Everybody knows how to operate smartphones and understands complex modern phenomena, but many Americans are frighteningly ignorant about basic human nutrition.
I am convinced this is the result of a powerful conspiracy, fueled by the (junk) food industry. Here are just a few examples:
Milk has been advertised as a healthy beverage. It is not. No other species consumes milk beyond infancy. Milk based products like ice cream and yogurt are on top of that often sweetened beyond their natural properties.
Fruit juices make it possible to consume the calories of half a dozen pieces of fruit faster than eating just one. Naturally tart juices, like cranberry, are sweetened the same way as soft drinks (high fructose corn syrup), and therefore no healthier than Coca Cola.
Things made from flour—like bread, crackers, boxed and instant cereal, pasta and snacks like pretzels or chips other than plain potato chips—raise blood glucose levels faster than eating table sugar: The breakdown of flour starts in our mouths because of enzymes in our saliva while sucrose doesn’t break down until it reaches our small intestine.
Sugary foods, even candy like Twizzlers, are advertised as “fat free”, which is a relic from the days when fat was believed to be bad for you. Many fats, like those in olive oil, salmon, tree nuts and avocado are extremely healthful.
Another example of tangential descriptions is when flour based snacks are promoted as “baked, not fried”. Flour is bad, no matter what you do with it and, in fact, the presence of fat slows down the blood glucose rise from highly processed carbohydrates.
Sooner, rather than later, we will be driving electric cars because of the environment. We use energy efficient light bulbs and recyclable packaging for the same reason. And there is a growing debate about the environmental impact of what kind of food we produce and consume. But I still don’t hear enough about the internal impact on our own bodies when we consider stewardship of natural resources.
Our bodies and our health are the most important resources we have, and yet the focus in our culture seems to be on our external environment.
Just like the consumption culture has ignored its effect on our planet in favor of customer convenience and business profits, it has ignored the effect it has had on the health of the human beings it set out to serve. And just as we now are fearing for the future of our planet, we ought to be more than a little bit concerned about the future of the human race.
But, just as we really can’t expect the corporate world to lead the environmental effort, unless we can engineer a way for them to see profit in doing that, we cannot expect it to lead any kind of effort to make the population healthier. That is something that has to start with the individual.
A doctor’s schedule as typical EMR templates see it only has “Visit Types”: New Patient, 15 minute, 30 minute. But as clinicians we like to know more than that.
One patient may have a brand new worrisome problem we must start evaluating from scratch, while another is just coming in for a quick recheck. Those are diametrically opposite tasks that require very different types of effort.
Some visits require that test results or consultant reports are available, or the whole visit would be a waste of time. How could you possibly plan your day or prioritize appointment requests without knowing more specifically why the patient needs to be seen?
So, as doctors, we usually want our daily schedules to have “Chief Complaints” in each appointment slot, like “3 month diabetes followup”, “knee pain” or “possible dementia”. That helps everybody in the office plan their day.
In a recent podcast about the future of telehealth, Lyle Berkowitz, MD, a technology consultant, entrepreneur, and professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, confidently predicted that, because of telehealth and clinical automation, “In 10-20 years, we won’t need primary care physicians [for routine care]. The remaining PCPs will specialize in caring for complicated patients. Other than that, if people need care, they’ll go to NPs or PAs or receive automated care with the help of AI.”
Berkowitz isn’t the first to make this kind of prediction. Back in 2013, when mobile health was just starting to take hold, a trio of experts from the Scripps Translational Science Institute—Eric Topol, MD, Steven R. Steinhubl, MD, and Evan D. Muse, MD—wrote a JAMA Commentary arguing that, because of mHealth, physicians would eventually see patients far less often for minor acute problems and follow-up visits than they did then.
Many acute conditions diagnosed and treated in ambulatory care offices, they argued, could be addressed through novel technologies. For example, otitis media might be diagnosed using a smartphone-based otoscope, and urinary tract infections might be assessed using at-home urinalysis. Remote monitoring with digital blood pressure cuffs could be used to improve blood pressure control, so that patients would only have to visit their physicians occasionally.
It’s the telehealth market reality check you’ve been waiting for! “Rogue” digital health consultant Dr. Lyle Berkowitz unpacks the numbers and the market potential for virtual care from the unique vantage point of a primary-care-physician-turned-health-tech-entrepreneur with nothing to lose. Having been 1) a clinician, 2) the Director of Innovation at Northwestern Medicine, 3) the founder of a health tech startup (Health Finch) that successfully exited to Health Catalyst, and 4) the former Chief Medical Officer at one of telemedicine’s biggest players, MDLive, few can boast such a wide-reaching, deep understanding of the inner workings of both the innovation and incumbent sides of the virtual care market — AND have a willingness to talk about it all with complete candor!
This is an analyst’s perspective on the telehealth market — with a twist of insider expertise — so expect to hear some good rationale behind predictions about how much care will remain virtual once hospitals and doctor’s offices return to normal, how “real” health system enthusiasm is for building out telehealth capacity to execute on the “digital front door” idea, and whether or not all these well-funded telehealth startups will have what it takes to win market share from traditional care providers.
BONUS on Primary Care: Is this the area of medicine that’s going to be the “battleground” where digital health and virtual care companies will be going head-to-head with incumbents for market share? Lyle says 50-plus percent of primary care “can and should be automated, delegated, virtualized, etc.” and boldly predicts that in 10-20 years we won’t even have primary care physicians anymore. Tune in to find out why starting at the 8:00 minute mark, where we shout out Crossover Health, Oak Street Health, Iora Health, and more.
Telehealth die-hards, don’t think for a second I’d miss this chance to also get some input on Teladoc-Livongo, Amwell, Doctor On Demand, SOC Telemed, the impending IPOs there, digital first health plans, virtual primary care, health systems (who Lyle hopes “don’t shoot themselves in the foot” with their opportunity to jump into the space) and, ultimately, who’s really going to ”WIN” in virtual care moving forward. For this, jump in at 17:00 minutes and hold on!
(This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)
Many other countries’ healthcare systems outperform ours for one simple reason: They place a much greater emphasis on primary care, which occupies the central place in their systems. “The evidence is that where you have more primary care physicians, where you coordinate care, and where you pay to keep people healthy, you get better outcomes at lower cost,” says David Nash, MD, founding dean of the College of Population Health, part of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
The evidence that Nash mentions includes studies by Barbara Starfield and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University. In a 2005 Health Affairs paper, they showed that a higher ratio of primary care physicians to the population is associated with a lower mortality rate from all causes and from heart disease and cancer; in contrast, having more specialists in a particular area does not decrease the overall mortality rate or deaths from cancer and heart disease.
Another study of Medicare data found that states where a higher percentage of physicians were PCPs had higher quality care and lower cost per beneficiary. This factor alone accounted for nearly half of the variation in Medicare spending from one state to another. A separate study found that in the areas of the country that had the most primary care providers, the average Medicare cost per beneficiary was a third lower than in areas with the least PCPs.
One reason for this is that primary care doctors provide comprehensive, continuous care, including preventive and routine chronic care. Chronic illnesses drive 90% of health costs, and some studies show that intensive primary care can reduce ER visits and hospital admissions and improve the health of chronically ill people.
Meaningful Use was a vision for EMRs that in many ways turned out to be a joke. Consider my list of Meaningful U’s for medical providers instead.
When electronic medical records became mandatory, Federal monies were showered over the companies that make them by way of inexperienced, ill-prepared practices rushing to pick their system before the looming deadline for the subsidies.
The Fed tried to impose some minimum standards for what EMRs should be able to do and for what practices needed to use them for.
The collection of requirements was called Meaningful Use, and by many of us nicknamed “Meaningless Use”. Well-meaning bureaucrats with little understanding of medical practice wildly overestimated what software vendors, many of them startups, could deliver to such a well established sector as healthcare.
For example, the Fed thought these startups could produce or incorporate high quality patient information that we could generate via the EMR, when we have all built our own repositories over many years of practice from Harvard, the Mayo Clinic and the like or purchased expensive subscriptions like Uptodate for. As I have described before, I would print the hokey EMR handouts for the Meaningful Use credit and throw them in the trash and give my patients the real stuff from Uptodate, for example.
I’d like to introduce an alternative set of standards, borrowing the hackneyed phrase, with a twist. MEANINGFUL U’S for medical providers:
He cancelled his followup appointment because he was feeling fine. He didn’t see the point in wasting a Saturday to come to my clinic when he had lawns to mow and chores to do.
Less than two weeks before that he was sitting on the exam table in my office, again and again nodding off, waking up surprised every time his wife prodded him. The stack of printouts from the emergency room illustrated all the normal testing they had done.
He had experienced a brief episode of numbness in the left side of his face and felt tired with just a slight headache. When I saw him the headache was a bit more severe in the back of his head and down the right side of his neck. But his neck wasn’t stiff.
His blood sugar was 87, normal for most people, but this man had a history of diabetes although his blood sugars had steadily improved over the past year. I told him to stop all his diabetic medications although I don’t think he took notice. His wife said she would make sure he stopped them.
Today on Health in 2 Point 00, it’s the 4th shoe! On Episode 135, we’ve got Amazon’s entry into primary care through its pilot program with Crossover Health, UnitedHealth Group launching Level2, their own digital health diabetes prevention program, Health Catalyst acquiring healthfinch, Truepill raising $25 million and then investing in Ahead, a company which matches psychiatrists to patients. —Matthew Holt
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has reported its biggest number of visitors in more than 2 ½ years. There’s a string of new Broadway musicals that are well-attended every night. It’s safe to shop in malls, eat out in restaurants and go to movie theaters again.
Of course, this has all been made possible by an effective vaccine against COVID-19 that was widely administered in the fall of 2021. Vaccinated citizens of the world are now confident that it’s safe to go out in public, albeit with appropriate precautions.
However, U.S. residents who have health problems are facing a new challenge. Five years ago, in 2017, the median wait time of new patients for doctor appointments was six days. In 2022, the wait time is six months or more.
The reason for this is no mystery. While life has started to return to what we think of as the new normal, the U.S. healthcare system has taken an enormous financial hit, and primary care practices have been especially affected. Many primary care physicians have closed their practices and have retired or gone on to other careers. Consequently, the shortage of primary care has been exacerbated, and access to doctors has plummeted. Urgent care centers, retail clinics and telehealth have not filled this gap.
Because of the long waiting times for primary care appointments, many more people now seek care in emergency departments (EDs). The waiting rooms of these EDs are overcrowded with people who have all types of complaints, including chronic and routine problems as well as emergencies. And this is not just a common sight in inner-city areas, as it once was; it’s now the same pretty much everywhere.