My daily morning online surfing rounds always include the excellent STATnews, where this caught my eye:
...In medical school, doctors-in-training are taught that 85 percent of a diagnosis comes from a careful history, and another small portion comes from the physical exam. But these days we are so busy testing that it’s easy to miss the subtle — and sometimes not so subtle — indicators of a patient’s health. It’s certainly quicker to order the test, get some numbers, and then treat the numbers instead of the patient."It’s certainly quicker to order the test, get some numbers, and then treat the numbers instead of the patient."
The doctor-patient visit is becoming a commodified transaction rather than a collaboration. Clinical life feels more and more like sprinting on a hamster wheel, chasing unproven metrics to get graded on “quality.” It’s no wonder that burnout is exploding among physicians across the country.
The idea that more is better has many Americans going from doctor to doctor to doctor, getting test after test, and becoming increasingly anxious about our health while increasing the cost of health care.
We’ve been told that a big problem with health care is inefficiency and waste. (It is.) We’ve been told that old fashioned doctoring results in huge variations of care. (It does.) We’ve been told that constant electronic nudging will make doctors better. (Maybe.) Doctors are being told they must make their productivity numbers to keep their jobs and prove they are efficient. (Sad but true.)
Pioneering cardiologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Bernard Lown has said that the usual rules of efficiency are inverted in medicine. The more time a physician spends with patients, the more efficient he or she becomes. Listening costs next to nothing, and so is infinitely more cost-effective than drugs and devices. Listening promotes healing and causes no harm. In fact, it’s the bedrock of a genuine trusting relationship — something everyone wants from their doctors and nurses. In the tone of voice, in the subtlety of the pattern of pain, in getting the sequence of events right — that’s how a correct diagnosis is made and the person emerges from the patient. If all health care providers listened better, we would save billions of dollars and transform the system. So why don’t we have the time we need to listen?
Because clinicians have been put on a treadmill driven by the pitiless demands of a false concept of efficiency. Money has replaced quality care as the measure of health care. The idolatry of the market is driving a race among hospitals, insurers, and manufacturers to get bigger and bigger.
To fix health care, we need a genuine democratic dialog. To start that, our society needs a massive dose of listening to understand what really matters to patients and communities...
Goes materially to the central debate surrounding Health IT. Useful here to revisit my prior post "Are structured data the enemy of health care quality?" As I wrote there:
Perhaps optimal "health care quality" requires the open-ended analytical narrative in the progress note, replete with evocative, dx-illuminating metaphors and analogies and elegant turns of phrase in lieu of blunt instrument categorical and ordinal "structured data." That whole elusive "Art of Medicine" thing. The "Spaces Between the Facts comprising 'Big Data'." The slow, contemplative Medicine of "God's Hotel." Listen. look, palpate, empathize...See also my earlier post "Clinician "burnout." Is HIT a significant factor?"
Another requisite daily stop of mine is "The Incidental Economist: The health services research blog."
Why is improvement in the quality of health care so slow?"...delivering health care is not much like making a car."
In JAMA Internal Medicine, David Levine, Jeffrey Linder, and Bruce Landon look at progress in improving quality of care in the US since 2002. They are not impressed...
I strongly agree that:
But I don’t think these points quite capture why it’s so hard to improve medical quality. I see two reasons why we might have expected change to be faster. First, we expected change to be fast because we looked at dramatic improvements in quality achieved in other industries, such as automobile manufacturing. Second, other nations deliver care that looks at least as good (or better) than US care, at significantly lower cost. This makes it seem like that there should be low-hanging fruit to harvest, that is, we should be able to make quick changes that move us to a higher quality of care without increasing cost.
- Measurement in and of itself does little,
- Incentives won’t always change behaviour, particularly if the cost of change outweighs the value of the incentive, and
- Quality improvement is accomplished by “health professionals on the front lines in collaboration with their patients.”
Change is hard, in my view, because the fruit is harder to pick than we thought. The fruit is hard to pick in part because delivering health care is not much like making a car...
Yeah. A standard complaint, that one. Neither is it like aviation, as many QI-skeptic docs grouse. "We're different," goes the common grumpy retort. "Stick your Toyota Production System and pilot checklists where the sun don't shine..."
Auto manufacturing involves highly standardized and intensively automated workflows. Changing how work gets done may require a lot of capital investment. Nevertheless, a numerically-controlled lathe will change what it does when you reprogram it. And you don’t need to worry about the expectations of the steel that the lathe shapes. Medical work is much less standardized. No two patients are the same, biologically, psychologically, or in their social circumstances. Unlike steel, patients have agency that the care system should and must accommodate. All this makes caregiving a matter of craft skills, and care ‘algorithms’ are often more like suggestions. Above all, because they are craftsmen and craftswomen, and not robots, caregivers can be nudged, but they can’t be programmed..."Or, perhaps, we will eventually figure out how medical care can be automated."
My hope is that the problem is that improvement in the quality of health care is slow because we are still on the left hand side of the [logistic S] curve, and change will speed up in the future. Or, perhaps, we will eventually figure out how medical care can be automated.
Lordy. Recall my earlier post "The future of health care? "Flawlessly run by AI-enabled robots, and 'essentially' free?"
also apropos of "health care quality." Yet another daily stop, Science Based Medicine. Just ran into citation of this book.
Downloaded. Just as I'm finishing up Robert Cialdini's intriguing "Pre-suasion." Dr. Rawlins' book also goes to "waste" and "poor quality" in health care. I'm instantly reminded of all the absurd crap I had to wade through during my daughter's terminal cancer illness.
Also on deck, relatedly, some other stuff I'm looking at.
LOL. e.g., as reported by Eric Pfeiffer:
...Self-help is a $10 billion industry. People are hungry to form new habits; it’s the age of behavioral psychology meets the productivity zeitgeist, and whether your techniques are peer-reviewed or merely placebo, they’re certainly sellable. (Amen’s take on what counts as “tested”: “The best way to evaluate these techniques is to try simple things and measure where you notice improvement.”) [Jim] Kwik often fields personal questions from his audiences, offering what he calls a “personal trainer for your brain.” Soft-spoken and geeky, he conducts his webinars in front of a giant Iron Man mural while wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a brain over the tagline, “There is no app for that.” His online classes and seminars run around $400; some clients pay upward of $10,000 per person for in-person coaching, either one-on-one or in small groups... ["Is Jim Kwik the Next Lumosity or Just the Next Fad?"]
I got an email from Robin Farmanfarmaian the other day.
Dear Friends,Here's the video clip embedded in Robin's email.
My friend Jim Kwik is hosting a gathering I wish the entire world could attend: the Superhero Brain Summit.
It will be one of the best events of the year, completely dedicated to optimizing the supercomputer between our ears that controls everything from your health to happiness and influence to income.
Jim usually charges $2,000 for a ticket to attend this...
But since I was a speaker, I can invite my network to get free online insider access today.
Inside you'll get access to topics including memory improvement, speed-reading, optimal brain diet, creativity, mindfulness, work productivity, sleep, and more.
Reserve your spot to attend this Superhero Brain training
If you don’t know Jim, his clients include the likes of Elon Musk to entertainers like Will Smith as well as other top entrepreneurs and entertainers.
Jim has arranged one of the most amazing lineup of speakers:
Dr. Mark Hyman, 10x New York Times Bestselling Author. Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Superpower of ULTRA-MIND.
Dr. Daniel & Tana Amen, New York Times Bestselling Authors. Creators of the Amen Clinics, the leader in brain optimization. Superpower of BRAIN HEALTH.
Jim Kwik, Founder of Kwik Learning. Superpower of MEMORY & SPEED-READING.
Dave Asprey, New York Times Bestselling Author. Founder of Bulletproof Coffee. Superpower of BRAIN BIOHACKS.
Shannon Lee, Daughter of Bruce Lee, shares her father’s approach to deep learning. Superpower of MASTERY.
Jack Canfield, Co-Author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series with one billion books in print. Superpower of FOCUSED MINDSET.
Shawn Stevenson, Nutrition Expert. Bestselling Author. Superpower of SLEEP.
Keith Ferrazzi, New York Times Bestselling Author and world’s foremost expert on professional relationship development. Superpower of CONNECTION.
And tons more!
"I build better brains." (@0.33)
Science, or showbiz/marketing hyperbole?
"Brain optimization." Been pondering the brain a good bit of late (mostly, but not exclusively, in the context of considering the implications for "AI"). See my post "The locus of Mind."
We shall see. My first reaction to Robin's email was "I'm havin' a Landmark Forum Moment." I went to one of those last year, invited by a friend.
The profitable field Landmark helped pioneer is now crowded with life coaches, time-management gurus, and productivity bloggers. Like David Allen's Getting Things Done or Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Landmark is just one of dozens of quasi-philosophies that promise to empty your inbox and fulfill your personal goals. And maybe survive the recession. Since the Great Depression, when Dale Carnegie's seminars on how to win friends and influence people became popular, the personal development industry has bloomed under darkening economic skies. Forget work/life balance; that's so 2008. How to do more in less time is today's hot productivity trend. (Landmark's website touts a survey in which one-third of Forum grads reported that their incomes rose at least 25 percent after participating; 94 percent of those attributed it to the program.) Yet if Landmark is just another outpost in lifehacking country, why does it seem so insidious?I found it creepy. Scientifically bogus, and, yes, irritatingly evangelistically hard-sell.
Part of it is the in-your-face, hard-sell ethos embedded in the corporate DNA it inherited from est. Forum grads are urged to stay involved and "invite" friends and family. After finishing the Forum, I received calls asking me to volunteer at the Landmark call center and come in for one-on-one coaching. The company also vigorously guards its reputation from critics. After I told Beroset I'd be writing an article on my mixed feelings about the Forum, she called several times and sent me an email that might be described as threatening—but in the most benign, centered kind of way...
I first encountered Robin Farmanfarmaian during the "5th Annual AARP Health Innovation@50+ LivePitch" event. Bought and read her book (note: she appears onstage very briefly in the above promo video at 2:14).
So, after getting her pitch email. I started doing a bit a digging. Stay tuned. Is this stuff also "For Entertainment Purposes Only?"
More Eric Pfeiffer:
Kwik, like many of his brethren in the new generation of self-help, is no doctor. Rather, his stuff falls more in the realm of personal-management gurus like Tim Ferriss and Brendon Burchard, who themselves are modern-day versions of Tony Robbins. But he’s playing in a space full of people purporting to have real impact on your neurons: His competitors are companies like Lumosity, which provides brain games to keep you sharp, and which neuroscientists have spoken out against.[Kwik] "says that all of his techniques are based on pre-existing methods backed by scientific studies."
“It is 100 percent possible to use scientific methods to verify whether these programs improve memory and reading,” says Elliot Berkman, a neuroscientist and assistant professor in the University of Oregon’s department of psychology. All Kwik or Lumosity would need to do is conduct a controlled experiment. “As far as I can tell,” Berkman says, “neither Kwik nor Lumosity has done this.” Kwik is used to the criticism and says that all of his techniques are based on pre-existing methods backed by scientific studies. He says his role is more messenger than creator...
Well, I've only begun searching, but thus far all I'm seeing on his many shiny websites are numerous breathless testimonials.
"Jim Kwik is a world expert in speed-reading, memory enhancement, and optimal brain performance."
"World expert," 'eh? In the following?
Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience is recognized as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine (including neurology), genetics, and allied disciplines including philosophy, physics, and psychology. It also exerts influence on other fields, such as neuroeducation, neuroethics, and neurolaw. The term neurobiology is often used interchangeably with the term neuroscience, although the former refers specifically to the biology of the nervous system, whereas the latter refers to the entire science of the nervous system, including elements of psychology as well as the purely physical sciences.I'm still looking for a CV and/or a list of Jim Kwik books and other publications. Zilch thus far.
The scope of neuroscience has broadened to include different approaches used to study the molecular, cellular, developmental, structural, functional, evolutionary, computational, and medical aspects of the nervous system. The techniques used by neuroscientists have also expanded enormously, from molecular and cellular studies of individual nerve cells to imaging of sensory and motor tasks in the brain. Recent theoretical advances in neuroscience have also been aided by the study of neural networks...
On "testimonials." From Dr. Rawlins' book cited above:
Secret 10. Communal reinforcementI've reached out to Dr. Berkman for reaction and comment.
As Robert Carroll suggests in The Skeptic’s Dictionary, CAM practitioners network and those in the network feed off each other’s enthusiasm in a climate of mutual support. So of course do conventional practitioners. Camists may come to believe each other’s hype and that they have ‘the secret, the powers, the gift’. They note each other’s patient testimonials of benefit – the CAM ‘worked’. The camist feels revitalised and empowered. Testimonials are not followed up to check that what may be a patient’s temporary lift in mood due to expectation actually lasts. The regressive fallacy is overlooked. There is no monitoring of patients who do not return to the camist and may not have benefitted. There is no credible scientific evidence. Camists are complacent about this lack of attention to detail, but given others in the network who accept this stance, the community simply reinforces its faith.
Rawlins, Richard (2016-05-15). Real Secrets of Alternative Medicine: An Exposé (pp. 281-282). Placedo Publishing. Kindle Edition.
A couple of quick observations:
- What would comprise "scientific methods to verify whether these programs improve memory and reading." Well, it would be difficult, and rather expensive just getting a methodologically defensible (adequately sized and stratified) baseline against which to run a proper "clinical trial" (wherein "improve" is accorded an outset operational definition).
- I take issue with the framing. What truly should count is effective analytical critical thinking, not simply reading speed and memory. Whipping through reams of text and subsequently being able to better recall "facts" is only part of the story. Being able to adequately evaluate arguments is what matters in the end (when I was a kid in school back before indoor plumbing, much of this was simply known as "reading comprehension").
Unless, of course, your goal is simply being entertained. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. It's your money. But, let's not infer that it's summarily "neuroscience" that will improve your health and your life.
Would speed reading and memory improvement training have helped, net? I rather doubt it.
WHY MAKE AN ISSUE OF THIS GUY?
Recall my snarky tweet above?
It is increasingly fashionable to cavalierly toss around "neuro"-this and "neuro"-that amid the digerati / Silicon Valley hype-fest. Come up with some smartphone app called "NeuroYoga" or "NeuroQigong" and you can probably land a 7-figure Seed Round (while you sip on some "NeuroBliss" juice). I may have to add the word "neurobabble" to my list of dubiety -- e.g., "interoperababble" (and, "omics-o-babble" may soon be a candidate as well).
OK, how about this app, which I've cited before?
Again, NeuroTrainer is the startup founded by my niece's husband Jeff Nyquist. A core claim of therapeutic benefit they proffer is that of "collision sports" concussion risk mitigation and remediation, via gamified VR visual acuity training. Jeff's 2007 Vanderbilt "neuropsychology" doctoral dissertation, Perceptual Training Yields Rapid Improvements in Visually Impaired Youth, established much of the scientific grounding (9 pages of citations at the end). Several subsequent Nyquist et al publications have built on the work, e.g., Peripheral Vision of Youths with Low Vision: Motion Perception, Crowding, and Visual Search (2012). The latter paper contains two concluding pages comprising 55 scholarly citations.
I first made note of NeuroTrainer back in January while covering the Health 2.0 "WinterTech" Conference. From that post:
Jeff holds a PhD in Neuropsychology from Vanderbilt. A principal initial focus of his technology is brain injury mitigation within the collision sports (e.g., football, hockey, soccer) via virtual reality-based neural training, specifically occipital lobe visual cortex enhancement -- technology historically rooted in part in the naval combat air "Top Gun School" peripheral vision acuity methods.April emailed the other day to let me know that some of Jeff's work is on deck to be published in Nature.com's publication "Scientific Reports."
Obviously, I hope they will be successful. If they are, I am comfortable that the success, beyond factors of market timing, savvy marketing and sales, and adroit company management, will in large measure owe of the underlying science of the technology.
In fairness, I would not expect Jeff (or other digitech startup entrepreneurs) to publish their proprietary intellectual property "secret sauce," although, as we have recently learned via the sad Theranos Silicon Valley multibillion dollar CusterFluck, independently confirmable foundational science transparency goes to credibility -- and, success, long-term.In sum, when I see hyperbolic claims such as Mr. Kwik's buttressed mainly by glitzy websites and twitter pages festooned with photos of the rich and famous (along with their myriad superlatives-laden testimonials, and the concomitant arrays of corporate logos), I reflexively just skeptically have to ask "what's the evidence, the science?"
Go to one of the Kwik sites, and you are promptly hit with this popup:
Love the "No thanks. I like being just an average human."
A bit condescending, that. That's supposed to give me the warm fuzzies?
"I build better brains."
OK. Prove it. "In God we trust. All others bring data."
I have no doubt that Mr. Kwik is a delightful person, one with a heartrending personal story of struggle and surmount. Not the issue. You don't get a pass just because you're in the chirpy, well-meaning consumer-facing "wellness"/ self-help market. Every dollar wasted on woo is a dollar not available to be spent on tx's buttressed by scientific evidence that they work.
apropos of current applied neuro-science, this just came to my attention. I will download and study this book forthwith:
"Most of us will freely admit that we are obsessed with our devices. We pride ourselves on our ability to multitask -- read work email, reply to a text, check Facebook, watch a video clip. Talk on the phone, send a text, drive a car. Enjoy family dinner with a glowing smartphone next to our plates. We can do it all, 24/7! Never mind the errors in the email, the near-miss on the road, and the unheard conversation at the table. In The Distracted Mind, Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen -- a neuroscientist and a psychologist -- explain why our brains aren't built for multitasking, and suggest better ways to live in a high-tech world without giving up our modern technology. The authors explain that our brains are limited in their ability to pay attention. We don't really multitask but rather switch rapidly between tasks. Distractions and interruptions, often technology-related -- referred to by the authors as "interference" -- collide with our goal-setting abilities. We want to finish this paper/spreadsheet/sentence, but our phone signals an incoming message and we drop everything. Even without an alert, we decide that we "must" check in on social media immediately.Gazzaley and Rosen offer practical strategies, backed by science, to fight distraction. We can change our brains with meditation, video games, and physical exercise; we can change our behavior by planning our accessibility and recognizing our anxiety about being out of touch even briefly. They don't suggest that we give up our devices, but that we use them in a more balanced way."Heard the authors interviewed on the NPR Diane Rehm Show: "A Neuroscientist And A Psychologist On How Our Ancient Brains Work In A High-Tech World." Great 48 minute online audio discussion there. Well worth your time.
One need not wait long in starting the book for encouraging words:
The Distracted Mind is not a pseudo-science book that offers colorful brain scans and questionable neuroscience as a way of making a topic appear more credible. In this book, we apply our complementary scientific lenses to present timely and practical insights. Dr. Adam Gazzaley is a cognitive neuroscientist and a trailblazer in the study of how the brain manages distractions and interruptions. Dr. Larry Rosen is a psychologist who has studied the “psychology of technology” as a pioneer in this field for more than thirty years. Our complementary perspectives focus on demonstrating why we fail to successfully navigate our modern technological ecosystem and how that has detrimentally affected our safety, cognition, education, workplace, and our relationships with family and friends. We enrich this discussion with our own research and scientific hypotheses, as well as views of other scholars in the field, to explain why our brains struggle to keep up with demands of communication and information.Nice. Science. That's all we're asking. Go to the Gazzaley Lab, look at the publications.
Gazzaley, Adam; Rosen, Larry D. (2016-09-16). The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (MIT Press) . The MIT Press. Location 127, Kindle Edition.
"Distracted Mind" things I will be looking for in particular are any implications for the irreducibly high cognitive burden environment of clinical workflow in a digital world. During my time in the Meaningful Use program, I was the goto guy for "workflow redesign / improvement" at my REC. WKFL, and "process QI" more broadly, remains core interests.
One interesting "Distracted Mind" connection I anticipate goes to Dr. Dan Lieberman's excellent book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, which I cited back in April: Digital Health IT = "Better Care at Lower Cost." Right?
"Evolutionary mismatch" ailments. They extend to the brain and mind. And, we are now at a point where the exponentially increasing pace of anthropocene "cultural evolution" (which includes technology and is decidely Lamarkist) is utterly dwarfing that of biological evolution.
There may also be tangential / triangulational implications concerning these two current reads of mine.
Been a fan of Robert Cialdini's work for a long time, and the Dave Gray book was a total delight.
UPDATE: A NEW CONNECTION I JUST MADE
We are now reciprocal Twitter followers. apropos of my discussion of Jeff's NeuroTrainer startup effort, I found this on one of Dr. Fleming's blogs:
I invite readers consider more closely the topic of brain development in professional athletes. What do I mean by this? For years, prior to today’s neuro “a-ha!” moment, we have seen peak performance questions limited to a realm mostly called “performance enhancement.” If you asked any elite athlete what word associations come to mind when you say this phrase you would get responses like:'eh? Reminds me yet again of my prior post "The locus of Mind."
Doing a performance enhancement search for resources on Amazon.com shows a radical preference of thought towards mentalism: if you put the word “mind’ in front of “performance enchancement,” as opposed to “brain,” you get nearly four times as many hits to choose from. In my job as a neuroscience-based consultant working with high-performers worldwide, I can tell you that there is a huge paradigm shift in the making, and it has to do with the brain – not the mind – holding most of the secrets to mastery, both on and off the field/court. And here is the kicker: this is true with or without prior head injuries or concussions. When I conducted a random sampling nationally of psychologists, including sports psychologists, over 50% of these professionals commented that the brain was mostly influential in high impact situations, but that working with the “mental aspects” was something different, and highly generalizable to most athletic situations where behavior change or performance improvements were needed. It is as if a Descartes-like dualism is rearing its ugly head, ignoring neuroscience research that has shown time and time again consciousness is a matter of the brain. Consider the irony: sports psychology choosing to ignore the body, as though the brain were not as much a part of the body as are the muscles and bones of an athlete...
- mental health
- winning at the mental game
- psychological tools
- harnessing the power of the mind
Below, more intriguing stuff from Dr. Fleming:
Most of human behavior is predictably irrational without head injury complications. This is a critical point to understand, for it screams out the hidden assumption that brain issues are for those impaired; and that if you are not impaired then you must be normal; and if you are normal, then you are rational and logical. Most of the training I received in psychotherapy really followed this logic, as I was supposed to flag disorders that needed intervention and treatment, and then those outside that arena, well, we could get together each week in sessions and talk about strategies to change. Little did I know I was merely describing the water as they drowned and calling it “success,” as people would leave the office, do something different, make a rationalization the next time that reduced the dissonance, and we would start the circle all over again. Neuroscience and behavioral economics have helped us finally understand that the “deciding brain” is quite different than the brain that engages in supposed rational dialogues. New assessment tools have been designed in order to increase the meta-cognition that we use in my work to help close this gap.I could write an entire new post just ruminating on all of that.
There is another side to high performance that rarely gets acknowledged and worked with. Be careful what you wish for it may come true. Most performance enhancement interventions solve a problem linearly and do not include systems thinking. That is not a fault, per se, but it is an accurate perception, for that is what these people are hired to do. But many times, as systems thinkers have taught us, changing one wheel without working with the other 10, say, in a life system can cause some inadvertent consequences. The brain’s mechanisms and communications are a system following many laws of homeostasis. If you push down on an air bubble, it is going to even out and pop up somewhere else. High performance lifestyles/goals and decision-making grounded in sustainable, reality-based perceptions have grown oddly apart from each other, as we have seen in the headlines of derailed, at-risk athletes. Understanding the distinctions between pleasure and joy, and understanding the neurological curveballs thrown to the consciousness of an athlete, are issues rarely addressed in traditional treatment programs and talk therapy. Such understanding cannot be achieved without working with the undertow of the limbic system that is helping call the emotional shots...
MORE FROM STATNEWS
...Wendy Suzuki, a psychologist at New York University ... runs a lab where she can carefully measure the [exercise] effect. Suzuki has volunteers run on a treadmill in her lab while she measures their oxygen consumption. Then she gives her subjects a battery of psychological tests to measure things like their memory and attention.__
Suzuki has found that healthy people can improve their cognition with exercise right away. She has also found that people with brain injuries experience significant improvement in their mood. Now she’s running a class in which her students exercise at a gym three times a week, to see how their brains change over a full semester...
ERRATUM: INTERESTING HARPER'S ARTICLE ON MEDICARE
A long read by Trudy Lieberman (paywalled, but may be viewable once by non-subscribers):
“Don’t Touch My Medicare!”Read all of it. Of particular interest to me these days, given that my wife and I are now Medicare benes. More broadly, this kind of policy stuff is every bit as important as clinical science, process QI, biotech, and health infotech. The finest clinical capability on earth is of nil utility if it's increasingly out of reach financially.
Is the beloved program on its last legs?
...The Medicare Modernization Act poked yet another hole in Lyndon Johnson’s fraying compact. It called for wealthier beneficiaries—people with incomes above $85,000 if single or $170,000 if married—to pay higher premiums for Part B benefits. The provision moved through Congress with “unexpected support from some Democrats,” the New York Times reported. As the law neared final approval, though, the Times noted that AARP, the UAW, and liberal Democrats, including Senator Edward Kennedy, viewed some of its proposals as a “dangerous first step in turning Medicare from a universal social insurance program into a welfare program.”
In a sense, the conservative assault on Medicare is two-pronged. On the one hand, there is a drive to privatize. On the other, critics hope to rebrand Medicare as a variety of welfare. The former Hill staffer says that the Republicans have “been on a very consistent march for decades now. They basically want to get rid of the entitlement and want everything means-tested.” Means-testing—that is, basing eligibility for benefits on whether a person has the means to do without that help—saves billions for the government. But it would also make Medicare into the equivalent of food stamps or Medicaid. And that, of course, is the objective.
So far, privatization remains the more politically correct solution for Medicare’s financial shortfalls. These are real, at least potentially. In large part, they have been caused by the lack of serious cost controls, and exacerbated by the influx of millions of baby boomers needing medical services. Even the government’s attempts at cost control introduced during the Reagan era failed to permanently curb medical inflation. Indeed, containing the prices charged by the doctors, hospitals, drug makers, nursing homes, and home-care agencies that rely on the Washington gravy train has been an almost impossible task. The 2003 prescription-drug law, for example, prohibits Medicare from negotiating the prices it pays for drugs. “There are obstacles statutorily and politically,” says former Medicare administrator Don Berwick. “We can’t negotiate for purchasing, in one of the largest insurance systems in the world. The moneyed interests are calling the shots.”
Many of those moneyed interests sell health-care technology, which has long been a major cause of exploding costs. Richard Foster, who was Medicare’s chief actuary from 1994 to 2013, describes the situation: “As long as there’s an automatic market for new technology, even if it’s not any more effective, cost growth will keep going up.” In fact, Medicare has historically not considered cost effectiveness when deciding whether to cover new drugs and technologies...
More to come...