Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Obama Administration Wants Patients To Report Physicians To The Feds

In another example of government over-reach, the NYT describes how the Obama administration is enlisting the help of patients to report physicians (whom they believe may have made a medical error), directly to the federal government. While there are systems already in place for such reports at the local hospital level, apparently the “under reporting of medical errors” has triggered AHRQ to pilot a program in which questionnaires are sent to patients to ferret out potential examples of errors caused by the following:

* “A doctor, nurse or other health care provider did not communicate well with the patient or the patient’s family.”

* “A health care provider didn’t respect the patient’s race, language or culture.”

* “A health care provider didn’t seem to care about the patient.”

* “A health care provider was too busy.”

* “A health care provider didn’t spend enough time with the patient.”

* “Health care providers failed to work together.”

* “Health care providers were not aware of care received someplace else.”

So if a patient determines, for example, that a physician did not spend enough time with them, and they believe that resulted in a medical error (whatever that might be), they can/should report the physician to the federal government. Wow. One physician explains the potential hazards of such a process:

Dr. Kevin J. Bozic, the chairman of the Council on Research and Quality at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, said it was important to match the patients’ reports with information in medical records.

“Patients’ perceptions and experience of care are very important in assessing the overall success of medical treatments,” Dr. Bozic said. “However, patients may mischaracterize an outcome as an adverse event or complication because they lack specific medical knowledge.

“For instance, a patient may say, ‘I had an infection after surgery’ because the wound was red. But most red wounds are not infected. Or a patient says, ‘My hip dislocated’ because it made a popping sound. But that’s a normal sensation after hip replacement surgery.”

I believe that reporting medical errors is critical in the process of quality improvement, but that is most efficiently handled at the hospital level. There is no need to involve the federal government at the earliest stages of investigation, and the amount of bureaucracy required to support such an effort boggles the mind.

In the past when I encountered medical errors in the hospital setting, I found successful ways to report the incidents to the local administration. The result was a rapid correction of the problems and new processes put in place to ensure that it didn’t happen again. This is how medical errors should be reported and resolved. Soliciting patients for accounts of subtle lapses in social graces by their healthcare providers, and then reporting them to the government for it, is nothing short of Big-Brother creepy.

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute: Just Another AHRQ?

If you want to grow the expense of health care delivery in America very quickly, then create two government agencies to do the same job.

From the 28 September 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, we read about a small paragraph in our new health care law that created the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). From that same article, here’s the PCORI’s mission:

PCORI responds to a widespread concern (eds note: emphasis mine. Really? What about the internet?) that, in many cases, patients and their health care providers, families, and caregivers do not have the information they need to make choices aligned with their desired health outcomes.

PCORI funding is set at a total of $210 million for the first 3 years and increases to approximately $350 million in 2013 and $500 million annually from 2014 through 2019. With more than $3 billion to spend between now and the end of the decade, PCORI will support many studies encompassing a broad range of study designs and outcomes that are relevant to patients, aiming to assist people in making choices that are consistent with their values, preferences, and goals.

We should recall that Read more »

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

Administration Censors Statements On Controversial Scientific Issues

A New York Times Magazine story published on the newspaper’s website on Wednesday details the complicated history of screening for prostate cancer in the U.S. and revisits the related story of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force meeting that was abruptly cancelled for political reasons on November 1, 2010, the day before the midterm Congressional elections. I was interviewed several times for this story, starting shortly after my resignation from my position at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, where for 4 years I had supported the USPSTF’s scientific activities on a wide range of topics.

I commend science journalists Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer for their tireless reporting efforts and dogged persistence in pursuing the real reason for the meeting’s cancellation, despite repeated and vigorous denials of senior government officials. Former USPSTF Chairman Ned Calonge confirms in the Times story that politics played a role: “In November 2010, just before midterm elections, the task force was again set to review its [prostate screening] recommendation when Calonge canceled the meeting. He says that word leaked out that if the November meeting was held, it could jeopardize the task force’s financing.” It’s true that several members of Congress had threatened to cut off funding for the Task Force after it recommended against routine mammography for women in their 40s. To the best of my knowledge, however, the order to cancel the meeting came directly from the White House, not Congress. And according to my superiors at the time, Dr. Calonge had no choice in the matter. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*

AHRQ: Healthcare Access And Racial Disparities Not Improving

According to American Medical News, the U.S. health system is demonstrating better performance on most measures of health care quality, but it’s failing to improve access to care or cut racial and ethnic health disparities, according to two reports released in February by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  “Quality of care continues to improve, but at a slow rate,” said Ernest Moy, MD, leader of the team at AHRQ that produced the reports.  ”In contrast to that, focusing on issues of access to care, not much has changed.  Focusing on disparities in care, not much changed…Those are bigger problem areas than overall quality of care.”  Measures related to hospital quality are showing the most improvement.  For example, in 2005, just 42% of patients with heart attacks received angioplasties within the recommended 90 minutes of arriving at the hospital.  That figure improved to 81% by 2008.

While the quality improvement indicators are encouraging, the disappointing access and disparities numbers are not very surprising.

The US health care system is still largely focused on acute hospital based care.  It says we are doing better at what we are doing. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at CFAH PPF Blog*

AMIA: Why The “Hold Harmless” Clause In EMR Contracts Is Unethical

Last Friday the board of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) published a position paper in its journal saying that the “hold harmless” clause is unethical. One of the paper’s authors is Dr. Danny Sands, currently President of the Society for Participatory Medicine. I hope to write more about it this week, after attending the AMIA conference in DC, but here’s the basic issue:

– For ages, makers of electronic medical record systems (EMR) have insisted on a “hold harmless” clause in the contracts a system buyer must sign. It says, in essence, that if any harm comes to anyone because of a system problem, the buyer (the hospital) will hold the manufacturer harmless.

– In other words, if anything goes wrong with the system and someone gets hurt, it’s not the manufacturer’s fault. The reasoning has been: “Hey, you doctors are smart. If our system displays a wrong value, you’re supposed to notice it.”

I’m told this policy has been one big impediment to adoption of EMR systems, because it removes all motivation for vendors to fix things that make their product hard to use: If there’s a bug or the system slows someone down, and a patient gets hurt, the hospital gets sued, not the vendor.

If you were a hospital, wouldn’t that make you eager to buy? What would that do to your trust of the vendor? Patients, how do you feel about that? Providers? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »