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Medical Malpractice Reform: Would Doctors Accept The Deal?

The bipartisan debt commission appointed by President Obama recently released its recommendations on how to pare the country’s debt.

Of interest to doctors is the suggestion to change the way doctors are paid. Physician lobbies have been advocating for removal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula — the flawed method by which Medicare, and subsequently private insurers, pays doctors. According to this method, physicians are due for a pay cut of more than 20 percent next month.

According to the commission:

The plan proposes eliminating the SGR in 2015 and replacing it with a “modest reduction” for physicians and other providers. The plan doesn’t elaborate on what constitutes a “modest reduction” in Medicare reimbursement.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should establish a new payment system — one that rewards doctors for quality, and includes accountable care organizations and bundling payments by episodes of care, the report said.

The commission also said in order to pay for the SGR reform, medical malpractice lawyers should be paid less, there should be a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, and that comprehensive tort reform should be adopted.

There’s little question that associating physician reimbursements with the number of tests and treatments ordered is a major driver of health costs. Removing that incentive, and better valuing the time doctors spend with patients, is a positive step in the right direction. Read more »

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

Should Doctors Work Weekends?

Peter Orszag wants doctors to work weekends. The former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget wrote as much in this past weekend’s New York Times:

Doctors, like most people, don’t love to work weekends, and they probably don’t enjoy being evaluated against their peers. But their industry can no longer afford to protect them from the inevitable. Imagine a drugstore open only five days a week, or a television network that didn’t measure its ratings. Improving the quality of health care and reducing its cost will require that doctors make many changes — but working weekends and consenting to quality management are two clear ones.

And he’s right, to a point.

I’ve pointed to studies showing that mortality rises on the weekends, in part due to skeleton staffs that hospitals employ on Saturday and Sunday. And, since Mr. Orszag is an economist, the cost factor is noted. Tests that get pushed off until Monday cost the health system serious dollars. The problem I have is that Mr. Orszag, like most health reformers, offers doctors little incentive in return. Read more »

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

Bias In Clinical Research Is Inevitable

DrRich has said many times that clinical science is among the least exact of the sciences, and therefore, the results of clinical research are particularly susceptible to “spinning” by various interested parties, in order to yield the kind of results they would prefer to see.

Until recent times in American medicine, the parties who have been most interested in spinning clinical research have been the people who run drug companies and medical device companies (who need clinical research which supports the use of their products), and the medical specialists (who are more likely to be paid for performing medical procedures that are supported by clinical research). In writing about such data-spinning abuses, DrRich has particularly targeted his own Cardiology Guild, but only because he knows and loves cardiologists the best. He suspects that other specialists are doing exactly the same thing.

While DrRich has used reasonably gentle humor (laced, to be sure, with sarcasm and irony) to criticize doctors and their industry collaborators for twisting clinical data to their own ends, others have expressed the same concerns in much more indignant terms, and have threatened to employ professional sanctions, civil and criminal penalties, and everlasting perdition, to curtail such behaviors. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Healthcare Reform And The Death of Dartmouth Atlas

An important article appeared in the NYT recently, describing a new paper by Peter Bach, which is in today’s NEJM. Peter’s paper (“A Map to Bad Policy“) debunks the Dartmouth Atlas and cautions against its use. As I said in the Wash Post in September, the Dartmouth Atlas is the ”Wrong Map for Health Care Reform.”

More damning even than Peter’s analysis was Elliott Fisher’s reply: “Dr. Fisher agreed that the current Atlas measures should not be used to set hospital payment rates, and that looking at the care of patients at the end of life provides only limited insight into the quality of care provided to those patients. He said he and his colleagues should not be held responsible for the misinterpretation of their data.” Really? It was someone else’s interpretation? OK, Elliott, you’re not responsible. Just stand in the corner. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

The McAllenization of Healthcare Reform

Everything is McAllen, Texas.

It’s all part of our “uniquely American” approach to many issues: oversimplify the problem, so we can solve it. Ideally, on an artificially short time line.

In the case of health care reform, let’s say we get ‘er done by August 1.

When we talk about health care reform, we are really talking about dozens of different issues. Is health care reform about covering the uninsured, or about cutting costs for employers? Is it about having a publicly-funded health plan, or changing reimbursements to doctors? Is it about longer life expectancies or creating insurance cooperatives? Is it about caps on medical malpractice awards, or comparative effectiveness? Is it about healthier lifestyles, or cutting the cost of prescription drugs? Is it about cutting administrative waste, or incentives for more people to go to medical school? Is it about implementing new health care IT, or preventing insurers from making excessive profits?

It’s about all of these things, and more. And that’s the problem, if you’re an ambitious reformer. There is no simple way to get all of these things under one roof.

Well, until Atul Gawande introduced us to McAllen.

The President quickly made Dr. Gawande’s article on McAllen required reading at the White House, telling Senators this is the problem we are trying to solve. His point man on health care, Peter Orszag, has been blogging about it repeatedly. Members of Congress and the press have taken to talking about McAllen as the center of the health care debate. Even doctors from McAllen are calling on the President to come and see for himself.

Others are using it, too. Paul Krugman, in his blog, took on Harvard economist Greg Mankiw for saying that some comparisons of the US and foreign health care systems may be flawed as a premise for U.S. reform. In response Krugman said “read Atul Gawande!” I saw this, too, when I questioned Steven Pearlstein about why he had such a problem with doctors. His only response was “Maybe you should talk to Atul.”

The problems of McAllen make easy talking points. But they are also a convenient way of avoiding dealing with the enormous complexity of the health care system. There are nearly 650,000 doctors in America, millions of patients, thousands of hospitals, tens of thousands of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hundreds of thousands of employers who provide health benefits, and thousands of other charities, academics, consultants, government agencies and others who have strongly held views about our system. Too often, their voices are not being heard in all the loud talking about McAllen.

And so, if reforming our health care system is, as the President says, a “moral imperative,” why can’t we have a process that treats reform that way? Why the rush to pass reforms that have to be sold under the premise of solving the problems of McAllen?

The President and the Congress are perfectly capable of putting together a respected commission of experts to study health care, in depth, and then return with serious, comprehensive recommendations that Congress and the President can work to enact. Polls show great public support for the idea of reform, but mixed understanding on what reform means. As we see from the evaporating support for reform in Congress, this gap is a serious problem.

We need effective health care reform in America. McAllen isn’t enough to close the deal.

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

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

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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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