Tag Archives: Health care

Population (Heart) Health

I had a great time at the national meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) this past weekend.  I hadn’t been to “the meetings” in a few years, in part because my professional focus is no longer primarily clinical and well, I never really liked going even when it was. I generally believed (and still do) that I get more valuable information about new developments in cardiology by reading journals than by shlepping around some gargantuan convention center and listening to a few talks while dodging the barrage of drug and device manufacturers. Now that the results of “late breaking” clinical trials are instantly available (complete with slides and expert analysis) within hours of their presentation, I find the whole convention thing even less compelling.

So (with a nod toward the upcoming Passover holiday) why was this meeting different from all other meetings?

First, I had the pleasure of hearing my brother, David Nash, founding Dean of the Jefferson College of Population Health, deliver the Simon Dack lecture. As I said to him when he first told me he was invited (and wanted to know if it was a big deal), this is a big deal. It is the opening keynote for the conference, and is intended to set a tone or theme for the meeting, which draws almost 20,000 people from around the world. Here is a picture of him being introduced by the President of the ACC:

Nash_ACC

Continue reading Population (Heart) Health

Test Responsibly

I got a heads up the other day that our organization had been dissed by a CNN reporter who was frustrated by her inability to get tested for Zika. You can read her original piece and the follow-up here. Short version is that she was upset that it was difficult for her to get tested after returning from a vacation to Costa Rica where she encountered “a good amount of mosquitoes” and later developed a mild febrile illness.

I won’t defend that she was made to feel like she was getting the run around, and it seems like – at the very least – we could have done a better job of communicating with her. But what she seems to dismiss, even though it goes to the core of her encounters with all of the medical providers she contacted, is whether she should have been tested at all. Continue reading Test Responsibly

Guide for the Perplexed

It is clear that the way that health care gets paid for in the United States is undergoing rapid change. What is not at all clear, at least not to me, is exactly what the payment model will look like in the future, or how far off that future is. Although everybody agrees with Yogi’s assessment that “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” this exercise seems particularly challenging because of the wide variety of “alternative payment models,” likelihood that they will co-exist, and the prevalence of regional differences.

It is because of this complexity that I found a recent paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine to be helpful. It is a simple “field guide” to different payment models that starts with distinguishing the “unit of payment” (e.g., per unit of time, per episode of care, per beneficiary, etc.) and then uses these to review efforts at payment reform over time.

I found this helpful in keeping all of these things straight in my head, and I liked the way it started from “first principles.” I think it is worth the read.

What do you think?

The New Paradigm

A recent FDA advisory panel recommended the approval of 2 new agents in a novel class of cholesterol lowering drugs known as PCSK-9 inhibitors. What makes this remarkable is that these drugs illustrate all the promise and pitfalls of modern pharmaceutical development.

First, a little science. The target of the new drugs – a protein named proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK-9) – was discovered in 2001. Two years later, investigators reported that “gain-of-function” mutations in the gene that codes for PCSK-9 were associated with familial hypercholesterolemia and high rates of atherosclerotic vascular disease. Mutations of the gene that led to reductions in the function of PCSK-9 were associated with low LDL-cholesterol levels, and a lower incidence of vascular disease. That made the compelling case that PCSK-9 had a counter-regulatory function in LDL-cholesterol metabolism, so that interfering with its function would lead to lower cholesterol levels.

Continue reading The New Paradigm

Not Your Father’s Medicare

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, the most contentious provisions – which are still the subject of challenges in federal courts – were the establishment of state-wide insurance exchanges, the “individual mandate” that compels eligible citizens to buy insurance, and the expansion of state Medicaid programs. Less well appreciated, but arguably more important, were a wide range of reforms to the Medicare program. Summarized here, they touch on almost all aspects of the program, but I want to concentrate on just one.

The law directed CMS to move Medicare from a strictly fee-for-service (FFS) payment model (“paying for volume”) to one in which the quality of care was factored into the payment received by hospitals and physicians (“paying for value”). As I have written previously I believe this is the right move. There are just too many challenges to improving care and lowering costs that derive from “straight” FFS that is disconnected from any assessment of quality. And while you may not have known that they grew out of the ACA, the payment reforms themselves have gotten a lot of attention. Penalties for readmissions, requirements for physician quality reporting, pilot programs for bundled payments and accountable care organizations are just of few of the Medicare reforms. Even though they currently influence a small percentage of overall Medicare spending, these changes may already be having a big impact on how care is delivered.

Continue reading Not Your Father’s Medicare

Shared Accountability

There are plenty of good reasons why thoughtful physicians are often unhappy with the current approach to measuring the quality of care they provide. Some, of course, object to the whole notion of quality measurement, but I believe they are in a shrinking minority clinging to an anachronistic mental model in which each physician defines for himself what constitutes high quality care. I have addressed this previously. But even those, who like me, believe it is essential (and possible) to measure quality, can point to legitimate shortcomings in the way it is done.

Among these shortcomings is the imperfect process by which individual physicians’ “results” are “adjusted” to account for differences in the patients they care for. In the simplest case, when the quality of care is judged by looking at patient outcomes, this risk-adjustment is meant to reflect the fact that clinical outcomes reflect both the baseline characteristics of the patients being treated and the treatment they get. For example, if one were to use in-hospital mortality rates to assess the quality of care for acute myocardial infarction, it would be essential to know “how sick” the patients, on average, were on presentation. A 50 year-old man with a small inferior wall MI is likely to live even in the absence of good care (or any care for that matter), whereas a 90 year-old woman with cardiogenic shock from an anterior wall MI is likely to die even with state-of-the art care. Any attempt to assess the quality of care for a population of MI patients must take this into consideration.

Continue reading Shared Accountability

Keep Calm and Carry On

Here are a few things that have happened since Ebola arrived in the United States:

  • CNN and other cable news outlets seem to have become “all Ebola all the time” with breathless reports about the latest twists and turns
  • A grade school banned a teacher from the classroom because she had visited Dallas
  • A photojournalist who had travelled to the affected area (and was well) was denied the opportunity to give a talk to a University audience
    Parents in Mississippi kept their children home from school because the principal had visited Zambia

People all across the country seem to be in a growing frenzy about the virus. On one hand, I get it. The disease is awful, the CDC seems to have fumbled in its management of the situation and in its messaging, and the disease rages on in a few countries in West Africa. On the other hand, a lot of this is just, well, nuts.

Continue reading Keep Calm and Carry On

Price Transparency

About a year ago, I shared details of my own out of pocket medical expenses and concluded that we have to have to be more transparent with our patients (and potential patients) about the costs they will face for our services. The urgency of price transparency as a business imperative and a professional responsibility has only increased since then.

Consider that we are now a year in to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Everything that I have read suggests that consumers were intensely price sensitive when it came to choosing which plans they elected. Well, duh! The benefits are defined by “metal” levels (e.g., Bronze, Silver, etc.), and there is almost no way for people to compare the quality of competing narrow networks or individual providers, so price differences drove decision-making. Likewise, the healthy people who bought insurance because they were compelled to by the individual mandate generally chose high deductible plans to minimize their monthly payments. This, in turn, makes them much more price sensitive at the point of care. That means that patients may resist recommended treatment. It also means that physician offices will face more challenges in collecting fees from patients who have not yet met their deductible for the year. At the very least, patients will be more interested in learning what costs they will be exposed to.

Continue reading Price Transparency

Health Care Costs

There were 2 articles in the New England Journal of Medicine  this past week that caught my eye.  Although they appear to address very different subjects, I believe they have an important connection. Continue reading Health Care Costs

Providers in the Insurance Game

I have come to believe that fee for service (FFS), at least in its current incarnation, is an unsustainable model of financing health care. Pick up any newspaper or journal and you are likely to see that I am not alone. The reasons are as numerous as the faults of the present health care landscape – high costs, poor quality of care, unhappy patients, and unhappy providers. Continue reading Providers in the Insurance Game