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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*

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*

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*

The Gift Of Being A Doctor: “What Are You Going To Do With It?”

I’m going to do something unusual: Reprint in its entirety a commentary from a fourth-year medical student, Jonathan. He posted it in response to comments from other readers to my blog about Dr. Berwick’s commencement address to his daughter’s medical school class.

I tweeted about Jonathan’s post, calling it a needed voice of idealism at a cynical time. This is what Jonathan had to say to his physician colleagues:

“To begin, I am a fourth-year medical student going into primary care and this directly applies to me. We have two options when reading [Dr. Berwick’s] address. We can take, in my opinion, the weak road or the strong road. Our new generation, as well as the one that raised us, is one of apathy and selfishness. We are only concerned about how changes affect us. We have lost the sacrifice and the consideration of our patients and fellow staff. This address, no matter how hard your heart may be, springs up a humanism in you that is undeniable. You can choose to brush it off and make excuses about policies and money, or you can stand up and be the physician that is described. I agree that there are a lot of issues in medicine today (billing, paperwork, bureaucracy to name only a few). However, if those issues render you cold and uncaring, my friend, I strongly suggest you find another profession. This profession is one of nobility. It is one of selfLESSness. This is a high calling. A good book states, ‘To whom much has been given; much will be expected.’ Well, if you are a physician, much has been given to you. What are you going to do with it?”

Today’s question: How would you answer Jonathan?

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

Medical Ethics, ACP Smack Down Part 2: Medical Ethics the Right Way

In his last post, and not without some little trepidation over the propriety of doing so, DrRich offered to enter into a “constructive dialogue” with Bob Doherty of the ACP Advocate Blog, regarding the important topic of medical ethics. What occasioned this offer was the fortuitous selection of each of us as finalists in the 2009 Medical Weblog Award Competition, in the category of Best Health Policy/Ethics Blog.

Ever since the inception of the Covert Rationing Blog (and even before that, in his book) DrRich has taken strong exception to the new code of “medical ethics for a new millennium,” formally promulgated in 2002 by the American College of Physicians and several of its equally respected sister organizations (a grouping DrRich has termed the Millennialists). And when he saw that the ACP Advocate Blog (an official publication of a principle component of the Millennialists) had become a co-finalist for a Weblog Award in the category of medical ethics, DrRich could not resist offering to engage in a discussion over same. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing 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

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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