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Same Care No Matter Where She Gives Birth: Addressing Variation In Obstetric Care Through Standardization


September 12th, 2014

In August, Health Affairs published a study highlighting an alarming fact in maternal health: The incidence of childbirth complications varies significantly from hospital to hospital across the United States. The study – led by Laurent Glance and colleagues at the University of Rochester – found that “women delivering vaginally at a low-performing hospital had twice the rate of any major complications than women delivering vaginally at a high-performing hospital.” The difference in these complication rates for cesareans was five-fold.

It is well known that variation in care contributes to higher rates of mortality and morbidity in all areas of health care, explaining the push toward checklists and other quality improvement tools and interdisciplinary collaboration. Identifying the primary reasons for variation in obstetric complication rates – why women giving birth in high-performing hospitals have lower complications rates – could be critical to understanding the reasons behind the increasing rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S. This study, along with other disturbing statistics, underscores the significant need for improvements in maternity care.

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Mortality Rate Increases With Emergency Department Closures


September 11th, 2014

The Health Affairs article, “California Emergency Department Closures Are Associated With Increased Inpatient Mortality At Nearby Hospitals,” by Charles Liu, Tanja Srebotnjak, and Renee Y. Hsia, recently published in the August issue, presents an important, timely, and well-conceived analysis, especially given the number of emergency department (ED) closures in the last 10-15 years, the concomitant rise in ED visits during the same period, and the likelihood of further closures due to increased hospital consolidation across the country since the study took place.

The article focuses on mortality rates and finds that hospitals in close proximity to an ED that had closed had 5 percent higher odds of inpatient mortality than admissions to hospitals not occurring near a closure, and that this effect disproportionately affected minority, Medicaid, and low-income patients, further exacerbating existing disparities in health care and health outcomes. This finding adds to Hsia’s body of work that calls attention to the disproportionate impact of institutional closures on health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

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Think and Act Globally: Health Affairs’ September Issue


September 8th, 2014

The September issue of Health Affairs emphasizes lessons learned from developing and industrialized nations collectively seeking the elusive goals of better care, with lower costs and higher quality. A number of studies analyze key global trends including patient engagement and integrated care, while others examine U.S.-based policy changes and their applicability overseas.

This issue was supported by the Qatar Foundation and World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), Hamad Medical Corporation, Imperial College London, and The Commonwealth Fund.

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The Payment Reform Landscape: Non-Payments


September 4th, 2014

Throughout 2014 here on Health Affairs Blog, I have shared Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR)’s insights on different types of payment reform, which run along a spectrum of financial risk. We began the year by examining payment models that have “upside only” risk, such as pay-for-performance, which give health care providers the opportunity for financial gain from improving care with no added financial risk.

Then we examined payment models that contain “two-sided risk,” like shared-risk arrangements for ACOs, bundled payment, and capitation with quality, where providers can reap financial gain as well as experience financial losses depending on care outcomes and expenditures.

This month, we examine a model that presents “downside only” risk — non-payment to providers. This payment strategy puts providers at financial risk for care that could or should have been avoided.

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Projected Slow Growth In 2013 Health Spending Ahead Of Future Increases


September 3rd, 2014

Insurance Coverage, Population Aging, and Economic Growth Are Main Drivers of Projected Future Health Spending Increases

New estimates released today from the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project a slow 3.6 percent rate of health spending growth for 2013 but also project a 5.6 percent increase in health spending for 2014 and an average 6.0 percent increase for 2015–23. The average rate of projected growth for 2013–23 is 5.7 percent, exceeding the expected average growth in gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.1 percentage points.

Increased insurance coverage via the Affordable Care Act (ACA), projected economic growth, and population aging will be the main contributors of this growth, ultimately leading to an expected 19.3 percent health share of nominal GDP in 2023, up from 17.2 percent in 2012.  This compares to the Office of the Actuary’s 2013  report, published in Health Affairs, predicting an average growth rate of 5.8 percent for 2012–22.

Every year, the Office of the Actuary releases an analysis of how Americans are likely to spend their health care dollars in the coming decade. The new findings appear as a Health Affairs Web First article and will also appear in the journal’s October issue.

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The 125 Percent Solution: Fixing Variations In Health Care Prices


August 26th, 2014

Summer vacation’s finally here. You’re strolling along the beach, not a care in the world when – ouch – you step on a piece of broken glass and need a few stitches at the local hospital. Such routine procedures are painless enough, but depending on where you’re treated and by whom, the real pain could occur when you’re handed the ER bill.

In some of the latest evidence on the crazy-quilt patterns of U.S. health care prices, Castlight Health found prices in Dallas TX ranging from $15 to $343 for the same cholesterol test.  What makes these price variations particularly egregious is that the highest prices are typically reserved for those least able to pay, such as the uninsured.

What’s the solution?  In the long run, we need to establish a more transparent system where consumers can choose easily based on reliable quality and price measures.  But our current measures of quality are, to put it politely, inadequate, and people with insurance are often insulated or can generally afford those higher prices.  Reference pricing, in which insurance pays only enough to reimburse providers with adequate quality and relatively lower costs, would help to restrain high prices, but distracted patients or those with strong attachments to specific doctors or hospitals could still get stung with a big bill.

Capping payments at 125 percent of Medicare rates. We suggest a short-term solution: The federal Medicare program has in place a complete system of prices for every procedure and treatment.  It’s not perfect, but it is uniform across regions, with a cost-of-living adjustment that pays more in expensive cities and less in rural areas.  If every patient and every insurance company always had the option of paying 125 percent of the Medicare price for any service, we would effectively cap the worst of the price spikes.  No longer would the tourist checked out at the ER for heat stroke be clobbered with a sky-high bill.  Nor would the uninsured single mother be charged 10 times the best price for her child’s asthma care.  This is not just another government regulation, but instead a protection plan that shields consumers from excessive market power.

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Health Affairs Briefing: Advancing Global Health Policy


August 22nd, 2014

Please join us on Monday, September 8, when Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil will host a briefing to discuss our September 2014 thematic issue, “Advancing Global Health Policy.”  In an expansion of last year’s theme, “The ‘Triple Aim’ Goes Global,” we explore how developing and industrialized countries around the world are confronting challenges and learning from each other on three aims: cost, quality, and population health.

A highlight of the event will be a discussion of international health policy—led by Weil—featuring former CMS and FDA administrator and current Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Mark McClellan and Lord Ara Darzi, surgeon, scholar, and former UK Health Minister. Additional panels will look at how countries are transforming chronic care, lowering costs, and redesigning delivery systems.

WHEN: 
Monday, September 8, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: 
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW!

Follow Live Tweets from the briefing @HA_Events, and join in the conversation with #HA_GlobalHealth.

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The “Failure” Of Bundled Payment: The Importance Of Consumer Incentives


August 21st, 2014

Bundled payment for orthopedic and spine surgery and other major acute interventions has many attractive features, in principle. But implementation has been difficult in practice.  The recent Health Affairs paper by Susan Ridgley and colleagues, and the Health Affairs Blog commentary by Tom Williams and Jill Yegian, list quite a few practical implementation problems, and the points raised in both these pieces are well taken.

As leaders in the Integrated Health Association (IHA) bundled payment initiative, we shared the same hopes, devoted the same energies, and share the same frustrations with the modest results.  We feel it is important to emphasize what we consider to be the initiative’s most important design failure: the lack of engagement and alignment on the part of the consumer.  No one will ever reform the U.S. health care system without bringing the consumer along and, indeed, placing consumer choice and accountability at the very center of the reform initiative.

On an optimistic note, this design failure is being addressed by the larger health care marketplace in the wake of numerous failed attempts to reform health care by focusing exclusively on provider payment and incentives.

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Health Affairs Web First: Small Medical Practices Had Fewer Preventable Hospital Admissions


August 14th, 2014

The Affordable Care Act and other federal policy initiatives have created incentives for smaller practices to consolidate into larger medical groups or be acquired by hospitals. It is often assumed that larger practices provide better care. However, a new study, recently released as a Web First by Health Affairs, showed unexpected results: Practices with 1-2 physicians had 33 percent fewer preventable hospital admissions than practices with 10-19 physicians.

This study, which used data from the National Study of Small and Medium-Sized Physician Practices (NSSMPP) and surveyed 1,745 physician practices between July 2007 and March 2009, is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States. The study sample was limited to practices where at least 60 percent of the physicians were primary care providers, cardiologists, endocrinologists, and pulmonologists.

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Hospital Readmission Reduction Program Reignites Debate Over Risk Adjusting Quality Measures


August 14th, 2014

Do safety net hospitals categorically under perform the national average in terms of managing readmissions? Or is something else triggering higher rates of readmissions in these facilities?  These questions are essential for policymakers to answer as pay-for-performance (P4P) penalties are having a disparate impact on hospitals that serve low-income areas.

Medicare’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP), for example,  links risk-adjusted hospital readmission rates to financial penalties. Hospitals with risk-adjusted readmission rates that fall below the national average are penalized by having their annual Medicare payments reduced by up to 2 percent. In 2015, hospital payments are scheduled to be reduced by up to 3 percent.

But the program’s current system for measuring readmission rates may be flawed. Numerous analyses have found that safety net hospitals, which care for low-income patients, are more than twice as likely to be penalized than hospitals caring for higher-income patients.

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Better Measurement Of Maternity Care Quality


August 12th, 2014

A thought-provoking paper published this month in Health Affairs shows stunning variation in rates of obstetrical complications across U.S. hospitals. This type of research is important and necessary because focusing on averages masks potentially large differences in how patient care is provided and how clinical decisions are made.

From a policy perspective, it’s crucial to identify and learn from hospitals that are “positive deviants,” that is – hospitals with better-than-expected quality of care. From a pregnant woman’s perspective, having information on hospital rates of hemorrhage, infection, or laceration during childbirth is a high priority.

Authors Laurent Glance and colleagues add to a growing literature on variation in hospital-based maternity care. Having useful quality measurement and reporting strategies to guide policy and patient decisions is an essential next step. Indeed, Glance and colleagues conclude by urging clinicians and policymakers to “develop comprehensive quality metrics for obstetrical care and focus on improving obstetrical outcomes.”

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Health Affairs Web Firsts: Two Studies Find Mixed Results On EHR Adoption


August 11th, 2014

Since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted in 2009, Health Affairs has published many articles about the promise of health information technology and the challenges of promoting broad adoption and “meaningful use.”

Last week, on August 7, the journal released two new Web First studies, “More Than Half Of US Hospitals Have At Least A Basic EHR, But Stage 2 Criteria Remain Challenging For Most” and “Despite Substantial Progress In EHR Adoption, Health Information Exchange And Patient Engagement Remain Low In Office Settings.” These studies focus on the latest trends in health information technology adoption among U.S. physicians and hospitals. Both studies, which will also appear in the September issue of Health Affairs, show that while basic electronic health record (EHR) adoption plans have moved forward, more significant implementation remains a daunting challenge for many providers and institutions

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Health Affairs August Issue: Variations In Health Care


August 4th, 2014

Health AffairsAugust variety issue includes a number of studies demonstrating variations in health and health care, such as differing obstetrical complication rates and disparities in care for diabetes. Other subjects in the issue include the impact of ACA coverage on young adults’ out-of-pocket costs; and how price transparency may help lower health care costs.

For mothers-to-be, huge differences in delivery complication rates among hospitals.

Four million women give birth each year in the United States. While the reported incidence of maternal pregnancy-related mortality is low (14.5 per 100,000 live births), the rate of obstetric complications is nearly 13 percent.

Laurent Glance of the University of Rochester and coauthors analyzed data for 750,000 obstetrical deliveries in 2010 from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization’s Nationwide Inpatient Sample. They found that women delivering vaginally at low-performing hospitals had twice the rate of any major complications (22.55 percent) compared to vaginal deliveries at high-performing hospitals (10.42 percent

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IOM Graduate Medical Education Report: Better Aligning GME Funding With Health Workforce Needs


July 31st, 2014

After nearly two years of deliberation, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on the Governance and Financing of Graduate Medical Education (GME) has issued its report. It presents a strong case for the need for change and a strong case for its recommendations.

The members of the Committee and the IOM are to be commended for their hard work, vision, and a high quality report. The report presents a clear path to a system that would help produce a physician workforce better aligned with the nation’s needs and a framework for a rational and defensible expenditure of nearly 15 billion dollars in public funds each year on GME.

Issues related to GME financing have been contentious for many years. In 1965, Congress included GME financing under Medicare reimbursement in what was intended to be a temporary arrangement. Nearly 50 years later, we are still trying to find a permanent and more rational way to finance and pay for the training of physicians as an alternative to the current complex, arcane formula built on Medicare inpatient days. Despite the well-documented shortcomings of the current system and numerous studies, attempts to find agreement on how to change and improve GME financing have been unsuccessful.

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Examining Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program


July 24th, 2014

New financial incentives and penalties in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) designed to optimize health care system performance are proving difficult to manage, but they are also providing new opportunities for leaders to foster collaboration between acute and post-acute health care providers.

Perhaps one of the most promising, albeit controversial, programs has been Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), which penalizes hospitals with excess 30-day readmissions for health conditions such as pneumonia, myocardial infarction, and heart failure. Although not all hospital readmissions are preventable, many could be avoided with improved post-discharge planning and care coordination.

The HHRP was designed to penalize hospitals with excess 30-day readmissions regardless of whether the patient was readmitted to the same hospital or another hospital. Although there are some exceptions (for example, readmissions due to hospital transfers or planned readmissions), most readmissions of patients with health conditions targeted by the HHRP will count against a hospital.

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ACAView: New Findings On The Effect Of Coverage Expansion Since January 2014


July 9th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Josh Gray, Iyue Sung also coauthored this post. 

Together, athenahealth and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have undertaken a new joint venture called ACAView, as part of the foundation’s Reform by the Numbers project, a source for timely and unique data on the impact of health reform.

The goal of ACAView is to provide current, non-partisan measurement and analysis on how coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is affecting the day-to-day practice of medicine. athenahealth provides a single-instance, cloud-based software platform to a national provider base.

Any information that our clients enter using our software is immediately aggregated into centrally hosted databases, providing us with timely visibility into patient characteristics, clinical activities, and practice economics at medical groups around the country.

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New Health Affairs July Issue: The Impact Of Big Data On Health Care


July 8th, 2014

Health Affairs explores the promise of big data in improving health care effectiveness and efficiency in its July issue. Many articles examine the potential of approaches such as predictive analytics and address the unavoidable privacy implications of collecting, storing, and interpreting massive amounts of health information.

Big data can yield big savings, if they are used in the right ways.

David W. Bates of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and coauthors analyze six use cases with strong opportunities for cost savings: high-cost patients; readmissions; triage; decompensation (when a patient’s condition worsens); adverse events; and treatment optimization when a disease affects multiple organ systems.

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Call For Papers: Care Of Older Adults


June 27th, 2014

Health Affairs encourages submissions from authors on topics surrounding the care of older adults, including new models of care and the management of multiple chronic conditions among this population. We are interested in work that spans the full range of care settings, including primary care and specialty practices, hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care settings.

In addition to exploring topics that are directly related to the provision of care, we also welcome papers on a broad array of related dimensions that affect care, access, and affordability, such as financing models, coverage, and size and composition of the workforce. We are grateful to The John A. Hartford Foundation for providing support for our ongoing coverage of these topics.

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Behind The Numbers: Slight Rise In Health Care Spending Growth Projected


June 24th, 2014

PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) released its ninth annual Medical Cost Trend: Behind the Numbers report today. This forward-looking report is based on interviews with industry executives, health policy experts, and health plan actuaries whose companies cover a combined 93 million members. Findings from PwC’s Health and Well-being Touchstone Survey of 1,200 employers from 35 industries are also included.

HRI projects that after a five-year contraction in spending growth in the employer-sponsored market, the growth rate will rise to 6.8 percent in 2015, up from the 6.5 percent projected last year.

What are the biggest drivers of the growth in health care costs? We identify four cost inflators in this report, and I would like to highlight two. First, the economy. More than five years after the end of the Great Recession, the improved economy is finally translating into greater medical spending. Consumers are now addressing health issues they ignored or postponed previously.

Secondly, the high cost of specialty drugs. While only four percent of patients use specialty drugs, those medications account for 25 percent of total U.S. drug spending. And estimates are that U.S. specialty drug spending will quadruple by 2020

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Thoughts On The VA Scandal And The Future


June 13th, 2014

For eight years, until May 2013, I directed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical research program from its Central Office and became familiar with the operations of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). It was my only VA job and I felt honored to be part of the VA’s vital mission, as did most VA employees I met. Based on this experience, I have some ground level observations on the state of the VA and its future planning in light of the present scandal.

VA’s Scope and Assets

VA has three components: a large health system (VHA), a benefit center (Veterans Benefits Administration, or VBA), and the highly regarded National Cemetery Administration. All report to the VA Secretary but have different missions, issues, and management requisites. For example VHA was a pioneer in the Electronic Health Record (EHR), while VBA has had a more recent painful conversion to information technology (IT). VHA is run by the Undersecretary for Health, on whom VA Secretaries almost totally rely given their general lack of experience in health care.

VHA is divided into 21 networks and has 8.9 million enrollees (out of the 22 million U.S. veterans). It cares for 6.4 million veterans annually at over 1,700 sites of care, including 152 hospitals, about 820 clinics, 130 long-term care facilities, 300 Vet Centers for readjustment problems, and a suicide hotline, as well as homelessness and other programs. It has partly trained two-thirds of U.S physicians and made groundbreaking medical research contributions. These assets create strong constituencies for VA both within and outside the veterans’ community.

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