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Adverse Events In Older Adults: The Need For Better Long-Term Care Financing And Delivery Innovation


November 20th, 2014

Evidence mounts that a major disconnect exists between the services most frail older adults need and what they get. The vast majority of frail older adults (around 75 percent) who face challenges in taking care of themselves live at home. According to new research from Vicki Freedman and Brenda Stillman, published in the most recent issue of The Milbank Quarterly, almost a third of these older adults report having an adverse consequence as a result of not getting the help they need. These consequences are pretty grim – the most frequently reported event being wet clothes associated with an unmet need around toileting.

But the most shocking statistic from this research is that hiring a paid helper appears to do little to protect against these consequences. Among those who hired help, nearly 60 percent reported adverse consequences. No doubt this reflects a higher level of need: paid helpers are brought in when the risk is quite high. But, it also reflects an inadequacy in support — an analogous group living in supportive housing (i.e., residential care or assisted living facilities) reported these events at a much lower rate (36 percent).

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Health Affairs Web First: In 11-Country Survey Of Older Adults, Americans Are Sickest But Have Quickest Access To Specialists


November 20th, 2014

A new survey of the health and care experiences of older adults in eleven different countries, released recently as a Web First by Health Affairs, found that Americans were sicker than their counterparts abroad, with 68 percent of respondents living with two or more chronic conditions and 53 percent taking four or more medications. Also, Americans were most likely to report cost-related expenses for care (19 percent of respondents) than residents in any of the other countries surveyed.

On the other hand, the United States compared favorably in some aspects: For example, 83 percent of US respondents had a treatment plan they could carry out in their daily life, one of the highest rates across the surveyed countries.

A few other key findings:

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Continuity Of Care For Chronic Conditions: Threats, Opportunities, And Policy


November 18th, 2014

Continuity of care is a bedrock principle of the patient-doctor relationship and is believed to be a fundamental attribute of high-quality medical care. Mounting evidence suggests that continuity of care for patients with chronic conditions prevents hospitalizations, reduces health care costs, and may prolong life in some populations.

Because patients are most likely to have longitudinal relationships with their pediatricians, family physicians, and internists, taken together, these primary care doctors are integral to translating continuity into meaningful care coordination. However, within the rapidly shifting landscape of health care delivery in the United States, continuity of care is simultaneously threatened and promoted by emerging care models.

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Health Affairs Web First: For Global Health Programs Aiding Developing Countries, Analyzing A New Funding Model


November 13th, 2014

Development assistance for health in low-and-middle-income countries nearly tripled from 2001 to 2010, with much of that growth directed toward the response to HIV. Donor agencies struggle to determine how much assistance a country should receive. A new study, recently released as a Health Affairs Web First, presents three allocation methodologies to align funding with priorities.

The study authors Victoria Fan, Amanda Glassman, and Rachel Silverman then select a model—one with enough flexibility to solve mismatches between disease burdens and allocations—to evaluate the progress that could be made by one organization—the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria—in fighting HIV. The authors found that under the new funding model, substantial shifts in the Global Fund’s portfolio are likely to result from concentrating resources in countries with more HIV cases and lower per capita income.

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Examining State Prison Health Care Spending: Cost Drivers And Policy Approaches


November 4th, 2014

Health care and corrections have emerged as fiscal pressure points for states in recent years as rapid spending growth in each area has competed for finite revenue. Not surprisingly, health care spending for prison inmates—the intersection of these two spheres—also has risen swiftly.

Yet this trend of rising health care costs for prisoners may have been reversed in many states, according to a new report by the State Health Care Spending Project, a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Total correctional health care expenditures and per-inmate spending increased in nearly all states from fiscal years 2007 to 2011, but in most states it began declining after peaking in 2009 and 2010. Nationwide, prison health care spending totaled $7.7 billion in 2011, down from a high of $8.2 billion in 2009, after adjusting for inflation. The downturn in spending stemmed in part from a reduction in state prison populations.

As states work to manage prison health care expenditures, a decrease in spending was a positive development as long as it did not come at the expense of access to good quality care. Yet states continue to face a variety of challenges that threaten to drive costs back up. Chief among these is a steadily aging prison population.

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Bringing Health, Wellness, And Opportunity To Coal Country


October 31st, 2014

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series written for Health Affairs Blog by local leaders from communities honored with the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. In 2014, six winning communities were selected by RWJF from more than 250 applicants and celebrated for placing a priority on health and creating powerful partnerships to drive change.

A small Appalachian coal mining town might seem like an unlikely place for a contemporary community health revolution, but Williamson, WV can proudly claim that achievement. As a city of 3,098 people along the banks of the Tug Fork River, Williamson has a long history of defying expectations. In the late 19th and early 20th century, it became the center of a cultural renaissance that began when the Norfolk and Western Railway brought people from all over the United States to Mingo County (Williamson is the county seat).

This diverse group of entrepreneurs and miners turned Williamson into a sophisticated urban center that became the “heart” of America’s billion-dollar-coal-field. They created an infrastructure that survived three great floods and today is part of a network of facilities that are being used for renewed development through the Sustainable Williamson project — a six-part initiative designed to bring better health and economic opportunity to a region faced with daunting financial and public health challenges.

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Poverty’s Association With Poor Health Outcomes and Health Disparities


October 30th, 2014

A recent ecological study by Carl Stevens, David Schriger, Brian Raffetto, Anna Davis, David Zingmond, and Dylan H. Roby, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, showed significant associations between neighborhood poverty and diabetes-related lower extremity amputations (LEA) in the state of California, which adds to the growing evidence that where you live (not just how you live) may directly impact your health.

The authors linked data from multiple sources (i.e. California Health Information Survey, Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, health facility discharge data) and used geographic information system (GIS) analyses and regression analyses to identify amputation “hot spots” and uncovered a 10-fold variation in LEA rates between low-income and high-income neighborhoods.

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Adult Conversation On High-Priced Drugs? Don’t Hold Your Breath (But Hang In There) …


October 27th, 2014

The benevolent identity of the health care enterprise tends to moderate disagreements and keep them under a big tent of shared goals. In the case of very high prices for powerful new drugs, however, the commons gets stretched painfully thin. Drug companies which see themselves as pioneers are accused of being merely greedy. Cost-conscious payers and regulators are impugned for depriving patients of life-conserving treatment breakthroughs. A divisive political undercurrent often threatens to obtrude. Altogether, a tough environment for rational policy assessment.

Credit is due, accordingly, to the Brookings Institution, for putting a wide array of views on display at its October 1 forum on “the cost and value of biomedical innovation,” which was jointly sponsored by the Schaeffer Center at the University of Southern California. With the head of Gilead Sciences at one pole of the discussion and a leading generics industry attorney at the other, the discussion didn’t lack for strongly-held views, strongly stated.

But the tone was civil, a lot of useful information was exchanged, and the audience went away carrying a meta-message about the importance of maintaining an “adult conversation” on a subject of such obvious importance and difficulty.

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Is A Study Of HIV Treatment For Mothers In Africa Unethical?


October 1st, 2014

A global health controversy erupted this summer when the prominent scientific journal Nature ran an article entitled “HIV trial attacked.” Within, commentators squared off over whether a huge ongoing study provides suboptimal and thus unethical treatment options to mothers with HIV in the developing world.

The multinational PROMISE study (for Promoting Maternal and Infant Survival Everywhere) is enrolling thousands of pregnant women with HIV in hopes of comparing mortality and other clinical outcomes between mothers who receive lifelong HIV therapy to mothers who receive shorter treatment durations if they have less advanced HIV disease.

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Turning Family Caregivers Into A Political Force


October 1st, 2014

Suzanne Mintz’s memorable Narrative Matters essay in the September issue of Health Affairs calls for attention to and support for family caregivers, and puts many important policy and practice improvements on the policy table. But the piece stops just a step short of giving voice to the fury that is needed to mobilize change. Why are family caregivers so polite? We ask for the bare essentials and say “please.” We beg for mere recognition and some honesty about the situation. Why are we so polite?

Are we waiting for hospitals, specialty physicians, health systems, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and others who are deeply invested in current patterns of care, thinking they might wake up one morning and start advocating against short-term self-interest? Or set out to learn about supportive services and family caregivers?

Of course, everyone loves family caregivers. Virtually anyone over the age of 50 can share tear-inducing stories of someone’s devotion to a frail elderly parent or a long-term disabled friend or relative. But we, the public, respond to the despair and frustration of family caregivers with the same shrug we give to young mothers whose lives are suddenly governed by feedings and changings. Our response to family caregivers has to change. The challenges are so great, and the level of support so deficient, for so many family caregivers.

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How Engaging Patients Can Improve Care And Health Outcomes


September 26th, 2014

Patients and caregivers are gaining momentum as powerful new resources in efforts to improve the health care system. They are increasingly becoming active partners in their own care, as well as seeking to make the health care delivery system more responsive to their needs and easier to navigate. And they are increasingly engaging as collaborators in planning and conducting research, and disseminating its results, with the goal of producing evidence that can help patients and those who care for them make better-informed decisions about the clinical choices they face.

It is this last trend that led the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to support Health Affairs in developing a series of videos illustrating some of the ways that patients are bringing their unique experiences and community connections to efforts to improve care for themselves and others. This includes stories of how patients are becoming partners in research designed to address the outcomes important to them, taking account of their own concerns and circumstances.

Seen through this lens, being a research partner goes well beyond being the subject of a trial. Rather, it means helping to guide researchers in formulating the questions to be studied, making the right clinical comparisons, looking at appropriate populations, and focusing on the outcomes important to patients. This should greatly increase the chance that the research findings will produce relevant results that can have a real-world impact — something we plan to evaluate carefully over time.

Meaningful patient engagement is at the heart of PCORI’s approach to research, and several of the patients featured in the videos have in fact partnered with researchers in just this way in patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR) studies we fund. They recognize that PCOR, a form of comparative clinical effectiveness research that focuses on issues of concern to patients, is a vital building block for developing truly patient-centered care and health policy, more effective treatments, and better outcomes.

In the following sections, we highlight the projects mentioned in the videos to give you an idea of how patients and community members are partnering in research projects.

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IOM Report Calls For Transformation Of Care For The Seriously Ill


September 24th, 2014

The new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on care near the end of life in the United States was released last week. I had the privilege of serving on the Committee for the last two years, involved both in the writing of the report itself and in coming to consensus on its recommendations.

The name of the report and the charge to the Committee from the IOM was focused on “end of life.” However, the title, “Dying in America,” is something of a misnomer. The report itself focuses extensively on people with serious and chronic illness with indeterminate prognoses, why the current health care system fails so consistently to meet their needs, and what must change to improve the situation.

Hospice is the gold standard of care quality for those that are predictably dying and clearly at the end of life, and we are fortunate as a nation to have such a strong (mostly home) hospice infrastructure, but that’s not where most of the problems lie. The problems lie in the lack of options for people who are either not hospice-eligible (prognosis uncertain or continuing to want and benefit from disease treatment) or are referred to hospice much too late in their disease course to influence their experience and their families’.

The new report builds on the 1998 IOM report “Approaching Death” and goes well beyond the usual nostrums of calling for reimbursement for advance care planning and decrying all the “waste” in health care spending during the last year of life.

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Reconceptualizing Health and Health Care: Why Our Cancer Care Delivery System Is In Crisis


September 23rd, 2014

Cancer Care System in Crisis

Americans fear cancer. In a poll for MetLife, when participants were asked which major disease they feared most, 41 percent said cancer, 31 percent said Alzheimer’s disease, and small percentages of other respondents said other diseases. Not surprisingly, The National Institutes of Health has a budget allocation of $4.9 billion for 2014 to The National Cancer Institute, far more than any other Institute and over 25 percent of the NIH’s total funding to study organ-based diseases ($19.2 billion).

Despite this longstanding commitment to cancer research, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported in September 2013 that America’s cancer care delivery system is “in crisis.” The IOM determined that physicians ask for patients’ preferences in medical decisions only 50 percent of the time and that 25 percent of patients report that their clinicians fail to share important information, such as test results or medical history, with other care providers.

Of bankruptcies in the U.S., 33 percent are related to medical concerns, and many people are referring to the astounding cost of cancer therapies as another “toxicity” of the disease. Patients are too often prescribed cancer treatments that can cost double the conventional treatment options but have no evidence-based incremental benefits.

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Pediatric Asthma: An Opportunity In Payment Reform And Public Health


September 18th, 2014

Editor’s note: The post is informed by a case study, the third in a series made possible through the Merkin Initiative on Physician Payment Reform and Clinical Leadership, a special project to develop clinician leadership in health care delivery and financing reform. The case study will be presented on Wednesday, September 24 using a “MEDTalk” format featuring live story-telling and knowledge-sharing from patients, providers, and policymakers. 

The Clinical Challenge: A Chronic, but Manageable Illness

Asthma affects 7 million children – more than 10 percent of kids in the U.S. – and is the most common chronic childhood disease. Yet even with high levels of insurance coverage, 46 percent of pediatric patients have uncontrolled asthma. There are substantial gaps in appropriate prescribing and adherence to effective medications. In addition, a multitude of non-medical issues influence a child’s ability to control their asthma: low parental health literacy, poor quality housing, and environmental triggers such as pests, mold, and cleaning chemicals. As a result 800,000 kids visit the emergency department (ED) for asthma each year.

In 2007 (the latest year which data are available) the U.S. spent over $56 billion on asthma care, of which nearly $27 billion was spent on pediatric asthma. Medicaid is the primary payer for pediatric asthma related hospitalizations with 55 percent of the market. Better control may also mean lower medical costs, due to reductions in ED visits, admissions, and other health care utilization – patients with poorly controlled severe asthma cost nearly $5,000 more per patient per year compared to average pediatric asthmatic costs.

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Advancing Innovation To Eliminate Health Disparities


September 4th, 2014

The advent of population health management, community-based care coordination and mobile health technologies provide a promising opportunity to address longstanding and persistent health disparities. Separately each adds a new dimension to research and analysis, and to individual and community-level public health prevention and access to quality care. Together, providers, payers and researchers alike can acquire a richer understanding of contextual, environmental, and behavioral factors that contribute to disparate outcomes in health.

Existing innovations in data capture, epidemiologic profiling, clinical translation, and workforce development have yet to be taken to scale or appropriately deployed in a manner that would benefit vulnerable populations. Meaningful use technologies, for example, appear to be stuck in the proverbial pipeline with resistance in uptake and limited distribution of incentives. Meaning access and application in poor and disparate communities where they are more often subjects of research and not partners in innovation is far off.

What public health, and community-based and clinically focused interventions need is a fresh look at how health disparities are measured and the processes for application of solutions to needy populations.

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Exhibit Of The Month: Income-Related Disparities Associated With Negative Health Outcomes


August 29th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing “Exhibit of the Month” series. Readers who’d like to highlight other noteworthy exhibits from the same issue are encouraged to make their pitch in the comments section below.

Much is known about income-related disparities when it comes to preventative care and chronic conditions, but less so about the associations between poverty and negative health outcomes.

In “Geographic Clustering Of Diabetic Lower-Extremity Amputations In Low-Income Regions Of California,” published in the August issue of Health Affairs, authors Carl Stevens et al. identify diabetic amputation “hot spots” in low-income urban and rural areas of California (Exhibit 2).

Based on California data from 2009, they isolated 7,973 lower-extremity amputations in 6,828 adults with diabetes. They compare this to a corresponding map of poverty rates in the same region based on households who reported incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level (Exhibit 3).

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Remembering Jessie Gruman


August 15th, 2014

Jessie Gruman, founding president of the Center for Advancing Health, died on July 14 after a fifth bout with cancer. Jessie was a hero to patients, families, and health care providers for her selfless work to help people better understand their role and responsibilities in supporting their own health.

Jessie was an extraordinary soul and a pioneering activist in the person-centered care movement. She used her personal experience with illness to inspire a life’s work aimed at developing practical resources that support peoples’ engagement with their health care. She improved care and improved lives.

Jessie was first diagnosed with cancer at the age of twenty. She was thrown into a world that spoke in a foreign tongue: “medicalese.” She was expected to self-administer a complex medication regime, which she openly admits she sometimes skipped. Jessie described the hard-working health care professionals who fought to make her better all relying on her, a scared twenty-year-old, to understand what they said and implement their plan. She realized the enormous power of people who are engaged in their own health, while also recognizing the challenges to such engagement.

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Narrative Matters: How Acute Care Training Is Failing Patients With Chronic Disease


August 8th, 2014

In the August Health Affairs Narrative Matters essay, a doctor questions how well acute care medical training serves those with chronic disease while watching the decline of two patients with kidney failure, one healthier and one frail. Dena Rifkin’s article is freely available to all readers, or you can listen to the podcast.

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The Double-Faced Pain Problem: Reflections On July’s Narrative Matters Essay


July 28th, 2014

Reading Janice Lynch Schuster’s tormented account of her persistent pain and her journey through the medical maze of care in the July issue of Health Affairs, I’m reminded of how millions of Americans are living with not one, but two, pain challenges. The first is the epidemic of over-prescription; the second is the condition of endemic under-medication.

In her essay “Down The Rabbit Hole: A Chronic Pain Sufferer Navigates The Maze Of Opioid Use,” Schuster herself hints at the dual issues when she writes: “pain patients like me often feel trapped between the clinical need to treat and manage pain and the social imperative to restrict access to such drugs and promote public safety.”

People coping with chronic pain confront a double-faced problem: a society simultaneously providing too much relief and too little. Which face of the American pain dilemma any patient will experience depends on where they live, who they are, and what kind of practitioner they encounter in their pursuit of relief. As Schuster writes, the situation is perplexing, maddening, and sometimes arbitrary.

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Investing In The Social Safety Net: Health Care’s Next Frontier


July 7th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Jennifer DeCubellis, Leon Evans also coauthored this post. 

The United States spends 250 percent more than any other developed country on health care services, yet we are ranked below 16 other countries in overall life expectancy. A less frequently discussed statistic, however, is the degree to which the U.S. under-invests in social services: for every dollar spent on health care, only 50 cents is invested in social services. In comparison, other developed countries spend roughly $2 on social services for every dollar spent on health care. The U.S. is 10th among developed countries in its combined investment in health care and social services.

This imbalance has ramifications for the nation’s Medicaid program, where just five percent of beneficiaries with complex health and social problems drive more than 50 percent of all program costs. Many individuals in this high-cost group have chronic complex medical, behavioral health, and/or supportive service needs, and in the absence of coordinated intervention, they tend to be frequent visitors to emergency rooms and have high rates of avoidable hospital admissions.

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