Sunday, January 30, 2011

NHS: Best Health Care. Still!

The Jobbing Doctor had a post on :

“I saw a patient last week, who has recovered from major surgery. He has had brain surgery and is now likely to do very well. I am pleased. He is well.

.......His care, I reckon, would have cost around £200,000. He knows that. We, the healthy, paid for him to have his treatment.

This is the NHS that I joined as a Junior Doctor 36 years ago.

I get a bit fed up of politicians and journalists telling me that the NHS needs reform.

It blinking well doesn't. What it needs is aforesaid politicians to go away and do something else with their time. I'd rather they dredged their moats, or tended to their duck houses.

Leave us alone."

I will reprint one of my previous posts.

Do we judge how good a doctor is by the car he drives? I remember medical school friends preferred to seek advice from Ferrari driving surgeons than from Rover driving psychiatrists.

My friend was amazed that I gave up Private Health Care when my wife retired.

“I know you worked for the NHS but there is no guarantee, is there?”

Well, in life you do have to believe in something. The truth is simpler in that after five years from her retirement, the co-payment is 90%.

He worked for one of the major utility companies and had the top-notch coverage.

“The laser treatment for my cataract was amazing and the surgeon drives a Porsche 911.”

Porsche official Website

He was very happy with the results.

“He has to be good, he drives a Porsche.”

Then he started feeling dizzy and having some strange noise problems in one of his ears.

“I saw a wonderful ENT specialist within a week at the same private hospital whereas I would have to wait much longer in the NHS.”

What could one say! We are losing the funny game.

What does he drive?

A Carrera.

Another Porsche.

We are OK then.

Or are we.

He was not any better. And after eight months of fortnightly appointments, the Carrera doctor suggested a mastoidectomy.

Perhaps you should get a second opinion from an NHS consultant. Perhaps see a neurologist.

“I could not believe you said that, his two children are doctors. And he has private health care!” I was told off by my wife.

He took my advice though and he got an appointment within two weeks at one of the famous neurological units at a teaching hospital.

To cut the long story short, he has DAVF.

I asked my ENT colleague if it was difficult to diagnose DAVF.

“Not these days!”

He had a range of treatments and is now much better.

All in the NHS hospital.

“I don’t know what car he drives, but he is good. One of the procedures took 6 hours.”

Best health care.

I always knew: Porsche or otherwise.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

NHS & Market Forces: Unnecessary Rx & Fraud

Do we ever learn?

Winter’s Tale/Tristram Kenton Guardian
In the current push for applying market principles, the NHS is in serious danger of paying dearly for unnecessary treatment and worse, fraudulent claims by the new “suppliers” in the market place.

I have highlighted the problems in the US before. Fraud is seen as more profitable than drug dealing.

The US Medicare and Medicaid systems are in a way very similar to what the new market style NHS will be like. Tax-payers pay for them! The much hyped saving, if there is going to be any, will be swallowed up by paying for unnecessary treatment and fraud.

By how much? In the US:
26 OCT 2009

The U.S. healthcare system wastes between $600 billion and $850 billion annually, according to a white paper published by Thomson Reuters.

The report identifies the most significant drivers of wasteful spending - including administrative inefficiency, unnecessary treatment, medical errors, and fraud - and quantifies their cost. It is based on a review of published research and analyses of proprietary healthcare data.

"The bad news is that an estimated $700 billion is wasted annually. That's one-third of the nation's healthcare bill," said Robert Kelley, vice president of healthcare analytics at Thomson Reuters and author of the white paper. "The good news is that by attacking waste, healthcare costs can be reduced without adversely affecting the quality of care or access to care.

Unnecessary Care (40% of healthcare waste): Unwarranted treatment, such as the over-use of antibiotics and the use of diagnostic lab tests to protect against malpractice exposure, accounts for $250 billion to $325 billion in annual healthcare spending.
Fraud (19% of healthcare waste): Healthcare fraud costs $125 billion to $175 billion each year, manifesting itself in everything from fraudulent Medicare claims to kickbacks for referrals for unnecessary services.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that fraudulent billings to public
and private healthcare programs are 3-10 percent of total health spending, or $75–$250
billion in fiscal year 2009.”

“Fraud and abuse” occupies the extreme end of the continuum of appropriateness of use and potential waste. While arguments can be made about the appropriateness of some of the care described in the previous section, and, therefore, its classification as waste, no reasonable argument can be made for the contribution of fraud and abuse to quality of care or outcomes. They are cases of intentional misrepresentation resulting in excess payment, including billing for services never rendered and the knowing provision of unnecessary care. Most fraudulent and abusive practices simply add cost with no value, but others actually expose patients to the risk associated with unnecessary procedures.

Practices leading to waste include:
• The intentional provision of unnecessary or inappropriate services
• Billing for services never provided, often with patients’ participation in the fraud, often for
deceased patients
• Misrepresentation of the cost of care by insurers to group plan sponsors
• Kickbacks for referrals for unnecessary services
• Misbranding of a drug by a pharmaceutical company
• Abuse of the healthcare system by patients to receive harmful services, such as Medicaid  recipients with drug addictions enrolling in multiple states.

Administrative Inefficiency (17% of healthcare waste): The large volume of redundant paperwork in the U.S healthcare system accounts for $100 billion to $150 billion in spending annually.
Healthcare Provider Errors (12% of healthcare waste): Medical mistakes account for $75 billion to $100 billion in unnecessary spending each year.
Preventable Conditions (6% of healthcare waste): Approximately $25 billion to $50 billion is spent annually on hospitalizations to address conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes, which are much less costly to treat when individuals receive timely access to outpatient care.
Lack of Care Coordination (6% of healthcare waste): Inefficient communication between providers, including lack of access to medical records when specialists intervene, leads to duplication of tests and inappropriate treatments that cost $25 billion to $50 billion annually.

Hermione: "You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely". -

(Act I, Scene I). The Winter’s Tale.

Health Care Fraud: US Medicare & NHS Reform

Sunday, January 2, 2011

NHS-Kaiser Permanente: Integration or Fragmentation?

There is much “intertwining” in the natural world: can we learn from it?

©2010 Am Ang Zhang

It is not difficult over the New Year period for anyone in the NHS to see how the internal market has continued to fragment our health service.

Look at major hospitals in England: Urgent Care Centres are set up and staffed by nurse practitioner, emergency nurse practitioners and GPs so that the charge by the Hospital Trusts (soon to be Foundation Trusts)  for some people who tried to attend A & E could be avoided. It is often a time wasting exercise and many patients still need to be referred to the “real” A & E thus wasting much valuable time for the critically ill patients and provided fodder for the tabloid press. And payment still had to be made. Currently it is around £77.00 a go. But wait for this, over the New Year some of these Centres would employ off duty A & E Juniors to work there to save some money that Trusts could have charged.


This is certainly not how Kaiser Permanente would run things: all integrated and no such thing as “cross charging”. In fact the doctors are not on a fee-for-service basis but like Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital, doctors are paid a salary.

I quoted Prof Waxman in an earlier post:

The internal market’s billing system is not only costly and bureaucratic, the theory that underpins it is absurd. Why should a bill for the treatment of a patient go out to Oldham or Oxford, when it is not Oldham or Oxford that pays the bill — there is only one person that picks up the tab: the taxpayer, you and me.

And there are big problems with the billing process. For example, if a patient is seen in an outpatient clinic then there is a charge made by the hospital for his or her first attendance — but follow-up appointments are not charged. And if many treatments are given in a hospital to a patient, only the most expensive of the treatment episodes is charged.

There are savings to be made. It is alleged that there are just 75,000 administrators at work in the NHS but this figure is laughably mythological.

One report by the Centre for Policy Studies published in 2003 indicated that there were 250,000 administrative staff employed in the NHS: at least one administrator for every nurse.

……..Moving patients from one place to another does not save the nation’s money, though it might save a local hospital some dosh. So the internal market has failed because it does not consider the health of the nation as a whole, merely the finances of a single hospital department, a local hospital or GP practice.

So as lead Consultants face the managers in meetings after the New Year festivities about the White Paper and Foundation Trust status and how we need to copy Kaiser Permantente, there is no need to talk about the 24 % “illest” that Kaiser did not treat, instead raise the points about a truly integrated NHS, in Kaiser Permanente fashion.

Just do away with our internal market and let GPs and Consultants go back to the good old days of working together without worries about  PCT/Commissioner’s approval of the referral.

Integration not fragmentation!

Prof Waxman:

…….Instead let them help the NHS do what it does best — treat patients, and do so efficiently and economically without the crucifying expense and ridiculous parody of competition.

"Whatever the benefits of the purchaser/provider split, it has led to an increase in transaction costs, notably management and administration costs. Research commissioned by the DH but not published by it estimated these to be as high as 14% of total NHS costs. We are dismayed that the Department has not provided us with clear and consistent data on transaction costs; the suspicion must remain that the DH does not want the full story to be revealed. We were appalled that four of the most senior civil servants in the Department of Health were unable to give us accurate figures for staffing levels and costs dedicated to commissioning and billing in PCTs and provider NHS trusts. We recommend that this deficiency be addressed immediately. The Department must agree definitions of staff, such as management and administrative overheads, and stick to them so that comparisons can be made over time."

                                                                                                                                House of Commons