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Holiday Airline Troubles Are Reminiscent Of Health Care Experiences

One of the hot phrases in health care these days is “patient-centered,” as in “patient-centered hospitals,” “patient-centered practices,” and “patient-centered medicine.” For all of you out there working on creating such “patient-centered” systems, let me provide a bit of advice based on a recent experience my family and I had with Delta Airlines. For if you substitute the word “customer” for “patient,” you get what every business, whether in health care or not, should be focused on — the person receiving, nay, purchasing, their services. The ones you hope will return, again and again.

I’m actually writing this as I sit in the lobby of a hotel in Park City, Utah. It is a gorgeous day outside, crisp and cold, just perfect for the skiing my family had in mind when we booked this trip; it’s a short trip– just 3 days on the slopes before we head home — so every minute counts. Unfortunately, despite plenty of time sitting in airports yesterday (i.e., no tight connection), only 2 out of our 6 pieces of luggage made it here. Fortunately, one of those was the suitcase filled with skiing togs. Unfortunately, one of the missing pieces was my son’s new snowboard, also filled with all of his ski togs. So while my boys are out on the slopes (the snowboard kid wearing my ski clothes), I’m sitting in the lodge awaiting our luggage. It is nearly noon — half of the day gone, one-sixth, possibly one-third, of our vacation gone–and I have not yet set foot on the slopes. Sure, I could head over and buy all-new ski stuff. . . . but that isn’t the point.

The point is how this was handled. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Counter Point: Happy Birthday Health Reform

Who would have thought when we first looked upon you a year ago, barely formed, still somewhat embryonic, that you would have grown so much in just a year, and created so much, well, trouble? Yes, I’m talking about you, health reform. After all, aren’t you the reason for the sea change in Washington? Aren’t you behind several pending appeals that will get to the Supreme Court? Aren’t you the reason that the country is going to hell in a handbasket?

But wait. Let’s look at some other major milestones of the past year.

— You sent $250 checks to Medicare beneficiaries to help cover the “donut hole” in their drug coverage.
— You created special insurance pools designed to provide health care NOW to people with preexisting conditions who can’t get coverage.
— You allowed parents to keep their kids on their health insurance until the children turn 26, providing a major safety net.
— You did away with lifetime caps, enabling those with some serious medical conditions to continue receiving health insurance.

And that’s just in a year. Imagine what the next year and the year after that will bring. So I’ll say it again, Happy Birthday, Healthcare Reform. May you live to a ripe old age and only get better.

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Advice From The EMR Trenches

The latest from moi: “Implementing Electronic Medical Records: Advice from the Trenches” in the March/April 2011 issue of HIT Exchange magazine. An excerpt:

The news released in late December from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that more than half of the nation’s physicians are now using electronic medical records (EMR)—double the adoption rate of just five years ago—is surely worth celebrating. Until, that is, you take a look and realize that just a fourth of office-based physicians have access to a “basic” EMR system including patient history, demographics, problem lists, clinical notes, and computerized physician order entry (CPOE), while just one in 10 has a “fully functional” system, which also includes the communication system required for meaningful use, such as the ability to send tests and prescriptions electronically.

But the floodgates are about to open. In January, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began registering physicians and hospitals in 11 states for the EMR incentive program announced in 2009 as part of the federal stimulus package. Registration for California began in February, and the rest of the country should be up and running by the end of the year. Physicians could be eligible for up to $44,000 in bonuses over five years through Medicare and up to $63,750 over six years through Medicaid.

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

End-Of-Life Care: When Medicine Prolongs Dying, Not Living

The recent Washington Post article entitled, “Who decides when medicine prolongs dying, not living?” perfectly captures my earlier blog on why we’re afraid of death. An excerpt from the Post piece:

[There’s a] huge gap between Americans’ wishes about end-of-life care, as expressed in numerous public opinion polls, and what actually happens in too many instances–futile, expensive, often painful procedures performed on people too sick to leave the hospital alive–much less survive with a decent quality of life. Ninety percent of Americans say they want to die at home but only 20 percent do so. Half of Americans die in hospitals and another 25 percent in nursing homes, after a long period of suffering from chronic, incurable conditions that finally become untreatable. An astonishing one out of five die in intensive care units, often unconscious, isolated from loved ones and hooked up to machines that do nothing but prolong an inevitable death.

This happens partly because of the natural human tendency to procrastinate about addressing painful subjects with relatives and partly because doctors are often too pressed for time–and too uncomfortable with death and dying themselves–to respond when patients do bring up such issues. Just try to get a straight answer out of an oncologist, as an 89-year-old friend of mine did when her doctor advised another course of chemotherapy even though her cancer had metastasized to her brain. “Doctor,” she asked, “what chance is there that I’ll have a few months more of life that I can enjoy with my family?” He replied, “We can’t know these things.” She replied, “No, but we can use our common sense,” and declined further treatment. She died a month later in hospice, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What if she hadn’t been clear-minded enough to to speak for herself? What if her children, out of love, guilt or a combination of the two, had subjected her to treatment that she wouldn’t have wanted? That is what advance medical directives are intended to prevent. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Death: Why Are We So Afraid Of It?

My cousin’s mother-in-law is in her late 90s. She had horrible osteoporosis and can barely move. She has little cognitive function left. She requires nearly 24-hour care and no one would even attempt to say she has any quality of life left. She told her son years ago that she was “ready to go,” and had had enough.

And yet when I asked my cousin’s husband if his mother had any do-not-resuscitate orders, or had ever completed an advanced director  outlining her wishes of what kind of end-of-life care she wanted, he said no. His sister, he said, just wasn’t ready for that yet. So what, I asked, will you do when/if your mother gets pneumonia? Will you treat it with antibiotics? Will you put her on a respirator? If she is no longer able to eat, will you feed her through a tube?

He couldn’t answer. And he was clearly uncomfortable with the questions. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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