Earlier today, I was speaking with a physician colleague about his commitment to continue to improve person-centered care in his primary care practice and to enhance patient experience. We talked about the potential value of greeters in the practice, of a patient council to offer feedback and recommendations, and, with training, increasing the scope of service of medical assistants to allow nurses, advanced practice nurses, and physicians to spend more time with more complex care.
In April of last year, I wrote about the first release of recommendations from the American Board on Internal Medicine Foundation in conjunction with nine medical societies as part of a campaign: Choosing Wisely. The campaign aims to draw attention to and call into question commonly ordered tests like chest x-rays before surgery, frequently performed procedures like colonoscopies, and frequently prescribed treatments like antibiotics for upper respiratory infections.
With apologies to James Taylor, I was recently introduced to a UNC-Chapel Hill professor of psychology, Dr. Edwin Fisher, from my alma mater and the university where the famous singer/ songwriter's father was dean of the School of Medicine. The work that Dr. Fisher is doing under the aegis of the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation is on target for the Triple Aim.
Peers for Progress, designs, implements, and evaluates peer coach or peer educator programs worldwide. There are ample examples of successful and established programs led or facilitated by peer coaches, motivators, educators, or others, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Mended Hearts, and Weight Watchers. Peers for Progress is building a global network of peer-support organizations that are making a difference in the health of and lives of people affected by a range of health problems and their associated impact on the individual and on communities.
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/.