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Is It More Important To Make Patients Happy Or To Heal Them?

One would think that happiness and healing are inextricably linked in healthcare, but the Happy Hospitalist (HH) raises an interesting question: is modern medicine’s emphasis on patient satisfaction (and shared decision-making) sacrificing our quality of care? A recent study found that patients who preferred their physicians to take the lead in their medical decision-making had shorter, less costly hospital stays.

HH argues that if physicians are expected to perform like airline pilots, reliably choosing/performing the best course of action for those depending on them, then patients should behave like passengers. In other words, passengers don’t tell the pilot how to fly the plane, nor should patients override a physician’s clinical judgment with personal preferences.

I think this analogy misses the mark because patients are rarely interested in making decisions about how a physician accomplishes her task, but rather which tasks she undertakes. Flight passengers aren’t interested in quibbling about the timing of landing gear, they are interested in the selection of their destination city. And so they should be.

While there may be a correlation between physician-led decision-making and shorter hospital stays, I’m not convinced that this translates to improved care quality. For the study subjects, discharge could have been delayed because the “empowered” patients insisted on ensuring that a home care plan was in place before they left the hospital. Or perhaps they wanted to get their prescriptions filled before going home (knowing that they couldn’t get to their home pharmacy over the weekend)? The study did not assess whether or not the discharge delays reduced readmission rates, nor did it seek to determine the cause of prolonged stays. This study alone is insufficient to draw any conclusions about the relative value of the patient empowerment movement on health outcomes.

While I certainly empathize with HH about the excessive focus on patient satisfaction surveys over true quality care, I strongly believe that an educated, participatory patient is our best ally in the practice of good medicine. There are simply too many cogs and wheels turning at once in the healthcare system to be able to ensure that the right care is provided at the right time, every time. We need all the help we can get to monitor our care plans in order to avoid medical errors, compliance problems and missed opportunities.

If you see something, say something. That principle applies to healthcare as much as it does to flight safety.

Family Physicians: Are They Paid Well Compared To Other Docs?

Here’s an interesting article, talking about stuff that’s not new to anyone who has read my blog for the last three years. The current relative value unit (RVU) system is a scam, perpetuated by a super-secretive group of subspecialists each  inflating their own worth for the benefit of themselves, at the expense of primary care.

If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, first read about RVUs explained. Then come back and read this article put out by the National Institute for Health Care Management. It’s titled “Out of Whack: Pricing Distortions in the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.“ In his essay, Dr. Robert Berenson shows how distorted primary care specialties are paid, relative to other specialties, in an all Medicare practice with the equivalent input of hours worked. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

An Animated Look At The Future Of Healthcare

Mrs. Happy and I just returned from Disney World for our Happy family vacation. (It was either that or a Parkinson’s Cruise.) While at Disney’s Epcot Center, Mama and Papa Happy discovered what the future of healthcare in America will look like, and it has nothing to do with insurance.

You’ve all seen that giant Epcot ball. Inside that ball is a slow-moving ride that takes you through thousands of years of history. At the end you choose your own future. I present to you this video showing the future of healthcare in America, courtesy of the Epcot Spaceship Earth and Mama and Papa Happy:

A couple words of mention. They still think there will be doctors in the future, unless their reference to doctors was reference to future nurse practitioners known as Dr. Nurse. That’s quite possible. Maybe that’s why the future of healthcare has nothing to do with medical care or insurance and has everything to do with healthy lifestyle. You don’t need to be a nurse for that, you just have to accept the truth of healthy living. And you don’t need a medical school education or even nursing education requirements to make that happen.

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

Getting Quality And Profit Out Of Medicine

Looking for a great story about the state of hospital care in America? Look no further. The Health Care Blog has a great article by hospitalist Dr. Robert Wachter that sums it up nicely. It’s about money. Thats how hospitals get paid. That’s how everyone gets paid. It will always be about money. We don’t pay doctors, nurses, or administrators with smiley faces and candy canes. We pay them with cold hard cash. For example:

One of the physicians, an invasive cardiologist, stopped me in my tracks. “Actually, our hospital already provides a tremendous amount of support and feedback,” he said. “When I perform a catheterization or angioplasty, a hospital staff member watches the entire procedure, she sometimes suggests mid-course corrections, and as soon as I’m done she provides me detailed feedback on whether I met all the best practice standards.”

“Wow,” I said. “Your hospital is really taking quality seriously!”

“Oh,” he replied, mischievous smile on his face, “she’s not from the quality department. She’s from the billing department.”

The question should not be how do you get profit out of medicine. The question should be how do you get quality into profit. We need profit. The last thing you want in this country is universal VA health care. Trust me on that. Americans would never stand for it. But how do you get both? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

How Medicare Pays For Inpatient Care

Have you ever wondered how hospitals get paid by MedicareThe New York Times has an excellent and simple explanation of this highly complicated process. It’s simple really.

First the hospital labor component is adjusted for geographic location and then added to the capital depreciation expenditures adjusted for geographic location and then a medical severity adjusted diagnosis related group multiplier is added (MS-DRG).

Once this adjusted payment rate is calculated, the hospital is given a bonus to cover the costs incurred if they are a teaching hospital, through the indirect medical education payment. Added to that is the disproportionate share payment for hospitals that see a lot of uninsured or Medicaid patients (strange that Medicare subsidizes Medicaid, isn’t it?) If you have a patient that is extremely sick or spends mulitple extra days in the hospital, they may get an extra outlier payment. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

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?

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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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