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2010 Potpourri XVIII

By May 22, 2010Commentary

A story at Bloomberg discusses the growing use of telecommunications to make interactions with physicians more convenient.  The story references services which provide internet physician visits, often combining video and phone capability or simple emailing.  Physicians are embracing the trend as well as patients, finding it strengthens the patient relationship.  The article also describes the increasing use of social networking services by health care facilities and professionals to share information and build patient loyalty.  (Bloomberg Article)

A blog at the Forbes website suggests that the Administration and Congressional leaders seriously underestimated the cost of the interim high-risk pools created by the health reform bill.  Congress allocated $5 billion over three years for this purpose but an examination of the current costs for similar existing high-risk pools suggests the actual number will be over $35 billion.  That may explain why so many states are balking at creating the pools.  Lets see, I think we are now approaching a real cost from “reform” of around $750 billion added to the deficit.  No savings and no premium reductions, funny how that works.   (Forbes Blog)

RedBrick Health, a vendor of wellness-related services to employers and health plans, released preliminary results from a survey of large and medium-size employers regarding employee engagement in wellness programs.  The survey found that engagement rates were higher when an independent vendor rather than the employer’s health plan was used to manage wellness efforts, and higher still when the employer managed the effort itself.  Having a program for multiple years and offering any form of incentive also led to more employee engagement.  (RedBrick Release)

An article in Science Daily describes a study which suggests that a nationwide smoking ban in public places and worksites could prevent as many as 18,000 heart attacks a year.  Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit conducted the research, which is based on comparisons of heart attack rates in states with and without such bans.  The research results are similar to those of some natural experiments created when some state or local governments first had no such prohibition, then implemented one and then in some cases repealed it.  The evidence appears to be fairly compelling that these sm0king bans do help prevent heart attacks and the cost that accompanies them.  (Science Daily Article)

Another study finds that heart condition patients who leave the hospital early against medical advice end up incurring more costs than patients who do not, largely because they have higher rates of readmissions. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland who noted a variety of reasons for patients discharging themselves from the hospital, some of which can be addressed by medical personnel.  Given the focus on limiting hospital readmissions and the costs associated with them, this is an important line of research.  To the extent hospitals might be financially penalized for readmissions, exceptions might need to be made when the readmission is caused by a patient’s own decisions.   (MedicalNewsToday Article)

Finally, the Wall Street Journal carried a story on use of behavioral psychology techniques to help people stick to their objectives in improving health, such as exercising more or having a better diet.  (WSJ Article) The article describes a Stanford study which used simple methods, such as an occasional phone call, to help people keep on their exercise program.  Some participants got a call from a real person, some from a computer and some, no call.  Those who got a human call increased their exercise more than the other two groups, but the computer call group was a close second.

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