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The Burning Question: Who Will Foot the Bill for America’s Increasing Burn-Care Costs?

By CELIA BELT 

Each year in the United States, half a million Americans will be treated for burns so severe as to require hospitalization. The “survivors”—including more than three hundred children each day and a drastically increasing number of U.S. military members since the turn of the millennium—can be expected to undergo arduous, agonizing surgeries and painful rehabilitation lasting for years.

The emotional and physical trauma of these fellow citizens is not a pretty picture, nor is it an inexpensive one. According to estimates, patients with severe burns with no complications can expect a whopping $1.6 million bill for treatment over the cost of their lifetime. For patients who do go on to develop complications as the result of severe burns, hospital bills can run more than $10 million.

Where is that money coming from? Partly, it comes from you and me in the form of increased healthcare premiums. But oftentimes, it comes from directly people like me, the cofounder of the Moonlight Fund, a Texas-based non-profit organization for burn survivors and their families. We’re often tasked with raising funds to help with the costs of expensive procedures in addition to the emotional support and caregiver assistance our organization was founded for. Many times, I’ve reached into my own pocket—not because I’m a saint, but because I’ve been there.  As a childhood burn survivor myself, scalded over 32% of my body, I’m well aware that infections resulting from burns—which occur in one out of three cases—add between $58,000 and $120,000 to treatment costs.  Skin breakdown—which happens one out of two times—adds up to $107,000 more. Disfigurement and scarring? Up to $35,000 on top of that. Then, of course, there are the psychological issues associated with severe trauma. 57% of burn victims need help for these, help that costs as much as $75,000 per patient.

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A Conversation About the Dangers of Overhydration with Professor Timothy Noakes

By SAURABH JHA MD

Professor Timothy Noakes, a South African exercise scientist and emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town who has run over 70 ultramarathons, speaks to me about the dangers of overhydration in endurance sports.

Listen to our conversation at Radiology Firing Line Podcast.

Saurabh Jha is a contributing editor to THCB and host of Radiology Firing Line Podcast of the Journal of American College of Radiology, sponsored by Healthcare Administrative Partner

Life-Saving Data That Is Nowhere To Be Found: Hospitals’ C-section Rates

By DANI BRADLEY MS, MPH 

The United States is the only developed nation in the world with a steadily increasing maternal mortality rate — and C-sections are to blame. Nearly 32% of babies are born via C-section in the United States, a rate of double or almost triple what the World Health Organization recommends. While C-sections are an incredibly important life-saving intervention when vaginal delivery is too dangerous, they are not devoid of risks for mom or for baby. Hospitals and doctors alike are aware, as it’s been widely reported that unnecessary C-sections are dangerous — and hospitals and doctors agree that the number one way to reduce this risk is to choose a delivery hospital with low a C-section rate. However, information on hospitals’ C-section rates is incredibly hard to find, which leaves women in the dark as they try to make this important choice.

In an effort to help women make informed decisions about where to deliver their babies, we set out to collect a comprehensive, nationwide database of hospitals’ C-section rates. Knowing that the federal government mandates surveillance and reporting of vital statistics through the National Vital Statistics System, we contacted all 50 states’ (+Washington D.C.) Departments of Public Health (DPH) asking for access to de-identified birth data from all of their hospitals. What we learned might not surprise you — the lack of transparency in the United States healthcare system extends to quality information, and specifically C-section data.
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Hospitals Can and Should Support Employees Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence: Here’s How

By PATRICK HORINE

Every October we recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an important opportunity to discuss this widespread social and public health problem and to take stock of what we can do better to protect victims of domestic abuse.

Unfortunately, the data shows us that health care is often a dangerous profession that is also rife with domestic abuse. Earlier this month a new poll of ER physicians revealed nearly half report having been physically assaulted at work (largely by patients and/or visitors in the ER). However, other data shows us that individuals in the health care professions – especially women—may be at greater risk of domestic abuse from a spouse or partner, while on the job as well. Data on domestic violence nationwide shows us one in four women are in a dangerous domestic situation, and one in four victims are harassed at work by perpetrators.  Women make up 80 percent of the healthcare workforce and an even greater percentage in most hospitals. When we do the math, this means one in 20 female healthcare workers are likely to be harassed or even assaulted on the job.

Furthermore, given that hospitals and most healthcare organizations are “open” facilities where anyone can walk onto the premises this further heightens the risk of a violent incident happening in the workplace. Over half of the homicides committed by intimate partners occur in parking lots and public buildingsNews stories like the ones about a California healthcare worked stabbed in the hospital parking lot by her estranged husband while her co-workers looked on are all too tragic and common.

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The Futility of Patient Matching

By ADRIAN GROPPER, MD

The original sin of health records interoperability was the loss of consent in HIPAA. In 2000, when HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) first became law, the Internet was hardly a thing in healthcare. The Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) was not a thing until 2004. 2009 brought us the HITECH Act and Meaningful Use and 2016 brought the 21st Century Cures Act with “information blocking” as clear evidence of bipartisan frustration. Cures,  in 2018, begat TEFCA, the draft Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement. The next update to the draft TEFCA is expected before 2019 which is also the year that Meaningful Use Stage 3 goes into effect.

Over nearly two decades of intense computing growth, the one thing that has remained constant in healthcare interoperability is a strategy built on keeping patient consent out of the solution space. The 2018 TEFCA draft is still designed around HIPAA and ongoing legislative activity in Washington seeks further erosion of patient consent through the elimination of the 42CFR Part 2 protections that currently apply to sensitive health data like behavioral health.

The futility of patient matching without consent parallels the futility of large-scale interoperability without consent. The lack of progress in patient matching was most recently chronicled by Pew through a survey and a Pew-funded RAND report. The Pew survey was extensive and the references cite the significant prior efforts including a 100-expert review by ONC in 2014 and the $1 million CHIME challenge in 2017 that was suspended – clear evidence of futility.

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The November 6 Midterm Elections and Their Impact on Obamacare:Q&A

By ETIENNE DEFFARGES

1) What is the likelihood the ACA will be repealed?

This straightforward question has a very simple answer: It depends on the results of the upcoming November 6 U.S. congressional elections.

If the Republicans retain control of both the House and the Senate, the probability that the ACA will be repealed is very high: The Republicans would be emboldened by such a victory and would most probably attempt in 2019 to repeal the health care law—again. It is worth remembering that in July of last year, the repeal of the ACA (a version of which had passed the House in May) was defeated in the Senate by the narrowest of margins, because three Republican Senators, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and the late and much regretted John McCain, voted against the repeal. This is very unlikely to happen again, although one would also have to consider the margins by which the Republican would have gained control both Chambers after these November midterms. In July of 2017, the Republicans held a 52-48 advantage in the Senate. Given ever-increasing polarization, such a margin, plus Republican control of the House, would likely spell the end of the ACA in 2019.

If the Democrats gain control of either the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, then the ACA will remain the law of the land. The only issue in the horizon will be the lawsuit filed in February of this year by a coalition of 20 states, led by Texas and Wisconsin. This lawsuit claims that Obamacare is no longer constitutional after the Republicans eliminated in December of 2017 the tax penalty associated with the ACA’s individual mandate. The 20 Republican attorney generals argue that without the tax penalty, Congress has no constitutional authority to legislate the individual mandate. Even if this case reaches the Supreme Court, one has to remember that the Court affirmed twice the constitutionality of the ACA, in June of 2012 and then 2015, with Chief Justice John Roberts voting with the majority on both occasions.

2) What do recent congressional changes to the ACA mean for those who buy insurance on health care exchanges?

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A conversation about Health Policy with Elizabeth Rosenthal

By SAURABH JHA, MD

The acclaimed author of “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back” physician, and now Editor-in-Chief of Kaiser Health News, Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal speaks to me about health policy and how it has changed over time.

Listen to our conversation at Radiology Firing Line Podcast.

About the author:

Saurabh Jha is a contributing editor to THCB and host of Radiology Firing Line Podcast of the Journal of American College of Radiology, sponsored by Healthcare Administrative Partner

Hoarding Patient Data is a Lousy Business Strategy: 7 Reasons Why

By VINCE KURAITIS & LESLIE KELLY HALL

Vince Kuraitis

Leslie Kelly Hall

Among many healthcare providers, it’s been long-standing conventional wisdom (CW) that hoarding patient data is an effective business strategy to lock-in patients — “He who holds the data, wins”. However…we’ve never seen any evidence that this actually works…have you?

We’re here to challenge CW. In this article we’ll explore the rationale of “hoarding as business strategy”, review evidence suggesting it’s still prevalent, and suggest 7 reasons why we believe it’s a lousy business strategy:

  1. Data Hoarding Doesn’t Work — It Doesn’t Lock-In Patients or Build Affinity
  2. Convenience is King in Patient Selection of Providers
  3. Loyalty is Declining, Shopping is Increasing
  4. Providers Have a Decreasingly Small “Share” of Patient Data
  5. Providers Don’t Want to Become a Lightning Rod in the “Techlash” Backlash
  6. Hoarding Works Against Public Policy and the Law
  7. Providers, Don’t Fly Blind with Value-Based Care

Background

In the video below, Dr. Harlan Krumholz of Yale University School of Medicine capsulizes the rationale of hoarding as business strategy.

We encourage you to take a minute to listen to Dr. Krumholz, but if you’re in a hurry we’ve abstracted the most relevant portions of his comments:

“The leader of a very major healthcare system said this to me confidentially on the phone… ‘why would we want to make it easy for people to get their health data…we want to keep the patients with us so why wouldn’t we want to make it just a little more difficult for them to leave.’ …I couldn’t believe it a physician health care provider professional explaining to me the philosophy of that health system.”

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Ensuring that the 21st Century Cures Act Health IT Provisions Promotes Interoperability and Data Exchange

By KENNETH D. MANDL, MD; DAN GOTTLIEB;
JOSH C. MANDEL, MD

Josh Mandel

Kenneth Mandl

Dan Gottlieb

The opportunity has never been greater to, at long last, develop a flourishing health information economy based on apps which have full access to health system data–for both patients and populations–and liquid data that travels to where it is needed for care, management and population and public health. A provision in the 21st Century Cures Act could transform how patients and providers use health information technology. The 2016 law requires that certified health information technology products have an application programming interface (API) that allows health information to be accessed, exchanged, and used “without special effort” and that provides “access to all data elements of a patient’s electronic health record to the extent permissible under applicable privacy laws.”

After nearly two years of regulatory work, an important rule on this issue is now pending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), typically a late stop before a proposed rule is issued for public comment. It is our hope that this rule will contain provisions to create capabilities for patients to obtain complete copies of their EHR data and for providers and patients to easily integrate apps (web, iOS and Android) with EHRs and other clinical systems.

Modern software systems use APIs to interact with each other and exchange data. APIs are fundamental to software made familiar to all consumers by Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. APIs could also offer turnkey access to population health data in a standard format, and interoperable approaches to exchange and aggregate data across sites of care.

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Obesity Training and Reimbursement Should be a Higher Priority

By HANNAH MARTIN; JENNY BOGARD; WILLIAM DIETZ, MD; ANNE VALIK; NICHOLE JANNAH; CHRISTINE GALLAGHER; ANAND PAREKH, MD; DON BRADLEY MD

Hannah Martin

Jenny Bogard

Dr. William Dietz

Anne Valik

 

 

 

 

Nichole Jannah

Christine Gallager

Dr. Anand Parekh

Dr. Don Bradley

 

 

 

 

The United States has been facing a mounting obesity epidemic for over a generation, but our health care system has struggled to keep up. Given the complexity of obesity and the pace of curricular change, obesity education for our health-provider workforce is still lacking. There are wide disparities in quantity and quality among programs and disciplines. Similarly, public and private payers have taken vastly different approaches towards coverage for obesity treatment and prevention, which even leaves the most educated providers unsure of what services each patient can access. Because coverage decisions are based partly on what providers are prepared to provide and curricula are based partly on what services are typically covered, these problems reinforce one another. Despite these challenges, several important steps have been taken recently to tackle both sides of the problem. The steps include the development of new Provider Competencies for the Prevention and Management of Obesity and the launch of the My Healthy Weight pledge to standardize coverage for obesity counseling services.

Why We Must Act

In the US, more than one-third of the adult population and nearly one-fifth of the children have obesity. Adult obesity prevalence is projected to reach nearly 50 percent by 2030. Adult diabetes prevalence currently hovers around ten percent and is further projected to affect one-third of the adult population by 2050. Estimates for the total annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. range from $147 billion to $210 billion, with billions more lost in productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism. Obesity is also a national security issue. As of 2010, 27 percent of young adults were disqualified for military service due to obesity.

Improving Obesity Education for Health Care Providers

Despite these shocking rates of obesity, fewer than one in four physicians feel that they received adequate training in counseling patients on diet or physical activity. Obesity concepts are underrepresented on medical licensing examinations and substantial gaps in provider knowledge related to obesity care have been recently documented. This is not surprising considering that less than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum recommended number of nutrition-related content hours.

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