Back in the 70's, competitive marching bands came into vogue in Western Pennsylvania. Let me explain the before and after of this phenomenon: Before there were competitions, bands were made up of nearly 10 times more students than they typically have today. My bands ranged in size from 120 to 185 students. Once competition came into play, the borderline students were not able to survive. Consequently, it is not unusual now to have 20 students or less in a band.
What's happening in medicine and in health care overall? The Government is taking a three-pronged approach to improve quality in health care:
1. They are pushing quality through public reporting. (Check a website near you.)
2. Enforcing quality through the False Claims Act. (Check a prison near you.)
3. Incentivizing quality through payment reform. (Check a checkbook near you.)
As I have written before, hospitals will no longer be paid for hospital acquired conditions. That seems like a rather simple fix, but to appropriately determine if the condition was not acquired at the hospital, extensive testing must be added pre-admission at considerable costs to the hospitals.
James G. Sheehan, Medicaid Inspector General of New York said, "We are reviewing assorted sources of quality information on your facility to see what it says and if it is consistent. You should be doing the same."
Except for the financial implications, not unlike my competitive band story, the goal was to work toward perfection. The public reporting of quality of care is intended to:
1. Correct inappropriate behavior
2. Identify overpayment's
3. Deny payments
The False Claims Act, on the other hand has different goals. When asked how he viewed the False Claims Act, Kirk Ogrosky, U.S. Deputy Chief for Health Care Fraud said, "You will see more and more physicians going to jail." I guess the prisoners will be receiving better care.
Where's it all going? Competitive band. Will it improve health care delivery? Probably, for the patients who can find the few docs and hospital that will be left? I recently had a conversation with a young computer specialist who took care of physician practices. He said, "Doctors and hospitals haven't figured it out yet, but they are simply becoming data entry centers for 'Big Brother' as the facts and figures are accumulated to be used against them any way the payers decide to move forward."
Looking back at the school year that included gym class twice a week for the entire year, rich courses in music and art, and remembering a time when priorities included those classes intended to make every student well rounded, we have to ask, "Is education today better?"
Maybe this is all too complicated to get our arms around, but if there are 78 million Baby Boomers, and the Medicare Trust Fund is heading toward bankruptcy, then we probably will see every rule in the book being applied to keep from paying out money, because there is simply not enough money to go around.
Will health care improve? Once we understand that technology is not the end all and cure all that creates healing; once we endorse prevention, wellness, optimal healing environments, and systems approaches to health and wellness, health care will improve. I'll bet you that it will have very little to do with the rules that are unfolding right now and much more to do with the creation and acceptance of a National Health Policy.