Cleaning out the inbox

I’ve let quite a lot of e-mails pile up the last few weeks, and a few I even had to rescue from Gmail’s spam filter.

In catching up with all the messages, I’ve learned a lot.

For one thing, payer-side software vendor MEDecison (MEDE) went public Dec. 13 at $10 a share, down from previously announced ranges of $14 to $16 and then $11.50 to $13.50. The price fluctuated between $9.04 and $10.24 on the first day of trading on the Nasdaq), but has come back either to or slightly above the $10 IPO level every day until Thursday, when it closed at $9.89 (on extremely low volume). Track the historical prices here, then check out this less-than-glowing assessment from the Motley Fool.

MEDecision certainly seems to be doing better than Merge Healthcare, which adjourned its annual shareholders’ meeting Monday in Milwaukee for lack of a quorum. The company plans on trying again on Dec. 28. I’ve been getting this company’s press releases for a long time, but have never written about Merge before. All I know is that the company was in bankruptcy, is now out, and has combined Merge eFilm, Cedara Software and eMed Technologies into two units, called Merge Healthcare and Merge eMed. They apparently are big in imaging but not in other areas of health IT, and seem to have some Canadian management because the stock is traded on both the Nasdaq (MRGE) and the Toronto Stock Exchange (MRG). Should I be paying attention or not?

Just in time for Christmas (ok, not really, it was published in September), comes a book with the cheery title, “Medicare Meets Mephistopheles,” from Cato Institute scholar David A. Hyman. The Libertarian think tank’s Web site describes the tome thusly: “Medicare’s devilish details demonstrate its success at encouraging the Seven Deadly Sins — Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony and Lust — and at undermining the virtues of thrift and honesty.” Former CMS boss Tom Scully has said Medicare is a price-fixing operation, but I don’t believe he ever went all Faustian on us. Personally, I’m curious how Medicare inspires lust. Oh wait, here it is: “Medicare makes Democrats lust for socialized medicine, while its imperviousness to reform makes Republicans angrier and angrier.”

Further to the left on the political spectrum, Joe Trippi, the brains behind the Howard Dean Internet fundraising juggernaut, has joined the Archimedes Movement , the organization founded by former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, M.D., to push progressive (but not single-payer) approaches to healthcare reform. Health IT types may remember Kitzhaber’s inspiring and highly persuasive speeches at the 2006 HIMSS conference last February and the eHealth Initiative’s Health IT Summit in September. Whether his ideas gain any traction in Washington is another story for another day.

(Notice how I avoided saying “conservative” and “liberal” in talking about Cato and Archimedes. I’d never make it as a pundit.)

Also lost in the e-mail pile was the announcement that John Menzer, U.S. vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, has been named to the American Health Information Community. And the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, which became an independent, nonprofit organization last month, announced that it has received federal authorization and funding to expand ambulatory EHR certification into various medical specialties, as expected.

And finally, here are some results of a survey of readers of the daily e-mail “SmartBrief” from America’s Health Insurance Plans. (I had a bunch of these to catch up with in the last few days.)

In your opinion, which of the following developments was the most significant in 2006?
51% — New Medicare drug benefit program
19% — Consumer-directed plans
13% — Efforts to cover the uninsured
11% — Electronic health care initiatives
6% — Walk-in clinics in retail settings

What health care technology issue will take center stage in 2007?
55% — Electronic health records
19% — Personal health records
11% — E-prescribing
9% — Online visits
6% — Telemedicine

What will generate the most attention from policy-makers in 2007?
47% — Universal health care
24% — Medicare
17% — Health care information technology
5% — Medicaid
4% — Privacy-related legislation
3% — Other

Lastly, I’ve had the great fortune in the last week and a half to interview or chat with four giants in patient safety and/or IT, namely Drs. Don Berwick, Larry Weed, Lucian Leape and Ron Pion (and people wonder why I attend so many conferences). I’ve written a couple of stories already, here and here. Look forward to some interesting stuff in the new year.