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Review Of 2011 Predictions In The World Of Health Care

How Did My 2011 Predictions Turn Out?

Pretty well, actually.

As predicted last December, there was no big change to health care reform, doctors still didn’t have enough time with their patients, Microsoft (disclosure: Microsoft is a Best Doctors client) made moves to create a “Windows” for electronic health records, and “ACO” became the hot buzzword in health care.  Some state governments started major redesigns of their benefits programs, saving money in the same ways private sector employers do.  Meanwhile, more than ever, private sector employers are penalizing employees who don’t take care of themselves.

Misdiagnosis finally started to be recognized as a public health problem.  At Best Doctors we got a great deal of press coverage in 2011 on this (for a few examples, go here, here, here, here and here).  I will sneak in a 2012 prediction and tell you that you will hear a lot more about this this year, and not just from us.

What did I get wrong?

Well, I said no major employer would drop their health benefits – and none did, so I didn’t really get this wrong.  But I was surprised to hear some very major employers quietly talking about their plans for dropping coverage in 2014.  It’s a bad idea – and I would have thought its badness would have been enough to keep it off the table.  For some employers, apparently not.

I also can’t point you to signs that the health insurance system is starting to take on the bad aspects of the workers compensation system.  Instead, many of the Fortune 100 employers we work with are trying to make their benefits plans simpler and easier to use.  I’m glad to be wrong about that so far.

Here are the two biggest misses.

First, I predicted a doctor would get sued for offering medical advice to a patient on line.  It didn’t happen in 2011.  Interestingly, there was (finally) a lawsuit claiming gag orders on posting reviews of medical providers on-line were unenforceable, something I thought would have happened a long time ago.

Second, I thought that health care reform would be more popular at the end of 2011 than it was at the beginning.  According to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll for December 2011, in January, 41% of Americans had a “favorable” opinion of health care reform.  In December?  Forty-one percent.  A better prediction would have been that no one’s minds would be changed….

For my 11 predictions for 2011, I got 8 right.  Not bad, but I have to do better in 2012.

So, for 2012, I will make only one prediction – the world won’t end on December 21, 2012.

I feel good about this one- I’m wrong, no one will be here to see.

*This blog post was originally published at BestDoctors.com: See First Blog*


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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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