Archive for October, 2009

Franken Bill Presupposes Doctors and Patients are Stupid

October 23rd, 2009

@PharmaGuy and I exchanged several tweets yesterday afternoon debating the merits of the Senate bill introduced by the junior Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken.  The title of the bill is the “Protecting Americans from Drug Marketing Act” the purpose of which is to deny the tax deduction for advertising and promotional expenses for prescription pharmaceuticals.

Reasons I’ve heard over the years why pharma direct to consumer advertising is bad:

  • Misleads patients into thinking that you can have intimate relations while soaking in separate bath tubs on the beach (sorry, that’s just my confusion)
  • Causes patients to spontaneously come up with symptoms and trick them into believing that there is something their doctors can do about them to make their lives better (no, still me)

You know you scoffed at restless leg syndrome until they found the gene

  • Ok, please leave some comments telling me why Americans are too stupid to risk being subjected to advertising on pharmaceutical products as opposed to any others and why physicians are too tired from explaining that antibiotics can’t cure a cold to resist writing a prescription for anything and everything a patient mentions during their 15 minute visit.  Here’s a start from Public Citizen

But the bill goes on to define advertising and promoting as “includ[ing] direct to consumer advertising in any media and any activity [emphasis mine] designed to promote the use of a prescription pharmaceutical directed to providers or others who may make decisions about the use of prescription pharmaceuticals (including the provision of product samples, free trials, and starter kits).”

So not only are patients not to be trusted, but physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and a host of healthcare professionals are also apparently unable to discern risks and benefits and decode pharmaceutical advertising and promotional activities.  Things that may arguably fall under this definition:

  • Sales rep and medical science liaison salaries (isn’t everything they do for the purpose of directly or indirectly promoting the use of the products – so longto those tens of thousands of jobs

(For that matter so long to all the positions in PR and advertising that support pharma — Obama didn’t REALLY want jobs created this year anyways)

  • Medication adherence programs (they promote the use of pharmaceutical products)
  • Patient Assistance hotlines and programs like TogetherRxAccess (ok, maybe you can still have them, you just can’t advertise and let patients know that they are there)
  • Patient or physician education programs raising awareness of a disease  (learning about diabetes may encourage people to actually take the treatments)

Now negation of the tax deduction is not the same as outlawing the practice, but it is close when you consider the pressure for profits from Wall Street and the realities of running a business. Please leave this type of regulation to FDA which has the expertise, if funds are properly appropriated, to craft reasonable remedies in the Risk Communication Committee and DDMAC.

What Should A Patient Sound Like?

October 20th, 2009

I started the DCPatient blog 6 weeks ago, unsure of the reaction I would receive for my opinions on what patients would like to see from the healthcare system.  Overwhelmingly, the reactions have been very positive and thoughtful with dozens of comments on this blog, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

One repeated criticism has been that I am “too educated” or write at “too high a level for the average patient” or that my postings were “not what they expected from a patient’s blog”.  Interesting.  What should a patient sound like? Write like? Blog about? My Harvard degree did not spare me from becoming ill.  My Georgetown law degree barely enables me to navigate insurance coverage.

While I understand the point that for most Americans issues of literacy, health literacy, numeracy, language and culture, time challenges, and family obligations serve as real barriers for understanding, engaging, and optimally accessing the healthcare system, my education does not make me any less of a patient than the next person in the waiting room.  What it does do, I feel, is obligate me to pick up the mantle for other patients and push, prod, and advocate for changes in healthcare that serve us all.  Regina Hertzlinger, Phd, of Harvard Business School, would call me a marginal consumer.

Last week something remarkable happened, I emerged from the desert to find that there were many others like me.  ePatientDave kindly introduced me to the Society for Participatory Medicine and a host of professional patient provocateurs  just as educated, annoyed, and activated as I hope to be.  Please check them out.

Trisha Torrey, Every Patient’s Advocate

Survive the Journey

Six Until Me

EPatient Connections 2009 Conference

From Health Insurance to Health Plan – A Patient’s View

October 13th, 2009

It has been interesting for me to watch the transformation of the term health insurer to health plan.  Having been insured since in my mother’s womb, I have never been notified that any of my health insurance companies has a plan for my health.  For a health insurance company to be termed a PLAN, in my mind, I would like to see:

1. Prompting and  reimbursing me and my physicians to establish my baseline health metrics and specific health goal(s)

Enrolling in a plan as a new subscriber, a milestone birthday, or just the turn of the calendar could provide the incentive to create a personal plan for my health.  Am I hypertensive? Am I diabetic?  Do I want to lose weight this year, train for a marathon or have a baby?

2. Providing quality and cost assessment information so that I could select the best physicians for my circumstances

See post  A Patient’s Quest for Quality in Healthcare.

3. Facilitating information exchange between my team of physicians

I have a primary care physician, gastroenterologist, transplant hepatologist, gynecologist, reproductive endocrinologist, dermatologist, and from time to time an oncologist, across 4 different practices and medical centers. I would pay anything to have them talk to each other.  Even to have them reliably and regularly share data and view one unified chart and come to a common assessment and plan for my treatment would relieve me of the huge burden of coordination, and no doubt reduce cost, waste, and error.

4. Suggesting, creating networks and reimbursing or providing discounts to complementary services to augment my health such as acupuncture, nutrition counseling, gym membership

90% of what I do to maintain and improve my health happens outside of a doctor’s office.  Health insurer’s buying power and breadth can support my access and use of complementary wellness services to optimize medical treatments and prevent others.

5. Proactively sending me lab results, medication refill and appointment scheduling reminders

Health insurers could add real value by leveraging technology to facilitate my adherence to my treatment plan in the midst of a busy life.

6. Helping me track my progress against an integrated care plan that I create with my team of physicians and complementary providers

Whether building on success or highlighting areas for early intervention, an integrated health plan dashboard with alerts could encourage my focus and active pursuit of health.

Under increased scrutiny in this era of healthcare reform, health insurance companies need to decide and describe how they add value to the healthcare system.   Their access to aggregate data on their members can fuel the integration of care across physicians, hospitals, and pharmacies for patients and support empowered consumer behavior.

Further reading:

The Patient-Centered Care Collaborative

Optum Health, subsidiary of United Health Group

Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center

Google Health

Microsoft HealthVault

A Patient’s Quest for Quality in Healthcare

October 5th, 2009

As part of an otherwise excellent presentation on the key drivers of rising healthcare costs, two slides purported to demonstrate that overbuilding of healthcare facilities was the result of inappropriate emphasis by patients on facilities’ cleanliness and convenience as measurements of quality.  The presenter’s point was that patients could not be trusted to assess healthcare quality since they chose such obviously silly metrics instead of judging and selecting hospitals or physician practices on the basis of cost, outcomes, or adherence to guidelines.

I had several thoughts in reaction, a few of which I can print – (1) With upwards of 2 million nosocomial (my favorite word) infections a year causing more that 100,000 deaths and complications, cleanliness is nothing to sneeze at; (2) in a past life I was taken to task by the HRSA administrator for making the point that there might be value in having the choice of  a transplant center close enough that families could support their loved one through a traumatic life event so I won’t comment here on the issue of proximity; but most importantly (3) patients judge what they can see.  If we make quality metrics such as cost, outcomes, and adherence to guidelines more accessible to patients then they will include those metrics in their decisionmaking.

And so I embarked on my own journey to see how readily available patient-friendly quality data is for patients.  First I looked for information on hospital information.  Hospital Compare, an HHS website powered by Medicare data, allowed me to compare hospitals within a radius of my chosen zipcode on process of care (basically guidelines/evidence) adherence, outcomes like death, and patient satisfaction elements like physician communication or nurse responsiveness.  Interestingly, among the subset of local hospitals I chose, quality was similar but median Medicare payment ranged from a two to four fold difference.  Still a limited set of procedures and conditions are included, I have no idea how patients with my demographics and characteristics fared, and the Medicare cost data may bear little relation to what I might actually pay under my insurance let alone self-pay.

Physician information is available in a variety of formats for various fees, typically $9.95 to $24.95 on websites such as HealthGrades and Physician Reports or compiled in the Consumer’s Checkbook Guide to Top Doctors or Castle Connolly’s various city-specific  Top Doctors.  Plugging in one of my specialist’s name I was able to get disciplinary actions (luckily none), board certifications, years of education, hospital affiliations and even ease of scheduling, however I had no idea from the information provided if my doctor was any good.

Lastly my health insurer has a premium designation that awards stars for quality and cost-efficiency.  I could not find the basis for those designations and having been ill-served by one of their “centers of excellence” in a particular specialty, you can color me skeptical.

My takeaway is that even for a highly motivated, insured, internet savvy patient, with fair familiarity with health care and health care jargon, comprehensive actionable physician and facility information is limited, hard to find or non-existent.