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Tag: Kim Bellard

Still Fighting the Wrong Wars

By KIM BELLARD

What do the coronavirus and Navy ships have in common?  For that matter, what do our military spending and our healthcare spending have in common?  More than you might think, and it boils down to this: we spend too much for too little, in large part because we tend to always be fighting the wrong wars.  

Photo by STR/AFT via Getty Images

I started thinking about this a couple weeks ago due to a WSJ article about the U.S. Navy’s “aging and fragmented technology.”  An internal Navy strategy memo warned that the Navy is “under cyber siege” by foreign adversaries, leaking information “like a sieve.”  It grimly pointed out:

Our adversaries gain an advantage in cyberspace through guerrilla tactics within our defensive perimeters.  Once inside, malign actors steal, destroy and/or modify critical data and information. 

This is the Navy, after all, that proudly tried to modernize by installing touch screen technology on some of its ships, only to have the disaster that hit the USS McClain.  Its vaunted Integrated Bridge and Navigation System was, ProPublica found, “was a welter of buttons, gauges and software that, poorly understood and not surprisingly misused, helped guide 10 sailors to their deaths.”  And that wasn’t the only technology-enabled naval disaster in recent years.

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Time Really Can Be Money

By KIM BELLARD

If you are not an IKEA fan, or haven’t been spending any time in Dubai, you may have missed the chain’s marketing campaign to help promote its second store in the area.  Titled “Buy With Your Time,” customers got store credits for how long they spent getting to the store. 

Gosh, that’s something that should make any self-respecting critic of the U.S. healthcare system perk up.  Count me as intrigued.

The campaign involved checking the customer’s Google Maps’ Trip tab to determine how long it took them to get to the store.  IKEA benchmarked the average hourly wage in Dubai, and converted the travel time into how much credit they’d generated.  It works out to about $29/hour, or $0.48 per minute.  Spend long enough getting there and you could get a free coffee table or even a bookcase.  Prices in the store include the equivalent time currency.

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Who’s in Your Supply Chain?

By KIM BELLARD

Tesla is now, by market cap, the second largest auto manufacturer (after Toyota).  Its market cap exceeds U.S. auto makers Ford, G.M., and Fiat/Chrysler — combined.  This despite selling less than 400,000 vehicles in 2019, a figure that is more than the prior two years combined.   

Tesla has made its bet on the future of electric cars.  It didn’t invent them.  It isn’t the only auto manufacturer selling them.  But, as The Wall Street Journal recently said

Investors increasingly see the future of the car as electric—even if most car buyers haven’t yet. And lately, those investors are placing bets on Tesla Inc. to bring about that future versus auto makers with deeper pockets and generations of experience.

 A recent analysis suggested a big reason why, and its findings should give those in healthcare some pause.  Tesla’s advantage may come, in large part, from its supply chain.

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Healthcare Has a Moral Injury

By KIM BELLARD

The term “moral injury” is a term originally applied to soldiers as a way to help explain PTSD and, more recently, to physicians as a way to help explain physician burnout.  The concept is that moral injury is what can happen to people when “perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”  

I think healthcare generally has a bad case of moral injury.  

How else can we explain physicians practicing surprise billinghospitals suing patientshealth plans refusing to pay for pre-authorized treatments, or pharmaceutical companies charging “skyrocketing” costs even for common, essential prescription drugs?  There are people involved in each of these, and countless more examples.  If those people haven’t suffered a moral injury as a result, it’s hard to understand why.  

Melissa Bailey, writing for Kaiser Health News, looked at moral injury from the standpoint of emergency room physicians.  One physician decried how “the real priority is speed and money and not our patients’ care.”  Another made a broader charge: “The health system is not set up to help patients. It’s set up to make money.”  He urged that physicians seek to understand “how decisions made at the systems level impact how we care about patients” — so they can “stand up for what’s right.”

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For Your Eyeballs Only

By KIM BELLARD

There’s so much going on.  There’s the coronavirus: It’s now a pandemic!  China can build an entire hospital to treat coronavirus patients in under two weeks!  Or there’s primary care: One Medical’s IPO boomed!  AmazonHumana and Walmart are testing their versions!  People are flocking away from primary care!  Or, on a completely unrelated note, Tesla wants to disrupt auto insurance too. 

As interesting as all those are, it’s augmented reality (AR) that I want to talk about. 

Stop thinking about Snap Spectacles or Pokémon Go as what you think of when you think about AR.  Stop thinking about the supposed failure of Google Glass.  Start thinking about AR being ingrained in our daily lives.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes “at some point in the 2020s, we will get breakthrough augmented reality glasses that will redefine our relationship with technology.”  He went on to elaborate:

Instead of having devices that take us away from the people around us, the next platform will help us be more present with each other and will help the technology get out of the way. Even though some of the early devices seem clunky, I think these will be the most human and social technology platforms anyone has built yet.

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Quantum Theory of Health

By KIM BELLARD

We’re pretty proud of modern medicine.  We’ve accumulated a very intricate understanding of how our body works, what can go wrong with it, and what are options are for tinkering with it to improve its health.  We’ve got all sorts of tests, treatments, and pills for it, with more on the way all the time.

However, there has been increasing awareness of the impact our microbiota has on our health, and I think modern medicine is reaching the point classical physics did when quantum physics came along.  

Image credit: E. Edwards/JQI

Classical physics pictured the atom as kind of a miniature solar system, with well-defined particles revolving in definite orbits around the solid nucleus.  In quantum physics, though, particles don’t have specific positions or exact orbits, combine/recombine, get entangled, and pop in and out of existence.  At the quantum level everything is kind of fuzzy, but quantum theory itself is astoundingly predictive.  We’re fooled into thinking our macro view of the universe is true, but our perceptions are wrong.   

So it may be with modern medicine.  Our microbiota (including both the microbiome and mycobiome) both provide the fuzziness and dictate a significant portion of our health.   

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Your Wealth is Your Health

By KIM BELLARD

We’ve been spending a lot of time these past few years debating healthcare reform.  First the Affordable Care Act was debated, passed, implemented, and almost continuously litigated since.  Lately the concept of Medicare For All, or variations on it, has been the hot policy debate.  Other smaller but still important issues like high prescription drug prices or surprise billing have also received significant attention.

As worthy as these all are, a new study suggests that focusing on them may be missing the point.  If we’re not addressing wealth disparities, we’re unlikely to address health disparities.  

It has been well documented that there are considerable health disparities in the U.S., attributable to socioeconomic statusrace/ethnicitygender, even geography, among other factors.  Few would deny that they exist.  Many policy experts and politicians seem to believe that if we could simply increase health insurance coverage, we could go a long way to addressing these disparities, since coverage should reduce financial burdens that may be serving as barriers to care that may be contributing to them.

Universal coverage may well be a good goal for many reasons, but we should temper our expectations about what it might achieve in terms of leveling the health playing field.

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Healthcare Might Look Good in Plaid

By KIM BELLARD

I don’t really follow FinTech — I can’t even keep up with HealthTech! — but it caught my eye when Visa announced that it was acquiring FinTech company Plaid for $5.3b; a 2018 funding round valued the company at $2.65b.  A 100% increase in valuation within a year suggests that something important is going on, or at least that people think something is.  

I suspect there may be some lessons for healthcare in there somewhere.  

For those of you who are equally as unfamiliar with FinTech’s terrain, Plaid has been described as the “plumbing” that supports many other FinTech companies.  Launched in 2013, one in four people with a U.S. bank account are now believed to use Plaid to connect with 2,600 FinTech developers connected to more than 11,000 financial institutions.  Its customers include Acorns, Betterment, Chime, Coinbase, Gemini, Robinhood, Transferwise, and Venmo.  Plaid claims it connects with 200 million consumer accounts. 

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Healthcare Needs Some IHOPs

By KIM BELLARD

The New York Times had an article that surprised me: Current Job: Award Winning Chef.  Education: IHOP.   The article, by food writer Priya Krishnaprofiled how many high-end chefs credit their training in — gasp! — chain restaurants, such as IHOP, as being invaluable for their success. 

I immediately thought of Atul Gawande’s 2012 article in The New YorkerWhat Big Medicine Can Learn From the Cheesecake Factory.

Ms. Krishna mentions several well-known chefs “who prize the lessons they learned — many as teenagers — in the scaled-up, streamlined world of chain restaurants.”  In addition to IHOP, chefs mentioned experiences at chains such as Applebee’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Chipotle, Hillstone, Houston’s, Howard Johnson’s, Olive Garden, Panda Express, Pappas, Red Lobster, Waffle House, and Wendy’s.  

Some of the lessons learned are instructive.  “It was pretty much that the customer is always right,” one chef mentioned.  Another said she learned “how to be quick, have a good memory, and know the timing of everything.”  A third spoke to the focus that was drilled into all employees: “Hot food hot. Cold food cold. Money to the bank. Clean restrooms,” 

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Simple Steps to Meaningful Health Reform

Picture 79 Now that health reform at the federal level seems to have hit an impasse, Congress and the Administration are scrambling to see if anything can be salvaged this year.  Although both the House and Senate bills are severely flawed, each falling short both on true health reform and on fiscal responsibility, it would be a shame if we walked away from these efforts with nothing to show for it.

Doing something about those “evil” insurance companies remains a primary target, with brave talk still coming out about removing the ability of health insurers to consider pre-existing conditions in accepting new applicants.

This singular focus ignores two important facts – first, that this problem is primarily in the individual market, since such use of medical underwriting/preexisting conditions exclusions is largely absent from the predominant group health insurance market, and second, that such restrictions will inevitably lead to higher costs.  The latter statement is not fear-mongering; it is Economics 101.Continue reading…

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