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Are Patients Talking and Are Doctors Listening?

Rheumatologist Daniel J. Wallace, M.D., who has treated more than 2,000 people with lupus, holds what he calls a counseling session with each patient he diagnoses with the disease. As he writes in his book, The Lupus Book, he uses these sessions to educate patients about their illness and explain their treatment. This step, he writes, is essential to establishing a good long-term relationship with a new patient.

Mollie Katz

Mollie Katz

Dr. Wallace’s approach is an example of patient-centered care, a principle widely considered vital to quality health care.

The Institute of Medicine defines patient-centeredness as “care that establishes a partnership among practitioners, patients, and their families (when appropriate) to ensure that decisions respect patients’ wants, needs, and preferences.”  The definition also includes providing patients with “the education and support they need to make decisions and participate in their own care.”

Barriers to Communication and Trust 

Because patient-centered care hinges on trust between patients and their doctors, many medical societies, patient advocacy groups and health care institutions have focused on ways to build trust. Their solutions always emphasize better communication, and physicians and other members of the health care team are taught to listen carefully and empathetically to patients.

Yet barriers to good communication persist.

Findings issued in February about multiple sclerosis (MS) care, for instance, have shown that both neurologists and patients can be hesitant to discuss important issues, even those central to MS.

The State of MS Report released by the State of MS Consortium found that in the U.S. and four western European countries, 19 percent of MS patients said they were uncomfortable talking about walking problems and tremors.

With more sensitive and private issues, patients expressed even more hesitation. Concerns about sexual difficulties left 54 percent of patients reluctant to talk to their doctors. Twenty-eight percent were uneasy discussing bowel and bladder problems, and 21 percent were uncomfortable discussing cognitive or memory issues.

In the study, physicians considered time pressures a barrier to good communication. Patients agreed, but said not wanting to be labelled “difficult” by their doctors was a bigger hurdle.  

Testing Improvements 

Researching ways to strengthen communication between health care providers and patients is a priority of the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which funds research on patient-centered care. PCORI is a nonprofit, non-governmental body established by Congress as a provision of the Affordable Care Act.

One PCORI-funded study is testing whether involving patients in decisions about their treatment will improve their use of prescribed drugs. According to the researchers in Boston, nearly one-third of patients don’t fill new prescriptions.

Sometimes that’s because they disagree with their doctors on the need for medicines. Some patients fear the side effects or toxicity of a drug. Some have incorrect perceptions of effective care. Others lack social or financial support needed to follow prescribed treatment.

In the study, patients and providers will consider the available scientific evidence, as well as the patient’s values and preferences, and decide together on treatment.

Dr. Wallace, the lupus specialist, acknowledged in his book that physicians may harm their relationships with patients by acting too judgmental, intimidating and hard to approach, leaving patients afraid to discuss serious issues about their treatment. Patients, too, he says, can be challenging to work with when they hesitate to trust their doctors because they are hostile, anxious or depressed beyond the level that would typically be found in someone with lupus.

He urged patients to be unafraid to state their concerns clearly and to get a second opinion if they wish, knowing this should not imperil the relationship with the doctor. His description of a good doctor-patient relationship includes open communication, mutual honesty and respect and understanding of one another’s lifestyles and limitations.

“A patient’s relationship with his or her doctor is akin to a complex commitment,” he writes. “The doctor is half of the ticket to good health, and both sides have to put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies.”

Have you ever avoided difficult discussions with your physician about your care? Tell us why and how you were able to overcome the situation in the comments below.

A Proper Diagnosis Shouldn’t Require a Doctor Scavenger Hunt. Here Are Tips to Help Your Doctor Find an Answer

Vanessa Merta

Vanessa Merta

Have you or someone you know been passed from doctor to doctor without a resulting diagnosis? According to Tufts University School of Medicine, the prevalence of undiagnosed diseases is significant, even for common chronic diseases.  A disease as common as depression, which is estimated to effect two to four percent of Americans, is missed in a staggering 69 percent of patients who seek help!  Other chronic diseases that often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed include diabetes, dementia, and osteoporosis.

The good news is that there are actions you or a loved one can take to help your doctor get to the bottom of the problem quicker, according to the Center for Advancing Health.

What to do if the Doctor Just Shrugs,” offers patients ten tips on what they can do when doctors are unable to come up with a diagnosis. Check out this interesting read and let us know what you think.  Have you or a loved one ever tried any of these suggestions? Tell us your experience in the comments section!

 

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Virtual Health Care: Your Questions Answered by a Telehealth Pioneer

If you follow the latest developments in health care, you may have noticed: telehealth has taken off. Our country is focused on making health care more accessible for Americans, and naturally, telehealth has emerged as a key innovation that can help to make this a reality. It’s an effective way to deliver evidence-based medicine – and it’s something that we as physicians can embrace right now.

Dr. Peter Antall

Dr. Peter Antall

As President and Medical Director of the world’s first telehealth practice, Online Care Group, I’m often asked a handful of common questions about telehealth. Here, I share the most common questions and my answers with Real World Health Care’s readers.

What is telehealth?

To me, telehealth is simple. Telehealth is a live video visit between a doctor and a patient from home or work. This differs from traditional telemedicine, which mainly connected hospital facilities to each other and relied on big, expensive hardware in clinical locations.

With telehealth, the patient can have a video visit with a doctor using every day consumer technologies that are becoming ubiquitous: a smartphone, tablet, or computer. There are other forms of telehealth on the market that use only phone or secure email; however, these visits do not allow for the same level of clinical patient evaluation. I have met with medical boards and associations across the country and found that live video is greatly preferred because it represents the closest interaction comparable to an in-person visit.

Do patients really want to talk to a doctor virtually?

For starters, let me just ask you when was the last time you shopped, banked, booked travel, made a dinner reservation, filed your taxes, or communicated with friends and family online. Chances are – if you’re like many Americans – you’ve done more than one of these things today, probably on your phone or tablet.

While the health care industry has done a great job of supplying information to patients online and has even started to offer patients the opportunity to book appointments online, information and scheduling stop short of what patients want and expect from health care: quality interactions with clinicians. To date, health care ‘transactions’ have only occurred at the intersection of a physical location and the supply of available clinicians. The industry can do better.

Over the last several years, a number of studies have shown that patients are rapidly warming to the concept of interacting with doctors online. Estimates suggest that half to three-quarters of Americans are interested in online consults, and I’d expect this number to grow as more patients have access to telehealth services and as more doctors offer such services to patients.

If you think about the patient experience today, it’s not surprising that most folks respond so positively to the value of telehealth. Consider the national average wait time to see a doctor of 18.5 days, not to mention the excessive wait time in certain urban and rural areas. And once you’re in the doctor’s office, that wait can be long, too, which you know if you’ve ever spent two or three hours in an urgent care clinic or emergency room waiting to be seen. Retail clinics are an option, but these are generally not staffed by a doctor and are often not available outside of normal business hours.

On the other hand, a patient can see a doctor in just a few minutes from their phone or tablet. For example, our wait times at the Online Care Group currently average less than 2.5 minutes, and there’s no appointment or travel required. So it’s not surprising that 97% of patients rate the service “very good” or “excellent”.

How do you examine a patient during a telehealth visit?

Examining a patient through video is different from in-person, though the fundamental rules of medicine still apply. The most important elements of any consultation – online or in-person – is taking a thorough history, asking plenty of questions, and doing a visual examination. Having a video connection with a patient is really important in helping to understand the patient’s overall demeanor and level of discomfort and stress, just as in the exam room. This gives me great insight into the patient’s physical and mental well-being. In terms of a physical exam, I’ve developed protocols to help our doctors guide patients through self-exams in order to provide empirical feedback that’s useful in making certain diagnoses.

One of our main tenets is that doctors must use their own clinical discretion when treating patients online. Our physicians diagnose and treat only when enough data can be ascertained in the video consultation to do so. If not, our physicians triage the patient and refer out for in-person care. That may mean seeing their doctor in-person, going to the emergency room, or ordering tests at a local health center.

What about security issues?

As with brick-and-mortar medicine, it is extremely important to protect patient health information. The information regarding a patient’s health should remain private between the physician and the patient and be stored securely, in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). American Well provides a secure space for patients to safely and confidentially consult with a doctor online. This is imperative for an effective and safe telehealth practice.

What does telehealth have to offer me as a doctor?

Telehealth is not only convenient for patients; it offers doctors flexibility at work, reliable pay, and access to new patients. And not only individual and group practices, but even large medical practices and hospitals, are starting to use telehealth to attract and retain patients and to expand their reach.

By incorporating telehealth, hospitals under accountable care organization (ACO) contracts, or otherwise caring for patients under capitation, reap the financial benefits of having healthier patients. Private offices can offer open access and after-hours care or designate that a subset of visits, like medication follow-up, be managed through telehealth. Practices can also bring in other specialties virtually into their office, like certified diabetes educators, dieticians, or behavioral health specialists.

Can I make money with telehealth?

There is high demand from patients for urgent-care-like telehealth services. Today, physicians across the country – including those in our national telehealth practice – make a very good living practicing medicine online, providing care anywhere from 10-40 hours per week.

Another option is for doctors to offer telehealth to their existing patients. In many states, doctors are already being reimbursed for services delivered to their own patients by including GT modifiers in their billing (this modifier is used to indicate telehealth services via interactive audio and video telecommunication systems). Currently 20 states mandate private payer reimbursement for telehealth services and 45 states reimburse for some telehealth services. As our doctors move from fee-for-service to capitated payment models under the Affordable Care Act, they are absorbing the risk (“rewarded for performance,” as some might say). Telehealth is one way to improve efficacy and efficiency of patient care. Telehealth lets doctors increase the number of touch points for patients, which potentially can improve outcomes as well.

Is telehealth the future of healthcare?

Telehealth isn’t really a new form of healthcare; it is the same healthcare that Americans are using every day, delivered in a faster, less expensive, more convenient way. Although not everything can be treated via telehealth, it’s a great option for many types of acute care, chronic care, behavioral health, and wellness services. Patients, doctors, hospital systems, employers, insurers, regulators, and legislators are all rapidly changing the way they view health care in order to incorporate telehealth. In the coming months, the proof that telehealth is here to stay will become even more evident. It’s time to embrace the now of health care.

Have you ever used telehealth? Would you? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

If you have any questions or to learn more about where and how I practice telehealth, email me at peter.antall@americanwell.com.

Dr. Antall is the Medical Director of Online Care Group, a physician-owned primary care group that offers its clinical services online using American Well’s technology. American Well’s web and mobile telehealth platform connects patients and clinicians for live, clinically meaningful visits through video, supplemented by secure text chat and phone. For more information, visit AmericanWell.com

Categories: Access to Care

Four benefits of electronic health records

Leaders from industry, academia, and health care discuss the rollout of this technology at The Atlantic’s sixth annual Health Care Forum

Today The Atlantic Health Care Forum brought together leading policymakers and industry experts in medicine, public health, and nutrition to have conversations about the state of the nation’s health care system. The event was sponsored by Siemens, Surescripts, WellPoint, GSK and PhRMA. Real World Health Care attended to share insights from the panel “Health Care Tomorrow: Examining the Tools and Technologies that Will Revolutionize the Future Health Care System.”

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Much of the discussion centered around electronic health records, which are increasingly being rolled out in huge hospital systems after the federal government incentivized their adoption to the tune of billions of dollars five years ago. Four themes emerged from the panel, which included top executives from Johns Hopkins Medicine, athenahealth, PhRMA, and Carolinas HealthCare System.

 

1. Enhancing collaboration.

Electronic health records facilitate a team-based approach to hospital care, as well as allowing for better coordination between hospital systems. “What we’re going to see is it’s going to drive team-based clinical care because everyone in the system will have access to the same medical records,” said Dr. Paul Rothman, Dean of the Medical Faculty and Vice President for Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University and Chief Executive Officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “You’re going to see an [increased] level of collaboration not only between delivery systems, but also between the patient and the health care provider.”

However, Ed Park, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, athenahealth, warned that the decades-old technologies that many hospital systems are using are limited in their capabilities. “The current crop of [electronic health records] are documentation tools instead of care management tools,” he said, adding that they are primarily for use by insurers and lawyers. “What I fear is health systems beginning to buy their way into their own prisons that are built of their own IT…as opposed to dealing in an open environment,” he said.

 

2. Enabling patient-centered care.

Electronic health records enable patients to reap greater benefits from telehealth. “Having your information on your iPhone: that’s not far away,” Dr. Rothman said. “[Patients are] going to do EKG’s at home. They’re going to be measuring their blood sugar at home. The patient will have control of the data.”

Electronic records also hold the promise of helping to solve age-old problems in the U.S. health care system, including keeping contact with patients to encourage them to take prescribed treatment regimens. “There is almost $350 billion a year in inefficiency because of lack of compliance and adherence with medications,” said John Castellani, President and Chief Executive Officer, PhRMA. “If you could just get an improvement in whether patients take the medicines that are prescribed, you could capture this great savings.”

“You have kids who have kidney transplants, and you can give them reminders on Facebook that they have to take their medications,” Dr. Rothman added.

 

3. Targeting therapies for increased success.

Electronic medical records can help health care providers ensure that they prescribe the treatments most likely to work for their patients.

“What I think is the promise of electronic medical records is our ability to find subsets of diseases through the broad diseases we treat,” Dr. Rothman said. “Asthma isn’t one disease. Obesity isn’t one disease. Diabetes isn’t one disease. We are going to be able to find subsets of diseases and target therapies [that work]. That’s when you’re going to see efficiency and return on investment.”

 

4. Harnessing the power of big data.

Our health care system has already begun to see the benefits of ‘big data’ with examples such as the discovery of drug side effects and interactions through mining consumer web search data. “We have to use the technologies to bring down the cost of the drug discovery process,” Castellani said.

“Just taking care of the patient, we capture data,” said Dr. Roger Ray, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Carolinas HealthCare System. “That allows us to know when a patient…may be at risk for hospital readmission. Having the ability to mine [data]…makes a difference for patients.

“We all, each of us, remember with longing a simpler time when we could scribble and walk off and our job was done,” he added. “What we know now is that’s not very good for the patient. We had no standardization allowing us to help patients avoid lots of different bad outcomes they could have.”

 

Have electronic medical records impacted your health or that of your patients? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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.

It’s Not Over Yet: Addressing Part Two of the Door-to-Balloon Time Initiative’s Success

ReillyJohn

John P. Reilly, M.D., FSCAI

From the very first sign of a heart attack, the clock starts ticking in the race to save a patient’s heart muscle and even his or her life.

Thanks to technology and finely tuned systems of heart attack care that are now available in communities throughout the United States, we are getting faster all the time.

But sometimes we still lose the race.

During a heart attack, the heart is deprived of oxygen. The longer the heart goes with too little oxygen, the more muscle is lost, often irreversibly. This is what doctors mean when we say, “Time is muscle.” How quickly a patient receives treatment once heart attack symptoms appear often determines if he or she will make a full recovery, suffer heart muscle damage, or die.

Door to Balloon Signaled Success, or Did It?

This is why, a decade ago, healthcare professionals across the country set out to reduce the time it takes to treat heart attack patients once they arrive at the hospital. Since stopping a heart attack often involves balloon angioplasty to reopen the blocked artery, the effort was called the Door-to-Balloon (D2B) Initiative. This effort has prevented or limited heart damage for countless patients.

The D2B initiative involved making the healthcare system more efficient, more responsive and more effective, starting from the moment a heart attack patient comes to the attention of an emergency medical responder (EMR) answering a 9-1-1 call or presenting in the emergency department.  When D2B began, it often took more than two hours from the time a heart attack patient arrived at the hospital until he or she received life-saving treatment to reopen a blocked artery.

Now, 90 percent of patients who enter hospital doors receive treatment in less than 90 minutes and many are treated within 60, 30, even 15 minutes. [1]

D2B is one of healthcare’s greatest success stories. But, according to a new study [2], reducing D2B times has not been enough to significantly reduce mortality rates among heart attack patients.

What Happens Before the Hospital Door?

There are two sides to the time equation. Unfortunately, the part of the equation that has not improved enough is how long it takes patients to get to the hospital once heart attack symptoms start. Most patients wait two or more hours after heart attack symptoms appear to seek medical help. [3] Many patients are taking too long to call 9-1-1, placing themselves at risk of suffering irreversible heart damage or death.

We must do for Symptom-to-Door (S2D) Time what we have done so successfully for D2B. Revamping a system of care outside the hospital, however, is much different and perhaps more difficult than revamping a system of care within the hospital.

There have been myriad heart attack awareness programs, including online public education programs like SecondsCount.org, for which I am an editor, aimed at helping people understand the risks of heart attack, how to recognize the symptoms and why responding promptly is essential.

We have made progress. An increasing number of people know that chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and pain in the jaw, back or arm are often the first signs of heart attack. While I see more people who identified their symptoms early on, there are also many who remain unaware, are in denial or are just confused. Every day, I see patients who thought their symptoms “weren’t that bad” or explain them away as indigestion or a virus. I also see the toll that lost time takes in hearts damaged and lives lost.

Only 60 percent of patients contact emergency medical responders when experiencing symptoms. About 40 percent arrive at our hospitals on their own. [4] That’s dangerous, whether the patient is driving him- or herself. Or, even if a friend or relative is driving, it still represents a lost opportunity for treatment to begin in the ambulance, or to alert the doctors in the emergency room that a heart attack patient is on the way in.

Let’s Save More Hearts and Lives

To get started, here are a few thoughts on how we might reduce S2D:

  • We need a concerted national effort to reduce S2D time that establishes consistent messages rather than myriad programs offering incomplete or inconsistent information.
  • We must improve regional and statewide systems of care to coordinate heart attack care to ensure everyone gets the most expeditious care.
  • We need to better inform the people who are most at risk for heart attack or other heart issues about what symptoms to look for and what to do if they develop.
  • And, of course, we must continue our educational efforts, helping everyone to understand that if they are concerned they may be having a heart attack, then they should call 9-1-1 without delay and without concern about looking foolish if their symptoms turn out to be something other than a heart attack.  The alternative – sitting at home while having a heart attack, with heart muscle dying as the minutes tick by – would be far worse.

We’ve had remarkable success in reducing D2B times. But it’s not enough. To save hearts and lives, we must take on the other side of the heart attack challenge.

We’ve done it once. We can do it again.

1. Bates ER, Jacobs AK. Time to Treatment in Patients with STEMI. N Engl J Med 2013;369:889-892.
2. Menees DS, Peterson ED, Wang Y, et al. Door-to-balloon time and mortality among patients undergoing primary PCI. N Engl J Med 2013;369:901-9.
3.  Life After a Heart Attack. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
4.  http://nypress.com/forty-percent-do-not-call-911-survival-rates-show-every-minute-matters/, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1308772

Give Patients the Gift of Hope and Health by Supporting HealthWell for #GivingTuesday

We are proud to announce that the HealthWell Foundation – an independent 501(c)(3) charity that provides financial assistance to insured patients living with chronic and life-altering illnesses – is joining the #GivingTuesday campaign, which launches today. 100 percent of your donation to HealthWell goes directly to grants and services that will benefit patients in need across the country. This week we are sharing some powerful real-world examples of how your gift to HealthWell will help transform lives.

Lynn Harcharik

Lynn, who received financial assistance from HealthWell for cancer treatments.

As one of our country’s most trusted independent charities, we believe that no patient, including those living with cancer, should go without health care because they can’t afford it. By donating to HealthWell for #GivingTuesday, you’ll join us in making that commitment a reality that will change lives for the better, one patient at a time – just like Lynn.

It was ovarian cancer spreading to the colon. My husband called many places, no cancer society would help! One society asked what type of cancer it was, and replied: there are no funds for ovarian cancer – we cannot help. Another organization had already used their funds. It was very discouraging, but my oncologist’s secretary told us about the HealthWell Foundation. After calling and talking to your group, the answer was YES, you would help. (Thanks!) In October of 2008, reversal surgery was done with the ileostomy. And yes, the cancer came back, or maybe was not completely gone from before, but-more chemo! Thank you for being there in my time of need. My prayers are with your group and your work. Thanks!

– Lynn (Streator, IL)

We want to make a difference for even more patients like Lynn so they can access critical medical treatments and get better. But that can only happen with your support.

That’s why, for this year’s #GivingTuesday, we’re urging Real World Health Care (RWHC) Blog readers to donate to the HealthWell Foundation’s Emergency Cancer Relief Fund (ECRF). Your generous holiday gift will help ensure that patients living with cancer are not forced to choose between paying the rent or buying food and affording life-saving care.

So what, specifically, will your tax-deductible #GivingTuesday donation do? Giving to ECRF will bring us closer to meeting our $100,000 goal by the end of the year so the fund can open in January. We are almost halfway there with more than $46,000 raised so far. Every dollar counts, and with just a little more help, we will hit our goal so that more cancer patients can start 2014 off right.

To help more families and patients afford the urgent medical treatments they desperately need, we need you to support #GivingTuesday starting today. Please contribute as generously as you possibly can.

Thank you for giving the gift of health this holiday season.

Categories: Cost-Savings

MD and DO Medical Schools Consider Major Changes to Education Model

Experts from allopathic medical colleges (those that graduate MDs) and from osteopathic medical colleges (those that graduate DOs) have been actively exploring ways to lower the cost of medical and graduate school without sacrificing the quality of the education.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Groundbreaking recommendations were issued Monday that seek to improve osteopathic medical education in the U.S. and help fuel a new generation of primary care physicians who will be equipped to meet the demands of today’s changing health care landscape. One out of four students headed to medical school this fall are attending osteopathic medical school.

Released by the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) – a medical panel comprised of some of the nation’s leading experts in osteopathic medical education – the report (“A New Pathway in Medical Education”) coincides with publication of a related story in Health AffairsBRC aims to find a solution to the primary care physician shortage by transforming the osteopathic medical education model, reducing inefficiencies and addressing high costs as well as rising student debt.

Osteopathic physicians, or DOs, emphasize “helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention” through hands-on diagnosis and treatment, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). Licensed to practice in all 50 states, DOs work in various environments across specialties.

MD education experts also recognize an urgency for changing medical education. Transforming the way students are trained to practice medicine is key to improving access to quality care for patients, according to an October 30th Perspective article (“Are We in a Medical Education Bubble Market?”) that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The article underscores why lowering the cost of health care and reducing the cost of medical education go hand in hand.

“If we want to keep health care costs down and still have access to well-qualified physicians, we need to keep the cost of creating those physicians down by changing the way that physicians are trained,” the authors are quoted as saying in a news release from Penn Medicine. “From college through licensure and credentialing, our annual physician-production costs are high, and they are made higher by the long time we devote to training.” 

Cleveland Clinic, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Lead by Example
The Cleveland Clinic’s South Pointe Hospital is partnering with the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OUHCOM) to implement the BRC findings through a new pathway that has five components:

  • Focus on community needs served by primary care physicians.
    Emphasize primary prevention and improvement of public health to raise the quality and efficiency of care.
  • Advance based on knowledge, not years of study.
    Build a curriculum that centers on biomedical, behavioral and clinical science foundations so that the graduates’ readiness for practice can be better assessed through outcomes specific to medical education.
  • Boost clinical experience.
    Offer clinical experience from the first year instead of doing so later on. Increase responsibility throughout the training, and streamline training between undergraduate and graduate school to avoid redundancies and inefficiencies.
  • Require a range of experiences.
    These should include hospital, ambulance, and community health systems to provide the best learning experience.
  • Require modern health system literacy.
    Focus on health care delivery science including principles of high quality, high value, and outcomes-based health care environments.

Dr. Robert S. Juhasz, DO, president of South Pointe Hospital, says that Cleveland Clinic and OUHCOM will work to develop a curriculum that emphasizes early clinical contact to ensure “we are providing the right care, in the right setting for the right person at the right time.”

The partnership, Dr. Juhasz says, “will transform primary care education,” and go far to help shift the focus of medical education “toward competency-based rather than time-based education. We want learners to be engaged, practice-ready primary care physicians and be equipped to care for the communities they serve.”

South Pointe, which has trained DOs for 40 years, is renovating its facilities to now accommodate OUHCOM. Starting in July, 2015 it will train 32 osteopathic medical student residents per class.

The implications of BRC’s recommended changes, according to Dr. Juhasz, “will enhance our primary care base for delivery of care in a patient-centered model, increasing access and quality and reducing costs,” while also cultivating a learning environment that will “encourage more students to enter DO and find hope and joy in serving patients so that they will want to work in the area they train.”

Lead author of the NEJM article — David A. Asch, MD, MBA, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for Health Care Innovation at Penn Medicine — says that medical colleges can play a critical role in helping to avoid a burst in the “medical education bubble.” One solution is for schools to lower the cost of tuition and reduce high debt-to-income ratios that could discourage medical students from pursuing careers in fields where more physicians are needed, including primary care.

“Doctors do well financially,” he says, “but the cost of becoming a doctor is rising faster than the benefits of being a doctor, and that is catching up to primary care more quickly than orthopedics, and that ratio is close to overtaking the veterinarians.”

Now tell us what you think. What ways do you think medical school could be overhauled? What incentives can be provided to attract more students to study medicine and become doctors, particularly in primary care, to help reduce the rising provider shortage?

Help A Sick Child this Holiday Season

No family should ever have to wonder whether they can afford to save their child’s life, but that very question haunts families all over the country, every day. Through the HealthWell Pediatric Assistance Fund,® however, we are working to change that — because no adult or child should go without health care because they can’t afford it.

In just two months, the HealthWell Foundation awarded  grants of up to $5,000 to more than 20 families. These grants help children like Anna, who was born with a rare disorder affecting the brain known as Sturge-Weber Syndrome. A grant from Pediatric Assistance Fund eased the financial burden that Anna’s family faced after the radical surgery she underwent to help stop her seizures and stroke-like episodes. Now instead of having to choose between paying the bills and affording life-saving treatment, Anna’s family can focus on her recovery and watching her grow up.

Photo (left): Earlier this year, Anna had surgery for a rare brain disorder. Photo (right): Now she is back home, seizure free -- healing and growing.

Photo (left): Earlier this year, Anna had surgery for a rare brain disorder.
Photo (right): Now she is back home, seizure free — healing and growing.

We want to empower even more families just like Anna’s, so they can afford the treatments their children desperately need. That’s why, during this season of giving, we’re urging you to donate to the Pediatric Assistance Fund so we can help the next family, just in time for the holidays. 100 percent of your tax-deductible gift will go directly to patient grants and services to help children start or continue critical medical treatments.

In the following letter, Anna’s mom Mary from Delta, Pennsylvania, shares the challenges of affording care for their little girl and the big difference that HealthWell’s Pediatric Assistance Fund grant made in their lives:

Our daughter, Anna was born with a birthmark on her face and scalp. The doctors suspected there was more to the story. A CT scan of her head confirmed the diagnosis of Sturge-Weber Syndrome, a rare disorder affecting the brain. We spent the next few weeks as new parents trying to understand our beautiful little girl and the rare disease she had. When she was just 3 weeks old, she had her first set of seizures. It was terrifying to see her little body so out of control. She was admitted to the hospital and started on medication. The doctors were able to control the seizures, but never for too long.

Since that first seizure many years ago, we have celebrated many days without seizures and suffered through the days when they eventually returned. We changed medications, avoided activity that might over fatigue her, struggled through specialized diets and prayed for a cure. In January, Anna was scheduled to undergo a radical surgery to remove the diseased half of her brain. We knew this could offer her a future without seizures, but we also knew the incredible cost we faced.

With the help of the HealthWell Foundation, Anna had her surgery. She is back home, seizure free – healing and growing. Our family has been able to focus our attention on Anna’s recovery knowing the financial burden has been reduced.

We are so grateful for the financial support the HealthWell Foundation has offered to us. With their help, we are able to celebrate the wonderful little girl God has blessed us with and we look forward to her bright future.

Give to the Pediatric Assistance Fund today so we can make life a little easier for more families with children facing chronic or life-altering conditions.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Experts Say More Med Students Good News for U.S. Health Care

Fresh data released just last week demonstrates that new student enrollment at medical schools is on the rise nationwide.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) announced Thursday that the total number of those who applied to and were accepted into medical school grew by 6.1 percent this year to a record 48,014. This figure beats out
— by 1,049 students — the previous all-time high set in 1996. The AAMC, which represents U.S. hospitals, health systems, Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, academic societies and 141 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools, also found that:

  • The number of first-time applicants climbed to 35,727 (5.5 percent increase).
  • The number of students enrolled in their first year of medical school went past 20,000 for the first time. 

“At a time when the nation faces a shortage of more than 90,000 doctors by the end of the decade and millions are gaining access to health insurance, we are very glad that more students than ever want to become physicians. However, unless Congress lifts the 16-year-old cap on federal support for residency training, we will still face a shortfall of physicians across dozens of specialties,” AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D. said in a statement. “Students are doing their part by applying to medical school in record numbers. Medical schools are doing their part by expanding enrollment. Now Congress needs to do its part and act without delay to expand residency training to ensure that everyone who needs a doctor has access to one.”

Record-breaking enrollment is also being seen at colleges of osteopathic medicine, where 20% of medical students are enrolled. Although they make up a smaller number of students, their growth rates increased even faster. In an announcement released Wednesday by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), experts say this trend will help offset the looming primary care crisis that will result from a growing shortfall in the number of doctors.

Enrollment at colleges of osteopathic medicine has almost doubled over the past decade, with the number of students who applied this year hitting 16,454. Other key findings, according to AACOM, show that:

  • Osteopathic medical colleges saw an 11.1 percent increase in first-year student enrollment for 2013, bringing total enrollment to 22,054.
  • 4,726 new osteopathic physicians graduated this past spring, representing an increase of more than 50% over the number of such graduates 10 years ago.

“Because large numbers of new osteopathic physicians become primary care physicians, often in rural and underserved areas, I’m hopeful that the osteopathic medical profession can help the nation avoid a primary care crisis and help alleviate growing physician shortages,” Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH, President and CEO of AACOM, said in a statement. “Interest in osteopathic medical education is at an all-time high.”

Primary care physicians are expected to be hit harder than any other specialty, with a projected shortage of about 50,000 by 2025. 

So what exactly is osteopathic medicine and osteopathic physicians (DOs)? According to AACOM, which represents the nation’s 30 colleges of osteopathic medicine at 40 locations in 28 states, DOs offer a comprehensive, holistic approach to medical care.

One in five medical students are now enrolled in osteopathic medical schools, and this percentage will grow even more as new campuses open and colleges continue to expand to keep pace with more students.

Now it’s your turn. What are potential advantages and disadvantages of more medical school graduates – to cost, care and access? Will the rise in new enrollment be enough to offset expected physician shortages? Tell us what you think.