The man responsible for declaring E-mail Free Day at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J., is alive and well, surviving the great experiment in face-to-face communication without any virtual bruises from computer-addicted employees.
Richard Birrer, interim president and CEO, suspended the hospital's e-mail system on June 20 in an effort to "re-personalize the healthcare business." The day intentionally coincided with the summer solstice. Birrer, who was chief medical officer at the 739-bed hospital for three years before taking over the top job on Feb. 1, appears to be more of a Dr. Zen when it comes to managing. A self-described lover of acronyms, he often tells his staff to GYHOOPAWA. Translation: Get your head out of paperwork and walk around. "It is an exercise in reinvention," Birrer says about the day with no e-mail. "Healthcare is constantly changing and we must have the forethought, ingenuity and creativity to meet the demands of this changing industry."
The day got "interesting reviews," says hospital spokeswoman Amelia Duggan. "Some embraced it and there were some who maybe struggled with it. Some of us laid eyes on people we haven't seen in a long time."
With nothing better to do, the hospital's information technology managers gave blood. At the end of the day, Birrer and other top managers strolled around the hospital for some final moments of face time with patients and staff.
Back in the hot seat again
Tom Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has drawn the ire of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) for not only refusing to allow the CMS actuary to release information about the House Republican Medicare prescription drug plan but threatening to fire him if he did.
In a letter last week, Stark denounced Scully, who has a reputation for having a quick-draw mouth, for barring CMS actuary Rick Foster from explaining how the House Medicare reform bill would affect Part B premiums and the level of subsidies that will be given to private health plans compared with traditional Medicare. According to the letter, Scully told Stark's staff that if Foster released that information, he would "be fired so fast his head would spin."
In 2000, the CMS actuary's office conducted a comparison saying seniors would pay at least $142 more per month in Part B premiums and drug premiums under a plan similar to the House reform bill, Stark said. "It is outrageous that (Scully) is threatening a longtime public servant with being fired for simply doing his job," he wrote.
A spokesman for the CMS denies Scully ever made the threat to fire Foster. As for the information Stark requested, "Most of the information is no longer in the bill, so that's moot," the spokesman says.
When you need a friend
The American Medical Association, which can't seem to hold onto its own members, now is considering creating an affiliated membership organization for laymen. The "Friends of American Medicine" would help the average citizen "better understand the issues affecting the healthcare system," according to a resolution sponsored by six state delegations at the AMA's recent annual meeting in Chicago.
Robert McMillan, a New York attorney and the only public member of the AMA's 21-person board of trustees, was the driving force behind the new association, suggesting that it was time for the Chicago-based doctors' group to capitalize on its name recognition. It's unclear, of course, how many of those average citizens would be eager to fork over $10 or $20 a year-the figures tossed out at the meeting-to join an affiliate of the AMA, which has experienced an exodus of about 30,000 of its dues-paying members since the end of 2000.
The resolution, adopted by the House of Delegates, calls for the AMA to conduct a telephone survey of 800 to 1,000 members of the public. If the response is favorable, the AMA is likely to move forward with the new association as a way to help muster public support for key issues such as medical liability reform.
Perhaps coincidentally, the AMA's self-help project comes just four months after its chief rival in the fight for tort reform-the Washington-based Association of Trial Lawyers of America-created an affiliated organization dubbed "Friends of ATLA." But this "invitation-only" group, which probably won't win widespread support from everyday citizens worried about the plight of trial lawyers, is targeting well-heeled individuals and companies willing to pay as much as $5,000 per month for a prominent spot in the group's directory.
Marketing, up close and personal
In our continuing effort to find the best promotional gimmick from a healthcare trade show, Outliers found that room keys at the Hyatt Hotel in Baltimore were emblazoned with the corporate logo of Perot Systems Corp., an exhibitor at the Healthcare Financial Management Association's annual meeting in Baltimore last week. That's getting even closer to home than the taxi receipts with the Cerner Corp. logo that were handed out on the way to the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society gathering in San Diego in February (Feb. 17, p. 36).
* "Maybe we do have a single-payer (health system) but don't even know it."
-Tom Hochhauser, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Deloitte & Touche, at the HFMA meeting. He noted that more than 60% of a hospital's revenue comes from Medicare and Medicaid, not including federal employees and military health plans.
* "I don't believe that if you tell the patient about making an error whether they can understand whether you breached the standard of care-it's hard for patients to be discriminating."
-Jack Menendez, a general surgeon from Macon, Ga., speaking at this month's annual meeting of the American Medical Association.