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Casting Light On The Actual Costs Of Medical Care

I really like this idea, but …  well, see after the quote.

It’s easy to compare prices on cameras, vacations, and homes. But in the United States, patients fly blind when paying for health care. People typically don’t find out how much any given medical procedure costs until well after they receive treatment, be it a blood draw or major surgery.

This lack of transparency has contributed to huge disparities in the cost of procedures. According to Castlight Health, a startup based in San Francisco, a colonoscopy costs anywhere from $563 to $3,967 within a single zip code. EKGs can range from $27 to $143, while the price for a set of three spinal x-rays varies from as little as $38 to as high as $162.

When someone else is picking up the tab, mystery pricing is not much of a problem. But these days, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Product Used For Poison Ivy Skin Reaction Undergoes Price Increases

I recently received a note mailed to health care providers from Steve Sisler, Vice President of Sales Development for Zanfel Laboratories, Inc. Zanfel is a product used to decrease the skin reaction attributable to poison ivy and similar plants (e.g., poison oak and sumac). Here is an edited part of the note that I received:

While attending the recent American Academy of Family Physicians trade show, numerous health care professionals stopped by the Zanfel Laboratories booth to ask questions and gain additional knowledge regarding the Zanfel product and the overall disease state of urushiol-induced allergic contact dermatitis. Additionally, a great many prescribers voiced concern over the recent price increases of Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash. The conversations were very specific in that the retail price for Zanfel had increased to $42.99, $44.99 and even as high as $48.99 plus tax. These prescribers are aware of the retail price increases because their patients are calling them back after visiting CVS and Walgreens pharmacies. Their patients are aware that Zanfel had previously been sold for approximately $39.99 plus tax. These patients are upset because they believe that Zanfel Laboratories has initiated a retail price increase.

Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash has not had a cost increase in over Read more »

This post, Product Used For Poison Ivy Skin Reaction Undergoes Price Increases, was originally published on Healthine.com by Paul Auerbach, M.D..

Expensive Medications: Is The Benefit Worth The Cost?

The concept of cost-effectiveness in medicine is elastic. One’s view on this issue depends upon who is paying the cost. Of course, this is true in all spheres of life. When you’re in a fine restaurant, you order differently when the meal will be charged to someone else. Under these circumstances, the foie gras appetizer and the jumbo shrimp cocktail are no longer luxuries, but are considered as essential amino acids that are necessary to maintain life.

In the marketplace, except in the medical universe, goods and services are priced according to what the market will bear. If an item is priced too high, then the seller will have fewer sales and a bloated inventory. Consumers will not pay absurd prices for common items, regardless of supernatural claims of quality.

  • Would you pay $100 for an ice cream sundae that boasted it was the best in the world?
  • Would you pay $1000 for a tennis racket that promised performance beyond your ability?
  • Would you pay $500 for a box of paper clips that never lose their tension? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Telemarketing Unnecessary Heart Scans Is Big Business

Those who market heart scan services should be more careful about what they promote and to whom.

When ProPublica’s Marshall Allen got a telemarketing offer for heart scans for him and his wife, he followed up with a story, “Body Imaging Business Pushes Scans Many Don’t Need – Including Me.”

Reminding Allen about the deaths of figure skater Sergei Grinkov, baseball player Darryl Kile, newsman Tim Russert and actor Patrick Swayze, the salesman said:

“You never know when it could happen. … Boom, you’re dead!” he exclaimed, slapping a desk for emphasis.

But Allen tells another story – of complaints by patients and regulators about the business. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Mobile Health: Joy Or Dismay?

Last month, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) issued a report, Healthcare Unwired, examining the market for mobile health monitoring devices, reminder services, etc. among both healthcare providers and the general public. One of the big take-away points seems to be that 40% of the general public would be willing to pay for mobile health (or “mHealth”) devices or services ranging from reminders to data uploads — and the reaction by insiders is either joy (40% is good) or dismay (40% is not enough).

PwC estimated the mHealth market to be worth somewhere between $7.7 billion and $43 billion per year, based on consumers’ expressed willingness to pay. Deloitte recently issued a report on mPHRs, as well — and there is tremendous interest in this space, as discussed in John Moore’s recent post over at Chilmark Research. I agree with John’s wariness with respect to the mHealth hype — there is certainly something happening out there, but significant questions remain: What exactly is going on? Is there reason to be interested in this stuff or is it just something shiny and new? Can mHealth improve healthcare status and/or healthcare quality and/or reduce healthcare costs? Read more »

*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.

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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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