Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lady, Janes is a winner

Way back in June 2012, I wrote about Sharon Linder's new company, GetJanes, which produces comfortable and appropriately fitted examination gowns for women.

It's time for an update.  Sharon writes:

Long story short...I have sold Janes throughout the country, they are featured on The Grommet ( and can be found in many VA Medical Center Women's Programs. Because Janes have given women so much comfort, there is nothing more rewarding for me. We continue to donate partial profits to fund free mammograms for under served women.

I'm so pleased, as this appeared to me from the start to be a great product.  Oddly, though, I don't hear about much use of them in Massachusetts hospitals, just a few miles from the company's Rhode Island headquarters.  I'd say this is worth a look by our local folks.

Meanwhile, for old times sake, check out this video:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beryl Institute surveys your experiences

The Beryl Institute are conducting their 3rd biennial survey on the topic of the “state of patient, resident and family experience in healthcare.”  They would love to spread the survey and get as much participation as possible from as many folks as possible – here’s the link.

Now seeking national nominations for compassionate caregiver award

It's time for nominations for the Schwartz Center's National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year Award.  Note the new inclusion of "national" in the title, as the center spreads its wings and offers this opportunity to people throughout the country.

Here's the description:

The Schwartz Center National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year (NCCY) Award is a national recognition program that elevates excellence in compassionate healthcare. Every year since 1999, the Schwartz Center has honored outstanding healthcare providers, who display extraordinary devotion and compassion in caring for patients and families.

This year’s expansion of the award coincides with the Schwartz Center’s 20th anniversary. Our two decades of growth and momentum has enabled us to expand our compassionate care community and grow the national movement to support and value compassion in healthcare.

The deadline for nominations is May 1.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pediatrics on WIHI

Madge Kaplan writes:
The next WIHI broadcast — Topping the Charts in Pediatrics and Adverse Events Reporting — will take place on Thursday, February 26, from 2 to 3 PM ET, and I hope you'll tune in.

Our guests will include:
  • Adebisi Alli, DO, MS, Chief Resident in Quality & Patient Safety, Department of Internal Medicine, Banner-University Medical Center, Phoenix VA Healthcare System
  • Gareth Parry, MSc, PhD, Senior Scientist, Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI)
  • Lori Rutman, MD, MPH, Attending Physician, Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Seattle Children’s Hospital
  • Angela Statile, MD, MEd, Attending Physician, Division of Hospital Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Thirty-two abstracts and 56 posterboards were shared at IHI’s 20th Annual Scientific Symposium this past December. At the end of the day, the audience voted three of these as the best for clarity of presentation and strength of research. The leaders of the teams behind the winning presentations are gathering to talk about their work on the February 26 WIHI: Topping the Charts in Pediatrics and Adverse Events Reporting. We hope you’ll tune in.

IHI’s Senior Scientist Gareth Parry, who runs the Scientific Symposium, will kick off our discussion with some framing about the state of health and health care improvement science in the US and globally. He’ll also set the stage for us to hear about the three winning presentations of exemplar initiatives: a multi-year effort at Seattle Children’s Hospital to improve the care pathways for children suffering from chronic asthma; the successful implementation of new processes at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to reduce discharge-related waits and delays for children with complex medical problems and illnesses​; and the creation of a medical resident-led consultation team at a Veterans Administration Medical Center to increase the number of error reports submitted by residents and to ensure that safety concerns are addressed.

You’ll hear all the details on WIHI, including the most recent data about each improvement endeavor. As we’ll learn, the work continues to show gains and demonstrates how new processes and pathways can be sustained. Come treat yourself to some leading improvement science research, shared by some leading improvement researchers.

Riess delivers on empathy

Empathy is a fashionable topic, but the discussion surrounding it is often a bit touchy-feely, short on rigor.  In contrast, I recently came across this excellent TEDx talk by Helen Riess delivered at Middlebury a bit over a year ago.  It's 17 minutes are worth watching in several respects--thoughtful, understated, and substantive.

Helen is local, based at MGH, so I gave her a call and she told me about some of her activities.  With the encouragement of her hospital, she's started a firm called Empathetics, which is conducting training for clinicians based on her research. You see, empathy isn't just about feeling warmth and connection: The emotional connection also has roots in neurobiology and physiology.  Helen has taken what she and colleagues have learned about these aspects of empathy and have integrated them into a training protocol grounded in neuroscience that can achieve improvements in the clinical process and outcomes.  As noted:

Empathetics offers novel training based on the neurobiology and physiology of human interactions that improve interpersonal behavior benefiting both patients and clinicians. Empathetics training enables accurate interpretation and translation of emotional communications, resulting in greater trust, safety and satisfaction for patients and medical professionals.

For those concerned about the rate of malpractice asserts, it is worth noting, too, that, "Over 80% of malpractice claims are the result of communication failures, and the likelihood of an unhappy outcome is correlated to low physician empathy."

Helen is a scientist-clinician.  She put her approaches through a randomized control trial at MGH.  She concludes:

Providing empathic care does not necessarily increase cost or time with patients. In fact, empathic interactions with others can actually save time and be more effective using the techniques in our training.

I have no financial interest in this company, but it seems to me that the methods and approaches offered by Helen and her colleagues are worthy of consideration by a broad range of health care provider organizations.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A gracious witness dies

Every CEO knows that he or she is totally dependent on one's administrative assistant to get you through the day, the week, the year . . . and maybe your life.  Well, in my case, I also had an AA--Gail Serra--who had a remarkable ability to give me the most meaningful Christmas/Chanukah gift each year.

One of the best examples was in 2009 when she arranged with with Facing History and Ourselves for me to have a personal visit with Dr. Maurice “Ries” Vanderpol.  I later wrote about the visit on my blog, here.

I recently heard from Gail learned that Ries died this past fall, as noted by FH&O.

As I look through my old blog post, I was struck by a comment from Patricia Ruane, about how Ries demonstrated that life experiences in one setting can be useful in another:

"Ries" brought his sage advice and wisdom to the aid of the principals and leadership team of the Brookline Public Schools, where he helped create a safe place for difficult discussion and conflict resolution. He invented a model of reflective practice that has been replicated by superintendent support groups throughout Massachusetts over the past 25 years. He is an inspiration and a resource for all generations.

I mourn his passage but I know I join many who were so grateful for the special times we had together.

The preemie grows up

One of my favorite blogs, going way back to 2007, was "The Preemie Experiment," written by Stacy Carney Harbst.  How could you not be engaged by this story?

The day my water breaks, with my first pregnancy, I was 23.0 weeks pregnant. The experiment begins as soon as I am admitted. I was told that I would go into labor within 24 hours. When that didn't happen a neonatologist came into my room to tell my husband and I that our daughter will never be normal if she is born before 26 weeks and that she would most definitely have disabilities. He told us that we should just hold her and let her die in our arms. He was even willing to make sure our wishes would be carried out in the delivery room.

When we refused to give up, I was moved to another hospital with a NICU that was able to care for micropreemies.  

The experiment received their next participant the day our daughter was born-at 25.5 weeks, weighing in at 1 pound 12 ounces and 13 inches long. Post natal steroids for her-not being sure on the dosage-they just guess (based on past participants). So many tests for her lead to many blood transfusions. X-rays, ultrasounds, exams... all part of the experiment. Central lines, TPN, IV's-all without any pain meds. Is this humane? Alarms blare, phones ring, people talk loudly around the babies. All part of the experiment.

That was 8 years ago. She walks, she talks, she is advanced in some areas of school. She is beautiful. Hardly an outward sign of her prematurity.

A success?

Not if you ask her. She is in physical pain daily thanks to mild cerebral palsy. Headaches. Seizures. Major sensory issues. Can't write long due to fatigue and pain in her hands. Severe OCD. Pain in her eyes from the scar tissue. Has thoughts of killing her parents and her brother, and even herself. Tics. Chronic constipation. Yellow adult teeth. Reflux that has put holes in her teeth. Years of physical therapy. More tests. Lots of blood tests. Etc... blah, blah, blah.

Our heart aches for our daughter. I don't know what life would be like without her. I just can't bear to think what life will be like *for* her.

Stacy's last blog entry was in November 2011, when Paige turned 13:

I did it! We celebrated Paige's 13th birthday and I didn't cry the entire day!

Well, this note arrived a couple of weeks ago:

Dear Mr. Levy,

We are high school students in a Health Informatics class doing a project on medical errors in healthcare. Considering your background, we have decided to email you to ask if you are available to Skype. Our names are Paige and Alex, and we know about your background through Stacy (Paige’s mom) blog and have decided to contact you to ask you about medical error situations and what your take is on how to fix them. Thank you for your time. 

Paige and Alex

So welcome to Paige at age 16! It was supposed to be a Skype call; but their teacher Karen Smith (a very accomplished nurse, by the way) is, in her words, "a rookie," and inadvertently locked herself out of the Skype account for 24 hours (!). So we used an old-fashioned telephone line, as seen here, from Shelby County Area Technology Center in Kentucky. (Alex, unfortunately was ill.)

The girls have started a blog about patient safety issues.  Check it out here.

We had a great talk, and I hope they find it to be useful material for their blog and beyond.  In the meantime, I am happy to report that "the preemie experiment" was a huge success.

Monday, February 23, 2015

$500K in medical waste--per week!

Here's what half a million dollars in medical waste looks like.

Shown below are the full page advertisements bought by hospitals in this week's New York Times Magazine. According to the current rate sheet, the cost per ad is roughly $100,000.

That's about $500,000 in useless expenses just in one week.  And it happens every week in this magazine.  Before you say, "Well, it must make business sense," let me assure you that, for the academic medical centers, they are mainly ego-gratifying sops for boards of trustees and doctors.

Time to nominate Sepsis Heroes

Its that time again, when the Sepsis Alliance is seeking nominees for its annual Sepsis Heroes awards:

Do you know of a person who deserves to be recognized for his or her work in raising sepsis awareness? Do you know of an organization that has gone the extra mile to help educate people about sepsis? If so, we want to hear from you!

The deadline for nominations is April 15.

Details are here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wachter offers The Digital Doctor

Only a person with the experience, depth, and judgment of Robert Wachter could take on the task of summarizing the impact of the digital age on the practice of medicine.  But very few people who might have such experience, depth, and judgment would have pulled it off as well as he has.

The book is called The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine's Computer Age. It will be published in April, but you can pre-order it here, and well you should.  Bob is by no means a Luddite, but he is also not shy in presenting the disadvantages of the digital age. His goal, though, is to help us through this transition so medicine might actually work better in the future.

Read the summary over at Amazon.  Meanwhile, I'll give a few excerpts so you can get a sense of the substance and style--and the book has plenty of both.

On how computers in the exam room can affect the relationship between doctor and patient, he notes that several studies have confirmed that eye contact is associated with higher levels of perceived empathy and connection. To make the point, he gives the counter-example:

A colleague of mine, a successful physician-entrepreneur in his late sixties, recently told me about a visit to his primary care doctor after a long hiatus.  "I had seen him a few years earlier, and I like him," he said.  "But this visit was entirely different.  This time, he asks me a question, and as soon as I begin to answer, his head is down in his laptop.  Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.  He looks up at me to ask another question. As soon as I speak, again it's tap-tap-tap-tap."

"What did you do?" I asked.

"I found another doctor."

On the effect of PACS, the computerized radiology imaging system--the first widespread adoption of computers in medicine--which led to isolation of radiologists.  Visits from other clinicians, once the norm, dropped to nothing. Indeed, interactions between and among radiologists themselves did likewise.

The radiologists were lonely, sure, but their situation involves something far deeper. Hari Tsoukas . . . highlights the distinction between "information" and "knowledge." Information, he wrote, "consists of objectified, decontextualized, time-less, impersonal, value-free representations," whereas knowledge is "context-dependent, personalized, time-bound, and infused with values." . . . The emergence of PACS left radiologists information-rich but knowledge-poor.

On the contractual hold harmless clause that exists in so many EHR business deals, rendering the companies virtually liability free even when their products may have contributed to patient harm:

The vendors' case seems like a version of the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument: errors reflect poor implementation practices or screw-ups by users. This is certainly true at times, but . . . there are scores of errors that are all but inevitable given clunky software, including poor user interfaces.  It seems right that the vendors would at least share responsibility if patients were harmed in such circumstances.

And on the nondisclosure clauses that prohibit sharing of defects and the like in IT systems:

EHRs are not simply business applications--they have become the tools that we use to take care of our patients.  It is high time we reconciled these conflicting worldviews and threw our weight behind the transparency we need to keep patients safe.

And, while giving great credit to both organizations and their contributions to the industry, on the current schism between Epic and athenahealth:

Epic and all the other vendors and providers need to be pushed toward a common standard that supports sharing, accompanied by a set of incentives and penalties to promote total connectivity. It should be easy for physicians to choose an office-based and relatively inexpensive EHR like athena and have it link up to their hospital's Epic system, or any of the equivalent inpatient products.  Today it is not.

And then, finally, the reconciliation between humans and machines, reflecting Bob's deep knowledge of clinical process improvement:

The measure of a safe organization is not whether the person who makes the great catch gets a thank you note from the CEO.  Rather, it's whether the person who sees something that seems to be amiss and decides to stop the line receives that  note . . . when there wasn't an error.  If the organization is not fully supportive of that person, it will never be completely safe, no matter how good its technology.

Bravo! Pre-order order the book now here so you can be pleasantly surprised by the package's arrival in April and so you can read it before your colleagues. It will be the talk of the town everywhere in the country, and beyond.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dear Mayo, Now let's look at your MS Google ad

A few days ago, I asked if the Mayo clinic was exercising any kind of quality control over Google health care search results, which are reportedly now part of a joint venture between the two companies.  As noted on the official Google Blog:

All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

Following that post, E-Patient Dave deBronkart offered a remarkable comment that dramatically expanded on my points. He noted:

Something is very wrong here, and after 15 minutes of digging, so far it smells to me like Google is playing fast and loose with the Mayo name. It almost seems willful to me, because Google is VERY conscious (at an expert level) of the power of what people see first. 

The wording "checked by Mayo" is fishy - as you say, it doesn't stipulate what that means, and as I say, Google is fully aware of the power of what meets a reader's eyes first.

Today over on Twitter, Elin Silveous (@ElinSilveous) pointed out another serious misrepresentation with regard to Multiple Sclerosis. Posting a screen shot (like that seen here) from her Google search, she noted:

More questionable Google health search: MS 200,000-3 Million U.S. cases/year. Not! 

I did a little research and reviewed the National MS Society website, where I found the following answer after the question, "How many people have MS?"

More than 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide (my emphasis.)

Veronica Combs (@vmcombs) watching this tweet fest, responded:

Interesting. But I suspect Google's motive is to increase targeted ad opps, not educate consumers.

Well, maybe so.  But this issue here really isn't Google, is it?  It is that Mayo Clinic is allowing its name and reputation to be used in a manner inconsistent with the high standard of medical knowledge and care for which it is rightly known. The search clearly says, "Sources: Mayo Clinic and others."  Mayo's business deal with Google gets it top billing on all these millions of searches. Google, in turn, gets the imprimatur of the Mayo name.

The question remains:  What's up?  Who's in charge of this over at Mayo? Why are they letting this happen?

Friday, February 20, 2015

CRE, ERCP, FDA, but not you and me

I was struck by the need for an FDA announcement to users of duodenoscopes—the endoscopes used in endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatographies, or ERCPs--that they should be extra careful about cleaning the scopes to avoid transmittal of drug resistant bugs.

So I asked a friend who is a world expert in ERCPs.  This MD said, "This is specific to ERCP scopes as an enclosed wire channel for the elevator makes access difficult despite following all manufacturer's recommendations.  We have been aware of this and very proactive for a long time."

Well, and now, according to an article by Steven Ross Johnson at Modern Healthcare, the folks at UCLA say the FDA recommendation may not do the trick:

The FDA advised that strict adherence to manufacturers' instructions would minimize the risk of infection.

But according to Dr. Zachary Rubin, UCLA Medical's director of clinical epidemiology and infection prevention, his hospital's bacteria outbreak and several others involving duodenoscopes suggest the problem may lie with the recommendations from product makers.

UCLA officials said their investigation found no deficiencies in the facility's internal cleaning processes for the devices and that the staff fully adhered to the manufacturer's recommendations on properly sterilizing them.

“The fact that we've identified this infection in a couple of different hospitals now suggests that the routine process we were using was just not quite adequate even though at the time they were FDA approved,” Rubin said.

After Jan. 28, the hospital began using more stringent sterilizing measures and has seen no subsequent cases of infection.

Wow.  The questions this raises go on and on.

How can the device have been allowed on the market by the FDA without a thorough review of this issue?  After all, it is well known that the scope is going to travel through the stomach and beyond each time it is used.  Why wouldn't the agency insist that the manufacturer's recommendation about sterilization at the time the product entered the market be sufficient?

If, as UCLA suggests, the the manufacturer's recommendation are not sufficient, why is the FDA not insisting on more rigorous approaches even now?

If some people in the field already recognized this problem, like my friend, why didn't the GI medical association promulgate the news to its members?  It just published this johnny-come-lately article.  This might be a good time to ask whether the AGA or its faculty receive funding from scope equipment manufacturers.  Of course they do, as noted here.

At what point should the FDA recognize a problem and send out an advisory?  It notes, "In total, from January 2013 through December 2014, the FDA received 75 MDRs encompassing approximately 135 patients in the United States relating to possible microbial transmission from reprocessed duodenoscopes." What is the appropriate standard of review and action in such matters?

The FDA said:

The agency is continuing to evaluate information about documented and potential infections from multiple sources, including Medical Device Reports (MDRs) submitted to the FDA, the medical literature, the health care community, professional medical societies, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But here's a poster from the University of Pittsburgh suggesting that the usual level of disinfection was known to be inadequate.  Amusingly, one manufacturer, Olympus, suggested that the failure to clean was from use of a competitor's scope washer.  The investigators found, to the contrary, that this was not the cause, and that a higher level of disinfection than recommended by Olympus was necessary to avoid the transmittal of bacteria.

So, people knew about this problem:  MDs, the AGA, the FDA, the manufacturers.  Everybody but you and me.  If you go to Wikipedia, bacterial infection isn't even included as a common risk of the procedure.

I wonder if the "informed consents" used by GI doctors have included this other risk.  That University of Pittsburgh paper noted: "Post-ERCP bloodstream infections (BSI’s) and biliary tree infections are reported after 1-3% of procedures."

I fear we have been let down by the profession, the equipment manufacturers, and their regulators.

MIT SDM: Democratizing Innovation and Product Design

Webinar: "Democratizing Innovation, Product Design and Development, and Technology Strategy"
MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series
Ali Almossawi, Data Visualization Engineer, Mozilla; Author, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments; and SDM Alumnus

Date: February 23, 2015
Time: Noon–1 p.m. EST
Free and open to all

In this webinar, SDM alumnus Ali Almossawi will discuss the benefits of expanding the creative process through open-sourcing on the Internet, where there are more creators, fewer industry gatekeepers, and endless opportunities to engage directly with users. He will:
  • describe a model for open-sourcing the creative process and how it can be used to build a self-sustaining product or business;
  • outline the key players—often a combination of professionals with expertise in technology, business, and/or design;
  • discuss what is needed for team members to work together effectively—and the pitfalls to avoid;
  • provide examples of failure, success, and failure leading to success; and 
  • offer next steps that can be adapted and applied across all industries.

A Q&A will follow the presentation. We invite you to join us!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sshh: Moms and dads are resting

I really enjoyed this story by Steve Rukavina at CBC News about a Montreal hospital that has introduced "quiet time" in its maternity ward.  Perhaps this exists in other places, but I have not been aware of it if so.  It seems like a great idea to me.  Here are excerpts:

St-Mary's Hospital in Montreal will become the first hospital in Canada to implement a daily "quiet time" in its maternity ward to give frazzled parents of newborns a bit of a break.

The hospital is teaming up with researchers from McGill University to launch the project. The idea is to set aside 90 minutes each afternoon where lights are dimmed, the intercom is turned off, and visits from nurses, doctors and orderlies are suspended except for emergencies.

Here's an explanation from a student who's been working on the experiment.  Note the focus on both parents:

Over the last few weeks, Safina Adatia, a graduate student in family medicine at McGill and one of the researchers who's helping to set up the project, has been measuring decibel levels in the maternity ward.

Adatia says the World Health Organization recommends a level of 30 to 40 decibels for maternity wards — about the same noise level as a quiet street.  She says the maternity ward at St-Mary's regularly exceeds that.

"There's a lot of stress and anxiety when there's a lot of noise happening, so having an actual set amount of time will help show mothers that it's important to set aside an hour or two hours a day to make your own self-care really important," Adatia said.

"Reducing stress and anxiety during that time can lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and generally just improve the mood and create more bonding time and attention with the baby."

Mothers will be encouraged to schedule their feedings outside of the quiet time, so that they can be sure to dedicate that time to taking care of themselves, taking a nap, or having a nice uninterrupted cuddle with the new little one. Adatia says its important for new dads to take time out to rest as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The muscle of thoughtfulness

The New York Times' Frank Bruni offers a lovely column on the value of higher education (“College, Poetry, and Purpose"). Eschewing current trends that focus on the commercial value of college, Bruni returns to his favorite professor, Anne Hall, who, he recalls, taught that “with careful examination and unhurried reflection, we could find in Shakespeare just about all of human life and human wisdom: every warning we needed to hear, every joy we needed to cultivate.”  He now asks her, “What’s the highest calling of higher education?”

He reports, “She answered my question about college’s purpose, but not right away and not glibly, because rushed thinking and glibness are precisely what she believes education should be a bulwark against.”

Finally she says, succinctly, “It is for developing the muscle of thoughtfulness, the use of which will be the greatest pleasure in life and will also show what it means to be fully human.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

And now, this break from South Africa

Here's a little solace for Bostonians as their transit system crumbles in front of them.  (The proximate cause is continuous heavy snowfall, but the real cause is years and years of underfunding of critical infrastructure.)  Although this is an intensely serious matter, sometimes humor can help:  Some good-natured friends in South Africa report about problems with their national electric power system (ESKOM) and engage in sarcasm about their president, Jacob Zuma.

One writes:

The country is all upset about our electricity crisis – we are now in Stage 3 of load shedding which means up to 5 hours without power each day. Thank you Mr Zuma for giving us more time off our computers to reflect and meditate. 

Another sends this joke:

Eskom has bad news and good news……
The bad news is that the sh*t is going to hit the fan, however……the good news is that the fan is off due to load shedding….
And another notes:
We have a new verb now, to be Eskommunicated.

Meanwhile, the cartoonists are hard at work:
“Grootse Treffers” translates to “Greatest Hits”

They're baaaack....

Although the SEIU's corporate campaign against BIDMC when I was CEO failed miserably (as documented in my book on the subject), the union apparently is persisting in some of its old tactics.  Here's a report from Ayla Ellison at Becker's Hospital Review:

Michael Connelly, president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, has filed a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit against Service Employees International Union No. 1199, according to a USA Today report.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Connelly alleges the labor union attempted to destroy his reputation by driving a van displaying his image, the words "GREED! GREED! GREED!" and his personal telephone number around the neighborhood near his home, according to the report.

The side of the van featured a message that said "Mercy Health CEO Michael Connelly is getting rich off the sick, disabled and indigent!"

Although the attacks on Mr. Connelly stem from labor dispute negotiations between Mercy Health and the union, Mr. Connelly claims the union's actions go beyond a "labor dispute" and are "personal," according to the report.

Doctors, please do not Google your patients

An article by Randi Belisomo in Scientific American plays off another one in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, both asking the question:

Is It OK for Doctors to "Google" Patients?

The authors write:

 . . . that sometimes, the practice is acceptable. Most other times, in their opinion, it isn't. They hope their paper sparks conversation among colleagues and the American Medical Association about the possibility of guidelines for providers in the digital age, one in which most medical students can't remember a world without search engines.

Well, here's my take, short and sweet.

First, the likelihood that an MD is going to find something clinically relevant about a patient on the Internet is infinitesimally small.  Why? Well first of all, there is no guarantee--none whatsoever--that whatever you ready about a patient is accurate.  That should be obvious anyone who has searched the web for anything, but it especially applies if an article was written by someone other than the patient.  Recognize, too, that the Google search algorithm does not include everything that is written on the web about a person: It tends to present the most viewed articles.  Those might simply be about the most controversial aspect of that person's life, not necessarily the clinically relevant aspects.

Even if it an article was written by the patient, though--even in the last hour--it was prepared for a public audience.  This is a very different portrayal of personal information than would be communicated in the privacy of the exam room.

Second, the likelihood that you are going to be inadvertently diagnostically anchored by what you read is very high.  Studies show over and over again that even skeptical readers are highly influenced by what they read.  Diagnostic anchoring is a cognitive error.  Hence, you don't even know it is happening to you.

So, here's my advice, doctor.  If you really have the 5 or 10 minutes available to read about a patient on the web, spend the time instead with the patient.

Dear Mayo, Did you approve this ad?

On February 10, Google announced that it would enhance its search results on medical conditions:

We worked with a team of medical doctors (led by our own Dr. Kapil Parakh, M.D., MPH, Ph.D.) to carefully compile, curate, and review this information. All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

So what happens when we search for Prostate Cancer? We get the following list of procedures:

What heads up the list?  Robotic surgery.

Observers want to know:  Does this nonalphabetic list represent Mayo Clinic's view of the most likely, highest priority, or most recommended approach to this disease?

And why is watchful waiting, aka "monitoring of symptoms for change or improvement," which is so often recommended nowadays further down the page under "other treatments," as opposed to being placed above procedures?  Is that Mayo's view, too?

I doubt it.  So how did the list get organized, and who at Mayo approved it?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Report from the field

Lisa Suennen--who knows health care very well indeed--offers this summary of a recent tachycardia hospitalization experience.  So much rings so true.  But for those of you who are convinced that EHR technology is the answer in general, or that Epic in specific offers the solution to proper exchanges of patient medical information or has solved the ease-of-use problem, read on:
  • I was told to ring the bell if I felt my heart racing. So I did on two occasions. In both of those situations, no one responded to the call bell. Since the nurses had no way of knowing if my reason for ringing was a crisis or not, it was quite discomfiting when I later walked into the hall to get attention by interrupting the very loud discussion the nurses were having about their favorite TV shows at the nursing station. On that occasion I was told, “Oh sorry, we just never hear the bell.” Later, when it happened again, I was told that the nurses are simply too busy to respond to patients calls. True story.
  • I got downright bullied by a doctor who wanted to rush me into procedures that I felt to be unnecessary, premature and excessive. When I questioned his recommendations (based on my own wonderful doctor’s input), he tried to guilt me into compliance and treated me with unbelievable rudeness. He scoffed—literally scoffed—when I told him that if I needed any actual procedures I would see my usual doctor, thank you, who happened to be at a different hospital than where the ambulance took me. He told me that I was being shortsighted and that the services at both places are the same so it made no difference. Lord, I hope that isn’t true.
  • That same doctor, and his retinue of residents, “attended” to me without ever speaking to me, looking me in the eye or asking me how I was feeling.  It was not until I asked the doctor a question did any of them look or talk to me.   It was insulting and made me feel like a diagnosis, not a human. When the chief resident finally spoke to me, she asked me questions that made it clear she had not read my chart, inconveniently located in her hand.
  • In the first room I was put in there was a seriously disturbed person in the next bed who started screaming and swearing at me when, at 3 am, I asked her to turn down the volume on the television. Granted, I was immediately moved (the nurses did hear the lady screaming at me if they couldn’t hear the call bell), but the new room had a very ill person in it who hacked and coughed and spewed lord knows what around the room. If they ever answered the nurse call bell, I would have asked for a Lysol bath. I was pretty sure that I didn’t enter the hospital with ebola, but I was not so sure I’d leave without it.
  • I was told, “don’t worry, since this hospital and that hospital where your doctor works both use Epic, your doctor can get all the records by just signing in.” Hahaha…that’s a good one! These two hospitals are in entirely different health systems and I got to tell my new case manager friends about how Health Information Exchanges work and how the absence of one would mean that I needed a paper copy of my records to take along, thank you. I’m guessing that most patients don’t know that and walk out without their information–a nightmare in the making when you have a lot of follow up to do.
  • Incidentally, I found out that none of the information collected in the hotel room or ambulance made it into my hospital record. None of it. So in other words, the data from the most critical part of the experience was apparently lost since ambulances generally do not transfer clinical detail to hospitals. Fortunately (?) some of this information was recovered eventually since the paramedics had left all of the original EKG readings on the floor of my hotel room. Hello HIPAA. This made me realize how important this connectivity between emergency responders and hospitals really is. I kind of knew that (hence my support of Beyond Lucid Technologies, which helps solve this problem), but the lesson was brought home in a big way through direct experience.
  • I was given test after test without being given results unless I specifically asked for each one. Since each test result was going to determine the next steps about my care, my stay, my life, I was kind of annoyed to have to keep on asking what the hell was going on. I was particularly annoyed when, at midnight, I was carted off to a CT scan that hadn’t been mentioned. OK, uncle, I figured. I’ll have the test, but I did not enjoy being told that I had to figure out how to jam my shoulder down flat despite the fact that a twenty-year old botched shoulder surgery makes that literally impossible. The tech “helping” me with this told me she would just “push my shoulder down” and strap it if need be. That would have sent me right back to the orthopedic wing of the hospital as they frantically searched for the nails falling from my shoulder to the floor, so I firmly suggested we find another way. She was overtly exasperated at the inconvenience.
  • And speaking of Epic, I watched my nurse and doctor argue about the doctor’s mistakenly putting in test orders using the wrong time convention (“regular” time vs. military time), thus accidentally scheduling my test 12 hours after it was supposed to happen. The doctor took serious umbrage with the nurse pointing out the error, even though the nurse was right, and the nurse spent much of the rest of the shift telling me what a jerk the doctor can be. Not too professional all around.
  • And the crowning glory: I just received all of my claims letters notifying me that all of my charges were rejected. The reason: I am no longer covered under the plan. Well that’s exactly right, because they sent the bills to whatever happened to be in their information system rather than to the payer noted on my recently issued new insurance card, which I had produced on demand at least 3 separate times in the first 3 hours of the experience. So now I get to chase that one down.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Boston weather is getting very easy to predict

Many thanks to e-Patient Dave deBronkart, who sent me this picture with the promise that it had not been photoshopped at all.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"A monkey could practice primary care"

In case you missed this a few weeks ago, here's a well done story by Karen Brown, who followed several primary care residents and got a good sense of why many people choose not to go into this field.  The story was funded by a fellowship from the Association of Healthcare Journalists and the Commonwealth Foundation.  (To be clear, the quote in the title above is not mine, and certainly not my view!)  Excerpts:

These young doctors are in the middle of their residency at Baystate Medical Center, a hospital affiliated with Tufts University Medical School. They’ve completed four years of medical school – so they’re already MD’s – and are now in the hands-on part of their training.

Michael Rosenblum is a residency director.
“If you get people before medical school and even at the beginning of medical school, there’s a huge interest in primary care,” says Rosenblum. “The vast majority of medical students want to develop relationships and see patients over time. And then we see that kind of peter off.”
Brown notes:

Most doctors I’ve met going into primary care talk about their sense of social justice. They want to work for underserved communities. Or to fill a critical need. It’s rare to hear people list the superficial trappings of the job as a driving factor. And that’s not surprising, Tischer says, given what they hear about the field.

But then money and prestige raise their heads:

But perhaps even more discouraging is what the money disparity says about the status and prestige of primary care.

“Here are these type A competitive people that have been at the top of their class like since kindergarten,” says Gina Luciano, who co-directs Baystate’s primary care residency. “They tried to get into the most prestigious colleges. It’s always very competitive, very competitive, very competitive.”

So when they get into residency, she says, they want to stay on the up escalator. “And you have all of these mentors that are telling you, ‘you could do cardiology, you could do critical care.’ It feels really good that here are these really prestigious things to go into in medicine. It’s hard, I think, to be swayed from that.”

Dr. Andrew Morris-Singer, who runs the advocacy group Primary Care Progress, calls this the “hidden curriculum” of medical education. And not always hidden very well.
“There’s also explicit statements like, ‘You’re too smart to be a primary care doctor.’ ‘This is a dead field.’  Or my favorite, ‘A monkey could practice primary care. Why would you do that?’” says Morris-Singer. “So it’s a whole range of things, but the basic admonition is: ‘Hey, it’s a waste of a medical education.’”
Some stay true to their passion of wanting to be create deeper relationships with patients, but with a twist:

Levitt is planning to become a hospitalist – the person who oversees basic care in a hospital. His salary will be similar to a primary care doctor, but he will have set hours, and at the end of each shift, he’ll hand over patient responsibility to the next person.

Levitt says he would consider going back to primary care if he found the kind of private practice that would make him happy, but that’s not what he saw in residency. Across the country, residents often work in urban, hospital-affiliated community clinics where health and social needs are complex, and offices often under-staffed. Since revenue often depends on the number of patients seen, there’s pressure to push them through in 15-minute increments.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ups and Downs of Health Care Costs and Reform

Madge Kaplan writes:

The next WIHI broadcast — The Ups and Downs of Health Care Costs and Reform — will take place on Thursday, February 12, from 2 to 3 PM ET, and I hope you'll tune in.

Our guests will include:
  • Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP, FRCP, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow, Institute for Healthcare Improvement
  • David Cutler, PhD, Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics, Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard School of Public Health
  Enroll now
There are lots of health care issues to speculate about in the coming year. Here in the US, the ongoing expansion of health insurance coverage is an ambitious work in progress that continues to face plenty of political and legal headwinds. And then there’s the still glaring and still growing $3.9 trillion national price tag of US health care. Some are encouraged that health spending is slowing, but do we have any strong evidence that improvements in the quality of care, safety, and IT, coupled with payment reforms that increasingly tie reimbursements to quality and value, are key factors?

Fortunately, we have two individuals to turn to for their thoughts on these matters and many more. Don Berwick and David Cutler are my guests for the Feb 12, 2015, WIHI: The Ups and Downs of Health Care Costs and Reform. Each brings important improvement, policy, and economic perspectives to the table to help make sense of the current environment and what’s ahead.

Against the backdrop of the Affordable Care Act and other significant initiatives, our guests will offer their assessments of recent progress with better care and lower costs, and where efforts need to continue to yield even bigger benefits. We’ll also touch upon the following: global payments and the various payer-led financial carrots and sticks in play right now designed to improve health care delivery; the state of statewide reforms, Medicaid expansion, and community-led, population health-driven experiments; and the bright spots and storm clouds on the horizon with respect to policy makers, politicians, and the public where there are still major divides.

What are your questions for Don Berwick and David Cutler? Please join them and me on February 12You can enroll for the broadcast here. We'd also appreciate it if you would spread the word about the show via Twitter.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Support for competition in the West

The decision by MA Attorney General Maura Healey to oppose the deal allowing expansion of Partners Healthcare System and promising to sue the corporation if it tried again just got a boost from the West.  As reported by Lisa Schencker in Modern Healthcare:

A federal appeals court affirmed on Tuesday that Idaho-based St. Luke's Health System violated state and federal antitrust laws when it acquired a medical group in 2012, delivering the Federal Trade Commission another victory in its first major case challenging a physician deal.  

St. Luke's had argued that the acquisition would help it improve care for the communities it serves. But the FTC, the Idaho attorney general and the health system's Boise-based competitors—St. Alphonsus Health System and Treasure Valley Hospital—said the merger would decrease competition, translating into higher prices for consumers.

The appeals court found that it wasn't enough for St. Luke's to say the acquisition would improve care. The court said St. Luke's also would have had to show that competition wouldn't suffer.

It's a decision that could have implications for other health systems across the country.

“Providers considering acquisitions can't take comfort in the fact that they have laudable goals, that they're trying to achieve efficiencies,” said David Ettinger, a lawyer for St. Alphonsus and a partner with the law firm Honigman in Detroit. “That alone is not sufficient to avoid antitrust concerns.”

The best line in healthcare, evah!

Barry Ritholtz posts this recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  In the course of describing how much the pharmaceutical industry spends on marketing versus research and development, Oliver says (shortly after 2 minutes in):

Drug companies are a bit like high school boyfriends.  They're much more concerned with getting inside you than being effective once they're in there.

The T shuts down

Hundreds of thousands of people sit in their homes or stranded at work (like those in hospitals) unable to ride the Boston transit system today:

The T announced tonight: “On Tuesday, all MBTA rail services (Subway, Trolley, and Commuter Rail) will be suspended all day while maintenance crews continue to clear snow and ice from tracks, the third rail and switches.

“Mechanical forces will continue to assess the damage done to subway cars, trolleys, locomotives and passenger coaches. Bus service will be available on an extremely limited basis with various buses on snow routes. Buses will run with delays due to traffic congestion and local street conditions,” the statement adds.
I hearken back to a piece I wrote for Commonwealth Magazine in 2011 about essential infrastructure like this. I'm so sorry to have been correct, but this happens over and over again in this state.  Excerpts:

"The metropolitan area transit system is the current poster child for this built-in dynamic that leads us to put off infrastructure investments. The MBTA is severely underfunded with regard to maintenance and upgrades of the regional bus and subway system. On the Orange Line, 120 cars built between 1979 and 1981 need to be replaced. On the Red Line, 74 cars from 1969 are well past their useful life. More than half of the MBTA’s 82 commuter rail locomotives date to the 1970s, and nearly all are at or past the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan of 25 years.

"Public officials, having depleted one-time financial fixes, lurch about for long-term funding solutions, while the system deteriorates more each year.

"If we neglect infrastructure, we will always pay more in the long run. But an equally important—and far less widely appreciated—lesson is that building a political constituency for infrastructure investments is a job that must be taken on by the public agencies themselves, a role often neglected by those appointed to run those agencies.

"I fear we are repeating today the same shortsighted approach that cost us so dearly with regard to our water and sewer infrastructure and the horrific despoliation of Boston Harbor. Well-intentioned public servants are tip-toeing around the need for major investments in the regional transit system, using terms like “reform before revenue” to delay action. But the delays that result from the lack of investment are substantial and growing."

Monday, February 09, 2015

Selling your right of privacy at $5 a pop

CommonHealth's Martha Bebinger has an interesting story about insurance products that reward and punish subscribers for their relative compliance with "healthy living" activities.  It's an excellent depiction of the choices consumers will make to garner insurance premium credits . . . or face the penalties.

Smith earned $10 this month just for using the program. She’ll get another $10 every month that her average score is 60 or higher. 

“That’s $20 essentially free money just by making modestly healthy decisions and going to the store, which are things I’m going to do anyway,” Smith says.

Who pays? Her health insurance plan, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The goal is “to get people to understand the value of what they’re putting in their mouths,” says Sue Amsel, a senior product portfolio manager at Harvard Pilgrim.

But on the downside:

And he takes $5 off his health insurance deductible for every 30-minute workout. Rubin has to be at a GPS-confirmed gym or connect through a device like Fitbit. If he does not exercise three times each week, Rubin will lose $5 for every workout he misses. That’s the pact Rubin signed, and offers his employees, through a company called Pact Health

I'm struck by three things:

One, that people are willing to give up details of their private lives to a company for as little as $5 in reward or penalty;

Two, that there’s "very little research that proves health incentives actually improve health."

“We’re not quite there yet,” says Gary Bennett, a professor of psychology, global health and medicine at Duke University. “While the early research in using incentives to promote more healthful behaviors is extremely encouraging, we haven’t seen the kind of larger durable changes that we really need to see to believe that incentives can promote longer term improvements in chronic disease rates.” 

Three, that what appears to be healthy in this program was noted in another CommonHealth story as being problematic.  A commenter notes:

How does this jibe with "The dark side of kale?

Care Opinion enables patient driven care

I love the sense of invention that pervades much of Australian health care.  I guess when you are surrounded by "the largest moat in the world," you spend a lot of time thinking about how to make things better for your homeland.

I remember that many of the "innovations" in patient safety and quality that we adopted at my former hospital were in fact shamelessly stolen from excellent work that had been done by people in Oz.  So it came as no surprise to me to learn of this attempt at patient and family engagement.  It's called Care Opinion.

My readers know that I'm an advocate for patient driven (not just patient centered) care, and Care Opinion meets my standard because people can engage in it easily, in real time, and in so doing, get their message to the right people, who can then respond.

It self-describes as:

An independent site about your experiences of care and support services, good or bad. We pass your stories to the right people to make a difference.

The site promises:
  • Care Opinion gives you a public voice to share your experience about the services you use.
  • Care Opinion will always try to make sure that the right people will hear your story.
  • Sharing your stories about health and care services on Care Opinion can help make services better.
  • Care Opinion is safe, confidential and independent of services and authorities.
  • Reading the stories that other people share on Care Opinion may help you choose the best care providers.
  • Care Opinion works across health services, as well as care and support. Whether your story is about care or health or both, we publish it and deliver it to the right people locally, whether they work in care or health.
It is transparent about how effective it is:

Plus, it's interesting to get an overall sense of how people are feeling:

Check out the site, and see what you think.  Is this what you've been waiting for in your jurisdiction, health system, or other health care service organization?