House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) stunned managed-care executives with a speech at the American Association of Health Plans' policy conference in Washington last month that echoed many of the group's ideas.
Gingrich called for "a national dialogue on health" and a health policy for America that would rise above the "turf guarding" that permeates current discussions about healthcare. On the day before his speech, the AAHP board voted to conduct a series of regional forums "to fill the healthcare policy void that has arisen because of narrowly focused discussions."
Gingrich delighted his audience with praise for HMOs' focus on preventive care and their success in managing diseases such as diabetes. And he said the Patient Access to Responsible Care Act sponsored by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), which imposes and restricts managed-care plans, reads like the product of "all the professionals who would design healthcare as if it were a pork-barrel project.
"The real reason we're having a fight over HMOs is not quality but power," Gingrich said. Americans don't want to think HMOs are controlling their care. Plans must move beyond the "managerial model" and empower consumers by giving them information about their plans and about healthcare from sources such as the World Wide Web, he said.
Karen Ignagni, AAHP president and chief executive officer, says Gingrich's speech is "definitely agenda-setting. Individuals who heard him said to me that this is a platform that can be bipartisan, that can help us develop a road map to the future and play a major role in terms of aiming the legislative conversation at the big things, rather than the small things."
HIMSS in charge. If the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society convention seemed to be running more smoothly than usual this year, it might be traceable in part to a new face behind the scenes.
R. Norris Orms was introduced last month at the HIMSS news conference as the new director of operations, but he's been working for the Chicago-based association since November. Orms, 48, formerly was executive director of the National Safety Council's Foundation for Safety and Health, also based in Chicago.
Bringing in a chief operating officer for day-to-day duties frees HIMSS Executive Director John Page to redirect his focus on collaborating with a number of other associations on various industry initiatives, says the society's president, Cynthia Spurr.
The initiatives include a cooperative advocacy effort with the Radiological Society of North America to accelerate integration of very different standards for sending images and text electronically.
Another alternative. Specialized medical journals are popping up everywhere. Outliers recently reported the launch of a gay and lesbian journal, a British managed-care journal and a journal on alternative medicine.
Now, a new quarterly journal hopes to bridge the gap between the alternative and mainstream medical press. The Journal of Integrative Medicine was launched by the Institute of Preventive Medicine and the American Academy of Preventive Medicine last December. It has more than 15 physicians on its editorial board and will use the format of mainstream medical journals, publishing outcomes studies and results of treatments.
"The Journal is directed toward mainstream doctors who are used to these kinds of articles, with heavy influence on science," says Majid Ali, M.D., its editor in chief. Ali is professor of medicine and president of the Washington-based Capital University of Integrative Medicine and an associate professor of pathology at Columbia University in New York. "The difference is we concentrate on outcomes of natural therapies rather than surgical or drug therapies."
Smokin' site. A lawsuit in Minnesota against giants in the tobacco industry is getting worldwide attention.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota began posting internal tobacco company documents on a World Wide Web site Feb. 12, and the site has recorded more than 84,000 visits.
All the documents are evidence in an ongoing state court trial in St. Paul, Minn., in a case filed in 1994 against Big Tobacco by the insurer and the Minnesota attorney general. The state and the insurer have accused the tobacco companies of lying about how addictive nicotine is.
The insurer says people from at least 33 states and eight countries, such as Canada, England, Russia and South Africa, have visited the site.
Among the most popular documents are research studies done by the tobacco companies. One of those studies, a 1974 report that looked at smoking habits, involved surveying smokers as young as 14.
To take a gander at the documents yourself, go to www.mnbluecrosstobacco.com.
Web winner. While you are logged on to the Web, take a peek at www.ca.kaiserpermanente.org, which according to the Boston-based Web Marketing Association is the best healthcare site.
Kaiser Permanente may have lost $270 million last year and might sell some of its operations outside California, but its Oakland-based California division won the association's prestigious WebAward.
The site is designed to look like a large file folder, filled with information primarily for current and prospective enrollees. It features a magazine that focuses on health and fitness advice.
The Web site "augments methods we have now of communicating with our members and augments their personal knowledge about healthcare," says Lynda V.E. Crawford, the new media communications manager for Kaiser California.