Though the title might apply to many aspects of our daily lives and the world as a whole, in this instance I am referring to how Medicare and other insurers interpret the word reasonable to make coverage and payment decisions. A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted this enduring challenge for Medicare.
The authors begin with language from the Social Security Act:
As a baby boomer moving through middle age into the unspeakable age that follows “middle,” I was encouraged to read an article in the British Medical Journal that states that for seniors and super seniors, healthy behaviors that include regular exercise, not smoking, maintaining a normal Body Mass Index, and having a rich or moderate social network led to significant increases in longevity. From the study:
A close friend of ours went with my wife to see a highly regarded physician for a persistent problem. This master clinician started with a warm greeting and a brief conversation about family, and then went through a detailed history of the problem that our friend had experienced for several months. He gave her an explanation of what he believed to be the underlying cause of her symptoms, gave a prescription for lab tests, and prescribed two medications. He also suggested that she see an ENT and recommended someone.
Amanada Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, chronicles the poignant journey that she and her now deceased husband, Terrence Foley, traveled in his seven-year battle with a rare form of kidney cancer. The Cost of Hope puts into sharp focus the convoluted compexity of our health care system even for two well educated, well insured individuals with superior skills to acquire, parse and synthesize information and data.
The May 17 New England Journal of Medicine 200th Anniversary edition article The Evolving Primary Care Physician highlights key structural, financial, and cultural challenges that confront primary care in the United States. Some of these include training and education that emphasizes ever greater subspecialization, reimbursement that rewards volume versus value, and an increasing reliance on testing versus well-honed history taking, physical diagnosis, and counseling and coaching of patients and their family members/care givers.
The article touches upon research conducted by Christine Sinsky and Thomas Bodenheimer, supported by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, in which they visited and observed 23 primary care practices.A compelling distillation from Dr. Sinsky:
What I’ve really seen is a lot of waste within the health care system at the level of utilization of physician skills. I think two thirds of many [primary care] physicians' days are spent on documentation, administrative tasks, paper work completion, rote inbox management, data gathering, and data entry. It’s something that is hard to recognize when you’re the one doing it.
To re-invigorate primary care, training needs greater emphasis on history taking skills, motivational interviewing, physical diagnosis, synthesis of information, more judicious use of testing and imaging, and engaging patients in their health care.
At age 89, Dr. John Sarno has retired from his clinical practice at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University School of Medicine where he is a professor of rehabilitation medicine. I consider John a friend, a thought-creator in the field of mind body medicine, and someone to whom I owe a profound debt of gratitude in that my wife, Suzanne, was cured of seven years of debilitating back pain by embracing the etiology of her pain as psychologically based.
On April 4, the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation launched Choosing Wisely, a campaign to educate health care professionals and consumers about tests or procedures that should be questioned because of lack of evidence that they’re needed and/or because of evidence that says the tests or procedures should not be done in the context that is delineated. http://www.abimfoundation.org/.
One of the four 2011 Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award winners in health care is Southcentral Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1982 to serve Alaska Natives who live in and around Anchorage. The Southcentral Foundation (SCF) describes itself as a Nuka system of care — Nuka being an Alaska native name given to strong, honorable structures or living things.
So many gaps, so little time.... That would be a ready conclusion from the extensive body of literature on gaps in patient care, medical errors, and patient safety. A recently released in-depth report from the American Medical Association, Research in Ambulatory Patient Safety, chronicles gaps related to diagnostic, laboratory, clinical knowledge, communication, and administrative (potential) errors. The possible combinations among these five domains is extensive.
The following paragraph is from the American College of Physicians Ethics Manual, 6th Edition:
“Physicians have a responsibility to practice effective and efficient health care and to use health care resources responsibly. Parsimonious care that utilizes the most efficient means to effectively diagnose a condition and treat a patient respects the need to use resources wisely and to help ensure that resources are equitably available. In making recommendations to patients, designing practice guidelines and formularies, and making decisions on medical benefits review boards, physicians' considered judgments should reflect the best available evidence in the biomedical literature, including data on the cost-effectiveness of different clinical approaches. When patients ask, they should be informed of the rationale that underlies the physician's recommendation.“
With synonyms for parsimonious that include miserly, stingy, and frugal, it is no surprise that this word choice evoked some criticism. The preponderance of the Ethics Manual advocates that the physician’s primary obligations and duties are to the patient, exercising beneficence, confidentiality, and honesty, with the best interest of the patient being paramount. The paragraph above is a small, but important, segment of the Ethics Manual.