It’s time again for me to use my bad back as a case study in why American health care has such crazy incentives.
About a month ago at the HLTH conference in Vegas, over the course of a few hours I developed debilitating leg pain. To quote from my earlier twitter thread on my time in Vegas, “After 3 days of excruciating pain, my wife insisted I went to the ER. The public policy person in me was horrified but we had already spent our deductible, so the cost was actually lower than paying cash for an MRI”
What actually happened was that after 3 days of dreadful pain & inability to walk (including getting myself home from Vegas using multiple wheelchairs, and being that guy who crawls off the plane onto a wheelchair), I got in to see my chiropractor. He said, you need an MRI to figure out what’s wrong with you. The alternatives were
1) Get insurance to pre approve the MRI. His guess was that that would take a few days or more. I actually called One Medical‘s urgent care video line and the PA I spoke to told me that usually insurance would only approve an MRI after I had done 6 weeks of physical therapy.
2) Pay $500 cash for a free standing MRI that could probably get me in during the next few days
3) Go to the ER
Now the “incentives” part of this starts to really matter.
Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt
In this edition’s tidbits, the nation is once again dealing with an epidemic of shootings. Now a hospital joins schools, grocery stores and places of worship on the the recent list. I was struck by how much of the health care story was wrapped up in the tragic shooting where a patient took the life of Dr. Preston Phillips, Dr. Stephanie Husen, receptionist Amanda Glenn, 40; and patient William Love at Saint Francis Health System in Tulsa.
First and most obvious, gun control. The shooter bought an AR-15 less than 3 hours before he committed the murders then killed himself. Like the two teens in Buffalo and Uvalde, if there was a delay or real background checks, then these shootings would likely have not happened.
But there’s more. Hospital safety has not improved in a decade or so. Michael Millenson, THCB Gang regular, has made that plain. And that includes harm from surgery. We know that back surgery often doesn’t work and we know that Dr Phillips operated on the shooter just three weeks before and had seen him for a follow up the day before. Yes, there is safety from physical harm and intruders–even though the police got there within 5 minutes of shots being heard, they were too late. But there is also the issue of harm caused by medical interventions. Since “To Err is Human” the issue has faded from public view.
Then there is pain management. Since the opiate crisis, it’s become harder for patients to get access to pain meds. Was the shooter seeking opiates? Was he denied them? We will never know the details of the shooter’s case, but we know that we have a nationwide problem in excessive back surgery, and that is matched by an ongoing problem in untreated pain.
And then there are the two dead doctors. Dr. Husen, was a sports and internal medicine specialist. Obviously there are more female physicians than there used to be even if sexism is still rampant in medicine. But Dr. Phillips was an outlier. He was black and a Harvard grad. Stat reported last year that fewer than 2% of orthopedists are Black, just 2.2% are Hispanic, and 0.4% are Native American. The field remains 85% white and overwhelmingly male. So the chances of the patient & shooter, who was black and may have sought out a doctor who looked like him, having a black surgeon were very low in the first place. Now for other patients they are even lower.
The shooting thus brings up so many issues. Gun control; workplace safety; unnecessary surgery; pain management; mental health; and race in medicine. We have so much to work on, and this one tragedy reveals all those issues and more.
Bum knees, aching backs, and neck pain are literally a pain-in-the-neck for millions of people – making chronic pain one of the largest areas of healthcare spending. Is it time to disrupt the traditional delivery of physical therapy? Physera CEO, Dan Rubenstein, thinks so, and talks to us about how his healthcare startup is revolutionizing the way physical therapy is being delivered by taking it virtual and driving down the cost. With more than $10M in funding (their $6M Series A was led by BlueCross BlueShield’s Venture Fund) and a major contract with a nationwide health plan provider in the works, the health tech startup is on track to help millions of people feel better and avoid the crazy rush to the PT’s office.