Articles Posted in Medical Practice Management

eyedropWhether it happens in the drip, drip, drip of costly eye drops or it occurs in the flash of a pricey imaging scan, patients get gouged by modern medicine’s wasteful practices. The inefficiencies can be traced to many and different causes. But Americans need to keep asking whether they can allow or tolerate profit-seeking enterprises to keep getting bigger and ever more expensive.

It’s good to see that two online news organizations, Vox and Pro Publica, are digging into soaring costs for medical goods and services.

Vox is aiming to crowd-source some of its investigation, and it has tantalized its audience with a motivating source of outrage—a story detailing a sky-high bill for a 30-minute imaging scan for Elodie Fowler, an ailing 3-year-old girl. The site says her parents got socked with a $25,000 tab for her test. That sum was far higher than they expected, even after they researched and shopped around to find their most affordable option, given their insurance and various providers operating the service.

anesthesia-300x153Some of the very medical specialists who are supposed to put patients to sleep experience big problems themselves staying awake, with more than half of anesthetic trainees reporting in a new national survey in Britain that they had crashed their cars or nearly done so while headed home after long night shifts.

American doctors’ social media responses to this new research indicate that work weariness and drowsy driving are perils for practitioners on this side of the Atlantic, too.

The doctors’ complaints also underscores the irrationality of recent decisions by American medical educators to reinstate long shifts for interns and residents, trainees who play important—and sleep-deprived— front-line roles in providing medical services to too many patients in academic medical centers and hospitals nationwide.

clockYour time is precious, and when you are a patient, you may feel it’s more so, especially if you’re ill or even in the end stage of your life.

So why do health care providers keep us waiting, or worse, why must doctors and hospitals act downright oblivious to how valuable our time might be as opposed to theirs—and what might be done about it?

Take a look at a thoughtful piece on how one health system has tried to keep true to the idea that patients matter above everything else and the delivery of care needs to focus on them:

codes-300x220Hospital care accounts for a third of the nation’s $3 trillion in annual spending for medical services. And not only are these charges increasing—and driving up health costs—they’re infuriating patients and their families. Who can make heads or tails of hospital bills? And if consumers do, will they discover billing practices that only anger them more?

Elizabeth Rosenthal, a seasoned journalist, accomplished medical correspondent, and a non-practicing doctor, has created a stir with “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.” It’s her new best-seller, and was excerpted recently in the New York Times Magazine.

The book and magazine story delve, in part, into the sausage-making aspects of medical billing. These systems have enslaved American health care. They turn on bulky, balky coding systems that provide a short-hand summary for every therapy that patients receive from providers—physicians and hospitals. In turn, payers—patients, insurers, and Uncle Sam—rely on the codes to determine fees they will fork over for services and materials. In between are platoons of coders and billing experts for payers and providers, warring over ever number and the money they represent.

howard-300x231It may be easy to forget. But hospitals not that long ago refused to care for black Americans. If they did so, they kept them separate and far from white patients, shunning African Americans in separate wards in “freezing attics or damp basements.” Blood transfusions were taboo. The medicine was dismal and unequal, with black patients sometimes resorting to becoming test subjects to get any kind of treatment.

The nation’s capital also contributed its own notable example of a once-thriving such spot: Freedman’s in Northwest DC, which opened in 1862 and “stood out for the medical care it offered freed slaves and became an incubator for some of the country’s brightest African American physicians.”

But that venerable haven, known now as Howard University Hospital, has fallen far, the Washington Post says. Howard’s care, still for predominantly black and now poor patients, is unequal and lagging, the paper’s investigation found:

doc-sleep-300x225Must doctors be absolutely impervious to common sense improvements in the way they train their own? Their bullheadedness has reemerged with the revisited decision by a major academic credentialing group to allow medical residents yet again to work 24-hour shifts.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education clearly was on the defensive when it issued its memo on residents’ learning and working hours, guidance that academic medical centers and hospitals nationwide will rely on in setting workplace standards for the young doctors in whose hands so many patients will put their lives. The council noted that it had established a high-level task force to reconsider criticisms of residents’ stress and overwork and how this might imperil patient care, responding to an early rollback of shift hours:

“… The Task Force has determined that the hypothesized benefits associated with the changes made to first-year resident scheduled hours in 2011 have not been realized, and the disruption of team-based care and supervisory systems has had a significant negative impact on the professional education of the first-year resident, and effectiveness of care delivery of the team as a whole. It is important to note that 24 hours is a ceiling, not a floor. Residents in many specialties may never experience a 24-hour clinical work period. Individual specialties have the flexibility to modify these requirements to make them more restrictive as appropriate, and in fact, some already do. As in the past, it is expected that emergency medicine and internal medicine will make individual requirements more restrictive.”

hospital-300x209When a giant institution like MedStar Georgetown University Hospital announces it will spend more than a half-billion dollars to improve, rebuild, and expand its facilities, few of us blink.

That’s because we know that hospitals, in general, are “among the most expensive facilities to build, with complex infrastructures, technologies, regulations and safety codes,” observes Druv Khullar, an M.D. and M.P.P. at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School.

Khullar, however, goes on to write in a trenchant Op-Ed column in the New York Times that, “evidence suggests we’ve been building [hospitals] all wrong — and that the deficiencies aren’t simply unaesthetic or inconvenient. All those design flaws may be killing us.”

obamacare-cartoon-2-a-300x240As the already known complications to its demise have increased by the minute, there may be some detectable pauses in the partisan zeal to give the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, the bum’s rush. That’s because the legislation’s repeal-and-replace proponents — despite seven years and several dozen U.S. House votes  to roll back the ACA — have yet to detail how 20 million Americans who have gotten health insurance under Obamacare will be covered in the days ahead.

Opponents also haven’t explained how they may change the far reach of the ACA, including how the law and the Obama administration have reshaped, and often, improved American health care, for example, by changing entrenched payment practices and forcing greater accountability.

The New York Times, in reviewing the presidential legacy, has reported on what it terms the transformational aspects of Obamacare that also may sustain, no matter the partisan attacks on the attempt to provide broader health insurance coverage. In brief, the paper says Obamacare forced health care in this country to become more data-driven and evidence-based, as well as refocused on patients and their needs. Although some of the major drivers of these reforms, including hefty spending for electronic health records, haven’t hit the high marks advocates hoped for, progress has occurred.

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