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(We Don’t) Trust The Science

By KIM BELLARD

I know the A.I. community is eagerly waiting for me to weigh in on the Sam Altman/OpenAI dramedy (🙄), but I’m not convinced this isn’t all a ploy by ChatGPT, so I’m staying away from it.  A.I. may, indeed, be an existential issue for our age, but it’s one of many such issues that I fear we’re not, as a society, going to be equipped to handle.

Last week the Pew Research Center issued an alarming report Americans’ Trust in Scientists, Positive Views of Science Continue to Decline. Now, a glass half-full kind of person might look at it and say – no, it’s good news!  Fifty-seven percent of Americans agree science has a mostly positive impact on society, and 73% have a great deal or a fair amount in confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interests.  For medical scientists it was 77%. Only the military (74%) also scored above 70%. That’s good news, right?

The glass half-empty person would point to the downward trend in just the past few years: at the beginning of the pandemic (April 2020) the respective percentages were 87% (scientists), 89% (Medical scientists), and 83% military.  The faith in them has continued to drop since.  Things are trending in the wrong direction, quickly.

If the glass was half full, it’s spilling now.

About a third (34%) of the public thinks that the impact of science on society has had an equally positive and negative impact, while 8% think science has had a mostly negative impact. Again, the trend has been negative since the pandemic; the 57% who think science has a positive impact was 73% in January 2019. That’s alarming.

The skepticism about scientists and the value of science has increased generally but is more pronounced among Republicans and those without a college degree.  E.g., only 61% of Republicans have a fair/great amount of confidence in scientists, versus 85% in April 2020 and versus 86% of Democrats now.  Fewer than half (47%) of Republicans think science has had a mostly positive impact on society, versus 70% on January 2019.

In the supposed most developed country in the world, 39% of Americans think the U.S. is losing ground in science achievement versus the rest of the world, and only 52% even agree it is important for the U.S. to be a world leader in scientific achievements.  10% didn’t think it was important at all. Young people, surprisingly, were most skeptical.

I wonder what they do think it is important for us to be the world leader in.

The problem may be that a third thought developments in science were changing society too quickly (43% among Republicans).  They want their new iPhones, they like fast internet speeds, they demand the latest treatments when they get sick, but somehow they don’t connect those to science.

I think about this when I read about the Texas board of education fighting about how science is taught in Texas schools.

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TOMORROW: ZS Impact Webinar on Digital Health

Join ZS’s Ahmed Albaiti with me, Matthew Holt, author and founder of The Health Care Blog, as we discuss the considerations and approaches that policy experts, regulators, clinical leaders and the venture capitalist community can take to affect a future for connected health technologies.

Date: Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Time: 12:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

Duration: 30 minutes

Register here

Orange, Green, and Red – The Colors of Tribalism

BY MIKE MAGEE

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, let’s give thanks for the study of history, in part because it reminds us that Trumpian words like “vermin” have been used before and serve to alert the human race that we have entered danger zone

One President who understood the power of words more than many others was FDR. When he structured up “a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms and regulations…to provide support for farmers, the unemployed, youth and the elderly”, he memorably packaged the plan under the label, The New Deal.”

Seizing alliteration in 1933, he further defined his new policies as the 3 Rs – Relief, Recovery, Reform”, promising “…action, and action now.”

When his enemies began to coalesce against him in 1936, he chose his words carefully in the public defense. Seizing the largest venue he could find at the time –Madison Square Garden – he stood tall and erect, supported by heavy leg braces, and declared defiantly, They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

With a heavy dose of humility and learned wisdom, he rose again eight years later, on January 11, 1944, fifteen months before his death, and delivered the State of the Union Address as a Fireside Chat from the Oval Office in the White House. 

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Paul Jaglowski, Feedtrail

Feedtrail is one of a new breed of customer experience companies. Most health care experiences are captured in paper surveys that end up in H-CAPS and Star ratings. These are very important for how providers and plans get paid but probably don’t actually reflect what happens very well and give very poor feedback to organizations and staff about what’s actually going on. They also don’t give a chance for patients to directly give positive feedback to staff who do a great job–which likely helps them feel good about their work. Feedtrail is working to fix all that. I got a full demo and explanation from founding CEO and chief strategy officer Paul Jaglowski–Matthew Holt

Pin Me, Please

By KIM BELLARD

You had to know I’d write about the new Humane AI Pin, right?

After all, I’d been pleading for the next big thing to take the place of the smartphone, as recently as last month and as long ago as six years, so when a start-up like Humane suggests it is going to do just that, it has my attention.  Even more intriguing, it is billed as an AI device, redefining “how we interact with AI.”  It’s like catnip for me.

For anyone who has missed the hype – and there has been a lot of hype, for several months now – Humane is a Silicon Valley start-up founded by two former Apple employees, Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno (who are married).  They left Apple in 2016, had the idea for the AI Pin by 2018, and are ready to launch the actual device early next year.  It is intended to be worn as a pin on the lapel, starts at $699, and requires a monthly $24 subscription (which includes wireless connectivity).  Orders start November 16.

Partners include OpenAI, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Tidal, and Qualcomm.

Mr. Chaudhri told The New York Times that artificial intelligence  “can create an experience that allows the computer to essentially take a back seat.” He also told TechCrunch that the AI Pin represented “a new way of thinking, a new sense of opportunity,” and that it would “productize AI” (hmm, what are all those other people in AI doing?).  

Humane’s press release elaborates:

Ai Pin redefines how we interact with AI. Speak to it naturally, use the intuitive touchpad, hold up objects, use gestures, or interact via the pioneering Laser Ink Display projected onto your palm. The unique, screenless user interface is designed to blend into the background, while bringing the power of AI to you in multi-modal and seamless ways.

Basically, you wear a pin that is connected with an AI, which – upon request – will listen and respond to your requests. It can respond verbally, or it can project a laser display into the palm of your hand, which you can control with a variety of gestures that I am probably too old to learn but which younger people will no doubt pick up quickly.  It can take photos or videos, which the laser display apparently does not, at this point, do a great job projecting. 

Here’s Humane’s introductory video:

Some cool features worth noting:

  • It can summarize your messages/emails;
  • It can make phone calls or send messages;
  • It can search the web for you to answer questions/find information;
  • It can act as a translator;
  • It has trust features that include not always listening and a “Trust Light” that indicates when it is.
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TikTok on the Gender Gap

By MIKE MAGEE

The juxta-positioning of Tuesday’s New York Times headlines was disturbing. The first “Why Does This Bride Look So Mad?”, was followed by “An ‘Unsettling’ Drop in Life Expectancy in Men.”

The “reluctant bride” referred to in the first article is (by now) an estimated 175 years old intended bride was 18 in the painting. The painting itself was the work of artist, Auguste Toulmouche, in 1866. The original title was “The Hesitant Fiancee. Its current fame has a much shorter timeline – 2 weeks to be exact. That’s when it began to appear on TikTok, hosted as a statement of disgust an outrage by mostly young females in opposition to “sexist scolding.”

The painting displays a soon-to-be bride, attended by three friends, all well appointed in opulent dress, with obvious emotional distress. The bride’s face is frozen somewhere between disgust and outrage. Two supplicants are attempting to calm her, with limited success, by hand-holding and kisses on the forehead. The third is distracted, examine her own image in a mirror.

Temple University Art Professor, Theresa Dolan, offered this description to The New York Times Style and Pop Culture reporter Callie Holtermann: “You don’t often get this in 19th-century painting — this kind of independent streak. She’s actually showing the emotion of not wanting to get married to the person that her obviously wealthy family has picked out. What Toulmouche does so successfully is get into the psyche of the woman.”

Since its recent appearance on social media, modern women have been setting the image to music (“a dramatic section of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem”) and adding their own captions, including: “Literally me when I’m right,” “You’re overreacting,” “You should smile more,” “Ugh, do I really have to go through with this,” “Don’t be mean,” and “Mean wasn’t even in the room with us but I can go get him and bring him in.”

Turning the page, the second article feels somehow connected to the first, and not in a good way. It’s written by the Times Sex, Gender, and Science reporter Azeen Ghorayshi, and begins with, “The gap in life expectancy between men and women in the United States grew to its widest in nearly 30 years, driven mainly by more men dying of Covid and drug overdoses, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.”

The facts are clear: Life expectancy of men at birth is now approximately six years less than women.

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Turnarounds are Talent Magnets: University of Chicago Medical Center

By JEFF GOLDSMITH

Like birds of a feather, talent in healthcare management often gathers in flocks. The University of Minnesota, University of Michigan and University of Iowa healthcare management programs are all justly famous for graduating, over many decades, an exceptional number of future transformative healthcare leaders. But sometimes, talent comes from the “street”- challenging healthcare turnarounds that attract risk-taking leaders who, in turn, gather young talent around them. The University of Chicago’s urban academic health center has been one of these places.

The U of C was (and remains) the largest care provider on Chicago’s troubled South Side, a vast urban landscape that struggled economically and socially for more than seventy years with intractable poverty and violence. Like other major teaching hospitals in challenging neighborhoods–the Bronx’s Montefiore and Harlem’s Columbia-Presbyterian come to mind–all the management challenges of running complex academic health center are magnified by coping with huge flows of Medicaid and uninsured urban poor. 

In 1973, President Edward Levi appointed Daniel Tosteson, who was then Chair of Pharmacology and Physiological Sciences at Duke University, to be Dean of the Pritzker School of Medicine and Vice President for the University of Chicago’s troubled Medical Center. Tosteson was a charismatic basic scientist with no prior experience running a 700-bed urban teaching hospital.  He arrived in the middle of a severe Illinois’ fiscal crisis, and a horrendous Medicaid funding challenge (31% of the Chicago’s patients were Medicaid recipients). Chicago’s clinical chairs who led the recruitment of Tosteson also played a crucial role in the subsequent turnaround–notably Dr David Skinner, Chair of Surgery and Dr. Al Tarlov, Chair of Medicine, and Dr. Daniel X Freedman, Chair of Psychiatry. 

To renew the Medical Center, Tosteson recruited an experienced clinical manager, Dr. Henry Russe from competitor Rush Presbyterian St-Lukes, as his Chief Clinician. But Tosteson went off the reservation and hired a 34 year old economist named David Bray, who was Executive Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (responsible for the national security and intelligence agencies) as his Chief Financial Officer. He also named John Piva, formerly of Johns Hopkins,  his Chief Development Officer. To revitalize Chicago’s principal affiliate, Michael Reese Hospital, he recruited as its President, Dr. J. Robert Buchanan, then Dean of Cornell Medical College.  And he recruited me, at age 27, from the Illinois Governor’s Office, as his government affairs lead and special assistant.   

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The Voice of Democracy is Young and Female

By MIKE MAGEE

“Don’t call me a saint,” said founder of the early 1930’s Catholic Workers Movement, Dorothy Day. “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” Oddly enough, says Jesuit writer, James Martin, “That quote is probably the biggest obstacle to her canonization…Given that quote, would Dorothy really want to be canonized?”

This week’s election results were a sliver of bright light in what has been a rather dark period. But it is at times like this that quiet heroes emerge. If courage has a face, this morning, as results across the land show a sweeping victory for Democrats, and specifically those advancing the cause of women’s autonomy in managing their own health decisions with their doctors, it belongs to a young woman from Kentucky named Hadley.

In the final weeks of the Kentucky governor’s race, as Politico reported, Andy Beshear gave voice to the woman who directly addressed his opponent on camera.  “Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes. This is to you, Daniel Cameron. To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable.”

Absorbing the results of the elections with the rest of us are Governor Chris Christie, Governor Ron DeSantis, Ambassador Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Senator Tim Scott who took the stage last Wednesday evening in Miami at the 3rd Republican Primary Debate. No doubt they are surrounded by consultants trying to figure out how best to spin this issue. As Dobbs has played out in states like Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin and beyond, political scientists are likely reminding that in politics, “Sometimes when you win, you lose.”

Court packing on a federal level, and even more importantly by Republican leaders on the state level, has tipped the power of our nation toward minority rule, allowing repugnant leaders to seize control of our legal system. That power has been used over the past decade to allow passage of laws that attack existing rights such as women’s power and autonomy over their own bodies, or construct barriers that obstruct the popular will of the people.  Examples include promoting  extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression, dead ending the Dream Act, or allowing citizen access to weapons of war and a permitless gun-carry law in Florida.

Understandably, citizens have wondered, “Will our Democracy die.” Hadley’s courageous decision reflects a stubborn and determined stance, by she and many others throughout this land, to assure the answer is, “No. Not on my watch!”

Her image and words will be lasting for three major reasons. They prove that:

  1. A healthy democracy requires participation and engagement of citizens.
  2. Freedom and autonomy, including access to health professionals, is sacred and personal.
  3. Women will not accept second class citizenship.

Trump no doubt remains unaware that he has lost everything. Many of his most ardent supporters, including Leonard Leo, the mastermind behind the court packing scheme that brought us the Dobbs decision, remain firmly in a state of denial. But even they must admit this morning, as they stare into Hadley’s eyes, and listen to her steady voice, they have met their match. And she is a young woman who’s message is clear, “Enough is enough!”

Likely channeling another woman’s spirit from a century ago, Hadley’s courage (listen here) was more human than super-human. As Dorothy Day quietly proclaimed, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”

Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and regular contributor to THCB. He is the author of CODE BLUE: Inside America’s Medical Industrial Complex.

Will the AMA Support A Move Toward Single Payer Health Care?

By MIKE MAGEE

The Politico headline in 2019 declared dramatically, “The Most Powerful Activist in America is Dying.” This week, 4 1/2 years later, their prophecy came true, as activist Ady Barkan succumbed at age 39 to ALS leaving behind his vibrant wife, English professor, Rachael King, and two small children, Carl,7, and Willow,3.

His journey, as one of the nation’s leading activists for a single-payer health care system began, not coincidentally, began with his diagnosis of A.L.S. in 2016, 4 months after the birth of his first child. His speech at the Democratic National Convention fully exposed his condition to a national audience.

His mechanized words that day were direct, “Hello, America. My name is Ady Barkan, and I am speaking to you through this computer voice because I have been paralyzed by a mysterious illness called A.L.S. Like so many of you, I have experienced the ways our health care system is fundamentally broken: enormous costs, denied claims, dehumanizing treatment when we are most in need.”

Three years later, with remarkable self-awareness, he told New York Times reporter, Tim Arango,  “That’s the paradox of my situation. As my voice has gotten weaker, more people have heard my message. As I lost the ability to walk, more people have followed in my footsteps.”

His was a shared sacrifice, laced with stubborn and very public persistence, under the banner, “Be A Hero.” His passage on November 1, 2023, was bracketed that day by a piece by veteran Healthy Policy guru, and columnist for KFF Health News, Julie Rovner, that certainly would have made Ady smile. In the Washington Post newsletter, Health 202, it read, “The AMA flirts with a big change: Embracing single payer health care.” 

The commentary that follows includes this, “That leftward shift in political outlook is showing up not just in the AMA, but in medicine as a whole. As the physician population has become younger, more female and less White, doctors (and other college graduates in medicine) have moved from being a reliable Republican constituency to a more reliable Democratic one.”

Ironically, the AMA’s lead journal JAMA last week reinforced the need for simplification with an article by luminary KFF health policy pros, Larry Levitt and Drew Altman, titled “Complexity in the US Health Care System Is the Enemy of Access and Affordability.” They write, “Health care simplification does not necessarily resonate in the same way as rallying cries for universal coverage or lower health care prices, but simplifying the system would address a problem that is frustrating for patients and is a barrier to accessible and affordable care.”

My friend and colleague at THCB, Kim Bellard took off on the article, writing, “Health insurance is the target in this case, and it is a fair target, but I’d argue that you could pick almost any part of the healthcare system with similar results. Our healthcare system is perfect example of a Rube Goldberg machine, which Merriam Webster defines as ‘accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.’ Boy howdy.”

A bit further on, Kim comments, “If we had a magic wand, we could remake our healthcare system into something much simpler, much more effective, and much less expensive. Unfortunately, we not only don’t have such a magic wand, we don’t even agree on what that system should look like. We’ve gotten so used to the complex that we can no longer see the simple.”

As Kim suggests, status quo is hard to crack. But change has been in the air for some time. A KFF supported 2017 survey of 1,033 US physicians by Merritt Hawkins revealed a plurality of physicians favored moving on to a single payer system. Why? The survey suggested four factors:

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About That New Generation of Clinicians

By KIM BELLARD

I saw a report last week – Clinician of the Future 2023 Education Edition, from Elsevier Healththat had some startling findings, and which didn’t seem to garner the kind of coverage I might have expected.  Aside from Elsevier’s press release and an article in The Hill, I didn’t see anything about it.  It’s worth a deeper look.

The key finding is that, although 89% say they are devoted to improving patients’ lives, the majority are planning careers outside patient care.  Most intend to say in healthcare, mind you; they just don’t see themselves staying in direct patient care.

We should be asking ourselves what that tells us.

The report was based on a survey of over 2,000 medical and nursing students, from 91 countries, as well as two roundtable sessions with opinion leaders and faculty in the United States and United Kingdom.  Since I’m in the U.S. and think most about U.S. healthcare, I’ll focus mostly on those respondents, except when they’re not split out or where the U.S. responses are notably different.

Overall, 16% of respondents said they are considering quitting their medical/nursing studies (12% medical, 21% nursing), but the results are much worse in the U.S, especially for medical students – 25% (nursing students are still 21%).  That figure is higher than anywhere else. Globally, a third of those who are considering leaving are planning to leave healthcare overall; it’s closer to 50% in the U.S.

Tate Erlinger, vice president of clinical analytics at Elsevier, noted: “There were several things [that] sort of floated to the top at least that caught my attention. One was sort of the cost, and that’s not limited to the U.S., but the U.S. students are more likely to be worried about the cost of their studies.”  Overall, 68% were worried about the cost of their education, but the figure is 76% among U.S. medical students (and for UK medical students).  

Having debt from their education is a factor, as almost two-thirds of nursing students and just over half of medical students are worried about their future income as clinicians, with U.S. medical students the least worried (47%).

It’s worth noting that 60% are already worried about their mental health, and the future is daunting: 62% see a shortage of doctors within ten years and 64% see a shortage of nurses. Globally, 69% of students (65% medical, 72% nursing) are worried about clinician shortages and the impact it will have on them as clinicians.

Where it gets really interesting is when asked: “I see my current studies as a stepping-stone towards a broader career in healthcare that will not involve directly treating patients.” Fifty-eight percent (58%) agreed (54% medical, 62% nursing). Every region was over 50%. In the U.S., the answer was even higher – 61% overall (63% medical, 60% nursing).

Dr. Sanjay Desai, one of the U.S. roundtable panelists, said: “I know this might evolve as they go through their education, but 6 out of 10 in school, when we hope that they’re most excited about that career, are looking at it with skepticism. That is surprising to me.” 

Me too.

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