Wisdom of the Crowd: Finding the Most Promising Innovations to Teach Value

16 10 2013

Earlier this year, we launched the Teaching Value and Choosing Wisely Competition in conjunction with Costs of Care and the ABIM Foundation.  Why a competition?   Not surprisingly, traditional “literature review” yielded little by way of promising strategies for educators who wished to learn how to teach about value.  However, we had all learned of isolated stories of success, occasionally through attending professional meetings, sometimes via networking with colleagues, or more often through just plain word of mouth.  To help bring these stories of success to the fore, we relied on a crowdsourcing model by launching a competition to engage a larger community of individuals to tell us their story.  Of course, there were moments we wondered if we would get any submissions.  Fortunately, we did not have anything to worry about!  In June, we received 74 submissions, from 14 specialties with innovations and bright ideas that targeted both medical students, residents, faculty and interprofessional learners.

Reviewing each abstract to determine the most promising practices that could be easily scaled up to other institutions was not an easy task.  One interesting struggle was the inherent tradeoff between feasibility and novelty – what was feasible may not have been so novel, while you were left wondering whether the most innovative abstracts would be feasible to implement.  Fortunately, due to the outstanding expert panel of judges, we were able to narrow the field.  While all the submissions were interesting and worthy in their own right, it was clear that there were some that rose to the top.  For example, while every submission included some level of training, the most promising innovations and bright ideas employed methods beyond traditional training- such as a systems fix using electronic health records, a cultural change through valuing restraint, or oversight or feedback mechanisms to ensure trainees get the information they need to assess their practice at the point-of-care.

Perhaps it is not surprising that several of our winners came from innovations or bright ideas developed by trainees or medical students.  After all, the junior learners are on the sharp end of patient care and in the position to see the simplest and most elegant solutions to promote teaching value. Giffin Daughtridge, a  second year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania proposed linking third year medical students to actual patients to not only review their history, but also their actual medical bill.  As emergency medicine residents at NYU, Michelle Lin and Larissa Laskowski were inspired by Hurricane Sandy to develop an easy to use curricular program for her peers.   At Yale, junior faculty Robert Fogerty instigated a friendly competition among medical students, interns, residents and attending physicians to reach the correct diagnosis with the fewest resources possible during morning report style conferences.

The methods employed to achieve success were equally diverse, ranging from repurposing traditional tools to using new methods altogether.  Building on the traditional clinical vignette, Tanner Caverly and Brandon Combs launched the “Do No Harm Project” at the University of Colorado to collect vignettes about value to learn from. This program also informed the launch of “Teachable Moments” section in JAMA Internal Medicine that is now accepting submissions from trainees.  Meanwhile, Amit Pahwa, Lenny Feldman, and Dan Brotman from Johns Hopkins University proposed individualized dashboards that would make lab and imaging use for each trainee available for feedback and benchmarking against their peers.   And Steven Brown and Cheryl O’Malley at Banner Health proposed a local high-value competition that resulted in more than 40 entries from trainees. Drs. Brown and O’Malley plan to implement the most promising ones.

These are just a few of the innovations and bright ideas that were submitted. You can check out the entire list of innovations and bright ideas on the Teaching Value forum.  Our hope is that this is just the start of developing a network of individuals interested in working together to transform medical education by incorporating principles of stewardship.  So, in this case, we recommend that you follow this crowd.

Vineet Arora, MD MAPP  on behalf of the Teaching Value Team members including Chris Moriates, MD, Andy Levy, MD, and Neel Shah MD MPP 

Join us Thursday October 17th at 9pm EST on Twitter for #meded chat where we will discuss the winning innovations and bright ideas!





Not Getting Sick in July

1 07 2013

Today is July 1st.  While everyone has heard the old adage about not getting sick in July because of new interns, the truth is that new interns nationwide have started already. Yet, you don’t hear much about the “late June effect?”  So is the July effect overblown or true?  Well, there have been many studies – so many so there was a recent systematic review co-authored by one of my own co-interns a long time ago.    While I am sure it was hard to synthesize the studies of often sub-par quality, the review does state “studies with higher-quality designs and larger sample sizes more often showed increased mortality and decreased efficiency at time of changeover.”  The study I recall best examined over 25 years worth of death records and found a pattern.  In the 240,000 deaths due to medication errors, mortality rates did increase in July, especially in counties with teaching hospitals.  I’m not sure death certificates are accurate as a way of diagnosing cause of death but that’s another story.

While it’s not possible for patients to time their illness, the question becomes what can be done to ensure July is as safe as possible? While there is scant literature on this topic, over the last several years, I have had the privilege of attending in July.  While I ended up attending in June this year before the interns switched, I was reminded of several ways in which July is different and can be made safer.

  • July requires more intense supervision.  Residency is a time of graduated supervision.  In June, a few weeks before third year residents graduate, it would be tragic or perhaps a sign of a problem if an attending had to oversee every little decision in the moment.  It would also annoy the senior residents to no end.  The senior residents have matured to the point that they are the team leaders and you are often the advisor and hearing about their decision-making and rationale and providing advice and guidance where needed.  That is certainly not the case in July.  In July, attendings often are hovering (even if they don’t admit it) or “epic-stalking” checking on every lab and medication.  Moreover, greater attending supervision is more commonplace since 2011 due to a huge push by accreditation agencies and in part due to shorter resident duty hours.   The truth is that interns are rarely acting alone and are often working in tandem with a more advanced resident and attending.  While a recent ICU study questions the utility of overnight attending supervision, a systematic review from our group found that enhancing supervision was associated with improved patient outcomes and resident education in a variety of settings.  Faculty can be more formally prepared for their bigger responsibility in July as it will not only require more time, but also more intensity of supervision. While this would include traditional in-person supervision, attendings can be taught to provide formal oversight of care through technology tools, such as the EHR, mobile computing, and yes, even Google Glass.
  • The residents are more eager to learn in July.  July is a time when interns and residents want to learn.  They are eager for feedback.  It is much harder to teach interns and residents in June since they have gotten good at their role…and picked up a lot of medical knowledge on the way.  Because of their umpteenth case of a certain disease, they may not find any additional learning in the case.  Of course, there are always more things to teach, but it is just a little harder than in July when your new interns are ready to soak up knowledge like a sponge.  You can also have a big impact on practice patterns before they form and cement best practices.  While some faculty shy away from signing up for July, many I know prefer to do July because of this reason!
  • Everyone is new in their role in July. July is a time of transition for all residents, such as senior residents, chief residents, not to mention new attendings.  Moreover, other health professional training programs are turning over too such as pharmacy residents.  One potential solution that has been mentioned is to stagger the start date of various specialties/professions so that not everyone is new in July.  While this is probably not as feasible as it sounds (and it doesn’t sound feasible), it is an interesting idea worth entertaining.
  • Anticipate the inefficiency. Because of the turnover in all staff, everything is a little less efficient.  While a little less efficiency may not seem like much, for a resident team, less efficient means likely higher census because of delayed discharges.  These higher patient workloads make caring for existing patients hard, and admitting new patients even harder, and of course all of this is under the pressure of the time clock.  Although not commonplace, I have heard of some programs lower workloads early in the year, anticipating this inefficiency.  Another way is to restructure teams so that there is more ‘redundancy’ on the team to help care for the patients.  Either mechanism seems like something to consider especially for teams that are struggling to get all the work done in time.
  • The patients seem to get sickest when the senior resident is off.  In the back of my head, I know this is probably some type of heuristic in which I am overweighting what the days are like when my senior resident is off….  Regardless, for some reason, it does seem like a good practice to anticipate patient illness on those days. And of course, extra supervision and assistance to the intern when the senior resident is a terrific idea.

While these observations may refer to July, just when the residents get accustomed to their role and rotation, its time to switch.  For this reason, it could be that August (and even September) is not that different from July…so while we focus a lot on July, it may be better to prepare for the Summer of Supervision.

Vineet Arora MD





Making the Most of the iPad Mini on Medicine Rounds

20 12 2012

On my birthday several weeks ago, I was lucky to get an iPad Mini from my husband. I already have an iPad and have shared my experience. In fact, we gave all of our residents iPads (one of them contacted Steve Jobs and got a response), and documented an improvement in efficiency on the wards. So why the Mini? What is all the fuss? Well, after finishing 2 weeks on service, I can finally tell you why the Mini is the new must-have for doctors and future doctors.

  1. It fits in your white coat! Yes, while there were entrepeneurs who started creating the iCoat, the truth is who wants to wear a coat with a huge pocket on the side? This means that you also don’t need to wear the “strap’ that we require our residents to wear for the iPad since we did not yet invest in the iCoat.
  2. You can hold it in one hand! This for me is the best part and very underappreciated point in the blogs and reviews I have read. This means you can tough the screen with one hand while you are palming it with the other. I don’t even have the largest hands so I would say it definitely was just at the reach of my palm grasp but I can imagine it would be perfect for my male colleagues.
  3. It fits in your purse! While the female docs may find palming the iPad mini not as easy as the men, never fear…since this one is for the ladies. Many female doctors are always on a quest to find the right handbag/workbag combination. Owning an iPad always meant buying boxy “folio” type purses or shoving it to barely fit in a handbag. The mini is the PERFECT size for a medium size handbag – hobo or satchel. This means that you can go from day to night without carrying your “work bag” to the restaurant. And for the men out there, you can always get a “murse” this holiday season. I hear that they are making a big splash.
  4. You’ll carry it more. Number 1 through 3 really boil down to the fact that it is hard to carry the iPad. Because it is so easy to carry, you won’t find yourself without access to the electronic health record or paging directory. You may be more apt to show patients their images or X-rays or look something up because it is not as hard to use.
  5. You’ll make friends. Basically the minute I brought out the Mini, everyone…nurses, social workers, residents, students, and yes patients were interested in seeing it – “Mini envy” as my students called it. It’s a conversation starter that can improve collegiality and teamwork. When I visited floors that I did not usually work on (overflow patients), I met a nurse who asked me about the Mini – and the next day, she came to our rescue when we were trying to decipher the timing of a patient’s medication and a potential new allergy.
  6. It is more discrete to use at a conference (once everyone stops staring). The Mini is smaller so a bit more stealth in terms of answering a text page or checking a lab while you are sitting in case conference, and you can easily stash it back in your purse as noted above.

Some things to think about. The Mini is not without its pitfalls – many of which are predictable due to its size and interface.

  1. For the visually challenged, it can be hard to see. Sure… you can always “magnify” things with the correct gestures. But, if you are in your Citrix Client looking at your electronic health record, it may not be so easy to magnify and you may have to hold it up closer to your face which can be awkward. Maybe I just need to get my vision tested? Either way, something to be aware of.
  2. Easy to lose. As part of the residency program project, the nice thing about the iPad with strap is you an see it on the resident and its harder to walk off with. The Mini could disappear in a snap. Could someone even “pick-pocket” a doctor coat? Very possible.
  3. It is not a complete substitute for a workstation or pen and paper. This is not unique to the Mini. There is a reason that mobile tablet computing is not a complete substitute for a workstation – the lack of a keyboard. As a result, some our residents carry “paper notes” with their iPad – the paper notes are to take notes of the to-do list that is created on rounds -nothing like checking all those boxes off as an intern. The iPad does not replace that so readily – and while there others thinking about this space, its worth noting that the preference for pen and paper to organize one’s thoughts is very strong. I have to admit, watching the catchy commercial for the Windows Surface, there is still something so appealing about an external keyboard.

So what is the verdict for the Mini? Well, as we say in medicine, the risks of the Mini are outweighed by its benefits making it the perfect prescription for all the physicians or physicians to be in your life. And there’s still a few shopping days left before Christmas…

Happy Holidays!

Vineet Arora MD





Time to Fight Horrors of Healthcare Costs by Taking Charge of Teaching Value

31 10 2012

This Halloween, several creative costumes have emerged from the zingers of the Presidential debates – Big Bird costumes are selling out like hotcakes. For a more do it yourself look, here’s a recipe for Binders full of women.  The debate over the best way to contain healthcare costs have also been a central part of the debates, and yet medical bills do not seem to make popular costumes. Maybe that is because that unaffordability of healthcare is too horrifying for ironic humor – even on Halloween.

As we head into the election, patients are increasingly being terrorized by runaway healthcare costs.  Americans outspend our peers two to one and still seem to be worse off. We overtest and overtreat to the point of absurdity.   According to a recent report, “The U.S. did 100 MRI tests and 265 CT tests for every 1000 people in 2010 — more than twice the average in other OECD countries.”  The causes are multifactorial but the solutions can’t be left to presidents and policymakers alone. An important part of the responsibility rests with healthcare professionals and the educators who train them.

Experts in health professions education and economics have lamented the poor state of education on healthcare costs.  Over 60% of U.S. medical graduates describe their medical economics training as “inadequate.”  Not only are medical trainees unaware of the costs of the tests that they order, they are rarely positioned to understand the downstream financial harms medical bills can have on patients.  More recently, Medicare, the largest funder of residency training in the United States, is concerned that we are not producing the physicians to practice cost-conscious medicine in an era of diminished resources.

We have been scared in the dark too long and this Halloween the time has come to Take Charge.

Join us now at http://teachingvalue.org/takecharge

About Teaching Value: the Costs of Care Teaching Value Project is an initiative of Costs of Care that is funded by the ABIM Foundation.  Our team is comprised of medical educators and trainees who believe it is time to transform the American healthcare system by empowering cost-conscious caregivers to deflate medical bills and protect patients’ wallets.  Our web-based video modules are designed to be easy to access for anyone anywhere and provide a starting point for tackling this problem. It’s time to emerge from the darkness and do our part to tame the terror of healthcare costs.





Teaching Costs of Care: Opening Pandora’s Box

27 07 2012

Last week, I tried something new with our residents…we tried to talk about why physicians overuse tests.   This is the topic of the moment, as the American College of Physicians (ACP) just dropped their long-awaited new High Value Cost Conscious Curriculum for what has now been dubbed the “7th competency” for physicians-in-training.   In addition to the ACP curriculum, which I served as one of the reviewers for, I also am involved with another project led by Costs of Care to use video vignettes to illustrate teaching points to physicians-in-training called the Teaching Value Project.  With funding by the ABIM Foundation , we have been able to develop and pilot a video vignette that that depicts the main reasons why physicians overuse tests.   The discussion was great and the residents certainly picked up on the cues in the video such as duplicative ordering, and that the cost of tests are nebulous to begin with.  But, before I could rejoice about the teaching moments and reflection inspired by the video, I must admit that I felt like Pandora opening the dreaded Box.   Many of the questions and points raised by the residents highlight the difficulty in assuming that teaching doctors about cost-conscious care will translate into lower costs and higher quality.

1)   What about malpractice?  One of our residents mentioned that really the problem is malpractice and that test overuse was often a problem due to the “CYA” attitude that physicians have to adopt to avoid malpractice.   It is true that states with higher malpractice premiums spend more on care.  However, this difference is small and does not fully explain rising healthcare costs.  More interestingly, the fear of being sued is often more powerful than the actual risk of beingsued.  For example, doctors’ reported worries about malpractice vary little across states, even though malpractice laws vary by state.

2)   What about patients who demand testing? Another resident highlighted that even with training, it was often that patients did not feel like anything was done until a test was ordered.  Watchful waiting is sometimes such an unsatisfying ‘treatment’ plan.  As a result, residents reported ordering tests so that patients would feel like they did something.  In some cases, patients did not even believe that a clinical history and exam couldlead to a ‘diagnosis’ – as one resident reported a patient asked of them incredulously, “well how do you know without doing the imaging test?”

3)   What can we do when the attending wants us to order tests? All of the residents nodded their head in agreement that they have had to order a test that they did not think was indicated, because the attending wanted to be thorough and make sure there was nothing wrong.  I find this interesting, since as an attending, you are often making decisions based on the information you are given from the resident – so could it be that more information or greater supervision would  solve this problem?  Or is it that attendings are hard wired to ask for everything since they never thought about cost?

4)   Whose money is it anyway that we are saving?  This is really the question that was on everyone’s mind.  Is it the patient’s money?  After all, if a patient is insured, it is easy to say that it’s not saving their money because insurance will pay.   Well, what about things that aren’t even reimbursed well..doesn’t the hospital pay then?  Finally, a voice in the corner said it is society that pays – and that is hard to get your head around initially, but it is true.  Increased costs of care are eventually passed down to everyone – for example, patients will be charged higher premiums from their insurance companies who are paying out more.  Hospitals will charge more money to those that can pay to recover any losses.

5)   Will education really change anything?  So, this is my question that I am actually asking myself at the end of this exercise.… Education by itself is often considered a weak intervention, and it is often the support of the culture or the learning climate that the education is embedded in.  The hidden curriculum is indeed powerful, and it would be a mistake to think that education will result in practice change if the system is designed to lead to overordering tests.  As quality improvement guru and Dartmouth professor Paul Batalden has said (or at least that’s who this quote is often attributed to when its not attributed to Don Berwick) “Every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets.”  Therefore, understanding what characteristics of systems promote cost conscious care is a critical step.

However,  before we dismiss education altogether from our toolbox, it is important to note that education is necessary to raise awareness for the need to change.  And in the words of notable educational psychologist Robert Gagne, the first step in creating a learning moment is getting attention.  And, by that measure, this exercise was successful – it certainly did get attention.  Yet, it also did something else…it created the tension for change, a necessary prerequisite for improvement.  It  certainly cultivated a desire to learn more about how to achieve this change….which is what our team is currently working towards with the Teaching Value Project.    So while learning why tests are overused is a first step… judging by Pandora’s box, it is certainly not the last.

–Vineet Arora MD

Special thanks to Andy Levy and Neel Shah for their hard work on this module.





What Happens in Vegas Can Be Used to Teach Costs of Care

16 02 2012

Funded with a grant from the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation,  Costs of Care has partnered with medical educators at Harvard Medical School and the University of Chicago (that would be us!) to start addressing this problem. We are developing a series of web-based medical education videos that use clinical vignettes to illustrate core principles of cost-consideration, including how to communicate with patients about avoiding unnecessary care and reducing overused or misused tests and procedures.  As part of the project launch, we released a new teaser video today called “What if Your Hotel Bill Was Like a Hospital Bill?”. The video is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of the challenges patients face in deciphering medical expenses, and their additional confusion when they learn doctors are not trained to consider costs.  – Excerpt from Costs of Care Press Release by Dr. Neel Shah  

How does this relate to Vegas?

On a recent trip to Las Vegas with my family for the holidays, I was in the Bellagio lobby admiring the Chihuly glass ceiling.  While that was impressive, I was also watching the clerks check in and out the long lines of visitors to the hotel.  The staff explained any charges on the bill, confirmed that the bill agrees with the expectations of the patron and then finalized the transaction, printing a copy on the spot for the traveler before they got in the cab to the airport hailed by the bellman.   What a far cry from hospitals where most of the hospital staff have no idea how much anything costs!  After all, doctors are notoriously bad at considering costs in the doctor-patient relationship, as demonstrated by a great piece by Dr. Peter Ubel on his experience with the cost of his own prescription medications. As Paolo (or Paul who works as our research project manager in his day job) from Hotel Hospital highlights, “our hotel staff specifically focus on the highest quality of care…I doubt that they even know how much anything costs here.”  The rest of the script was easy to write.  Shooting was a lot harder since we had to find a spot in the hospital that looked like a hotel but thanks to some creative camera angles and props from our MergeLab team, we were able to get it done.

Learning about costs of care is critical to taking care of patients.  This was especially poignant during my recent inpatient service block at a nearby community hospital, since I cared for many uninsured patients who paid out of pocket for their medications (not to mention their hospital stay).   Our residents were concerned about one patient who was uninsured and would have difficulty paying for Plavix, a critically important drug after his heart procedure.  Review of his medications also revealed he was recently put on Lexapro, a nongeneric antidepressant (with a sordid history) that was costing him over 100 dollars a month when there is a generic alternative for 4 dollars a month, which would help him afford his Plavix.   When physicians do discuss costs, they also get it wrong and perpetuate a ‘medical urban legend’ like stating that patients have to pay when they leave the hospital against medical advice (this is not true!).   These are just a few of many examples of why teaching students and residents to bring up costs and arming them with tools to address the issue with their future patients is imperative.  Without considering costs of care, we all take a ‘gamble’ that costs of care are not an issue for patients….Of course, the odds are against that.

Stay tuned for more work from our Teaching Value Project from Costs of Care funded by the ABIM Foundation. 

–Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP

Special thanks to our production team and actors: Mark Saathoff , Andy Levy MS4, Kimberly Beiting, Paul Staisiunas, Jeanne Farnan, and Neel Shah!





The Social History: Going Beyond TED

7 02 2012

As I am on service, I realized that one thing that can be easily lost in the race to take care of patients with limited duty hours – the social history.  The social history is part of the admission “history and physical” that once included a myriad of information about the patient’s job, life, and habits has now “fallen into despair” becoming little more than “negative for TED”, or in other words “no tobacco, alcohol (ethanol) or drugs.”

But, there is so much more to it than that.   How do they afford to pay for their housing, food, and medications?  Do they have insurance?   Where do they live?  Who takes care of them or do they take care of someone else?  Do they have friends or family living nearby?   What do they like to do for fun?  Given that most of the ‘discharge planning’ focuses on these elements of the social history, it seems silly that we don’t include more than just no TED.

So, when I was asked by a very astute medical student if I preferred to hear more in the social history, I said yes.   The information that is usually discussed as the patient gets better and we wonder where they will go was now presented on admission, discussed as a problem just like any other medical problem.   In just a few short days, we discerned that a patient who had chronic hypoxia and shortness of breath worked in a factory which likely contributes to his interstitial lung disease.  Another patient who had been hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal recently broke up with a girlfriend which triggered this bout of drinking.   Another patient who was a Jehovah’s Witness would rather have IV therapy for his wound infection than surgery.  Another patient with repeated hypertensive crisis had skipped his medications since he could not afford them.

Given the tremendous burden of costs of medications and the complex interplay between social factors and health, it’s time that we start teaching people to take a thorough social history. Wondering what should go into a thorough social history, I first did what most physicians do – I went online.  It turns out that Wikipedia has an entry on social history for medicine that starts out with the same substance abuse history.  It also includes occupation, sexual preference, prison, and travel.   I stumbled upon another interesting piece by a medical student in the LA Times who admits that it is easy to skimp on the social history due to the time it takes to take a complete history.  After a brief foray in PubMed, A study demonstrated that internal medicine residents do not often know the social history of patients, and this worsens if the resident is more advanced in training and when the workload is higher.  Then, I recalled the seminal text that is still in use today.  According to the Bates Guide to History and Physical Examination:

The Personal and Social History captures the patient’s personality and interests, sources of support, coping style, strengths, and fears. It should include occupation and the last year of schooling; home situation and significant others; sources of stress, both recent and long-term; important life experiences, such as military service, job history, financial situation, and retirement; leisure activities; religious affiliation and spiritual beliefs; and activities of daily living (ADLs). It also conveys lifestyle habits that promote health or create risk such as exercise and diet, including frequency of exercise; usual daily food intake; dietary supplements or restrictions; and safety measures and other devices related to specific hazards. You may want to include any alternative health care practices. You will come to thread personal and social questions throughout the interview to make the patient feel more at ease.

There is another good reason to teach the social history – another study shows that those residents who took better social histories were actually perceived to be more humanistic.  As others stated, “By knowing patients better—and taking better social histories—we will provide better care and will be more fulfilled and energized in our work as physicians.”

–Vineet Arora MD








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