I once made a serious error. The patient had taken an overdose of paracetamol, but because I was single-handedly covering three inpatient acute psychiatric wards due to sickness of two other trainees which medical HR had been unable to cover, with a lot of agency nurses who did not know any of the patients well at all, and also because this patient frequently said she had taken overdoses when she had not, and declined to let me take bloods to test for paracetamol levels, I believed she was crying wolf. She collapsed several hours later, and died. I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, but also fear – was this the end of my career? I was a trainee psychiatrist at the time – and was immensely fortunate in that my supervising consultant was robust in his defence of me, supported me, whilst fronting the complaint from the patient’s family and attending the inquest. He had been covering two outpatient clinics himself while I was on the ward.
The patient was only 26 years old. Her parents were very angry with me, and not unreasonably so; at the time, it seemed to me that they wanted me to suffer. Twenty years later, I believe they wanted to understand how I made the decision I did. Eventually, the consultant arranged for me to meet the parents. They were very kind to me, all of them, I realise that now. I wasn’t able to give them the answers they wanted. I just cried and said I was sorry.
The mother sent the consultant a letter afterwards which he gave me when I was about to complete that training placement. I did not read it for many months. When I did, I cried. The mother described her daughter’s childhood, the family’s loss, and her own incomprehension that the NHS – which she and generations of her family had venerated as a great institution – could have failed her child. It said very little about me, certainly didn’t seek to blame me, but said a few times that she wanted justice for her daughter. It was an exploration of grief by a bereft mother.
I often think about the mother – I cannot recall the face of the 26 year old patient – but remember perfectly well the mother, who said very little, didn’t even cry, leaving her husband to talk incoherently about justice and a referral to the GMC and the police (they did not do any of these things). And I often ponder the nature of justice they wanted. This was well before the advent of Duty of Candour and rigorously completed serious incident investigations.
Did they get justice? The coroner returned a verdict of suicide, but failed to acknowledge the systemic problems of lack of staff, merely noting that there had a “gap in clinical assessment”. It was not untrue, yet I experienced it as unfair. The consultant reminded me that I was fortunate that the family had not made more fuss. So I let it be. Until the case of Dr Bawa-Garba.
I have a piece up at National Review in which I reflect upon Don Berwick’s controversial tenure as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the 800-billion-dollar federal agency that dominates the American health-care landscape. Despite White House rhetoric to the contrary, I write, Berwick “wasn’t done in by Republican intransigence. He was done in by presidential cowardice. And therein lies a microcosm of everything that’s been wrong with Obamacare.”
The thing to understand about Don Berwick is that there are really two Don Berwicks. There’s the Don Berwick who, through the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has focused on apolitical aspects of health delivery reform. Here’s what I wrote about Berwick in April 2010:
First, the good. Berwick is a serious and credible health-care analyst. In his capacities both as a Harvard professor and as founder and CEO of a Cambridge-based think-tank called the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, he has written extensively about health-care policy in all of the leading scholarly journals. His focus, in most of these writings, is on the quality and efficiency of health care: things like avoiding medical errors and unnecessary spending. He was granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth for his role in shaping Tony Blair’s (mostly futile) attempts to modernize Britain’s National Health Service.
While he was a big supporter of Obamacare, Sir Donald acknowledges its core failing; in an October lecture, he said, “Health-care reform without attention to the nature and nurture of health care as a system is doomed. It will at best simply feed the beast, pouring precious resources into the overdevelopment of parts and never attending to the whole — that is, care as our patients, their families, and their communities experience it.” Indeed, if you put Berwick in a room with a leading market-oriented health-care analyst, the two would find broad areas of agreement as to where our health-care system fails patients.
A few weeks back, Matthew met with TestCard (another Brit like him) at TechCrunch Disrupt 2018. Greg, from TestCard, spoke to Matthew about how their device can test multiple different illnesses using urine and a clinical grade camera, which then spits out results (almost) immediately on your smartphone. Currently, the device can be used for detecting pregnancy, glucose, STIs, UTIs, and many more diseases. Their focus is on preventative care for patients, so they are working with insurance companies to use their product as a kit to diagnose problems that are prevalent in UK’s population. Not to mention their slogan is “A bit like Theranos, but our flagship products work.”
Zoya Khan is the Editor-in-Chief of THCB as well as an Associate at SMACK.health, a health-tech advisory services for early-stage startups.
Doreen, Ahmed and Henry have recently had their medication changed in response to a new guideline for prescribing Statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs.
None of them came to ask for a change in their medication. In each case the change was recommended by a clinician in response to a new guideline against which our practice will be judged and financially rewarded or penalised.
The NICE guideline on lipid modification recommends that the decision whether to start statin therapy should be made after an informed discussion between the clinician and the person about the risks and benefits of statin treatment, taking into account additional factors such as potential benefits from lifestyle modifications, informed patient preference, comorbidities, polypharmacy, general frailty and life expectancy.
NICE recommends that statin treatment for people with CVD [Cardio–vascular disease] (secondary prevention) should usually start with atorvastatin 80 mg daily.
It is very easy to judge whether or not people with CVD are on Atorvastatin 80mg, but almost impossible to judge whether the decision to start therapy has been made as a result of thoughtful deliberation between the patient and the clinician. Thoughtful deliberation is at the heart of patient-centered care – not doing whatever the patient wants, as is often confusingly assumed.
The Middle East Marketplace, Medical R&D, Investments, and Consumer: Kemal Malik, Head of Innovation at Bayer, and Tim Kelsey, National Director for Patient and Information for NHS England are slated to keynote the upcoming 5th Annual Health 2.0 Europe conference on November 10-12 in London, UK. The international digital health conference will feature a wide variety of sessions on some of the most important topics in digital health including:
Medical R&D: How medicine continues to grow with Health 2.0 tools which supports medical research and collaboration via open data reporting and collection through clinical trials. Featured demos include F1000, Lumos!, PxHealthCare, and TrialReach.
Big Data: A session that frames national, entrepreneurial, and patient-based efforts to create Open Data portals and access across the spectrum. See how HealthUnlocked, Healthbank, and Marand are turning big data into actionable change.
Wearable Technology: As the marketplace for consumer tech and wearables become more prevalent within digital health, Health 2.0 Europe features devices from Biovotion, Qardio, Empatica, and Sensoria which are taking new approaches to tracking, capturing, and analyzing personal health data.
A recent report from the Commonwealth Fund places the US last amongst developing nations in healthcare. For self-loathing Americans, Christmas couldn’t have come earlier. Raptures of ecstasy were oozing from pores of self-satisfying righteous indignation.
Anyway that, and the shakiness of the metrics for another time.
For now I will focus on one of the conclusions. In analyzing the Britain’s high score on the management of chronic conditions the authors attributed this care coordination to the widespread adoption of health information technology.
That’s like someone saying Chinese food is tasty because chopsticks are widely used.
Sigh! Like quants so fastidious about decimal points they’ve missed the overall point.
Where do I begin?
I’ll start with Mesozoic era, i.e. before health IT was thrust upon Britain’s general practitioners (GPs). Then you had GPs and specialists. In Britain GPs are not optional ornaments for the mantelpiece that you pick up from Ikea when you feel like.
No, they are rather compulsory. Everyone needs to be registered with a GP. Ok, you don’t get fined if you don’t have one, but if you want a referral to a cardiologist you need to see your GP which means you must have one to see in the first place.
Read my lips: no GP, no cardiologist.
If your cardiologist thinks there is nothing wrong with your heart and your problems are supratentorial for which you need to see a shrink, then he must write a letter to your GP asking that he might consider referring you to the psychiatrist. The specialist can’t send you directly to another specialist, bypassing your GP.
But which doctors at the Cleveland Clinic have the highest success rates in aortic valve repair surgeries? What are the standardized mortality rates due to cancer at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center? Why exactly is Johns Hopkins the best?
We don’t have answers to these types of questions because in the United States, unlike in the United Kingdom, data is not readily available to healthcare consumers.
The truth is, the rankings with which most patients are familiar provide users with little. Instead, hospitals are evaluated largely by “reputation” while details that would actually be useful to patients seeking to maximize their healthcare experiences are omitted.
Of course, the lack of data available about US healthcare is not US News and World Report’s fault – it is indicative of a much larger issue. Lacking a centralized healthcare system, patients, news sources, and policy makers are left without the information necessary for proper decision-making.
While the United Kingdom’s National Health Service may have its own issues, one benefit of a system overseen by a single governmental entity is proper data gathering and reporting. If you’re a patient in the United Kingdom, you can look up everything from waiting times for both diagnostic procedures and referral-to-treatment all the way to mortality and outcome data by individual physician.
This is juxtaposed to the US healthcare system, where the best sources of data rely on voluntary reporting of information from one private entity to another.
Besides being riddled with issues, including a lack of standardization and oversight, the availability of data to patients becomes limited, manifesting itself in profit-driven endeavors like US News and World Report or initiatives like The Leap Frog Group that are far less well-known and contain too few indicators to be of real use.
The availability of data in the United Kingdom pays dividends. For example, greater understanding of performance has allowed policy makers to consolidate care centers that perform well and close those that hemorrhage money, cutting costs while improving outcomes. Even at the individual hospital level, the availability of patient data keeps groups on their toes.
One of US President Barack Obama’s key health advisers has just published a review in the aftermath of the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal. Don Berwick’s review is both thoughtful and reflective but one of his key recommendations – to create criminal sanctions against health staff – will not make the NHS safer for patients.
Many patients, particularly elderly ones, suffered unnecessary indignities and avoidable harm at Mid Staffordshire.
The Francis report into the crisis concluded that patients were routinely neglected by a health trust more preoccupied with cutting costs and meeting targets rather than its responsibility to provide safe care. Patients’ calls for help to use the bathroom were ignored and some were left lying in soiled sheeting or sitting on commodes for hours. Events and failings there will probably go down in history as the blackest and bleakest moment for the NHS.
When the report was published in February, the government committed to appointing a advisory group of patients to consider the various accounts of what happened and the recommendations made by Robert Francis and others. The idea was that they would distill for the government and the NHS what lessons should be learned and what changes needed to be made.
Berwick’s review makes ten recommendations including that sufficient staff are available to meet the NHS’s needs now and in the future – staff should be well-supported and able to ensure safe care at all times; quality and safety sciences and practices should be a part of the initial preparation and lifelong education of all health care professionals, including managers and executives; and leaders should create and support learning and subsequently change, at scale, within the NHS.
But most controversial is his final recommendation:
We support responsive regulation of organizations, with a hierarchy of responses. Recourse to criminal sanctions should be extremely rare, and should function primarily as a deterrent to willful or reckless neglect or mistreatment.
Berwick proposes the government creates a new general offence of “willful or reckless neglect”, applicable both to organisations and individuals. Organizational sanctions might involve removing leaders and disqualifying them from future leadership roles, public reprimand of the organization and, in extreme cases, financial sanctions – but only where that will not compromise patient care.
I was surprised when the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics in London honored two of my favorite institutions: the National Health Service and the World Wide Web. I was not surprised when LA Times sports writer Diane Pucin posted the following tweet: “For the life of me, though, am still baffled by NHS tribute at opening ceremonies. Like a tribute to United Health Care or something in US.” @swaldman responded to the sports writer with “Well, maybe, if United Health Care were government-run and a source of national pride.”
I was not surprised when Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer of NBC admitted they had no idea why Tim Berners-Lee was being honored by sending out a tweet. Ever since I read his book Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), Berners-Lee has been one of my heroes. Finally locating my hard copy of the book in the guest bedroom where my son Colin used to sleep, I quickly located the marked passage I was looking for:
“People have sometimes asked me whether I am upset that I have not made a lot of money from the Web. In fact, I made some quite conscious decisions about which way to take my life. These I would not change…. What does distress me, though, is how important a question it seems to be to some.
I’ve had a couple of meetings recently with leading figures in UK health policy – one of them a senior figure at a doctors’ organisation, the other at a private health company – who both talked excitedly about the lessons Britain could learn from the US.
That’s rarer than you might think. Our National Health Service may be cautiously embracing market-led reforms, but there’s still plenty of scepticism about the US’s full-on competitive system, and people here tend to be nervous about citing it as an inspiration.
Still, the two figures I am referring to, both leading players in the British Government’s NHS reform programme, were talking not about US healthcare as a whole, but about one particular organisation with something of a cult following on this side of the Atlantic.
I am referring to Kaiser Permanente, and its ideas are about to become very big over here.
Kaiser is one of those iconic organisations that aren’t just known for what they do, but whose names come to define their particular way of doing things – in Kaiser’s case, managed care.
It is the classic managed care organisation, running all the disparate parts of the local health system as a fully integrated whole, and deftly incentivising doctors to make sure patients receive their care in the part of the health system where it can be delivered most efficiently.