Archive for February, 2010

Inflationary Indices

February 19th, 2010

As the pulse is still an indicator of health in human beings and other animals, health care-related inflationary indices can be a measure of economic health, growth, and change in our business.  After perusing nearly six pages of single-spaced inflationary projections in an Amerinet-produced report, two jumped out at me, the two highest.  One was more significant than the other, but both tell their own story.

Photo credit: Eric Zamora - University of Florida IFAS

Ice-covered Orange Tree Photo credit: Eric Zamora - University of Florida IFAS

The first was coffee/juice, and the projected costs for these two items are up 10 percent. At first my curiosity was piqued by this, but then I saw the explanation further over on the page.  It said that these increases were based on the recent freezes in Florida, which will have a significant impact on juice pricing.  I guess that makes sense.  The trees and oranges froze and were ruined, but it was interesting to me that every other orange-growing country in the world hadn’t jumped into the market and taken advantage of this shortage situation.

The even more difficult quandary created by this coffee/juice category, however, was that the coffee wasn’t explained.  Surely, everyone knows by looking at a world map in Starbucks that coffee comes from places that are not Florida. Maybe it’s just a “calf path” item. You know, some ancient, primeval calf made a trail in the woods named “coffee/juice” and we still follow that path today.

I’m sure that many of you are now wondering what the second category is, the second highest predicted commodity increase for health care, and, honestly, I can’t wait to tell you.  Why am I excited about this one?  It’s because, you see, it is a NIGYSOG (Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Gun) moment.  For nearly five years, I’ve been predicting some very obvious changes that are about to sweep through the healthcare delivery system.  Our blogs, newspaper columns, and speeches have all directed you toward these changes, and over and over, the vast majority of healthcare management professionals have either ignored or rejected these pronouncements; sometimes out of fear and sometimes out of a “wake me when it gets here” mindset.  Honestly, when it comes to prognosticating, it made me feel like Punxsutawney Phil.  (Oh, and what was that advertisement I read today?  “You have just survived the worst snow storm in this area in the past 100 years.”)

The second most highly inflationary bell ringer from the Amerinet report is one that spot-on supports our predictions completely.  (Drum roll, please.)  It is biotech products.  The prediction is that the cost of biotech products will increase an average of about nine percent.  Upon examining the comment section beside this category, the following sentence appears:  “Increased demand will drive these price increases.”

Windber Research Institute - Image by

Many of you may still be scratching your collective heads in wonderment.  “What are ‘biotech products,’ and why should I care about them?,” you may be asking.  Let’s take a quick historic look at life in the biotech lane.  In 2001, when we co-founded a research institute that had specialty areas in biomedical informatics, tissue banking, proteomics, and genomics, it cost approximately $100,000,000 (that’s 100 million) to map ONE human genome. This year, that number will fall to below $500. If you take that ratio of product-to-cost and project it forward, it doesn’t take too much imagination to conclude that not so many years or months from now, your physician will potentially have (or want to have) access to your molecular profile.  It will provide insights into your personal health that were heretofore unavailable, even unimaginable.

Once issues involving insurance coverage, confidentiality, and ethics are resolved satisfactorily, these tests will become a routine part of your annual physical.  Complete Blood Counts, lipid profiles, prostate or breast testing, and genomic and proteomic analysis will provide your caregiver with answers that make the practice of medicine until now seem hit-or-miss by comparison.


Quote on John Murtha’s Funeral Program

February 17th, 2010

“It’s not the critic who counts. It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or whether the doer of the deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by the dust, sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming.

It is the man who actually does strive to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spent himself in a worthy cause who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt (26th president of the United States)

Teddy Roosevelt


Congressman John P. Murtha

February 9th, 2010

Yesterday’s phone call from the Somerset Daily American caught me off guard.  “Hi, Nick, have you heard?  Congressman Murtha passed away this afternoon.  Could you give us a quote?”  the reporter said.   Truthfully, I was not ready for this call.  Having talked to friends who had been with him only a week earlier, everything seemed like it was going to be okay, but obviously, okay was not what it was.  He had one of the 500,000 or so laparoscopic cholesystectomies performed each year to remove a gallbladder.  This surgery has a .05% complication rate, but the call proved that, regardless of the percentages, there is always risk from human involvement.

The Late Rep. John Murtha I’ve decided to dedicate this as a very personal look back at my journey with Jack Murtha.  Ironically, we had grown up practically as Pennsylvania neighbors in Westmoreland/Fayette Counties.  My first real meeting with Mr. Murtha was during the 1977 Johnstown Flood.  I was a young teacher and volunteer who was mopping the floors of the relief centers,  getting things ready for survivors who had lost their homes when I heard a helicopter come flying in and saw a tall, impressive, 44 year old Congressman deplane.  He had only been in Congress for a few years, but had clearly learned enough about the  System to keep then-President Carter on his toes and get legislation passed to help his home district.

My very next encounter with Mr. Murtha wasn’t until about three years later, when his Washington office called me to see if they could help my employer at that time, Laurel Arts of Somerset, with a bill that was going through the House before Ronald Reagan took office.  Nothing came out of that call except for the fact that I realized that his employees were parents of former students and people who liked and respected my work from those days.

Then the big encounter hit.  Mr. Murtha was looking into bringing the National Park Service into Cambria County to start what became the America’s Industrial Heritage (Tourism Development) Project.  He and several other Congressmen came to the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown to hold a Congressional hearing on the project, and, as the newly-elected President of the Laurel Highlands Convention and Visitors Bureau, I testified against the plan and explained that if they didn’t include Westmoreland, Somerset, and Fayette Counties, we would not display any literature promoting it at all of the tourist sites that we controlled.  They agreed, and not many months later, he ended up representing Fayette County as part of his district.   It worked out for both of us.

A few years later, I had transitioned into healthcare senior leadership and  invited Mr. Murtha to introduce Bob Hope at a fund raising event for the Mercy Hospital of Johnstown.  Approximately 6,000 people were in attendance and Mr. Murtha got as much applause as Mr. Hope.  The following year he helped us bring in Henry Mancini and his orchestra for a similar event and our respect for each other began to grow.

Rep. Murtha speaking at Biotechnology expo (2004)

Rep. John P. Murtha speaking at Biotechnology Expo (2004)

In 1997, when I became the President of Windber Medical Center, Mr. Murtha and I were seated near each other at a dinner party.  It was there that we  began to discuss healthcare, and his vision for the future.  Anything that would help the soldiers stay well, prevent illness, or stop it before it became an issue was his goal.  I heard him speak at the opening of one of his many health center initiatives at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and he said, “I have 13 honorary degrees, hundreds of awards, and am well known as for my work in defense, but I want my legacy to be healthcare, prevention, and wellness.

His contributions to healthcare, however  small they may seem compared to what he has done for the world and for mankind, through his tireless and dedicated work were where his heart was.  His strength and vision made him the most impressive human being that I have ever known, and my love and respect for both him and his wife, Joyce, cannot be calculated in mere human measurements.  I am proud of him, his work, and his commitment, and I know that the seeds that he has planted in Breast Cancer Research will go on to save thousands of lives someday.

Ironically, it was healthcare that took his life.  No one can ever replace Jack Mutha; his knowledge of the system, his guts and determination, his singular efforts to help a district that had been devastated by natural disaster, his kindness and great personality.  No one.  So, today, I write with great sadness that our great friend is gone, but at the same time, I vow that his name, his contributions to humanity, and his memory will never be gone.

Look at or, and see what Jack Murtha built.  We loved you, Jack.