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The Strategic Challenge Of Electronic Health Records


December 16th, 2014

Despite a 2005 prediction that electronic health records (EHRs) would save $81 billion, RAND Corporation just validated clinicians’ complaints in a report describing EHRs as “a unique and vexing challenge to physician professional satisfaction.” The American Medical Association also published EHR “usability priorities” – strong evidence that current EHRs don’t support doctors in practicing medicine.

In a world of Apple-typified simplicity, why is it so hard to get the right EHR? Because, unlike Apple, EHR designers haven’t started with the question of how value can be created for users of the technology. Technology isn’t the problem. The challenge is in articulating clinicians’ information needs and meeting them by making the right tradeoffs between corporate and business unit strategies.

EHRs can, and should, provide relevant information when and where clinicians need it, recognizing that care is not a commodity and that different care processes have different information needs. User interfaces must anticipate clinicians’ needs rather than require individual user design. EHRs need to eliminate low-information pop-ups and alarms and instead provide alerts and reminders that are both timely and relevant. They must be designed with assiduous attention to data entry requirements, replacing blind mandates with thoughtful assignment of the task and the timing.

In this post I look at how rethinking the design of EHRs can better balance the different strategic needs within care delivery organizations.

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Preparing US Hospitals To Safely Manage Ebola Virus-Infected Patients: At What Cost?


December 11th, 2014

Since Ebola first reached US shores this summer, hospitals nationwide have attempted to prepare. National guidance has been helpful, but no such guidance can deal with the fastidious attention to every minute and mundane aspect of caring for a patient with Ebola virus infection that could place a healthcare worker at risk if a breach occurs. Simulation training has helped to uncover defects and to assess our capacity to mitigate those defects.

Additionally, innumerable hours of countless healthcare workers, hospital administrators, infection control staff, facilities and environmental services providers, communications specialists, security personnel and others have been brought to bear focused on the task at hand. Despite this effort, in the 30 years since becoming a physician, I have never witnessed a greater, more palpable level of stress and anxiety among my peers.

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Should Doctors Deny Ebola Patients CPR?


December 11th, 2014

The first time I did CPR, coagulated blood spurted onto my new white coat from a wound in the patient’s chest. Another time a patient’s urine soaked through the knees of my pants as I knelt at his side.

Even in the best of conditions, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a spit-smeared, bloody business that can expose health care workers to all kinds of body fluids. Like all health care workers, I put on gloves and a game face and accept such things as part of patient care.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak changes all that. Hospitals all around the world are now training staff in personal protective equipment (PPE) use and convening rapid response teams. A key part of this process involves grappling with how dangerous it will be to perform CPR on patients with Ebola.

Fully 70 percent of those stricken with Ebola in 2014 have died. That means in countries like the United States where we attempt CPR routinely to save dying patients, health care workers will be called to resuscitate Ebola patients.

From placement of an artificial airway to the administration of chest compressions and beyond, each step in CPR can expose health care workers to body fluids containing as many as a million viral particles in each drop and well-proven to transmit Ebola. In contradistinction to the bowling alley and subway exposures that have drawn so much media attention, health care workers performing CPR on Ebola patients will truly be in the direct line of viral fire.

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California’s Proposition 46 And The Uncertain Future Of Medical Malpractice Liability Reform


December 10th, 2014

On November 4, 2014, Californians voted against Proposition 46, an unprecedented statewide ballot initiative that would have, among other things, raised the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages to $1.1 million and indexed it to the rate of inflation in future years. The margin was significant — 67 percent voted against it.

For nearly 40 years, noneconomic damages, which entail payments to patients for pain and suffering resulting from medical malpractice (as opposed to economic damages such as lost wages and medical costs), have been at the forefront of debates over the U.S. medical liability system. Currently, 22 states have caps on noneconomic damages of varying sizes in place. If it had passed, the ballot initiative would have raised the cap on noneconomic damages in California from among the most restrictive to the least restrictive among all states with caps.

Opponents of Proposition 46, and supporters of malpractice reform more generally, argued that raising the noneconomic damages cap would have increased malpractice awards and subsequently malpractice premiums, which would be passed on to patients and insurers as higher costs.

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The Health Care Holy Grail?


December 9th, 2014

A friend practicing internal medicine in Massachusetts is a pillar of his community, a beloved physician — and he is miserable.

“The practice of medicine has deteriorated to that point where many of my colleagues would like to get out,” he told us. “I certainly would. Medicine now is about production lines, insurance company power, regulations. It is one fire drill after another throughout the day, day after day with a bureaucrat peering over your shoulder all the while.”

In countless conversations in recent years we have found that these sentiments are as common as they are troubling. Imagine going through the rigors of medical school and training and then looking back and regretting your career choice? Burnout is sweeping physician ranks throughout the country.

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Transforming Rural Health Care: High-Quality, Sustainable Access To Specialty Care


December 5th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is also authored by Kate Samuels, a project manager at Brookings. It is informed by a case study, the fourth  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 Monday, December 8 using a “MEDTalk” format featuring live story-telling and knowledge-sharing from patients, providers, and policymakers.

Health care for patients in rural communities across the United States remains a unique challenge.  Despite many programs aimed at improving access to physicians and hospitals, access to health care providers remains limited.  While 19.3 percent of Americans live in a rural area, only about 10 percent of physicians practice in rural areas.  Similarly, 65 percent of all Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural areas.  Rural residents often face long travel distances to see a specialist after what can be months waiting for an appointment.

Even in areas where rural primary care providers (PCPs) remain committed and engaged in the community, often having been raised and educated there, these providers often lack close connections to specialists who tend to be based in larger, urban academic medical centers (AMC).  The result is a worsening gap in specialty care access, in turn leading to a deteriorative effect on rural provider morale and retention.

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The Council On Graduate Medical Education (COGME)—Not Yet Ready For End-Of-Life Care


December 4th, 2014

In November, 1985, twenty-nine years ago, members of the first session of the 99th Congress addressed growing concern and controversy regarding Graduate Medical Education (GME). Although Medicare had financed GME for the previous twenty years, Congress began to recognize that our rapidly evolving health care system could require significant changes in the composition of our physician workforce, and that these changes could impact the appropriate governance and funding of GME.

In this setting, the Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME) was conceived and underwent rapid gestation, with its birth achieved via enactment of authorizing legislation in 1986. Its charter charged the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act, with responsibility for taking national leadership in the development of policies related to GME, and in the research, development, and analysis of such policies that impact on the health workforce needs of the nation. COGME was instructed to provide advice and make policy recommendations to the Secretary and committees of the House and Senate within their jurisdiction.

Contrary to a sunset provision in the legislation, COGME still survives. While continuing to function on very limited support, it recently issued a noteworthy report entitled “Improving Value in Graduate Medical Education” in 2013. COGME presently is preparing its 22nd Report, which addresses the need for change in GME due to changes in the U.S. health care system and focuses on opportunities to improve training through more effective targeting of public resources.

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What Is The Future For Community Health Workers?


November 25th, 2014

I recently attended a symposium entitled “Community Health Workers: Getting the Job Done in Health Care Delivery.” (My concluding remarks begin at the 6:00:40 mark in the video.) Speakers examined the evolving role of Community Health Workers (CHWs) in the current era of delivery system reform. Health Affairs has published work documenting the importance of this part of the workforce, and our November issue is dedicated to the topic of “Collaborating for Community Health.”

I was asked to summarize some key points from the day-long conversation. In this post I highlight some of the themes covered.

Over the course of the day I heard the elements of two very different paths forward for community health workers. Each path was coherent and compelling, but they lead in very different directions.

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Spreading Like A Wildfire: Interprofessional Education – The Vanderbilt Experience


November 20th, 2014

Well before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, efforts to expand interprofessional education (IPE) were beginning to change the mindset that permeated much of health professional education in the US. One such example is the Vanderbilt Program in Interprofessional Learning (VPIL) that was established in 2010 with initial support from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, and later from the Baptist Health Trust.

To learn about the challenges, successes, and surprises experienced by those who developed and lead IPE at Vanderbilt, I interviewed Linda Norman, Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Bonnie Miller, Associate Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Heather Davidson, Director of Program Development for VPIL.

Peter Buerhaus: What were the key challenges faced when you started IPE at Vanderbilt?

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Narrative Matters: Connecting With Community Health Workers


November 19th, 2014

The November issue of Health Affairs features two Narrative Matters essays.

A program connecting community health workers with patients in Boston shows benefits but is shuttered after funds dry up. Heidi L. Behforouz’s article is freely available to all readers, or you can listen to the podcast.

A community health worker and his patient share stories to create an empowering narrative of diabetes and treatment. Samuel Slavin’s article is freely available to all readers, or you can listen to the podcast.

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Challenges For People With Disabilities Within The Health Care Safety Net


November 18th, 2014

Medicare and Medicaid were passed to serve as safety nets for the country’s most vulnerable populations, a point that has been reemphasized by the expansion of the populations they serve, especially with regards to Medicaid. Yet, even after 50 years, the disabled population continues to be one whose health care needs are not being met. This community is all too frequently left to suffer health disparities due to cultural incompetency, stigma and misunderstanding, and an inability to create policy changes that cover the population as a whole and their acute and long-term needs.

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What About Lousy Hospitals?


November 5th, 2014

Excellence in American hospital care is rare. It is common knowledge that many hospitals fall alarmingly short on safety, quality, effectiveness, patient satisfaction, and cost. As Mark Chassin wrote in Health Affairs, “quality and safety problems in health care continue to routinely result in harm to patients. Desired progress will not be achieved unless substantial changes are made to the way in which quality improvement is conducted.”

What exactly should those “substantial changes” look like? Hospitals seeking excellence are pursuing various paths, but the best documented and most comprehensive is the “Baldrige journey.” The journey requires submission of a 50 page “Application” to rigorously developed, structured “Criteria,” followed by thorough review and scoring by a team of trained judges. Almost half the score is on results for patient care quality, patient satisfaction, worker satisfaction, and finances

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Learning From Missed Opportunities To Diagnose US Ebola Patient Zero


October 30th, 2014

Over a century ago American physician Richard Cabot wrote about misdiagnoses, recognizing: “A goodly number of ‘classic’ time-honored mistakes in diagnosis are familiar to all experienced physicians because we make them again and again. Some of these we can avoid; others are almost inevitable, but all should be borne in mind and marked on medical maps by a danger-signal of some kind: ‘In this vicinity look out for hidden rocks,’ or ‘Dangerous turn here, run slow.’”

Ironically, despite the dramatic changes in the nature of medical practice over the last 100 years, Cabot’s words ring more true than ever today. This has become especially clear in the last few weeks since Ebola first touched US shores, uncovering one of the biggest ongoing vulnerabilities of outpatient medicine – misdiagnosis.

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North Carolina Dental Board v. FTC: A Bright Line On Whiter Teeth?


October 30th, 2014

On October 14, 2014, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners vs. Federal Trade Commission.  The case does not involve the Affordable Care Act, but it goes to the heart of the professional self-regulatory paradigm that has governed the U.S. health care system for more than a century.  The specific legal question under review is the standard for determining when a state professional licensing board’s activities are subject to scrutiny for anticompetitive effect under the federal antitrust laws.

Antitrust law applies to private anticompetitive conduct.  Congress did not intend to interfere with state regulation that limits or even eliminates competitions.  As long as states do so using public agencies and officials, they are on safe ground.  If a state empowers private parties to administer such regulation, however, it not only must “clearly articulate” its intent to diminish competition, but also must “actively supervise” the conduct of the private parties.  In previous cases, the Supreme Court developed and elaborated this two-part test, which is called the “state action doctrine.”

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Grand-Aides And Health Policy: Reducing Readmissions Cost-Effectively


October 29th, 2014

Hospital readmissions for the same condition within 30 days likely should not occur, and most often indicate system failure. Readmitted patients are either discharged too early, should be placed into palliative care or hospice, or most often are victims of a failure in transition of care from hospital to home. Most hospitals and physicians would like to eliminate such readmissions, particularly now that payers like Medicare are penalizing hospitals for high rates of readmission. Numerous approaches have been tried to reduce readmissions, with recent published improvements between a 2 percent and 26 percent reduction.

The Grand-Aides® program features rigorous training of nurse aides or community health workers to work as nurse extenders, 5 Grand-Aides to one RN or NP supervisor, with approximately 50 patients per Grand-Aide per year. The Grand-Aides visit at home daily for the first 5 days post-discharge and then as ordered by the supervisor (e.g. 3 days the next week) for at least 30 days, extending as long as desired.

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Lessons from Ebola: The Infectious Disease Era, And The Need To Prepare, Will Never Be Over


October 28th, 2014

With the wall-to-wall news coverage of Ebola recently, it’s hard for many to distinguish fact from fiction and to really understand the risk the disease poses and how prepared we are to fight it.

Fighting infectious diseases requires constant vigilance. Along with Ebola, health officials around the globe are closely watching other emerging threats: MERS-CoV, pandemic flu strains, Marburg, Chikungunya and Enterovirus D68. The best defense to all of these threats is a good offense — detecting, treating and containing as quickly and effectively as possible.

And yet, we have consistently degraded our ability to respond to these new, emerging and re-emerging threats by underfunding and undercutting existing capabilities and expecting the country to ramp up overnight when new threats emerge.

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Health Affairs Web First: Noneconomic Damage Caps Reduced Medical Malpractice Payments, With Varied Effects


October 22nd, 2014

With the 2014 election weeks away, a provision of California’s Proposition 46, raising the cap on medical malpractice payments for noneconomic damages, has been in the news. This provision would increase the payment cap from $250,000 to $1.1 million. A new study, being released today by Health Affairs as a Web First, sheds light on the potential effect of this proposition.

Study authors Seth A. Seabury, Eric Helland, and Anupam B. Jena looked at the impact of medical malpractice reforms on the average size of malpractice payments in several physician specialties and compared how the effects differed according to the size of the cap. It found that caps reduced the average payments by 15 percent compared to no cap—and a $250,000 cap reduced average payments by 20 percent.

On the other hand, a less restrictive $500,000 cap had no significant effect. The authors also found specialty variations, with the largest impact involving pediatricians and the smallest for claims of surgical subspecialties and ophthalmologists.

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Teaching Health Centers: An Attainable, Near-Term Pathway To Expand Graduate Medical Education


October 17th, 2014

Stakeholders in Graduate Medical Education (GME) and members of Congress eagerly anticipated the long delayed but recently released Institute of Medicine (IOM) GME report. While perceptively characterizing the defects in our GME system, recommendations of the report generated substantial controversy among participants at a recent GME forum hosted by Health Affairs. The IOM proposed limited and gradual changes in Medicare GME financing, but the lack of support for GME expansion was not well received by some.

At present there are multiple legislative GME proposals, but none has gained broad support among the various stakeholders. Congressional committees responsible for GME funding view this lack of consensus among GME stakeholders as a major obstacle.

We describe a near-term and attainable pathway to expand GME that could gain consensus among these stakeholders. This approach would sustain and expand Teaching Health Centers (THCs), a recent initiative that directly funds community-based GME sponsoring institutions to train residents in primary care specialties, dentistry and psychiatry. We further propose selectively expanding GME to meet primary care and other demonstrable specialty needs within communities, and building in evaluations to measure effectiveness of innovative training models.

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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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Is There A Doctor In The House? Survey Sheds Light On Physician Capacity, Morale, Shortages, And Patient Access


September 17th, 2014

There is ongoing debate over whether there are enough physicians to care for millions of new patients. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States currently faces a shortage of 20,000 physicians – a shortfall that could exceed 130,000 physicians by 2025. In addressing these challenges, it is critical to take into consideration the shifting patterns in medical practice configurations, changing dynamics inherent within physician workforce trends, and the potential impact on patient access to care.

The Physicians Foundation’s new survey of more than 20,000 physicians examines these issues and provides insight into physician capacity and morale, changing medical practice configurations, and shifting physician workforce trends and demographics.

Physician Capacity and Morale – What Does This Mean for Patient Access?

According to the new survey results, eight out of ten (81 percent) physicians describe themselves as either over-extended or at full capacity, while only 19 percent indicate they have time to see more patients. In fact, 13 percent of physicians no longer accept Medicare patients – this is up 49 percent in 2014 from 2012.

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