Tag: Paul Levy

Costs Are Not The Same As Rates

Many “old” media outlets do not identify the authors of their editorials. Thus, when an opinion is offered, you have no way of knowing who wrote it or what their qualifications are. Your only recourse when there is something unsupported or absurd used to be to send a letter to the editor, where you have about a 0.5% chance of being chosen for publication. And they would edit what you sent in. Then, blogs were invented.

This thought was prompted last week when I read a New York Times editorial entitled, “Financing Health Care Reform.” Here’s the quote in question:

Meanwhile, it will be important to get some guaranteed fast savings from the health care industries by cutting and reallocating hundreds of billions of dollars from projected spending on Medicare and Medicaid, as the Obama administration has proposed and Congress is considering. Just to be sure, Congress ought to establish a fail-safe mechanism that could impose additional cuts after a few years if savings are less than projected.

Since I don’t know the author(s) or whether he/she/they actually know anything about Medicare and Medicaid, I am uncertain how to respond to this suggestion. Except to say: “Are you out of your mind?” Medicare rates just barely cover costs today, and Medicaid rates have not covered their costs in years.

This is all part of a general confusion about cost savings versus appropriation savings, a point I made back in March:

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A new year’s resolution for greater hospital transparency

Just thinking, along the lines of a New Year’s resolution. What if all
of the hospitals in the Boston metropolitan area — academic medical
centers and community hospitals — decided as a group to eliminate
certain kinds of hospital-acquired infections and other kinds of
preventable harm? And what if they all committed to share their best
practices with one another and to engage in joint training and case
reviews in these arena? And what if they all agreed to publicly post
their progress on a single website for the world to see?

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The demands for robotic surgery

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.

Transparency Works!!! (And better than you can imagine)

Timeout_poster_3I just saw clear evidence of the importance of transparency with regard
to the reporting of important adverse events and medical errors. Bear with me through the details, but I will not keep you in suspense regarding the conclusion: The wide disclosure of a “never” event in a blame-free manner resulted in an intensity of focus and communal effort to solve an important systemic problem, resulting in redesign of clinical procedures, buy-in from hundreds of relevant staff people, and an audit system that will monitor the effectiveness of the new approach and leave open the possibility for ongoing improvement.

If you ever needed a clear example of the power of transparency, here it is.

Back in early July, a patient experienced a wrong-side surgery in our hospital because the staff failed to carry out the required time-out. We disseminated the story of this event to all staff in the hospital.  There was a full investigation of the matter, both internally and by the state DPH, and some immediate improvements were made in our procedures. But the more important work was being done by a Safety Culture Operational Task Force co-chaired by a nurse, a surgeon, and an anesthesiologist, and engaging almost two dozen other people from a variety of disciplines and positions in the hospital.

Its charge and mission: To implement and embed the Culture of Safety at the point of care in Perioperative Services, with an emphasis on teamwork and enhanced communications.

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SEIU’s questionable election strategy

Several months ago, I mentioned the large sum of money being spent by SEIU on political races throughout the country. Now, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal questions the legality of the manner the SEIU is collecting these funds from its members. (By the way, the sum I mentioned was $75 million. The WSJ raises this to $150 million.)

I am not qualified to make a judgment on the legal issues raised by the Journal’s editorial writer, but I want to raise a related political issue. SEIU concludes one of its publications with the following depiction of the future:

SEIU’s health care profile — and power — will only continue to grow. After we help elect a pro-worker president and stronger pro-worker majorities in Congress, we will take all our energy, idea, organizing strength, grassroots lobbying and political muscle and make it happen. Next year, 2009, we — all of us — will make history. We will achieve quality affordable health care for every man, woman, and child in America.

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The math is wrong

I have great respect for Jim Stergios and the Pioneer Institute he heads. The Institute has been an important force in Massachusetts public policy debates for many years. But I think Jim has the wrong policy prescription in an op-ed published in the Boston Globe.

Citing the higher than expected costs of the Massachusetts Healthcare Reform Act of 2006, Jim proposes that there should be a reduction in payment to Boston Medical Center and Cambridge Health Alliance, the two largest hospital providers of care to the poor in the Boston metropolitan region. To be fair, Jim is not the first to propose this. Over the years, there have been periodic attacks on BMC and CHA for their special payments. Several years ago, for example, many of the community hospitals complained that they were subsidizing these urban safety net facilities.

Beyond ignoring the history of these hospitals in our city and the special role they play in the health care system, Jim’s proposal puts the focus of the financial problem in the wrong place.

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Should a surgeon be punished for wrong-site surgery?

During these couple of weeks following our wrong-side surgery, a number of people
have asked me if we intend to punish the surgeon in charge of the case, as well as other people in the operating room, who did not carry out the expected time-out procedure.

My initial and immediate reaction has always been, "No, these people have been punished enough by the searing experience of the event. They were devastated by their error and distraught to think that they could have participated in an event that unnecessarily hurt a patient. The surgeon immediately reported the error to his Chief and to me and took all appropriate actions to disclose and apologize to the patient, as well as participate openly and honestly in the case review."

This reaction was supported by one of our trustees, who likewise responded, "God has already taken care of the punishment." But another trustee said that it just didn’t feel right that this highly trained physician, "who should have known better," would not be punished. "Wouldn’t someone in another field be disciplined for an equivalent error?" this trustee asked.

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A message you hope to never send

First, an email sent out on Thursday morning. My commentary follows.

Dear BIDMC Community,

This week at BIDMC, a patient was harmed when something happened that never should happen: A procedure was performed on the wrong body part. With the support of all our chiefs of service, we are sharing this information with the whole organization because there are lessons here for all of us.

While respecting the confidentiality of both the patient and caregivers, here are the key facts: It was an elective procedure, involving an excellent team of providers. It was a hectic day, as many are. Just beforehand, the physician was distracted by thoughts of how best to approach the case, and the team was busily addressing last-minute details. In the midst of all this, two things happened: First, no one noticed that the wrong side was being prepared for the procedure. Second, the procedure began without performing a "time out," that last-minute check when the whole team confirms "right patient, right procedure, right side." The procedure went ahead. The error was not detected until after the procedure was completed. When it was, our patient safety division was notified immediately, and they in turn took all appropriate steps including investigation, reporting and corrective action. The physician discussed the error with the patient at the first opportunity, and made a full apology. The patient is now recovering at home from the injury, which is not life-threatening.

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Let’s talk about tax exemptions

An excellent article by Stephanie Strom in Monday’s New York Times covers what appears to be a growing controversy about the degree to which nonprofit organizations should or should not be permitted to be tax exempt under federal and state rules. This is a legitimate area for public debate, and the article sets out a number of examples and points of view.

I do not know much of the history of tax-exempt status, but I am guessing it was given by Congress and state legislatures to certain categories of non-profits in light of their public service obligations and activities. I am personally involved on the boards of several tax-exempt nonprofits, including BIDMC, an academic medical center devoted to clinical care, research, education, and community service, MIT, a university, and others currently and previously.

Now, if we think about it, any one of these lines of service could be
provided by for-profit corporations. What does society
get out of granting tax-exempt status to these institutions? The most
obvious thing is that none of the gains (i.e., "profits") of
non-profits are distributed to private investors. They are all recycled
into the mission and services of the organization.

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