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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: money talks, but IT helps

The latest edition of Health Wonk Review is hot off the digital presses, with Joe Paduda taking hosting duties on his Managed Care Matters blog. And managed care does matter in this trip around the health blogosphere, with most of the attention on healthcare costs and insurance coverage.

On the quality front, which is my primary interest these days, there is some interesting discussion about  whether the new Medicare hospital readmissions policy truly will produce better care or will prod some into providing the minimum level of service to readmitted patients.

(Frankly, hospitals have been overtreating for years. If a minimal level of service gets the job done for the patient, that’s a good thing. And the policy is supposed to cause hospitals to do the right thing in the first place, knowing that they will lose out later if they don’t. I’m all for that.)

My post on consumer ignorance of telemedicine is in there, as is a good one from Vince Kuraitis and Leslie Kelly Hall about the duty providers have to share information with patients. EHRs and wearable sensors also make this edition of HWR. Not bad from an IT perspective.

May 10, 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.

Guest podcast: Deborah Gordon of Network Health talks reform with Sivad Solutions

Last September, I was a guest on a podcast hosted by Todd Schnick and Charles Davis of Sivad Business Solutions. Afterwards, we decided to share content if and when it made sense. That hasn’t happened until now (actually last month — I’m just getting around to posting now).

Schnick and Davis interviewed Deborah Gordon, chief marketing officer of Network Health, a health insurer in Massachusetts, to discuss healthcare reform. I wouldn’t be posting this if it didn’t have a focus on real reform of health care, and not just insurance expansion, with a strong element of patient safety and attention to outcomes.


From Sivad:

An honor to welcome Deborah Gordon, the Chief Marketing Officer for Network Health. Debbie joins us to talk about one of the more innovative non-profit health plans one can find across the US. You can learn more about Network Health here, the number three health plan for Medicaid health plans.

Discussion topics included:

1. The challenges of serving a very diverse population and customer base, along with lower income customers as a result of income or job situation.

2. Network Health, and states like Massachusetts, have lead the nation in Medicaid health care. How can that trend, and how can the reforms found in Massachusetts, spread across the land?

3. The creation of the Health Insurance Exchange is the key to success…which brings competition and market forces to bear in health care. “It is like Expedia for health insurance…”

4. A focus on quality patient care going forward…

5. What are the challenges going forward, and how does the heated national debate impact the work they are doing.

6. The innovation that’s possible when market forces are at play… “Regulators spawning innovation…”

7. More technology is available and serving the health care markets, which is exciting. But, will access to that technology be accessible to the low income markets?

8. The e-discharge program…

9. The utilization of analytics…

10. Exposing more information to the consumer makes them better patients, healthier, and more compliant to health recommendations…

11. The patient should be the center of the health care system… not the doctor.

12. Debbie was recently named a 2013 USA Eisenhower Fellow, a prestigious fellowship which recognizes emerging leaders who are making momentous contributions to society. In 2013, she will travel to Singapore and Australia where she will explore how these countries have successfully established systems and supports that allow consumers to make good decisions about their health care. The goal is to gather insights and best practices that can be applied here in the U.S.

 

April 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.

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.