Comment on Bob Wachter’s “Letter From London”

Wachter's World is a somewhat irregularly posted, always thoughful, sometimes provocative blog that Bob Wachter, Chief of Hospital Medicine at UCSF maintains.Reading it is a great pleasure for me as Bob's posts elicit both reflection and responsive comment. I commonly wait until I can use my computer to read his posts, rather than read on my blackberry or iPad as I do with so many others. For me, the pleasure of consideration and reflection is enhanced by Bob's fine job of eliciting dialogue–which he clearly seeks to accomplish and engage. Writing a responsive comment on a Bob Wachter post brings me pleasure.

Unfortunately, for the last several months his site hasn't accepted my comments. Let me be clear, Bob does moderate comments to his site, but his site hasn't allowed me to enter a comment to the site for moderation. He and his technical team are aware of a problem and have been working on it. Given that I've tried three different browsers on two different Windows7 computers, I don't think it's on my end, yet it persists. Today, I wrote a comment evoked by Bob's recent post, Letter from London" and since I can't post on his site, I thought I'd post it here with this explanation. Though many fewer will see it here than if it had been part of his site's comments–the text below, somewhat satiatiates the urge to usefully comment on Bob's post.

Slightly more than two years ago @KentBottles and I had a conversation in multiple parts about trust and the physician relationship with patients and the public more generally. Somewhat later the June 2009 issue of HBR in Rethinking Trust provoked consideration of the question more broadly. Given the greater political malaise and active diminishing of trust through various political antics, including perhaps some of those mentioned by the commentator @Cory on Wachter's original post, it seems most useful to focus on the profession and local efforts at raising trust.

So I ask, "Is improving patient safety a good way to do that, Bob–raise trust between physicians/clinicians and patients?" For Bob's post tells us he is off to London for a sabbatical, June-December 2011.

Don't get me wrong, I'm in awe (and envious!) of Bob's planned sabbatical with Charles Vincent who I've followed since meeting at the AEMJ Sponsored Consensus Conference in 2000 and Vincent's subsequent published contribution.

Bob's blog posting as always looks to the substantive as does his planned sabbatical. Yet I wonder if that's enough. Today's NY Times Magazine in "The President and the Passions" makes the case:

 "The lesson to be drawn is that the art of politics must be the art of engaging the passions, first by exciting them, then by moderating and directing them to a worthy end, one that reason may reveal but cannot achieve."


So too do Solomon & Flores in Building Trust which @KentBottles introduced me to. They make the case that it's less what goes on in the exchange and more about how engaged, interested and compassionate the exchange with another is conducted.

Thus, if I were to submit my contribution to that decade past consensus conference AEMJ issue today, I think I'd likely add a fourth area of comment: communication, particularly the use of social media in expanding connections between providers and patients and thereby hopefully rebuilding trust among them.

It's not just the science we bring to bear and how we explain it; it's also how we show the patient that they are safe and their concerns and interests are valued.

A feature the decade younger me hadn't yet grasped.

Thank you, Bob, for sharing your thoughts and experiences through your blog postings and your encouragement of the subsequent commentary and dialogue. Oh, and I look forward to the correction of the technical difficulty that prevents me from commenting on your site.

"The problem with communication is the illusion it has occurred." –G.B. Shaw

HealthCamp Philadelphia–Less than a month to go

The BarCamp movement of self-produced intense conferences reminds me of the charrettes I'd hear about from my close friend and college roommate when he was in architecture school. HealthCamp has grown out of BarCamp and on Saturday, March 28, 2009 HealthCamp Philadelphia begins at 8:00 AM in the Hamilton Building on the Thomas Jefferson University at 11th and Locust Streets. The slide show summarizes the day and its goals.

Comparative Effectiveness Research–The View from Wachter’s World

Bob Wachter discusses the challenges of implementing the comparative effectiveness research results we have in hand. From the perspective of leading physicians and frequent contacts with a diverse range of specialists and sub-specialists in my tertiary care providing community, teaching hospital I find myself nodding in agreement with Wachter's observations.

Everyone but the citizen's ox gets gored by comparative effectiveness research implementations. I use the term citizen advisedly, taking my cue from Obama; for some number of patients may well feel that they lose out as individuals, even as the polity benefits.

Tough implementation ahead with lots of squabbling before we're done accomplishing a fraction of the result the policymakers are seeking.

Customer-Consumer Confusion and now Patients, too

EP Monthly's "WhiteCoat's Call Room" posts two links and discusses "Patients or Customers"?

Patient, customer and consumer have specific meanings, not accurately used in the posts from Aggravated DocSurg and Detroit Receiving's EM Blog.While I'm in general agreement with many (not all) of the sentiments expressed in the two posts, it's important to get the correct meaning of the terms.

Customer= he who pays
Consumer= he who uses

The definitions are from Princeton Wordnet, but they're the same as what I was taught at Wharton 20+ years ago.

Part of our challenge in forming relationships in the ostensible business (good or service exchanged for value) is that for many users of physician services (i.e., patients) both the patient and physician experience customer-consumer confusion with consequent misalignment of incentives.

Patients will be increasingly demanding of receiving value in their care for value given directly (fee-for-service) or through employer and tax-based services. They will find the employers holding them accountable for "smart shopping" or the government steering in other ways–or both.

My father was a proud physician, he cared only for patients. Were I to view the world as he did, I would be struggling to feed my family. In this year of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, let's remember that it is not only individuals, but also entire species and perhaps professions for whom survival is not guaranteed; one must adapt or die.

Hospital Marketing in the Web 2.0 World

So what does this book have to do with hospitals–aside from the title of this post?

I learned of this book because I read Robert Scoble through the RSS feed of his blog and just recently, Scoble interviewed Kawasaki in an 18 minute video. Guy Kawasaki argues the reality of marketing in the era of social media. He makes the audacious assertion that, "Twitter is the most powerful branding mechanism since television." yet this assertion receives independent affirmation in the unrelated efforts of Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) Boston who in his activity on twitter @paulflevy and in his blog is successfully marketing his hospital through the social web. My hospital’s medical director regularly reads this blog.

Most hospital administrations look at their local market–primary and secondary geographic market areas, usually defined by zip codes. To most administrators Boston wouldn’t be relevant to our hospital’s market in Brooklyn–today they’re right–it’s not. Marketing hospitals today is mostly not far removed from how I learned it in my MBA program in 1988. Yet I believe Kawasaki would argue that the social media Web 2.0 tools are awaiting deployment in Brooklyn. Ten postings on Yelp review my hospital, Maimonides Medical Center and nearby NY Methodist‘s ED was discussed on a community bulletin board.

Kawasaki tells us that if we don’t get out there and brand ourselves–others, typically our most vociferous and perhaps disgruntled patient-customers will and are doing it for us.

In Brooklyn we’re not competing with Paul Levy and BIDMC which is why we can learn so much from what he’s doing; we’re competing with our communities to own our brand and to define ourselves in the marketplace. The Web 2.0 social media tools are the way to go and Twitter is a great way to start; Facebook is not just for your college student. Define yourself, don’t leave it to others to do it for your. See you on the social web. @sjdmd

Engage with Grace


Engage with Grace is a project I learned about a month ago at the Health 2.0 Conference. Alexandra Drane presented the very personal story of her sister-in-law’s death, at home and in direct opposition to the recommendations of her physicians. About 1000 people in the room and you could hear a pin drop–except for occasional sobs–mine included.

Several dozen bloggers in the health care field and beyond are engaged in a blog rally* this weekend, simultaneously posting the one slide and Alexandra Drane’s post to
encourage conversation about a topic that’s often avoided but every family ought be discussing: How we want to die.
Please try it, using the slide above as a discussion guide. It’s not
that hard to have the conversation with your loved ones once you get

We make choices throughout our lives – where
we want to live, what types of activities will fill our days, with whom
we spend our time. These choices are often a balance between our
desires and our means, but at the end of the day, they are decisions
made with intent. But when it comes to how we want to be treated at the
end our lives, often we don’t express our intent or tell our loved ones
about it. This has real consequences. 73% of Americans would
prefer to die at home, but up to 50% die in hospital. More than 80% of
Californians say their loved ones “know exactly” or have a “good idea”
of what their wishes would be if they were in a persistent coma, but
only 50% say they’ve talked to them about their preferences.But
our end of life experiences are about a lot more than statistics.
They’re about all of us. So the first thing we need to do is start
talking. Engage With Grace: The One Slide Project
was designed with one simple goal: to help get the conversation about
end of life experience started. The idea is simple: Create a tool to
help get people talking. One Slide, with just five questions on it.
Five questions designed to help get us talking with each other, with
our loved ones, about our preferences. And we’re asking people to share
this One Slide – wherever and whenever they can…at a presentation, at
dinner, at their book club. Just One Slide, just five questions. Lets start a global discussion that, until now, most of us haven’t had.Here is what we are asking you: Download The One Slide
(that’s it above) and share it at any opportunity – with colleagues,
family, friends. Think of the slide as currency and donate just two
minutes whenever you can. Commit to being able to answer these five
questions about end of life experience for yourself, and for your loved
ones. Then commit to helping others do the same. Get this conversation
started. Let’s start a viral movement driven by the change we
as individuals can effect…and the incredibly positive impact we could
have collectively. Help ensure that all of us – and the people we care
for – can end our lives in the same purposeful way we live them. Just One Slide, just one goal. Think of the enormous difference we can make together.
(To learn more please go to This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team.)

* In case you are wondering, "blog rally" is a term invented this past weekend
A blog rally is the simultaneous presentation of identical or similar
material on numerous blogs, for the purpose of engaging large numbers
of readers and/or persuading them to adopt a certain position or take a
certain action. The simultaneous natu re of a blog rally creates the
ironic result of joining the efforts of otherwise independent bloggers
for an agreed-upon purpose. As far as we can tell, this is the first
recorded use of a blog rally — occurring from November 26 through
November 30, 2008, in support of a viral movement called ‘Engage with
Grace: The One Slide Project’ — organized to encourage families to
discuss end-of-life care issues while gathered together for the
Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This particular blog rally also has a
parallel component on Facebook, where many people are donating their
status to bring attention to Engage with Grace.

I must credit Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston whose blog, Running a Hospital is where I learned of the weekend "blog rally". Levy is also on Twitter as PaulFLevy.

Farad Johnmar Discusses Health 2.0: Fad or Fundamental?

Fard Johnmar at HealthcareVOX nicely summarizes and explores some of the concerns I’ve been feeling as I’ve vacillated over attending the Health 2.0 Conference next month in San Francisco. I do think the fundamental concept is valuable, I’m concerned by the sound of hype inherent in the term: language does create its own reality. Nonetheless, I’m headed for San Francisco for the conference on my way to Chicago (I’m starting from Brooklyn, NY) for the annual ACEP Scientific Assembly.

I’d like to suggest that consistent with his theme, he could sharpen both his diagram of the four "clogged arteries" and his explanation of its content. First the diagram itself could benefit from the third dimension, I envision a cone the base covering the entire diagram and drawing to a point at a figure/avatar representing the user-consumer-patient-community of users.

I suggest this blanketing user-consumer-patient-community of users input not to hold this central aspect (We used to call it "patient-centered" and "family-centered" care.) outside or orthagonal to the concept embedded into the diagram, but rather to respect the underlying thoughts while refining the concept. For I see in all four of the "clogged arteries" components of purely professional endeavor and components of professional interaction with user-consumer-community of users.

Medical Decisions seems especially fraught. Perhaps that’s just me, a physician-educator-executive, responding to the term in this context when my efforts over the past 30+ years in this realm are best crystallized by Jerome Groopman in How Doctors Think where the focus is really on how doctors make medical decisions. The user-consumer-patient-community of users certainly does as well, differently and at many different levels. Johnmar in conflating physician prescription practice with managing end-of-life care cost rather crosses many more boundaries than I can comfortably traverse within the core concept–at least so long as I’m devoting the attention I am to young physicians learning the practice of making medical decisions.

The implications of Molly Coye’s (HealthTech) observation that hospital expenditures are shifting away from labor expenditures and towards capital, both facility and technological, seems fundamental to this transition time as well. I don’t know if any hospital has asked its community if the user-consumer-patient-community of users would prefer a new MRI machine or a patient navigator program. Both is too glib an answer, which while not unrealistic today in many environments, may soon become so.

The exposure to these various constructs is provocative and mind-expanding. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the progenitors of the Health 2.0 concepts and the entrepreneurs who are seeking to bring it to fruition. There has to be a pony in there somewhere.

Certifying Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) and the Personal Health Record (PHR)

Yesterday I received notice of the CCHIT’s next steps in certifying PHRs. The message was broadly addressed, I’m sure the entire CCHIT mailing list received it. Note the request for help in spreading the word. It’s somewhat ironic that this organization–with which I participate as an ED Workgroup member–whose mission is "to accelerate the adoption of health information technology by creating an efficient, credible and sustainable certification program" seeks to speak to consumers through its marketing director.

I guess this calls for redoubling my own efforts from the inside.


Today we are launching a program to increase the consumer participation in our personal health record (PHR) certification program development. And we could really use your help in spreading the word. If your organization has a communication channel to consumers, we would really appreciate it if you could carry the included information to them. I have attached a Word and PDF version of our invitation for your use (editor note: Same content as this post.) I would be happy to expand on this if you need more or customize it for your use if that would help.

We have several new activities in which consumers can participate:

·         The Commission has completed its first step, the creation of draft criteria for testing PHRs. Beginning Monday, Sept. 29, the criteria will be posted to  and available for a 30-day public comment period.

·         A new Web site and blog dedicated to furthering the conversation about PHRs,, will launch on that same date.  A consumer’s guide to certification of PHRs will also be available there. 

·         On Friday, Oct. 10, the Certification Commission will host a special free Town Call teleconference that will allow consumers and consumer representatives to gain a better understanding of PHR certification and how they can play a role in the process. The Town Call will include a presentation by Dr. Mark Leavitt, chair of the Commission, and Dr. Jodi Pettit, the staff leader of the PHR Work Group. It can be downloaded by Oct. 9 at

Participants in the Town Call can ask questions during the call or online at The questions and answers will be posted online following the teleconference.

The dial-in information for the Town Call is:
4:00 pm ET/ 3:00 pm CT/ 2:00 pm MT/ 1:00 pm PT

Participant Dial-In Number: 1 (877) 313-5342
Conference ID Number: 65204557

C Sue Reber

Marketing Director, CCHIT

Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology

503.288.5876 office | 503.703.0813 cell | 503.287.4613 fax

Is it time to drag private physicians out of the paper age?

Published: June 24, 2008 
If this country does not accelerate the conversion from paper to electronic health records, many health care reform promises will become irrelevant. 
Yes. So? 
American physicians are still paid on piece-work; productivity matters to them and their families. Seeing patients pays the mortgage and feeds the family. 
I’ve successfully implemented an electronic medical record that has served more than one-half million patients since 2002, yet I know that we’ve accomplished this only by sacrificing physician productivity even as we’ve improved overall productivity in our emergency department. Optimizing an entire system often requires that components of the system operate at less than optimum in some fashion. 
We can do this at my hospital because our physician staff is only partially compensated by piece-work and the alternative subsidies could be adjusted. 
The NY Times got it wrong this time. Private physicians behave as they do in response to the totally distorted payment system–even the term "reimbursement" so common in this context is evidence of this distortion. 
My Dad, an internist, used to say that the head-bone is connected to the foot-bone. He practiced internal medicine and gastroenterology and empirically experienced connectedness of the head-bone and the gut long before we had the science proving it. 
It’s not the private physicians who must be dragged out of the paper age. It’s the payment system and the financing of healthcare in 21st century America. 
The NY Times should castigate our policymakers, not our practitioners.

Could CMS demand only delayed reads of imaging studies and take Ultrasound billing away from EM?

An Influential Federal advisory panel has voted to recommend lower 2006 Medicare payments than expected by physicians and hospitals, as well as other policy actions affecting both. (emphasis added)

While reimbursement levels are a concern, it’s the other "policy proposals" that really scare me.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission voted to recommend a 2.7 percent increase in Medicare payments to doctors, which is less than the expected increase in doctors’ costs, but substantially more than doctors would get under current law, under which payments would be cut five percent next year if Congress takes no action, reported the New York Times.

[. . . ]

The commission expressed concern about the proliferation of imaging equipment and services in doctors’ offices, and urged Congress to direct the secretary of health and human services to set national standards for doctors who perform or interpret diagnostic imaging studies billed to Medicare – a move which would alter the historical role of states and medical specialty boards in physician licensing and certification, the Times noted. The standards would cover the training and education of doctors who bill Medicare for X-rays, CAT scans, PET scans, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, (emphasis added) echocardiography and other imaging. The panel maintained that poor quality diagnostic imaging can lead to repeat tests, misdiagnoses and improper treatment, the Times added.

[. . . ]

So this proposal could entrench delayed reads as the standard for all radiography as a consequence of the requirement that only those meeting federal standards for "training and education" interpreted imaging studies. Also CMS could easily decide that bedside ultrasound imaging was merely a component of the evaluation and management (E&M) service and not separately compensable.