Monday, 22 May 2017

Beyond the reforms (on the subject of Franco Basaglia)

What can we do when reforms are in short supply? This is a question that many of us ask ourselves when rigidities and bureaucracies show us their sordid face. Without going any further, the integration of services and community work is the only way (I think there are no dissenters in this) to adequately care for complex chronic patients, but when it comes to the truth, it turns out that the levels of care, professionals’ abilities and the fragmentation of medical specialties are a drag on the progress of the necessary reforms.

I’ve pondered on this when I read that The Guardian had just published a book by John Foot, "The man who closed the asylum" that tells the life of Franco Basaglia, a psychiatrist with an exceptional entrepreneurial force. During the war, according to the author, Basaglia was imprisoned as an antifascist and this experience was key to the fact that when he was appointed director of an asylum in the early 1960s, he realized that the psychiatry practiced in that establishment was inspired by and took the shape of prisons.

Franco Basaglia embraced the ideas of anti-psychiatry and by his first day as director of the Gorizia asylum, he already refused to sign repressive orders, beginning to work for the democratization of the internal life of the institution from the outset. His biographer says that the transformative enthusiasm of Basaglia and his collaborators (including his wife) was overwhelming. The reactionary forces stood up to him, but he was determined: the asylums could not be reformed; they had to be abolished. In 1978, shortly before dying at the age of only 56, he managed to convince the Italian parliament to approve the law that takes his name and which meant the dismantling of all Italian mental hospitals and adopt the European model (see post: Mental health, the most forceful transformation).

If you have six minutes do not hesitate to click on this video, narrated by John Foot the author of the book on Basaglia, about the closure of asylums for the insane in Italy.

Going back to where we started, to the need to go beyond the reforms for complex chronic patients, I think it would be good to recover the Basaglia spirit, in the sense that what we ought to abolish what we do know, just as the anti-psychiatry did in their moment, to realize that if we don’t understand how people are and how they live, it will be impossible for us to offer them adequate services. For this reason, it will be necessary to eliminate levels and specialties in order to integrate services from community leadership.

Jordi Varela

Monday, 15 May 2017

The controversy of health checks

The National Health Service announces health checks by making use of the mood of the "Full Monty" or "The Calendar Girls." Let yourself be undressed for a good cause - they say - your body deserves it. In Spain, on the other hand, this approach is more typical to the private offer. "The best way to take care of your health is to open your eyes to possible diseases and not hesitate to undergo periodic tests to prevent them," says "10 Minutos" magazine in an article on the subject. Many private centres have "Medical check-ups" and most insurers and clinics offer health check-ups, as can be seen in an announcement from the Quirón Teknon Hospital: "basic preventive check-up: previously € 820 - now € 690; advanced preventive check: was € 1,800 - now € 1,520". The Sanitas proposal that offers the possibility of choosing between "checks: classic, integral and complete" is also interesting just as the National Conference of Marketing and Sales Management of the Health Sector that says "the most demanded from the iGlobalMed platform are the health checks for managers who are going to work abroad". To end this journey through the world of health reviews, see the clip below from the University Hospital of Navarre website:

Monday, 8 May 2017

What if I decide to do nothing?

TIME magazine has surprised us with a question on its front page: "What would happen if I decided to do nothing?" Desiree Basila, a 60-year-old teacher, had just been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and, overwhelmed by the aggressiveness of the treatment proposals offered to her, began to investigate on her own and realized that there were many unknown elements about the progression of this type of injury and also saw that there was no agreement in the scientific community on what should be the most appropriate therapy for her case. For this reason she made a bold decision and asked her oncologist to do nothing, which resulted in two checks a year and a treatment with Tamoxifen, a drug that blocks estrogens that could cause the tumour to grow.

The case of Desiree Basila is quite valuable because when she made this decision, 8 years ago, it was not yet known that the mortality of women with DCIS, regardless of the type of treatment they adopt, is 3.3%, a figure comparable to that of the general population, and it was also not known that chemotherapy has no effect on tumours in initial staging. But to better understand the pressure that Desiree had to endure, it should be added that the attitude of most oncologists, even in the case of DCIS, was, and remains, "the sooner the better and the more the better."

Monday, 1 May 2017

Primary care: segment to reform?

In a paper published in Health Affairs, Redesigning Primary Care: A strategic vision to improve value by organizing around patients' needs (see commented post) Michael Porter invited us to rethink the organizational model of primary care in accordance with the real needs of the population.

Following the Porterian advice, and just to think a little, it’s worth the excellent Memory of the Catalan Institute of Health (ICS) of 2013, with data from 288 primary health care teams spread throughout the territory, from small local clinics to metropolitan centres with several basic health areas under their care. On page 7 of the document you will see a table elaborated with the attendance of more than 4 million people (who have been visited at least once during the year). The segmentation of this population, grouped with Clinical Risk Group, shows that segments 5, 6 and 7 (different intensities of chronicity) have represented 64.5% of the people who have visited, a group that has consumed 88.8% of the pharmacy and generated 74.7% of urgent hospitalizations (among patients who have been hospitalized two or more times in a year).

Monday, 24 April 2017

The value of clinical practice in chronic complex patients

Lost in the country of the pink bibs

To illustrate what kind of patients Dr. Meier is talking about, I found an article in The New York Times, where the writer Marcy Cottrell House explains the case of her father, who at age seventy, developed dementia and also broke his femur. Cottrell says that during the long postoperative period, the father got much worse and often found him in a room with other insane patients, all of them with a pink bib around their necks. The quiet of the place was impressive and the old man's gaze no longer recognized anyone. The nurse told them not to worry, it was normal to be more disconnected because of the tranquilizers they gave him to avoid the aggressiveness that he displayed during his stay. The writer ended up going in the office of a good geriatrician, who told him that the postoperative pain or that of poly-arthritis was likely to be torturing his father. He clarified that cognitive problems don’t stop him feeling the pain of bones and joints. The fact - explains the author - is that with a gram of Tylenol three times a day (a painkiller), his father revived and returned to smile when he heard his music and, better still, managed to escape the country the pink bibs.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The attitude of the doctor when faced with the biological opportunity of death

Gustavo Tolchinsky

During one of my postings in a small county hospital I found myself in the resuscitation room. A colleague had been trying for some time to understand how to tackle the cascade of problems harbored by an elderly patient: the monitor roars at 150 beats per minute, the pulse-oximeter shows 78%, despite the FiO2 1 of the high concentration mask; the patient, with a blank stare, the breathing strongly audible and the arterial tensions hardly captured. While the nurses are desperate to find a vein, to probe, to administer the prescribed corticosteroids and digoxin, to perform the electrocardiogram and to anticipate the next steps that the emergency doctor will order. Around her, another nurse points out, with great conscientiousness, what time it is and what procedure has been performed.

Faced with this situation it is reasonable to act by instinct driven by our eagerness to ‘solve’ the problem. I had already framed a first diagnosis. The patient presents a fall in rapid atrial fibrillation in the context of acute respiratory failure due to a respiratory infection, perhaps caused by bronchoaspiration. The hypotension is secondary to the haemodynamically poorly tolerated tachyarrhythmia. At this moment, knowledge put into practice demands that you slow down the heart rate, indicates serum therapy to overcome stress and starting treatment with antibiotics, relieving symptoms, etc.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Strategies for the integration of services

King's Fund has published a timely and in depth document "Acute Hospitals and Integrated Care" where they question what role should hospitals play in the integration of services. Given the approach, one could ask: What role should primary care play? How about community services? And the social health services? However it may be best, King's Fund has focused on it in this way and I believe it has its reasons for doing so because, right now, the organizational model that everyone tends to is that of territorial management or that of integrated health organizations, all of which are intended to integrate services from a hospital-centred position.

Who should lead the integration of services?

According to the document, it’s fundamental to generate the network of services on a territorial basis and the question of leadership should depend on the nature of each clinical process. Let's take a few examples: a) A remote dermatology project should be led by specialized care, b) An infarct ought to be led by cardiologists, intensive carers and emergency specialists, c) Care for type 2 diabetes mellitus, should be led by the primary care, d) Individualized therapeutic plans of complex chronic patients, should be led by primary care with the community nurse and the social worker taking a high profile role, e) Complex end-of-life processes should be led by community-based multidisciplinary palliative teams.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Overdiagnosis: the case of thyroid cancer

The thyroid cancer rate has doubled or possible tripled in the last twenty years in most Western countries; however there’s a paradigmatic case, according to an article published in New England by Ahn HS and collaborators: South Korea, where this rate has multiplied by fifteen. What has happened in this country? Is there an epidemic? This should not be the case given that when experts analyse specific population mortality (as shown in the chart), this figure remains unchanged. Therefore, everything points to a spectacular case of national over-diagnosis.

The authors explain that many government-encouraged providers offer very attractive and widely accepted preventive packs, including the use of ultrasound and other more sophisticated imaging tests for the early detection of thyroid cancer. It should be clarified that in South Korea, despite there being a national health system, there are co-payments for almost all health activities and as a consequence people pay close attention to the price of combined service offerings.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Right Care: How to reduce waste

This fourth and last post related to the series "Right Care" from the Lancet magazine ("Definition, gray areas and reversion" was the first, "Between too much and too little", the second, and "Question of attitude", the third), talks about various proposals to reduce the waste with the understanding that the inadequacy in the provision of health services is a wicked problem for which there are no magic solutions and, for this reason, the article "Levers for addressing medical underuse and overuse: achieving high-value health care" makes an effort, which is appreciated, to provide useful ideas to incorporate into the working agendas of both clinical managers and health managers, according to the following proposals to increase the value that health systems should bring to people.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Right Care: focusing on the attitude

Continuing with the "Right Care" series of the Lancet magazine, in this third post (I recall that "Definition, gray areas and reversion" was the first, and "Between too much and too little", the second), I have taken into account the beliefs of patients who, according to Vikas Saini in "Drivers of poor medical care," encourage practices of little value, but I have also described the attitudes of doctors who don’t prioritise the value of clinical practices. Remember that, according to Donald Berwick, between 25% and 33% of health costs are wasted in medical actions that don’t contribute anything or do more harm than good.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Right Care: between too much and too little

In the "Right Care" series of the Lancet magazine, Donald Berwick, in "Avoiding overuse - the next quality frontier", says that inappropriate clinical practices consume between 25% and 33% of health budgets in all countries in the world, but beyond the staggering amount of so much wasted money, there are four characteristics of excess, which Berwick emphasises: a) they affect the full range of health services and all specialties, although unevenly; b) there are specific clinical processes where exaggeration is highly disproportionate; (c) they are not exclusive to rich countries being also found in developing countries and in poor countries, in the latter group still with some dramatic traits, and d) are not related to the greater consumption of resources, since wastage can also be found in areas with less frequencies. 

Some figures of world-wide overuse

In direct observation studies in the first report of the "Right Care" series, it’s estimated that 57% of the antibiotics consumed in China should not have been prescribed, that between 16% and 70% of US hysterectomies are not justified, that 26% of knee arthroplasties in Spain could have been avoided and that 30% of coronary angiographies performed in Italy should not have been indicated. To end this compilation, it’s estimated that there are 6.2 million caesarean sections in excess in the world, half of them in Brazil and China.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Right Care: definition, gray areas and reversals

One of the Right Care Alliance initiatives, led by Vikas Saini and Shannon Brownlee from the Lown Institute in Boston, has been the compiling of 4 reports that are analyzing the misuse, by excess and by default, of health resources from a global perspective.

What does the Lown Institute mean by "right care"?

Before defining the concept of "right care", we must take note of Donald Berwick's definition of quality in the introductory article of the series. The author believes that the quality of care, as we understand it, is too focused on the guarantee of procedures and, despite being correct, the question now is: what do the inappropriate clinical processes mean for people’s health? Berwick states that quality should be understood as the provision of services that respond to people's real needs. So, practically, appropriatness has been filtered in the realm of quality.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Shared clinical decision: Dr. Montori’s lessons

If you want to understand what the shared clinical decision is and have 16 minutes to spare, don’t hesitate and watch this interview from Dr. Selma Mohammed and Dr. Victor Montori.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Claims for adverse events: a predictive algorithm

Gloria Gálvez

Strategies focused on encouraging patients' participation in the health system, and more specifically those related to quality and safety, have seen some a great deal of progress in recent years. A person-centred health system should promote active patient participation and use the complaints handled by patient care services as a specific instrument of participation. When the patient expresses the disagreement with the attention received, he or she is providing us with valuable information that is very useful in the continuous monitoring and improvement of quality. It doesn’t seem that there are many health institutions that use complaints and claims as a learning tool, but they rather use it as a mere descriptive statistic in the annual report of the organization, thus losing the opportunity for improvement that their analysis and monitoring would provide.

Dr. Gallagher, who, as someone with extensive experience in issues related to patient safety and disclosure of medical errors, has published an article in BMJ Quality & Safety: “Taking complaints seriously: using the patient safety lens” in which he proposes analysing complaints from a point of view of patient safety and treating them as if they were adverse events, in the same way as with the more traditional ones, such as those related to safe surgery or the appropriate use of medications. This is an innovative approach that will provide relevant information when proposing proactive interventions.

Monday, 13 February 2017

The weekend effect on hospitals

A meta-analysis of 48 studies and nearly 2 million hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction has concluded that, during the weekends, waiting time for the start of angioplasty is on average of minutes longer, while mortality at 30 days is also, on average, 6% higher, a deviation that can reach 12% if high ST segment infarctions, which are susceptible to angioplasty, are also taken into account. A North American study of nearly one million hospitalizations for acute renal failure found that patients admitted on weekends had, on average, a probability of dying 7% higher, and in another study, also with extensive databases, on scheduled surgery in English hospitals, concluded that patients operated on Friday had a 44% higher probability of dying, a figure that rose to 82% if the intervention was performed on Saturday or Sunday (see an earlier post on the subject in this same blog). The three studies cited are just a sample of the harsh reality of the phenomenon. Just perform quick search on the scientific search engines to extract, for example, three more studies that go along the same lines (Bell 2001, Freemantle 2012, Perez Concha 2014). I have even found a study that has observed a higher mortality in urgent paediatric surgery (Goldstein 2014).

Monday, 6 February 2017

Primary health care perspective of clinical management: The legacy of Barbara Starfield

Xavier Bayona

Six years ago, the magnificent Barbara Starfield left us (December 18 1932 - June 10, 2011). She was a paediatrician and a major promoter of primary health care at the international level. Virtually her entire academic and professional life was tied to Johns Hopkins University. Since 1994 she directed the Department of Health Policy and Management of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore (United States). From 1996, she was the co-director of The Johns Hopkins Primary Care Policy Centre (PCPC).

Those who had the opportunity to enjoy any of her conferences can say that she never left us feeling indifferent and she always allowed us to reflect on what we were doing and encouraged us to bring sanity to our workplaces as part of the health system. She was a great advocate for improving health systems by strengthening primary care and making sense of what is happening in the world by focusing health care on people and their needs. I still remember how in the conference room of the Catalan Oncology Institute (ICO), a few years ago, she told the audience that we were wasting time and resources with a lot of the screening we did and that we had to improve our orientation.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Please don’t resuscitate me

A follow-up of 6,972 people aged 64 years and older who had undergone a cardio respiratory arrest whilst they were hospitalised in an inpatient facility showed that the survival rate, after one year from the attack, was barely 10%, and if this estimate was restricted to people with no neurological injuries, the rate was halved. We don’t have data on the mid and long-term results for older people who are resuscitated outside of the hospital, but it all seems to be worse.

Aware of the bad omens of the heart failures at an advanced age, John Ballard, a retiree born and raised in the southern US, and an old fashioned liberal, as he defines himself, answered a tweet of mine on his blog in this manner:

Monday, 23 January 2017

Doctors strikes and medical congresses = less mortality

At a doctors' strike in Israel in 2000, the gravediggers noticed that their workload diminished in areas where the doctors’ strike was on, while it remained unchanged in areas where doctors did not adhere. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, scientific editor of the Jerusalem Post, in a letter called “Doctors' strike in Israel may be good for health”  attributed the phenomenon to the shutdown of the scheduled surgery, which probably brings improvements of certain ailments, but which, by itself, can lead to complications and mortality. A few years later, in “Doctors' strikes and mortality: a review”, a systematic review of 156 papers analyzing the mortality impact of several doctors' strikes around the world, shows that during the doctors’ strikes, the population mortality either remains unchanged or lowers, but it never rises. The authors of the paper, like the Jewish publisher, also think that the phenomenon is an indirect measurement of the surgical over activity so common in clinical practice that, curiously, is shown when the programmed activity ceases drastically during a certain period.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation for older people: the mirage of numbers

New England Journal of Medicine published a study in March 2013, promoted by a group of researchers from the American Heart Association. It was a study performed with a sample of 6,972 people over 64 years who had been discharged in the period 2000-2008 after having survived a cardiac arrest during hospitalization. According to the study, 58.5% of the patients were still alive one year after discharge from hospital. The results, however, were significantly worse in the subgroup of 84 years plus (49.7%) and those who had suffered severe neurological sequels (42.2%) or had been in a vegetative coma (10.2%). The conclusions of this study, therefore, are favourable for the practice of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during the cardiac arrest of the elderly. GeriPal, a blog of geriatrics and palliative care represented them in the "icon-box" that you can see above.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Measuring results in health is still very complicated

In order to evaluate health institutions based on the value they provide, health outcomes must be measured. However the efforts to achieve this are bearing dismal results. Pay-for-performance initiatives are drifting in an ocean of indicators that don’t translate into anything too operational. To give some examples, in the US, CMS (Medicare and Medicaid) handles nearly a thousand indicators to promote new funding models (see Health Affairs Blog "The Quality Tower of Babel") and, not so far away, in the Results Central of Catalonia (AQuAS), more than 300 indicators are recorded. Everything suggests that the excess of information will not bring light if we are not able to clarify what it means to add value to people's health, and to make this statement comprehensible, we must distinguish between two different approaches:

Health value for citizens

A long life free of disability is a goal that most mortals share but this indicator is not very useful for service providers because the impact of the health system on life expectancy barely reaches 20%.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The soul of healthcare institutions

Professional groups, just like any other groups, have a soul or, as they now like to say, values. But whenever they try to write down these values, every group finds it difficult to find the words that express what unites them, what makes them say: "This woman/man will succeed, she/he’s ours." When professionals are immersed in a stimulating project or when they work in a team, it takes only a few words to understand each other, most people know this feeling especially when contrasting it with the feeling they get when they perform a job that doesn’t interest them so they end up literally counting the hours until the end.

"The Sprit of the Clinic"

There are few health institutions that have put effort into preserving their soul, being aware of how values are prone to oblivion and of how little the excellence of a unit lasts when effort goes unrewarded with the arrival of a new boss who sees things differently from how they are. For this reason, I have always admired the consistency of Mayo Clinic governance. It’s an institution created in 1892 by the Mayo brothers that has successfully overcome two major challenges: generational change and the entry of foreign capital (for more details see post of June 23, 2014). We must mention that, in recognition of the Mayo Clinic, most comparable projects have not overcome the challenges posed to the survival of values in the US or anywhere else. And how did the Mayo clinic do it? The answer is as simple as it is complex: "The Spirit of the Clinic" determines professional careers and the professionals’ progress; on the other hand, there’s nothing too different to how the great religions have survived over millennia.