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Health Wonk Review talks turkey

I’ve been a bit remiss the last few days, in that the latest Health Wonk Review came out Thursday, and I’m  just getting around to sharing it now.( Blog carnivals work best when contributors link back to the compilation.) But, better late than never, right?

In that spirit, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I invite you to check out Health Wonk Review: The Turkey Edition, hosted by David Harlow on his HealthBlawg. The big stories this time around are all about insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare, but there is also an interesting posts about “wrist slaps” given to pharmaceutical executives for allegedly violating drug-marketing laws.

My post at Forbes.com about the American Medical Association belatedly but predictably fighting the impending Medicare penalties for not meeting Meaningful Use makes the cut. I’m particularly proud of the line, “Ruthlessly Defending the Status Quo Since 1847. :)

Check it out, and for those of us here in the United States, have a happy Thanksgiving. I’ll see you after the long weekend.

November 25, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Health Wonk Review, post-HIMSS

While all the health IT reporters like myself were in Florida last week for HIMSS14, plenty of other things were going on in healthcare. David Harlow of HealthBlawg has a roundup of opinions in the latest edition of Health Wonk Review, entitled “In Like a Lion.”

Yes, HIMSS was a big deal, even for non-IT people, as I captured the top mention in a HWR for, I believe, the very first time, with my podcast interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber.

(David, per your note, I only suffered superficial injuries this year, with a couple of scrapes on my face. No stitches needed, and no deaths in my family, though my uncle did lose his mother-in-law the day after I returned. I also broke a wine glass in a restaurant, though it was not my glass, it was empty and I was sober. The moral of this story: I need to avoid HIMSS in Orlando, which will be hard, since it’s on a three-year rotation. But next year, the conference is right here in Chicago, and it will be April 12-16 to avoid the dead of winter. The last time it was here, in 2009, I had bronchitis all week. Good times! The following HIMSS will be in Las Vegas, Feb. 29-March 4, 2016.)

Because it was HIMSS week, Harlow featured other IT posts prominently, including one from Lygeia Ricciardi and Adam Dole of the ONC—new national health IT coordinator Dr. Karen DeSalvo said they’re trying to call it “the ONC” instead of just “ONC” these days—about the recently launched Blue Button Connector. Harlow, an attorney, also referenced one of his own posts about HIPAA compliance audits.

Another section of this HWR examines something that I’ve been saying for a long time, that the mainstream media has been not telling the whole story about the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare. Later, Harlow talks about teamwork and collaboration for the purpose of patient safety. Kudos for highlighting those areas.

Click here to read Harlow’s rundown.

March 3, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Podcast: HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber, 2014 edition

It’s time for my annual podcast interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, this time from the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., on the day before the official opening of the 2014 HIMSS Conference, rather than in his Chicago office a week or so in advance.

Lieber reiterated HIMSS’ position that the federal government should extend the attestation period for Meaningful Use Stage 2 by one year. I wasn’t there, but today at the CIO Forum, one of the preconference educational symposia, ONC Chief Medical Officer Jacob Reider, M.D., hinted that there will be an announcement on Stage 2 flexibility, possibly Thursday morning at a joint ONC-CMS town hall. That session will feature CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and new national health IT coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D. I’ve never heard either of them speak, and now I’m excited to be covering that session.

We also discussed other aspects of healthcare reform, trends in health IT and expectations for HIMSS14. Of note, on Monday morning, HIMSS and two other organizations will announce a new initiative on “personal connected health.”

Near the end, I reference the podcast I did last week with Dr. Ray Dorsey about remote care for Parkinson’s patients. For easy reference, here’s the link.

This is, I believe, the seventh consecutive year I have done a podcast with Lieber at or just before the annual HIMSS conference. Another interview that has become somewhat of a tradition won’t happen this time, as Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush is not making the trip to Orlando this year.

 

Podcast details: Interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, Feb. 23, 2014, at HIMSS14 in Orlando, Fla. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 36.2 MB. Running time 39:35.

0:40 “It’s time to execute.”
1:40 Challenges for small hospitals and small practices
3:10 New ONC EHR certification proposal and continued questions about Meaningful Use Stage 2
5:00 Prioritizing with multiple healthcare reform initiatives underway, including proposed SGR repeal
6:30 Surviving ICD-10 transition
7:35 HIMSS’ position on MU2 timelines
9:05 Remember “macro objective” of Meaningful Use
10:00 Letter to HHS from organizations not including HIMSS calling for what he says are “very vague” changes to MU2 criteria
11:40 Things in MU2 causing providers fits
13:05 Fewer EHR vendors certified for 2014, but more HIMSS exhibitors
15:00 What this means for providers who bought products certified to 2011 standards
17:20 Progress on Meaningful Use so far
21:00 Looking toward Stage 3
22:42 What healthcare.gov struggles might mean for health IT
25:35 Other aspects of the Affordable Care Act being lost in the public debate
27:10 Political considerations related to health IT
29:40 Patient engagement and new HIMSS exhibitors
32:20 Why healthcare spending and provider shortage forecasts don’t account for efficiency gains made from technology and innovation
35:10 Demographic challenges for healthcare
35:45 Shift from hospitals to ambulatory and home care and consolidation of provider organizations

February 23, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Keep wasting your money, Silicon Valley venture capitalists

Silicon Valley is at it again.

Last week, digital health accelerator Rock Health unveiled its new offices, and from the news coverage, it seems as if it’s creating an image as much as incubating startup companies.

According to Xconomy, “a big crowd of investors, executives, and other life science industry insiders took time away from JP Morgan to attend the grand opening of Rock Health’s stylish new headquarters in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco.” And stylish it is.

“Rock Health’s kitchen and community gathering space includes a Cirque-du-Soleil-style swing,” Xconomy reported. Because, you know, incubating companies that will fix a broken $2.8 trillion industry with their “solutions” requires a little avant-garde spectacle à la Québécoise — or perhaps Las Vegas. Having been at the Digital Health Summit at International CES in Sin City myself a week earlier, I was happy to see more focus on substance than style in the meeting room, if not in the exhibit hall.

© Bruce Damonte/Studios Architecture

I bet that swing cost a lot of money. So did the design, since Xconomy saw fit to identify the architecture firm. (For that matter, so did I, but only to give proper credit for the photo.) In an industry where a third or more of spending is wasteful — completely irrelevant to care and probably preventable — according to a 2012 report in Health Affairs, are such frills really necessary? I’m certainly not blaming Rock Health here. It’s the investors who are throwing away their money.

In opening the center, Rock Health reportedly dubbed Mission Bay the ‘United States’ New Digital Health Hub.'” That’s a bold statement. There certainly is a lot of potential there, but, as the person who identified San Diego as “a leader in mobile healthcare” back in January 2010, I still see more substance and tangible results in Southern California than in Northern California. For that matter, the Boston area could make a strong case, as could New York City. Smaller but healthy communities have popped up in places like Madison, Wis. That’s fine, competition is good.

However, I’ve seen more failures in Silicon Valley than anywhere else. But does that stop Silicon Valley’s No. 1 media cheerleader, TechCrunch, from declaring, “VC’s Investing To Heal U.S. Healthcare”? No, it does not.

No flame-out has been as spectacular as that overhyped vaporware known as Google Health. Google is back at it again with its VC arm, but this time the Internet giant seems to have a direction and a clue. Maybe.

As TechCrunch reported, “Google Ventures is addressing the nation’s healthcare dilemma with investments in companies like the physicians’ office and network One Medical Group, which raised a later stage $30 million last March. At the opposite end of the spectrum in December 2013 Google invested in the $3 million seed financing of Doctor on Demand, which sells a service enabling users to video chat with doctors.”

Google appears to be scrapping the torturous direct-to-consumer route in favor of going where the money actually is, from third-party payers and from providers, newly incented under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and private reform efforts to work more efficiently and better coordinate care.

On the other hand, it’s been less than two weeks since Stephen Colbert made fun of Doctor on Demand. (Health 2.0 boss Matthew Holt commented on that post that it was “Kind of unfair that Doctor on Demand get the publicity when American Well and a [scad] of others have been doing this at scale for years.” He was right, but, hey, Google.)

Google Venture General Partner Dr. Krishna Yeshwant told TechCrunch the real motive behind all the VC money flooding into healthcare. “As an entity it is where we’re spending 17 percent to 18 percent of GDP, so any one segment is tens of billions of dollars,” Yeshwant is quoted as saying. “Increasingly you’re seeing IT investors who have a fine sense of disruptive opportunities enter the market.” In other words, it’s all about the Benjamins.

But do they understand that healthcare doesn’t work like any other industry? I’m not so sure. And I haven’t even addressed the bigger questions of privacy, data stewardship, interoperability and workflow.

As you prepare your hate mail for me, check out this site, “What the F*** Is My Wearable Strategy?” (NSFW). Refresh the page for more hilarity, but be forewarned: some of the ideas may hit close to home.

You’re welcome.

January 20, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Podcast: MMRGlobal’s Bob Lorsch addresses the ‘patent troll’ issue

Two weeks ago, I picked apart a terribly misleading, ideologically steeped Fox News story that wrongly linked the initial failure of the healthcare.gov Affordable Care Act insurance exchange to the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program. Among my many criticisms was the reporter’s apparent confusion between an actual EHR and My Medical Records, the untethered PHR offered by MMRGlobal.

In that post, I said, “I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence that MMRGlobal isn’t much more than a patent troll.”

Bob Lorsch, CEO of that company, posted in the comments that I should put my money where my mouth is and interview him. (I had interviewed Lorsch before, but never wrote a story because of my longstanding policy of not paying attention to untethered PHRs since none that I know of has gained any market traction, despite years of hype.)

As this podcast demonstrates, I took Lorsch up on his offer. It was at times contentious, in part because I challenged many of his statements in the Fox story and to me, and in part because he challenged some of mine.

He asked me a pointed question, whether I still thought he was a patent troll. Based on the fact that MMR actually earned patents on a product it actively markets and didn’t just purchase someone else’s patents for the point of suing others, it’s hard to conclude that he is a patent troll.

Investopedia defines patent troll as:

A derogatory term used to describe people or companies that misuse patents as a business strategy. A patent troll obtains the patents being sold at auctions by bankrupt companies attempting to liquidate their assets, or by doing just enough research to prove they had the idea first. They can then launch lawsuits against infringing companies, or simply hold the patent without planning to practise the idea in an attempt to keep other companies productivity at a standstill.

By that definition, MMR is not. I still don’t think an untethered PHR is a good business model, a belief supported by the fact that publicly traded MMR is a penny stock, currently trading at less than 3 cents per share. I have said that patient engagement, called for on a small scale by Meaningful Use Stage 2 rules, could change the landscape for PHRs—with a better chance in pediatrics than for adult populations—but it certainly will take a few years.

I stand by my original statement that the Fox News story did health IT a huge disservice by latching onto one problem and trying to tie it to an unrelated issue simply because it fits an ideological narrative. As for MMR, well, take a listen and then judge for yourself. It’s a long podcast, but I went through the trouble of breaking it down by discussion point so you can skip around as necessary.

Podcast details: Interview with Bob Lorsch, CEO of MMRGlobal, recorded Oct. 18, 2013. MP3, mono, 128 bps, 49.5 MB, running time 54:07

2:03        About My Medical Records
3:26        Why he believes his product is better than traditional EHRs
5:00        My skepticism of untethered PHRs
6:28        Lorsch’s interview with HIStalk from February
6:40        MMR’s user base
8:00        Why he thinks MMR could facilitate health information exchange
9:40        Health information exchanges vs. health insurance exchanges
10:15     Patient-centered HIE as an alternative to multiple patient portals
12:20     Physician trust of patient-supplied data, and other workflow issues
15:05     Emergency use case
15:50     How MMR is different from other PHRs
16:32     “Last mile” of connectivity
18:17     His assertion in Fox story that patients lose control of health information and privacy under ACA, despite HIPAA
24:15     MMR carries cyber liability insurance
25:00     Scope of MMR’s patents
26:45     “Likely” infringement of patents
27:45     Lawsuits and licensing
29:30     Patent troll?
31:10     Negotiations with WebMD and others
33:00     MMR’s reputation
35:00     “We build and sell what we have intellectual property rights to.”
36:25     Other vendors ignoring patients?
36:50     Standardization in health IT
38:38     MMR’s low stock price
39:20     Patient engagement boosting PHR use?
42:00     Interest from WellPoint
42:48     Payers building trust with PHRs
44:18     Other features of MMR’s PHR
46:45     Segmentation of sensitive parts of medical records
49:08     Putting me on the spot
50:35     His objective in asserting patent rights
51:15     MMR’s issue with Walgreens
52:25     Revenue sharing vs. licensing

October 31, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Top 10 things wrong with Fox News smear job on EHRs

Today, FoxNews.com published a hit job on health IT and EHRs in the guise of another hit job on Obamacare. I found out about it courtesy of this tweet:

First off, it’s clear that Mostashari feels unshackled from having to watch his words now that he’s no longer national health IT coordinator. Secondly, he’s right. This story contains so many errors and misleading statements that it’s almost funny. Let’s count down the top 10.

10. “Under a George W. Bush-era executive order, all Americans should have access to their medical records by the end of 2014, part of a concept referred to as e-health. President Obama then made electronic medical records (EMRs) central to the success of the Affordable Care Act”

When Bush issued the executive order in 2004 that created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, he set as a goal interoperable EMRs for “most” Americans. The “all” part came after Barack Obama took office in 2009.

9. Though Obama did reiterate the 2014 goal and up the stakes by saying “all Americans,” nobody realistically thought it could happen. After all, the HITECH Act, which created Meaningful Use, didn’t pass until March 2009 and Meaningful Use didn’t even start until 2011. Before the HITECH Act, ONC barely had any funding anyway. For five years, Congress failed to pass much in the way of health IT legislation, even though a federal EHR incentive program had bipartisan support, symbolized by an unlikely alliance between Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton.

8. “Doctors, practitioners and hospitals, though, have been enriching themselves with the incentives to install electronic medical records systems that are either not inter-operable or highly limited in their crossover with other providers.”

Meaningful Use was never intended for enrichment, or even to cover the full cost of an EHR system.

7. While systems mostly are not interoperable yet, that wasn’t the intent of Stage 1 of Meaningful Use. Stage 1 was meant to get systems installed. Stage 2, which has barely started for the early adopters among hospitals and won’t start for 2 1/2 months for physicians, is about interoperability. That’s where the savings and efficiencies are supposed to come from.

6. We’re years away from knowing whether Meaningful Use program did its job, though I don’t fault members of Congress such as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) for putting pressure on the administration to demand more for the big taxpayer outlay.

5. “‘The electronic medical records system has been funded to hospitals at more than $1 billion per month. Apparently little or none of that money went to the enrollment process which is where the bottle neck for signing up to ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges appears to be,’ Robert Lorsch, a Los Angeles-based IT entrepreneur and chief executive of online medical records provider MMRGlobal, told Fox News.”

The money wasn’t supposed to go to the insurance enrollment process. The Meaningful Use incentive program was from the HITECH Act, part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, came a year later. Again, someone is confusing insurance and care. They are not the same thing.

4. “Lorsch, at MMRGlobal, offered the U.S. government what it describes as a user-friendly personal health record system for one dollar per month per family – a fraction of what it has cost the taxpayer so far.”

MMRGlobal’s product is an untethered personal health record. No untethered PHR anywhere is “user-friendly,” which is why adoption has been anemic. Without data from organizational EHRs, PHRs are worthless. Besides, the direct-to-consumer approach in healthcare has failed over and over, since people are used to having someone else — usually an insurance company — pick up the tab.

3. For that matter, MMRGlobal is a bad example to use as an alternative to EHRs. (The Fox story is correct in saying that other vendors do have close ties to the Obama administration, though the former Cerner executive’s name is Nancy-Ann DeParle, not “Nance.”) I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence that MMRGlobal isn’t much more than a patent troll.

2. “But this process could have been easier if a nine-year, government-backed effort to set up a system of electronic medical records had gotten off the ground. Instead of setting up their medical ID for the first time, would-be customers would have their records already on file.”

Actually, as I wrote in a story just published in Healthcare IT News, we could have had national patient identifiers 15 years ago, as called for by the 1996 HIPAA statute. But Congress voted in 1998 not to fund implementation of a national patient ID and President Bill Clinton signed that into law. Since then, interoperability and patient matching have been mighty struggles.

1. “‘Plus, unlike under ObamaCare, the patient would be in control of their health information and, most importantly, their privacy,’ Lorsch said.”

Where in Obamacare does the patient lose control of health information? Less than a month ago, I was in Washington listening to HHS Office for Civil Rights Director Leon Rodriguez say, ““There is a clear right [in the HIPAA privacy rule] not only of patient access, but patient control over everything in their records.” This may come as news to some people, but patients own and control the information. They might not know it, but the language is pretty clear.

Already, the Fox story has been reposted in a number of blogs shared all over the Internet, so it’s being accepted as fact in some quarters. If you want the truth, you sometimes have to do the work yourself.

October 15, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

‘Bitter Pill’ only tells half the story

I finally got around to finishing “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” the 24,000-word special report about healthcare costs that took up the entire feature section of the Feb. 20 edition of Time magazine. I was expecting to agree with most if not all of Steven Brill’s supposedly epic investigative piece. Instead, I was underwhelmed and quite disappointed that Brill, the founder of CourtTV (R.I.P., reincarnated as TruTV in Turner Broadcasting’s quest for more “reality” programming) and of American Lawyer magazine,  only told half the story about all that ails the U.S. healthcare industry. Brill also editorializes far more than he should.

Granted, the story is about the high cost of care, but you can’t discuss cutting costs without also delving into the subject of improving outcomes. As has been stated in many other places, we have more of a sick-care system than a healthcare system. The incentives favor treating illness, not preventing it.

I have to say I learned a lot about how the racket known as the chargemaster works to keep the true costs of care opaque to patients. I suspect that, with the exception of uninsured people who are the only ones expected to pay full price, the public was unaware of the chargemaster system that hospitals guard like a state secret. Brill is right when he says, “Unless you have Medicare, the health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot.” But he’s not telling the full story. Medicare’s payment list is public, sure, but do Medicare beneficiaries really care what the federal government pays their hospitals and doctors? No, they, like everyone else with insurance coverage, only pay attention to their out-of-pocket cost.

Sure, Brill spends a lot of time discussing the perverse incentives in healthcare, particularly those that encourage expensive testing, and even touches on some of the reforms in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that seem to have been left out of the debate over insurance coverage. Think the Medicare policy of not reimbursing hospitals for certain preventable readmissions.

But he completely neglects accountable care. Nor is there a mention of electronic health records and how interoperability can help reduce duplicate testing and unnecessary care. And he never addresses the elephant in the room, the shamefully high rate of medical errors that makes American healthcare far from the best in the world.

July 23, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

About that Friedman editorial

Did you happen to catch Thomas Friedman’s commentary in Sunday’s New York Times entitled, “Obamacare’s Other Surprise”?

On first read, I gave it a big “Duh!” for the explanation that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (that’s how the law is officially known, Mr. Friedman) creates a “new industry” of innovation by encouraging the federal government to release of terabytes of health data — information already legally in the public domain — and then allowing the private sector to figure out how to structure, interpret and use the data. As you probably are, I’m well aware of digital health, Health Datapalooza, federal CTO Todd Park and some of the companies Friedman mentions. (Health Datapalooza IV is less than a week away.)

But on second read, I realized Friedman needed to write that column because America needs a lot of education about the Affordable Care Act, education that the Obama administration and its supporters don’t seem all that willing to provide. The public still thinks of Obamacare largely in terms of health insurance coverage. It’s much more than that, including, as Friedman points out, an attempt “to flip this fee-for-services system (which some insurance companies are emulating) to one where the government pays doctors and hospitals to keep Medicare patients healthy and the services they do render are reimbursed more for their value than volume.”

Coupled with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which created the $27 billion EHR incentive program for “meaningful use” of electronic health records, the ACA takes some steps toward actual reform of actual care, not just insurance coverage. Friedman does not discuss Accountable Care Organizations, an experiment in realigning incentives around care coordination, nor does he mention the Medicare policy, dictated by the ACA, of not reimbursing for preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of initial discharge for certain specific conditions, currently heart attack, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. Likewise, he fails to bring up outcomes research, another component of Obamacare. But at least he gets something out there that’s not about insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, many of the online comments posted in response to Friedman’s commentary predictably focus on insurance coverage or government control, but some actually discuss EHRs, population health, healthy behaviors and payment incentives. That’s good. Still, those are just people who read Friedman and the Times. Hyperpartisan conservatives — probably even some hyperpartisan liberals, even though the ACA is more centrist than a lot of folks wish to admit — and the less-educated won’t read the column and won’t comment on the Times site. Those are the people who misunderstand this imperfect but occasionally reform-minded law the most.

 

May 27, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Health Wonk Review gets hung up on insurance

The last edition of Health Wonk Review prior to the Nov. 6 presidential election falls into the familiar big-media trap of portraying the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, as being only about health insurance and of effectively equating health insurance to healthcare. Let me repeat: insurance is not the same thing as care, and having “good” insurance does not guarantee good care.

This installment of HWR is awfully heavy on the insurance aspects of the ACA in the context of politics the election, which is not surprising, though host Maggie Mahar of the HealthBeat blog does at least consider comparative-effectiveness research, thanks to a contribution on the esteemed Health Affairs Blog.

My post, which includes the infographic from the movie “Escape Fire” showing how medical harm essentially is the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., is almost an afterthought, but at least Mahar also includes an entry from Dr. Roy Poses about medical harm in clinical trials.

There’s nary a word on health IT, which really is a shame in the context of the election, especially given that several Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-Okla.), have publicly questioned whether “meaningful use” so far has led to higher utilization of diagnostic testing and thus higher Medicare expenses.

By the way, Healthcare IT News is currently running a poll that asks: “With four GOP senators calling on HHS to suspend MU payments, would health IT remain bipartisan if Romney became president?” The poll is on the home page, but even after voting, I couldn’t find the results. In any case, I personally believe health IT has enough bipartisan support for MU to continue.

I also believe that no matter who wins the presidency, Congress probably will remain divided for the next two years, with Democrats holding onto the Senate and the GOP retaining control of the House, so I don’t expect any controversial legislation to pass. A Romney administration possibly could put a hold on future MU payments or revise the Stage 2 rules, but never underestimate the power of the hospital  and physician lobby.

 

October 28, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Most ‘sentinel events’ caused by poor communication

LOS ANGELES—I’m on the west coast now, first for the  USC Body Computing Conference here Friday, and then for the annual Health 2.0 conference up in San Francisco Monday and Tuesday.

Friday there was a lot of talk of healthcare reform. One interesting — and plausible — idea I heard for the first time is that the new Medicare policy of denying reimbursements for preventable readmissions within 30 days of discharge for patients with heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia might have an unintended consequence: We’ll start seeing a lot of readmissions on or after Day 31.

The new policy is one of the many aspects of true reform in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act beyond the controversial insurance expansion. And there seems to be a loophole that you can be sure  a lot of hospitals will seek to exploit. Even if they don’t, it is hard to change patient behavior, so it’s likely many will come back to the hospital for the same condition, even if it’s not within 30 days.

More importantly, I heard some statistics presented by Stanford dermatology resident Michelle Longmire, M.D., about medical errors: 7o percent of all sentinel events in U.S. healthcare facilities — and there were 8,859 such events voluntarily reported to the Joint Commission between 1995 and the first quarter of 2012, meaning that many times more probably occurred —result from breakdowns in communication. Half occur during patient handoffs such as shift changes, specialist consultations and transfers to other wards or facilities, Longmire said.

I am convinced all the buffoonery that took place while my dad was hospitalized prior to his death was due to communication problems, poorly designed work processes and a culture of covering one’s posterior in an error-prone organization.

This happens far too often, yet some politicians who want to repeal “Obamacare” keep trying to convince the ignorant masses that American healthcare is just in need of a few tweaks.

At the Republican National Convention in August, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the following: “”Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world’s greatest healthcare system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor.” PolitiFact.com generously rated this as “half true.” However, PolitFact itself noted that the World Health Organization rated U.S. healthcare as 37th of 191 countries in terms of “overall performance.” The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says we spend more on healthcare as a share of gross domestic product than any of the other 33 OECD countries. If that’s the “world’s greatest,” I’d sure hate to be worst.

Last week, during the first presidential debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the very same Gov. Romney who championed near-universal health insurance coverage with an individual mandate in his home state — a plan first hatched by the conservative Heritage Foundation as an alternative to the Clinton healthcare reform proposal in 1993 — said this:

Look, the right course for — for America’s government — we were talking about the role of government — is not to become the economic player picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the healthcare system that — that has existed in this country for — for a long, long time and has produced the best health records in the world.

Without getting into what the role of government should or should not do, our health records suck, Our record on producing healthier people is not so wonderful, either. So no matter what Romney meant by “best health records in the world,” he was lying.

I couldn’t help thinking he was playing to this crowd:

 

Now, this cartoon makes it seem like Obamacare is so wonderful. It’s not. As I’ve said before, having insurance does not mean you will get good care. Having “good” insurance that requires very little out-of-pocket for the patient doesn’t guarantee good care, either, nor does being a VIP. Recall the case of James Tyree, who died from a medical error at a prestigious teaching hospital he was on the board of. The late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) suffered a similar fate despite having “Cadillac” insurance coverage.

I’m going to repeat what is fast becoming my mantra: It’s quality, stupid.

UPDATE, Oct.8: Here’s a summary of what actually is in the Affordable Care Act, and when each provision takes effect, courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

October 7, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.