In the last fifteen years, we have witnessed dozens of natural disasters affecting our most vulnerable patients, from post-hurricane victims in Haiti to drought and famine refugees in Malawi. The vast majority of these patients suffered from acute on chronic disasters, culminating in life-threatening medical illnesses. Yet, during the course of providing clinical care and comfort, we rarely, if ever, pointed to climate change as the root cause of their conditions. The evidence for climate change is not new, but the movement for climate justice is now emerging on a large scale, and clinicians should play an active role.
Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as an “equal opportunity”
disaster. Yes, climate change poses an existential threat to us all, but not on
equal terms. When nature strikes, it has always been the poor and historically
underserved who are most vulnerable to its wrath. Hurricane Katrina provides an
example of how natural disasters target their victims along racial and
socioeconomic lines even in the wealthiest nations. Writes TalkPoverty.org, “A black homeowner in New Orleans was more than three times as
likely to have been flooded as a white homeowner. That wasn’t due to bad luck;
because of racially discriminatory housing practices, the high-ground was taken
by the time banks started loaning money to African Americans who wanted to buy
a home.” Throughout the world, historically marginalized communities have been
pushed to overcrowded, poorly-built, and unsanitary neighborhoods where natural
disasters invoke much greater harm.
We knew that the most powerful way to provide substance abuse treatment is in a group setting. Group members can offer support to each other and call out each other’s self deceptions and public excuses, oftentimes more effectively than the clinicians. They share stories and insights, car rides and job leads, and they form a community that stays connected between sessions.
Participants with more experience and life skills may say things in group that we clinicians might hesitate saying, like “Now you’re whining” and “Time to put on your big boy pants”. They can become role models by being further along in their recovery and by at the same time revealing their own fear or respect for the threat of relapse.
What has also happened in our clinic, entirely unplanned, was that after an informational meeting where we explained the group model and had a national expert physician speak about opioid recovery, several parents raised their hand and said there should be a group for families, too.
We listened and within a few months we started such a group and now, a year and a half into it, the group is co-led by a few of our patients, who naturally had become leaders of the patient group earlier.
I recently saw a patient who received a bill for an outpatient procedure for $333. The Medicare allowable reimbursement for the procedure was $180. I have seen other medical bills where the healthcare provider was charging patients more than 10 times the amount they expected to receive from Medicare or any insurance company.
one of my patients had an unexpected medical complication which necessitated a
visit to an emergency room. He received a huge bill for the services provided.
When I subsequently saw him in my office (for poorly controlled diabetes) he
told me he could not attend future office visits because he had so many
outstanding medical bills and he could not risk incurring any additional
medical expenses. While I offered to see him at no cost, he declined, stating
the financial risk was too high.
patient is required to pay the entire medical bill if they
poor quality insurance
a bureaucratic “referral problem”
an out-of-network provider, which means they have no contractural relationship with the healthcare provider/institution, as might result from an emergency room visit or an unexpected hospitalization.
physicians and other healthcare providers usually do not know what they are
going to get paid for any given service as they contract with many insurance
companies, each of which has a different contracted payment rate. Healthcare
providers and institutions typically set their fee schedule at a multiple of
what they expect to get paid from the most lucrative payer so as to ensure they
capture all the potential revenue. In the process, they create an economically
irrational fee schedule which is neither reflective of a competitive
marketplace nor reflective of the actual cost of the services provided.
Physical inactivity is a mounting challenge for America. In reviewing the 2013-2015 American time use survey, we found that most Americans report spending their daily leisure time watching screens, and devote only a small fraction of leisure time—24 minutes for men and 14 minutes for women—to physical activity. A recent longitudinal examination of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that sitting time increased by an hour a day between 2007 and 2016, with the largest increases among adolescents ages 12-19 and adults, 20 years and older. As mortality rates for heart disease have begun to climb, increases in sedentary behavior bodes poorly for future control of disease and health care costs.
The explosion in streaming apps and content is likely contributing to the increased sitting time. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, TV and movie views have more then doubled between 2014 and 2018. The availability of multiple series and the ability to binge watch can keep people glued to their couches for hours at a time. The immersive quality of the programming makes it increasingly difficult for viewers to pull themselves away from their screens. Yet, the technology could provide options to help viewers watch and still get regular physical activity.
Currently, after each episode, an option is available to allow the viewer to immediately call up the next episode. Why not consider adding a pop-up that can remind viewers that sitting more than 20-30 minutes at a time may not be good for health, and that it’s important to move around to avoid chronic diseases? A narrator could ask viewers to treat themselves to an activity break. Then the viewers could have the option to choose a short video that can guide them through a 10- minute exercise break. Or even a 5-minute break. Something is better than nothing.
There could be many options, from a just a simple stand up and stretch, like the 7th inning break at a baseball game, to vigorous workouts, like the 7-minute workout published by the American College of Sports Medicine or doing a Bhangra dance with a Bollywood film star.
Imagine a massive public health crisis in the United States that affects tens of thousands of people. Now imagine that the government had a simple tool at its disposal that could prevent this kind of physical and psychological trauma. You might think that I’m writing about America’s deadly outbreak of gun violence, which has made headlines this summer from Dayton to El Paso.
But actually I’m talking about a different crisis that affects even more people – all of them children — and which could be sharply reduced with one simple step that lacks the bitter political animus of the gun debate. The issue at hand involves babies born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy – babies who tend to develop a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS.
Experts say that state and federal governments have grossly underestimated the number of NAS babies currently born in the United States, as the addiction crisis triggered by Big Pharma’s greed in pushing painkillers refuses to fade. They say an accurate accounting would find a minimum of 250,000 children — and possibly two or three times that every year born with NAS. These kids will face chronic symptoms such as trembling and seizures, gastrointestinal problems, and an inability to sleep. Their numbers are more than eight times higher than the last official estimate from the government.
For more than a year now, I’ve been working with a team of attorneyscalled the Opioid Justice Team who are fighting for any settlement of the massive court fight pitting more than 2,000 localities against Big Pharma to include a medical monitoring fund for the estimated hundreds of thousands of kids born with NAS syndrome. But our team has also been pushing for radical measures that would prevent many of these unfortunate cases.
For over a month, Kānaka ‘Ōiwi (Native Hawaiian)
elders and community members have stood in solidarity at Maunakea in Hawai’i.
They seek to protect their land, sovereignty, and culture from those who want
to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea. Maunakea holds both cultural
and spiritual meaning to the Kānaka ‘Ōiwi. Unfortunately, many astrophysicists
and TMT investors see Maunakea primarily as a means to make scientific
discoveries. The frequent narrative where Indigenous people need to defend the
value of their traditional knowledge, beliefs and culture to
Western scientists is a very familiar story that is often replicated in
healthcare, both at home in the U.S., and abroad.
Traditional medicine, as defined by the World Health Organization, is the “knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness”. Looking at this definition, it is clear that traditional medicine practiced by Indigenous people has equivalent goals to modern Western medicine. Therefore, are we harming our patients when we do not incorporate traditional approaches harmoniously to the practice of healing, and instead value Western medicine over traditional medicine?
The arguments for putting TMT on Maunakea follow a similar reflex to reject knowledge that is different from our own. Thankfully, letters and activism rallying against the construction of TMT on Maunakea, from both Indigenous communities and scientists, are highlighting how Indigenous people are not anti-Western science. In fact, they are beginning to envision how collaboration between Traditional Knowledge and Western science is possible, and potentially even synergistic. Similarly, Western healthcare, too, must foster an approach that centers Traditional Knowledge for Indigenous communities.
How can current and future healthcare providers
promote the value of both Traditional Knowledge and Western science, and thus
promote trust and collaboration between providers and patients?
Today on THCB Spotlights, Matthew talks to Jacob Reider. Jacob is the CEO of Alliance for Better Health, one of New York State’s 25 Performing Provider Systems which work to reduce unnecessary or preventable acute care utilization for Medicaid members by improving the health of communities. Alliance for Better Health has a new approach to this—they’ve created an Independent Practice Association (IPA) called Healthy Alliance IPA to pull together community based organizations focused on improving health and addressing the social and behavioral aspects of health. Their approach helps the 29 organizations within the IPA negotiate funding and creates an infrastructure for integrating social determinants of health into health care. Watch the interview to find out how this is going to work in practice.
The growing movement to include the patient voice in medicine through
Motivational Interviewing, patient-reported outcomes, social determinants of health
and shared decision-making
One day in 2011, as a part of my research on ways to improve patient-provider communication about health behaviors, I was shadowing Dr. G., a talented young internist with a cheerleader demeanor. He marched through 12 afternoon patient appointments with confidence and purpose. But when he saw the name of the last patient on his schedule, he turned pale, faced me and said, “I apologize for what you are about to see.”
I must have looked confused. He repeated, “I
apologize for what you are about to see.”
We walked into the exam room. I’m not sure either
one of us knew what to expect. The patient, a white, obese man, was seated,
doubled over. He had a wad of paper towels jammed in his mouth. He threatened
to pull out his own, presumably abscessed, tooth. He refused to see a dentist
because he had no dental coverage, no money and no one to borrow money from. He
said he would use pliers to pull his tooth, but stayed put, rocking in his
seat. At the computer, the young doctor’s white-knuckled hand gripped his
mouse. Click. Click. Click. He searched the patient’s chart aimlessly for help.
Alerts kept popping up about the patient’s missing A1C results. It took two
minutes, but it felt like 20.
Dr. G. left the room and came back a few minutes
later. He gave the patient the name of a dentist who would see him at no cost.
I suspected Dr. G. had called the dentist and said he would pay for the
appointment out of his own pocket. The patient hugged Dr. G. He only wanted
help, and Dr. G. wanted to help. The tension was resolved for the moment.
On Episode 3 of HardCore Health, Jess & I start off by discussing all of the health tech companies IPOing (Livongo, Phreesia, Health Catalyst) and talk about what that means for the industry as a whole. Zoya Khan discusses the newest series on THCB called, “The Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma: Sharing? Privacy? Both?”, which follows & discuss the legislation being passed on data privacy and protection in Congress today. We also have a great interview with Paul Johnson, CEO of Lemonaid Health, an up-and-coming telehealth platform that works as a one-stop-shop for a virtual doctor’s office, a virtual pharmacy, and lab testing for patients accessing their platform. In her WTF Health segment, Jess speaks to Jen Horonjeff, Founder & CEO of Savvy Cooperative, the first patient-owned public benefit co-op that provides an online marketplace for patient insights. And last but not least, Dr. Saurabh Jha directly address AI vendors in health care, stating that their predictive tools are useless and they will not replace doctors just yet- Matthew Holt
Matthew Holt is the founder and publisher of The Health Care Blog and still writes regularly for the site.
“Kijan ou ye? How are you?” I asked my patient, a fifty-five year-old Haitian-American woman living in Dorchester, Massachusetts. It was 2008. I had been her primary care doctor for two years and was working with her to reduce her blood pressure and cholesterol levels. “Papi mal dok– I’m doing ok doc.” We talked for 15 minutes, reviewed her vital signs and medications, and made a plan. I then electronically transmitted a new prescription to her pharmacy. The encounter was like thousands of others I’d had as a physician, except for one key difference– I was in Rwanda, 7,000 miles away from Dorchester and 6 hours ahead of the East Coast time zone.
At the time, I knew that telemedicine – the practice of providing healthcare without the provider being physically present with the patient – was a resourceful means of working with rural populations that have limited access to healthcare. However, I had no idea that just ten years down the road, many health professionals and policymakers would laud the emerging tech field as the answer to inaccessible healthcare for rural communities. While I’m aware of telemedicine’s promising benefits, I’m certain that it cannot, on its own, solve the most pressing issues that continue to afflict the rural poor and underserved.
Ever since the invention of the telephone, providers have been practicing telemedicine. However, not until the advent of advanced technologies such as high-speed internet, smartphones, and remote-controlled robotic surgery, has the field of telemedicine started to beg the question: “Do we still need in-person interactions between patient and doctor to provide high quality healthcare?” This question is particularly important for patients who live in rural areas, where a chronic shortage of providers has existed for decades.