Category: Health Care Quality

Another Doctor Rebels: “The Patient Should be the Arbiter of the Physician’s Quality of Care”

Mark Sklar, MD, in the Wall Street Journal:

The push to use electronic medical records has had more than financial costs.

Yet to avoid future financial penalties from Medicare, I must demonstrate “meaningful use” of the electronic record. This involves documenting that I covered a checklist of items during the office visit, so I spend 90 minutes each day entering mostly meaningless data. This is time better spent calling patients to answer questions or keeping updated with the medical literature.

My practice quickly adopted the new Medicare requirements for electronically prescribing medications. Yet patients often do not want their prescription sent electronically.

If I don’t electronically prescribe for a certain number of Medicare patients, I am penalized with a decrease in reimbursement that can rise to a maximum of 5%. Patients should have a choice in how their prescriptions are delivered, and physicians shouldn’t be penalized for how the patients choose.

Who Should Regulate Telemedicine, and How?

Readers of this blog know that NCPA has long been a supporter of telemedicine. The question of who should regulate telemedicine, and how, is now coming to a head.

The practice of medicine is regulated by the states. For many years, advocates of telemedicine have pointed to inconsistencies in how medical licensing boards recognize out-of-state physicians as a limit to telemedicine. In 2012, health economist Jason Shafrin reviewed literature, which indicates that requiring a doctor to be physically present with a patient to prescribe reduces access and harms patients.

State-based medical licensing boards’ inability to overcome this problem, despite many years of effort, has led to frustration and the rise of a movement that has not quite come out for a federal takeover of telemedical licensing — but certainly looks like it might tip that way.

Medical Marijuana Might Reduce Opioid Overdoses

Newly published research indicates that medical marijuana laws reduce overdose deaths from abuse of Oxycontin and other opiods by a statistically — and economically — significant amount.

Examining state laws permitting medical use of marijuana that passed between 1999 and 2010, Dr. Marcus Bachhuber and colleagues estimate that medical marijuana reduces the number of overdose deaths by 25 percent.

That adds up to lots of savings. Sean Williams at the Motley Fool reviews the research on the cost of opiod abuse:

Pesky Patients Asking Awkward Questions: Doc, Do I Really Need That?

A recent New York Times article lamented that employers are increasingly offering employee health plans that cover few medical expenses until a fairly high deductible has been met. About one-third of large employers offer only a high-deductible plan. Many other employers encourage enrollment in high-deductible plans by offering low employee contributions. As a result, more employees are covered by high-deductible plans and workers increasingly have to reach for their wallet before insurance kicks in.

As news stories often do, the article used a tear-jerker of an anecdote to drive home its point. The subject of the story was Anita Maina. Although her monthly premiums were only $34 per month, her deductible was $6,000 and her health savings account not well-funded. Here’s the story:

Anita Maina was working on an arts and crafts project she found on Pinterest — creating a table out of wood and cork — when she ripped off a fingernail while removing staples from a piece of wood.

But she ultimately skipped the [office] visit since she had not met the $6,000 deductible on her health plan, and she knew she probably did not have much left in her health savings account…

The New York Times article even included a photo of Ms. Maina with her injured finger!

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The Patient Care Quarterback

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article by Matthew J. Press, MD, about the need for patients to have a quarterback to coordinate the team of care-givers. Dr. Press writes –

Care coordination is now a high priority in health care and is the backbone of new models of care, such as accountable care organizations, that aim to improve quality and reduce costs. But it remains an abstract concept to many people who are not on the front lines of clinical care, as well as to some on the front lines who lack (or don’t want to have) the quarterback’s view of the field. In replaying the highlights, we can learn some important lessons about care coordination.

The CON of Certificate of Need Laws

I once heard Dr. Roy Cordato of the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina describe an unusual metaphor. Imagine that you wanted to open an Italian restaurant. In the town where you want to open it, you need to apply to the municipal authorities for a Certificate of Need. That is, before you put any of your capital or reputation into actually opening and operating the restaurant, you have to prove to bureaucrats and politicians that the town “needs” it. So, even though no taxpayers’ dollars are invested in your business, you are not allowed to take this risk before writing applications and participating in hearings to prove the unprovable: That potential customers “need” your Italian restaurant.

Who else is monitoring your application and participating in hearings? Owners of Italian restaurants that already exist. They have reams of data that prove that they fully satisfy the demand for Italian cuisine in the town. You have none. They have effective veto power over the entry of new competitors. You do not need a PhD in economics to predict that such a town would have a shortage of Italian restaurants with very high prices.

Yet, this unacceptable situation exists for hospitals or other healthcare facilities in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Thomas Stratmann and Jake Russ of the Mercatus Center have used a newly compiled database of these laws to examine their consequences. Their key findings are:

Switching Cholesterol Drugs to Over-the-Counter Could Prevent 250,000 Coronary Events

Lipid-lowering statins have been life-savers for many years now. They are so well understood that many now believe that they should be sold over-the-counter (OTC), that is, without a physician’s prescription. The proposal is certainly controversial. After all, how do you know you have high cholesterol without a physician telling you? It’s not like you are coughing or sneezing and just trot off to the pharmacy to get some cough suppressant or antihistamine or whatever you need.

Nevertheless, many medicines we consume OTC — even children’s Advil — were once available by prescription only. There is no doubt that when a medicine switches from prescription to OTC that more people will take it. New research by Christopher Stomberg and colleagues suggests that switching statins to OTC would reduce the number of coronary events by a quarter million annually. Manufacturers would like to switch their statins, but the FDA is not allowing it.

Let me open a bag of worms…

Does the U.S. Over Diagnose Cancer?

Ezra Klein challenges the notion that patients in the U.S. get better cancer treatment than patients in other developed countries. Klein was writing in response to the Commonwealth Fund’s comparison of health systems in eleven developed countries. As I noted previously, one problem with this survey is that there is no apparent relationship between ranking on the survey and health outcomes. Although the U.S. does poorly in the survey, it does well in health outcomes, especially cancer outcomes.

Or maybe not, according to Klein:

Most of the studies that highlight America’s skill in treating cancer do so by measuring survival rates  — that is to say, they measure how many people survive for a certain number of years after the cancer is diagnosed. So if a certain cancer kills 50 percent of people within five years, then the five-year survival rate is 50 percent.

The problem here is simple: survival rates don’t necessarily measure when people die. They also measure when they’re diagnosed — and sometimes, that’s all they measure.

Ignoring the Obvious? Choosing Suitable Metrics in Evaluating Health Care

One of the biggest problems in health policy is choosing the appropriate metrics to evaluate a complex good like health care. Value is in the eye of the beholder. All too often, the beholder is not the consumer, which leads to an affinity for numeric measures said to be more “rigorous” or “precise.”

As a result, many Medicaid evaluations use population health measures that have as much or more to do with individual behaviors as they do with the action of any part of the healthcare system. Things like number of primary care visits, BMI, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, are easy to measure provided someone first decides to visit the doctor. And outcomes based on those measures depend upon whether someone decides to diet, exercise, and take the prescribed medications.

Because simple metrics abound, we have a lot of studies evaluating the health “system” that only observe changes in relatively simple and inexpensive treatments that are behaviorally dependent and are provided to a lot of people. Many policy makers are satisfied with this. It accords well with the views of U.S. health care reform advocates who favor more centralized gatekeeping and approve of policies that force people to consume more primary care as a condition of being allowed access to specialists. If people got more primary care, the mantra goes, they wouldn’t need to see specialists.

Broken Mirror on the Wall: On the Commonwealth Fund’s Increasingly Frustrating Comparison of International Health Systems

The Commonwealth Fund has released another edition of its Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 2014 Update: How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally. Following tradition, it concludes that the American health “system” is the worst of eleven developed countries. This time, it prompted the editorialists at the New York Times to conclude:

 electronic-medical-recordBritain and Switzerland were top scorers in a study examining the quality and efficiency of health care systems in 11 advanced nations by a leading American research organization. As usual, the United States finished last overall and last on several important measures of cost and health outcomes, despite having the most costly system in the world.

The poor results for the United States reflect the high cost of its medical care and the absence of universal health insurance, a situation being addressed by the Affordable Care Act.

Other advanced nations are far ahead in the game because they have long had universal health coverage and promoted strong ties between patients and doctors.