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‘Escape Fire’ leaves out IT, ultimately disappoints

I finally got the opportunity to catch the documentary film “Escape Fire,” a good 15 months after it went into limited theatrical release and became available in digital formats. I thought it would be an eye-opening exposé of all that ills the American healthcare industry, particularly for those who somehow believe we have the greatest care in the world. I excitingly ran this graphic when I first mentioned the movie on this blog back in October 2012:

The well-paced, 99-minute film interviews some notable figures in the fight to improve American healthcare — safety guru and former CMS head Dr. Don Berwick, journalist Shannon Brownlee, integrative medicine advocates Dr. Andrew Weill and Dr. Dean Ornish — as well as some lesser-known people trying to make a difference. It goes through a laundry list of all the culprits in the overpriced, underperforming mess of a healthcare system we have now, and examines approaches that seem to be producing better care for lower cost.

I expected the movie to have a liberal slant, but it really stayed away from the political battles that have poisoned healthcare “reform” the last couple of years. About the only presence of specific politicians were clips of both President Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell both praising a highly incentivized employee wellness program at grocery chain Safeway that reportedly kept the company’s health expenses flat from 2005 through 2009, a remarkable achievement in an era of escalating costs.

However, filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke did discuss all the lobbyists’ money presumably buying off enough votes in Washington and at the state level that has helped entrench the status quo. They even scored an interview with Wendell Potter, the former top media spokesman for Cigna, who became a public voice against abuses by health insurers because his conscience got the better of him. As Brownlee noted in the film’s opening, the industry “doesn’t want to stop making money.”

Other reasons given for why healthcare is so expensive, ineffective and, yes, dangerous include:

  • direct-to-consumer drug advertising leading to overmedication;
  • public companies needing to keep profits up;
  • fee-for-service reimbursement;
  • the uninsured using emergency departments as their safety net;
  • lack of preventive care and education about lifestyle changes;
  • a shortage of primary care physicians;
  • cheap junk food that encourages people to eat poorly; and
  • severe suffering among the wounded military ranks.

The filmmakers also kind of imply that there isn’t much in the way of disease management or continuity of care. Brownlee described a “disease care” system that doesn’t want people to die, nor does it want them to get well. It just wants people getting ongoing treatment for the same chronic conditions.

One physician depicted in the movie, Dr. Erin Martin, left a safety-net clinic in The Dalles, Ore., because the work had become “demoralizing.” The same people kept coming back over and over, but few got better because Martin had to rush them out the door without consulting on lifestyle choices, since she was so overscheduled. “I’m not interested in getting my productivity up,” an exasperated Martin said. “I’m interested in helping patients.”

Another patient in rural Ohio had received at least seven stents and had cardiac catheterization more than two dozen times, but never saw any improvement in her symptoms for heart disease or diabetes until she went to the Cleveland Clinic, where physicians are all on salary and the incentives are more aligned than they were in her home town. As Berwick importantly noted, “We create a public expectation that more is better.” In this patient’s case, she was over-catheterized and over-stented to address an acute condition, but not treated for the underlying chronic problems.

The film also examined how the U.S. military turned to acupuncture as an alternative to narcotics because so many wounded soldiers have become hooked on pain pills. One soldier, a self-described “hillbilly” from Louisiana, got off the dozens of meds he had become addicted to and took up yoga, meditation and acupuncture to recover from an explosion in Afghanistan that left him partially paralyzed and with a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The only laugh I had in the movie was when he told the acupuncturist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, “Let’s open up some chi.”

I kept waiting and waiting for some evidence of information technology making healthcare better, but I never got it. After leaving the Oregon clinic, Martin took a job at a small practice in Washington state where she was seen toting a laptop between exam rooms, but, for the most part, I saw paper charts, paper medication lists and verbal communication between clinicians.

What really bothered me, however, is the fact that there was no discussion of EHRs, health information exchange or clinical decision support, no mention of the problem of misdiagnosis, no explicit discussion of patient handoffs, continuity of care, medication reconciliation and so many other points where the system breaks down. You can’t truly fix healthcare until you address those areas.

 

January 21, 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.

Guest podcast: Suzanne Leveille from OpenNotes

I now present the latest health IT-related podcast from Sivad Business Solutions, an interview with Suzanne Leveille, research director of OpenNotes, a project to give patients online access to the entirety of their own medical records, including the visit notes from clinicians. Leveille describes a trial at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She reported that not one of the 105 participating physicians asked for the access to be shut off after a year. In some cases, patients even discovered errors and prevented adverse events.


Here is the description from Sivad:

A pleasure to welcome Suzanne Leveille to the program today. Suzanne is a professor of nursing at The University of Massachusetts-Boston, and the research director for OpenNotes.

OpenNotes is an initiative that invites patients to review their visit notes written by their doctors, nurses, or other clinicians.

As a patient, you have the right to read the notes your doctor or clinician writes about you during or after your appointment. Having the chance to read and discuss them with your doctor or family member can help you take better control of your health and health care.

As a healthcare professional, you may build better relationships with your patients and take better care of them when you share your visit notes. Our evidence suggests that opening up visit notes to patients may make care more efficient, improve communication, and most importantly may help patients become more actively involved with their health and health care.

Some highlights from the conversation include: the dramatic improvement between patient and doctor communications; how they overcome potential push back and resistance from physicians; patients became more engaged in their personal health care; OpenNotes has been pleasantly surprised at the patient engagement; how advanced technologies and mobile technology are going to impact the future of this idea; and how they are planning to spread the word and get more patients and doctors improving communications and care with OpenNotes!

 

May 16, 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.

Video: My interview with Phytel’s Steve Schelhammer from Health 2.0

Last fall, I conducted one of the “3 CEOs” interviews at the 2012 Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. For my interview, I drew Steve Schelhammer, CEO of Phytel, a population health management technology provider. Aside from a little technical glitch — one that got edited out of this clip — with Schelhammer’s earpiece microphone not working, I think this went very well. The most amazing part is that this was the first session of the morning and not only was I on time, I was awake and alert.

February 20, 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.

Podcast: Intel’s Eric Dishman on connected care management

Did you miss Eric Dishman’s keynote address Tuesday at the Medical Group Management Association‘s annual conference in Las Vegas? That’s OK, because I secured a few minutes with Dishman, director of health innovation and policy at Intel, immediately after his talk, and the results are right here.

This podcast, recorded in the somewhat noisy press room at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is a companion piece of sorts to my coverage in MobiHealthNews on Thursday, so I hope you have a chance to check out both.

Podcast details: Intel’s Eric Dishman on connected care management, recorded Oct. 26, 2011, at MGMA annual conference in Las Vegas. MP3, mono, 64 kbps, 5.2 MB. Running time 11:08.

0:30 Virtual care coordination in nontraditional settings
1:05 Overlap/collaboration with Care Innovations joint venture
2:10 Prototype device for monitoring symptoms of Parkinson’s patients
4:00 Home monitoring of “classic” chronic diseases
4:55 Tracking behavioral changes for prevention and early detection
6:05 Realizing the potential of mobile health
6:55 Care coordination and health reform
8:30 ACOs and payment for quality
9:35 Intel’s future providing “strategic blueprints” for healthcare
10:20 How to share ideas with him

October 26, 2011 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: IBM Distinguished Engineer Scott Schumacher envisions the ‘clinical hub’

In part two of my series from month’s IBM Exchange 2011, my guest is IBM Distinguished Engineer Scott Schumacher. In this lively podcast, Schumacher discusses Watson, disease management and the concept of the “clinical hub,” which envisions bringing together clinical decision support and case management.

As with my previous podcast with IBM’s Lorraine Fernandes, I set my mic too low. I boosted the level during editing, but that introduced more background noise than I’d like. Schumacher mostly comes through nice and clear, though.

Podcast details: Interview with IBM Distinguished Engineer Scott Schumacher, recorded Sept. 14, 2011, in Chicago. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 13.2 MB. Running time 14:25.

0:30 What the IBM Exchange is
1:38 The “clinical hub”
2:30 Population analytics and individual patient analysis
4:20 Applying Watson intelligence and other medical knowledge
5:40 Target customers for clinical hub
7:10 Technical challenges
8:15 Potential for the technology
9:00 Video/image mining
10:00 Plans for testing and deployment
11:35 Mining of clinical notes and patient history
12:30 Incorporation of genomics and predictive treatment plans

October 23, 2011 I Written By

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

Mobile phones for HIV/AIDS treatment

In honor of World AIDS Day, I’m linking to a post on the MobileActive.org blog about treating HIV/AIDS patients via mobile phones. The post discusses two programs to engage patients with “virtual call centers,” text messages and, eventually, home testing services, particularly in South Africa, which has the world’s highest population of HIV-positive residents.

(Thanks to Dr. Enoch Choi for alerting me to this post.)

I’ve covered mobile health in the developing world several times on this blog and elsewhere, notably from one week of the the Making the eHealth Connection conferences in Italy last summer, and subsequent follow-up coverage. See “The Davos of health IT?” and “Desmond Tutu Presents e-Health Call to Action.”

Those who attend the 25th annual TEPR conference in February should expect to hear a progress report on a project to promote health information interoperability in the U.S. by cell phone. The Medical Records Institute, the group behind TEPR, also is pushing mobile technology in healthcare through the Center for Cell Phone Applications in Healthcare.

Looking ahead, I’m hoping to get a closer look at mobile technology for HIV treatment at MedInfo2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. But that’s a long way off. The HIV epidemic is not going to wait.

December 1, 2008 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

ORLANDO, Fla.—Here’s a podcast that’s been a year in the making. Actually, it was a year plus an hour and a half. Last year in New Orleans, I had a lively, hour-long conversation with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber that was supposed to be for a podcast, but the recording didn’t work.

On Saturday, I showed up at the appointed hour for another sit-down with Lieber, and realized I’d forgotten my recorder back at my hotel, so we rescheduled for about 90 minutes later. Well, the third time was a charm, and the result is this podcast, a lively, half-hour-long conversation with Steve Lieber, just ahead of the opening of the annual HIMSS conference.

Podcast details: Interview with Steve Lieber at HIMSS ’08. MP3, mono, 64kbps, 13.8 MB. Running time 30:10.

0:30 Expected attendance of 27,000+
1:15 Greater attention on technology in healthcare
1:45 Growth on clinical side
2:50 More interest from non-IT executives
4:00 E-prescribing as an example of IT crossing disciplines
5:45 Multiple opportunites for improvements in prescribing and medication administration
6:30 Continuing problems with access to capital
8:50 Prospects for Medicare payment reform
10:07 Health IT in the presidential campaign
11:15 Health IT debate remains largely nonpartisan.
12:40 Progress among private payers in reimbursement for quality
14:00 More focus on disease management than quality per se
14:40 Slow adoption of personal health records
15:42 Suitability of PHRs for chronically ill
17:30 Kids may be first major PHR constituency in general population.
18:05 Google, Microsoft and Revolution Health in healthcare and HIMSS keynotes from Eric Schmidt and Steve Case
20:00 Movement toward home health
20:40 HIMSS strategic interest in medical devices
21:40 HIMSS branching out as an association
22:30 Interoperability of financial and administrative information
23:10 Working for universal set of quality measures
23:35 Globalization of HIMSS
26:00 Standardization beyond the U.S., e.g., Snomed
27:00 Highlights of HIMSS conference: Interoperability Showcase
28:00 Public meetings at HIMSS, including AHIC
29:03 International registration

February 24, 2008 I Written By

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