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April-21-2011

1:58

Peeps – sorry for the radio silence. Will make it up to you with this: http://ht.ly/4EMV8


January-4-2011

16:18

Hew (hyū) v.

     

  1. To make or shape with or as if with an ax
  2. To cut down with an ax
  3.  

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” – Michaelangelo


An unfinished Michealangelo sculpture.

I just re-read this quote – I think it is a powerful metaphor for any innovator that is out there trying to change the world.They are the ones that can see the fully defined, fully articulated, and fully functional end product within the building blocks that others pass off as mere landscape material. I think this gift of vision – this ability to “see” what others cannot – and the doggedness to stick to the mindless chipping away until others can see it enough to give you the tools you need to finish it off.

We are privileged to be working on a HUGE project right now with a highly innovative company that sees the value of what we are doing and wants to be a part of changing health care. It has been fun to work with them to begin the process of “hewing” away and to literally see the game changing product we have always seen begin to take shape from the dust, the chipped stone, the dirty hands, and the bleeding fingers. The process of discovery and refinement is almost as fun as seeing how the end product will move people.


December-21-2010

23:29

I am on an email list of Bill DeMarco’s, a reputable industry insider who has written and consulted extensively in the physician group and medical management space. He recently sent me a note about several physician aggregation events in New Jersey.

For some reason it struck a nerve with me . . . which led me to fire off the response below:

Bill,

I thought we already saw this movie?

My question for you . . . besides banding together in some megagroup – what are these physicians doing to actual change the delivery of medicine? ACO is just the latest buzzword excuse to aggregate physicians under a new moniker and a supposed new model.

I am highly suspect that these physicians are doing anything to change the relationship with their patients, to use enabling technology to create team based care, or actually be accountable for the outcomes they produce. What systems are they using to tie themselves together? What financial alignment do they have? What measures are they using to demonstrate superior outcomes? What about the patient experience – 7 minute visits that push pills as the “treatment” won’t get it done in the future.

I think your closing statement, “Representatives from Summit and Optimus were unavailable for comment” says it all.

Am I seeing this the wrong way? Is there anything new about this model this time around? Am I getting old enough to see these things cycle through?

PS – and no, I don’t mean a wolf. The sheep get nervous and band together waiting to get pounced on by wolves.


December-15-2010

3:31

I don’t even think there is anything to say about this picture:

This is why our health care system as current constructed is a massive #FAIL. Obamacare does NOTHING to change this.

 


November-25-2010

15:52

Relevant (rĕl’ə-vənt)

1. Having to do with the matter at hand; to the point

I read with amusement Susanna Fox’s redux review about the relevance of Health 2.0 in general and in changing patient’s behavior specifically.  Here questions reveals her bias in a very limited definition of Health 2.0 that I attempted to abolish originally in some of my bantering with Matthew Holt. I always saw Health 2.0 as a “movement” that would not be defined so much by its technology but rather enabled by it. As an “enabler”, the technology can help people do new things in new ways but I never believed technology in and of itself  had the power to truly change health, health behaviors, or health care delivery in and of itself.

That is why my definition of health 2.0 was always more expansive and contemplated an entire “movement” to the next generation health care “system”. This new system must include new delivery models, new financing mechanism, and the new tools and technology that bring all of this together in a simple, efficient, and affordable way.  Clearly this next generation of care would include technology, the new tools, but until we had a new delivery system that is financed in a new way we are going to continue to have the same behaviors across the patient, physician, provider, and payor continuum.

So Susanna, I don’t think your version of Health 2.0 (Tools and Technology) do much to get us to the behavior change you seek. In fact, getting to the root of behavior change requires almost a religious experience. Interestingly enough, the health care industry provides plenty of “religious” experiences including passing close to death, unbelievably poor customer experiences that invoke deep passions (ie, the birth of ePatient Dave), and promise of a far better world than we currently enjoy. So while the tools and technology show us what is possible, health care delivery and health finance are the catechismal doctrines we must reform first that actually incent the behavioral change we all seek.

So is Health 2.0 Relevant?  I think it depends on your definition!


November-4-2010

2:25

Extirpating (ĕk’stər-pāt’) v.

  1. To pull up by the roots.
  2. To destroy totally; exterminate.
  3. To remove by surgery.

I recently took a great road trip with my two boys. We rented one of the new Kia Soul’s which my boys recognized from a very funny commercial developed to highlight its hipster (hamster?) vibe. The commercial reminded me of the old Hamburger A or Hamburger B commercials from Wendys back in the late 80′s wherein this ludicrous contrast is set up to demarcate the dichotomy between two distinct choices.

This modern reinvention of that age old contrast struck me because it is something that I deal with everyday in explaining Crossover Health to people. It all stems from a pervasive misconception about the term “Health Insurance”

Understanding the components parts of our modern conception of "Health Insurance" is the our first step toward meaningful reform.

The challenge is that “Health Insurance” is a confused term which most people equate with both Health Care (care delivery) and Health Finance (how you pay for it). Our current employer based system (wherein your employer provides and in most cases pays for your insurance) as well as a third party insurance payment system (we have the insurance pay for us) creates all kinds of weird incentives but also results in no accountability in terms of cost, quality, or outcome. It is currently imploding before our eyes.

Our reaction, both opportunistic as well as obligatory, is to do something totally different by blowing up the current Health Insurance model and separating out Health Care from how you pay for it (Health Financing). We say that there is a better way to do BOTH – pay your physician directly for the care you need and then get smart about how you pay for it with the right insurance product. In fact, you should “self insure” with the highest deductible plan you can find and then take responsibility for your health for all the small stuff or hire someone to do that for you (like Crossover Personal Health Advisory Service). There is no reason to intermediate with a parasitic organizations that are taking your premium dollars and wasting it on overhead, fancy offices, mindless phone trees, and my all time favorite “this is not a bill” disinformation pamphlets.

As people begin to take this in (they always get how the practice model is a radically improvement), they immediately revert back to the combined “Health Insurance” concept.  Does Crossover Health want to replace my current “Health Insurance”? The answer is slightly nuanced, but a resounding YES!  I want to replace what you call “Health Insurance” with a direct “Health Care” product (Crossover Health) and a smarter Health Finance product (highest deductible you can get).

We believe there are large and significant opportunities to roll this into a single product that can be purchased by employers, families, and other organizations seeking fresh alternatives that can demonstrate not only trend bending improvements but trend busting outcomes.


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Citizen Economists » Healthcare

January-13-2012

10:15

In honor of the first week in our Healthcare Economics class, and the beginning of a 6 week session on healthcare via OLLI, here is an interesting report from The New York Times.

National health spending rose a slight 3.9 percent in 2010, as Americans delayed hospital care, doctor’s visits and prescription drug purchases for the second year in a row, the Obama administration reported Monday.

The recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, reined in the growth of health spending as many people lost jobs, income and health insurance, the government said in a report, published in the journal Health Affairs.

from The New York Timesfrom The New York Times

There are a couple of takeaways from this news.

First, the reduction in spending on healthcare could mean a welcome, albeit temporary relief to those governments and organizations that pay for healthcare….BUT…no real relief for state and local agencies which provide/finance healthcare for poor people. Recessions, of course, result in greater numbers of people qualifying for government-supported care.

The other point is a reminder that some portion of healthcare services are discretionary. When healthcare spending was growing by 10 percent or more each year in the 1980s, that growth probably wasn’t driven by an increase in the need for services. Likewise the slower growth over the last several years is probably not due to the population getting healthier and needing fewer services. Instead, people moderated their demand for healthcare. They put off diagnostic tests, or did not follow through on treatments or prescriptions. Going in the other direction, hospitals routinely see increases in elective surgeries near the end of a calendar year, as people have already met insurance deductibles, and decide to seek care before those deductibles are reset in the new year.

Is this good news? Not necessarily. To the extent the people put off truly necessary tests and treatments, those delays may cost us more in the long run. To some extent, though, tough economic times force us to be more cautious about discretionary spending, and there may be very little impact on long run health status. There is the old saying that if you get a cold, it will take 7 days to go away, but if you see a doctor you’ll be cured in a week! One important element of effective healthcare reform is to introduce that sense of caution in our population. It is a delicate balance – not wanting to interfere with early testing and early, cost-effective treatment, but also discouraging care that has less impact on long term health.

Prices for medical care services and supplies also stayed roughly on par with general inflation during this last year, which is a change from the decades of the 1980s and 1990s where the medical care component of the consumer price index routinely outstripped regular price increases.

I wouldn’t have to polish my crystal ball very much to predict that spending increases for healthcare will pick up speed as the economy recovers. This remains the single most important issue in our nation’s federal deficit struggles.

October-21-2011

12:30

When I went into solo practice of internal medicine in 1981, it was very easy to get a doctor to see a Medicare patient. All I had to do was make a phone call. A courteous receptionist answered. If the doctor couldn’t come to the phone right away, I could count on a prompt callback.

Consultants saw patients quickly, and generally called me to discuss their findings and advice. And very often there would also be a letter in the mail: “Thank you for referring this delightful patient to me.”

How things have changed! Now a doctor gets the phone menu, just as the patients do, and it often ends in voice mail. It might be a few days before a staff member calls back—usually with the news that “we are not accepting any new Medicare patients.” At best, my patient might be offered an appointment in several months.

One very fine gentleman, who had recently moved to a rural area, found it easier to fly to Tucson to see me than to get in to see a local internist. That was in 2009. Recently, he has become unable to travel, so I needed to find him a local doctor.

I tried to expedite matters by ordering him an immediate diagnostic test: an abdominal CT scan. I don’t think anyone could argue that it wasn’t indicated under the circumstances. One little problem: I am not enrolled in Medicare and don’t have the proper government-issued number to enter into the computer. A license to practice medicine is not enough. This National Provider Identifier (NPI) is supposed to protect the system against being defrauded. Without that number, the imaging facility could not get paid by Medicare.

“Why not use the radiologist’s number?” I asked. After all, he was the one who would get paid. Nope, a referral was required. How about a self-referral from the patient? Nope, we can’t allow patients to decide what tests they need. “The patient is willing to pay for his own test,” I said. Nope, if he’s on Medicare, they aren’t allowed to take his money.

They gave the patient 24 hours to find a properly enumerated doctor to countersign my order. Fortunately, he found a specialist willing to do so, and assume potential criminal liability for committing “waste, fraud, and abuse” by ordering a “medically unnecessary” study. (Fortunately for the patient, he turned out not to have cancer, but that could be bad news for the doctor.)

So this is the status of retired Americans. They can’t just walk into a facility and request a medical test, and pay for it with their very own money.

A man may be qualified to pilot a 747 across the Pacific, but once he’s on Medicare, he is unfit to make an unsupervised decision about his own medical care.

I did find my patient a doctor. None of the internists within a 150-mile radius who “take Medicare” are willing to take on a new Medicare patient. But through the website of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (www.aapsonline.org), I found a link to the Medicare carrier’s list of opted out physicians. They don’t “take Medicare,” but many are pleased to see older patients, for a reasonable fee. There was one internist on the list, 150 miles from my patient. She has a courteous and helpful assistant who actually answers the phone, and told me the charge for a new patient visit: $300.
Things could be worse—and already are much worse in Canada. The “soul-destroying search for a family doctor” is described in the Globe and Mail on Aug 21. The Ontario government’s program called Health Care Connect manages to link only 60 percent of patients with a doctor—although you might find a concierge doctor for $3,000 a year.

That’s the cost of medicine when it’s “free”—if you can find it at all. If ObamaCare is implemented, all Americans will be in the same boat. And guess who will get thrown overboard first.

October-14-2011

10:40

Some new data out on Small Area Health Insurance Estimates from the census folks.

They have a tool there you can use to look this up yourself, but what I get is that for children (age 18 and under) in Pennsylania, Allegheny County is tied with Montgomery for the lowest percentage without health insurance at 3.9%.  The highest: 10% in Lancaster County.  Data is for 2009.

Join the forum discussion on this post - (1) Posts

June-7-2011

14:15
Robin Hanson on capping systemic health care costs:

The United Kingdom, where, on average, people live longer than in the U.S., spends only about 9 percent of gross domestic product on medicine, compared with our 18 percent. The British control costs in part by having the will to empower a hard-nosed agency, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, to study treatments and declare some ineffective. Some hope the United States will create a similar agency, but I fear it would be hopelessly politicized and declawed.

My solution: admit we are cost-control wimps, and outsource our treatment evaluation to the U.K. Pass a simple law saying Medicare (and Medicaid) won’t cover treatments considered but not positively appraised by the Britain’s national health institute.

Even better, use clinical evidence evaluations of the British Medical Journal. They’ve classified more than 3,000 treatments as either unknown effectiveness (51 percent), beneficial (11 percent), likely to be beneficial (23 percent), trade-off between benefits and harms (7 percent), unlikely to be beneficial (5 percent) and likely to be ineffective or harmful (3 percent). Let’s at least stop paying for these last two categories of treatments! And to put pressure on doctors to collect evidence, let’s stop paying for “unknown effectiveness” treatments after 10 years of use.

As I’ve said before, and will continue to say until everyone in this world understands, universal health care plans will never work. Resources are limited, and no amount of political posturing will change that fact. As Robin Hanson notes, there will come a point where the government must cut back on providing health care, and that’s because there are simply not enough resources available to make sure that everyone is always in perfect health. Anyone who says otherwise is stupid, ignorant, or lying.

June-6-2011

13:05

Suppose you went into a grocery store, and found no prices on anything. You ask a clerk how much five pounds of potatoes would be, and he asks you whether you are 65 or older. You’re taken aback, but you tell him you are 64, and he asks whether your income is less than $40,000.00 a year. Startled, you say it is more than that, and then he asks whether you have food insurance. Why would the
price of potatoes depend on the buyer’s age, income, and insurance status, rather than on the cost of growing, transporting, and stocking the potatoes? That would be absurd.

Yet that’s how it is with medical care. I would be unable to find out, for example, the cost of an echocardiogram from the hospital where I did my residency. The price is different for different people.  The government instituted this ridiculous situation, in 1965, with Medicare and Medicaid. There is a lot of mythology about these programs, but few people understand them like the physicians who are on the front lines actually seeing the patients. For some of them, it has been a gravy train. They game the system. For others, it has been a disaster to go through medical school and residency, and come out a de facto servant to government programs, but of
course, without “benefits” or retirement. If you are scrupulously honest, these programs will bankrupt you—even while turning you into Public Enemy #1.

Senators Ron Wyden and Charles Grassley have put forth the Medicare Data Access for Transparency and Accountability Act (the DATA Act) to open a database so that everyone can see how much money Medicare has sent to any physician enrolled in it. Regardless of the cost to provide medical services, the price the taxpayers are forced by the government to pay for other people’s medical care has gone down and down per procedure, per diagnosis, per office visit.

The public won’t see that, but it will hear about some isolated cases; for example, an Oregon neurosurgeon who allegedly performed multiple spine surgeries on the same patient, or a Florida physician accused of $3 million dollars in Medicare fraud.

Gaming the system is fraud. But the biggest fraud is the one perpetrated on the working people of this nation who are forced to pay for other people’s medical problems. When Medicare was first instituted, Americans were reassured that it would never cost the taxpayers more than $9 billion a year. It is more like $500 billion a year now.

Patients learn to game the system too. Workers must pay through their taxes for even the most trivial complaint when someone on Medicare makes an appointment for it—; say for a cosmetic skin lesion that has been present for 30 years without causing any problem. Working people are also forced to pay for the consequences of other people’s smoking, excess drinking, or risky lifestyle choices. That’s fraud, perpetrated by the government on taxpayers. It’s hidden behind political smoke and mirrors.

Amazingly, we managed somehow for 189 years after 1776 without Medicare and Medicaid, and things were getting better and better —until Lyndon Johnson came up with a good fraudulent vote-buying scheme, and then a lot of people decided there was money to be made off medical problems with the taxpayers the losers.

So, Wyden and Grassley, open your database. But include a list of all the procedures and diagnoses, and what Medicare and Medicaid actually send the physicians as “reimbursement” so people can see that physicians— who spent years of their life in training while incurring tremendous debt—are paid about the same as auto mechanics. And also account for where the rest (about 80%) of the
$500 billion goes.

That would be a good start for medical price transparency. And a good precedent for another database, one detailing just how much value politicians give taxpayers who pay their salaries.

About the Author:

Dr. Tamzin Rosenwasser earned her MD from Washington University in St Louis.  She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Dermatology and has practiced Emergency Medicine and Dermatology.  Dr. Rosenwasser served as President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) in 2007-2008 and is currently on the Board of Directors.  She also serves as the chair of the Research Advisory Committee of the Newfoundland Club of America.  As a life-long dog lover and trainer, she realizes that her dogs have better access to medical care and more medical privacy than she has, and her veterinarians are paid more than physicians in the United States for exactly the same types of surgery.

May-31-2011

10:50
‘The Taskforce says that prevention is everyone’s business – and we call on the state, territory and local governments, on non-government and peak organisations, health professionals and practitioners, communities, families and on individuals to contribute towards making Australia the healthiest country by 2020.’ (Extract from ‘Taking Preventative Action’, the federal government’s response to the Report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce).

I find the sentiments in the quoted passage objectionable for two reasons. First, preventative health care is not ‘everyone’s business’. Individual adults have primary responsibility for their own preventative health care because no-one is better able to exercise that responsibility than they are. Individuals who are persuaded that preventative health care is a collective responsibility could be expected to look increasingly to the various levels of government, non-government organisations, health professionals and practitioners, communities and families – everyone except themselves – to accept responsibility for what they eat, drink and inhale.

Second, the goal of making Australia the healthiest country by 2020 is being put forward as though it is self-evidently desirable collective good that should be pursued by any and every means available to everyone. The goal is not self-evidently desirable. Individual health is not a collective good. And the end does not justify the means that are being proposed to pursue it.

If you delve behind the spin about making Australia the healthiest country by 2020, the underlying goal seems to be to raise average life expectancy in Australia to the highest level in the world by reducing the incidence of chronic disease. What does this entail? It would be hard to object to the goal of enabling individual Australians to reduce their risk of chronic disease. The problem is that the government’s strategy is more about achieving national goals than providing better opportunities for individuals – more about behaviour modification than about ‘enabling’ individuals to reduce their health risks.

The government claims that analysis of ‘the drivers of preventable chronic disease demonstrates that a small number of modifiable risk factors are responsible for the greatest share of the burden’. The behavioural risk factors led by obesity, tobacco and alcohol apparently account for nearly one-third of Australia’s total burden of disease and injury. The chronic conditions for which some of these factors are implicated include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, depression and oral health problems.

Since these risk factors stem from individual lifestyles it is obviously desirable for individuals to be aware of them. There may be a role for governments in provision of this information. Perhaps governments should also be involved in helping people in various ways to live more healthy lifestyles. It is questionable how far governments should go down this path, but it is difficult to object to modest efforts by governments to improve opportunities for people to live healthier lifestyles.

However, rather than helping people to help themselves the federal government has chosen the path of Skinnerian behaviour modification. It has chosen to drive changes in behaviour through what it describes as the ‘world’s strongest tobacco crackdown’. (This is one instance when I hope the government doesn’t actually mean what it says – some people in Bhutan have apparently been jailed recently for possession of more than small amounts of tobacco products.) The government’s strategy also involves ‘changing the culture of binge drinking’ and ‘tackling obesity’, but in this post I will focus on smoking.

Some of the tactics being used in the tobacco crackdown involve information and persuasion but there is also an element of punishment involved. The tobacco excise has been increased to over $10 for a packet of 30 cigarettes and legislation is proposed to require cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging. It seems to me that this amounts to persecution of smokers and their families. It will reduce the amount of household budgets available to be spent on other products and encourage some to avoid excise by obtaining tobacco from illegal sources.

As a former smoker, I am probably more strongly against smoking than most people who have never smoked. I encourage other people to quit smoking and discourage young people from taking up the habit. But having given up smoking several times, I know how hard this can be. Governments have no basis on which to judge that people are not in their right mind if they consider that the pleasures they might obtain from additional years of life are not worth the pain of giving up smoking.

In my view this question of whether smokers are capable of judging what is in their own best interests is at the crux of the matter. The politicians and bureaucrats who seek to modify the behaviour of smokers may see themselves as enhancing the capability of these people to have lives that they ‘have reason to value’, in accordance with well-being criteria proposed by Amartya Sen. If so, their attitudes highlight a major problem with Sen’s approach. Governments have no business deciding what kinds of lives individuals have reason to value.

Enrolling into a drug rehab program can be the hardest thing to do but it can save a life.

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