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Podcast With Regina Herzlinger: No Single Organization Can Effectively And Efficiently Manage Healthcare For A Population Of Patients

I spoke with Harvard Business School professor Regina Herzlinger this week about health reform – the good, the bad and the ugly – touching on ACOs and demonstration projects under the Affordable Care Act; innovations coming down the pike in the private sector either because of the law or because of market forces; social media in health care; and two key fixes to the ACA that she believes are absolutely necessary in order to make it work, or work as best it can.

First of all, she expressed her delight at the passage of a federal law nudging us ever closer to universal coverage, combined with dismay at its failure to address rising costs (noting that we’re looking at policies yielding an accumulated Medicare deficit of $90 trillion, as compared to an annual GDP of $12-14 trillion) and at the paltry fines to be leveled at noncompliant employers that do not offer health insurance as required. As rational actors, she expects that more and more employers will simply opt out of the health care insurance market one way or another: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

Economic Incentives Motivate: What We Can Learn From The Rand Health Insurance Experiment

The use of economic incentives to motivate behavior is neither a Democratic or Republican idea. It is human nature to be motivated by economic incentives. The concept of individual responsibility is an American idea. It has been tarnished in recent years.

There is no question in my mind that government has the responsibility to be compassionate and help the needy. It is my view that government should help individuals help themselves.

The costs associated with Medicare and traditional healthcare insurance are rising. Every stakeholder points a finger at the other stakeholders as the cause.

President Obama’s Healthcare Reform Act is raising costs higher in anticipation of cuts in the future. He is in the process of forcing individuals to be more dependent on the government rather than promoting individual responsibility.

Obamacare will fail to control costs.

All anyone has to do is look at a Rand Corp. study of 29 years ago to see what works and what doesn’t work. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Will Our Healthcare System End Up Looking Like An Apple Or Android Product?

The future direction of American health care is unclear.  Certainly the cost trend as it exists is unsustainable with health care costs being a major concern of the private sector, the government, and individuals.  How does the nation manage costs while ensuring high quality medical care, access, and service?  Proposals include increasing competition among insurers, providers, and hospitals to drive down prices or giving more financial responsibility to patients via higher deductibles and co-pays with the belief that they will demand price transparency, shop around for the best price, and as a result slow health care costs.

What if both ideas are wrong?

While it is possible these plans might work, I cannot help but notice the similarities in the challenges for patients in navigating the health care system and consumers figuring out how to purchase and use technology.  Walk into your neighborhood electronics store.   Individuals are overwhelmed with the number of product choices, manufacturers, differences in technical specifications and features.  In the majority of situations, consumers are unsure of what they are purchasing.  They want something that just works, whether surfing the internet, making home movies, or being connected with loved ones.  The gap in knowledge between an expert and a consumer is great and often unintentional and unapparent. Read more »

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

Consumer-Driven Healthcare: Why It Will Fail

With the creation of consumer-driven health plans and health insurance policies with high deductibles linked to a savings option, more financial responsibility shouldered by patients and employees and less by employers was completely inevitable. The American public likes to have everything, whether consumer electronics or other services, as cheap as possible. With escalating healthcare expenses rising far more rapidly than wages or inflation, it’s not surprising employers needed a way to manage this increasingly-costly business expense.

In the past, companies faced a similar dilemma. It wasn’t about medical costs, but managing increasingly expensive retirement and pension plan obligations. Years ago, companies moved from these defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans like 401(k)s. After all, much like healthcare, the reasoning by many was that employees were best able to manage retirement planning because they would have far more financial incentive, responsibility, and self-motivation to make the right choices to ensure a successful outcome.   

How did that assumption turn out anyway? Disastrous, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Retiring Boomers Find 401(k) Plans Fall Short.” An excerpt:

The median household headed by a person aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has less than one-quarter of what is needed in that account to maintain its standard of living in retirement, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve and analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College for The Wall Street Journal. Even counting Social Security and any pensions or other savings, most 401(k) participants appear to have insufficient savings. Data from other sources also show big gaps between savings and what people need, and the financial crisis has made things worse.

In others words, a lot of people don’t have enough money to retire. The options they have are simply “postponing retirement, moving to cheaper housing, buying less-expensive food, cutting back on travel, taking bigger risks with their investments, and making other sacrifices they never imagined…In general, people facing problems today got too little advice, or bad advice.” Read more »

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

Patient Empowerment: Is It What Americans Really Want?

Empowered patient. Consumer driven healthcare. Transparency. Access to their full medical records online. Review the latest news and you’ll discover more books and articles recommending patients be advocates for themselves. The pitch? The only way to get the best care is to be thorough, informed, and always asking questions.

This perspective is understandable because advocates have observed a healthcare system that provides inconsistent quality, too many preventable medical errors, and overtreatment resulting in unnecessary injuries and deaths. Even I’ve written a book saying the same thing, and I hate to write. 

The public is urged to take charge of their health and their healthcare. When they have a problem, ask the doctor questions. Do research. If they need a procedure, shop around to get the best deal. Adopt good habits. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Stop smoking. Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise regularly. These will improve health and be less costly in the long run.  

But is this what Americans really want? Do they want to be empowered patients? Can they be empowered patients? Frankly, no. Read more »

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

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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Latest Cartoon

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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Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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Latest Book Reviews

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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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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