Archive for the ‘Hospitals’ category

Engage With Grace

November 26th, 2010

Excerpts from: Chapter 18 of  Taking the Hell out of Healthcare

by Nick Jacobs

When Dying is Finally Enough


The Dichotomy of Death

On Thursday evenings from 1970 until 1975 there was a standing invitation to play pool at Jim’s Dad’s house.  Now, the truth of the matter was that, as young school teachers, most of us barely owned houses, let alone a pool table, so one of my colleagues parents’ opened their home to allow us to have some safe recreation. During those innocent days of my mid twenties, many of the world’s problems were solved. Jim’s father was a wise old philosopher in his early sixties,  a retired coal miner who loved to be around the kids.

One night, we began discussing religion, faith, and death as we mechanically yelled out lines like “16 in the side pocket.”  The discussion became particularly heated when it came to hypocrisy of our healthcare system. We kids or at least this kid listened in amazement as old Carl explained how life was in the old days. His relatives from the old country had salves and ointments, herbs and mustard plasters that took care of virtually every ailment known to man, and when they failed and death was inevitable, death was accepted. He used to laugh and say, “But now, everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

It was then that the subject changed to today where there was truly a cure for nearly everything, or so it seemed at age 23.  Get sick? Take a pill or get a shot. But then, a few weeks earlier, my father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was given less than a three percent chance of survival. As Carl and I discussed this situation, he put his arm on my shoulder, and wished me luck. At 58, my dad was still a young man, and neither my education, my prayers, nor my love would be able to save him.

The American way of death seems to be that death is not acceptable at any age, at any time or for any reason. Death is rarely seen as the inevitable future that we all face. Our American system of death is that it should not  happen. Death is no longer accepted as part of life. Oh, yes, we hear those words, but when it is our loved one, they are very difficult to embrace or articulate.

Our medical schools, our nursing schools, our technology schools train  our students in most cases that death is failure. This is why we have a system of health care that is crumbling under our very eyes. Through drugs, machines, and other advances, we have the ability to allow individuals to live longer than ever in the history of mankind. It is absolute reality that more people will have an opportunity to live longer than 100 years of age than ever in history, but at what cost, and with what degree of quality?

Engage With Grace - The One Slide - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing Hospitals - Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare

Because of our culture, we fight death until we are shocked by it, and the result is that we, as families miss the wonderful opportunity to allow our loved one a peaceful, beautiful, comforting transition.

Palliative care, a.k.a., hospice care, provides that transition.  In a hospice program, we experience love in all forms until death. Hospice provides a womb-like environment where love can replace fear, where family can be the center of that love, and where the transition can be a beautiful, healing journey for everyone involved so that it becomes a peaceful transition.

What Can You Do?

Do your personal homework. Begin to talk to your loved ones early on about their wishes.  Make those wishes as clear as you can. Do not be fearful that anyone will let you die before your time. Trust that your family or friends can support you in your intentions, and be sure that you put everything in writing that you possibly can. Most importantly, however, try to find peace with yourself.

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Is Saint Vincent’s Just the Beginning?

November 9th, 2010

In an article in New York magazine by Mark Levine entitled, “St. Vincent’s Is the Lehman Brothers of Hospitals,” we are taken on an extremely in-depth and comprehensive review of the sickness and death of one of New York City’s oldest hospitals. It is not my intent to re-create or completely paraphrase this incredible article, but only to select a few of the most poignant facts that literally jumped off the pages and painted a reality for me that was not restricted to the hospitals of New York City.

Photo Credit: Associated Press via WSJ.com

A worker removes signage from now-closed St. Vincent's Hospital.



Mr. Levine’s research revealed that “In 2008, local hospitals spent $3 billion more delivering care than they took in.” He also found that New York hospitals carried twice as much debt in relation to net assets as hospitals around the country, and that, — this is no surprise, as various New York City hospitals close, “the health of low-income and minority residents will be most affected.”

In this commentary, he listed a myriad reasons why these facts represent reality. Included is the $600 per square foot construction costs, outrageous malpractice premiums that are double the national average, 15% higher staffing levels than in other areas, CEO salaries that in some cases have reached nearly $10M per year, daunting demographic challenges, a lack of private physicians living in most communities, lengths of stay that, once again, are at least a day longer than other U.S. hospitals, the 1.4 million New Yorkers who have no health insurance, decreasing Medicaid rates, and a private insurance network that makes considerably more on its New York hospitals than is the case in other geographic areas.

Interestingly enough, as we forged our way through this comprehensive history of how the City system has devolved over the past thirty or so years, we were taken on a journey that is not unfamiliar to many of us in hospital administration. As government swung from socialized (as Mr. Levine states…with a small “s”) medicine to shock-therapy free market, to increased costs in competition, physician recruitment, technology build-up (a build-up that he referred appropriately to as the “medical arms race“), and more movement toward outpatient care, it is very clear that New York City’s hospitals crisis is just one view of a dysfunctional healthcare system that is clearly on a path that could eventually lead to collapse for not only the system, but also for the economy of the country as well.

New York City’s hospitals crisis is just one view of a dysfunctional healthcare system that is clearly on a path that could eventually lead to collapse for not only the system, but also for the economy of the country as well.

This paragraph is one of the most telling paragraphs in the article, “The way forward seems perfectly, if brutally, clear. With private insurers under pressure to cover more patients yet not hike premiums, with federal and state governments facing record deficits, and in a local industry climate with free-market survivalism, many New York (substitute U.S.) hospitals won’t be able to generate sufficient revenue to restore themselves to financial health.”

Image Credit: gothamgazette.com - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - HealingHospitals.com

Interestingly enough, the conclusions reached regarding survival embrace numerous ways of doing business that were not entirely foreign to many hospitals. Included were such concepts as: moving more toward outpatient care in less expensive locations, more follow-up care to keep patients from returning, reduction of unnecessary testing, employment of and profit sharing with physicians, and additional methods of dealing with “the tyranny of insurance companies.

Steps such as measuring nursing hours, housekeepers per square foot, food service people per meals delivered, and embracing the entire model of industrial efficiency were all suggested contributors to the bottom line.

Mr. Levine also granted partial sainthood to a profoundly bullying management style of one CEO who cut services that didn’t make profits, eliminated catering to the poor and “told doctors where to go.”

All of this plays perfectly into the story that I had lived and am currently telling across these United States and beyond; that dignity, prevention and wellness, attention to human and humane detail, the removal of autocratic leadership, and patient and employee-centered care — all enveloped in a spirit of entrepreneurship — can prevail.

That integrative and holistic medicine practices will contribute to taking us out of the current crisis and into a health care delivery system that will be the design for this century and beyond. Of course, we need malpractice reform; we need more control over big pharma and most importantly, we need to provide some type of safety net for those without coverage, but the path to survival is not simply one of a “business model.” It is a path to a humane model, a creative model that embraces people, embraces wellness, embraces humanness in creative, meaningful ways.

Perhaps hospitals are not being killed, but rather are committing slow suicide by following their “Calf Paths” from the past.

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On The Road Again

November 2nd, 2010

I’ve been living in hotels and airports lately speaking at and visiting Planetree hospitals in places like Colorado, Alaska and Iowa.  I’ve had some really fascinating and also some creepy experiences. For example, a few weeks ago, I was eaten by bed bugs in Denver. My legs looked like they were Thanksgiving dinner for someone. I was so freaked out from that experience that I threw away my suitcases and kept my clothes in the dryer until they could fit my granddaughter’s Ken doll.  I’m happy to report, however, that I’m bedbug free now. The down side? I really haven’t had a good night’s sleep in any hotel bed since then.

1919 Classic American Root Beer - Nick Jacobs - Healing Hospitals blogWhat else have I observed?  Last week, while traveling in Iowa, I learned about a drink called 1919.  I thought that it was a stronger version of a 7 & 7, but it turned out that it was root beer —Classic American Draft Root Beer.   Also, for the first time in years, I noticed that every table in almost every restaurant had Thousand Island salad dressing. Everyone seemed to like waffle fries, too; these are French fries that are cut to look like little waffles. By the end of the week, I was saying things like, “I’d like a salad with Thousand Island dressing, a plate of waffle fries, and a 1919.” (Sorry, Dr. Ornish. )

This hospital in Waverly, Iowa was incredible.  It was beautiful, warm, and filled with really friendly, competent employees.  Iowans also claim the honor of being the fourth windiest state in the union, but I think that notoriety only came after my speech.  They can claim Johnny Carson, Buffalo Bill Cody, Herbert Hoover, Ann Landers and John Wayne as theirs, too.  The very most interesting find?  The Quaker Oats factory is in Cedar Rapids.

The week before, while making a speech at Central Peninsula Hospital in Alaska, I noticed that everyone’s eyes had left both my presentation and me and were focusing on the scene that was taking place outside of the panoramic window behind me.   Imagine, gorgeous, snow capped mountains with glaciers tucked in between them feeding a glacier lake.   One of the employees explained to me that a seal had emerged with a halibut the size of a Volkswagen hood in its mouth while several bald eagles swooped down at the seal and grabbed bites of the halibut right out of its mouth.  It was like the Disney movie, “Seal Island,” or maybe it was like “The Muppets Kitchen?”  Anyway, it was fairly amazing to watch, and I was glad I was NOT the seal, but even more delighted that I was not the halibut.

Photo credit: http://www.alaska-bear-viewing.net

Photo credit: http://www.alaska-bear-viewing.net

After the meeting was over, two of the administrators in attendance were taking a small fishing boat to some island nearby, and then, were going hiking into the woods where they planned to go deer hunting among the bears. Read that line again; they were going deer hunting with the bears, the very big, grizzly bears.  The up side of that trip is that the deer there are very BIG. The down side is that the bears are bigger.  These guys explained to me that a lot of time, the bears decide to try to eat both the harvested deer and the non-harvested deer hunters.  It’s at times like that when being able to run faster than your hunting partner is probably important.

Where to next?  Pittsburgh for a panel for the American College of Healthcare Executives at Station Square, then a panel for the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine in San Diego, and finally, Fort Myers, Florida for work on a bio-tech center.

I’ve decided to carry a very large flashlight and a very small bottle of bourbon, with some sand.  I’m thinking that the bed bugs will get drunk and try to stone each other to death.

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$500 Billion From Where?

October 26th, 2010

In a recent conversation with a long time healthcare CEO, he made the following observation:

“There are about 2,750 pages to Obamacare.  I have no idea what the implications are of the first 2,700 pages, but I do know that at least 50 pages allude to the fact that $500B will be cut from hospital reimbursements in order to support the new legislation, and it’s also clear that these monies will be cut based upon quality.  Pay-for-performance will be the new catch phrase of the reimbursement world, and our peers are not ready for this stark reality.”

How does one move from a non-transparent system to one that allows anyone to log onto healthcare websites and search every detail relating to the success rates, scores, and capabilities of any given institution?  One very obvious “missing element” in hospital-related problems is the lack of dedication to getting to the “root cause” of most issues.  We are great at work arounds, but rarely take the time, energy, and have the cultural commitment to dig deeply enough to literally stop the root cause of the problem.  Is that why there are a reported 98,000 people killed by our facilities, and about an equal number injured each year?


Several organizations have attempted to take on these issues, but few have gone beyond scratching the surface of the real problems.  As bundled payments become the norm, a commitment to getting the highest available reimbursement for procedures will take on a new meaning.  Imagine a great doctor in an under-performing medical center where his or her work is not rewarded equally to a peer in a stronger hospital, because that bundled reimbursement was lowered due to institutional medical imperfections. Charles Kenney in  The Best Practice, and Steven Spear in The High-Velocity Edge have both addressed some of the nuances of this new culture, this new world order, but for hospital administrators, physicians, and staff to “get their arms around it,”  there will need to be transformational shifts in the fundamental culture of the organization.

Leadership will be forced to accept personal responsibility for virtually everything that occurs in an organization.  Employees will need to be empowered to embrace shared values, and key targets such as patient and employee safety will need to be identified so that goals can be set that stop nothing short of a level of complete PERFECTION.

The healthcare establishment will also need to embrace transparency within their organizations, and that information must be shared with everyone.  Most importantly, it must include the human element.  What is the human impact of each and every error or mistake?  This point alone will represent a major cultural shift in the way we do business.

Truman's phrase "The Buck Stops Here" - F. Nicholas Jacobs, FACHE

Employees, physicians, and administrators will need to actually be taught to see risk, and be provided with data upon which actions may be taken.  Most importantly, however, problem solving must be encouraged and supported at every level of the organization.

How is this all possible?  I was recently on a speaking tour to several hospitals, and the bottom line at these facilities was that their leadership was “new age.”  They had worked diligently to decrease the hierarchy and to reduce and reorganize the roles of those in operations in order to support the fastest possible improvements.

The tsunami is coming, however slowly it may appear to be; it is approaching our healthcare shores, and quality – no, perfection, is the only means left for achieving success or, in many cases, is the only way to survive.  We must discipline ourselves to see problems and not simply try to work around them.  We must establish a problem solving culture.  We must set our goals and empower all of the players to do what is needed to solve these problems once and forever.  Harry Truman’s phrase, “The Buck Stops Here,” should become every CEO’s mantra, and the journey will finally begin, the journey to solve the myriad repeating problems in our current system.

Nick Jacobs, FACHE - HealingHospitals.com

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The Obligation is Real

September 21st, 2010

On Saturday night a group of people will gather at a restaurant  for a celebration of life since graduation from high school. I won’t be there. Neither will Joe, Butch, Tommy and half a dozen others,  but their absence is for a very different reason: they have passed away. I, on the other hand, will just be passing. So, why not go this year?

Nick Jacobs, FACHE at the beach with his grandchildrenWell, it’s a kid thing. You see, part of my birthday present to each of my kids was an overnight stay at a resort with their spouses, and, low and behold, there is no one to watch three of the grandkids and the brand new chocolate lab; no one, that is, but me. Why would I sacrifice the opportunity to hang with my old buddies for the chance to change diapers, mop up housebreaking accidents, and argue over bathing and bedtime issues?  Why?  Because it was part of the commitment, that kid commitment.  They will be my kids until either I die or they do, and with that come certain obligations that are real.

Why bother you with all of this personal blog stuff?  It’s about obligations.

The other day, a bright young man met with me at lunch to ask me questions about the American Healthcare System. Interestingly enough, I don’t believe that  my answers were what he had expected. You see, we have certain beliefs about our rights to generate, earn, and receive money in this country. What is missing, however, is a realistic reward system that aligns the appropriate reimbursements with the actual needs of the country. When he asked me how many hospitals would invest in purchasing his product, one that might help to eliminate hospital infections, my response was “Not many.”

You see, with obligatory bottom line orientations, many of the hospital CEO’s and CFO’s are not anxious to spend money on a  product that might work.  More importantly, with a lack of transparency, the public exposure that most organizations have relative to this infection problem is still somewhat limited.  It was easy to explain that if “St. Elsewhere” was exposed for having a 24% infection rate, not unlike a five star hotel having bed bugs, you can darn well bet that something would be done and done quickly, but the issue is not so pressing when it is under the basket.

Over the last few years, I have lost some wonderful friends who have had fantastic surgeries at highly respected hospitals.  These surgeries would have been impossible to have in a “normal” hospital, but, having said that, two of them died and one lingered near death for two years due to the infections they acquired there.

If this was widely publicized public knowledge, might he be able to sell more product?  The question was rhetorical and the answer is absolutely, positively, yes. So, back to obligations. Why is it that we must be exposed in order to become aggressive about serious problems in our systems?  The answer is simple: It costs money, and resource allocation is the number one challenge of most hospitals.  Hence my point about our financial incentives.  If we were reimbursed, rewarded and paid, not in an unconnected, cottage industry manner, our treatment regimes and protocols would change.  If we knew that it would be our financial responsibility to amputate limbs for advanced diabetes, would we be more eager to spend money on wellness initiatives?

Truthfully, it’s our obligation, and, as our fellow human beings suffer, we are currently seeing a movement toward political groups intent upon repealing reform measures. That is a backward view of an already complex challenge. It is our obligation to help our fellow man. “Do unto others …or pray you don’t lose your health insurance.”

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

September 9th, 2010

American Healthcare Magazine - September 6, 2010 - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - HealingHospitals.comThe Modern Healthcare edition of September 6, 2010 has a cover headline that reads: “Passing the Buck,” and the descriptor goes on to explain that “Yet a new report says workers’ share of benefit costs is skyrocketing.”  The actual opening line of the article starts with “Workers are shouldering more of the costs of health coverage than ever before amid stagnant wages and a weak economy”…

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Patient Advocacy, a subject about which I am passionate. So, this blog is about patient and employee advocacy that also provides additional resources for hospitals to help them address the current economic challenges.

Every year when we looked at our medical insurance costs at my hospital, a politically incorrect friend would jokingly suggest that we begin an annual, required participation August Tennis Tournament for our high-utilization employees, but only after the temperatures reached at least 95 degrees.  “It would be a thinning of the herd,” he would jokingly say with an elf-like smile on his face.  We would then get serious and dig into a long list of creative ideas aimed at helping contain these costs so that we would not have to lower benefits or pass the charges on to the employees.

Included in these lists were some rather simple ideas such as offering, in a structured manner, the wellness options covered under our health insurance umbrella and generally rewarding our employees for taking better care of themselves.  We significantly reduced fees for the workout facility (1/3 of the regular cost ), provided personalized counseling from our dietitians, had a weight loss contest and gave rewards for taking classes on stress management, smoking cessation, diabetes control and exercise.

We offered psychological counseling for our employees who were suffering from stress related issues.  Our food service vendor, CURA, made sure that “no transfats” were a part of the hospital’s meals, that there were always low-fat vegetarian choices on every menu, that snacks were reasonable and that our vending machines had healthy choices. We also celebrated life and work on a regular basis.   We had cook-outs, off-stage break rooms, massage, aroma, Reiki, pet and music therapy.  We provided drum circles, non-denominational spiritual services and meditation classes; kick boxing, Pilates, pool therapy, and employee parties.

So, short of forced tennis matches, how else can we control these costs?  The following is a summary of a program that SunStone Consulting is currently offering with two other business partners, CBIZ and InforMed.

Over the past 6 years, the average annual health insurance cost increase for InforMed-supported patient advocacy programs has run at 4.5%, compared to the 10-12% trend for all employers.  In the case where a hospital with 1,500 employees is paying out about $10,000,000 a year for employee health insurance, a 5% savings over a three year period would generate $3.3 million in savings.  Let me repeat that:  By lowering those  premium increases by 5%, there would be over three million extra dollars available for hospital financial needs and co-pays and deductibles for the employees would not have to continue to escalate by 13 to 15% annually.

The Patient Advocate logo (California) - Nick Jacobs, FACHEThe care management “engagement” rate of all the major insurance companies is about 30%. That means that the insurance company-based “help programs” are about 1/3 effective in even reaching the employees.  This non-insurance company based program, however, has a 70% engagement rate of identified large claimants, more than double the insurance company’s rate, and with over 1 million employees in this program, they produce a 98% patient satisfaction rate.

By employing local, trained, patient advocacy nurses, paying physicians a monthly stipend out of the savings to help manage these patient/employees, and then helping those high utilization patients legitimately navigate through the nine to fifteen physicians with whom they interact on an annual basis, health systems are seeing tremendous savings.  (Kind of the Best of Managed Care scenario.)

These are clear, actionable items that will positively change a bottom line quickly and permanently without having to increase the financial burden on the employees.

Why not try it?  It works.

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And one more thing . . .

August 12th, 2010

These blog posts are supposed to be directed toward creating healing hospitals. That objective seems to be compromised from time to time as I post genuine opportunities for hospital CFO’s and CEO’s to trim monies from their budgets, to find money that their hospitals should have received, or to initiate new ventures that will create additional, positive economic yields for their facilities.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t help myself.

One of my “gifts” as a CEO was to always find ways to pay for the challenges that we faced so that new ideas, new modalities and  new healing techniques could be introduced to our healthcare environmentI even wrote a book about it. Interestingly, the biggest push back that I experience when presenting to my former peers is that bottom line, no nonsense question: “How the heck are we supposed to pay for this stuff?”

The Benefits of Healing Hospitals

View more presentations from Nick Jacobs.

Over the years I’ve prepared charts, graphs, and narratives demonstrating the dramatic growth patterns, the huge economic surpluses, the wonderful bottom lines that were generated by embracing a “healing” philosophy, but those of you who have been lured by “snake oil salesmen” in your past lives are very leary that my passionate dialogue is simply that, dialogue. You have  no  reason to believe me when I say that improving your employee morale will improve your patient satisfaction scores. Of course it’s common sense, but if you’re too nice to your employees, they’ll think you’re a push over and they’ll take advantage of you, right?  Well, after 22 years of niceness, the one thing I can tell you is that niceness can be confused with weakness, and that needs clarification early on in your journey.

You see, my recent devotion to the economics of healthcare was prompted by the knowledge that you will be treating much larger quantities of patients for less reimbursement. Consequently, new streams of funding will be imperative. For example, the annual amount of discretionary healthcare dollars spent on integrative and holistic medicine is well into the double-digit billions of dollars.  Logic would tell you that at least a percentage of these dollars could be spent at your facilities.  The downside is that your patients have not been used to paying cash for anything except co-pays, but the reality is that “they will pay,” if the service is meaningful, helpful, and healing; money simply becomes a way to get them there.

Wellness Wheel - Image credit: Marquette UniversityIf you, however, don’t believe that massage is good for you, don’t believe that some people respond well to acupuncture or Reiki, don’t care that aroma therapy, floral essences, or pet, music and humor therapy have a place in “legitimate medicine,” that’s a problem, a personal problem.  Go on vacation to some place like Canyon Ranch, and let go for a few days.  Allow yourself to be open to new modalities.  The body and mind can work extremely well together . . . if you’ll just give them a chance.  More importantly, you can generate additional funds for your facilities that will result in additional growth in market share, in patient loyalty, and in patient and employee  satisfaction.

So, this week’s tip . . . financial transaction services: Over 1/4 of your facilities daily financial transactions are completed electronically.  We are currently providing the interface for your financial transactions that will reduce your costs of doing electronic business exponentially.  It is seamless, requires no interruption of your current banking relationships, and invisible to the patients and your staff, but why, for example, would you pay 4.5% if you could complete the same transaction for 2.5%?  It’s savings that can contribute to your bottom line to allow you to supplement your staff with those individuals who can add additional depth, healing activities, and peace of mind to your patients’ experiences.

It’s all good.

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Could We Do It Better?

August 8th, 2010

Several months ago, I met a white-haired gentleman of average stature at a meeting.  When I asked him what he did, he replied, “I’m a patient advocate.”  “So am I,” I said. “I even wrote a book, Taking the Hell out of Healthcare’ about it.  “Yes,” he continues, “but I found a way to make a living from doing this.”  His name is Harry and he is an actuary.  In those yin and yang posters, that would put us at opposite ends of the proverbial left brain/right brain spheres.  He had analyzed health care records for about thirty years and could prove what we all know, that between 5 and 7% of our employees use up about 80% of our healthcare dollars. That, my friends, is not rocket science.   All you need to do is hang around some sick people for a while, and you’ll realize that “our system” is set up to keep doing things to them over and over again.  Usually, it’s not to help them eliminate the problem, but to maintain their life in a chronically challenged situation.

Ryan Is An Actuary.  Look It Up. Flickr photo credit: evaxebra - © all rights reserved

Flickr photo credit: evaxebra © all rights reserved

So, I asked Harry what he does, and he indicated that he hires nurses, pays doctors and employs “MANAGED CARE’S GREATEST HITS.”   Now every health insurance company in the world will claim the same thing, but everyone who has ever been turned down for anything by any health insurance company knows that: 1.) the bottom line reason was usually their bottom line, or: 2.) it’s a nurse against your doc, and your doc has not employed all of the verbal and intellectual tricks to convince him or her to allow you to have the test or take the drug that he thinks you need.

Harry went on to explain that these “5  percenters”  usually have anywhere from nine to fifteen docs with whom they interact on a yearly basis, and, not coincidentally, these physicians usually don’t do a great deal of interacting with each other, hence the need for patient advocates.  This is where Harry’s nurses come into the picture.  He assigns a nurse to each high-risk patient, allows the patient to pick their “favorite quarterback doc,” and then pays that physician to help hold down the duplication of unnecessary tests.  Makes sense, huh?  I can just hear my Internal Medicine physician saying, “Nick, you don’t need those 13 other chest x-rays this month, the first one will do fine for all of us.”

Interestingly enough, this system WORKS, and it works pretty darn well because it’s not about saving money for the insurance company;  it’s not about depriving the patient of needed tests;  it’s not about controlling the patient, or preventing him or her from having what they need, but it is about eliminating wholly unnecessary tests, meds, and procedures.  Harry had letter after letter from grateful patients, families, and employers thanking his people for helping them navigate their way through the maze of this very complex, sometimes-disconnected, procedure-oriented system.

The other interesting thing is that Harry likes to go to a town and start first with the hospitals, because their employees are the most comfortable with using everything, and have the easiest access to the most doctors.  It’s a great way to prove  the system works.  From that point on, he then works to bring all of the major employers into the fold, and ties them into the primary hospitals.  It’s something that only an actuary could have accomplished, because, as Harry readily states, “It’s taken me about 30 years to perfect this system.”  The patient is protected from being over-tested in an indiscriminate manner; the hospitals or businesses save a considerable amount of money, thus limiting reases in their annual healthcare costs, and the savings are cumulative over the years.  So, why not try something that will improve the employee morale, patient satisfaction, and quality?

If you are interested in learning more about this program, give me a call.

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Modern Healthcare’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell”

August 1st, 2010

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The July 19th edition of Modern Healthcare had a very revealing article by Melanie Evans entitled “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The cut line under that title was “A third of physicians in a  study don’t feel obligated to report impaired [fellow] docs.”  Ms. Evans went on to describe the fact that the word impaired refers to drugs, alcohol or mental illness.  The study was from the Journal of the American Medical Association and it queried nearly 1,900 physicians.  Having been involved with the management of hospitals for over two decades, the results of this study shocked me.  Not because I didn’t believe it was possible; not because I didn’t believe there could be a problem but because it was clearly not my experience.  Yes, there were impaired physicians, administrators and staff members, but the programs available to them were comprehensive, thorough and unending.

If the question was posed, “Is there a problem with drugs, alcohol, and mental illness among physicians?,” my answer would have been  yes.  The same, however, is true of administrators, staff and employees.  None of those exposed to an environment that intersects with life and death issues on a daily basis and that requires the incredibly long hours necessary to keep the  proverbial “wheels on the bus” is without risk of these problems.  Add to that the relative ease of going  from one “friend” to another to get the prescription that is needed, and we have created a potential formula for disaster.

The seriousness of the outcomes derived from this series of questions is not something that any of us “in the business” is in any way ignoring.  It is real.  It definitely could result in injury andor death through medical errors.  So, the question becomes one of management, monitoring and self-policing.  The airline industry pays very close attention to the impairment of their pilots. Why?  Their crashes are typically not between one pilot and one passenger.  They are large, emotional events that impact literally thousands of lives.

When will the medical community begin to embrace the same standards as the airline industry?  It seems to me that we are currently “on  the move toward that objective now,” and as the public and government put more and more pressure on the healthcare industry to be transparent, it will become harder and harder to hide those shadow surgeries that went wrong  or those mis-diagnosed cases that could be traced back to impaired professionals.

Image credit: Edie Falco as Nurse Jackie - (c) Showtime Networks

The Modern Healthcare article ended with the statement that doctors “need more education on programs that evaluate and manage treatment and monitoring for impaired doctors.”  I agree . . . in this case, more is better, but how many “Nurse Jackies” (i.e., the hypothetical impaired employees) do we have flying low throughout our facilities as well?  The healthcare industry needs to pay attention to all of its impaired at all levels.

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Overexposure to Radiation

July 12th, 2010

When I saw this…

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Ever since a surge in cases of patient exposure to excess amounts of radiation during diagnostic procedures, pressure has been mounting for healthcare providers and equipment manufacturers. The FDA has already taken action, including a call for stepped-up training for practitioners and a more stringent approval process for radiation-emitting equipment.

Antique X-Ray machine used to determine shoe size

Antique x-ray machine used to determine children's shoe sizes. Photo credit: desertsurvivor.blogspot.com

…I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Overexposure to radiation is something I’ve thought about for many years.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that, short of cancer victims, I’d be the poster child for this for Boomers.  Let me count the ways.  Every time I went to my family doc as a kid for anything except a strain or a splinter, he’d zap me with the fluoroscope,  just for good measure.  Then, when we went shopping at Buster Brown’s, in order to determine my foot length and width,  I’d get my feet x-rayed.  After that, I played too much trumpet and had to have my lip radiated because of a blemish that wouldn’t go away.  There were at least seven radiation sessions with Dr. Jacob, a dermatologist who reminded me of Dr. Jekyll.  He zapped me because that’s what they did in “those days” for blemishes.  He would lay me on the table, cover me in lead, and zap my lip with radiation.  Thank goodness for the lead.

As a young adult, my Internal Medicine doctor had his own x-ray equipment and used to say, “Okay, time for your chest x-ray.”  Problem was, he did it every single time I went to him.   Once, however, when I went there, there was no x-ray.  I asked the nurse why and she laughed and said, “Oh, that old piece of junk…it was zapping all of us with radiation.”   Later that week I heard on the radio that he had donated his unit to a small hospital.

As a teacher, chest x-rays were a requirement.  We would be invited to go onto an old x-ray bus every two years and they would light us up on a piece of x-ray equipment that probably put out more radiation than the bombs dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. All in the name of TB checks.

Bronchitis visited me regularly over the past several decades, and chest x-rays were always part of those visits. So were dental x-rays, over and over and over again. The MRIs do things a little differently, but I’m sure there’s still some type of telltale exposure there, and I’ve had three or four of those. Annual physicals now include chest x-rays, thallium stress tests, et al, and visits to the bone docs required x-rays, too.  Oh yeah, and the heart caths?  They fill you with dye and then they light you up with the ol’ fluoroscope… did that three times.

And don’t forget the “new fangled invention that’s perfectly safe,” the heart screening on the 2, 16, 64 and then 128 slice PET/CTs. Did that three times, too.

BUT let’s get to the real exposure — playing in the sunshine, sans any type of sun tan lotion or sun screen.  Okay, I guess that’s an exaggeration.  We used to mix Merthiolate with baby oil, or sometimes just use baby oil to ensure a nice brown cooked look.  Every year I looked like a half Italian coffee bean.  It was more than a tan.  It was a deep fried, make your teeth look whiter than snow, fun in the sun, ain’t wearin’ no shirt, nature is good for you, sun tan with burns that preceded the tans every year.

HealingHospitals.com - Overexposure to Radiation - Nick Jacobs, FACHE

So, when people tell me to eat organic, I smile and think, “Yep, that will erase all of those rads that filled me up like a Rocky Mountain boulder,” but I do what they say and just wait and pray that the radiation devil will not come my way.  If the sickness won’t kill you, the cure will, and that’s the truth.  At least you won’t ever need a night light.

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