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Aggressive Care: When Is It Better For Patients?

The recurring narrative among health reformers is that hospitals that provide more care raise health costs, but don’t necessarily improve quality. This has lead to a backlash against so-called “aggressive” hospitals and doctors, with upcoming financial penalties to match. But the situation, as always, appears to be more nuanced than that.

In her column in the New York Times, Dr. Pauline Chen looks at one subset of patients who actually may benefit from aggressive care: Those who suffer surgical complications. The study,

found no difference in the rate of complications for aggressive and nonaggressive hospitals. But when they looked at all the patients who had complications and examined their outcomes, the researchers found that regardless of the urgency of their operations, those patients who were cared for at more aggressive hospitals were significantly more likely to survive their complications than those who had their operations at less aggressive hospitals.

In addition, the investigators found that characteristics associated with intensity of care treated surgical complications better:

… a hospital’s failure or success in treating surgical complications correlated consistently with factors that also characterized intensity of care — general expenditures, intensive care unit use and the total days of hospitalization — they found that benefits of this more aggressive care extended well beyond the time of the operation.

I constantly remind readers of this blog that more medicine isn’t necessarily better. The counter-intuitive findings from the Dartmouth Atlas study have been instructive in convincing patients that they are, in many cases, overtreated. Read more »

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

When Money Isn’t Everything To Doctors

I recently pointed to a BMJ study concluding that pay for performance doesn’t seem to motivate doctors. It has been picking up steam in major media with TIME, for instance, saying: “Money isn’t everything, even to doctors.”

So much is riding on the concept of pay for performance, that it’s hard to fathom what other options there are should it fail. And there’s mounting evidence that it will.

Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician at the University of Indiana, and regular contributor to KevinMD.com, ponders the options. First he comments on why the performance incentives in the NHS failed:

Perhaps the doctors were already improving without the program. If that’s the case, though, then you don’t need economic incentives. It’s possible the incentives were too low. But I don’t think many will propose more than a 25 percent bonus. It’s also possible that the benchmarks which define success were too low and therefore didn’t improve outcomes. There’s no scientific reason to think that the recommendations weren’t appropriate, however. More likely, it’s what I’ve said before. Changing physician behavior is hard.

So if money can’t motivate doctors, what’s next? Physicians aren’t going to like what Dr. Carroll has to say. Read more »

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

2011: The New Year Begins With A (Baby) Boom

On January 1, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling became the first of the baby-boom generation to qualify for Medicare. She’s hardly alone: The baby-boom generation will cause enrollment in Medicare to soar. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare enrollment will increase from 47 million today to 64 million in 2020 to 80 million people by 2030. At the same time, the ratio of workers paying into the program to support each Medicare enrollee will drop from 3.4 (2010) to 2.8 (2020) and then to 2.3 workers per beneficiary in 2030, denying the program the tax revenue needed to sustain it.

What happens then? Well, the President and Congress would have a dismal menu of political and policy choices. They could impose huge tax increases, inflicting great harm on working families and the economy, and they probably couldn’t raise enough money anyway from taxes without other changes in the program.

They could slash benefits for everyone enrolled in Medicare, impose means-testing so only low-income elderly would qualify, increase beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket contributions, limit access to beneficial services (rationing, anyone?), cut how much Medicare pays doctors and hospitals, and/or privatize the program (but if you are over 65 and have chronic health conditions, good luck finding affordable private health insurance). Read more »

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

The Secret To The Virginia Healthcare Decision

Unconstitutional? How can the mandate to buy health insurance be unconstitutional? It must be some kind of misguided resistance to progressivism. Or maybe it’s someone finally taking a stand against a power-grabbing government program.

But it’s actually about something else entirely. And if you don’t know what it is, you won’t understand why the Virginia court ruled the way it did. Here’s the secret:

The U.S. Constitution grants to the federal government certain powers. These are things like raising an army, controlling currency and establishing courts. It also gives it the power to regulate interstate commerce, through something called the “Commerce Clause.” Everything else is the domain of the states.

Notice that the Commerce Clause only gives the federal government power over interstate commerce. The word “interstate,” in 1789, was probably easy to understand. Since the original 13 states were more like little countries, than part of one big country, the idea of trading goods from one state to another was identifiable as a special kind of thing. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

The Best Book On Health Care Reform

The best book on health care reform — or surviving it — is the “The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care.” The decade worth of research spent understanding, studying, and ultimately offering solutions to make the health care system more accessible, higher quality, and affordable is clear.

Unlike other books, the authors, respected Harvard Business School (HBS) professor Clayton Christensen, Jerome Grossman, a doctor who also was the Director of Health Care Delivery Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School, and Jason Hwang, another doctor and graduate of the MBA program at HBS, avoid the traps the plague most other solutions by taking a completely different perspective by looking at other industries where products and services offered were “so complicated and expensive that only people with a lot of money can afford them, and only people with a lot of expertise can provide or use them.” Yet convincingly through plenty of examples, it shows how telephones, computers, and airline travel moved from only accessible to those with the resources to become available and affordable to all.

The book tackles every aspect of health care and asks how will those in health care be disrupted and subsequently surpassed by other providers which deliver care that is more convenient, higher quality, and lower cost. Read more »

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

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…

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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…

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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…

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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

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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