‘FRANKLY, I’D RATHER HAVE THE BAD GUYS SEE MY COLONOSCOPY than get my credit card number,” Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush said on CNBC’s “On the Money” last week. He acknowledged that while protecting patient information is certainly a big concern, a “health care Internet” will emerge in this country within five years, and “the lion’s share of routine health care will be … managed online. I’m sure of it.” As reported by CNBC’s Trent Gillies, the always provocative Bush said other industries, like banking and retail, have enticed consumers to give up “some elements of privacy for the convenience offered by the technology.” Personally, he noted, “my credit card and my equities are all online.”
NEW CHOLESTERAL DRUGS COULD “WREAK FINANCIAL HAVOC on clients,” Express Scripts President Tim Wentworth said during a conference call Wednesday to discuss quarterly earnings. As Reuters’ Ransdell Pierson reported, the Federal Drug Administration approved a new drug Praluent last Friday and is expected to OK a rival, Repatha, next month. Both will be costly. The wholesale price of Praluent, made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi, will be $1,120 for a 28-day supply, a total of $15,000 a year. The prices of new drugs — and how those prices are determined — have become a bone of contention between the insurance industry and Big Pharma. Weekly Reading in June mentioned a report from the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans that breakthrough drugs will cost the federal government $50 billion over the next 10 years. With high-deductible insurance plans proliferating, some highly effective treatments may be tragically out of reach for patients who don’t have deep pockets.
“IT’S A JAW-DROPPING FINDING. We didn’t expect to see such a remarkable improvement over time.” That’s how Yale School of Medicine professor Harlan Krumholz, M.D., describes a study that found that deaths, hospitalizations and costs among Medicare fee-for-service patients dropped dramatically between 1999 and 2013. In Tuesday’s USA Today, Liz Szabo interviewed Krumholz, who authored the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers based their work on records from more than 68 million patients in the Medicare fee-for-service program. Hospitalization rates fell 24 percent, with more than 3 million fewer hospitalizations in 2013 than in 1999. Patients admitted to the hospital were 45 percent less likely to die during their stay; 24 percent were less likely to die within a month of admission; and 22 percent were less likely to die within a year. More good news: Costs for hospitalized patients fell by 15 percent among fee-for-service patients. One reason the health system scored what Szabo calls a “medical hat trick”: “There has been tremendous focus on making sure that our hospitals are safer and that treatments are more timely and effective,” Krumholz told her.
AND THE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD. At least that’s one of my takeaways after reading the welcome news that the number of calories consumed by Americans on a daily basis appears to be dropping steadily. Margot Sanger-Katz reports in the July 24 New York Times that based on three major data sources, calorie consumption, which peaked in 2003, is in the midst of its “first sustained decline since federal statistics began to track the subject more than 40 years ago.” One big reason: In the early 2000s, experts began warning that the nation was afflicted by an “obesity epidemic” directly linked to increased rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases. Then the media started running photos of alarmingly fat children whose health could be compromised by their weight issues. Apparently, parents were sufficiently alarmed. Sanger-Katz reports that eating habits have changed most substantially in households with children, and the decline in calorie consumption is most pronounced among kids. Moreover, while obesity rates among adults and school-aged children have stopped rising, they’ve actually fallen among America’s very youngest.
‘YOU BRING YOUR STUDENTS IN? These students who are going to dissect that body, and they meet with the family? That’s one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever heard!” That’s how Jerry Vannatta, the former executive dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, reacted when he learned that one Taiwanese medical school invites the family of the dead to a Buddhist prayer ceremony before the students dissect their loved one’s body as part of their medical education. As John Tyler Allen reported in The Atlantic Tuesday, U.S. medical schools long taught students to emotionally detach from seriously ill patients and especially from the deceased whose bodies were donated for educational purposes. Now, Vincent notes, a Mayo Clinic study finds that “96 percent of American medical school anatomy programs hold some type of post-dissection ceremony … to commemorate the anatomical donors and help students process their emotions surrounding the dissection.” Poems might be read, students might share their feelings about the process or family members might be invited in to tell personal stories about their dead loved ones, as Vannatta did when he launched OU’s Donor Luncheons. The idea is to help future physicians relate on a more human level with patients and families. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?