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

Latest Posts

Healthcare Decision Making And Don Berwick’s “Leaders With Plans”

From a recent post of the Retired Doc’s Thoughts blog entitled “What Are the Plans Of Don Berwick’s ‘Leaders With Plans?’“:

“I wonder which is worse: A medical leader recommending price controls out of ignorance of basic economics or being aware of the likely outcomes and mak[ing] that recommendation anyway?”

Wow. I’m speechless. Thanks to Retired Doc for getting this out in a cogent summary.

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Improving Health Literacy By Healing The Doctor-Patient Relationship

When it comes to understanding medical information, even the most sophisticated patient may not be “smarter than a fifth grader.”

In one of the largest studies of the links between health literacy and poor health outcomes, involving 14,000 patients with type 2 diabetes, researchers at the University of California San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente found that more than half the patients reported problems learning about their condition and 40 percent needed help reading medical materials. The patients with limited health literacy were 30 to 40 percent more likely to experience hypoglycemia — dangerously low blood sugar that can be caused if medications are not taken as instructed — than those with an adequate understanding of medical information.

Now, federal and state officials are pushing public health professionals, doctors, and insurers to simplify the language they use to communicate with the public in patient handouts, medical forms, and health websites. More than two-thirds of the state Medicaid agencies call for health material to be written at a reading level between the fourth and sixth grades.

A new federal program called the Health Literacy Action Plan is promoting simplified language nationwide. And some health insurers, doctors’ practices, and hospitals have begun using specialized software that scans documents looking for hard-to-understand words and phrases and suggests plain-English replacements. Read more »

The Medicare Reform Act: Smoke And Mirrors For Patients And Physicians

An interesting debate occurred in the Washington Post between Michael Leavitt, former secretary of Health and Human Services and a member of the Medicare Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2009, and Dr. Don Berwick, the director of CMS.

Michael Leavitt wrote a scathing article criticizing President Obama’s Medicare Reform Act calling it an illusion. Don Berwick wrote a rebuttal to Michael Leavitt’s article.

Michael Leavitt starts off his article by stating: “Despite the report from Medicare’s trustees this month that the hospital insurance trust fund will not be depleted until 2029, 12 years later than was predicted just last year, Medicare is no better off than it was a year ago. “

The Medicare Trustees Report was strange. Nothing was done to change anything and all of a sudden, the hospital insurance fund was extended 12 years. I thought it was funny arithmetic.

Medicare Trustees is supposed to be an organization independent of the administration. Shortly afterward, Richard Foster, Chief Actuary for Medicare, who is independent of both the Medicare Trustees and the administration, wrote an “Alternative Report.” His report received little coverage in the traditional media. Read more »

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

The Gift Of Being A Doctor: “What Are You Going To Do With It?”

I’m going to do something unusual: Reprint in its entirety a commentary from a fourth-year medical student, Jonathan. He posted it in response to comments from other readers to my blog about Dr. Berwick’s commencement address to his daughter’s medical school class.

I tweeted about Jonathan’s post, calling it a needed voice of idealism at a cynical time. This is what Jonathan had to say to his physician colleagues:

“To begin, I am a fourth-year medical student going into primary care and this directly applies to me. We have two options when reading [Dr. Berwick's] address. We can take, in my opinion, the weak road or the strong road. Our new generation, as well as the one that raised us, is one of apathy and selfishness. We are only concerned about how changes affect us. We have lost the sacrifice and the consideration of our patients and fellow staff. This address, no matter how hard your heart may be, springs up a humanism in you that is undeniable. You can choose to brush it off and make excuses about policies and money, or you can stand up and be the physician that is described. I agree that there are a lot of issues in medicine today (billing, paperwork, bureaucracy to name only a few). However, if those issues render you cold and uncaring, my friend, I strongly suggest you find another profession. This profession is one of nobility. It is one of selfLESSness. This is a high calling. A good book states, ‘To whom much has been given; much will be expected.’ Well, if you are a physician, much has been given to you. What are you going to do with it?”

Today’s question: How would you answer Jonathan?

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

Public Service: Does Having An Opinion Disqualify You?

Many conservatives are up-in-arms about President Obama’s decision to appoint Don Berwick, a pediatrician and renowned expert in quality improvement and patient safety, to lead the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They object to Dr. Berwick’s views on a range of issues, and to Obama’s decision to use his office’s authority to appoint Dr. Berwick while the Senate was out on a short Independence Day holiday recess. As a “recess appointment,” Dr. Berwick was able to take office without Senate hearings and confirmation, but he can only serve through the end of the 111th Congress — that is, until the end of 2011 — unless ratified by the Senate.

Berwick, though, also has many supporters. Maggie Mahar articulates the “pro” viewpoint on Dr. Berwick’s appointment in a recent Health Beat post. She observes that two former CMS administrators who served in Republican administrations have commented positively about Dr. Berwick’s qualifications. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

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 »