Chalk one up for the American Medical Association, which poured every resource available into one of its biggest lobbying efforts ever-the desperate, costly drive to avert another year of Medicare payment cuts.
The big win for the Chicago-based doctors' group came last week when congressional negotiators agreed to increase Medicare payments to physicians by $49 billion during the next decade. As the lead group in a furious lobbying effort, the AMA not only averted a scheduled 4.4% cut in those payments-it actually helped win a 1.6% increase, which is scheduled to kick in this spring. That was like a Christmas bonus for the AMA and its allied organizations, which had appeared content with little more than a return to the payment levels of fiscal 2002, a year in which physician reimbursement fell 5.4%.
Stung by a plunge in membership and pilloried in the press for its public relations mishaps, the gun-shy AMA was reluctant to take full credit for the good news, pointing out that the labyrinthine budget process still might hold some unforeseen horrors or setbacks. Still, the AMA wasn't entirely averse to blowing its horn. Its Web site featured this headline: "Washington Post credits AMA with Medicare fix."
Help needed: better scrubbers
Keeping medical records confidential is becoming harder in the computer age, and the state of Kentucky and thousands of patients are learning the consequences.
A computer that had been discarded for sale as surplus equipment by the state government contained confidential files identifying thousands of people with sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, the state auditor disclosed.
"This is significant data. It's a lot of information with lots of names and things like (numbers of) sexual partners of those who are diagnosed with AIDS," State Auditor Ed Hatchett told the Associated Press. "It's a terrible security breach."
Health Services Secretary Marcia Morgan says the computer came from an agency in her department that deals with counseling on sexually transmitted diseases.
The computer was used from 1995 to 1999. Its hard drive was believed to have been wiped clean when it was shipped off for sale as surplus late last year, Morgan says. She has ordered an internal investigation to determine how the security lapse occurred and how a recurrence may be prevented.
Covering all the PR bases
When attending the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's Conference & Exhibition, it's hard to avoid the constant public relations bombardment from information technology vendors displaying at the show. Last week's HIMSS conference in San Diego was no different.
Outliers took a cab from the show to the Hotel del Coronado to attend the HIMSS senior executive reception and dinner, which was hosted by Modern Healthcare. When asked for a receipt for the $25 ride, the cab driver handed over a fare receipt courtesy of Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based clinical IT company.
Save billions of dollars!
Public- and private-sector groups alike are trying to figure out ways to improve the quality of care provided by the nation's healthcare systems. Billions of dollars are being spent on the effort with hundreds of people putting in thousands of hours trying to come up with systems to measure things such as patient outcomes and satisfaction and then devising ways to improve both.
What a waste. For just $2.99, all of the industry's patient-safety problems may be solved. At least that's what we came away with after snapping up the February issue of Reader's Digest, whose lead story is: "Fatal hospital mistakes: how to avoid them." Among the magazine's suggestions: Lose weight, stop smoking and wash your hands. Those practices will help you avoid infections when hospitalized. And if someone wants to visit you in the hospital and they're sick, tell them not to come.
This Coco ain't no Chanel
Hospitals have faced a heaping task in getting the word out on cancers that involve taboo body parts. Many now are enlisting the help of "Coco," a 40-foot-long, 4-foot-tall plastic crawl-through replica of the human colon.
The Colossal Colon will make its debut at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chapel Hill. From there it will make a 20-city nationwide tour, sponsored by the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation. Visitors can crawl inside the plastic colon while looking at polyps and other colon diseases and playing at the nine interactive activity stations.
Tour promoters hope to get people laughing and talking about an uncomfortable subject. "People avoid screening because speaking about the colon or stool is not done in polite company," said H. Shelton Earp, director of the cancer center. Judging by Outliers' reaction to the photo at right, it is a difficult topic.