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This Holiday Season, Give Emergency Relief to Cancer Patients

ECRF_Facebook_wig_boost“You have cancer.”

Those devastating words send chills through us all. As the initial shock subsides the reality of unanticipated expense deals a second, unwelcome blow.

We know from assisting more than 70,000 cancer patients with the cost of their treatments just how financially overwhelming and destructive a cancer diagnosis can be. Cancer Doesn’t Care that a patient can’t afford their pain medication or the expense of getting to a treatment center.  Cancer Doesn’t Care that some patients are forced to drain their child’s college savings fund or choose between an imaging scan and buying groceries.

Cancer Doesn’t Care, but we do.

That’s why during this season of giving, we are proud to announce the launch of our “Cancer Doesn’t Care” giving campaign to raise the remaining funds needed to launch the Emergency Cancer Relief Fund (ECRF). The ECRF will allow us to provide immediate grants to qualified cancer patients to assist them with meaningful comforts, such as anti-nausea medicine, travel to and from an appointment, wigs and other hidden expenses.  Giving is as easy as clicking here.

The out-of-pocket critical costs of cancer can be financially devastating. According to a Duke University Medical Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute study, out-of-pocket, cancer-related costs averaged $712 a month. Further, the study found that about 30 percent of respondents said their expenses were a “significant burden” and 11 percent called those expenses a “catastrophic problem.”

The “Cancer Doesn’t Care” campaign asks individuals, celebrities, and corporations for financial and social media support. We’ve created powerful social media graphics and messaging that can be shared to highlight the many ways that cancer affects patients financially.

Cancer patients must pay for so much more than treatment, and every little bit makes a difference. Please help make the holidays a little brighter by donating, and reach out to friends and family through your own social media networks. Share the messages we’ve prepared or create your own.  Even a small donation can make a difference.

Please help ease the burden for someone who has received these three devastating words by asking your social networks to give. On behalf of HealthWell and the thousands of cancer patients we serve, I thank you for caring.

***

The HealthWell Foundation is an independent non-profit that provides financial assistance to underinsured Americans to help them afford life-changing medical treatments (and sponsor of this blog).

 

When a Nurse Becomes a Two-Time Breast Cancer Patient

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we approached two-time breast cancer survivor, Kimberly Martinez, to share her story as part of our Patient of the Month series.  Would you like to share your story with other patients about how cancer affects you or your family to?  Drop us a note at the bottom of the post.

Kimberly and her husband

Kimberly and her husband

My name is Kim Martinez.  I am a nurse, a stay at home mom of three kids and a wife to a husband with a very busy position here in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Prior to my diagnosis, I was caring for my mother in Ohio, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in an advanced stage.  Unfortunately, she was only 57 years old at the time of her diagnosis.  Her cancer was too far advanced and had spread to her brain, and she passed away at 58 years of age.  Ten months later, I was diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative Left Breast Cancer.  I was only 39 years old. It was devastating to have to go in and get a biopsy and be told right then and there, all by myself, that I had cancer.  Thoughts of death and dying, thoughts of doctors, surgery, and who is going to take care of my kids, thoughts of how am I going to tell my kids, my family… we live out of state… we have no one here to help us… how are we going to do this… how are we going to afford this…how is my husband going to deal with this?  We lost our son five years prior and I saw the sorrow on his face then, I couldn’t bear to see the pain and suffering that we were going to have to endure now, let alone entertain the thought of him being a single dad.

I credit my mother for saving my life, because had it not been for her cancer, my doctor would have never ordered my mammogram.  I was not yet 40 years old.  However, the death of my mother was still very raw in everyone’s hearts and now I had to share my worst fear: that it was now to be my journey.  Watching my mother face this beast with such grace and dignity, I too knew exactly how I was going to handle my inevitable journey as well. I already knew that I would have a double mastectomy; I already knew that I would take chemotherapy and I had already accepted the idea that, if my physicians ordered radiation, that too would be accepted with grace and dignity.  I was a mother, wife, sister, aunt, friend, teacher – I was not going to let cancer beat me without a challenge.  I also had put this entire challenge in God’s hands.  Whatever my outcome was going to be, it was going to be. So I taught my daughters how to be responsible young ladies at a very early age.  They were only 13 and 12 and my son was only 6. They learned how to do laundry, how to cook, how to do basic housecleaning, and how to become more independent with their homework.  These were skills they needed to learn anyway, why not now?

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Four Ways Data is Transforming Your Health

The increasing availability of data about health care in the U.S. is empowering patients to take charge of their care and quietly revolutionizing how patients are treated. Last month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released data on which services were provided by over 880,000 health care providers, how many times each service was provided, and what the providers charged. Yesterday, top health and technology experts for the federal government and the Brookings Institution gathered to discuss how the growing catalogue of public health care data is leading to profound improvements in America’s health care. The event was hosted by Brookings’ Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform in collaboration with 1776 DC’s Challenge Festival.

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Here are the top four ways that data transparency is already beginning to transform Americans’ health. The benefits are expected to grow as the data is analyzed, matched with other sources, and organized into user-friendly and accessible formats.

 

1.    Selecting the best doctor

When Farzad Mostashari learned that his mother needed an epidural steroid injection, he wanted to find out which orthopedic surgeon was the best at this specific procedure. So he searched the millions of medical claims recently released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to discover which providers were the most experienced in this procedure.

An interesting result emerged. “There is one provider who does more than everyone else combined,” said Mostashari, who is a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is focused on payment reform and delivery system transformation. “He’s probably pretty good.”

As health care data increasingly becomes available, patients will have more information to make the most rational decisions for their health care, said Kavita Patel, a physician and fellow in the Economic Studies program and managing director for clinical transformation and delivery at the Engelberg Center.

Patel asks her patients why they choose to see her. “Nobody’s ever said: ‘I looked up your quality scores and saw that your out-of-pocket costs are less than the average provider in your area,” Patel said of her 12 years in medical practice. “This is one of the first times that everyone in this room can take out a laptop…and look at this data.”

Mostashari added that the data can be used to identify outliers. For instance, he found that while the average orthopedic surgeon performed controversial spinal fusion surgeries on 7 percent of the patients they saw, some did so on 35 percent. This knowledge empowers patients to choose providers that best align with their health care values and preferences.

 

2.    Reducing costs

The newly-released CMS data enables comparisons of the prices different providers charge for the same services. This data reveals that in some cases providers charge vastly different rates to Medicare for the same services, Mostashari said. The Wall Street Journal provides a consumer-friendly database detailing the types of procedures, number of each, and costs per procedure charged by individual health care providers.

Last year’s release of hospital charges led some hospitals that were charging higher rates to uninsured and underinsured patients than their peers to seek advice from CMS. “Some hospital associations called us and said, ‘We want to change. Help us develop new accounting practices to set prices more fairly for those who are uninsured or underinsured,’” said Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator at CMS.

The ability to access and analyze a growing amount of data on procedures performed and their outcomes also helps patients and providers avoid low value services and make decisions about the relative risks and benefits of different procedures. Patel pointed out an ABIM Foundation initiative called Choosing Wisely that equips providers and patients with lists of procedures that should be carefully considered and discussed to ensure that care is supported by evidence, not duplicative, free from harm, and truly necessary.

 

3.    Promoting accountability

When health care providers know that their records will be publically available for scrutiny, they are incentivized to ensure that they won’t be embarrassed by what people find. This can profoundly change which procedures providers choose. For instance, one analysis revealed a wide disparity between the percentage of black versus white patients who were tested for cholesterol levels. “Simply asking providers how often they were doing [cholesterol tests], without any payment incentive,” removed this disparity, said Darshak Sanghavi, the Richard Merkin fellow and a managing director of the Engelberg Center. “This is one example of how simple transparency can improve health care and ultimately save lives.”

 

4.    Expediting spread of best practices

Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator at CMS, has seen data transparency expedite the uptake of best practices by health care providers and public health authorities. For example, when analyzing the data on dialysis providers, CMS found that there was an uptick in blood transfusions by certain providers in specific geographic regions. “Our medical team got on the phone and called the dialysis providers and said: ‘Did you know you are doing more blood transfusions than your peers?’” The result? Those providers decreased blood transfusions, improving health outcomes for their patients. The same pattern occurred for nursing home facilities that overused antipsychotic drugs.

“I want to convince folks that you can change policy, you can change procedures, you can make things safer,” Blum said. “Data liberation can help us build [accountable care organizations], help us build better payment policies, help us reduce hospital readmissions. There is tremendous opportunity ahead for us.”

Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health & Human Services, added that data transparency is affording entrepreneurs from outside the health care sector – such as startups Aidin, Purple Binder, and Oscar – the potential to transform the health care system.

“We’re sitting on the edge of an incredible moment in history,” he said. “Everybody is looking at things in a different way because everybody understands that we have to do things differently.”

“Government data is a public good and a national asset,” said Claudia Williams, Senior Advisor for Health IT and Innovation for the U.S. CTO in the White House. “It’s something we have to release if we can to allow innovation and change.”

How do you make your health care decisions? Have you used any of these new tools?

Categories: General

Patient of the Month: Sharon Harris Survives Lupus and Pays It Forward

Sharon Harris remembers February of 2002. She remembers where she was, what she was wearing, and what she was feeling. Most of all, she remembers the day she was diagnosed with lupus.

SharonHarris1

Sharon Harris, lupus awareness advocate and founder of Lupus Detroit

May is Lupus Awareness Month. Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system is unable to distinguish between foreign illnesses and the body’s own tissue and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, lungs, and other organs. Although there is no cure for lupus, there are numerous medications that can alleviate its symptoms.

Sharon had just graduated from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee when she received her diagnosis. “I was 22 at the time, fresh out of college,” Sharon said. “You’re taught while you’re growing up to learn your manners, respect your elders, and get a good education. No one tells you about an autoimmune disease that you will have for the rest of your life.”

Nor had anyone told her what having lupus would entail. “I immediately went into battle mode,” she said. “I had graduated from college. I had traveled 1200 miles from my family to make my journalism degree happen, and I was going to fight.”

“But, as soon as I got my fight on, that’s when all the pain started.”

Sharon experienced a flare-up of symptoms. It would be an understatement to say that the rest of that winter was difficult for her. Her hair began to fall out. She suffered from constant fatigue and pain. In the month of February alone, Sharon lost thirty pounds.

After beginning treatment on several different medications, Sharon started feeling better by that summer. One Wednesday during a Bible study, Sharon was asked what she would do if it were her last day on Earth.

“I said I wanted to see the world,” Sharon said. “Because if lupus was going to take me out, then it was going come and find me in Paris on the Eiffel Tower or on a beach in the Virgin Islands.”

By chance, Northwest Airlines (now Delta) had put out an ad to recruit flight attendants. It was a dream job for Sharon. The job provided her with better insurance, and on her off days she could fly to any location on Northwest’s roster. Just as she had hoped, Sharon got a chance to see the world. Amazingly, Sharon started to find that her experience with lupus was helping her have a healthier mindset. “It really made me think of life in a whole different way, and just literally live. Just really get out there and live,” she said.

Sharon eventually moved back to Tallahassee, opening an eyelash parlor and holding down an office job. At that point, she experienced another flare-up. “In October in Tallahassee it is still 100 degrees outside, and I was wearing a wool coat,” Sharon said. “I was so sick.” Sharon packed up and returned to her hometown: Detroit, MI.

Now, too sick to work and without a job, Sharon did not have health insurance. The lupus was attacking her kidneys and the medicine that she was prescribed cost upwards of $3,000 for a month’s supply. Despite pinching pennies to afford her daughter’s medication, Sharon’s mother was willing to refinance her house to save her only child’s life.

That’s when Sharon’s luck shifted. One day, she visited a local lupus organization with the intention of buying a t-shirt, and she ended up walking out with a new job. Her new public relations position did not include benefits but being employed allowed her to purchase health insurance.

Although she had insurance, her share of the payments for her four medications was unaffordable; one of the therapies alone cost more than $1,000 per month. That’s when Sharon found out about the HealthWell Foundation from a Google Alert. HealthWell is a nationwide non-profit providing financial assistance to insured patients who are still struggling to afford the medications they need (and sponsor of this blog).

“Literally, HealthWell saved my life,” Sharon said. “I didn’t have to incur any debt, my mother didn’t have to refinance her house, and HealthWell saved the day.”

SharronHarris2

And Sharon wanted to save the day for others like her. She has become a leading activist for lupus awareness, starting her own advocacy group called Lupus Detroit, which offers lupus patients emergency grants. Sharon points out that there are two colors that are used for lupus awareness, orange and purple. She opted for orange for her organization because the color is “louder” and garners more attention. “Lupus needs all of the attention that it can get,” Sharon said.

Sharon is currently in remission and has been doing well since receiving a grant from HealthWell in 2011 that allowed her to afford her medications. “I was inspired by the work that HealthWell does to help people with their medications,” she said. “I just don’t believe that someone should have to choose between paying for their medication and feeding their children.”

And neither do we, Sharon. Keep up the excellent work.

If you are inspired to help, consider raising awareness during Lupus Awareness Month and showing your support. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make a donation to HealthWell’s SLE Fund in honor of a family member or loved one who is battling lupus.
  • Celebrate World Lupus Day on Saturday, May 10th.
  • Put on Purple on Friday, May 16th and visit The Lupus Foundation of America’s website at www.lupus.org to learn how you can show your support.
  • Find your local Lupus Foundation of America chapter to learn about activities in your area.

Has lupus touched your life? Do you have plans to show support during Lupus Awareness Month? Share your story in the comments section.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Five Ways to Manage the Costs of Your Medicine

While a main precept of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to health care, in some cases that improved access means more patients are being treated with medications that come with a cost. As a pharmacist, I have to be an insurance sleuth, use common sense, and teach my patients the old-fashioned methods of negotiation.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

I work in solid organ transplant, HIV, and Hepatitis C medicine. I have patients on regimes ranging from 4 to over 20 medications. For my patients, obtaining consistent, reasonably-priced medications – both over-the-counter and prescription – is vital.

1. Make sure all the medications are at one pharmacy.  It’s important to keep a clinical eye on things for drug interactions. As a bonus, the pharmacist and the patient know what costs need to be examined.

2. Seek out insurance prior authorization.  Some insurance companies require prior authorization to cover certain drugs. Your pharmacist can help you seek prior authorization for medications that require it using software that creates forms specific to each insurance company. Ask if your pharmacist can fill out the form as much as possible before sending it to your doctor.

3. Contact the drug company.  Many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs or co-pay assistance cards to help eligible patients obtain free medicines, particularly for biologics and expensive drugs. These programs are especially helpful for patients who have insurance gaps and need the medications quickly. Depending on the assistance from a case manager or care coordinator, I have received authorization for medications right away or within 72 hours.

4. Search for a co-pay assistance program that covers your condition.  If your drug company does not offer a patient assistance program or you are not eligible based on your income and insurance coverage, it is possible that a charitable patient assistance program through a non-profit organization such as the HealthWell Foundation may be able to help you.

5. Seek discounts for over-the-counter medications.  Over-the-counter medications can put a strain on the wallet. In many cases, purchasing over-the-counter medications is more expensive than prescription medications covered by insurance. Other items like vitamins, natural supplements, and enteral formulas (also known as ‘milks’) require the patient to do a little negotiating. If you tell the pharmacy or vitamin store you will be taking these items indefinitely, they may be inclined to discount. Also, be on the lookout for buy one get one deals (BOGOs). Finally, enteral formulas can be quite expensive, so if you get prescribed a specially formulated one, ask if you can take a more basic formulation instead. Remember to let your prescriber and pharmacist know which over-the-counter medications and supplements you are using.

In conclusion, while the path to affordable medications is not always easy, there are individuals, programs, and strategies that can help you meet your health care goals.

How do you manage your medications? Share your tips in the comments section.

Categories: General

Our Top 4 Most ‘Liked’ Health Care Stories

This week is Real World Health Care’s one-year anniversary. Over the past year, we showcased solutions that are proven to lower costs, increase access, and provide more patient-centered care. In celebration of this milestone, we are sharing the favorite posts as measured by Facebook ‘likes’ from our readers, who have visited the blog over 10,000 times.

 

#4 – Keeping Boston Strong: How Disaster Training at Osteopathic Medical School Helped Save Lives

In May, former RWHC editor Paul DeMiglio told the story of Dr. Danielle Deines’ emergency response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Dr. Deines’ education at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine – Virginia Campus (VCOM) required her to participate in a two-day, mandatory training curriculum on Bioterrorism and Disaster Response Program, which immersed her in real-life disaster training, field exercises and specialized courses.

(Photo courtesy of VCOM)

(Photo courtesy of VCOM)

The day of the bombing, after crossing the finish line, Dr. Deines found herself triaging runners in medical tents to make room for the victims. “The back corner became the most severe triage area, nearest the entrance where the ambulances were arriving,” she said. “I saw victims with traumatic amputations of the lower extremities, legs that had partially severed or had shrapnel embedded, and clothing and shoes literally blown off of victims’ bodies.”

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2013/05/keeping-boston-strong-how-disaster-training-at-osteopathic-medical-school-helped-save-lives/

 

#3 – Making Life Easier for Patients and Loved Ones: Meet MyHealthTeams

In April, Eric Peacock, Co-founder and CEO of MyHealthTeams, contributed a guest blog about the need for social networks for communities of people living with chronic conditions. These networks allow patients to “share recommendations of local providers, openly discuss daily triumphs and issues, share tips and advice, and gain access to local services,” he wrote.

“Sharing with people who are in your shoes offers a sense of community that can’t be found elsewhere – these are people who know the language of your condition; they understand the daily frustrations and the small triumphs that can mean so much,” he added.

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2013/04/making-life-easier-for-patients-and-loved-ones-meet-myhealthteams/

 

#2 – When the Health Care Blogger Becomes the Cancer Patient

In August, even as she was still undergoing daily radiation treatments, contributor Linda Barlow shared her personal story of being diagnosed with cancer and the slew of medical bills she faced even though she had insurance.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

“While these out of pocket costs are certainly hard to swallow – I can think of a hundred other things I’d rather spend my money on – for my family, they are doable,” she wrote. “We won’t have to skip a mortgage payment or a utility bill. We won’t have to dip into a child’s college tuition fund. We certainly won’t have to worry about having enough money for food. But I know – from my work on this blog and with its main sponsor, the HealthWell Foundation – that many families living with cancer aren’t so lucky.”

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2013/08/when-the-health-care-blogger-becomes-the-cancer-patient/

 

#1 – What If You Want Politicians to Get Moving But You Can’t Move?

Neil Cavuto

Neil Cavuto

Last week, Neil Cavuto, Senior Vice President and Anchor, Fox News and Fox Business, contributed a moving guest post about his triumphs over multiple sclerosis (MS) for MS Awareness Week. His deeply personal blog inspired resounding praise in the comments section and 1,300 Facebook ‘likes’.

“If I can pass along any advice at all, it is…to simply never accept a prognosis as is,” he wrote. “Fight it. Challenge it. ‘Will’ yourself over it. Many doctors say it’s a naïve approach to the disease, but attitude counts a lot for me with MS, as it did for me two decades ago when I was battling advanced Hodgkin’s Disease. Then, as now, it was about one day at a time, and staying optimistic and positive all the time.”

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2014/03/ms-awareness-week/

 

If you would like to suggest a topic, contribute a guest post, or learn more about short-term co-sponsorship opportunities, please contact us at dsheon@WHITECOATstrategies.com. As a blog currently sponsored solely by the HealthWell Foundation, an independent non-profit providing nationwide financial assistance to insured Americans with high out-of-pocket medication expenses, co-sponsorship helps us keep Real World Health Care alive and well as a resource for journalists, health care professionals, policymakers, and patients. Plus, co-sponsorship will increase your organization’s visibility among thought leaders in the health care sphere.

Do you have a favorite Real World Health Care post? Is there something you’d like to see more of? Post to the comments section or tweet at us at @RWHCblog.

Live Updates from 15th Annual Patient Assistance & Access Programs

Because this blog is all about increasing access, lowering costs, and improving patient outcomes, we think there’s no better place for us to share ideas that work than to report live from the 15th Annual Patient Assistance & Access Program, in Baltimore, March 5-7.  Check back often as we publish updates from sessions, and follow all of the developments by following #PAP2014.

UPDATE 9:45  Resources for navigators: www.nationaldisabilitynavigator.org; patient advocacy groups such as AIDS Institute are publishing helpful sites.  Also marketplace.comment@cms.hhs.gov is a place you can send questions. This is monitored 24/7 with staff – not interns – but people who really know how to help.  These are triaged and go up to leadership when there are problems or trends.

UPDATE 9:40 Lessons learned:

  1. Partner’s are critical to success of ACA implementation; reach out early, often because plan selection often isn’t a one step process.  Patients need to come back many times before ready to sign up.  Very real “huge” health literacy gaps.
  2. Things to come: we are in closing days of enrollment.  March Madness may be a great opportunity for outreach; then we’ll reach out to those most in need; final week will be “here we are.”  So theme weeks continue.   After window closes Mar 31, you’ll soon start seeing promotion of the new window.

UPDATE 9:25 25 states and DC have indicated they will expand Medicaid.  About 85% of Americans already have minimum essential coverage.

UPDATE: 9:15 Health care law saved $8.9 M in drug costs for Medicare, said Janet Miller, Division of Strategic Partners, Office of Communications, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  2014 changes: no discrimination due to pre-existing conditions, annual limits on insurance coverage eliminated, small business tax credit increased; more people are eligible for Medicaid in some states.

Essential benefits include at least 10 general categories such as emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, mental health and substance abuse, lab services, preventive and wellness  services and chronic disease management.

Categories: Access to Care

Three Ways You Can Reduce the Impact of Cardiovascular Disease this American Heart Month

Most of the readers of this blog know that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of men and women in this country. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, CVD is a leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests cause the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Americans each year. CVD costs the United States over $300 billion each year.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

There are many small but significant actions we can take. Here is what you can do to make a difference: empower or continue to empower patients to take care of themselves.

1. Address the cost of heart medication

If the cost of your medicine is an issue, talk to your doctor or contact a patient assistance program that may be able to help with prescription co-pays.

2. Encourage healthy behaviors

Want people to eat better? Give them coupons for healthy food. Exercise? Give them coupons for short-term memberships to health clubs.

The stakes are higher in our country’s current health care landscape. With more people on health insurance than ever before, we need to do everything we can to empower people to seek help before an emergency and talk to their doctor about what they can do to take better care of themselves. This will have a direct effect on deaths from heart disease.

3. Ask your employer about Automatic External Defibrillators

There are instances in which individuals are dealt devastating genetic hands of cards. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the plight of a Philadelphia family that had a genetic link to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.

For those who do experience heart issues, or even have a major event such as cardiac arrest, Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) devices can significantly increase the likelihood of survival. AEDs have been available for over 20 years, but in recent years, device makers have reduced the size and cost and increased usability of defibrillators, making public access defibrillation viable. “We believe ease of use is one of the most important qualities in an AED because the potential user may not be well-trained in resuscitating a victim of sudden cardiac arrest,” said Bob Peterhans, General Manager for Emergency Care and Resuscitation at Philips Healthcare. “This is consistent with the American Heart Association’s criteria for choosing an AED.”

While risk factors for CVD are often genetic, the majority of CVD is triggered by factors that are controllable: smoking, diet, and exercise. And this is where individual efforts need to be focused.

For more information on preventing CVD, check out the American Heart Association’s guidelines for taking care of your heart, which are broken down by age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offer an American Heart Month guide to controlling risk factors for cardiovascular disease. You may also want to check out The Heart Truth, a campaign from the National Institutes of Health to make women more aware of the danger of heart disease.

Read more Real World Health Care heart health-related posts:

Are you taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease? If you, a family member, or a friend has CVD, what is working for treatment? Share your experiences and insights in the comments section.

What’s Getting Lost in the Health Care Debate?

Health care has never been more highly politicized than today.

Last year, it was central to the third longest government shutdown in U.S. history. This week, it consumed a large chunk of President Obama’s State of the Union address. Every day, we are inundated by news of health exchange website defects, insurance policy cancellations, coverage that forces people to switch doctors, and a laundry list of other problems attributed to the Affordable Care Act. On the flip side, advocates complain of the problems that make the U.S. rank among the lowest in health system efficiency among advanced economies and hail the health care law as a ray of hope.

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Meanwhile, a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that one in four American families struggled to pay medical bills in 2012. Pretty dismal.

But there’s something missing from this barrage of coverage. Incredible advances are being made in health care every day, providing Americans with innovative ways to stay healthy, treat illnesses when they arise, and save money on medical problems. Just this month, a new program was launched to help people on Medicare living with multiple sclerosis afford copays for treatment; the FDA for the first time approved a postnatal test that can help parents identify possible causes of their child’s developmental delay or intellectual disability; and a study published in the Lancet showed that it is possible to train children’s immune systems to become less sensitive to peanuts.

At Real World Health Care, we focus on what is working.

That’s why I am proud to take over this week as editor of Real World Health Care. While much of my professional focus has been on health internationally – advocating for the development of vaccines to prevent tuberculosis, policies that save mothers and infants from dying during childbirth, and the formation of emergency medical systems in places where people have nowhere to turn – I am compelled by the notion that more attention must be focused on solutions that are improving U.S. patient care today. By serving as a central clearinghouse for information about improvements to segments of the U.S. health care system, we hope that our readers and those journalists who get ideas from our blog will be inspired to expand innovations that are working in health care today.

Real World Health Care – only entering its 11th month – already has a reputation for covering solutions to enhance nutrition, prevent diseases, reform medical education, improve hospitals, support patients, fund research, increase treatment adherence, and reduce costs. The blog serves as a resource for policy makers, health systems, research universities, non-profit health organizations, leading biopharmaceutical companies, government agencies, and the nation’s leading health journalists among thousands of others interested in practical and well-researched health care success stories.

We need your help to continue to grow our success. Have an idea for a story or a guest blog? Email me at jrosen@WHITECOATstrategies.com. Want to take part in advancing solutions in health care? Sign up for updates and share stories that inspire you via Twitter at https://twitter.com/RWHCblog. Do you believe in our mission to expedite improvements to our health care system? Consider co-sponsoring the blog while gaining visibility for your organization. We are now followed by over 300 health industry leaders each week, and journalists turn to us for story ideas about the good news on what’s working in our health care system. For more information, email dsheon@WHITECOATstrategies.com.

I look forward to continuing to cut through the political vitriol around health care with inspiring stories of what is keeping Americans healthy and saving lives. Thank you for giving meaning to our work by using this blog as a resource for yours.

Categories: General

Does More Data = More Accurate Results?

Every year U.S. News & World Report comes out with its “Best Hospitals” rankings, and providers wear them like a badge of honor. No doubt the recognition is prestigious. But how many people know why hospitals are ranked as they are? We decided to dig a little deeper and break down the methodology behind the rankings. What we found might surprise you.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

“Best Hospitals” scores top hospitals across 16 specialties, from Cancer to Urology. For 12 of the 16 specialties, the rankings are based on performance measurements in structure, process and outcomes. Rankings in the remaining four specialties are based on hospital reputation as determined by a physician survey.

The methodology has evolved since the list was first published in 1990, transitioning from a heavy reliance on the reputation of hospitals (based on surveys of medical specialists) to incorporating more hard data to determine which providers make the cut. In an effort to increase accuracy and develop more objective, higher scoring methods, U.S. News & World Report moved away from expert opinion as a major factor of its criteria. Reputation now comprises only 32.5% of the overall score, except for hospitals in the areas of ophthalmology, psychiatry, rehabilitation and rheumatology.

The clinical data now used as the primary basis to rank hospitals measure patient outcomes and processes of care, based on factors including mortality, nurse staffing and advanced technologies. Hospitals also have to meet specific minimums for patient volume and are immediately considered high performing if they have a specialty like cancer or cardiology, among many others.

The power in this report lies in the objectivity as well as the information sharing from multiple, well-respected health care organizations and databases that exist as treasure troves for comprehensive patient information. The continuum of survey strategy — structure, process and outcome — defines essentially every step of the patient experience, from diagnosis to treatment to outcome.

For decades, much of patient care revolved around anecdotal teachings and recommendations. Hospital choices for individuals with complicated conditions often occurred subjectively and by word-of-mouth from both patients as well as caregivers. The strength in the “Best Hospitals” study design lies in the breadth of specialties, objectivity, number of hospitals, as well as the reachability and understandability of the results to the general public.  As the number of survey variables continues to increase by virtue of an aging population and the emergence of newer diseases and a greater number of treatment options, survey criteria will evolve and may correlate patient cost to outcome.  In other words, how much health care bang does one get for the buck?

For a detailed overview of the methodology behind “U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals,” click here.

Is this system for ranking hospitals as objective as it could be? Does making the qualification guidelines more data-driven increase the reliability of the outcomes?