I was driving to work the other day, and there was a story on the radio about the Congressional reaction to the latest recommendations for breast cancer screening from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Here’s the background. USPSTF published recommendations in late 2009 for the use of screening mammography in different age groups. For women between 40 and 50 years old, the panel concluded “that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the additional benefits and harms of clinical breast examination (CBE) beyond screening mammography in women 40 years or older.” In other words, they did not recommend biennial mammograms – which they did for women between 50 and 74 years old – for the younger cohort. That led to a firestorm of criticism that younger women would be “denied” mammography, and Congress wrote into the Affordable Care Act that “exchange” (Obamacare) insurance plans cover regular mammography for women over 40.
Fast forward to now.
Continue reading Congress and Dr. Bayes
A recent piece in the New York Times profiled a young man with a remarkable medical history, and an equally remarkable approach to sharing it. I think it raises some profound issues regarding the self-monitoring movement and the “ownership” of patients’ health information, both of which have the potential to change our traditional practices in a big way.
The guy – Steven Keating – is not your average Joe. He is a graduate student at MIT who trained as a mechanical engineer and is working in the cutting-edge MIT Media Lab. He also had a brain tumor the size of a tennis ball. His website hosts all of his medical records, including his pre- and post-op brain scans and, believe it or not, a video of his tumor resection surgery.
Continue reading Whose Record Is It?
I had the good fortune last week to see a screening of excerpts from an extraordinary documentary film that will be shown on PBS television stations in April. The film is called Rx: the quiet revolution and highlights four case studies. Each is an inspiring example of new models of health care delivery that are advancing the “triple aim” of better care for individuals, better health outcomes for communities, and lower costs. Our own remarkable Dr. Jennifer Mieres is the film’s executive producer.
The screening left me inspired and in awe of the great work being done by front line professionals all across the country. It also introduced me to a fabulous metaphor for the importance of engaging patients in their own care.
Continue reading There is Good News Out There
It has been known for a long time that “healthcare” – all the stuff that we do, prescribe and provide – is a minor determinant of how “healthy” any of us is. Overall health, or more technically, the variability in health outcomes, is much more dependent on the combination of genetics, personal behavior (think smoking and seat belts), environmental factors and socioeconomic status than it is on healthcare.
I was thinking about that when I read in the New York Times about how some healthcare provider systems, driven by the need to cut costs, are starting to address some of the non-medical social needs of their patients. These kinds of innovative community-based interventions started to get traction after they were highlighted by an influential profile by Atul Gawande in the The New Yorker. Their diffusion has been driven by the expansion of novel payment models that have started to reward providers for reducing utilization of services like ER visits and hospitalizations, the very services that they have traditionally been paid for.
Continue reading Health and Healthcare
Every so often I come across a research paper that leaves me feeling as if I am glimpsing the future. I had that experience when I came across the work of Cingolani and colleagues in the December 23 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (volume 64, no. 24). The paper, entitled “Engineered electrical conduction tract restores conduction in complete heart block: from in vitro to in vivo proof of concept” details a new approach to an old problem.
Here’s the problem. Many people develop serious disturbances of the heart rhythm based on deterioration or destruction of specialized “conduction tissue” within the heart. This tissue is responsible for transmitting the electrical impulses that govern the beating of the heart. In the case of the dysfunction of conduction tissue between the atria and ventricles, the chambers become electrically and mechanically dissociated – a condition termed complete heart block, and generally treated with an implanted pacemaker.
Continue reading Department of Really Cool Ideas
I wrote recently about the need to take into account patient characteristics when using patient outcomes to compare the quality of care provided by different physicians. That is a well-accepted principle, and the need for so-called “risk-adjustment” applies not only to evaluating physicians, but also to evaluating hospitals and larger care delivery systems. There has been a smoldering controversy, however, about which patient characteristics to consider and, in particular, the implications of including socioeconomic factors in such comparisons. This controversy played out again in a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Here is the core of the issue.
Continue reading Adjusting Outcomes
I took advantage of the holiday slow-down in routine meetings to visit our Health System’s new serious transmittable disease unit – the “Ebola Unit” – at Glen Cove Hospital. Wow!
I had the good fortune to have Darlene Parmentier, the nurse manager of the unit, tour me around and explain how patients will be cared for. Darlene is an experienced clinician and had a ready answer for every one of my questions. In fact, she had answers for lots of questions I never thought to ask! Despite the fact that the physical space had been transformed from an unoccupied “regular” hospital inpatient unit into a highly specialized containment and care facility in just days, I was amazed at the thoughtfulness of the design. Here are just a few of the salient features:
- A dedicated pathway (including a dedicated elevator) from an external ambulance bay directly into the patient care area
- Ample living space for care givers who may choose to stay on the unit between shifts, complete with thoughtful touches like a ping pong table and an X-box
- Designated training areas, recognizing that continuous simulation and drilling are integral to the effectiveness of the unit
- Well marked “zones” that correspond with the risk of contact or exposure to infectious agents, and dictate the different the levels of personal protective equipment that must be worn
- The pervasive evidence of planning, not just for the range of clinical challenges that may arise, but also for the needs of patients’ families, the impact on caregivers and the reaction of the community and news media
Overall, I came away incredibly impressed. Once again, our Health System has stepped up to do the right thing for our patients and our staff, and I am confident that any patient who needs treatment there will get great care.
Let’s hope it never happens. Continue reading System Readiness
With the first – and probably not the last – documented case of Ebola in New York last week, the reaction of State and local governments was big news, and the preparations of the North Shore-LIJ Health System kicked into a higher gear.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, flanked by the President of the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation, Dr. Ram Raju, and the city Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, gave a news conference. I thought they struck just the right balance of information and reassurance, and grounded their responses in what is known about the disease. In discussing the movements of the patient, a physician who had been working in West Africa with Doctors without Borders, prior to his admission to Bellevue, they repeatedly stated that he had posed no threat to the general public. Indeed, they cited the case of the man who died of Ebola in Texas, who had spent days living with family members at a much more advanced stage of his illness, and did not transmit the disease to any of them. Of course, 2 nurses who later cared for him did, but he was far sicker by then (which means he had a much higher viral load, and was correspondingly more infectious), and we now know they likely had inadequate training and personal protective equipment.
Continue reading More on Ebola
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
I had a recent conversation with an old friend about her elderly father that encapsulates a lot of what is both great and terribly wrong with healthcare in America today.
Here are the basic facts: the man is in his mid-80s, retired from teaching school, and is active and vigorous, living in the community; he is cognitively intact. He has a history of coronary disease and had an intracoronary stent placed some years back. He is asymptomatic on a typical “cocktail” of meds including aspirin, a statin, and an ACE inhibitor. Over the summer, he had a routine follow-up visit with his cardiologist, who detected a carotid bruit. After a duplex sonogram and a CT angio, a high-grade unilateral internal carotid stenosis was identified, and carotid endarterectomy surgery was recommended. My friend called me to see if I could recommend a surgeon in the city where she and her father both live.
Continue reading The Good, the Bad and the Ugly