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Tag: academic medical centers

Rebooting Primary Care From the Bottom Up

Zubin DamaniaFor the better part of a decade, I practiced inpatient hospital medicine at a large academic center (the name isn’t important, but it rhymes with Afghanistan…ford).

I used to play a game with the med students and housestaff: let’s estimate how many of our inpatients actually didn’t need hospitalization, had they simply received effective outpatient preventative care. Over the years, our totals were almost never less than 50%.

For my fellow math-challenged Americans: that’s ONE HALF! Clearly, if there were actually were any incentives to prevent disease, they sure as heck weren’t working.

In a country whose care pyramid is upside down—more specialists than primary care docs, really?—we’re squandering our physical, emotional, and economic health while spending more per capita than anyone else. Four percent of our healthcare dollars go towards primary care, with much of the remaining 95% paying for the failure of primary care. (The missing 1%? Doritos.)

Worse still, the oppressive weight of our non-system’s dysfunction falls disproportionately on the shoulders of our primary care providers—the very instruments of our potential salvation. To them, there’s little solace (and plenty of administrative intrusion) in the top-down reform efforts of accountable care organizations and “certified” patient-centered medical homes.

But what about a bottom-up, more organic effort to reboot healthcare? A focus on restoring the primacy of human relationships to medicine, empowering patients and providers alike to become potent, positive levers on a 2.8 trillion dollar economy? What if we could spend twice as much on effective, preventative primary care and still pull off a net savings in overall costs, improvements in quality, and increased patient satisfaction?

What if George Lucas had just quit after the original Star Wars series? Wouldn’t the world have been better without Jar Jar Binks?

While the latter question is truly speculative, the former ones aren’t. We’re trying to answer them in Las Vegas (hey now, I’m being serious) at Turntable Health, where we’ve partnered with Dr. Rushika Fernandopulle and Cambridge, MA based Iora Health.

We aim to get primary care right by doing the following:

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When Private Hospitals Cherry-Pick, Teaching Hospitals Pay the Price

I always believed that, if we could harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the American physician, we could be capable of great things. Physician decisions drive much of what is good and bad about our health care system. Their pens are the biggest driver of cost and their vigilance is the most significant driver of quality. It is a shame that physician-owned hospitals are accelerating the creation of a two-tier system by cherry-picking healthy, well-insured patients.

There are overwhelming monetary incentives for physician-owned hospitals to market to the healthiest and wealthiest, who seek a narrow list of procedural interventions. But then those physicians are rewarded with value-based payments for high satisfaction scores and low readmission rates as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

What happens to the rest of the patients—the ones with one if not several chronic conditions and minimal if any insurance?

They find their way to teaching hospitals, which treat a disproportionate number of “dual eligibles” (seniors so poor they need both Medicare and Medicaid support), the disabled, and nonwhite patients. Teaching hospitals can quickly become underfunded and over-stretched, offering opportunities for physician-owned hospitals in the market to deliver better quality, albeit more expensive, health care to those who have the ability to choose. In spite of that, many teaching hospitals deliver excellent service and care.

In a May 14 Wall Street Journal article, Alicia Mundy wrote, “Doctor-owned hospitals are largely privately held, so it’s difficult to know their profit margins, despite the law’s growth restrictions. According to the American Hospital Directory, a private firm that provides data about some 6,000 U.S. hospitals, many physician-owned hospitals have enjoyed 20 to 35 percent profit margins in recent years.”

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Drawing a Hard Line on Resident Work Hours

Last year, Public Citizen and other groups filed a petition – the second in 10 years – calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take over responsibility for enforcing medical resident work hours from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). This past September, the Obama administration denied our groups’ petition on the grounds that the ACGME is the appropriate entity to handle the issue, an identical argument to one put forward by the Bush administration nine years earlier to justify the denial of our first petition.

Both petitions were filed as a result of the long-standing failure of the ACGME to adequately protect residents from the proven deleterious effects of long work hours. Six years after the ACGME implemented the first limits on resident work hours in 2003, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded an exhaustive 12-month review examining the existing system of medical training and the evidence regarding fatigue, resident physicians, and patient safety. The IOM concluded that the 2003 ACGME rules were not adequately protective and that major changes were needed, including a limit of 16 hours in a row for all resident work shifts.

In response, the ACGME updated its guidelines in 2010, but unfortunately, the new rules failed to incorporate the majority of the IOM’s recommendations. The rules limited medical interns ― first-year residents ― to 16-hour shifts but inexplicably allowed all other residents to continue to work up to 28 hours straight. There is no biological rationale to support the notion that residents suddenly become able to withstand the adverse effects of extended shifts upon completing their first year of residency. In addition, the new rules, in permitting averaging over several weeks to achieve the 80-hour weekly limit, continued the practice of allowing residents to work 100 or more hours in certain weeks.

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Tough Talk

Some people at the University of Washington and colleagues from around the country run a wonderful website called Tough Talk: Helping Doctors Approach Difficult Conversations. They call it a “toolbox for medical educators” who want to teach about ethics and communication. Topics include:

Common teaching challenges plus tips for recovering from them • Optimizing small group dynamics • Providing effective, honest feedback • Helping clinicians develop and operationalize personal learning goals • Motivating engagement and self-assessment in reluctant participants

Look at this statement of philosophy:

Many argue that ethics and communication cannot be taught. Since these skills lie in the realm of the interpersonal, they do build on skills and practices we begin developing from our earliest interactions. However, evidence shows that practice and experience can lead to development and enhancement of these skills. This human element is where the moral work of medicine happens. We have a responsibility to attend to these skills and work to develop them, even as we strive to perfect our other core clinical skills. Quality patient care depends on it.Continue reading…

Are Academic Medical Centers Toast in a Post-Healthcare Reform World?

My hospital, UCSF Medical Center, is thriving. Our profits this year will be nearly $200 million. We’re building a sparkling clinical complex – a combined women’s, children’s, and cancer hospital – adjacent to our new downtown biomedical research campus. We are installing a state-of-the-art computer system. US News & World Report calls us the 7th best hospital in the country. Our students, residents, and fellows have never been better.

Yet angst is in the air, borne of a sense that the future is coming at us fast, and we are not prepared.

We’re not alone, mind you. Every hospital enjoying a positive bottom line today is contemplating a bleaker future. Traditionally, hospitals planned to lose about 30% on every Medicaid patient and 5-10% on every Medicare patient, while banking enough profits from commercially insured patients to make the math work out. All of these payers – both governmental and private – are getting stingier, and this latticework of cross-subsidies will soon be a fading memory.

This threat to profitability is roiling hospital board rooms everywhere, but the threats to academic medical centers seem particularly daunting. After all, the community hospital simply (I guess that should be “simply”) needs to make enough of a profit to refurbish the physical plant, pay everybody’s salaries, keep the docs and nurses happy, and save for a rainy day. Academic medical centers, on the other hand, suffer from a different problem: Mission-O-Megaly.Continue reading…

Rip Van Doctor

Cindy Fenton is one of the best doctors I know, a superb clinician-educator who was directing the UCSF Department of Medicine’s educational programs when, in 2001, she stepped off the academic treadmill to raise her three children. With her youngest now in first grade, I recently managed to coax her back into clinical medicine. In early January she spent two weeks as an attending physician on the general medicine service at UCSF Medical Center, after a decade’s absence.

I asked Cindy for her observations, knowing that they’d be astute – and that sometimes the best way to truly see something is to step away from it, then view it again through fresh eyes. Some excerpts from her note to me are in italics (with irrelevant clinical facts changed to please the HIPAA gods); my comments follow:

The patients seemed sicker, the service busier, the residents’ abilities at about the same high level. There were far fewer “private” type admissions than I remember previously – mostly pulmonary transplant patients and some private GI patients. Even on these patients, the subspecialty attendings welcomed the medicine team’s input, so the dynamic seemed more positive.

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Petitioners Ask OSHA to Regulate Resident Physician Work Hours

On September 2, Assistant Secretary David Michaels for Occupational Safety and Health received a petition requesting that OSHA regulate resident physician and subspecialty resident physicians.  “Depending on the type of residency, physicians-in-training can work anywhere from 60 to 100 or more hours a week, sometimes without a day off for two weeks or more.”  The petition requests that OSHA exercise the authority granted under §3(8) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to implement the following federal work-hour standard:

(1)   A limit of 80 hours of work in each and every week, without averaging;

(2)   A limit of 16 consecutive hours worked in one shift for all resident physicians and subspecialty resident physicians;

(3)   At least one 24-hour period of time off work per week and one 48-hour period of time off work per month for a total of five days off work per month, without averaging;

(4)   In-hospital on-call frequency no more than once every three nights, no averaging;

(5)   A minimum of at least 10 hours off work after a day shift, and a minimum of 12 hours off after a night shift;

(6)   A maximum of four consecutive night shifts with a minimum of 48 hours off after a sequence of three or four night shifts.

More information about the petition can be found at the Public Citizen-run website, WakeUpDoctor.org.Continue reading…

And The Best Job In Academic Medicine Goes To…

With all due respect to the Pentagon, humankind has not invented a more complex organization than the modern academic medical center. The combination of high tech and high touch, the Byzantine regulations, the toxic medico-legal environment, the extraordinary pace of change…. Well, you get the idea.

But the most daunting challenges stem from trying to satisfy the AMC’s tripartite mission: providing high-quality, safe, patient-centric, and efficient clinical care across a spectrum of services; training the next generation of physicians and other caregivers; and performing cutting-edge research and innovation. Think about blending the missions of Target, Apple, Yale, and Nordstrom, and you’ll have a sense of the problem.

Unfortunately, the typical management structure of academic medical centers makes running this monstrosity even more difficult. The vast majority of AMCs are actually two (if not more) organizations blended (sort of) into one: a school/university, and a clinical delivery system. This structure arose through happenstance, and the fault lines it creates are increasingly jagged.Continue reading…

A Randomized Trial of Niceness in the ER and Other Stories

One of the great joys of a life in academic medicine is the opportunity to work with lots of very smart people. But one regret is that there is something about academia that tends to homogenize – faculty learn that, when it comes to competing for the next grant or promotion, it pays to be clever but relatively conventional. Sure, innovation is the coin of the realm, but out-of-the-box, quirky thinkers generally need not apply.

With one exception. I’d like to introduce you to the mind of Don Redelmeier, Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and, to me, the most creative researcher in healthcare, perhaps all of science, today.

I came to know Don when we were both Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars at Stanford University in the late 1980s, and we became fast friends. His eccentricities were obvious even then. Take, for example, Don’s algorithm for analyzing his dates, using a complex formula that assigned point values for intelligence, looks, humor, and tennis playing ability (bonus points). It wasn’t very romantic, but it was hilarious (we all looked forward to Monday recaps of the weekend’s events) and generally accurate. Continue reading…

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