Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.
Medicare penalizes Iowa for its efficiency
Iowa doctors and hospitals have for years ranked with the nation’s best. But Medicare’s pay scale ranks them with the worst. And it’s costing us millions. Federal evaluators and private monitors such as the Commonwealth Foundation give Iowa top grades for quality, accessibility and affordability of care. But per-patient Medicare expenditures in Iowa run 82 percent of the national average (based on 2009 figures, the latest available). Under Medicare’s reimbursement formula, Iowa gets shortchanged due to high efficiency and presumed low labor costs. The decades-long discrepancy became particularly painful for Iowa’s hospitals following a 1999 federal budget cut, which the Iowa Hospital Association says has resulted in Iowa hospitals losing money on Medicare patients for each of the last 13 years.
Lee County group studies mental illness in jail facility
Sheriff Jim Sholl said there is a lack of appropriate care, treatment and medication for substance abusers and the mentally ill, not to mention officers cannot make mental health determinations when they respond to a disturbance. “My officers have absolutely no clue if someone has a mental health disorder when we get called. If you’re disorderly or assaulting someone, you’re going to jail,” he said. Bed space is an issue at area hospitals, too. Sue Pankey, chief nursing executive at Keokuk Area Hospital, said when an inmate receives a court order for hospitalization and her hospital is full she sometimes spends two or three hours calling other hospitals trying to find bed space. (Burlington HawkEye)
Iowa health officials: Flu virus now circulating
The influenza virus is now circulating among every age group and in different parts of the state, according to Iowa Department of Public Health officials. Iowans older than six months of age are urged to get a flu vaccine to protect against influenza, historically one of the most deadly illnesses to impact humans. The vaccine is now widely available and in plentiful supply. (Quad-City Times)
Pregnancy, abortion rates decline in Iowa
Rates of unintended pregnancies and abortions have fallen in Iowa since 2006, according to a new study released by a group whose goal is to help make that happen. The Iowa Initiative, a privately funded nonprofit organization that promotes the use of contraception for women, announced the preliminary findings of its study at a news conference Thursday in Des Moines. The group promotes use of long-acting reversible contraceptives, known as LARCs, to prevent unintended pregnancies. (Quad-City Times)
Hospitals, physicians increase worker flu vaccinations
An estimated 77 percent of hospital workers report receiving a flu vaccine for the 2011-12 flu season, up from 71 percent in 2010-11, according to a survey released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes 87 percent of hospital physicians, 78 percent of hospital nurses, and 76 percent of other hospital personnel. Coverage for health care workers in all settings was 67 percent, up from 64 percent in 2010-11. Hospitals achieved a higher vaccination rate than physician offices (68 percent) and long-term care facilities (52 percent). Coverage was 95 percent among workers in hospitals requiring vaccination, compared with 68 percent in those that did not. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Presidential candidates describe their health care platforms
The Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, describe their health care platforms and visions for the future of American health care in statements published yesterday by the New England Journal of Medicine. The statements were requested by the journal’s editors. (New England Journal of Medicine)
Polls reveal Americans’ opinions on ACA, Medicare reform
While pollsters are busy this week predicting the outcome of our next presidential election, a pair of surveys looked at how health care might fare – and a few surprises emerged. Regardless of who wins the White House, one survey found, Americans believe Obamacare will survive, albeit not entirely intact. But according to another poll, it’s the younger generation of voters that don’t necessarily favor that result. (Healthcare Finance News)
Modest payment redistribution means quality program is working
Rachel Werner and R. Adams Dudley’s article on Medicare’s hospital value-based purchasing (VBP) program in the September Health Affairs concludes that the program is likely to have only a small impact on hospital payments. While it is true that relatively little money is likely to be redistributed from bottom-performing hospitals to those at the top, this is no reason to conclude that the program is not working as intended. Quite the contrary, it’s performing exactly as intended so far. (Health Affairs)
Knee replacements double as aging patients stay active
Total knee replacement procedures rose 162 percent from 1991 to 2010 while the number of procedures to repair a previously implanted artificial knee joint, called revision, jumped 106 percent, according to research released in the Journal of the American Medical Association. About 600,000 total knee replacement procedures, done to relieve symptoms of severe knee arthritis, are performed each year in the U.S. costing about $9 billion annually, according to the research. About 60 percent of those procedures are paid for by Medicare, the federal government health program for the elderly and disabled, said Peter Cram, the lead study author. (Bloomberg)
Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.
Des Moines hospitals to expand, update units for psychiatric patients
Central Iowans who need hospital care for psychosis, suicidal thoughts or other mental health crises should soon be less likely to hear that no beds are available. Des Moines’ two main hospital companies plan to expand or improve their psychiatric services, and the county’s public hospital hopes to follow suit. The news bucks recent trends, which have seen many Iowa hospitals trim or close their psychiatric inpatient units. Teresa Bomhoff, a Des Moines activist for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, hailed news that more psychiatric beds would soon be available here. (Des Moines Register)
County set to join mental health alliance?
Eschewing a previously announced preference to join a smaller mental health care region, the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors moved Monday to request admission to a southern grouping of counties. An early alliance between Benton, Jones and Linn counties is currently accepting applications from leadership in neighboring counties and is expected to extend invitations by Oct. 9. All Iowa counties must announce an intent to join a region by April of next year to facilitate a statewide overhaul in the way mental health care services are delivered. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald)
County mental health officials hit roadblock with plan
More roadblocks have arisen for the Des Moines County Central Point of Coordination, whose newly revised county management plan was not approved by the Mental Health and Disability Services commission at its Sept. 20 meeting in Des Moines. The revised plan calls for cuts and modifications to certain county-funded services in anticipation of the statewide redesign, which will go into full effect on July 1, 2014. (Burlington HawkEye)
Health coaches: the new company benefit
After several years of double-digit increases in his nonprofit’s health insurance premiums, Reno Berg was ready to try something different. So Berg, CEO of Mainstream Living Inc., connected with the wellness coach program at Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines. After the nonprofit participated in the program for three years, the annual increases in its health insurance premiums began shrinking. Last year, Mainstream Living’s premiums increased by just 1.4 percent. “It’s all a direct result of having our wellness program in place,” said Berg, who lost 30 pounds and was able to reduce the amount of insulin he takes for his diabetes as a result of participating in the program. (Des Moines Business Record)
Iowa River Landing Clinic opens next Friday
Local officials are excited because one of the many construction projects in the Iowa City area will be finished with the grand opening of the Iowa River Landing Clinic on Oct. 5. The new clinic will bring University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics patients to Coralville for routine checkups and exams. UI President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan she is ready for the $73 million clinic to open because of the benefits it will bring to the Iowa City and Coralville communities. (University of Iowa Daily Iowan)
6 in 10 physicians would quit today
Doctors are working less, seeing fewer patients, and many would quit if they could, a sweeping survey of 13,575 physicians from across the nation shows. The survey, A Survey of America’s Physicians: Practice Patterns and Perspectives, was commissioned by The Physicians Foundation. It is the latest, and perhaps the largest and most comprehensive of a number of surveys that have identified wide, deep and increasing discontent among the nation’s physicians regardless of their age, gender, specialty, location, or employment status. (HealthLeaders Media)
Patient-generated mobile data improves clinical care
Using mobile devices to report “observations of daily living” (ODLs) can help improve healthcare, according to studies supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The five research teams involved in RWJF’s Project HealthDesign found that when patients used technologies such as smartphone apps, sensors, iPods, and iPads to collect information from their daily lives and share it with providers, clinical care improved. Moreover, they found that providers were willing to use the data if it was properly filtered and presented. (InformationWeek)
Maryland Blues chief blasts plan to shift hospital costs to insurers
Negotiations to avert a breakdown in Maryland’s unique system of regulating hospital prices have deteriorated into a stalemate between the state’s largest insurer and the Maryland Hospital Association. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield CEO Chet Burrell, speaking out for the first time about the talks, blames hospitals for their proposal to shift hundreds of millions in costs to CareFirst and other private insurers in an attempt to control rising Medicare spending. (Kaiser Health News)
Minnesotans burdened by health care cost more than nation
A new study says Minnesota has a higher percentage of residents with a high health care cost burden than the national average. The report from the non-partisan Robert Wood Johnson foundation says 21 percent of Minnesotans are underinsured compared to the national average of 18 percent. The foundation defines under-insured as people spending more than 10 percent of their annual income on health care premiums and out-of-pocket costs. A higher portion of Minnesotans are enrolled in high-deductible health plans and that contributes to the underinsured levels, said Lynn Blewett, University of Minnesota health care economist. (Minnesota Public Radio)
Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.
Mercy patients, staff dedicate new outdoor rehabilitation courtyard
Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City patients and staff have a new area to relax and enjoy the outdoors on the Mercy campus. Monday, the new Outdoor Rehabilitation Courtyard was dedicated as part of the 2012 observance of Mercy Day. The courtyard has been furnished with a water fountain, comfortable chairs, and flowers. Hospital officials say this area is a calming place for patients on the road to recovery. (KTIV)
Radiothons raise $182,841 for University of Iowa Children’s Hospital
Three eastern Iowa radio stations recently wrapped up their annual radiothon fundraising campaigns for University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City. Proceeds from the radiothons, hosted by 98.1 KHAK of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Mix 96.1 KMXG and KISS 101.3 of Davenport, Iowa, totaled $181,841 and will benefit UI Children’s Hospital through Children’s Miracle Network. Broadcasts were conducted live from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. (University of Iowa Foundation)
The importance of regular testing
Nearly 30 years ago, Barb Holmes began her career as an x-ray technician with a mammography specialization at Crawford County Memorial Hospital in Denison. She spent her days administering mammograms to women and had grown busy. So busy, she did not have time to get checked herself. While she had given herself self-exams regularly, two and a half years had gone by since her last official mammography. One day in September, nearly eight years ago, a co-worker was due for her mammogram. She urged Holmes to get one done as well. (Denison Bulletin Review)
AHA: New tax-exempt rules too taxing for hospitals
Hospitals should have the flexibility to meet new tax-exempt rules, rather than following prescribed uniform regulations, the American Hospital Association (AHA) told the Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service yesterday. “[T]he proposed regulations consist of extremely detailed and prescriptive requirements that deprive hospitals of the flexibility to use the most efficient and effective means to meet the requirements …” AHA Senior Vice President and General Counsel Melinda Hatton wrote. (Fierce Healthcare)
Health insurance costs speeding up
Spending for private health insurance surged by 4.6 percent in 2011, according to a report from the Health Care Cost Institute. That growth rate is faster than the rest of the economy and higher than the previous year, which had 3.8 percent growth. Average spending on a private insurance patient rose to $4,547 in 2011, compared with $4,349 in 2010. That statistic suggests that a recent downturn in health-care spending may have been a temporary product of the recession rather than a more permanent change, as some health-care economists have hoped. (Washington Post)
Branding health care exchanges to make the sale
As states work to comply with the federal health care law, many are designing their insurance exchanges, where people will be able to shop for coverage. But just the word “exchange” sounds to many like off-putting government-speak, and some states are eager to come up with a more appealing name for these new marketplaces. Peter Lee directs California’s Health Benefit Exchange. It’s up for a new name, and Lee says they want it to sound fresh, dynamic and innovative. California’s exchange staff is sharing notes with counterparts in other states. Maryland just came up with its name and logo. (National Public Radio)
Utah health info database failing to deliver
It was a data treasure trove promising answers to a question asked by health consumers everywhere: Which doctors, clinics and hospitals deliver the best care for the best price? But Utah’s All-Payer Claims Database, a repository of all medical and pharmacy insurance claims filed statewide, has failed to deliver. State Department of Health employees charged with building and overseeing the database have moved on to other positions in state government. The New Jersey-based vendor hired to mine the data, Care Advantage, went out of business last month. And promised reports comparing health centers on certain quality measures have yet to materialize. (Salt Lake Tribune)
7 mobile apps for chronic disease management
More than 40,000 mobile health applications are available across multiple platforms. Although fitness apps represent a big chunk of available health care apps on the market, an increasing number are designed to help consumers identify chronic conditions, track symptoms and better manage their diseases. With the number of Americans living with chronic disease expected to reach 157 million by 2020, according to research from RAND, the market for mobile health apps to help patients manage such diseases is large and growing. (Fierce Healthcare)
Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.
Get ready for flu season now, local doctors urge
Organizations, pharmacies, and hospitals across Eastern Iowa are ready for this year’s influenza season, and have already started to offer this year’s flu shot. Dr. Clete Younger, a physician at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, said the season typically begins in October, but Iowans have seen outbreaks as early as September. That’s why doctors are distributing the vaccine right now. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)
Obamacare requirement for user-friendly health insurance information kicks in
The Obama administration on Monday began requiring health insurers to provide user-friendly guides to patients that explain their benefits, aiming to make buying insurance nearly as easy as scanning packages of food for nutrition facts. Under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law, employers and insurers must provide a summary of benefits and coverage in a clearly worded, standardized format that allows the private insurance market’s 163 million beneficiaries to make side-by-side comparisons of plan offerings. (MedCity News/Reuters)
Consumer Reports names top-ranked health plans
Consumer Reports released on Monday its annual health plan rankings. For the third consecutive year an HMO operated by Massachusetts-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was the top-ranked private plan. Harvard Pilgrim has three plans in the top 10: its PPO ranked fifth and its New Hampshire HMO was ranked seventh. The rankings are compiled by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a nonprofit health care accreditation and quality measurement group. The scores take into account customer satisfaction, prevention, and treatment. (HealthLeaders Media)
Behind uninsured numbers, a diminishing sense of urgency
After a summer of disappointing economic news, the recent Census report on the uninsured was a rare bit of sunshine. The number of uninsured Americans declined by about 3 percent, or 1.34 million, to 48.6 million in 2011. This was the largest one-year numerical decline in twelve years. There were “only” about 1.7 million more uninsured in 2011 than there were in 2006, before the devastating recession. The search for policy fingerprints on these findings points directly to Medicaid. For all the controversy over this program, the safety net did its job. (Health Affairs Blog)
Accountable care: IT gets us only halfway there
It’s hard to imagine a successful accountable care organization (ACO) that doesn’t rely heavily on IT. ACOs require that clinicians meet a long list of quality measures to prove that they’re acting in an accountable way to reduce costs without reducing the quality of medical services. And most of those metrics are best tracked with software. But the very foundation upon which ACOs are built could be shaky, making software tools only so effective. If genuine accountability is your goal, technology gets you only halfway there. Providers need a proven structural model to make an ACO cost effective, and at least one prominent thought leader questions whether the current approach will do the trick. (InformationWeek)
Several Iowa hospitals are included in a top workplaces listing recently published by the Des Moines Register. The listing is determined based solely on employee feedback provided through a survey, which is conducted by WorkplaceDynamics, a leading research firm on organizational health and employee engagement.
Six of the list’s top 10 medium-sized employers are hospitals, including Fort Madison Community Hospital (#2), Palmer Lutheran Health Center in West Union (#3), Clarke County Hospital in Osceola (#5), Kossuth Regional Health Center in Algona (#7), Palo Alto County Health System in Emmetsburg (#8) and Iowa Specialty Hospital-Clarion (#10). Pella Regional Health Center ranked #3 in the large employer category.
In an accompanying article, Bob Kroese, CEO of Pella Regional, discussed the hospital’s keys to success: “Our whole place exists because of the patient. But if you really want happy patients, you must create an environment where your employees are happy. … Happiness in health care isn’t a laugh a minute. It’s a sense of fulfillment, that employees’ views are heard, that they have what we call shared governance, that they have a lot of input.”
Jim Platt, who leads the Fort Madison hospital, also shared: “We went to our employees and said, ‘What values do you expect from your co-worker?’ We put together an employee team, no one of management was on that, and we developed eight standards of behavior…It now guides our team from housekeeping to our physicians.
“They all honor those standards. They are a guiding point, part of our evaluation process. If someone is not behaving the way they should be, they pull out those standards and say, ‘Go back to this.’ It’s not coming from the managers. Employees hold each other accountable.”
Deb Chensvold, CEO of Palmer Lutheran Health Center, said, “We work very hard to be flexible and promote a healthy work/life balance. We promote a family friendly workplace. We strive to be a workplace of choice in our community. We recognize that our employees are our greatest asset. Satisfied employees provide better quality of care. Palmer Lutheran is a vital part of our community and staff are proud to be part of this organization because they recognize that their work is meaningful and is making a difference in the lives of their family and friends.”
Brian Evans, CEO at Clarke County Hospital, said employees are committed to patients and to each other. “We’re fortunate we’re in a health care field and our employees see the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s the nurse at the bedside or the individuals who are keeping the hospital clean so that patients don’t get infections,” he said. “When they put that together that their job does make a difference, they add meaning to it; that’s an important piece for them.”
Special awards were also given based on standout scores for employee responses to specific survey statements. Employees rated these statements (such as “I have confidence in the leader of this company”) on a seven-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Hospitals showed up several times among these awards, including for leadership (Chensvold at Palmer Lutheran); managers (Clarke County Hospital); “doers” (Fort Madison Community Hospital); and training (Palo Alto County Health System).