Category Archives: Surgery

Attention, shoppers: Prices for 70 health care procedures now online!

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By Jay Hancock
KNH

Buying health care in America is like shopping blindfolded at Macy’s and getting the bill months after you leave the store, economist Uwe Reinhardt likes to say.

A tool that went online Wednesday is supposed to give patients a small peek at the products and prices before they open their wallets.

Got a sore knee? Having a baby? Need a primary-care doctor? Shopping for an MRI scan?

Guroo.com shows the average local cost for 70 common diagnoses and medical tests in most states. That’s the real cost — not “charges” that often get marked down — based on a giant database of what insurance companies actually pay.

OK, this isn’t like Priceline.com for knee replacements. What Guroo hopes to do for consumers is limited so far.

Guroo.com Demo from Health Care Cost Institute on Vimeo.

It won’t reflect costs for particular hospitals or doctors, although officials say that’s coming for some. And it doesn’t have much to say initially about the quality of care.

Still, Guroo should shed new light on the country’s opaque, complex and maddening medical bazaar, say consumer advocates.

“This has the potential to be a game-changer,” said Katherine Hempstead, who analyzes health insurance for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It’s good for uninsured people. It’s good for people with high deductibles. It’s good for any person that’s kind of wondering: If I go to see the doctor for such-and-such, what might happen next?” Continue reading

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How safe are outpatient surgery centers?

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Popularity Of Outpatient Surgery Centers Leads To Questions About Safety

Woman_doctor_surgeonBy By Sandra G. Boodman
KHN and Washington Post

Wendy Salo was alarmed when she learned where her doctor had scheduled her gynecologic operation: at an outpatient surgery center.

“My first thought was ‘Am I not important enough to go to a real hospital?’ ” recalled Salo, 48, a supermarket department manager who said she felt “very trepidatious” about having her ovaries removed outside a hospital.

Before the Sept. 30 procedure, Salo drove 20 miles from her home in Germantown, Md., to the Massachusetts Avenue Surgery Center in Bethesda for a tour. Her fears were allayed, she said, by the facility’s cleanliness and its empathic staff.

Salo later joked that the main difference between the multi-specialty center and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital — where she underwent breast cancer surgery last year — was that the former had “better parking.”

Salo’s initial concerns mirror questions about the safety of outpatient surgery centers that have mushroomed since the highly publicized death of Joan Rivers.

The 81-year-old comedian died Sept. 4 after suffering brain damage while undergoing routine throat procedures at Yorkville Endoscopy, a year-old free-standing center located in Manhattan.

Federal officials who investigated Rivers’ death, which has been classified by the medical examiner as a “therapeutic complication,” found numerous violations at the accredited clinic, including:

  • a failure to notice or take action to correct Rivers’ deteriorating vital signs for 15 minutes;
  • a discrepancy in the medical record about the amount of anesthesia she received;
  • an apparent failure to weigh Rivers, a critical factor in calculating an anesthesia dose;
  • and the performance of a procedure to which Rivers had not given written consent.

In addition, one of the procedures was performed by a doctor who was not credentialed by the center.

Continue reading

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Whoa! Before you give the kid the keys to the car . . .

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You’ve been protecting your kids their whole lives. So don’t just hand them the keys to a two-ton machine with no rules… Talk it out. Tell your teenagers they have to agree to 5 rules to drive:

  1. No cell phones,
  2. No extra passengers,
  3. No speeding,
  4. No alcohol, and
  5. Buckle-up.

Set the rules before they hit the road.

Learn more here.

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Pressure from providers leads some women to have C-sections, inductions

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Blue Pregnant BellyBy Christen Brownlee
Health Behavior News Service

Pregnant women who felt pressured to have a labor induction or cesarean section by their obstetrical care providers were significantly more likely to have these procedures, even if there was no medical need for them, suggests a new study in the journal Health Services Research.

Both cesarean deliveries and labor inductions continue to rise, accounting for about a third of births in the U.S.

While both procedures can be life saving for mothers and babies, previous studies have found that they can also increase the risk of poor health outcomes, such as respiratory problems for newborns and infections and death for mothers, as well as significantly increasing health care costs. Continue reading

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A new look at why surgical rates vary

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surgeons performing surgery in operating roomBy Michael Ollove
Stateline

Several years ago, a California study showed that a half-dozen elective surgeries were being performed far more often in Humboldt County than they were in the rest of the state.

The procedures included hip and knee replacements, hysterectomies and carotid endarterectomies, a surgery to remove plaque buildup in the carotid arteries.

Geographical variation in the delivery of health care can harm patients and increase costs. That is especially true when it comes to surgery, which is usually more expensive and riskier than less invasive treatments.

Medicaid makes up a huge portion of state budgets, so the issue of health care variation is a pressing one for states looking to hold down costs.

In Humboldt County, doctors, hospitals, and others involved in health care wondered why surgeons in their area operated so often, and if they could do anything to get closer to the state norms.

To find out, they launched the Humboldt County Surgical Rate Project, which brought together doctors, health-care advocates, community organizations, unions, colleges and small employers.

As it turned out, a large part of “what was actually happening out there” was surprisingly simple . . .

“We weren’t trying to identify anyone as a ‘bad guy,’” said Betsy Stapleton, a retired nurse practitioner who is the co-director of the Humboldt County Surgical Rate Project. “The idea was to identify what was actually happening out there and to figure out ways to address it. It led to really fascinating conversations.”

As it turned out, a large part of “what was actually happening out there” was surprisingly simple: Patients in Humboldt County weren’t playing a big enough part in their own health care decisions. Continue reading

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Seeking cheaper care, patients take online bids from doctors

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This KHN story also ran in wapo.

Francisco Velazco couldn’t wait any longer. For several years, the 35-year-old Seattle handyman had searched for an orthopedic surgeon who would reconstruct the torn ligament in his knee for a price he could afford.

Out of work because of the pain and unable to scrape together $15,000 – the cheapest option he could find in Seattle – Velazco turned to an unconventional and controversial option: an online medical auction site called Medibid, which largely operates outside the confines of traditional health insurance.

The four-year-old online service links patients seeking non-emergency care with doctors and facilities that offer it, much the way Priceline unites travelers and hotels. Continue reading

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Women’s Health – Week 36: Pelvic Floor Disorders

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tacuin womenFrom the Office of Research on Women’s Health

The term pelvic floor refers to the group of muscles and connective tissue that form a sling or hammock across the opening of a woman’s pelvis.

These muscles and tissues keep all of your pelvic organs in place so that the organs can function correctly.

A pelvic floor disorder occurs when your pelvic muscles and connective tissue in the pelvis is weak due to factors such as genetics, injury, or aging. Continue reading

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Republicans say no to CDC gun violence research

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Giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention money for gun violence research is a “request to fund propaganda,” a Georgia congressman says.

GunBy Lois Beckett
ProPublica, April 21, 2014

After the Sandy Hook school shooting, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) was one of a few congressional Republicans who expressed a willingness to reconsider the need for gun control laws.

“Putgunson thetable, also put video games on thetable, put mental health on the table,” he said less than a week after the Newtown shootings.

He told a local TV station that he wanted to see more research done to understand mass shootings. “Let’s let the data lead rather than our political opinions.”

For nearly 20 years, Congress has pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to steer clear of firearms violence research. Continue reading

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Why hospitals are failing civilians who get PTSD

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Gunby Lois Beckett
ProPublica, March 4, 2014

More than 20 percent of civilians with traumatic injuries may develop PTSD. Trauma surgeons explain why many hospitals aren’t doing anything about it.

Undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder is having a major impact on injured civilians, particularly those with violent injuries, as Propublica detailed last month.

One national study of patients with traumatic injuries found that more than 20 percent of them developed PTSD.

But many hospitals still have no systematic approach to identifying patients with PTSD or helping them get treatment.

We surveyed 21 top-level trauma centers in cities with high rates of violence. The results show that trauma surgeons across the country see PTSD as a serious problem.  Continue reading

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Insurance, not Injuries, may determine who goes to trauma centers

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Sign for an emergency room.By Sarah Varney
KHN Staff Writer

FEB 20, 2014

It’s called “patient dumping” – when hospitals transfer patients without insurance to public hospitals.

But a new study from Stanford University has turned dumping on its head.

It finds that hospitals are less likely to transfer critically injured patients to trauma centers if they have health insurance.  Continue reading

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When a university hospital backs a surgical robot, controversy ensues

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DaVinci ad1By Charles Ornstein
ProPublica, Feb. 14, 2014

Flipping through the New York Times magazine a few Sundays ago, former hospital executive Paul Levy was taken aback by a full-page ad for the da Vinci robot.

It wasn’t that Levy hadn’t seen advertising before for the robot, which is used for minimally invasive surgeries. It was that the ad prominently featured a dozen members of the surgery team at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System. “We believe in da Vinci surgery because our patients benefit,” read the ad’s headline.

“While I have become accustomed to the many da Vinci ads, I was struck by the idea that a major university health system had apparently made a business judgment that it was worthwhile to advertise outside of its territory, in a national ad in the New York Times,” Levy, former chief executive of the prestigious Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told me by email.  Continue reading

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Over-the-counter pills left out of FDA acetaminophen limits

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red-and-white-capsules

By Jeff Gerth and T. Christian Miller
ProPublica

January 16, 2014 – Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urged health care providers to stop writing prescriptions for pain relievers containing more than 325 milligrams of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

The agency’s announcement was aimed primarily at popular prescription medicines that combine acetaminophen with a more powerful opioid such as hydrocodone.

Agency officials said they had determined that “there are no available data” to show that the benefits of having more than 325 milligrams of acetaminophen in a single pill outweighed the risks from taking too much of the drug. Continue reading

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Does knowing medical prices save money? California experiment says yes

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Hip replacement  - thumbBy Ankita Rao

The fact that the cost of a hip replacement can ring up as $15,000 or $100,000 — depending on the hospital — makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But that’s only if they know about the wide price tag variations.

In an effort to raise awareness and rein in what can seem like the Wild West of health care, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the second largest benefits program in the country, and Anthem Blue Cross started a “reference pricing” initiative in 2011.

The initiative involved a system to guide their enrollees to choose facilities where routine hip and knee replacement procedures cost less than $30,000.

Here’s how it works: The CalPERS program designated certain hospitals that met this cost threshold, and enrollees who chose among these facilities pay only the plan’s typical deductible and coinsurance up to the out-of-pocket maximum.

Patients who opted for other in-network hospitals were responsible for regular cost sharing and “all allowed amounts exceeding the $30,000 threshold, which are not subject to an out-of-pocket maximum,” noted the report.

The results tallied savings of $2.8 million for CalPERS, and $300,000 in patients’ cost sharing, according to research released Thursday by the Center for Studying Health System Change for the non-profit group National Institute for Health Care Reform.

Researchers found that patients who received “intensive communication” from CalPERS were supportive of the efforts and recognized lack of price transparency in the system. The report also said enrollees were satisfied with the level of care they received when choosing facilities that met their cost threshold.

But that information has yet to reach the larger population of health consumers, said Alwyn Casill, the director of public relations for the Center for Studying Health System Change.

“There is a tremendous need to increase public awareness of this problem,” she said. “It should matter to you as someone who is paying for health care, not just for you, but for everybody.”

While the report doesn’t completely detail CalPERS’ approach to reference pricing, Casill said there is optimism that it will be a model for other insurance plans and medical systems.

But that is further limited by the narrow focus of this initiative on just two kinds of procedures — others, like MRIs and CAT scans, are also vulnerable to wide pricing disparities.

Some experts say any real success on streamlining health care costs will include the ability for consumers to understand the issue and call for change.

“The numbers are dramatic,” said Julie Schoenman, director of research and quality at the National Institute For Health Care Management Foundation, a non-profit educational organization unaffiliated with the report. “I think you really do need to have good quality measures, good transparency. And a lot of patient education.”

This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Robot

As robot-assisted surgery expands, are patients and providers getting enough information?

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RobotBy Marissa Evans
KHN Staff Writer

The use of robotic surgical systems is expanding rapidly, but hospitals, patients and regulators may not be getting enough information to determine whether the high tech approach is worth its cost.

Problems resulting from surgery using robotic equipment—including deaths—have been reported late, inaccurately or not at all to the Food and Drug Administration, according to one study.

The study, published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality earlier this year, focused on incidents involving Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Robotic Surgical System over nearly 12 years, scrubbing through several data bases to find troubled outcomes.

Researchers found 245 incidents reported to the FDA, including 71 deaths and 174 nonfatal injuries. But they also found eight cases in which reporting fell short, including five cases in which no FDA report was filed at all.

The FDA assesses and approves products based on reported device-related complications. If a medical device malfunctions, hospitals are required to report the incident to the manufacturer, which then reports it to the agency. The FDA, in turn, creates a report for its Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience database.

The use of surgical robots has grown rapidly since it was first approved for laparoscopic surgery (a type of surgery that uses smaller incisions than in traditional surgery) by the FDA in 2000. Between 2007 and 2011 the number of da Vinci systems installed increased by 75 percent in the United States from 800 to 1,400, according to the study.

Noting that robotic surgery has promising benefits, the study also called it “essential that device related complications be uniformly captured, reported and evaluated,” so the medical community fully understands “the safety of the new technology.”

Intuitive Surgical, the makers of the da Vinci device, released a statement last monthtaking issue with the study’s findings.

“The Journal for Healthcare Quality article gives the misleading impression that Intuitive Surgical has systematically failed in its obligation to timely report known adverse events to the FDA,” the statement said. “Intuitive Surgical can only report adverse events after it becomes aware of them. We take this requirement very seriously and make every effort to account for all reportable events—even those from several years prior.”

The company said it agreed regarding the “need for a more robust and standardized system for reporting adverse events” but also encouraged the study’s authors “to conduct a comparable study that assesses the under reporting of both open and laparoscopic surgical events and would welcome a comparison with robotic-assisted surgery.”

Health care professionals say benefits to robotic surgery compared with traditional open surgery include smaller incisions, shorter hospital stays and less pain after the operation.

Dr. Martin A. Makary, an associate professor of surgery and health policy and management at John Hopkins University and one of the study’s authors,  said that, while the future for robotic surgery is promising, there is a gray area when it comes to assessing the difference between doctor and device error. And benefits from the use of the device may be inconsistent, he said.

Robotic surgery has shown benefits when it comes to head and neck surgery, he said, but there’s not necessarily a stark difference between a conventional laparoscopic or robotic-assisted surgery when it comes to gall bladder removal.

Comparing patient outcomes from conventional and robotic surgeries is important for determining which is best for patients and insurers and whether it is worth the extra cost. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared robotically assisted hysterectomies with traditional laparoscopic surgeries over a three year period and found the former added an average of $2,000 in costs per procedure—nearly a third higher—with no significant clinical advantages.

Noting that information, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement in March, advising patients that “robotic hysterectomy is best used for unusual and complex clinical conditions in which improved outcomes over standard minimally invasive approaches have been demonstrated.”

The ACOG statement noted that “if robotic surgery is used for all hysterectomies each year,” it would add an estimated $960 million to $1.9 billion to the annual cost of hysterectomy surgeries.

Even if better data were available through the FDA, that information might not make it to the patient.

Makary and his co-authors noted an earlier finding that “among the 37 percent of U.S. hospitals that describe robotic surgery on their hospital website, none mentioned any potential risks or complications.

“We rely on a haphazard reporting system that uses immature data and only the best experiences make it into the data,” Makary said. “We introduce things but we don’t evaluate them very well. If we’re relying on the FDA about what (products) are superior, then we need a new process…you can’t make conclusions on the safety profile of a device based on a shoddy reporting system.”

The study noted that one patient’s injury and death occurred in 2009, but no such incident was found in the FDA’s database for that year.  The authors found ”a very late report matching his case in 2010,” received by the FDA two weeks after the Wall Street Journal ran a story citing the case.

The agency issues warning letters to manufacturers who fail to meet their reporting obligations. If manufacturers still fail to report incidents, the FDA can exercise enforcement and compliance options, including product seizures or injunctions.

But the agency admits that its reporting system has limitations.

“Complaints or adverse event reports do not necessarily directly indicate a faulty or defective medical device, and adverse event reports alone cannot be used to establish or compare rates of event occurrence,” said FDA spokeswoman Synim Rivers in an email. “For these reasons, the FDA also evaluates other information to make decisions about a device’s safety and effectiveness once a device is on the market.”

James F. Blumstein, director of the Vanderbilt Health Policy Center and Professor of Constitutional  Law and Health Law & Policy, said with robotic surgery, for patients it’s not necessarily about knowing which procedure would be best but being fully informed of their options. He said that if there are known injuries and routine problems, health care providers need to disclose that information to patients.

“If you as a patient are going to a doctor, and they’re using a robot, it’s a question of who’s in charge,” Blumstein said. “If it’s a mechanical malfunction, would the professional standard of care apply to a robot?”

If problems occur during robotic surgery and subsequent litigation, a question might arise about whether the doctor, the hospital or the manufacturer was responsible, introducing the potential issue of product liability. But there may be protection for doctors performing robotic surgery in disclosing the risks, Blumstein said.

“If a doctor discloses to a patient there’s a comparative risk (between regular surgery and robotic surgery) and that disclosed risk materializes, I would have a hard time thinking the doctor would be considered negligent,” he said.

This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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