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Primary Care Is Undervalued: What Should Be Done?

An article by Brian Klepper and Paul Fischer at Health Affairs has me all fired up. Finally these two health experts are calling it like it is. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and EverythingHealth have written before about the way primary care is undervalued and underpayed in this country and how it is harming the health and economics of the United States.

A secretive, specialist-dominated panel within the American Medical Association called the RUC has been valuing medical services for decades. They divvy up billions of Medicare and Medicaid dollars and all insurance payers base their reimbursement on these values also. The result has been gross overpayment of procedures and medical specialists and underpayment of doctors who practice primary care in internal medicine, family medicine and pediatrics). These payment inequities have led us to a shortage of these doctors and medical costs skyrocket as a result. As Uwe E. Reinhardt says, “Surely there is something absurd when a nation pays a primary care physician poorly relative to other specialists and then wrings its hands over a shortage of primary care physicians.”

Klepper, Fischer and author Kathleen Behan make a bold suggestion. Let’s quit complaining about the RUC and their flawed methodologies. Let’s quit admiring the problem of financial conflicts of interest and the primary care labor shortage. It’s time for the primary care specialty societies, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Cardiovascular Care: Costs Could Triple By 2030

Real total direct medical costs of cardiovascular disease (CVD) could triple, from $273 billion to $818 billion (in 2008 dollars) by 2030. Real indirect costs, such as lost productivity among the employed and unpaid household work, could increase 61 percent, from $172 billion in 2010 to $276 billion.

Results appeared in a policy statement of the American Heart Association.

CVD is the leading cause of mortality and accounts for 17 percent of national health expenditures, according to the statement. How much so? U.S. medical expenditures rose from 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 1985 to 15 percent in 2008. In the past decade, the medical costs of CVD have grown at an average annual rate of 6 percent and have accounted for about 15 percent of the increase in medical spending.

The spending is associated with greater life expectancy, “suggesting that this spending was of value,” the authors wrote. But as the population ages, direct treatment costs are expected to increase substantially, even though lost productivity won’t, since seniors are employed at lower rates.

If current prevention and treatment rates remain steady, CVD prevalence will increase by about 10 percent over the next 20 years. The estimate reflects an aging population, and one that is increasingly Hispanic. To prepare for future cardiovascular care needs, the American Heart Association projected future costs. By 2030, 40.5 percent (116 million) of the population is projected to have some form of CVD. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Primary Care: Has It Been “Oversold?”

Citing a new study by the Dartmouth Atlas, the Wall Street Journal’s health blog provocatively asks: “Has the notion of ‘access’ to primary care been oversold?”

The Dartmouth researchers found “that there is no simple relationship between the supply of physicians and access to primary care.” That is, they found that having a greater supply of primary care physicians in a community doesn’t mean that the community necessarily has better access to primary care. Some areas of the country with fewer primary care physicians per population do better on access than other areas with more primary care physicians.

The researchers also report that the numbers of family physicians is more positively associated with better access than the numbers of internists, although they call the association “not strong.” Although both general internists and family physicians are counted as primary care clinicians, “in [regions] with a higher supply of family physicians, beneficiaries were more likely to have at least one annual primary care visit. In [regions] with a higher supply of general internists, fewer beneficiaries had a primary care visit on average.” Read more »

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

Doctors Wanted For Hazardous Journey


With this want ad, circa 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton recruited 28 souls with an unimaginable challenge: To cross the unexplored Antarctica on dogsled. The polar explorer knew exactly what human characteristics he needed to pull off such a feat and understood that straight talk would resonate with a few select men.

Shakleton and his crew boarded their ship, the “Endurance,” and sailed the world’s most dangerous oceans straight into harms way — still considered one of the world’s greatest survival stories. Amazingly, all men survived against unimaginable odds. Their story reminds us that we all stand on the waves and wakes of dreamers, doers, slaves, and fools, all who say, “We did it, took our chances, immigrated to the U.S., headed West, built a new business, risked it all.”

And, if you listen closely, you will hear their stories as an invitation that has been repeated throughout history: “What will you do? Whether your turn or your calling, what will you do?”

Today, I’m posting a similar want ad to medical colleagues. The journey may be far less physically dangerous, but considering prevailing attitudes, perhaps it’s as daring in imagination. Read more »

Primary Care Crisis: Why The Patient-Centered Medical Home Will Fail

Everyone understands the need for a robust primary care workforce in making healthcare more affordable and accessible while keeping those in our care healthy. With the aging of America and healthcare reform, even more Americans will need primary care doctors at precisely the same time doctors are leaving the specialty in droves and medical students shun the career choice.

As a practicing primary care doctor, I’ve watched with great interest the solutions for the primary care crisis. And I’ve been utterly disappointed.

Patients so far don’t like the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) as noted in Dr. Pauline Chen’s New York Times column. The changes recommended won’t inspire the next generation of doctors to become internists and family doctors. 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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