Today, an intensive care unit patient room contains anywhere from 50 to 100 pieces of medical equipment made by dozens of manufacturers, and these products rarely, if ever, talk to one another. This means that clinicians must painstakingly review and piece together information from individual devices—for instance, to make a diagnosis of sepsis or to recognize that a patient’s condition is plummeting. Such a system leaves too much room for error and requires clinicians to be heroes, rising above the flawed environment that they work in. We need a heath care system that partners with patients, their families and others to eliminate all harms, optimize patient outcomes and experience and reduce waste. Technology must enable clinicians to help achieve those goals. Technology could do so much more if it focused on achieving these goals and worked backwards from there.
This week marks a step that holds tremendous promise for patients and clinicians. On Monday the Masimo Foundation hosted the Patient Safety Science & Technology Summit in Laguna Niguel, California, an inaugural event to convene hospital administrators, medical technology companies, patient advocates and clinicians to identify solutions to some of today’s most pressing patient safety issues. In response to a call made by keynote speaker former President Bill Clinton, the leaders of nine leading medical device companies pledged to open their systems and share their data.
Lack of interoperability between medical devices plays no small role in the 200,000 American deaths caused by preventable patient harm each year, such as in the case of 11-year-old Leah Coufal. After undergoing elective surgery, Leah received narcotics intended to ease her pain.
When Leah received too much medication, it suppressed her breathing, eventually causing it to stop altogether. Had she been monitored, a device could have alerted clinicians when Leah’s breathing slowed to a dangerous level.
But as we know, clinicians are busy and unfortunately don’t always respond to alarms from bedside machines. If a machine measuring her breathing had been linked with the device delivering her medication, it could have automatically stopped the drugs from infusing into her blue, oxygen-deprived veins.
All of this is possible today; technology is not a barrier. Until now, the only thing that’s stood in the way is a lack of leadership and a lack of willingness for device manufacturers to cooperate.
A time-and-technology challenged FDA, proliferation of software-controlled medical devices in and outside of hospitals, and growth of hackers have resulted in medical technology that’s riddled with malware. Furthermore, lack of security built into the devices makes them ripe for hacking and malfeasance.
Scenario: a famous figure (say, a politician with an implantable defibrillator or young rock star with an insulin pump) becomes targeted by a hacker, who industriously virtually works his way into the ICD’s software and delivers the man a shock so strong it’s akin to electrocution.
Got the picture?
Welcome to the dark side of health IT and connected health. Without strong and consistently adopted security technology and policies, this scenario isn’t a wild card: it’s in the realm of possibility. This is not new-news: back in 2008, a research team figured out how to program a common pacemaker-defibrillator to transmit a “deadly 830-volt jolt,” according to Barnaby Jack, a security expert.
While most systems are being developed responsibly, like the Wild, Wild West, many have been developed without an objective eye toward quality and the potential harm they may be causing our patients.
As most readers of this blog are aware, since 2005 the medical device industry in which I work has had widely publicized instances of patient deaths splashed all over the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets from defibrillator malfunctions that resulted in a just a few patient deaths.
The backlash in response to these deaths was significant: device registries were developed, software improvements to devices created, and billions of dollars in legal fees and damages paid to patients and their families on the path to improvement. In addition, we also learned about the limits of corporate responsibility for these deaths thanks to legal precedent established by the Reigel vs. Medtronic case.
We are disappointed that CMS’ recently proposed rules again miss a clear opportunity to address home hemodialysis access for Medicare patients.
Recent clinical research demonstrates the significant benefits of more frequent dialysis. Better clinical outcomes, lower mortality, and higher survival – the list goes on. Recognizing the strength of this data (and heeding the calls of numerous patient advocates), large national commercial insurers, including UnitedHealthcare and Aetna, recently clarified their policies, granting greater access to home, and more frequent, hemodialysis for commercial patients.
In recent weeks, CMS’ proposed rules for both Physician Fee Schedule and ESRD PPS Rule came out. In the proposed Physician Fee Schedule, physician payment will increase for in-center dialysis, but will remain essentially unchanged for home dialysis. Physicians are already paid generally 20% less to care for their home dialysis patients, and under the proposed rule for physician payment this disparity would grow. In the proposed ESRD PPS Rule, there were no mentions of home hemodialysis. None. In the rule, CMS proposes a 2.5% increase to the bundled payment rate, representing hundreds of millions dollars of additional money going to the Medicare dialysis program. None of this increase is going to address the known payment issues impacting access to more frequent home hemodialysis.
The jobs-killing Obamacare law contains 20 new or higher taxes on American families and employers. Many of these tax increases fall on families making less than $250,000 — a direct violation of candidate Obama’s promise not to raise “any form” of taxes on these families. In less than a week, the second anniversary of Obamacare being signed into law will take place. The Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare next week.
Out of the 20 new or higher taxes in Obamacare, there are five that fall most directly on seniors.
The first is the excise tax penalty for failure to comply with Obamacare’s individual mandate. Many seniors face a coverage gap between retirement and Medicare eligibility. Obamacare raises taxes on these younger seniors by punishing them if they don’t purchase “qualifying health insurance.” Set to go into effect in 2014, the excise tax penalty for mandate non-compliance will in 2016 rise to 2.5% of adjusted gross income for a senior couple (or $1,390 for those making less than $55,600).
Why does Obamacare raise taxes on seniors just as they are entering retirement? Many of these seniors will face this “stick” but find themselves with too much income to qualify for the “carrot” of tax credits to purchase Obamacare health insurance plans in an exchange. Many will be forced to keep working just to avoid paying this tax.
The second tax hike on seniors is the so-called “Cadillac Plan” excise tax. Starting in 2018, Obamacare imposes a whopping 40% excise tax on high-cost (“Cadillac plan”) health insurance plans. This is defined for seniors as a plan whose premiums exceed $29,450 for a family plan, or $11,500 for a single senior. Seniors often face higher costs in health insurance premiums due to chronic health conditions and other risk factors. This tax will fall almost exclusively on the seniors with the greatest health insurance needs.
Not through a musical hook or melody that you can’t shake. Or a well timed smile by someone your soul connects with. Or a box of chocolates. Or a poem. People have been penetrating the human heart with those Luddite-ish tools since the beginning of civilization.
I was thinking more about that electronic device your doctor might have implanted into your chest to keep your heart beating. Or the little box stuck in your gut to help you and your pancreas regulate your diabetes. Or the mini-computer surgically inserted to keep your neurological systems on track.
Hacking the medical miracles put inside people to let them live longer with more normal lives.
While to my limited knowledge nobody has reported a single case and the likelihood is extremely low, it is a real enough concern that the New England Journal of Medicine published a paper about the need to improve security last year.
More than at any time in recent memory, powerful forces are buffeting
the health care sector. We are in
the midst of profound upheaval,
driven by market and policy responses to the industry's long-term
We can already see evidence that the dysfunction of our traditional
health system is accelerating. It also seems clear that the center
cannot hold indefinitely.
Dog Eat Dog
It is useful to remember that the health care industry's
different stakeholders are adversaries. While they clearly share a
common understanding that a wholesale meltdown is possible, there is
little real motivation for collaboration and no unity. Independent of
role, the industry as a whole has been focused on, and extremely
effective at, securing dollars from purchasers: government, employers
and individuals. But each silo within the industry has been separately
focused on growing its own slice of the health care pie. In every
niche, there are courteous conceits – access, appropriateness, efficiency and value – reserved
for the good manners of public relations. But these are meaningful in
practice only if they do not conflict with the professional's or the
firm's economic performance.
In just two years, seniors will spend a quarter of their monthly Social Security checks on Medicare out-of-pocket expenses, including premiums, co-payments and deductibles.Meanwhile, Medicare bookkeepers predict total health spending in the U.S. to increase from 2.2 trillion today to 4.3 trillion in 2017.
At that rate of growth, it won’t be long before the entire Social Security check goes toward medical care. So what’s the solution?
Barry Straube, CMS chief medical officer, said the solution is transforming Medicare into an active purchaser that seeks to get more bang — in terms of high quality care and improved health — for its buck.
In health care lingo, that’s called value-based purchasing – the topic of a two-day conference put on by the ECRI Institute that Straube,and other health care bigwigs attended this week in Washington D.C.
“Medicare should be paying for care that promotes health, prevents complications, optimizes quality and efficiency, and keeps health care costs down,” Straube said. “… We have a system that arguably is based on resource consumption and volume irrespective to the value associated with that care.”
Many months ago,
I wrote about the da Vinci Robot Surgical System and expressed doubts
about whether there was evidence to support the clinical efficacy of
this equipment, as opposed to the marketing efficacy of the company
selling it. Well, the time has come to graciously say, “Uncle!”
making any representations about the relative clinical value of this
robotic system versus manual laparoscopic surgery, I am writing to let
you know we have decided to buy one for our hospital.
Why? Well, in
simple terms, because virtually all the academic medical centers and
many community hospitals in the Boston area have bought one. Patients
who are otherwise loyal to our hospital and our doctors are
transferring their surgical treatments to other places.
residents who are trying to decide where to have their surgical
training look upon our lack of the robot as a deficit in our education
program. Prospective physician recruits feel likewise. And, these
factors are now spreading beyond urology into the field of
gynecological surgery. So as a matter of good business planning,
concern for the quality of our training program, and to continue to
attract and retain the best possible doctors, the decision was made for
So there you have it. This is an illustrative story of the health care system in which we operate
Paul Levy is the President and CEO of Beth Israel Deconess Medical
Center in Boston. He blogs about his
experiences at, Running a Hospital, one of the few blogs we know of maintained by a senior hospital executive.
Stanford University’s medical school announced this week new restrictions on educational contributions by drug and medical device companies, which turn out to be among the strictest in the nation.
The rules are an effort to limit industry influence on physician practice. Currently, the continuing education programs tend to follow the market’s needs and not necessarily the best advancements for optimal patient care.
"The school will no longer accept funds from pharmaceutical or device companies that are targeted to specific programs, as industry-directed
funding may compromise the integrity of these education programs for
practicing physicians," a press release states.
SiliconValley.com reported that "Drug and medical-device company
contributions for continuing medical education have surged nationwide
from $302 million in 1998 to $1.2 billion in 2006, according to the
Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. Stanford
officials said about $1.87 million — or 38 percent — of the medical
school’s budget for continuing education came from industry sources in