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Latest Posts

Medicare: Should It Pay Less For Less-Effective Care?

From its inception, Medicare has been agnostic about the effectiveness of different treatments when it sets payment rates. Once a treatment is found to be “reasonable and necessary,” Medicare establishes a payment rate that takes into account complexity and other “inputs” that go into delivering the service. But it is prohibited by law from varying payments based on how well an intervention works.

This would change under a “dynamic pricing” approach proposed by two experts in this month’s issue of Health Affairs. The article itself is available only to Health Affairs subscribers, but the Wall Street Journal health blog has a good summary.

The researchers propose that Medicare pay more for therapies with “superior” results and the same for two therapies with comparable effectiveness. A new service without any evidence on its relative effectiveness would be reimbursed in the usual way for the first three years, during which research would be conducted on its comparative effectiveness. If such research found that the service was less effective than other interventions, Medicare would have the authority to reduce payments. If it was found to be more effective, Medicare could pay more than for other available interventions. The WSJ blog gives an example of how this would work. Read more »

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

U.S. Healthcare Spending: Why So Much?

Aaron Carroll over at The Incidental Economist has been running an excellent series on healthcare spending in the U.S. and how much more we spend than the rest of the world on a per capita basis, as a percentage of GDP, and by category. It’s an excellent series and I wholly recommend it. Summary graph:

Hint: the U.S. is the lavender-ish line on top. As he says, is there anything about this graph that isn’t concerning? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Healthcare And Fred Flintstone

Like most kids who grew up in the 1960s, I spent many a night watching the adventures of Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty, the coolest cavemen ever (sorry, GEICO). It is hard to explain the appeal of the Flintstones, which [recently] celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first broadcast. Its animation was primitive, the stories campy and cliché, and it was horribly sexist — but the characters were lovable, the dialogue funny, and who couldn’t love the way it depicted “modern conveniences” (like washing machines) using only stone-age technologies (bones, stones and dino-power?)

What does Fred Flintstone have to do with healthcare? Not much, really, although Fred was the victim of a medical error. According to Answers.com: “A 1966 episode had Fred can’t stop sneezing, so he goes to the doctor for some allergy pills. The prescription gets mixed up with another package of pills which, when taken, transform Fred into an ape! Only Barney witnesses this metamorphosis, and naturally he can’t convince anyone what is happening … until a fateful family outing at the Bedrock Zoo.” (Of course, this all might have been prevented if they had e-prescribing in those days.) Read more »

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

The PPACA: Does It Pass The Playground Test?

Could understanding the tacit rules which govern play on a neighborhood playground help us explain why some aspects of implementing healthcare reform are unlikely to succeed? Recent news involving McDonald’s Corporation suggests so.

On the playground, there are some simple precepts — like the fact that older and stronger kids get to make up the game, and the rules. That’s understood and mostly okay. As if these leaders are considered modestly benevolent and the rules are workable, the game is good and all benefit. And all players on the playground know this basic tenet of fairness: That the rules of the game shouldn’t change in the midst of the competition, and, taking it one step further, if the rules have to be changed they weren’t very good in the first place. Soon, if those in power become too controlling, too conflicted, or too self-serving, kids stop showing up, and the games cease.

In enacting this, our government gave us a very complicated game, with oodles of rules. (For the record, the PPACA of 2010 is 475 pages and 393,000 words.) But then, on further consideration of the rules, important players (McDonald’s) decided that they could not play. They were pulling out of the game, and they had many friends (Home Depot, CVS, Staples, etc.) who may not have spoke outwardly, but surely felt the same way. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

New Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol Now In Effect

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services scrapped its old self-referral voluntary disclosure program in 2009 (it dated back to 1998, and was revisited in 2008), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mandated that it be replaced. Just like clockwork, on the deadline for its promulgation the OIG obliged, and the new Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol is now posted and effective.

The new protocol could be clearer and offer more comfort, but it doesn’t. Makes one pine for the old policy’s clarity: In the old days, voluntary disclosure bought you a discounted fine for Stark violations — not like the new protocol’s wishy-washy, maybe-we’ll-give-you-a-discount language. The new protocol also fails to help a provider seeking to disclose past wrongs voluntarily in dealing with the Federales on a number of fronts simultaneously (e.g., for false claims violations, anti-kickback violations, etc., all arising from the same set of facts). We can perhaps blame Congress for that failure, rather than the OIG — the OIG is just implementing the statute as written.

Keep your eyes peeled for some tinkering on this front as the OIG gains some experience working under the new regime.

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

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.

***

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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