Maybe it's just a Michigan thing: Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center in Dearborn is promising to give emergency-room patients free movie passes if a physician fails to initiate care within 30 minutes of patients' arrival in the ER.
That's quite a promise--maybe even heroic--considering the horror stories one hears about sick or injured patients waiting hours for treatment in ERs across the country.
But the 565-bed flagship of four-hospital Oakwood Healthcare System, based in Dearborn, categorically denies that it's copying the 30-minute guarantee made famous by Ann Arbor-based Domino's Pizza. Domino's promise, of course (now withdrawn), was that pizza not delivered in 30 minutes was free.
"This did not come from the pizza industry," insists Oakwood spokeswoman Amy Middleton.
She says Oakwood even had its ER re-engineered to more easily meet the customer service guarantee, reconfiguring the triage area and adding a pediatrics section and a new physicians' group to manage the ER.
Unlike Domino's, however, if patients aren't seen within that half-hour window, the service is not free. "If patients aren't seen, we apologize and explain why. We also offer free movie passes," says Middleton. Only one set of passes has been awarded so far. That operating delay was because of an insurance mix-up, not slow ER staff, Middleton says.
The "30-minute guarantee" will spread to Oakwood's other three hospitals later this year, she says.
"Our emergency-room staff brought in consultants, who surveyed patients. (Patients) felt 30 minutes was a reasonable amount of time to wait," explains Middleton, who says she never was awarded a free Domino's pizza. "When I was growing up, we didn't eat Domino's."
Outliers isn't sure whether that's good or bad, but the 30-minute guarantee is all good.
Consumer care. The same organization that has blown the whistle on telecommunications mergers and unsafe motor vehicles is now going after the nation's healthcare system.
Consumer Reports' September issue features a 10-page report on inadequate care for America's growing uninsured population. Titled "Second Class," the report draws on 130 interviews to document such problems as crowded clinics, physician shortages and drug prescription costs. An accompanying editorial by Consumers Union President Rhoda Karpatkin calls on Congress to create a national model to solve the uninsured problem.
None of the ideas in the report constitutes a revelation. Dan Weaks, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Hospital and Health System Association, says it would be a "monumental task" to come up with a single national model to address the issue, as the magazine suggests.
But the report does constitute great timing for 10 state hospital associations--including New Mexico's--which are trying to heighten public awareness of the need for expanded coverage by sponsoring a National Summit on the Uninsured Sept. 8 in Albuquerque.
The summit is designed to draw attention to the uninsured problem during the election season. However, organizers have yet to snag either of the presidential candidates as a speaker.
Imperfect execution. The president of the Illinois State Medical Society wants Gov. George Ryan to put an end to the state's requiring physicians to participate in executions by administering the lethal injection. Ryan earlier this year temporarily halted executions in Illinois.
Leroy Sprang, M.D., urged the Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment during an Aug. 2 meeting in Chicago to stop a practice that he argued violates the profession's ethical standards and the state's Medical Practice Act. Sprang, a Skokie, Ill., obstetrician, also wants to remove the confidentiality provision that shields the names of physicians who participate in executions.
Sprang says that those doctors "who choose to blatantly ignore their Hippocratic oath and medical ethics" should be held "to account to the fullest extent of the law."
Thirty-eight states have the death penalty. Physicians are mandated, either by state statute or state prison regulations, to participate in executions in 27 of those states.
Hippocratic admonitions to the contrary, physicians have a historic relationship with state-sponsored executions: More than 200 years ago, two French doctors--Joseph Ignace Guillotin and Antoine Louis--collaborated on the first official instrument of capital punishment, the guillotine.
Health of the border. A new joint venture between the governments of the U.S. and Mexico is hoping to deliver better healthcare to the 10 million people living along either side of the 1,200-mile border between the two countries.
On July 24, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and Mexican Minister of Health Jose Antonio Gonzalez Fernandez signed an agreement creating the first-ever U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission.
Richard Walling, director of HHS' Office of the Americas and the Middle East, said the commission comes from a 1994 law authorizing the Clinton administration to open a public health dialogue with Mexico.
"We wanted to do something that transcended political parties and political changes," Walling says. "There was a real gap happening (in cross-border healthcare). This is a mechanism to bring together local, federal and state entities to really coordinate public health services."
Mexico has appointed eight members to the commission; President Clinton has appointed 12, including health officials from the border states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
Outliers is hoping that the new commission can bring some order and relief to a healthcare situation that often finds itself battling disarray against overwhelming odds.