Whatever the intrinsic value of "best of" lists, they keep coming: Last week U.S. News & World Report published its 11th annual ranking of the nation's overall best hospitals and the best in 17 specialties.
The rankings have become very popular, especially to the hospitals that make the list every year. As the magazine hits the stands, press releases from many of the listed hospitals come spinning out of the chute. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania gushes that it's "the only (hospital) in the Delaware Valley Region" on the list.
But the most important part of the U.S. News package comes in the main story and several sidebars detailing hospital and corporate efforts to reduce medical errors in hospitals.
According to one sidebar, hospitals, physicians, employers and insurers in Pittsburgh have formed the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative, which includes efforts to use safety breakthroughs from other professions in medicine. Part of that is a five-day course offered by aluminum maker Alcoa detailing how it overhauled its manufacturing process in an effort to cut accidents to zero.
Now that's a zero-tolerance policy we can all agree on.
Isn't it convenient. Quorum Health Resources, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based healthcare giant, is still chasing the homecourt advantage in the lawsuit brought against it by whistleblower James Alderson. After seeking a change in venue from Tampa, Fla., to Nashville and receiving in response a recommendation from Tampa U.S. Magistrate Thomas Wilson to move the trial to Atlanta, Quorum continues to tug at the legal violin strings.
"If the case is tried in Nashville, Quorum's senior executives attending the trial will be able to return to their offices and put in several hours of solid work at their desks and see their families at night," the company pleaded in a 20-page brief objecting to the magistrate's recommendation.
"If the case is tried for two or three years in Tampa, or Atlanta, or anywhere else outside of Nashville, that will not be possible. Given this reality, it is hardly an overstatement to conclude that a trial in Nashville will be overwhelmingly more convenient for Quorum than a trial in any other district."
Quorum's lawyers said the company is "not a deep organization, and it will be an extra burden on Quorum's senior executives who will be in attendance at trial if this case is tried in Tampa."
To Quorum, in the words of President and Chief Executive Officer James Dalton, this is a "bet-the-company case."
Ficus power. Two of Congress' most influential healthcare leaders could face extra competition at the polls this year--from a potted plant.
Reps. William Thomas (R-Calif.) and Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) unwittingly made cameo appearances on a recent episode of the Bravo channel's "The Awful Truth," a half-hour satire show created by filmmaker Michael Moore.
Moore is famous for the documentary film "Roger & Me," in which Moore repeatedly tries to meet with General Motors Corp. Chairman Roger Smith to discuss the severe impact of plant closings on GM's (and Moore's) hometown of Flint, Mich.
This time Moore just wants to give voters more choice--namely, a bunch of ficus trees.
In the June 21 episode of "The Awful Truth," Moore showed up on Capitol Hill armed with his green-leafed alternatives, targeting congressmen facing little or no competition.
"Voters have stopped going to the polls because today's politicians--Republicans and Democrats alike--all stand for pretty much the same things," says Moore in a written statement. "The ficus campaign has recaptured voters' imagination in a way no other candidate can, by offering a real choice: politician or potted plant."
Among those who met their leafy rivals were Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, and Bilirakis, chairman of the House Commerce health subcommittee. Both laughed good-naturedly at the stunt.
Thomas, who ran unopposed in his last election, this time faces Democrat Pedro "Pete" Martinez Jr.; Bilirakis' lone opponent, Reform Party candidate Jon Duffey, entered the race two months ago.
Ducking Durban? Pharmaceutical manufacturers probably wished the controversial AIDS victims support group ACT UP had taken some of its products in preparation for the recent International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa. Like maybe tranquilizers.
ACT UP took drugmakers to task instead, slamming their pricing policies for AIDS and HIV drugs and accusing the companies of avoiding the conference by citing security concerns.
"The real story is that Pfizer, Glaxo (Wellcome) and other companies are afraid to be confronted by thousands of people with AIDS . . . who are risking death without treatment," says ACT UP spokesman Melvin White. "It's one thing to explain your pricing policy at a shareholders' meeting--it's quite another to face a woman who can't afford your drug."
A spokeswoman for Glaxo Wellcome, which manufactures AZT (trade name Retrovir), denied the charge, saying the company had sponsored an exhibit and some 25 academic presentations at the conference, as well as community outreach and scholarships in Durban.
Although Jack Watters, M.D., a Pfizer medical director, remained in New York during the conference, he denied his company was ducking AIDS victims. "I've been in as many AIDS hospitals and wards as any of the AIDS activists," he said. "I shy away not one bit from patients who have the appalling burden of this disease."