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Voicemail, Repeat Requests and Multitasking: Inefficiencies in Today’s Healthcare

By HANS DUVEFELT

My nurse regularly gets at least 50 voicemails every day, many saying “please call me back”.

I have one patient who frequently tests the patience of our clinic staff by calling multiple times for the same thing. He is the most dramatic example of what seems to be a widely held belief that physicians, nurses and medical assistants sit at their desks and answer phone calls all or most of their time. But when we do, we are often hampered by busy signals, phone tag or “voice mail not set up”. Electronic messaging isn’t a panacea, because patients don’t necessarily know what we need to know in order to answer their questions correctly and efficiently at first contact.

Pharmacies, too, create duplicate requests that bog down our workdays. In my EMR, if an electronic refill request doesn’t get a response the day it comes in, the “system” sends a repeat request every day until it gets done. This is one reason I look like I am further behind on “tasks” than I really am. To top it off, every single refill request generated by the “system” comes with a red exclamation point next to it. This happens even when a patient has just picked up their last 90 day refill – a case where I theoretically should have 89 days to respond. Meanwhile, my system has no way of flagging truly urgent refill requests. This “alarm fatigue” is common in EMRs today.

The business model in today’s healthcare is that reimbursable activities (seeing patients in person or via telemedicine) are scheduled back to back, all day long. There is a universal assumption that this will still provide enough slack to deal with prescription refills, phone calls, incoming reports and the further ordering and feedback to patients prompted by them. And did I mention EMR documentation? Multitasking, or rather, constantly switching between different kinds of tasks, is not a sane or efficient way to work.

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Bias, Before First Breath

How structural racism and implicit bias impact America’s babies, even prior to birth

By ELLIE STANG

Becoming a new mother in America is more dangerous for some mothers than it should be. Each year, 700 women die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related causes in the United States, the highest number of any developed nation. 

Health inequities in America mean that overwhelmingly, Black women and their infants are the ones impacted: Black mothers are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy than white ones. These discrepancies are wide ranging: American Indian and Alaska Native women are also 2x more likely to experience an adverse outcome as compared to  their white counterparts. Too many of our mothers are dying of preventable causes. The CDC estimates that 70% of maternal deaths are avoidable – which helps underscore the urgent need to create tangible change. 

Recent forces have helped shine a long overdue spotlight on the Black maternal mortality crisis in America. In April, the Biden Administration released a proclamation during Black Maternal Health Week, and planned legislative changes to address implicit bias in healthcare and apply funding where it is truly needed. Congress is fielding the “Momnibus” bill, which would fund grassroots organizations at the community level, actively establish bias training programs, and fill gaps created by social determinants of health (SDOH). Late last year, the HHS released an action plan to reduce maternal mortality and adverse outcomes by 50% in five years.

It is heartening to see action finally being taken: our mothers deserve more. At the same time, while we champion standardized and equal access to care for all of our mothers, we cannot overlook the newest cry in the room: the infant’s. Even before drawing her first breath, a baby girl’s future will be irrevocably shaped by structural racism and socioeconomic factors way beyond her control. 

That’s why, to address health inequities, we must begin with our babies. Despite great advances in NICU technology and managed healthcare, infant mortality is on the rise – and it disproportionately affects Black babies. Today, black infants are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts

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Make Some Microbe Friends

By KIM BELLARD

It’s the coolest story I’ve seen in the past few days: The New York Times reported how an Italian  museum cleaned its priceless Michelangelo sculptures with an army of bacteria.  As Jason Horowitz wrote, “restorers and scientists quietly unleashed microbes with good taste and an enormous appetite on the marbles, intentionally turning the chapel into a bacterial smorgasbord.”

And you just want to kill them all with your hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps. 

The Medici Chapel in Florence had the good fortune to be blessed with an abundance of works by Michelangelo, but the bad fortune to have had centuries of various kinds of grime building up on them.  In particular, over time the corpse of one Medici “…seeped into Michelangelo’s marble, the chapel’s experts said, creating deep stains, button-shaped deformations…”

This is, I assume, why they tell you not to touch the art.

Scientists picked a bacteria — Serratia ficaria SH7, in case you’re taking notes – that ate the undesired grime without also eating the underlying marble.   It wasn’t hazardous to humans either and didn’t create spores that might go elsewhere.  “It’s better for our health,” one of the art restorers told NYT.  “For the environment, and the works of art.”

The technique was a success, allowing the sculptures to look like they did centuries ago. 

Using such bacteria to clean art has been around for at a decade, and not just for sculptures.  Perhaps more surprising is bacteria isn’t just cleaning art, it’s also creating it; the American Society for Microbiology hosts an annual Agar Art Contest

If you’re impressed by that, researchers are teaching bacteria to read, or at least to recognize letters.  That’s not all they might learn to do.  “For example, the framework and algorithm in our study can be used to facilitate the design of living therapeutics, such as targeted drug release systems based on engineered probiotic bacteria systems,” the researchers say.   

The thing is, we not only don’t know what microbes do, or could do, but we have only a vague understanding how they surround us.  That’s starting to change.  We’ve known for some time that each of us has a unique microbiome (including mycobiome!).  What we didn’t realize until recently was that each urban area has its own microbiome as well. 

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Matthew’s health care tidbits

Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet!–Matthew Holt

In this week’s health care tidbits, we’re discussing hedge funds. Not those small private equity funds that are defunding small safety net hospitals and being exposed by Propublica & PBS Frontline. (Did you catch #TCHBGangster Jeff Goldsmith on the latter?). No, I’m talking about big non-profit hedge funds that also provide some health care services. This week two of them reported results.

Famed regional hedge fund Mayo Clinic’s health services business reported $243m profit on $3.7bn revenue for Q1 2021. Not exactly Apple margins, but a respectable 6.5%. While catholic national hedge fund Ascension eeked a $700m profit on $20bn of revenue in the nine months June 2020 to March 2021. The good news is that Mayo has $15bn in its main trading account while in those nine months Ascension made $4.3 Billion on Wall Street bringing its balance to a healthy $25.6 Bn.

And if you were concerned that these hedge funds were in trouble because of the pandemic, well not only do they avoid property, income tax and more they also got plenty of help from the taxpayer. CMS prepaid $2billion of Medicare payments to Ascension; presumably they made a tad more playing the markets with that. Then there’s the non-refundable CARES Act grants. Yes Ascension has been paid $900m since June 2020 ($1.1billion in all) and Mayo received $356m, although they were nice enough to pay $138m back.

I’m sure those Americans who lost their jobs, their houses and waited for months for government help are glad that–despite the pandemic–these hedge funds weren’t having to dip into their main reserves to keep their health services subsidiaries going…..

Public Health Nurses Once Again Asking, “What Are They Thinking?”

Whitney Thurman
Karen Johnson

By KAREN JOHNSON and WHITNEY THURMAN

One recent Friday night, we huddled with our colleagues in the pouring rain at a movie theater parking lot– our cars packed with supplies for our mobile vaccine clinic— trying to find someone who wanted an extra dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before it expired. Five months ago, we would have been inundated with people desperate for that extra dose. But that has changed now that the most willing and able segments of the population have largely been vaccinated.

Amidst this backdrop of slowing vaccination rates in the U.S. and many miles to go before reaching all of those willing to be vaccinated, the CDC has released updated recommendations for mask wearing that we believe to be premature and contrary to the ethic and mindset of public health. Buoyed by mounting evidence supporting the effectiveness of vaccines, the CDC—  cheered by the Biden administration— gave fully vaccinated Americans the green light to ditch their masks. As fully vaccinated public health nurses who are as excited as anyone about the vaccines’ real-world effectiveness, we nonetheless find ourselves again asking: what are they thinking?

To be clear, we do not question the evidence showing that all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in the U.S. are safe and effective. We also crave good news, hope, and allowing the bottom half of our faces to see the light of day. We have also appreciated the Biden administration’s commitment to “following the [biomedical] science” in pandemic policymaking. Our concerns lie with the timing of the recommendation; the lack of regard for social science demonstrating the importance of public policy in influencing community norms and human behavior; and the blatant disregard for health equity. That the nation’s preeminent public health institution has fallen prey to the individualistic mindset that typifies American society, as CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated herself on Sunday regarding this “science-driven individual assessment” of risk, is frustrating, to say the least.

Currently, only one-third of the U.S. has been fully vaccinated. The news media has been full of accounts of many sub-groups who stubbornly defend their right to refuse a COVID vaccine, but the majority of those in the U.S. who remain unvaccinated belong to communities that have been unable to access a vaccine due to difficulty navigating online appointment scheduling, inability to take time off of work, poorly translated informational resources, or being ineligible due to age restrictions or other medical contraindications. Universal mask-wearing has been a critical stopgap measure to protect these at-risk populations until the majority of Americans are vaccinated. The CDC’s recommendation is therefore not only premature: it sends the message to individuals and other governmental entities alike that we don’t need to care about our neighbors.

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#Healthin2Point00, Episode 211 | Noom, Akili, Unmind, Eleanor Health & Clearing

Today on Health in 2 Point 00, Jess gives us a little tour of Chicago before we dive into some deals. Noom raises $540 million, bringing their total to $657 million with a $4 billion valuation. What are they going to do now with all this money? Digital therapeutics company Akili raises $160 million – maybe this will bring them out of ADHD. Unmind, a mental health company out of the UK, raises $47 million, Eleanor Health raises $20 million for their addiction-focused mental health clinic, and finally Clearing raises $20 million in a Series A tackling chronic pain. —Matthew Holt

Off Our Chests: No Secrets Left Behind

By CHADI NABHAN

She was a successful corporate lawyer turned professional volunteer and a housewife.

He was a charismatic, successful, and world-renowned researcher in gastrointestinal oncology. He was jealous of all breast cancer research funding and had declared that disease his nemesis.

They were married; life was becoming a routine, and borderline predictable. Both appeared to have lost some appreciation of each other and their sacrifices.

Then, she saw a lump, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not any breast cancer, but triple negative breast cancer. The kind that is aggressive and potentially lethal. The year was 2006, and their lives was about to change forever.

This is the story of Liza and John Marshall, who decided after 15 years of Liza’s diagnosis to disclose all, get all their secrets out in the open, and “off their chests”. They did so by writing a book that I read cover to cover and could not put down.

The authors decided to not only share their cancer journey as a patient and a caregiver, but also to share much of their personal and intimate details. They wanted us to know who they are as people, beyond patient and oncologist husband. We got to know how they met, when they met, and how they fell in love from the first sight. We got to know some corky personal details, and as a reader, I felt that I was part of their household. John shares how losing his mother at a young age to lymphoma affected him personally and professionally. We learn that they attend church every Sunday. Both are people of faith and they let us know how their faith helped them during these challenging times. Losing a dear friend to breast cancer took a toll and certainly made them less certain whether Liza’s fate would be any different.

They alternate writing chapters so that we get to know various events and stories from their sometimes-opposing points of view. We get to understand how a cancer diagnosis affects a caregiver, who happens to be a busy academic oncologist with little time to spare in between clinical practice and traveling for his work. At some point, John expresses resentment that all of the attention was being diverted towards his wife -the patient- and that he was left alone with few people caring how he felt and what struggles he was going through.

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Will Google Health Platformize the Electronic Health Record Market?

Geoffrey Parker
Edward G. Anderson
Vince Kuraitis

By VINCE KURAITIS, EDWARD G. ANDERSON, and GEOFFREY PARKER

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated calls for the development of EHR 2.0 (electronic health record 2.0) – the next generation of EHRs with extended platform features and capabilities.

Who will answer this call? While existing EHR vendors have made modest efforts, the door is open for big tech companies and start-ups to develop functionality to envelop and disintermediate current EHRs. We highlight early efforts by Google Health Care Studio, an initiative that has been underway for several years but was only formally named in February 2021. We view Care Studio as having the potential to bring platform functionality to a sector of the healthcare industry known for resistance to change and innovation.

We coin a new term – “EHR Envelopment” to describe novel EHR platform capabilities under development by third parties. By “envelopment,” we mean the entry by one platform provider into another provider’s market by adding functionality and exploiting overlapping user bases. New EHR capabilities threaten to dislodge existing EHRs, e.g. through 1) new user interfaces (UIs) that sit above the current EHR, and/or 2) a focus on new value created by integrating, analyzing, and presenting disparate sources of data.

Through the lens of platform strategy, we focus on the impact that EHR Envelopment initiatives could have on the market for electronic health records for large integrated delivery systems. This market has been dominated by a few vendors for decades, but EHR Envelopment projects have the potential to disrupt EHR market dynamics.

The remaining sections of this essay will address:

  • The Current EHR Market for Health Systems: Ossified
  • Google’s “Care Studio” — What is It?
  • Disrupting and Platformizing the EHR Market
  • Challenges for Google Health
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Teladoc Health’s Mental Health Move: Unite Best of Livongo, Virtual Care in myStrength Complete

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

The Teladoc Health-Livongo merger continues to expand Teladoc Health’s virtual care capabilities — this time in mental health. Dr. Julia Hoffman, Head of Mental Health Strategy for Teladoc Health, gives us the inside story on the launch of myStrength Complete, the souped-up, next-gen version of the digital mental health app that Livongo acquired in 2019 and integrated into its “AI-plus-AI whole person health” platform. So, what’s new now that all this is part of Teladoc? Think full-service mental health care, akin to what you might find in a digital mental health point solution, but with more providers… sitting on top of a gold-standard telehealth and remote monitoring infrastructure… and ready-to-move on an outsized opportunity for integration into Teladoc’s virtual primary care offering, Livongo for Diabetes, Livongo for Hypertension, and so on.

myStength Complete is now more than just a smart, cognitive behavioral therapy app; it’s the entry point into an entire mental health care continuum of services. Teladoc Health’s physicians stand ready for telehealth consults alongside a robust portfolio of coaching and self-service mental health care programs that are bolstered by the data-driven “health nudges” made famous by Livongo’s ever-improving AI-AI engine. Looking forward, the data integration strategy has a lot of potential to do a lot of good. Julia talks about how her team is already leveraging learnings from the Livongo products into a better intake process for members, helping them more quickly, easily, and accurately find the type of care they need. This is no small feat, especially when we find out that Teladoc Health consumer survey data shows that about 60% of people seeking mental health care say they have no idea where to start, or what their diagnosis would be. We get into all those survey findings (a little gold mine for those interested in consumer sentiment and digital mental health) and a full “under-the-hood” poking around of myStrength Complete in advance of its July roll-out to employers. This interview is one to watch now for the full details on how Teladoc Health is pushing further into virtual mental health care.

Holograms to the Rescue

By KIM BELLARD

Google is getting much (deserved) publicity for its Project Starline, announced at last week’s I/O conference.  Project Starline is a new 3D video chat capability that promises to make your Zoom experience seem even more tedious.  That’s great, but I’m expecting much more from holograms – or even better technologies.  Fortunately, there are several such candidates.

For anyone who has been excited about advances in telehealth, you haven’t seen anything yet.

If you missed Google’s announcement, Project Starline was described thusly:

Imagine looking through a sort of magic window, and through that window, you see another person, life-size and in three dimensions. You can talk naturally, gesture and make eye contact.

Google says: “We believe this is where person-to-person communication technology can and should go,” because: “The effect is the feeling of a person sitting just across from you, like they are right there.” 

Sounds pretty cool.  The thing, though, is that you’re still looking at the images through a screen.  Google can call it a “magic window” if it wants, but there’s still a screen between you and what you’re seeing.

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