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Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

Medicare for All-Good Idea or Political Death?
What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
   Healthcare 
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
   Leadership 
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
   Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 
A Failure of Oversight at the VA 
IOM Releases Report on Graduate Medical Education 
Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Beyond the AHI 

 

For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.

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Entries in data accuracy (3)

Saturday
Dec122015

CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals for Safety Incidents 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is penalizing 758 hospitals with higher rates of patient safety incidents, and more than half of those were also fined last year, as reported by Kaiser Health News (1).

Among the hospitals being financially punished are some well-known institutions, including Yale New Haven Hospital, Medstar Washington Hospital Center in DC, Grady Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Indiana University Health,  Brigham and Womens Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, University of North Carolina Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Parkland Health and Hospital, and the University of Virginia Medical Center (Complete List of Hospitals Penalized 2016). In the Southwest the list includes Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Stanford Health Care, Denver Health Medical Center and the University of New Mexico Medical Center (for list of Southwest hospitals see Appendix 1). In total, CMS estimates the penalties will cost hospitals $364 million. Look now if you must, but you might want to read the below before on how to interpret the data.

The penalties, created by the 2010 health law, are the toughest sanctions CMS has taken on hospital safety. Patient safety advocates worry the fines are not large enough to alter hospital behavior and that they only examine a small portion of the types of mistakes that take place. On the other hand, hospitals say the penalties are counterproductive and unfairly levied against places that have made progress in safety but have not caught up to most facilities. They are also bothered that the health law requires CMS to punish a quarter of hospitals each year. CMS plans to add more types of conditions in future years.

I would like to raise two additional concerns. First, is the data accurate? The data is self-reported by the hospitals and previously the accuracy of these self reports has been questioned (2). Are some hospitals being punished for accurately reporting data while others rewarded for lying? I doubt that CMS will be looking too closely since bad data would invalidate their claims that they are improving hospital safety. It seems unlikely that punishing half the Nation's hospitals will do much except encouraging more suspect data.

Second, does the data mean anything? Please do not misconstrue or twist the truth that I am advocating against patient safety. What I am advocating for is meaningful measures. Previous research has suggested that the measures chosen by CMS have no correlation or even a negative correlation with patient outcomes (3,4). In other words, doing well on a safety measure was associated with either no improvement or a negative outcome, in some cases even death. How can this be? Let me draw an analogy of hospital admissions. About 1% of the 35 million or so patients admitted to hospitals in the US die. The death rate is much lower in the population not admitted to the hospital. According to CMS' logic, if we were to reduce admissions by 5% or 1.75 million, 17,500 lives (1% of 1.75 million) would be saved. This is, of course, absurd.

Looking at hospital acquired infections which make up much of CMS' data, CMS' logic appears similar. For example, insertion of urinary catheters, large bore central lines or endotracheal intubation in sick patients is common. The downside is some will develop urinary, line or lung infections as a complication of these insertions. Many of these sick patients will die and many will have line infections. The data is usually reported by saying hospital-acquired infections have decreased saving 50,000 lives and saved $12 billion in care costs (5). However, the truth is that hospital-acquired infections are often either not the cause of death or the final event in a disease process that caused the patient to be admitted to the hospital in the first place. If 50,000 lives are saved that should be reflected in the hospital death rates or a savings on insurance premiums. Neither has been shown to my knowledge.

So look at the data if you must but look with a skeptical eye. Until CMS convincingly demonstrates that the data is accurate and that their incentives decrease in-hospital complications, mortality and costs-the data is suspect. It could be as simple that the hospitals receiving the penalties are those taking care of sicker patients. What this means is that some hospitals, perhaps the ones that need the money the most, will have 1% less CMS reimbursement, which might make care worse rather than better.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor

SWJPCC

References

  1. Rau J. Medicare penalizes 758 hospitals for safety incidents, Kaiser Health News. December 10, 2015. Available at: http://khn.org/news/medicare-penalizes-758-hospitals-for-safety-incidents/ (accessed 12/11/15).
  2. Robbins RA. The Emperor has no clothes: the accuracy of hospital performance data. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;5:203-5.
  3. Robbins RA, Gerkin RD. Comparisons between Medicare mortality, morbidity, readmission and complications. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(6):278-86
  4. Lee GM, Kleinman K, Soumerai SB, et al. Effect of nonpayment for preventable infections in U.S. hospitals. N Engl J Med. 2012;367(15):1428-37. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Department of Health and Human Services. Efforts to improve patient safety result in 1.3 million fewer patient harms, 50,000 lives saved and $12 billion in health spending avoided. December 2, 2014. Available at: http://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2014/12/02/efforts-improve-patient-safety-result-1-3-million-fewer-patient-harms-50000-lives-saved-and-12-billion-in-health-spending-avoided.html (accessed 12/11/15).

Cite as: Robbins RA. CMS penalizes 758 hospitals for safety incidents. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;11(6):269-70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc153-15 PDF

Thursday
Mar122015

A Tale of Two News Reports 

On Wednesday, February 25, 2015 two new stories aired, one on National Public Radio (NPR) that I heard riding home that afternoon and the other later in the evening on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. Both stories were on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) but I was struck by the contrasting style of the two reports.

The first story was an NPR report on back injuries in nurses (1). According to the report nurses suffer more back injuries than almost any other occupation — and they get those injuries mainly from doing the everyday tasks of lifting and moving patients. The report stated that the VA has invested over $200 million in protecting nurses predominately by providing lifts and other devices for moving patients. VA hospitals across the country have reduced nursing injuries from moving patients by an average of 40 percent since the program started. The reduction at the Loma Linda hospital where the report was focused was closer to 30 percent — but the injuries that employees suffered were less serious than they used to be. Loma Linda spent almost $1 million during a recent four-year period just to hire replacements for employees who got hurt so badly they had to go home. However, this past year they spent nothing because according to the report nobody got hurt badly enough to miss work.

The VA's reputation for accurate information has been called into question. The Phoenix VA was the ground zero of an investigation which eventually discovered that about 70% of VA hospitals were falsifying patient waiting reports (2). Perhaps everything in this NPR report is true, however, the NPR report reminded me of so many I heard over the past two decades where any medical report was accepted by the media at face value. Many of the reports I knew were not true because I worked at the VA. There are several reasons to be skeptical. First, it is from the VA. Second, the director of the Loma Linda VA was Donald F. Moore until late 2012. Prior to that position Moore had been the director of the Phoenix VA. Third, the reported drop in injuries borders on the unbelievable. Nursing supervisors likely need to get approval to replace injured nurses.  Perhaps a directive either not to report any back injuries or that approval of replacement nurses would not be granted was issued. There are many ways to falsify the data, but NPR was nonquestioning in their report.

Later that evening CBS Evening News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reported that he found widespread mismanagement of VA claims. The mismanagement resulted in veterans being denied the benefits they earned, and many even dying before they get an answer from the VA (3). Five whistleblowers at the Oakland, California, Veterans Benefits office told CBS News that more than 13,000 claims filed between 1996 and 2009 ended up stashed in a file cabinet and ignored until 2012. VA supervisors in Oakland ordered marking the claims "no action necessary" and to toss them aside. Whistleblowers said that was illegal. Last week, the VA inspector general confirmed that because of, "poor record keeping" In Oakland, "veterans did not receive... benefits to which they may have been entitled." How many veterans is not known, because thousands of records were missing when inspectors arrived. In the last year, the inspector general has found serious issues in at least six VA benefits offices, including unprocessed claims in Philadelphia, 9,500 records sitting on employees' desks in Baltimore and computer manipulation in Houston to make claims look completed when they were not. VA Central Office said in a statement, "..electronic claims processing [has] transformed mail management for compensation claims ... greatly minimizing any risk of delays due to lost or misplaced mail...For any deficiencies identified, steps are taken to appropriately process the documents and correct any deficiencies." Much of this sounded very familiar and similar to the patient wait times the VA falsified last year.

The CBS report closed with a statement from the Veterans service organization Veteran Warriors, which advocates for veterans who are having difficulty with their claims. The Veteran Warriors said in a statement: "Too many cases have come to light, wherein the VA leaders have destroyed, deleted, hidden and manipulated veterans claims - their very access to benefits and services - and NOT ONE OF THEM has been criminally charged. It is time for our nations' leaders to stop listening to the endless "lip service" of accountability and demand answers. If they do not get them, it is time for repercussions to be felt by those who obviously believe they are above the law and insulated from prosecution." It was clear that the Veteran Warriors did not believe the VA and also clear that neither did CBS News.

The weak reporting on medical issues has been apparent to me for some time. The CBS report suggests that this may be changing. The VA scandal may point out that medical reports need to questioned just like other news stories. Truthfulness does matter and the VA continually blaming clerks and other lower level employees for administrative inadequacies or attacking the whistleblower has become tedious. Even the present inspector general's report blamed the closing of the Veterans claims on "poor record keeping". In this instance CBS news was doing their job questioning the VA but NPR was not.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor

SWJPCC

References

  1. Zwerdling D. At VA hospitals, training and technology reduce nurses' injuries. NPR. February 25, 2015. Available at: http://www.npr.org/2015/02/25/387298633/at-va-hospitals-training-and-technology-reduce-nurses-injuries (accessed 3/7/15).
  2. Robbins RA. A veterans day editorial: change at the VA? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(5):281-3. [CrossRef]
  3. CBS News. Whistleblowers: Veterans cheated out of benefits. February 25, 2015. Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/veteran-benefits-administration-mismanagement-uncovered-in-investigation/ (accessed 3/7/15).

Reference as: Robbins RA. A tale of two news reports. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;10(3):143-4. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc038-15 PDF

Monday
Oct082012

The Emperor Has No Clothes: The Accuracy of Hospital Performance Data  

Several studies were announced within the past month dealing with performance measurement. One was the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (Joint Commission, JCAHO) 2012 annual report on Quality and Safety (1). This includes the JCAHO’s “best” hospital list. Ten hospitals from Arizona and New Mexico made the 2012 list (Table 1).

Table 1. JCAHO list of “best” hospitals in Arizona and New Mexico for 2011 and 2012.

This compares to 2011 when only six hospitals from Arizona and New Mexico were listed. Notably underrepresented are the large urban and academic medical centers. A quick perusal of the entire list reveals that this is true for most of the US, despite larger and academic medical centers generally having better outcomes (2,3).

This raises the question of what criteria are used to measure quality. The JCAHO criteria are listed in Appendix 2 at the end of their report. The JCAHO criteria are not outcome based but a series of surrogate markers. The Joint Commission calls their criteria “evidence-based” and indeed some are, but some are not (2). Furthermore, many of the Joint Commission’s criteria are bundled. In other words, failure to comply with one criterion is the same as failing to comply with them all. They are also not weighted, i.e., each criterion is judged to be as important as the other. An example where this might have an important effect on outcomes might be pneumonia. Administering an appropriate antibiotic to a patient with pneumonia is clearly evidence-based. However, administering the 23-polyvalent pneumococcal vaccine in adults is not effective (4-6). By the Joint Commission’s criteria administering pneumococcal vaccine is just as important as choosing the right antibiotic and failure to do either results in their judgment of noncompliance.

Previous studies have not shown that compliance with the JCAHO criteria improves outcomes (2,3). Examination of the US Health & Human Services Hospital Compare website is consistent with these results. None of the “best” hospitals in Arizona or New Mexico were better than the US average in readmissions, complications, or deaths (7).

A second announcement was the success of the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s (AHRQ) program on central line associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) (8). According to the press release the AHRQ program has prevented more than 2,000 CLABSIs, saving more than 500 lives and avoiding more than $34 million in health care costs. This is surprising since with the possible exception of using chlorhexidine instead of betadine, the bundled criteria are not evidence-based and have not correlated with outcomes (9). Examination of the press release reveals the reduction in mortality and the savings in healthcare costs were estimated from the hospital self-reported reduction in CLABSI.

A clue to the potential source of these discrepancies came from an article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Meddings and colleagues (10). These authors studied urinary tract infections which were self-reported by hospitals using claims data. According to Meddings, the data were “inaccurate” and “are not valid data sets for comparing hospital acquired catheter-associated urinary tract infection rates for the purpose of public reporting or imposing financial incentives or penalties”. The authors propose that the nonpayment by Medicare for “reasonably preventable” hospital-acquired complications resulted in this discrepancy. There is no reason to assume that data reported for CLABSI or ventilator associated pneumonia (VAP) is any more accurate.

These and other healthcare data seem to follow a trend of bundling weakly evidence-based, non-patient centered surrogate markers with legitimate performance measures. Under threat of financial penalty the hospitals are required to improve these surrogate markers, and not surprisingly, they do. The organization mandating compliance with their outcomes joyfully reports how they have improved healthcare saving both lives and money. These reports are often accompanied by estimates, but not measurement, of patient centered outcomes such as mortality, morbidity, length of stay, readmission or cost. The result is that there is no real effect on healthcare other than an increase in costs. Furthermore, there would seem to be little incentive to question the validity of the data. The organization that mandates the program would be politically embarrassed by an ineffective program and the hospital would be financially penalized for honest reporting.

Improvement begins with the establishment of guidelines that are truly evidence-based and have a reasonable expectation of improving patient centered outcomes. Surrogate markers should be replaced by patient-centered outcomes such as mortality, morbidity, length of stay, readmission, and/or cost. The recent "pay-for-performance" ACA provision on hospital readmissions that went into effect October 1 is a step in the right direction. The guidelines should not be bundled but weighted to their importance. Lastly, the validity of the data needs to be independently confirmed and penalties for systematically reporting fraudulent data should be severe. This approach is much more likely to result in improved, evidence-based healthcare rather than the present self-serving and inaccurate programs without any benefit to patients.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care

References

  1. Available at: http://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/18/TJC_Annual_Report_2012.pdf (accessed 9/22/12).
  2. Robbins RA, Gerkin R, Singarajah CU. Relationship between the Veterans Healthcare Administration hospital performance measures and outcomes. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2011;3:92-133.
  3. Rosenthal GE, Harper DL, Quinn LM. Severity-adjusted mortality and length of stay in teaching and nonteaching hospitals. JAMA 1997;278:485-90.
  4. Fine MJ, Smith MA, Carson CA, Meffe F, Sankey SS, Weissfeld LA, Detsky AS, Kapoor WN. Efficacy of pneumococcal vaccination in adults. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Int Med 1994;154:2666-77.
  5. Dear K, Holden J, Andrews R, Tatham D. Vaccines for preventing pneumococcal infection in adults. Cochrane Database Sys Rev 2003:CD000422.
  6. Huss A, Scott P, Stuck AE, Trotter C, Egger M. Efficacy of pneumococcal vaccination in adults: a meta-analysis. CMAJ 2009;180:48-58.
  7. http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov/ (accessed 9/22/12).
  8. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/press/pr2012/pspclabsipr.htm (accessed 9/22/12).
  9. Hurley J, Garciaorr R, Luedy H, Jivcu C, Wissa E, Jewell J, Whiting T, Gerkin R, Singarajah CU, Robbins RA. Correlation of compliance with central line associated blood stream infection guidelines and outcomes: a review of the evidence. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:163-73.
  10. Meddings JA, Reichert H, Rogers MA, Saint S, Stephansky J, McMahon LF. Effect of nonpayment for hospital-acquired, catheter-associated urinary tract infection: a statewide analysis. Ann Intern Med 2012;157:305-12.

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arizona or New Mexico Thoracic Societies.

Reference as: Robbins RA. The emperor has no clothes: the accuracy of hospital performance data. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;5:203-5. PDF