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Integrating Major Health Systems Could Make Things Worse

Health reformers propose the proliferation of integrated health systems, like the Mayo Clinic or Kaiser Permanente, which, according to the Dartmouth Atlas, lead to better patient care and improved cost control.

To that end, accountable care organizations (ACOs) have been a major part of health reform, changing the way healthcare is delivered. Never mind that patients may not be receptive to the new model, but the creation of these large, integrated physician-hospital entities that progressive policy experts espouse comes with repercussions. Monopoly power.

To prepare for the new model of healthcare delivery, physician practices have been consolidating. In many cases, they’re being bought by hospitals. Last year, I wrote how this is leading to the death of the private practice physician.

But with consolidation comes a tilt in market power. Health insurers, desperate to control costs, are finding it more difficult to negotiate with hospital-physician practices that dominate a market. And patients are going to side with the hospital — insurers that leave out popular doctors and medical facilities face a backlash from patients. Witness the power that Partners Healthcare has in the Boston market that’s mostly driven by patient demand for big-reputation, high-cost Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

Why “The End Of Internal Medicine As We Know It” Might Be A Good Thing

A recent post on the Health Affairs blog proclaimed “The End of Internal Medicine As We Know It.” What the post is really asking about is the future of primary care in the world of healthcare reform and the creation of accountable care organizations (ACOs). While doctors should be naturally concerned about change, I don’t completely agree with this article.

ACOs are organizations that are integrated and accountable for the health and well-being of a patient and also have joint responsibilities on how to thoughtfully use a patient’s or employer’s health insurance premium, something that is sorely lacking in the current health care structure. These were recently created and defined in the healthcare reform bill.

Yet the author seems to suggest that this is a step backwards:

Modern industry abandoned command-and-control style vertical integration decades ago in favor of flatter, more nimble institutions.

Not true. Successful organizations are ones that are tightly integrated, like Apple, FedEx, Wal-Mart, and Disney.

The author talks briefly about how Europe in general does better than the U.S. in terms of outcomes and costs and has a decentralized system. All true. However, contrasting Europe and America isn’t relevant. After all, who isn’t still using the metric system? Therefore solutions found outside the U.S. probably aren’t applicable due to a variety of reasons. Americans like to do things our way.

What I do agree on is that doctors need to be part of the solution and ensure that the disasters of decades ago — like labeling primary care doctors (internists and family physicians) as “gatekeepers” rather than what we really do — never happen. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

First Report From The Society of Participatory Medicine’s Newly-Appointed Public Policy Committee Chair, David Harlow

In December, the Society for Participatory Medicine’s executive committee appointed health law attorney David Harlow to represent the Society in public policy matters. Regular readers of HealthBlawg::David Harlow’s Health Care Law Blog know what a patient-centered, participatory thinker David is. This is his first report.

David HarlowI am delighted to offer my first report as Public Policy Committee Chair for the Society of Participatory Medicine. I encourage all of you who are not yet Society members to join, and I encourage new and old members to consider volunteering to help with the wide range of public policy issues facing us today.

Over the past couple of months, the Public Policy Committee has gotten its sea legs. We are beginning to add the Society’s voice to the national discourse on patient engagement in a formal manner. As planning for health reform and related initiatives becomes more concrete, it is clear that patient engagement and patient-centeredness are key issues to be considered. For example, it was encouraging to hear Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Don Berwick speak about the “Triple Aim” at the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) workshop this fall, and explicitly link the achievement of the triple aim — better care for individuals, better health for populations, and reduced per-capita costs — to patient engagement and empowerment.

There will be many opportunities for the Society to engage with policymakers, payors and provider organizations as this work continues. CMS and its many related organizations, as well as many provider and private sector payor organizations recognize that without maintaining a focus on the patient at the core, health reform and related health IT initiatives cannot be successful. We’ve kicked things off on two fronts — ACOs and Stage 2 Meaningful Use rules. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at e-Patients.net*

The Musical Chairs Of Medical Speciality

The consolidation of physician specialty practices into larger corporate healthcare systems in urban areas is creating a new challenge for today’s doctors when the music stops: There might not be a chair available.

There are simply many fewer hospital systems in large urban areas than there are specialy practices, so the number of specialist positions a large healthcare system is willing to absorb might be limited. As doctors and hospital systems coalesce into as-yet-to-be-clearly-defined “accountable care organizations,” the cost of too many specialists in an organization is being carefully weighed. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

The New Healthcare Law: So Sad It’s Funny

Thanks to Scott Hensley over at Shots, NPR’s Health Blog, for highlighting this sad but funny video on where we’re going with healthcare. Scary what happens when theory meets reality:

-WesMusings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

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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

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