How The Shutdown Might Affect Your Health | Kaiser Health News

IN SHORT: CDC is the hub for all infectious disease activity in the United States. Every positive flu test goes to those great women and gents, and they generate the data to color the maps that inform the public and help health departments and hospitals and pharmaceutical companies shift around the resources needed to care for sick people in hard-hit areas. THAT SERVICE HAS BEEN SUSPENDED.

Not to mention god forbid a batch of spinach has salmonella smeared on it or the drinking water in some former steel town is poison. CDC epidemiologists are the people that turn random cases into public health guidance.

Reliable governance is priceless, for individual and population health and the well being of business and commerce. I’m voting for consistency.

Source: How The Shutdown Might Affect Your Health | Kaiser Health News

Why It’s Still Worth Getting a Flu Shot – The New York Times

If I wrote the book on public health I would insist on a subtitle. Here’s how it would read:

Public Health: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

I’m punting to the expertise of Aaron Carroll and his timely Upshot article this week. I myself, a yearly getter of the flu shot, have the flu. AND I WOULD GET THAT FLU SHOT AGAIN. Because, of course, it is not about me. And sure the flu I have is possibly less virulent than it could have been and I haven’t needed to tap the resources of any health care facility so my only cost has been reduced personal productivity (I’ve met writing deadlines but my apartment is disgusting and hair is dry shampoo). But even assuming that my flu shot did nothing to make my personal experience of flu season better, I’d still get one.

First, a statistical concept used to evaluate the efficacy of an intervention or treatment: N.N.T. or number needed to treat. Surgery is the easiest example to cite to explain it. In an appendectomy, N.N.T. is always 1. One surgery, 1 removed appendix. Unless something really weird is going on.

If everyone that got the flu shot was guaranteed to not contract the flu, then flu shot N.N.T. would be 1. One shot equals one protected patient. But the flu shot was never planned as a N.N.T.=1 type of disease prevention. The flu is too wily, too quick to mutate. Flu shots are here to reduce the disease burden in our overall population. Less infections mean less contagion, lower overall cases mean demand on public health resources is manageable, people that do get sick have better access to the care they need, and ultimately less morbidity and mortality (illness and death) result.

According to Dr. Carroll’s article, this year the flu shot’s N.N.T. is 77. For every 77 people that get the flu shot, 1 will avoid what would have been an flu infection. Considering the cost of the flu vaccine (literally zero dollars if you have any sort of insurance which legally ethically and morally you should but that is another conversation) is five minutes at CVS plus mild soreness for a day…I like to imagine my group of 77 responsible flu shot getting citizens saved a baby this flu season. Maybe that 2 week old baby I saw at the thrift store last month and wanted to scream “FOR ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY GET THAT CHILD OUT OF THIS HUMAN VIRUS SOUP.”

So there’s the lesson for the day. But read The Upshot, Dr. Carroll tells it in true doctor-professor speak, and continues to explain the important role of cost/benefit in the vaccine:

Let’s say that this year’s flu vaccine is even worse than we think. Maybe the absolute risk reduction will be as low as 1 percentage point, making the N.N.T. 100. That’s still not that bad. Even at an N.N.T. of 100, for every 100 people who get a flu shot, one fewer will get the flu. That’s a pretty low N.N.T. compared with many other treatments that health experts recommend every day.

Stories patients tell

I’ve been writing full-time for three months now. Being off the hospital floor has done wonders for my aching back, my parenting, my complexion…and I won’t lie I’m not sorry about missing a horrendous flu season. But I miss patient care. Taking care of strangers was a privilege. And the antidote for the morning news. Bigoted, hateful things lose power after a half dozen conversations with the typical rainbow cast of normal humans at your local public hospital.

I miss it today. Here’s a post I found in languishing in my drafts folder. An attempt to capture what I loved about patient care.

My reasons for being a nurse are selfish. I love stories. Taking care of humans for a living was my passport into every socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, psychological, pharmacological kind of humanity. The wildest thing is that everyone thinks their story is the normal one.

A patient might present with humor. Maybe stoicism. Open tenderness for their spouse. They give me stories that show how brave, how smart, how kind, how resilient they are. Or they may present with impaired coping: venom between parents and children. Complete submission to despair. The desire to mete out as much pain as they have been given.

The way people handle crisis of health: physical pain, just plain bad news, never ceases to amaze. An appetite for what people have to say for themselves is what makes me love being a nurse. And hate it.

Sometimes the stories are whispered. Yelled. Told in profane or racist or sexually suggestive language. Sometimes the story is just a kiss between people who have long since celebrated their 30th anniversary. Divorced spouses who sit him beside her as she’s dying. An elderly woman whose power of attorney is a neighbor that takes three days to locate and another to drop by and sign a DNR. A grandpa whose eighteen grandchildren from six different states come stream in. His hypertension abates when they stand around sharing details of their days. Another patient who becomes hypertensive when her mother is in the room.

People sing hymns. People fight with the priest. A retired four-star general occupies the room next to a man living in government housing. Everyone engulfed by their own narrative, healing or getting sicker, thinking they are the normal one. Feeling like this is the first time anything so scary or tragic or miraculous has ever come to pass.

It’s little me, the nurse, that gets to know all these stories. I still pass like a specter through them, over the borders of these private worlds, from room to room.

Fee-for-service quick and dirty

In my holiday fervor, I forgot some key points. Doing a quick lit search brought up this lovely paper from 2008 “Health care reimbursement: Clemens to Clinton” by John T. Preskitt, MD. (John you and I should just settle down and raise a family we are perfect for each other). The answer to my stutter about when fee-for-service originated? It evolved along with Medicare, and was recognizable by the late 1950s. Managed care brought it into full flower.

One more point to be made. A crucial drawback of fee-for-service: profiting from mistakes. If you are thoughtlessly administered a drug you are allergic to–and now you’re needing all the care someone in anaphylaxis gets–you and your insurance will be billed for the privilege. Mistakes happen. Medicine is human. But failure should not be rewarded with money.

Pull quote from Preskitt’s article, which I am nicknaming “Ghosts of insurance past”

Managed care was supposed to create a system that would contain costs while simultaneously increasing the quality of care. Our traditional fee-for-service medicine had led to health care inflation because it encouraged caregivers to maximize the number of procedures they perform, ignoring preventive care. Doctors and hospitals were not paid to keep patients well; they were paid to treat them when they were sick.

Why out-of-control costs matter

Complexity. From how you get insurance (THREE MORE DAYS FOR MARKETPLACE PLANS) to who the emergency department treats to the non-communicating EMRs that create a chorus of fax tones ringing out across this great nation of over-paying under-served… well it ends like this: envelopes.

Cramming up your mailbox. Every medical service, every brick and mortar facility, every radiologist in his/her darkened bedroom reading films in memory foam slippers, is going to send to a separate bill. And this is why you still have a checkbook. Because even within the same organization, let’s say a fictional system called ANOVA that I visit for one scan, get 3 bills (physicians group, facility, and radiologist), then I go again in 3 months for the exact same thing. None of my six account numbers will be the same. Cram that in your electronic bill pay.

Here, loves, are my preventative health costs since October. Cancer screenings, with no expensive imaging like CT/MRI. Just doc visits, PAP pathology, and a radiology bill for who knows what that is? $12? I’m leaving out my $400 surprise colposcopy. But, VACCINE PLUG: get your son/daughter an HPV vaccine and the his girl/she may never know the surprise cervical pinch of colposcopy. It is a terrible thing to surprise a woman with. (I was too old, to not a virgin at 26 when vaccines became available).

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Don’t feel bad for me. Maybe set me up one of those gofundmesoIcanaffordfollowupcancersurveillanceandhaveayearlypapsinceI’msexuallyactive. Not a big draw on that?

Alright then. Just pay attention as policy, which people seem to be more averse to than illness itself, is being made. Taxes (for a few) may be losing their place on that short list of inevitability, but mortality my loves, endures.

CVS-AETNA merger (I told you so, mom)

The things going on in corporate health care these days. Woo! It’s like my own personal Boiler Room. Our care system is at the point in its spring cleaning when all drawers have been dumped on the floor to sort out the junk for donation, the cleaning products are strewn about, and there’s a half-built really expensive organization system that refuses to fit together. Here come the tears because HOW IS IT EVER GOING TO GET BETTER!

I get the pleasure of interviewing corporate executives, medical directors, and patients all doing the work of trying to straighten this place up — it gives me a great deal of faith that it will in fact, get better. It is going to be messy.

Today’s Upshot by Austin Frakt gives a superb sum-up of the why and what for of Sunday’s $69 billion merger. Two pull quotes below. Dust off your macroeconomics text books, it’s vertical integration in the land of the free (who pay an average of $10,000 a year on health needs). Consolidate. Cut middle men. And as always, gather ye customer base while ye may.

The CVS-Aetna deal would be just another of the many recent mergers across business lines in health care. Insurers are buying or partnering with health care providers. Health systems are offering insurance. Hospitals are employing physicians. Even Amazon is jumping into the pharmacy business in some states. This may be part of the motivation for CVS to buy Aetna — defensive jockeying to maintain access to a large customer base that might otherwise begin to fill drug prescriptions online.

One source of optimism: Research shows that coordinating pharmacy and health benefits has value because it removes perverse incentives that arise when drug and nondrug benefits are split across organizations. When pharmacy benefits are managed by a company that’s not on the hook for the cost of other care, like hospitalization, it doesn’t have as strong an incentive for increasing access to drugs that reduce other types of health care use. That could end up costing more over all.

As a postscript, I know the first thing that comes to mind when seeing “billion dollar merger” is monopoly. We hate those. With intact heavy regulation, however, monopoly is not at the top of my nightmare list for the health care industry. What is? Corporation as person, with all the legal rights of, and free from the deterring power of class action legal suits. That keeps me up.

There is a movie review in this blog.

Print journalism has been so good these past months that felt like years. Remember back in 2012, that gleeful feeling you got when you read Pete Wells’ review of the Guy Fieri superfund site in Times Square? Well, I just re-read it and it is a mere amuse bouche for the righteousness served daily by journalists at the Washington Post, New York Times, and smaller dailies in Detroit, Cincinnati, so on. Oh, lord, ProPublica’s piping hot Pulitzer-prize winning online investigative journalism. Just as you might “a plate of pale, unsalted squid rings next to a dish of sweet mayonnaise with a distant rumor of spice,” choke down this justice!

All of this is to say that print journalism is being the kind of excellent that one can only imagine was motivated by a prior laziness, a willful misinterpretation of equal coverage, a cowardice so big it created a universe of language to explain a phenomenon where one word would do (lie); all contributing to the rise of the a leader that in brief, is frickin’ dangerous.

SO! What I mean to say is now is the time to hug your journalist. And, if you like me think human lives are fascinating and the people that spend theirs writing about others even more cause they are themselves fascinating in super intelligent, hard to get along with, quirky beyond all reason ways, please watch the documentary Obit.

Somewhere buried in the documentary the writers address the “isn’t it sad to write about dead people all day” question. I couldn’t agree more with the answer, which is: not at all. They get to write about a life that, likely if it makes The New York Times, is full and brilliant, meaningful, left a legacy, and often lasted a long time.

I feel the same way about taking care of people at end-of-life. Is it sad? Not usually. Not really. No.

I regret even starting with the Guy Fieri stuff. I’ve lost my appetite.