Since Richard Scott's ouster, the new guard heading Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. has touted a new openness with the fourth estate.
So Outliers was dumbfounded when Columbia's presentation at Bear, Stearns & Co.'s annual healthcare conference last week was closed to the press.
"What happened to the kinder, gentler Columbia?" we asked Thomas F. Frist Jr., M.D., Columbia's new chairman and chief executive officer, as he was about to enter the meeting. Frist, seeming bewildered by the restriction, waved us into the room and ordered signs banning the press to be removed. Frist said he didn't know anything about the prohibition.
Minutes later, while introducing Frist to a jam-packed room of investors, Bear, Stearns analyst A.J. Rice reiterated the ground rules: "The company's asked that the press not be in attendence in this room."
But when Frist took the podium, he announced the lifting of the ban. "We took those signs down. It's open to the media."
Was this a game of good cop-bad cop? Bear, Stearns allows only selected trade press to cover its annual healthcare meeting, a spokeswoman for the New York-based investment banking firm explains. Daily newspapers and wire services are not invited. It was Columbia Senior Vice President Victor Campbell who requested the ban, she says, because he didn't think it fair that some media would not be allowed to cover the hourlong session. Campbell was unavailable for comment.
Headhunting.Irving, Texas-based VHA and Oak Brook, Ill.-based University HealthSystem Consortium are casting a wide net to land a chief executive to head their merged group purchasing operations.
The alliances seek a seasoned executive with healthcare and supply chain experience to build the new company, which will sport a mammoth $11.2 billion in annual buying volume. The winner may come from within one of the alliances, but he or she must be a strong leader who also can work collaboratively, says Curt Nonomaque, chief financial officer at VHA. Not an easy combination to find, but the alliances have a head start.
For almost five months, VHA has been hunting for a replacement for Dwight Winstead, who in May left his post as executive vice president in charge of VHA's supply chain operations to become president of Cardinal Health's Owen Healthcare subsidiary. That search has uncovered a few strong contenders, Nonomaque says.
But now that the VHA-UHC deal is out in the open, he says, "we believe there will be a lot of people who will put their hands up."
Just to make sure, UHC and VHA have engaged national search firm Heidrick & Struggles "to go out and stir the waters up," Nonomaque says.
Even though the purchasing company, with the working title "Newco," will be headquarterd in the Dallas area, Nonomaque says emphatically, "We don't want a cowboy or a cowgirl." Instead, he says, the chief executive must be able to "work in an agency fashion" for the alliances that will firmly ride herd on the joint purchasing venture.
Deadbeat docs.Physicians are almost the last people you might suspect of shirking their financial duties. But a new report from HHS' inspector general's office identifies 1,184 doctors who owe $21.5 million in delinquent child support payments.
The agency produced the list by matching child-support delinquents with physicians in the Medicare program, researchers who receive money from the National Institutes of Health and recipients of grants or loans from the National Health Service Corps. More than 1,100 of the derelict docs participate in Medicare.
Quotables."Somebody at one time-I think it was about 3 a.m. when we were trying to get the numbers to fit-said, `Why don't we just offer cigarettes and alcohol at the seniors centers? That would really get our healthcare costs down.' "-Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, on recent negotiations over how to keep Medicare spending down while balancing the federal budget.
"We have a moral obligation to create error-proof systems of patient care. Industries such as aerospace and aviation use safety techniques that make error difficult-such as reducing reliance on memory, standardizing processes, using constraints and eliminating handoffs. Healthcare must do the same."-Donald Berwick, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, who recently was appointed to the board of the American Medical Association's new National Patient Safety Foundation.
A nose for business.Cyrano Sciences, named for the fictional large-nosed French poet and soldier Cyrano de Bergerac, is perhaps the quirkiest of the biotechnology companies that received venture capital funding in the first half of 1997.
With more than $3 million in venture capital, Cyrano is building laboratories and adding staff to market an electronic nose. The technology is said to have wide applications in numerous industries, including healthcare. Johnson & Johnson, for one, thinks so. The company's venture capital arm helped finance Cyrano's start-up.
Electronic detection can help diagnose certain disease states in patients, like diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver, says Jon Lasch, vice president of business development.
Cyrano's nose, licensed exclusively from the California Institute of Technology, employs an array of sensors to detect different smells. The company's box-shaped prototype is somewhat bigger than a handheld calculator, but the hope is to shrink it to chip size.
Cyrano isn't the only electronic proboscis in town. One World Wide Web site lists 11 companies and 27 research institutes involved in electronic olfaction. But if Cyrano could train its schnoz to sniff out Medicare fraud, Outliers thinks Uncle Sam would buy them in bulk.