Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

The Difference Between Short and Long Term Medicare Savings for Health Care Reform

Robert Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard Kennedy School of Business, speaking on funding for Health Care Reform, July 8, 2009

“Potential sources for this (health care reform) are new taxes on people or businesses, substantial short-term savings from the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs, or increasing the deficit”

After Last week’s passage of Health Care reform plans by committees in the House and Senate, attention has turned to the Senate Finance and House Commerce Committees to see how congress will pay for reform in a deficit neutral way, as mandated by President Obama.  The price tag over ten years–$1.2 Trillion–is paired with the observation that a shortage of $240 billion currently exists.  This assumes that $948 billion already has been found.

The only way to ‘find’ $948 billion without increasing the deficit is to increase taxes on businesses and the wealthy or by reimbursing less for services provided through Medicare and Medicaid.  I will leave the never-ending tax-rate argument for political pundits, and instead focus this post on short and long-term savings from Medicare and Medicaid because I believe paying less for services than it costs to provide them will negatively impact the quality of medical care in this country.

I was surprised to learn of a battle being waged between the executive and legislative branches on the issue of “long-term savings” from Medicare, as it relates to “Medicare Payment Authority”.  White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, has called Medicare payment Authority, “the least talked about, most important issue on the table” and clarified its’ importance by stating, “Structures that fundamentally alter the long-term costs are a must for real health-care reform.”   This issue does not follow party lines with a mix of Republicans and Democrats being in opposition or support of the President, irrespective of party affiliation.

Our Congressional Representatives have the power to set Medicare Payments, outside of any pre-set rules or regulations by simply passing legislation.  The Washington Post describes this power as “one of their most valued perks….a powerful tool on the campaign trail”.  President Obama’s administration wants to either transfer payment authority to MedPac (the Medicare payment advisory commission) or create an independent Medicare Advisory Council, reporting to the executive branch so lawmakers can no longer tailor Medicare spending to address local concerns.

Before leaving office, Senator Ted Stevens secured a permanent 35 percent increase in Medicare payments for Alaskan physicians only.  The political benefits to an incumbent running for reelection need not be explained while it is easy to see the inefficiency in such a system.  At a time when politicians are admonishing those working in the Health Care Field to be more efficient, I would urge congress to take a dose of their own efficiency medicine and support the current administration in their efforts to curtail long-term spending by surrendering this power.

According to the White House, $622 of the $948 billion will come from short-term savings squeezed out of existing Medicare and Medicaid programs through one of two ways: by improving efficiency (309 billion) or enacting policy changes (313 billion).  The Medicare Fact Sheet posted on the White House website, states that one policy change will have the added benefit of encouraging efficiency:  “incorporate productivity adjustments into Medicare payment updates”.  This policy change measures the productivity of the entire U.S. economy, as measured by subtracting the hours worked from the amount of product created and extrapolates it to Health Care (a profession which does not produce “products”).  This idea justifies the withholding of 110 billion dollars from “providers” with an unexplained benefit stated in the closing sentence describing this policy, “This adjustment will encourage greater efficiency in health care provisions”.

I found it difficult to believe that anyone could suggest paying less would encourage greater efficiency in caring for the infirm and old until Boston Medical Center, a hospital serving thousands of indigent residents, sued the state of Massachusetts one week ago, charging that the state is now reimbursing only 64 cents for every dollar spent treating those covered under Medicaid or Commonwealth Care (the state subsidized insurance program for low-income residents).  This should be of great concern to us all since the House’s plan adds 11 million people to Medicaid and cuts funding while reformists tout Massachusetts as an example worth following, being the only state with universal coverage today.  Before state wide reform was enacted this hospital had operated for 5 years without a loss.  However, when the hospital showed losses over two years of 138 million dollars, state officials observed the hospital had a 190 million dollar reserve (not for long it appears) and suggested that Boston Medical could reduce costs by operating more efficiently.

The above example demonstrates the willingness of government bureaucrats, inexperienced in providing actual medical care, to give flippant advice while failing to appreciate how fiscal efficiency, doing more with less, impacts medical efficiency, caring for the ill effectively.  To be sure, something must be done to curtail run-away costs in health care and I agree with the president when he says, “The status quo is unsustainable. Reform is not a luxury, but a necessity”.  However, reform needs to focus on sustainable Short-term and Long-term savings in such a way that prevents hospitals and doctors from having to make a choice between providing sub-standard care or going out of business.  Furthermore, I would hope that Congress take an honest look in the mirror regarding long-term savings before only enacting short-term savings which could negatively impact the care available to us all.

Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,

Steve Simmons, MD

How Medical Malpractice Reform Could Save Lives

When my six-year-old daughter heard that I was going to write about President Obama’s speech to the American Medical Association in Chicago, she offered me this insight: “He’s not a doctor! He isn’t supposed to tell people what to do when they’re sick; he’s supposed to rule the world.”  Yet, regrettably, doctors do need his help and it was with great interest that on June 15, the medical community listened.

I suspect that my colleagues in Chicago are the only crowd to boo the President during a speech since his election, and I think that much can be learned by examining why this occurred.  Just moments before being booed, Obama received raucous applause when he acknowledged, “that some doctors may feel the need to order more tests and treatments to avoid being legally vulnerable. That’s a real issue.”  Physicians in the audience then booed the next line, “I’m not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who’ve been wrongfully harmed.”  The President went on to offer a plan to help physicians avoid practicing expensive defensive medicine.  “We need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, let doctor’s focus on practicing medicine, and encourage broader use of evidence based guidelines.”

I do not object to President Obama’s sincere and well delivered remarks to the AMA, but found some of them to contain trite platitudes.  Encouraging physicians to “put patient safety first, focus on practicing medicine and follow evidence-based guidelines” is like asking airline pilots to pay attention to safety gauges, fly their planes, and respect passengers. I found the admonition to follow evidence-based guidelines as a means to avoid medical malpractice claims a particularly naïve statement.  I’m not arguing against using guidelines, I just don’t see how guidelines will protect me from a lawsuit any more than the currently used standard-of-care.

I share the President’s opinion that any individual should have the option of remediation through the court system when wronged but large, punitive settlements change the way hospitals and physicians practice medicine and have resulted in an untold number of unnecessary surgeries as well as causing the actual death of many who never had their day in court.  Unreasonably large medical malpractice settlements often have consequences that reach far beyond the parties involved in the original suit. Follow the relationship between cerebral palsy and C-sections and you will understand my assertion.  In 1985, then trial lawyer John Edwards won a settlement of 6.5 million dollars against a hospital and 1.5 million dollars from an OB/GYN doctor arguing that if a C-section had only been done for an unfortunate child she would have been born without cerebral palsy.  This case set off a chain reaction of suits throughout the country, leading obstetricians to practice defensive c-sections. The United States currently has the highest rate of C-sections in the world, the most expensive obstetrical costs per birth, and when measuring infant mortality ranks 42nd out of 43 industrialized nations.

In 1970, six percent of births in the U.S. were done by C-section; today that number has risen to over 30% while the WHO recommended, in 2006, that the actual rate should be no higher than 15%. Yet, the last four decades have seen the cerebral palsy birth rates remain close to 2 per 1000 live births in the U.S. without change.   Considering that women are 4 times more likely to die during a C section than during a vaginal birth it becomes a simple and tragic mathematical exercise.  Consider that in Scandinavia the maternal death rate is 3 per 100,000 births while 13 mothers die per 100,000 births in the United States; unless you’re African American–then you count an appalling 34 dead for every 100,000 births.  Furthermore, once you have had a C-section there is a very good chance that all future births will be done the same way with an increased rate of hysterectomies, post-operative infections, blood clots, drug reactions, etc.

On the other hand, tort reform has resulted in major shifts in the physician workforce.  In 2003 Texas put a cap of a quarter million dollars on malpractice settlements for pain and suffering but did not place a limit on the actual economic loss suffered by a plaintiff.  The limit for a wrongful death case was set at 1.6 million dollars.  Since 2003 Texas has seen 18% more doctors filing for new medical licenses per year (30% in 2007) and by the end of 2007 there was a 6 month backlog for the medical board to begin processing new license requests. The increased number of physicians has helped to improve access to care. Medical malpractice reform is necessary to avoid the kind of collective defensive behaviors that, ironically, may not be in the best interests of patients.

In my next few posts, I plan to discuss various aspects of our broken healthcare system. It is imperative that we understand all of these problems to avoid making things worse. This will require a probing and honest evaluation of what is wrong today.  I also intend to discuss the President’s plans for reform and while I don’t agree with all of his plans, he has put forth many ideas that I do agree with.  The time for reform is here, action appears inevitable, and the moment to speak out is now.

Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,

Steve Simmons, MD

Will Rationing Care Become Part Of Reform?

The impetus for government to control healthcare costs should be obvious to us all and intervention now appears unavoidable.  Two issues will soon come to light: the exorbitant costs to fight disease at the end of life, often when the approach of death is barely retarded and the wide disparity in costs between different geographical regions of our country for similarly aged patients.  It is estimated that 27% of Medicare’s annual $327 billion budget – one fourth of its operating budget – goes to care for patients in their final year of life while Medicare averages $20,000 more dollars for patients in Manhattan than in some rural areas of our country.

With this in mind, I share a deep concern with many of my colleagues that part of the healthcare reform debate will turn to the rationing of healthcare. This appears a logical progression from the proposed establishment of guidelines and advisory committees currently allowed for in the Health Reform bill already passed. The question as to who should receive possibly futile care is not clear, rather it is fraught with complexity, often relying as much on evidence-based research as it is on assessments made by the medical practitioner in light of the relationship the doctor has with the patient.

At the heart of the rationing issue are two, often warring, sides of medicine:  art and science. Medicine began as an art thousands of years ago, and moved more towards science when, in Ancient Greece, Hippocrates taught physicians to observe the results of their treatments and make adjustments. However, art should not be removed from medicine, for this is where the doctor-patient relationship comes to play, serving as a cornerstone of effective and humane medicine.  It would be impossible for physicians to uphold the noble traditions of the medical profession, adequately serve society, or preserve the dignity of human life if doctors were to become, purely, scientists.  As long as we are treating people, medicine should never become solely a science.

Rationing, however, would be based purely on science, completely devoid of any art and, I believe, serve as a blow against the sanctity of the medical profession.  Setting up rationing guidelines as they pertain to the end of life would circumvent patient’s trust in the doctor-patient relationship and risk the very soul of medicine by negating the importance of the doctor-patient relationship. Evidence-based recommendations can and should be set forth pertaining to protocols for offering treatments as the end of life seems near.  This would likely reduce some of the high and disparate costs in caring for our elders; however, it is important to consider the input of a doctor aware of the needs and desires of his patient.

I come to this argument both as a physician and from personal experience. Several years ago, my 75 year old father was hospitalized four times over five months.  His medical team, led by a kind and experienced surgeon, unburdened by guidelines or anyone else’s recommendations, gave him a chance despite long odds against his survival.  Medically speaking, I am still surprised he made it out of the hospital to live a normal life again.  During the subsequent five years, he has welcomed three grandchildren into our family; I would challenge anyone to assign a monetary value for that life experience.  My professional and personal experience leaves me quite sure that he would have fallen a victim of any rationing guidelines that could ever exist.

In short, as the average life span increases most of us nurture the hope to live longer, cheering as science opens the door to seemingly innumerable advancements. Yet are we, as a society, equipped, whether it be emotionally or fiscally, to handle the decisions that must be made as the end of life draws near? More importantly, should government be allowed to set up strict guidelines without an active debate from physicians and patients?  These guidelines could sacrifice what has long been and should still remain most important to healthcare: the doctor-patient relationship.

What’s On The Horizon For A Swine Flu Vaccine

Swine Flu has brought an awareness of the catastrophic potential inherent in pandemic influenza to the public consciousness and led many to panic.  Industry has long played a major role in protecting us against epidemic influenza, providing doctors and patients with vaccinations and medications to help protect and treat the weakest individuals in our society:  the young and old.  However, pandemic flu frequently kills the healthiest in society; a hallmark of the 1918 Swine Flu Pandemic that left 500,000 dead in the U.S., far more that the average of 36,000 dead in a typical year.

This week, I had a discussion with Bill Enright, President and CEO of Vaxin Inc., about their efforts to create a vaccine for pandemic Flu.  Our daughters are kindergarten classmates and over the last two years I have enjoyed the opportunity our friendship has afforded me to learn about the vaccine industry.  As “Swine Flu” began to dominate the headlines I asked him to participate in a dialogue with me believing that a discussion between a clinical physician and a vaccine scientist would be interesting and informative for a reader without giving in to hysteria.  He was kind enough to give of his own time and a part of the discussion follows:

STEVE:  What is Vaxin, Inc.?

BILL:.  Vaxin is a vaccine development company focused on needle-free vaccines to protect against influenza (both seasonal and avian influenza) and anthrax.  Using technology developed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, by our scientific founder Dr. De-chu Tang, we have been able to show proof of principle with our platform, intranasal seasonal influenza vaccine, and have just completed enrollment in a Phase I clinical study with an intranasal pre-pandemic influenza vaccine.  We are also investigating patch-based vaccines.

STEVE:  What is the difference between the vaccine you are developing for Pandemic Influenza and the vaccine given yearly for Epidemic Influenza?

BILL: Epidemic, or seasonal, vaccines are trivalent vaccines composed of three influenza strains (two A and one B) anticipated to be circulating.  The CDC and the WHO spend considerable effort in monitoring the circulating strains around the world before making a decision on which strains should be included in that year’s vaccine.  However, several changes could occur which result in the vaccine not being a good match for a particular year:  mutations could change a strain, new strains could evolve or different strains than anticipated could predominate.

Pandemic vaccines will be made to the circulating influenza virus causing the pandemic.  Vaccines made in advance of a pandemic are really “pre-pandemic” vaccines as they are attempting to estimate which influenza strain may make the jump to a pandemic and enable stockpiling and/or vaccination of at-risk individuals with the belief that the vaccine will mitigate symptoms and decrease mortality through cross-strain protection while a true pandemic vaccine is being developed/manufactured.

STEVE:  How long does it take to produce an epidemic trivalent vaccine and is it feasible to have the current H1N1 strain or “swine flu,” included in the standard flu shot this fall?

BILL:  That is a complex question. Do you include it as a 4th component? Replace one of the other A strains? Provide it as a separate vaccine? Manufacturers are currently trying to assess how much and of which type of vaccine they would be able to provide given a limited egg supply (since vaccine components require incubation in chicken eggs).  Chicken populations take a significant amount of time to increase to add egg capacity.  Seasonal vaccine antigen doses are typically 15µg and it takes approximately 1 egg for one, 15µg dose.  To date it has taken 90µg of antigen to show similar levelsof efficacy for pandemic vaccines.  Therefore, whether or not there is a sufficient egg supply and how that may impact the traditional epidemic vaccine is being discussed and calculated as we speak.

The length of time it takes to manufacture the epidemic trivalent vaccine depends a lot on the specific strains and how different the vaccine is from the previous year.  For instance, the 09/10 vaccine will contain 2 of the same strains as the 08/09 version, only the B strain is different.  The CDC put forward this years policy document on February 25th, identifying which exact strains were to be included in this year’s vaccine.  Many manufacturers had already started the production efforts on the seed strains guessing that these would be the strains based on available surveillance of circulating strains.  Typically the total process begins in December or January for most manufacturers.  Usually the first vaccines are ready to ship to distributors in August or September.  In certain years the process can take longer than usual because not all strains of influenza grow well in chicken eggs, including the recent H1N1 virus.  New “reverse genetic” techniques are helping to alleviate this problem but the rate of growth and yield of virus continues to be a concern to manufacturers.

STEVE:  Do you have any ongoing clinical trials for the H5 pre-pandemic flu?

BILL: Vaxin is currently completing a Phase I clinical trial for an intranasally delivered vaccine against the H5N1 influenza virus.  This is the first step in getting a vaccine approved for use by the FDA.  Typically Phase I trials involve a small number of otherwise healthy volunteers that agree to be vaccinated to allow us to test and ensure that our vaccine does not cause any serious unwanted safety concerns.  Vaxin’s study involved 48 people that were divided into 3 groups of 16.  Each group of 16 received a different dose of the vaccine on the first day and then received a second administration of a second dose 28 days later.  Within each group of 16, only 12 people actually receive the vaccine and 4 people receive a placebo.  Until the end of the study, no one knows who received the vaccine and who received the placebo.

STEVE:  The mortality rates for H5 influenza have been between 30% and 70%. Did this lead you to choose H5 as a focus for your pre-pandemic vaccine?

BILL: The focus on H5 as a target for pre-pandemic vaccines is a result of the high degree of mortality seen in those that have been infected with the virus.  While the 1918 flu had a catastrophic impact on the world and a large loss of life, it is estimated that the mortality rate was about 2%.  However, it was able to spread very rapidly. Similarly, other pandemics from H2 and H3 outbreaks had relatively low mortality rates (estimated to be between 0.1%-0.5% for both the 1957 and 1968 pandemics).

STEVE:  Can you speak about the delivery system you are using to deliver this vaccine?

BILL: Vaxin’s technology includes the use of another virus called adenovirus.  This is a virus commonly found in nature which typically causes mild respiratory illnesses or cold like symptoms.  It has a natural ability to infect humans at a very high rate.  We have modified this virus so that it can no longer reproduce and we have incorporated a very small piece of the flu virus into the adenovirus.  The adenovirus then infects people like normal but instead of making more adenovirus, it makes a piece of the flu virus.  The body sees this in the same way it sees the flu…as a bad foreign protein and jump starts the immune system to get rid of it.  In addition, our vaccine is given intranasally, the same way that the body normally sees both adenovirus and the flu.  We believe the body responds in a very similar fashion in identifying and clearing the potential threat.

STEVE:  Too many suffered complications to the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine rushed through production in 1976; this leads me to ask if any corners would need to be cut, in terms of patient safety, to get a swine flu vaccine ready in time this year?

BILL: I am not familiar enough with the issues associated with moving the 1976 swine flu vaccine through the process to know about shortcuts taken, but the issues identified may still be issues.  The result however was a significantly higher incidence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in those vaccinated vs those unvaccinated; 13.3 vs 2.6 per millions of people contracting Guillain-Barre, respectively.  Note, significantly larger safety studies than are typically done for influenza vaccines would have been required to detect this event.

The current H1N1 swine flu vaccine would be against a very similar antigen and made with similar technologies for the most part and therefore the risk of GBS may still be prevalent.  This will be weighed as a risk/benefit calculation when deciding how to proceed.  It will depend in large part on the true mortality rate of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.  This was originally estimated at about 10%, but as identified cases of H1N1 and associated deaths are “confirmed” as opposed to being “probable” cases and the reporting becomes more accurate, it is now about 1% and falling.  At 10% it is likely worth the calculated risk of GBS but at what point does the risk of death have a higher impact than the potential risk of GBS

STEVE:  What percentage of health care workers, in our country, typically receive a flu shot?”

BILL: Only 36% of health care workers in the U.S. on average receive an influenza vaccine annually.  (Source: CDC. Prevention and control of influenza: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR. 2003; 52 (RR8): 1-44.)  Therefore, with a disease that can be spread two or more days before a person is symptomatic, an individual healthcare worker has a tremendous opportunity to spread the disease, without knowing it, to a population that is likely very susceptible, those that are sick and immune compromised to begin with.

STEVE:  Do you have any suggestions for my colleagues and friends who tell me they get the flu from a flu shot?

BILL: It is scientifically not feasible to get the flu from a flu shot unless the vaccine has not been made appropriately and tested adequately.  The licensed influenza vaccines on the market today are primarily inactivated whole virus or split subunit vaccines.  Essentially the flu virus is grown in chicken eggs, purified and inactivated by heat or chemicals.  The virus is unable to replicate and therefore cannot cause the flu.  Usual side effects from any vaccination, because of the stimulation of a robust immune response from the body, include symptoms that some people associate with the flu, e.g., fever, body aches, sniffles etc.  These symptoms are typical of many vaccinations including flu.  Similarly in the new live virus vaccine (FluMist ®), the virus has been adapted to grow only in a cold environment.  Once in the body its ability to replicate is severely limited and again not feasible to cause the flu.

All in all vaccines are the most cost effective medical procedure invented.  Their use over the past century has saved millions of lives and untold expense with several previously common diseases now relatively under control or near complete eradication.  Many people do not realize the annual cost, in lives lost, hospitalizations and subsequent economic costs, that influenza outbreaks inflict. Our ability to track and monitor influenza outbreaks and continual improvements in technologies and manufacturing processes are allowing us to attack influenza with the same vigor.  While the world is more prepared than ever before to deal with potential pandemic influenza outbreaks, we still have room for improvement to ensure adequate, rapid access in all parts of the world.  Vaxin is hopeful that our technologies and products will continue to advance this effort for rapidly available, safe, effective, easy to administer vaccines.

Uncle Sam: Do Your Research First

Anyone working in healthcare has a moral responsibility to do the right thing, for the right reasons, and at a reasonable price; however, this is not happening.   Today’s healthcare system is too expensive and it is broken.  If it wasn’t broken, the current administration would not be focusing so much money and effort on fixing it.  Likewise, 42 million Americans would not be uninsured creating two different standards of care within our country.  Many decisions have already been made: providing government backed insurance coverage for the uninsured, encouraging the use of electronic health records systems (EHRs), and creating comparative effectiveness research boards (CERs). Much of what has been suggested sounds good but was passed by our legislature before seeking the input of those responsible for implementing these new policies and plans.  Fortunately, President Obama’s administration is seeking input now and it is the responsibility of anyone working within the healthcare system to speak up and be heard.

Many hard-to-answer questions should have been asked before solutions were posed.  Why is healthcare so expensive?  How can the intervention of government lead us to better and more affordable healthcare?  Although integrated EHR systems may prevent the duplication of tests and procedures, how can medical practitioners best use these systems to prevent mistakes?  How will future decisions be made – between doctor and patient, or will the new CER Boards grow to do more than merely advise?  How would the American people react to more controversial ideas, such as health care rationing to control exorbitant costs incurred at the end of life?

 In my last post, I closed with a promise to share some ideas regarding healthcare reform.  First, we should try to reach a consensus as to what is broken before implementing solutions. In Maggie Mahar’s book, Money-Driven Medicine (2006), her concluding chapter is titled, “Where We Are Now: Everybody Out of the Pool.” This title screams for change as she makes a convincing argument that all parties involved in healthcare need to rethink how we can work together to fix a broken healthcare system which seems focused, not on healthcare, but on money.   Today, Uncle Sam has jumped into the pool feet first, creating quite the splash, and he is spending large sums of money to lead healthcare reform without first reaching a consensus as to what is broken in this system.

 The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will direct $150 billion dollars to healthcare in new funds, with most of it being spent within two years.  Health information technology will receive $19.2 billion of these dollars, with the lion’s share ($17.2 billion) going towards incentives to physicians and hospitals to use EHR systems and other health information technologies.  According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the average physician will be eligible for financial incentives totaling between $40,000 and $65,000; this money will be paid out to physicians for using EHRs to submit reimbursement claims to Medicare and Medicaid, or for demonstrating an ability to ‘eprescribe’.  This money will help offset the cost of implementing a new EHR, which can cost between $20,000 and $50,000 per year per physician. However, after midnight, December 31, 2014, this “carrot” will turn into something akin to Cinderella’s pumpkin, becoming a “stick” that will financially penalize those physicians and hospitals not using EHRs in a “meaningful” way.

At our office, doctokr Family Medicine, we use an EHR, but consider it a tool, much like a stethoscope or thermometer, used to facilitate the doctor-patient relationship, not a tool to track our reimbursement activities. I would not argue against EHRs, but there is no evidence they will make healthcare more affordable and improve the quality of care delivered – unless you believe the $80 billion dollar a year savings “found” in the 2005 RAND study (paid for by companies including Hewlett-Packard and Xerox- incidentally, companies developing EHRs). I believe it will take far more than EHRs, financial incentives, and good data to fix our broken healthcare system.
Difficult decisions await those willing to ask the hard questions but don’t expect any easy answers to present themselves on the journey towards effective healthcare reform.  My partner and I believe we have found answers to some questions and are moving forward, in our own practice, now.  Asking why healthcare is so expensive and feeling frustrated with the high cost of medical software, we have written our own EHR, containing costs for our patients by keeping down our overhead expenses.  Our financial model is based on time spent with the patient, not codes and procedures, which helps us to avoid ‘gaming’ the system and wasting time. 

A familiar adage states that there are no problems, only solutions.  I suggest, though, that there can be no solutions without problems.  Find the right questions and opportunities abound.  Earlier in this post, I asked how government intervention can lead us to better and more affordable healthcare.  It can’t, at least not without the help and guidance of doctors, patients, industry, insurance companies, hospitals, and anyone who understands what is at stake with health care reform.  We all share in the responsibility to try.

Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,

Steve Simmons, MD

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »