Tag: elderly care

Looking for Quality in the Wrong Place

Last week I attended the first annual meeting of the Long-Term Quality Alliance and listened to Gregg Pawlson (a geriatrician and executive with NCQA) talk about quality measurement.  Right now, quality measurement does too little to drive practice towards quality care because it is based only on things that are “feasible,” or easy to measure—like what gets coded on medical bills. Pawlson observed that while feasibility must be one of the watchwords of quality measurement for now, in the near future electronic medical records should allow us to move beyond billing codes to gather real clinical data for more important quality measurement, including key care processes and outcomes.

I sure hope so. Because those who have looked beyond the dim illumination of current billing-based “quality measures” and searched in the darkness where real processes of clinical care can found have found that the situation is grave.  The ACOVE (Assessing Care of Vulnerable Elders) process, while laborious, looks at clinical care where it really happens – in offices and charts – rather than in bills and therefore has a better chance of driving meaningful quality improvement. Readers of Health AGEnda know that I am a big fan of this work, begun at RAND by outstanding clinician-researchers including Neil Wenger, David Solomon, David Reuben, and many others.  I believe that ACOVE is an example of what we need in elder care: high quality evidence about essential clinical practices that are sensibly related to real health outcomes and show how we could (often easily) do better for older people.  ACOVE is a blessing.

One of the leaders of the ACOVE program is Neil Wenger, MD, a faculty member in General Internal Medicine at UCLA and a researcher at RAND who I have cited in my posts.  However, in his talk to the Maxwell School of Public Policy at Syracuse University (another treasure I found last fall at GSA), he really outdid himself in delivering one of the most accessible (and provocative) descriptions of this research program I have ever read.  He asks, “Do We Want to Measure the Quality of Care for Vulnerable Older People?” Given the lack of attention to the ACOVE work, I understand his frustration.Continue reading…

The Age Rating Game: Will Older Americans Pay More Under Health Reform? 

The Affordable Care Act leaves it to the states to decide whether they want to let insurers charge older Americans more for coverage. If a state takes no action, a 64-year-old buying his own insurance in the individual market will pay up to three times more than an 18-year-old. In the small-group market – if a small business employs an unusually large number of older workers – the same 3:1 ratio applies.

Today, in most states, there are no caps on how much insurers can charge a 60-something forced to purchase his own insurance. In the individual market, only New York State bans age rating altogether, and just three other states limit how much premiums can vary, based on age, to less than 3:1. When insurers sell policies to small businesses, Vermont also prohibits age rating, but only five other states cap increases.

To check whether your state shields older boomers in either of these markets, take a look at these charts. (A checkmark in the right-hand column means that age rating is now unregulated in that state.)

Help from the younger generation?

Continue reading…

Finding a Good Doctor – A Doctor’s Notes

My in-laws are in town for my daughter’s graduation.

When I came home yesterday I was greeted with a big smile and vigorous handshake from my father-in-law.  ”I just want to thank you,” he said, standing up from his chair, “for finding us a good doctor.  The one you found for us is wonderful.”

My wife smiled at me warmly.  I just earned myself big points.  Yay!

Her parents and mine are both in their 80′s and are overall in remarkably good health.  When I called my father after he had a minor surgery over the summer, my mother told me he had a ladder and was “on a bee hunt.”  It’s a blessing to have them around, especially having them healthy.

My parents have a wonderful primary care physician, which takes a whole lot of pressure off of me to do family doctoring, and puts my mind at ease.  I’ve only personally contacted him once when my dad had a prolonged time of vague fatigue and body aches.  I try not to use the “I’m a doctor, so I am second-guessing you” card that I’ve had some patients’ children pull.  I called his doctor more as a son who wanted a clear story about what was going on than as a physician with thoughts on the situation.

“I first want to say that I am very grateful my parents have gotten such good care from you,” I said at the start of the conversation.  ”It’s nice to not have to wonder if they are getting good care.”Continue reading…

Outrage is Easy. Solutions are Hard.

The inspector general of HHS reported this week that nearly half of the anti-psychotic drugs fed to the demented elderly in nursing homes are inappropriately prescribed. That’s about one in fourteen nursing home residents.

Forget about cost, which is over a quarter billion dollars a year. “Government, taxpayers, nursing home residents as well as their families and caregivers should be outraged and seek solutions,” wrote Daniel R. Levinson, the HHS I.G. wrote in his letter to Senators Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who asked for the report.

Why is this happening? First, the medication patterns of the frail elderly are not monitored by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is afraid of a backlash from Capitol Hill where doctors and nursing home operators fiercely lobby to protect the hallowed doctor-patient relationship. The drug industry has also, in some cases, paid kickbacks to the pharmacy operators in nursing homes.

But at the root of the issue are the doctors who are faced with caring for these patients. Even though clinical trials have shown the drugs are likely to result in earlier deaths for some of these elderly patients, doctors prescribe them to reduce agitation, as Daniel Carlat, a practicing psychiatrist and purveyor of non-industry-funded continuing medical education, told the New York Times. “Doctors want to maximize quality of life by treating the patient’s agitation even if that means the patient will die a bit sooner,” he said.

As someone who watched his father’s decline with dementia over a ten year period (usually from a distance), I can attest that shortening one’s lifespan is not the crucial issue, especially in the last few years when the personality in the shell of the human being that has survived the loss of cognition has largely disappeared. The first question is whether the anti-psychotics are effective in reducing the outbursts associated with severe dementia, and whether those benefits outweigh the side effects (catatonia?). The second question is whether families have been adequately informed about the risks and benefits of this approach. That the drug companies deploy their marketing arms to stoke sales in this situation is outrageous. But even eliminating their right to do so wouldn’t solve the underlying problem.

Interview with Andy Cohen, CEO,

A couple of weeks back Andy Cohen, CEO and Founder of stopped by Health 2.0’s offices to give us an update on the site. Having established itself as a go-to site for caregivers needing to figure out what to do when a loved one needs help, Caring has now branched out to develop assessment tools and communities. In this video interview you’ll get to hear and see a bit about that, and get more information about the company’s plans to be the “Babycenter” for the other end of life.

Hospitalists as Extensivists

I had heard something about this, but couldn’t find it. A colleague here finally tracked it down. The story is about Caremore, a California based organization. Hospitalists generally are internal medicine doctors based in the hospital; but here they care for frail elderly members at high risk of hospital admission or readmission in skilled nursing facilities and in outpatient settings both before and after a hospital stay. Here’s an article on the AHRQ Innovations Exchange website.

An excerpt:

A Medicare Advantage plan expanded the role of its employed hospitalists, using them to continue following and caring for recently discharged members until their condition stabilizes, as well as other members at high risk of a hospital admission. Known as “extensivists” and supported by sophisticated information technology (IT) systems, these physicians generally split their time between the hospital, where they round on a small group of members each day, and an outpatient clinic, where they see recently discharged members and other members at high risk of an admission. Once or twice a week, these physicians also see members in SNFs.

The results:

The program reduced readmission rates and has led to low LOS (lengths of stay) and to below-average inpatient utilization in a high-acuity population.

Is this worth considering more broadly? What are the conditions for success? I welcome your thoughts.

Paul Levy is the President and CEO of Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center in Boston. Paul recently became the focus of much media attention when he decided to publish infection rates at his hospital, despite the fact that under Massachusetts law he is not yet required to do so. For the past three years he has blogged about his experiences in an online journal, Running a Hospital, one of the few blogs we know of maintained by a senior hospital executive.