Archive for the ‘Hospitals’ Category

Remembering Alter+Care Advisory Board Member, Charles S. Lauer

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Chuck Lauer, former publisher of Modern Healthcare and vice president of Crain Communications, has passed away at the age of 86. Chuck was also the head of Alter+Care’s advisory board of leading hospital executives for the last decade. He was a friend, mentor and champion for us as we built the business into one of the country’s leding healthcare developers. We will miss his warmth, inspiration and incredible insights which all of us came to rely on.

Chuck had a storied career in the publishing industry, and was the recipient of numerous industry awards including the Diversity Champion Award, the Michael E. DeBakey Award for Achievements in Healthcare, and a lifetime fellowship from the American College of Medical Administrators. He also served in the U.S. Army as a corporal during the Korean War.

Chuck’s publishing career started at Time with Life Magazine. From there he moved on to two McGraw-Hill publications where he worked as a sales manager, and later as a sales manager for the American Medical Association publications. He was also a part of the executive management team at Petersen Publishing and Family Media. Chuck became a publisher at Modern Healthcare in 1976, and a vice president of Crain Communications in 1981.

Chuck was known for his generous, upbeat nature, and was a friend and mentor to many throughout the course of his career. He spoke at many conferences and symposiums during his life and remained heavily invested in the healthcare and publishing industries. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him.

D-Day For Obamacare Means Big Changes For Healthcare

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

MOBs are getting ready to take center stage as healthcare moves into more of a localized, outpatient setting.

By John Driscoll, President, Alter+Care

The first of this year was to be Obamacare’s D-Day. Though some changes kicked in earlier — the right to keep kids on your health plan until they turn 26, for example — the big provisions like the individual mandate became law this year. The ramifications from a medical and economic standpoint have been written about amply. In regards to the healthcare real estate industry, there are two very large trends: the consolidation of providers and the move to outpatient as the new center of healthcare delivery.

THE CONSOLIDATION WAVE
Part of the Obamacare plan to improve outcomes is the concept of the Accountable Care Organization. ACOs are essentially consortiums promoted as bigger, better models that manage health at the population level across a broader swathe of the healthcare specialties.  An ACO might include a hospital, various specialty groups, a  surgery center, imaging, emergency department and even nursing homes, with all payments made to the head of the ACO – usually the hospital – and then distributed to the rest of the group.

It’s now all about the team. As a result, the ACO has caused the biggest wave of consolidation I’ve ever seen in the sector. Consider that a quarter of specialty physicians and 40 percent of primary care physicians are already employed by hospitals. This number is up from 5 percent and 20 percent, respectively, in 2000. Some larger specialty practices are combatting this trend by merging with other practices to avoid being purchased by healthcare systems or hospitals.

Some independent practices are moving out of condominium office buildings and joining together to acquire office buildings. The costs of maintaining small independent space can become burdensome, especially as the technological pressures on integration and connectivity are imposed. Chances are, information technology financing will become an ever-increasing part of medical office loan commitments. Some IT expenditures are in the $30,000 to $50,000 range, while multi-specialty groups have larger expenditures to fund.

THE NEW CENTER OF HEALTHCARE
In order to lower costs and operate more efficiently, hospitals have migrated services from expensive acute-care environments to technologically enabled outpatient facilities. The hospital-centric model of the past has already given way to a hub-and-spoke network in most markets, where outpatient centers provide convenient and accessible care to patients and refer volumes to affiliated inpatient facilities. So what’s next? As it develops, hub and spoke will become a distributed model of care. It will result in providers who are physically dispersed, yet highly integrated through technology. Electronic medical records and advances in medical information technology will allow discrete providers to operate as a team. Primary care doctors will act as gatekeepers, coordinating and overseeing care regimens across this broad network.

The presence of this “patient-centered medical home” model means large MOBs (rather than hospitals) will become the hubs, while smaller specialty sites have become the spokes.  Think of the last time you visited a hospital for a procedure as opposed to a medical office building located in your community. Some systems are even leasing space in retail malls. As a result, the MOB is the definitive center not only of care, but also of healthcare real estate.

Last year was a banner year for outpatient services, and the investment community jockeyed to scoop up prized MOBs. There was a total of $4.98 billion-worth of MOB sales through the third quarter of 2013. This is compared to MOB sales of $5.21 billion for all of 2012. This has resulted in an average sales price of $231 per square foot, which is very strong with cap rates in the 6 percent range. If you extend the numbers out to sales of all buildings leased by healthcare providers, including doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics, diagnostic labs, imaging centers, the total reached $6.67 billion last year.  This was the second-highest number we’ve experienced in 13 years with a sales price of $270 per square foot. When you consider that 90 percent of the $1 trillion of healthcare property overall is still owned by hospitals, it is certain we are only at the beginning of this shift toward third-party real estate ownership.

To meet the challenges of distributed care and cost reduction, developers and operators of healthcare assets will need to think about the particular mix of services and programming in every building. This will result in the consolidation of redundant and inefficient facilities, while in other cases it will mean extending into preventive health and wellness to achieve population health management goals.

This article first appeared in Western Real Estate Business.

Dr. Ari Robicsek on Big Data & Healthcare

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Dr. Ari Robiszek podcast iconBig Data have become ubiquitous buzz words for the aggregation of information in data sets and the use of algorithms to define patterns. Overall, the growth of the sector is being driven by the trend towards backing up data in the proverbial cloud, online shopping (which grew 14% between 2011 and 2012 to $42.3b in sales), and all the time we spend posting content on social media. McKinsey & Company predicts a 40 percent growth annually in the data being generated. American healthcare providers currently have $300 billion invested in data, including GPS and mobile apps. With the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR), it is estimated that data could save providers between $300 billion and $450 billion annually (we spend about $2.6 trillion overall on healthcare).

There is no question that Big Data is a heuristic change in medicine. Through the data compiled in EHRs, it allows use of predictive modeling in order to address health issues at a population level.   For example, we are able to find out if patients are doing preventive care, taking their medication, and whether they might be at risk for chronic conditions. Population health management is a new, more proactive way to segment patients by need (both financial and clinical) and to target them for outreach. It provides a powerful tool to address hospital readmissions and hospital-based infections. For example, NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) in Evanston, Ill., aggregated 40,000 patients into a data set and analyzed 50 different pieces of data to build a predictive model. This allowed NorthShore to evaluate whether patients might be at a high risk for being carriers of particular bacteria like MRSA, a highly antibiotic-resistant strain.

There are issues going forward such as the barrier that EHRs put between the patient and the physician; in the new tech-enabled world, the doctor might spend the visit staring at the computer rather than the patient. This is a real concern. Doctors have also noted that it is harder to retrieve information in EHRs than from a paper chart. On the flip side, EHRs do provide patients with more transparency, including a portal to their lab tests, billing, scheduling, doctor notes as well as email contact with their physicians.

To listen to Dr. Ari Robicsek’s full interview on Big Data and Population Health Management, click here for the podcast.

Primary Care Gets a Break

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

There’s no question that primary-care physicians have long been spurned by the fee-for-service model that doesn’t recognize or reimburse fully the time spent with patients. Well, internists had a pretty good summer. Firstly , the CMS “proposed creating new evaluation-and-management codes for non face-to-face activities relating to the coordination of care for patients with two or more chronic conditions”.  And, now a bipartisan draft bill from the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee extends that to care coordination between multiple physicians and other suppliers and providers of services.The number of chronic patients is expected to rise to 171m by 2030.
The CMS proposal solicited public comment on whether general third-party designation of a practice as a medical home could be considered evidence that the practice was up to the task of providing care-coordination services. But the draft of the House bill specifically mentions the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s (NCQA) medical home and patient-centered specialty practice recognition programs.

Part of the solution is to recognize practices as medical homes so they qualify under the new payment model.  Thus far, the NCQA program has designated 5,770 practices as medical homes.

“We are particularly pleased the draft includes expedited recognition of patient-centered medical homes as an approved alternative payment model for medical practices,” Dr. Jeffrey Cain, AAFP president of The American Academy of Family Physicians, said. That said, Cain did add that family doctors are “disappointed that the subcommittee’s draft does not include a provision to specify a higher base-payment rate for those services provided by primary-care physicians,” Cain said.

Primary care has long been affected by dwindling reimbursements — In the 20th annual Modern Healthcare Physician Compensation Survey, family physicians finished last among the 23 specialties tracked – and a consequent migration of family physicians towards hospital employment. Medical students are increasingly avoiding family medicine (the number of students selecting careers in primary care has declined by 41% in the last decade), leading to an expected shortage of 44,000 primary care physicians by 2025.

Is It Time to Reform the Fee-for-Service Model?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Despite the healthcare industry’s attempts to alter the way in which physician reimbursements are determined,  fee-for-service is still the accepted basis for payment.  Typically, physicians are reimbursed according to the number of patients they see and how many procedures and tests they order.  Policymakers have concluded that the “do more, earn more” business model is deeply flawed and one reason why Americans pay so much for healthcare.  In 2012, Americans will pay more than $8,000 per individual on healthcare.  That’s more than double the $3,400 average spent for each person in other industrialized nations.  What’s more, all that spending has not made Americans healthier.

The time may have come to find a new reimbursement model that places less of a financial burden on patients while still rewarding physicians.  An August article in the Journal of the American Medical Association notes that the fee-for-service payment is the foundation of even some emerging accountable-care organizations, including Medicare’s popular shared-savings program, say Drs. Allan Goroll of Harvard University Medical School and Stephen Schoenbaum of the Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation.  The shared-savings program “Promotes accountability for a patient population and coordinates items and services under (Medicare) Part A and B, and encourages investment in infrastructure and redesigned care processes for high quality and efficient service delivery.”

Goroll and Schoenbaum isolate a number of reasons for why fee-for-service endures:  many physicians are risk-averse and so resist change; additionally, skepticism is a “major barrier” to reforming the payment model.  “Transitioning to a new payment system will require new modes of practice, and many physicians feel ill equipped to assume financial or performance risks individually or even collectively,” Goroll and Schoenbaum write.  “The concern is that continued reliance on fee-for-service payment for primary care as well as for specialists, with its emphasis on volume of services, threatens meaningful practice transformation and the very goals of delivery system reform.” The bottom line is that the healthcare industry must develop “robust, scientifically validated risk-adjustment models,” according to Goroll and Schoenbaum.  Payment reform could blend capitation and fee-for-service with a plan to revise the payments over time.

Change must be forced on the medical community, whether or not they are ready for it.  One provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires alterations to payment and delivery systems to control costs and enhance the quality of care.  Rather than basing payment solely on the number of patients a physician sees and tests ordered, these methods promote preventive care and maintain open lines of communication between a patient’s multiple physicians.

The potential alternative reimbursement models presently being considered include:

•       Bundled payments or fixed amounts paid to healthcare providers for related services a patient needs within a given timeframe.

•       Patient-centered medical homes.  This model would restructure primary-care practices so that their focus is on preventive medicine, patient education and healthcare coordination.

•       Accountable care organizations, in which physicians and other providers share responsibility for providing cost-effective, quality care for patient groups.

GOP VP Candidate Paul Ryan Advocates “Medicare Premium Support”

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Now that Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been selected by former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) as his vice presidential running mate, the debate is focusing on the Wisconsin representative’s plan to reform Medicare.  Known as Medicare Premium Support, it “refers to a system under which Medicare enrollees would pick from a menu of competing plans with a fixed government payment to help defray premium costs.  Enrollees would be on the hook for any charges above the government contribution.  But they could save money by selecting a plan with a premium below the federal subsidy.”

Ryan says that under his plan, the government’s contribution toward premiums will equal the cost of the second least expensive plan in any market — or traditional Medicare — whichever costs less.  Ryan believes that his plan is politically feasible because it doesn’t begin until 2022 with the result that it retains traditional Medicare for Americans who were 55 and older in 2011 — meaning that baby boomers are exempt from the changes.  Democrats who oppose the plan contend that Ryan’s Medicare overhaul would subject seniors to the vagaries of the private market, leaving them with little protection against rising premiums and negligible benefits.

So what is the difference between the Democratic and Republican cuts to Medicare?  The ACA stresses government control and central planning. The law creates a panel of 15 unelected government officials, called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to direct changes that will shrink spending by cutting physician and hospital reimbursement.  The Wyden-Ryan plan preserves the ACA’s targets for future Medicare spending, but uses competitive bidding.  Seniors would have the same benefits that they do now, and would have the option of choosing from several government-approved private insurance plans.

The Republican budget targets Medicare growth of GDP plus 0.5 percent, just as the 2013 Obama budget does. The difference lies in the fact that the GOP budget repeals the ACA, while maintaining that law’s Medicare cuts.  The Democratic budget leaves the ACA in place.

Writing in the Washington Post, Ezra Klein puts the difference in a nutshell:  “The difference between the two campaigns is not in how much they cut Medicare, but in how they cut Medicare.”

In an exclusive interview with Modern Healthcare magazine, Ryan says that “This is an idea whose time has come.  And it’s a bipartisan idea.  What Representative Ron Wyden (D-OR) and I tried to do was to plant the seeds of a bipartisan consensus.  We knew we weren’t going to pass it because of the politics.  We did this together to get the consensus-building started.”  Ryan believes that the plan’s chances for approval will greatly improve in 2013 — especially if the Romney/Ryan team wins the November 6 presidential election.  “I’m actually pretty optimistic,” he said, noting that the United States should reform healthcare on its own terms and “fix this on our terms” instead of borrowing European ideas.  “We believe there are far superior ways to get back to a patient-centered healthcare system, the nucleus of which is the patient and doctor — and not the government,” Ryan said.  “We believe consumer-driven, market-based reforms do more to alter the cost curve of healthcare inflation.”

If Ryan’s plan is enacted into law, people 55 and younger would see a change from one in which everyone gets the same set of government-paid benefits to one in which the government gives all senior citizens a fixed amount of money.  They could use this to purchase private insurance or pay a portion of the cost of enrolling in traditional Medicare.  Ryan has not said how much the premium support payment would be.  But he would limit the annual growth rate to no more than one-half percent more than the economy’s overall growth rate, even though healthcare costs are rising at a significantly faster pace.  Ryan’s plan would also raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 by 2034.

Not so fast,” Democrats warn as partisans from both parties accuse the other side of throwing senior citizens under the bus.  “Make no mistake about it — these Republicans don’t believe in Medicare,” Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod said.  “They want to turn it into a voucher program.  And slowly, all the burden is going to shift to seniors themselves.  And that is not an answer to entitlement reform.”

Republicans counter that $716 billion in cuts to Medicare are already a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  An online video created by the Republican National Committee features Ryan saying that Democrats “have refused to make difficult decision because they are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation.”  According to Ryan, “We won’t duck the tough issues; we will lead.”

Uwe Reinhardt, a healthcare economist at Princeton University disagrees, saying that rather than motivating insurers to control their costs, the Ryan plan will not benefit seniors.  “You’re essentially shoving these guys out on a boat, saying, ‘We’ll give you a push, but if the waves are rough, you’re on your own,” he said.  “It would really worry me if I were a middle-class American.”

Burnout Affects 30 Percent of Nurses

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

With hospitals slashing costs to cope with growing financial pressures, nurses believe that the resulting insufficient staffing is detrimental to patients.  A team from the University of Pennsylvania has identified a key reason for this: Hospitals where relative fewer caregivers work typically provide inferior care.  If hospitals reduced their proportion of burned-out nurses to 10 percent from the prevailing 30 percent, they would prevent 4,160 cases a year of the two most-common hospital-acquired infections and save $41 million in Pennsylvania alone.  “It is costing hospitals more money not to spend money on nursing,” said Linda H. Aiken, one of the study’s authors and director of the Penn Nursing School’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research.

The researchers determined that the nurses studied averaged 5.7 patients on a typical shift, said Rutgers University professor Jeannie Cimiotti.  “Maybe they are staffed a little bit above what they should, but if they (hospitals) can provide an organizational climate that’s conducive to nursing, I think they’d be fine,” Cimiotti said. “That doesn’t mean you can overburden them because workload is one of those factors that does contribute to burnout.”

“Most burnout is related to high workload,” said Patricia Eakin, an ER nurse who is president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.  Patients nowadays need a whole lot of care. There’s a lot of equipment, a whole lot of fancy things. A lot of things that take a lot of time and a lot of attention.”

Historically, the number of nurses per patient was low following World War I.  At what would ultimately become Baylor University Medical Center, the hospital in 1919 accommodated 225 patients who were cared for by a nursing staff of 12 graduates and 100 students.  As recently as the 1980s, nurses often cared for eight or nine patients (Insert Nurse Together link here.)  The night shift could see a single nurse caring for as many as a dozen patients, often without a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to assist.

The shift in the United States from Florence Nightingale’s concept of multi-bed wards (which often contained 30 or more beds and were typically staffed by one or two nurses) to private and semi-private rooms started in the years following World War II and was mostly complete by the 1970s.  Private hospital rooms at this time were primarily reserved for patients whose families could afford to pay extra to keep their relative out of a ward and hire a private duty nurse to provide one-on-one care.  According to Jean C. Whelan, PhD, RN, “Private-duty nursing was the employment of nurses by individual patients for the delivery of care.  Patients hired their own nurse, who cared for them either in their homes or in the hospital.  Patients paid the nurse for her services with cash, based on a predetermined fee.  The nurse, generally employed for the duration of an illness, cared for only one patient at a time.  In essence, the private-duty nurse delivered highly individualized care to paying patients for as long as a patient needed and could pay for the nurse’s services.”

According to a U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health Study, thousands of nurses — the vast majority of them women — migrate each year in search of better pay and working conditions, career mobility, professional development, a better quality of life, personal safety, or sometimes just novelty and adventure.  The percentage of foreign-educated physicians working in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States is currently reported to be between 21 and 33 percent, while foreign-educated nurses represent five to 10 percent of these countries’ nurse workforce.”

In 1994, nine percent of total registered nurses were foreign-born RNs; by 2008 that percentage had risen to 16.3 percent, or about 400,000 RNs.  Of those, approximately 10 percent had immigrated to the U.S. during the previous five years. About one-third of growth in RNs between 2001 and 2008 was fueled by foreign-born RNs.  The news is not all positive, though.  According to Newsweek, “While pay has risen in some regions to attract more nurses, in recent years it has flattened at the national level.  That’s why up to 500,000 registered nurses are choosing not to practice their profession — fully one-fifth of the current RN workforce of 2.5 million.”

Bringing those badly needed nurses from overseas is not always easy, said William R. Moore of El Centro Regional Medical Center in California, who has been waiting two years for 20 nurses from the Philippines he recruited to obtain visas.  In the meantime, Moore can’t find talent in the area.  “We’re in the poorest and least literate county in California, right in the middle of the desert,” says Moore. “We’re not a destination for (American) nurses.”

As the role of registered nurses has evolved over the years to encompass increased responsibility, so too, have the educational requirements.  A two-year associate degree (AND) or a four years bachelor’s degree — typically a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) — are the two primary degrees required in the 21st century.  Many nurses opt to pursue their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which requires a minimal commitment of two years to complete the course work.  Others go even further in their educations, studying for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Studying for a BSN degree — like all college educations – doesn’t come cheaply.  According to the Registered Nurse Education Requirements website, “Tuition and clinical fees together make up the total cost of nursing education while the tuition fee for a two-year nursing course in a community college is just $1,400, the clinical fees can are considerably higher at $4,000 plus per semester.  For a bachelors course the students end up paying almost $7,000 to $8,000 in clinical fees while the tuition is still lower at just $2,000 to $3,000 per semester.  Apart from this, students will also have to incur the cost of books, parking, basic living expenses and housing in case of out-of-town colleges. The cost of training at hospital affiliated nursing schools can be higher at $55,000 for resident student and over $100,000 for non-residents.”

US News Names New Hospital as Best

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Massachusetts General Hospital or Mass General is No. 1 for the first time, according to the US News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings. It marks the end of a 21-year run for Johns Hopkins that started in 1991, the year after U.S. News began publishing Best Hospitals.

When Mass General was founded, James Madison was President, Napoleon was Emperor of France and the Juliana, the first ever steam-powered ferryboat, began operation.   Only Pennsylvania Hospital (1751) and New York–Presbyterian Hospital (1771) are older. The fact that Mass General hasn’t taken the top spot before may come as a surprise to some, given its pedigree: It was the original teaching affiliate and flagship of Harvard Medical School; it remains the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $400 million; and is renowned in such specialties as diabetes & Endocrinology, Ear, Nose & Throat, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Ophthalmology, Orthopedics, and Psychiatry.

The 950-bed medical center each year admits about 48,000 inpatients and handles nearly 1.5 million visits in its outpatient programs at the main campus and satellite facilities. It also delivers more than 3,600 babies annually. It is now the largest non-government employer in the city of Boston, with more than 19,000 employees, including a nursing staff of 2,900. In addition, its 3,600-member medical staff includes physicians, dentists, psychologists, podiatrists, residents and fellows.

MGH is owned by Partners HealthCare, which was formed by MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 1994. MGH is also a member of the consortium which operates Boston MedFlight.

EHR Adoption Moving Forward

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

The nation’s hospitals must demonstrate that they have collected the vital statistics of more than 80 percent of their patients in digital form if they want to continue receiving as much as $14.6 billion in federal grants for installing electronic health records (EHR) technology.  Awards as large as $11.5 million are available to hospitals that can prove “meaningful use” of the equipment, under preliminary rules issued by the Obama administration.  Physicians can apply for grants of $44,000 or $64,000, depending on whether they treat patients in Medicare or Medicaid.

The rules continue carrying out an initiative in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as a step toward overhauling the nation’s healthcare system, specifically in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.  Hospitals and doctors should achieve “substantial benefits” from adopting digital records, including lower record-keeping costs, fewer pointless tests, shorter hospital stays and reduced medical errors.

The percentage of U.S. hospitals that have adopted electronic records more than doubled between 2009 and 2011, to 35 percent, according to the American Hospital Association.  Approximately 85 percent of hospitals told the association that they plan to take advantage of government incentives by 2015.  The government expects that by 2019, 96 percent of hospitals will adopt electronic records and at least 36 percent of doctors’ practices.

In this second stage of adoption of EHR, the government is emphasizing making sure that electronic systems can talk to one another – or are “interoperable.”  According to Kaiser Health News, it’s “a real push ahead,” said Farzad Mostashari, the national coordinator for health information technology.  The rules require systems be able to transfer patient information across platforms.  A “summary of care” — including past diagnoses, procedures and test results – must be able to follow patients across referrals and changes in health care provider.  Additionally, the information should be available to some patients, who under Stage 2 requirements must be allowed to view their records online, as well as download and transfer information.  Finally, some patients must be able to communicate with their doctors through a secure, online system.

According to a survey of 302 hospital IT executives, more than one-quarter said they had already proven to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that they have met the government’s standard for the first stage of meaningful use of health IT.  That means they have demonstrated that they have the baseline capabilities in their CMS-approved health IT system to collect and submit data.  Stage 2 also deals with security of exchanging patient information electronically, particularly the risk of a doctor mistakenly leaving his laptop or iPad accessible to the public.  “A huge, huge, huge portion of all breaches don’t occur because someone hacked into the system; they occur because people left their laptop on the train and they didn’t encrypt it,” Mostashari said.

Writing on the practicefusion.com website, Robert Rowley, M.D., says that “Stage 2 is about connectivity.  So let us take a step back and re-assess the larger picture.  Stage 1 Meaningful Use is about adoption of EHRs into the daily practice of clinicians and hospitals.  It is about moving the documentation of healthcare away from paper, and onto a digital platform.  The platform didn’t really have to connect with anything, though the capability to connect needs to be built for the technology to be Certified.  Stage 2 is about connectivity.  Now that EHRs are adopted, implemented and used meaningfully, the next stage is intended to be about connecting the silos together.  Stage 3, to come later, will be about inserting Decision Support between the connections, so that best practices (as well as authorizations) become part of the daily fabric of healthcare.”

A little-known fact is that EHR adoption is having a positive impact on healthcare IT job creation.  According to job resource Medzilla, an estimated 50,000 new jobs have been created in the health IT field since 2009, when the government passed the HITECH Act, which authorized funding for the EHR incentive program.  “The statistics over the past few months have been more than encouraging,” said Del Johnson, director of client relations at Medzilla.  “Here you have two, previously separate industries that are rapidly growing into one another.  Where the two meet you have an opportunity to explore a completely new labor pool.”

Physician, Patient Must Share in Decision Making

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Heart devices save lives, but too often make the patient miserable.  That unpleasant possibility is why physicians are being urged to talk more honestly with people who have very weak hearts and are considering pumps, pacemakers, new valves or procedures to clear clogged arteries.  Patients with advanced heart failure often don’t realize what they are getting into when they agree to a treatment, and doctors assume they want everything possible done to keep them alive, according to the American Heart Association. The directive recommends shared decision making when patients face chronic conditions that frequently prove fatal; they need to decide what they really want for their remaining days.  If they also have dementia or kidney failure, the answer may not be a heart device.

“Patients may feel that the treatment was worse than the disease,” said Dr. Larry Allen of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, who helped draft the new advice. One of Dr. Allen’s former patients was a 74-year-old man too weak to shop or take walks.  He was so despondent that physicians thought he would feel better with a “mini artificial heart” — a $100,000 left ventricular assist device to improve his heart’s ability to pump blood.  “Even if it goes well, people are left with an electrical cord coming out of their belly” and a higher risk of stroke and bleeding from the nose or throat, Allen said.

More than five million Americans suffer heart failure, and the number is increasing as the population ages.  More and more high-tech treatments treat advanced disease, but they usually don’t slow its progression, they just keep people alive.  And that means living longer with symptoms that do nothing but worsen.  Patients typically don’t understand the repercussions when they agree to gadgets like a $30,000 to $50,000 implanted defibrillator, which shocks a quivering heart back into normal rhythm.  “Defibrillators don’t actually make people feel better — it doesn’t treat the underlying heart failure.  All it does is abort sudden death,” Allen said.

Allen and other physicians involved in the study stressed the importance of building a patient-doctor consensus with respect to questions of survival, symptom relief and quality of life issues.  Depending on their personal situation, not all patients want to “do everything” at all costs.  One way to facilitate such a discussion, according to the authors, is to reserve one day a year to review the patient’s situation, focusing on prognosis and possible treatments alongside an appreciation for the patient’s values and goals.  This annual review is not intended to replace appropriate discussions about the patient’s ongoing care, such as when a turn for the worse or hospitalization occurs.  “The process of checking in with patients on a regular basis is extremely important because heart failure and general health change over time,” Allen said.

Shared decision making goes beyond informed consent, requiring that healthcare providers and patients consider information together and work toward consensus.  This process should focus on the outcomes that are most important to the patients, including not only survival but also relief of symptoms, quality of life and living at home.  “For patients with advanced heart failure, the decision-making process should be proactive, anticipatory, and patient-centered. This involves talking about goals of care, expectations for the future, and the full range treatment options, including palliative care,” according to Dr. Allen.

Because the time required for shared decision making is tricky to fit into a regular clinic visit, the authors suggest a yearly review to discuss prognosis, consider realistic therapies, and spell out the patient’s values, goals and preferences.  This review is in addition to discussions triggered by events such as hospitalizations and other changes in the patient’s health.  “The process of checking in with patients on a regular basis is extremely important because heart failure and general health change over time,” Dr. Allen said.

Heart failure typically progresses with time.  During the early stages, it can often be managed with medicines and lifestyle changes in diet, stopping smoking and exercise.  Advanced heart failure requires additional treatments, including heart transplantation.  A focus of the decision making process is understanding that “doing everything” is not always the best thing.  For many patients with advanced disease, receiving symptom relief, comfort, and support and medical therapy are preferred.