American economy.

Today, hospital care accounts for approximately 33% of the US’ $3.5 trillion annual health care expenditures, according to CMS. The drivers of hospital costs are complex and hard to tackle, including (but not limited to) market consolidation that enables price hikes, heavy administrative burdens, expensive technology and patient usage patterns.

In The Innovator’s Prescription, Clayton Christensen et al. explained another important driver of high hospital care costs: conflation under one roof of business models designed to address very different needs—such as the need for diagnosis of unique, complex conditions and experimental treatments, versus that for highly standardized services (for instance, some surgical procedures). This common phenomenon makes optimization of either business model very difficult, and thus drives up overhead costs.

One solution to this seemingly intractable problem is to make home and community the default locations for care, where in many circumstances it can be provided less expensively, more conveniently, and more effectively than in a hospital. Fortunately, business model innovation toward this end is gaining traction.

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Patients Win When Payers and Providers Speak the Same Language

By CECI CONNOLLY

Discouraging headlines remind us daily of the ugly battles between payers and providers. Fighting for their slice of the $3.5 trillion health care pie, these companies often seem to leave the consumer out of the equation.  But it is not the case across the board. Our latest research documents that when doctors and health plans drop their guards, align incentives and focus on the mutual goal of delivering the best possible care, patients win.

For example, when SelectHealth in Utah partnered with obstetricians and refused to pay for medically unnecessary — often  dangerous — early inductions of labor, procedure rates dropped from 28% to zero, leading to shorter labors, fewer C-sections and $2.5 million in annual savings for all. When Kaiser Foundation Health Plan execs collaborated with Permanente doctors around opioid safety, prescriptions for the often-deadly drugs dropped 40%. And, when Security Health Plan in Wisconsin enlisted physicians and surgeons to develop a new outpatient surgery and rehab center, health outcomes improved; patient satisfaction jumped to 98%; and they saved $4.7 million in the first two years.

These productive partnerships occur in multiple communities across the nation as illustrated in in “Accelerating Adoption of Evidence-Based Care: Payer-Provider Partnerships,” a new report by the Alliance of Community Health Plans. With funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), the 18-month project uncovered five best practices in effective collaboration for health plans:

  1. Build consensus and commitment to change;
  2. Create a team that includes the necessary skill sets, perspectives and staff roles;
  3. Customize education, tools and access to specialized knowledge that the audience needs;
  4. Share timely and accurate data and feedback in a culture of transparency, accountability and healthy competition; and
  5. Align financial investments with clinical and patient experience goals.

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Death by 1000 Clicks Redux

By MARK BRAUNSTEIN, MD

Back in the ‘stone ages’ when I (an MIT grad) was an intern, I was called at 4 AM to see someone else’s gravely ill patient because her IV had infiltrated.  I started a new one and drew some blood work to check on her status.  When the results came back (on paper) I (manually) calculated her anion gap.  This is simple arithmetic but I had been up all night and didn’t do it right.

She died. 

On morning rounds the attending assured me that there was nothing I could have done anyway but, of course, in other circumstances it could have made a difference and an EHR could have easily done this calculation and brought the problematic result to my attention.  My passion for EHRs and FHIR apps to improve them really traces back to this patient episode I will never forget.

My criticism of the recent Kaiser Health News and Fortune article Death by 1000 Clicks is generally not about what it says but what it doesn’t say and its tone.

The article emphasizes the undeniable fact that EHRs cause new sources of medical error that can damage patients. It devotes a lot of ink to documenting some of these in dramatic terms. Yes, with hundreds of vendors out there, the quality of EHR software is highly variable. Among the major weaknesses of some EHRs are awkward user interfaces that can lead to errors. In fact, one of the highlights of my health informatics course is a demonstration of this by a physician whose patient died at least in part as a result of a poor EHR presentation of lab test results.

However, the article fails to pay equal attention to the ways EHRs can, if properly used, help prevent errors. It briefly mentions that around a 60% majority of physicians using EHRs feel that they improve quality. The reasons quality is improved deserved more attention. The article also fails to discuss some of the new, exciting technologies to improve EHR usability through innovative third party apps and he real progress being made in data sharing including patient access to their digital records.

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Innovators Worth Watching: Hennepin Health ACO

By REBECCA FOGG

As U.S. providers continue their slow but steady march away from fee-for-service reimbursement and toward value-based payments, they’re increasingly seeking means of addressing patients’ health-related social needs. That’s because social determinants of health—life circumstances including socioeconomic status, housing, education, and employment—are estimated to have at least twice the impact on risk of premature death than health care. So addressing them is an important part of value-based strategies aiming to improve health while reducing health care costs.

Hennepin Health, a safety-net Accountable Care Organization (ACO) serving Medicaid patients in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is an encouraging example of the trend. Hennepin Health’s ACO is a partnership between the county’s local Human Services and Public Health Department, a local teaching hospital, a Medicaid managed care health plan, and a Federally Qualified Health Center. Its innovative care model is designed to meet the unique needs of the partners’ shared, “high-risk” members, whose complex combination of issues—such as mental illness, addiction, homelessness and/or other hallmarks of social deprivation—often prevent them from accessing or receiving appropriate care through the traditional health system.

The ACO is staffed by an integrated care team comprised of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers and community health workers. Unlike traditional care processes, which often only involve medical assessment, Hennepin Health’s begins with an assessment of members’ social needs, like housing and food insecurity, or lack of transportation and unemployment, so that its care team can tackle those barriers to health in conjunction with members’ medical problems. And throughout members’ care, the team strives to develop and maintain a trusting relationship with members, many of whom have been let down by traditional health care, so that they can continue to identify and assist with more health and social needs over time.

Results thus far has been impressive—according to a Commonwealth Fund case study, the ACO’s medical costs fell an average of 11% per year between 2012 and 2016. And, between 2012 and 2013, its members’ emergency room visits decreased by approximately 9%, with hospital admissions remaining flat and outpatient visits increased by 3.3%. Assuming its results have continued on the same trajectory (we could not find more recent figures), Hennepin Health’s innovative care model shows significant promise.

But does it have the potential to disrupt America’s traditional, episodic, acute care delivery model? We put it to the test with six questions for identifying a Disruptive Innovation.

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Beyond Vaccination: New Measures Needed to Protect Hospitals and the Public Against the Flu

By MARC M. BEUTTLER, MD

Every year at this time, you hear warnings that flu season has arrived. New data from the CDC indicates the season is far from over. So, you are urged by health authorities to get a flu shot. What you may not realize is how the flu can affect the hospitals you and your loved ones rely on for care.  

In January, the large urban hospital where I am an intern faced the worst flu outbreak it has ever seen. Nearly 100 staff members tested positive for the flu. Residents assigned to back-up coverage were called to work daily to supplement the dwindling ranks of the sick. Every hospital visitor was required to wear a mask upon entry. At one point, every patient in the medical ICU had the flu and the whole unit had to be quarantined. Because of this, the hospital was put on diversion – no new patients could be admitted.

Why was this flu outbreak so bad? Doctors are still trying to understand all the causes, but one likely reason is that hospital staff with symptoms came to work and became a reservoir for the virus. A majority of visitors and patients don’t get their flu shots, making matters even worse.

Once administrators caught on to the mess this year’s flu was creating, they took some new and aggressive measures. In addition to the free vaccines provided to employees every year, they performed daily symptom check-ins, encouraged sick days, and held an influenza town hall. After discussion with the State Department of Health, medical residents were provided free Tamiflu and urged to take it as prophylaxis. Only 40% picked it up. Residency directors asked symptomatic house staff to stay home. A positive flu swab meant a mandated five days off work. One month later, we are still required to check in daily and confirm that we are symptom-free via a text messaging system or a checklist circulated to each hospital floor. These responses were effective, and the wave of flu appears to have passed. We must now plan ahead to prevent the next outbreak.

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Health Care Price Tags Won’t Find You the Best Doctor

By MICHAEL L. MILLENSON

Say you want to know which baseball players provide the most value for the big dollars they’re being paid. A Google search quickly yields analytics. But suppose your primary care physician just diagnosed you with cancer. What will a search for a “high value” cancer doctor tell you?

Not much.

Public concern over bloated and unintelligible medical bills has prompted pushback ranging from an exposé by a satirical TV show to a government edict that hospitals list their prices online. But despite widespread agreement about the importance of high-value care, information about the clinical outcomes of individual physicians, which can put cost into perspective, is scarce. Even when information about quality of care is available, it’s often unreliable, outdated, or limited in scope.

For those who are sick and scared, posting health care price tags isn’t good enough. The glaring information gap about the quality of care must be eliminated.

“When people are comparison shopping, knowing the price of something is not enough,” notes Eric Schneider, a primary care physician and senior vice president of policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund. “People want to know the quality of the goods and services they’re buying.”

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The Perfect Storm: When Parkinson’s Patients Enter the Hospital

By HOOMAN AZMI MD, FAANS 

When a patient enters a hospital either in an elective or more urgent manner, the main focus of the care team is to address the chief complaint. Other diagnoses, while important, may not receive as much attention. While this may not affect patients in most circumstances, it can be very impactful in patients who have Parkinson’s disease (PD). Studies have demonstrated that when patients with Parkinson’s disease enter the hospital, they are more susceptible to developing hospital related complications. Patients with Parkinson’s disease have a higher length of stay (LOS) than those entering the hospital for the same diagnosis without PD and can develop complications such as dysphagia, confusion and falls, impacting their outcomes and increasing their LOS.

Awareness about PD and its treatment and implications thereof are critical in ensuring reduced risks for this patient population. People with PD are very dependent on their medication, and timing of this medication is critical to maintaining good symptomatic control. In the outpatient setting, the main goal of medication management for these patients is to provide as much ON time as possible while minimizing side effects of the medications, such as dyskinesia. ON time describes a period of time when the medications are working and symptoms are controlled. Patients with advanced PD may have considerable difficulty with motor fluctuations if they transition from the ON state to an OFF state when the medication effect has worn off and they are symptomatic. The fine tuning of the medication regimen is pain-staking and often the result of multiple office visits and telephone calls to arrive at the best schedule customized for the patient.  This can often result in seemingly unconventional timings (sometimes on the quarter after the hour) and at time q3 or even q2 intervals. Deviations from these regimens, even as little as 15 minutes delays, can have deleterious effects on patients with PD, as detailed above.

When patients with PD enter the hospital, attention is seldom paid to the exact timing of medication administration.  If a patient takes a particular medication six times daily, ordering the medication six times daily in the hospital defaults to standard timings that often are different from the patients’ own regimen, causing timing errors.  Almost 75% of PD patients who enter the hospital have delays in their medications and more than 60% of these patients can have complications during their hospitalization because of these delays.

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Commissioning Healthcare Policy: Hospital Readmission and Its Price Tag

By ANISH KOKA MD 

The message comes in over the office slack line at 1:05 pm. There are four patients in rooms, one new, 3 patients in the waiting room. Really, not an ideal time to deal with this particular message.

“Kathy the home care nurse for Mrs. C called and said her weight yesterday was 185, today it is 194, she has +4 pitting edema, heart rate 120, BP 140/70 standing, 120/64 sitting”

I know Mrs. C well. She has severe COPD from smoking for 45 of the last 55 years. Every breath looks like an effort because it is. The worst part of it all is that Mrs. C just returned home from the hospital just days ago.

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