Now Viewing: Susan Dentzer: Toward a Healthy America

Roadmaps Out of Fantasyland: RWJF’s Outbreaks Report and the National Health Preparedness Security Index

Jan 30, 2015, 5:47 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras,” the late Theodore Woodward, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, cautioned his students in the 1940s. Woodward’s warning is still invoked to discourage doctors from making rare medical diagnoses for sick patients, when more common ones are usually the cause.

And while many Americans have worried about contracting Ebola—in viral terms, a kind of “zebra”—more commonplace microbial “horses,” such as influenza and measles viruses, continue to pose far greater threats. For instance, a large multistate measles outbreak has been traced to Disneyland theme parks in California—while this year’s strain of seasonal flu has turned out to be severe and widespread.

One obvious conclusion is that many microbes remain a harmful health menace, expected to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans this year. Another—speaking of Disneyland—is that much of America appears to live in a kind of fantasyland, thinking that it is protected against infectious disease.

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Open Health Data: How To Go for the Gold?

Jan 16, 2015, 1:25 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

In his new book, The Patient Will See You Now, Eric Topol, MD, invokes the famed Arabian folk tale One Thousand and One Nights, in which the poor woodcutter Ali Baba utters "Open Sesame" to unseal the cave where thieves have a treasure of gold coins. Topol asks "whether we, like Ali Baba, can breech the gate that keeps us from [health and health care] data, to a new world of openness and transparency."

It's worth remembering that, in the folk tale, Ali Baba does get rich — but after fighting over the gold, almost everybody else ends up dead.

So how do we ensure that the story of increasingly open health data has a more universally happy ending?

It won’t be easy, and Topol acknowledges the quandaries of dealing with the "gold" — the enormous flow of health data already under way.

Among the issues:

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The Patient—and Her Data—Will See You Now

Jan 7, 2015, 1:48 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Photo by Viktor Hanacek, Picjumbo.com

It’s 2015, the year that Marty McFly, the fictional character in the 1989 hit movie "Back to the Future II," visits by time traveling into the future in a souped-up DeLorean automobile. Predictably, most of the technologies the film foreshadowed haven’t been invented as of the real 2015—not the “hover board” that Marty glides along on, nor the self-lacing sneakers, nor (of course) the time travel.

But plenty else has been invented or discovered in the last 30 years, revolutionizing much of our lives, including our health and health care. If you want to feel as exhilarated, and maybe even as disoriented, as Marty did after fast-forwarding to 2015, read Dr. Eric Topol’s new book, The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is In Your Hands.

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Seizing Opportunities to Reinvent Public Health

Dec 2, 2014, 10:57 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A doctor talks in a friendly manner to a disabled patient sitting in a wheelchair.

“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different,” wrote the late management guru Peter Drucker.  To the list of society’s sectors that are struggling with that conclusion, add government-funded public health.

State and local health departments face growing challenges, including infectious disease threats such as Ebola and chikungunya; a rising burden of chronic illness; an increasingly diverse population; even the health impact of global warming. At the same time, fiscal constraints accompanying the 2007–2008 recession and its aftermath hammered local, state, and territorial health agencies, which lost nearly 30,000 jobs—6 percent to 12 percent of their total workforces—from 2008 to 2013.

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Putting a Female Face on the Need for a Culture of Health

Jul 25, 2014, 11:29 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A doctor examines a patient and an image appears on a computer monitor.

Statistics are “human beings with the tears washed away,” an old saying goes. Sadly, the tears behind one set of statistics, showing that women’s life expectancy has been falling in just under half of U.S. counties, have rarely garnered much notice.

How to put a face on this story, to help mobilize corrective action?

Progress toward that end was made last week, when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation teamed up with Women’s Policy, Inc, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to inform policy-making on women’s issues, to sponsor a briefing on that subject on Capitol Hill. About 75 people, including several female members of Congress, gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building to learn what is driving the widespread trend of poorer female health. (Watch the webcast by clicking here).

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Closing the Gap on Child Obesity

May 22, 2014, 9:56 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

An elementary school student takes plastic cutlery for the meal he is holding.

Imagine a splashy, big bucks television commercial selling kids on the tantalizing deliciousness of eating ... carrots.          

Or a new course sandwiched into already packed middle-school and high school curricula: “Food Shopping and Cooking for a Healthy Life.”

Sound implausible? Maybe—but then again, such innovations could be a part of what is needed to make more progress in the war on child obesity.

These were some of the suggestions that emerged from a recent conference in Newark, where the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Grantmakers in Health sponsored a day-long summit entitled Closing the Gap: Childhood Obesity (and in which I was a participant). You can watch a video of the meeting here.

As RWJF CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey reminded the audience, the Foundation has set a goal of reversing the U.S. child obesity epidemic by 2015—and as that date approaches, she confessed, “I’m getting a little nervous.” (View Risa's remarks.)

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Understanding The Value In Medicare's Physician Payment Data Dump

Apr 14, 2014, 9:24 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A 35-year battle is over and the taxpayers have won: We have the right to know how much physicians receive in Medicare dollars in exchange for providing our care. But now that the Centers for Medicare and Medicare government has released data on $77 billion in Medicare Part B payments to providers during 2012, what do we really know—or have—that we didn’t have previously? Information alone isn’t knowledge or, for that matter, insight.

For consumers, the slew of raw data ultimately may be useful if it can be packaged into applications that help them compare the way physicians practice—as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology now proposes in a newly announced challenge. Private payers, such as insurers, may also find the Medicare data useful, as they can the information to better understand the practice patterns of providers they include in their networks.

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If Patients Are Flipped Out by Today's Physician Encounters, Why Not "Flip" The Clinic?

Mar 3, 2014, 5:34 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Watch the recording of the March 7 Google Hangout on Flip the Clinic, which explores how to give patients the tools and strategies they need to improve their own health and health care.

“I am stressed.”

“I am feeling pressured.”

“I have been through all this before.”

“Why is it taking so long?”

If you’ve ever had any of these feelings while biding your time in a doctor’s office, you’re not alone.  There are a myriad ways in which the classic physician visit can often be sub-optimal: Spending a long time in a waiting room before a too-short doctor’s visit; barely understanding or absorbing what the physician says before he or she rushes off to see the next patient.

The experience could try the patience of the most self-confident of patients—and positively overwhelm the more nervous among us.  Small wonder that some patients experience “white coat syndrome,” or elevated blood pressure during a clinical encounter.  It’s believed to be brought on by some combination of apprehension about a potential disease or diagnosis, or even intimidation at the sight of the doctor in a white coat.

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Rx for Delivery System Transformation: Satisfied Doctors Who Find More Joy in Practice

Aug 20, 2013, 4:32 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Head Shot of Susan Dentzer

In my last post, I wrote about what would best motivate physicians to transform health care: carrots, sticks or something else. The case for “something else” was made in a series of innovation sessions presented at a recent American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation forum. They focused on evolving health care delivery models aimed at increasing quality, decreasing cost and enhancing patient-centered care.

Readers of Daniel Pink’s book Drive will be familiar with his thesis about “Type I” human behavior: the kind that is less concerned with “the external rewards to which an activity leads and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.” Many innovations presented at the forum echoed that theme—augmenting the satisfaction that doctors get from focusing most of their attention on helping patients.

Engaging doctors: At the forum, Craig Sammit, the CEO of Wisconsin-based Dean Health noted that “extrinsic” motivators, such as showing doctors how their relative performance data stacked up against their peers, had substantial impact in spurring improvement. But he observed that the measures that were most effective in transforming the way care is delivered  at Dean were those that helped make the organization “the best place for a physician to work.”

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Carrots, Sticks, or Something Else? Motivating Doctors to Transform Health Care

Aug 14, 2013, 2:14 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

An old joke has it that the doctor’s pen is the costliest technology in medicine, since money typically flows where physicians’ prescriptions and other orders decide that it should go. As a result, influencing these decisions is key to achieving the Triple Aim of better health and health care at lower cost.

But what’s more likely to influence doctors: external factors, such as bonuses for improving the quality of care, or internal factors, such as appealing to their sense of altruism or satisfaction with their work?  In other words, carrots, sticks, or something altogether different—what Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive, calls “our innate human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world”?

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