Tag Archives: healthcare

Why are young Australians canceling their health insurance in the midst of a pandemic?

You’d think that now’s the best time to get health insurance if you’re not already signed up for one.

But, in Australia, a weird trend is leaving many baffled: an increasing number of young people are ditching their private health insurance despite the fact a deadly virus is causing an unprecedented pandemic. Why on Earth is this happening?

According to information released by the Federal Government, more than 29,000 Australians canceled their private health insurance in just three months, since the pandemic started, from March to June.

Even well before the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians had been abandoning in large numbers their medical insurance. According to year to June numbers, 56,000 Australians aged 20 to 49 canceled their cover. Meanwhile, more older Australians have applied for private healthcare insurance. So essentially, a number of Australians is giving up on their health insurance, while another part of the population is opting for private healthcare.

This is creating systemic problems in the insurance sector, which is losing more and more of its young and healthy users while gaining older, more prone to disease, expensive users.

Why would someone cancel their insurance in the middle of a pandemic?

From the first days of lockdown, people became aware that the coronavirus mostly threatens older people, largely sparing the youth. What’s more, many elective surgeries and routine services like dental and eye appointments had to be canceled. As such, people didn’t have access to services that their insurance would cover. This turned out to be a pressing issue for many Australians, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Many young Australians simply feel that their insurance isn’t worth the money. According to ABC Australia, insurers paid about $3.3 billion in hospital benefits last quarter, which was about 12.9 percent less than the previous three months.

So, ironically, many Australians don’t see the point in investing in health insurance as much as they did in previous years — despite the woes that come with the territory of living during a pandemic.

For the industry, these developments don’t bode well, with net profit after tax falling by 45.3% in the year to June.

On October 7, the government announced funding for a review of policies deterring young people from taking out private cover, a measure that has been welcomed by health insurers. The government set aside $2.4 million for a review into the community rating system, part of a wider $20 million packed meant to help struggling private health insurers.

Meanwhile, some of Australia’s biggest private health insurance funds are set to begin charging higher premiums. Customers are expected to pay as much as 3.27 percent more for their premiums from October 1.

Community rating is the principle that all policyholders should pay the same premiums regardless of risk. It means, essentially, that low-risk young members subsidize higher-risk older members. Private Healthcare Australia estimates this cross-subsidization is costing younger members $900 a year.

However, this system is pricing out younger people out of the sector. In an explanatory memorandum in early October, the Department of Health said the planned review would “highlight whether any changes to these policy settings could improve value and effectiveness for consumers”.

What is Medicare and what does it cover?

Unlike most developed countries in the world, the United States does not have a universal healthcare system. However, millions of Americans have access to Medicare, a federal government insurance program that subsidizes certain healthcare services. Let’s see what it’s about.

Credit: Pxhere, Mohamed Hassan.

Medicare covers those over age 65, as well as younger people who meet certain eligibility criteria, and people suffering from certain health problems. Those who do not qualify for Medicare plans at no cost have to pay a premium and need to sign up during specific enrollment periods.

Although Medicare helps with the cost of healthcare services, it does not necessarily cover all medical expenses or the cost of long-term care.

The types of Medicare

Medicare is divided into four categories: Medicare Part A, Part B, Part C or Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D for prescriptions.

Medicare Part A is basically hospital insurance that pays for inpatient care in a hospital or other inpatient-like settings. Medicare Part A also covers some home healthcare and hospice care.

Medicare Part B is medical insurance that helps cover services performed by doctors and other healthcare providers, durable medical equipment, and some preventive services.

Social Security enrolls American citizens and residents in the Medicare Part A and Part B, which are the Original Medicare.

Medicare Part C, now known as Medicare Advantage, bundles all the benefits and services covered under Part A and Part B under a single plan offered by a private insurance provider. Depending on your insurance company, Medicare Part C may provide other benefits and features not included in Original Medicare.

Medicare Part D helps cover the cost of prescription drugs.

Additionally, Americans can choose to order a Medigap policy from a private insurance company that covers some of the costs that Medicare does not cover, such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.

How Medicare works

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that pays for a variety of health care expenses. It’s administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). 

Just like Social Security, Medicare is an entitlement program, meaning that U.S. citizens and permanent residents earn the right to sign up for Medicare by working and paying their taxes for a minimum required period. It’s possible to enroll in Medicare if you haven’t paid taxes for very long in the United States, but you’ll need to pay more.

Who’s elligible for Medicare

Each Medicare plan has different elligibility criteria.

American citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are age 65 or older qualify for Medicare Part A.

According to Social Security services, you can be ensured for Part A at no cost at age 65 if either one of the following applies:

  • You receive or are eligible to receive benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).
  • Your spouse (living or deceased, including divorced spouses) receives or is eligible to receive Social Security or RRB benefits.
  • You or your spouse worked long enough in a government job through which you paid Medicare taxes.
  • You are the dependent parent of a fully insured deceased child.

Before the age of 65, people may be eligible for Medicare Part A at no cost if one of the following applies:

  • You’ve been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for 24 months.
  • You receive a disability pension from the RRB and meet certain conditions.
  • You receive Social Security disability benefits because you have Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
  • You worked long enough in a government job through which you paid Medicare taxes, and you have met the requirements of the Social Security disability program for 24 months.
  • You’re the child or widow(er) age 50 or older, including a divorced widow(er), of a worker who has worked long enough under Social Security or in a Medicare-covered government job, and you meet the requirements of the Social Security disability program.
  • You have permanent kidney failure (end-stage renal disease) and you receive maintenance dialysis or a kidney transplant.

If these conditions don’t apply to you, Medicare Part A is available by paying a monthly premium.

If you’re eligible for Medicare Plan A at no cost, you can enroll in Medicare Part B by paying a monthly premium.

You can only sign up in Plan A and Plan B during designated enrollment periods.

If you have Part A and Part benefits from the government, this means you have Original Medicare. However, if you receive benefits from a private company approved by Medicare, you have a Medicare Advantage plan, which provides extra coverage and may lower out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

If you have Medicare Advantage, you don’t need a Medigap policy since many of the same benefits are covered. These include extra days in the hospital after you’ve used the days that Original Medicare covers.

Anyone with Original Medicare is also eligible for Part D, which covers prescription drug costs. Part D is available as a stand-alone policy or built into Medicare Advantage.

To access Part D, you need to pay an extra monthly premium. Beneficiaries with higher incomes will pay a higher monthly Part D premium.

People who have a low income and have Medicare Part A may be able to get help from the state in order to pay for Medicare premiums. Some of these state-sponsored programs pay for Medicare premiums while others cover Medicare deductibles and coinsurance. Each state has different eligibility criteria, so it’s best if you visit Medicare.gov to find out the required qualifications for your state.

Additionally, as of March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, into law. This program expands Medicare’s ability to cover healthcare costs for those affected by COVID-19.

How much does Medicare cost in 2020

Depending on your age, history of chronic disease, and the number of years employed, the cost of Medicare can vary wildly. Here’s how much various Medicare plans cost in 2020 at a glance.

Part A premiumMost people don’t pay a monthly premium for Part A (sometimes called “premium-free Part A“). If you buy Part A, you’ll pay up to $458 each month in 2020. If you paid Medicare taxes for less than 30 quarters, the standard Part A premium is $458. If you paid Medicare taxes for 30-39 quarters, the standard Part A premium is $252.
Part A hospital inpatient deductible and coinsuranceYou pay:$1,408 deductible for each benefit periodDays 1-60: $0 coinsurance for each benefit periodDays 61-90: $352 coinsurance per day of each benefit periodDays 91 and beyond: $704 coinsurance per each “lifetime reserve day” after day 90 for each benefit period (up to 60 days over your lifetime)Beyond lifetime reserve days: all costs
Part B premiumThe standard Part B premium amount is $144.60 (or higher depending on your income).
Part B deductible and coinsurance$198. After your deductible is met, you typically pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for most doctor services (including most doctor services while you’re a hospital inpatient), outpatient therapy, and durable medical equipment (dme)
Part C premiumThe Part C monthly premium varies by plan. Compare costs for specific Part C plans.
Part D premiumThe Part D monthly premium varies by plan (higher-income consumers may pay more). Compare costs for specific Part D plans.
Source: Medicare.gov.

What’s the difference between Medicare and Medicaid

Many confuse Medicare with Medicaid, or vice-versa. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides hospital and medical coverage for those with low income that cannot afford Medicare Plans A and B.

While Medicare is designed for those over 65 and younger people with certain health conditions, Medicaid provides healthcare coverage to people with low income.

Each state in the country has its own rules about who’s eligible for Medicaid and what costs the insurance covers. Depending on where you live, some may qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Why healthcare professionals need to understand AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly sophisticated at completing tasks that humans usually do, but more efficiently, quickly and at a lower cost. This offers huge potential across all industries. In healthcare, it holds particular value as it impacts patient care and wellbeing as well as the bottom-line.

The growing role of AI

Indeed, forecasts predict that medical uses of AI will be present in 90% of hospitals in the near future and replace as much as 80% of doctors’ roles. Investor Tej Kohli expects to see AI applications in healthcare contribute three to four times more global output than the Internet. This currently accounts for $50 trillion of the global economy.

There is clear, untapped potential in using AI. But for it to be fully utilised, the people in charge and implementing it must have a decent grasp of the opportunities and limitations. That means that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals must get-to-grips with AI and its many subsets.

Many uses for AI

The uses of AI in healthcare are seemingly endless. They span the full spectrum of patient care and treatment, from drug discovery and repurposing to clinical trials, treatment adherence and remote monitoring. AI’s particular strength lies in highly computerised, manual work that can be easily automated. With it doing the legwork, this frees up practitioners to focus on human tasks like speaking with patients.

Matching donors and patients

Some notable examples of AI’s potential include organ donation. Matching patients with donors can be a time-consuming and inaccurate process. Through AI, more matches can be carried out in a short timeframe, compared to when a human has to manually scour the donor and patient database or find a suitable family member donor. Plus, patients can procure donors from a wide range of possible contacts, those who aren’t a biological fit, because AI can quickly link donors to patients based on a wide range of factors beyond blood type and relation.

Preventative care

Another huge benefit comes in preventative care. Consumer health applications and the Internet of Things (IoT) are helping people track their lifestyle and fitness activities. This encourages them toward healthier behaviour and proactive health management. Additionally putting them in control of their own health and wellbeing.

Better data

IoT devices like the Apple Watch can also, in theory, provide healthcare professionals with timely and accurate data. Blood pressure information, for example, can be tracked throughout the day without the potential of ‘white coat syndrome’ skewing the results. In getting this data and having AI analyse it, professionals can provide more tailored care and advice, feedback and guidance on treatments and understanding what medicines are working.

Working together across disciplines

Of course, this is but a snapshot of what AI is achieving in medical science and so much more can be done when researchers, doctors, data scientists and other frontline health workers collaborate on problems and solutions. Because, ultimately, no data scientist can fully understand the unique environment of a hospital or doctors’ surgery. Vice versa, healthcare professionals aren’t going to be able to know all the ins-and-outs of algorithms and machine learning.

That’s not to say that healthcare professionals having a general understanding of AI isn’t important. To work effectively with data science teams, there must be a baseline understanding within the healthcare sector, of the key concepts and trends in AI.

The benefits of understanding AI

There are additional benefits to knowing a bit about AI. First, healthcare leaders can make more informed decisions about AI investments and the infrastructure required. This can help projects align with the organisation’s wider goals and also ensure that costs don’t spiral.

If doctors understand the abilities of a particular AI tool, they can also use it effectively in making decisions, diagnoses and prioritising tasks. They can use a tool to identify patients at risk of developing a specific condition, for example.

Changing culture and steering the direction

Additionally, having more of a grasp of AI can change the culture around adopting such technology. Typically, the sector has lagged behind in accepting emerging technology – as was the case with electronic health records. But embracing it early can push innovation and progress further. Shaping it in a way that suits healthcare professionals, patients and the sector as a whole.

As MIT economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson state, “So we should ask not ‘What will technology do to us?’ but rather ‘What do we want to do with technology?’ More than ever before, what matters is thinking deeply about what we want. Having more power and more choices means that our values are more important than ever.”

Patient communication

It can also help to reassure patients. Machine learning tools are increasingly being used in clinical settings and having a doctor with an understanding of such tools will lead to more thorough discussions. Some patients may wish to know how an AI has come to a specific decision. Doctors will have to communicate the training a machine has undertaken, the data it has been trained with and the algorithms powering its decision-making.

In any case, most patients still prefer human-to-human interactions when talking about their symptoms, test results and prognosis. AI is still mistrusted by many people, partly because they don’t understand how it works and whether it is accurate or not. They also feel that an AI doesn’t take in their ‘uniqueness’ and experience of a disease. With a well-informed doctor explaining these things, their fears will be put to rest and they can move onto to their treatment and care.

As vital as medical knowledge

As AI becomes mainstream in the healthcare setting, the onus is on healthcare professionals to invest in their AI education. Failing to understand AI is falling short of patient expectations, People cannot be treated effectively if their physician doesn’t know how their AI-powered tool works. In the future, understanding AI and medical knowledge will hold the same importance for practitioners.

So it’s worth learning about it now and keeping up with AI trends in the industry. For the good of your career as well as your patients.

Universal healthcare would save 68,000 lives and $450 billion in the US

Healthcare provisions such as those outlined in the Medicare for All Act would help save both lives and money in the US, a new study reports.

Image credits Andrew Martin.

A shift towards universal single-payer healthcare for all Americans would help save an estimated 68,000 lives and $450 billion (based on the value of the dollar in 2017), the study explains. Today, 41 million Americans have inadequate access to care and over 37 million do not have health insurance at all, the authors note. The figures take into account both the increased costs associated with such a scheme as well as the reduction in costs associated with better-quality healthcare for every citizen.

Care for more, save more

“We find that the expected savings from a universal single-payer system would more than compensate for the increased expenditure associated with universal health-care coverage,” the paper explains. “Moreover, universal health care would save lives while simultaneously improving the quality and productivity of those lives, as detailed here.”

“Beyond economic considerations, the paramount objective of a health-care system is to save lives,” the authors rightly point out.

The authors explain that single-payer healthcare systems are and have long been perceived in the US as being economically impractical. However, they also contend that data on the ground showcases the limitations of the current system as well. Despite having the highest health-care expenditure in the world (18% of GDP), they write, “the USA ranks below 30 countries for many public health indicators, including preventable deaths, infant survival, maternal mortality, and overall life expectancy.”

The view that Americans get very little medical bang for their bucks is further echoed by other organizations and researchers. Back in 2010, a report by the Commonwealth Fund explained that the US ranked last among seven countries (Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, and the US) in regards to the quality, level of access, and efficiency of its medical system. American citizens ranked lowest for longevity and overall health condition among those countries as well. The situation didn’t much improve by 2017, when a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted that “life expectancy in the United States was slightly lower [by two years] than the OECD average, despite very high levels of health spending,” despite the fact that it was one year over the average back in 1970, and that the quality of healthcare was close to OECD average despite spending being more than double the average ($9,892 compared to $4,003, adjusted for local costs). And they’re just a few out of many.

The Medicare for All Act would benefit low-income households the most, the authors explain, which are the most at-risk segment of the population and also the least likely to afford and access health care. Single-payer health-care schemes involve the government paying for health coverage, for everyone, with funds it raises through taxation or other means. “Single-payer” here describes a mechanism by which healthcare is paid for by a single public authority (as opposed to a mix of public and private actors or a single private entity).

Such systems help keep costs down by allowing the government to negotiate the price of drugs and services on behalf of patients — which virtually always translates into better deals — and removes most of the private healthcare-insurance bureaucracy. Currently, around 25% of all healthcare spending in the US is ‘wasted‘; high costs of drugs and medical devices relative to other countries further gobble up funds, as does low social spending.

For the study, the team looked at projected spending under the Medicare for All Act and developed the Single-payer Healthcare Interactive Financing Tool (SHIFT, accessible here) to test scenarios in which key variables underpinning healthcare costs change in the future. All in all, they report that the Medicare for All Act would lead to both improved service, insurance expansion, greater efficiency, lower drug prices, and “yield net savings for the health-care system across a wide range of [scenarios]” for patients and medical institutions both.

“Applying the fees negotiated by Medicare across all services for all individuals, we calculated that hospital fees would be reduced by [5% to 54%] and clinical service fees by [7% to 38%], amounting to annual savings of $100 billion,” the team explains.

“From the perspective of health-care providers, lower fees per service would be offset by savings from reduced billing and administrative tasks, which represent a $768 billion cost for health-care providers. Consolidation of billing into a unified system is estimated to have the potential to reduce this expenditure by $284 billion, which would be more than double the proposed change in fees”.

The authors further note that such a system would lead to the elimination of unpaid bills, which currently amount to “$35 billion annually for hospitals alone” and reduce the “overwhelming paperwork” required of physicians, which is a leading cause for burnout.

The paper “Improving the prognosis of health care in the USA” has been published in the journal The Lancet.

10 Innovations Changing Healthcare in 2020

Credit: Pixabay.

Technology is continuously advancing, working to improve healthcare and yield satisfaction amongst patients, whilst still reducing costs for organisations.

But where will this take us? In the United Kingdom, the likes of the NHS and Bupa have already introduced long-term plans to utilise technology to help diagnose infection, manage long-term conditions and promote better health. The use of technology will undoubtedly continue to better the healthcare industry, ultimately leading to longer life expectancy as younger generations are predicted to live to up to 125 years old if these technical advances continue to develop.

Below we highlight 10 of the top innovations changing healthcare at the moment:

AI in healthcare

AI is quickly becoming an extremely powerful tool for the industry. It’s fast, precise, and provides data in masses. AI ensures healthcare of the highest quality for an affordable cost. Advantages include an increase in diagnostic capabilities and predicting disease at an earlier stage, tailored treatment strategies and access to a host of health records.

Advances in education with virtual and mixed reality

Training is a huge part of developing knowledge and understanding of the human body. The developments in virtual and mixed reality allows a new quality of surgical training, accessing areas of the body which are perhaps almost impossible to reach.

Innovations in robotic surgery

This is a huge advantage for patients, as robotic surgery provides advantages such as smaller incisions and scars, a diminished need for blood transfusions, faster recovery times, leading to a shorter stay in hospital.

Immunotherapy

By activating and suppressing the immune system, it is encouraged to work harder, making it easier to find cancel cells and fight them off. It’s a great alternative when patients aren’t responding well to other treatments.

3D printing

Recent advances of 3D printing in healthcare has led to safer products, higher quality and reduced costs. This technology is very much still in the early stages but its impact on society is already apparent. Philanthropist and Entrepreneur Tej Kohli’s ‘Future Bionics’ program highlights just how assistive technology can substantially improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities.

Increases in genetic testing

Due to advances in technology and the availability of cost-effective self-genotyping kits, this has ultimately led to an increase in genomic data. Benefits lie not only in the identification of human disease but also in improving our knowledge of genetics.

Skin cancer diagnostics

Total Body Dermoscopy is a method used by physicians whereby the entire skin surface is photographed with a special camera and flash system without any reflections and with super-high resolution. This technological advancement can help detect early stages of skin cancer.

Detecting Dementia early

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of death. Oxford Brain diagnostics believe they can detect this disease at an earlier stage using cortical disarray measurement (CDM). This technique enables scientists to gather more intricate information from existing MRI scans and identify changes in the brain’s anatomy.

Health monitors

With the combination of WIFI-powered data sharing, long-lasting tiny batteries, and mobile apps, wearable health monitors have never been easier to use for health management. This technology enables the diagnosis of patients in a timely fashion to potentially identify life-threatening and dangerous conditions.

Use of robots as a companion during recovery

Loneliness is a very sad yet real part of the recovery phase for patients. It could be detected as a risk factor for a number of medical conditions, particularly those related to the heart. Robots are now used to provide companionship to those who are ill and are capable of setting up video chats with family members and doctors.

With new discoveries being made every day, it will be interesting to see what the year of 2020 bring to the medical industry. Longer life expectancy, as predicted may not seem so far-fetched, if these technological advances continue at this rapid rate.

Brits learn how much healthcare costs in the US — their reaction is priceless

Americans pay $10,000 a year on healthcare on average, double what the UK government pays for each of its citizens. You’d think that doubling the spending would also double the quality, but far from it. In fact, the reverse is true.

People living with the brutal reality of the American healthcare system on a day to day basis may be resigned with the situation. However, it’s worth noting that free, accessible, and quality healthcare is the norm in many developed countries. A viral video that interviewed random Brits on the street about US healthcare is representative in this respect — just take a look at their shocked replies.

“10 GRAND?! For a baby?” one British woman gasped during the interview. Actually, in some situations, it can be as much as $100,000, as a northern Virginia woman learned the hard way. According to the BBC, her largest expenses were:

  • Hospital stay for 30 days: $67,375
  • Gynaecologist: $4,100
  • Anaesthetist: $2,086
  • Ultrasounds: $1,200-$1,600 each
  • Blood tests: $750-$959 each

For comparison, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William’s wife, delivered her baby in a private room in St. Mary’s Hospital’s Lindo Wing. Some of the perks she enjoyed was an “en suite” bathroom, a refrigerator, and a menu of “nutritious” meals. This ‘luxurious’ birth cost $8,900, which is much more than most Brits will be billed, but still well below what virtually anyone in the USA expects to pay.

Delivering a child in Spain costs about $1,950. In Australia, the price is around $5,000, and even in Switzerland, a notoriously expensive country, it’s under $8,000.

What’s more, if Kate and William had regular jobs, they would be entitled to 37 weeks of paid parental leave and up to 50 weeks of unpaid leave. American workers have no national paid family leave policy and no national mechanism to help parents stay afloat financially after bringing a child to the world.

“Is there a price for that?” asked one interviewee when asked how much calling an ambulance costs in the US (it is free in the UK). When informed it can cost as much as $2,500, the British man was left speechless.

“Shut the fridge!” was a woman’s reaction when she was told that two EpiPens cost $600 (free in the UK).

The video soon went viral after it made the rounds on Twitter, with NY congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeting: “To our friends in the UK: please cherish, protect, & continue investing in your healthcare system! Once Big Pharma & special interests get their hands on it, it could take generations to regain. Millions of people in the US are fighting to have a system half as good as the NHS.”

Despite healthcare costing so much — enough to push people into bankruptcy — many Americans do not enjoy premium services. In a 2017 analysis of 11 rich, Western countries by the Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. came in last in terms of health system performance. The U.K. came in 1st.

Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator, also commented, saying: “Remember that our outrageous for-profit system is not the norm in other countries. We can and we must do better. We need Medicare for All now.”

Difficulties in accessing healthcare and bribery goes hand in hand in Africa

African patients who had to pay a bribe for healthcare report difficulty in accessing care.

A large survey in sub-Saharan Africa found that adults who had to pay bribes for healthcare in the past year were between four and nine times as likely to have difficulty in accessing medical services. The data comes from a survey carried out from 2014-2015 in 32 countries.

Tit for tat

“When patients in sub-Saharan Africa have to pay bribes for healthcare, they are much more likely to report difficulties in obtaining medical care,” says lead author Amber Hsiao from the Technical University of Berlin.

“Bribery at the point of care and its implications need to be better monitored and addressed in the quest to reach universal health coverage.”

Having to pay a bribe can discourage people from seeking care when they need it, and erodes public confidence in the healthcare system. However, the extent to which the practice limits healthcare access has been unclear. The study aimed to find out.

Out of 31,322 adults who had received medical care between 2014 and 2015, roughly 14% said they had to bribe to obtain care at least once in the past year. After controlling for regional and individual factors, the team found that survey respondents who had paid one or two bribes were 4.11 times more likely to encounter difficulty in obtaining care. Those who reported paying bribes “often” were nine times more likely to have the same issue.

Controlling for individual and regional factors, survey respondents who had paid one or two bribes were 4.11 times more likely to report difficulties in obtaining care than those who had paid no bribes.

The team hopes that their findings can help guide the efforts of policymakers and researchers as they work toward the United Nations’ goal of universal health coverage by 2030. They also recommend further research on individual countries to find strategies of combating bribery and healthcare corruption in general.

The paper “Effect of corruption on perceived difficulties in healthcare access in sub-Saharan Africa” has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

France to stop reimbursing homeopathic treatments

Under the current system, people can purchase homeopathic products and the government will partially reimburse the cost of the treatment. This is about to change.

Woman looking at homeopathic ‘remedies’. Image credits: Casey West.

The healthcare system in France (as in most of Europe) is very different from that in the US. It’s a universal health care system largely financed by government national health insurance. It’s free and consistently ranks among the best ones in the world, despite the average spending being way below that of the US.

Of course, the system is not perfect. For instance, one thing which medical scientists have long objected to is the reimbursement of homeopathic costs.

France has a long history with homeopathy, this being the most popular alternative treatment. Its prevalence rose steadily since the 1980s, despite the fact that research has consistently shown that there is no reliable evidence to support homeopathic products (read our in-depth explanation of why homeopathy sometimes seems to work here). France also hosts the global leader of homeopathic products, Boiron — a company with yearly revenues in excess of $650 million.

Boiron has strongly protested against this measure but as government representatives point out, the country spends a hefty sum reimbursing homeopathic treatments that just don’t work. According to official figures, French social security in 2018 paid back patients some 126.8 million euros ($142.2 million) for homeopathic treatment — out of a total of 20 billion euros ($22.4 billion) refunded for medicines in total.

That will now stop.

Unlike conventional treatments, which can be fully reimbursed by the government, the reimbursement of homeopathic products is currently limited at 30% of the price. French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said the reimbursement will be gradually phased out, going down to 15% in 2020 and 0% in 2021.

Buzyn, a leading French hematologist and university professor, had no previous experience in politics before joining the government in 2017. She has consistently emphasized the importance of implementing science-based policies, even if the decisions are unpopular — which is the case here.

The decision was met with substantial backlash from a part of the French population, which considered it a breach of their individual freedom. However, Buzyn emphasizes that doctors will still be free to prescribe homeopathic treatments, and people are still free to buy them if they so choose. Still, in order for the government to offer reimbursements, there needs to be some evidence supporting homeopathy — which, at the moment, isn’t the case. In fact, the principles behind homeopathy have long been disproven.

It’s a small but significant step for a country where homeopathy is very prevalent. The government is sending a strong message: homeopathy has time and time again been disproven and shown to be no better than a placebo — so why fund it?

Neanderthals were compassionate caregivers, researchers suggest

Homo neanderthalensis, adult male. Reconstruction based on Shanidar 1 by John Gurche

Neanderthals are seen as brutish and uncaring, but a new archeological study has shown that Neanderthals benefited from an effective and knowledgeable healthcare system.

Researchers from the University of York revealed that Neanderthal healthcare was uncalculated and highly effective, even though we tend to think of about them as crueler than modern-day humans. The study suggests that Neanderthals were very compassionate caregivers.

The scientific community knows very well that Neanderthals sometimes provided care for the injured, but the team at York re-analyzed Neanderthal behavior and they suggest ‘our cousins’ were genuinely caring of their peers regardless of the level of illness or injury, rather than helping others out of self-interest.

Lead author, Dr. Penny Spikins, senior lecturer in the Archaeology of Human Origin at the University of York, said, “Our findings suggest Neanderthals didn’t think in terms of whether others might repay their efforts, they just responded to their feelings about seeing their loved ones suffering.”

The individuals researchers know about had a severe injury or disease, with detailed pathologies highlighting a range of debilitating conditions and injuries. Sometimes, the injuries occurred long before the time of death and would have required monitoring, massage, fever management and hygiene care, researchers suggest.

Researchers analyzed a male around 25-40 years old at time of death that showed a catalog of poor health, including a degenerative disease of the spine and shoulders. His degrading physical state would have sapped his strength over the final 12 months of life and severely restricted his ability to contribute to the community. The authors of the study believe he remained part of the group since his articulated remains were subsequently carefully buried.

Dr Spikins added, “We argue that the social significance of the broader pattern of healthcare has been overlooked and interpretations of a limited or calculated response to healthcare have been influenced by preconceptions of Neanderthals as being ‘different’ and even brutish. However, a detailed consideration of the evidence in its social and cultural context reveals a different picture.

“The very similarity of Neanderthal healthcare to that of later periods has important implications. We argue that organised, knowledgeable and caring healthcare is not unique to our species but rather has a long evolutionary history.”

The paper was published in the journal World Archaeology.

chronic pain

At least a third of Brits live with chronic pain

After pooling massive amount of data about the health of the UK’s population, researchers found a gradual increase over time in the prevalence of chronic pain. Scientists estimate that 43% of Brits now experience chronic pain or around 28 million people, based on stats gathered in 2013.

chronic pain

Image: Pixabay

There’s no consensus on how many individuals in the UK go about their lives living in chronic pain, despite the extensive literature. Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts more than three months due to medical conditions like fibromyalgia, which causes rheumatic conditions, and others.

To get to the bottom of things, researchers at the Imperial College London identified 1737 relevant studies published after 1990. Of these, they selected 19 studies involving 140,000 adults which were deemed relevant enough for a systematic review of chronic pain in the United Kingdom.

The report’s summary:

  • the prevalence of chronic pain ranged from 35% to 51% of the UK’s adult population;
  • moderate to severely disabling chronic pain ranged from 10% to 14% or 8 million people;
  • 43% of the population experience chronic pain, and 14% of UK adults live with chronic widespread pain;
  • 8% of UK adults experience chronic neuropathic pain, and 5.5% live with fibromyalgia;
  • regarding age groups: 18-25 year olds (14% chronic pain prevalence),  18-39 year olds (30% chronic pain prevalence), aged 75 or older (62% chronic pain prevalence).

“Chronic pain affects between one-third and one-half of the population of the UK, corresponding to just under 28 million adults, based on data from the best available published studies. This figure is likely to increase further in line with an ageing population,” the study published in the journal BMJ concludes.

The great prevalence of chronic pain among Britons can be attributed to an aging populace. In a way, that’s excellent news. It’s estimated that one in three children born in the UK in 2012 will live to be 100, but this also comes at an immense burden.

Women in the UK are having fewer children, while the longevity of the population is growing steadily every year. This presents numerous challenges to the job market, pressures the healthcare system, among other things. It also means more and more people have to live in pain.

The UK, one of the leading developed countries in the world, now has to set an example. Its healthcare system needs to shift from primarily extending livelihoods, to improving the quality of life. This is a challenge that the entire planet will have to face at some point.

 

 

Photo: kbic.com

Business Intelligence Tools for Modern Healthcare

Photo: kbic.com

Photo: kbic.com

The often hectic nature common to the healthcare field can make recording vital information a time intensive and stressful task. Customer service remains a consistent concern for healthcare operations; maintaining effective customer service protocols requires the ability to develop an extensive business database that allows for detailed analysis. Businesses turn to healthcare business intelligence tools to optimize insight creation and find opportunities to streamline operations and best meet patients’ needs.

What is Business Intelligence?

Intelligence software gives healthcare operations an array of high powered tools to build customized databases that are used to detail any and all business information.  Healthcare services use intelligence tools to analyze data for monitoring and optimizing the following:

  • Daily and Long Term Patient Flow Activity
  • Daily and Long Term Office Activity
  • Diagnostic Trends
  • Resource Scheduling
  • Resource Utilization
  • Compliance and Regulatory Management
  • Efficiency of Financial Processes with Suppliers
  • Patient Record Keeping and Electronic Medical Records Transfer
  • Clinical Care Optimization

The above are a just a few of the endless data building and analysis opportunities that business intelligence affords users. Users create customized data sets that are viewable via metric graphs, charts, and unique applications that allow for extensive analysis. The cooperative nature of intelligence tools allows for multi-level and multi-user access for collaborative efforts and real time communication. As a mobile accessible tool intelligence software is available for remote usage and 24/7 access. Intelligence tools are based on an open platform; this gives users the ability to incorporate previously used data tools and integrate additional intelligence resources.

How Healthcare Operations Can Use Intelligence Tools for Optimizing Patient Services

Integrating business data with intelligence tools is used by healthcare operations to build models to enhance patient services:

  • Analyzing Scheduling Practices to Streamline Patient Flow.  Scheduling data can be assessed down to individual appointments or as total scheduling trends. This allows users to pin point problem areas, find patterns, and see trends according to office and individual employee actions.
  • Consolidation of Diagnostic Criteria and Trends. Having all diagnostic criteria in one easily viewed database gives clinicians fast access and provides an overall outline of trending diagnoses and potential errors. This function is vital for catching potential malpractice issues, managing insurance billing, and for overall time management. Intelligence tools help healthcare operations maintain an evidence based approach by providing a central application for records and clinical results.
  • Monitoring Patient Feedback. Patient feedback is one of the most valuable resources a healthcare operation has, but feedback often falls to the wayside when it is not properly organized. Healthcare providers can use business intelligence to centralize patient feedback so that it is available to all employees and provide a clear overview of trending complaints and positive feedback. This also gives businesses the ability to instantly incorporate patient survey data.
  • Financial Efficiency. Healthcare intelligence offers significant financial management tools that give users the ability to assess financial practices and find cost-saving opportunities. This can be accomplished via establishing datasets for average amount of time clinicians spend with patients, inventory and supply management practices, vendor pricing and efficiency, and costs related to collections and reimbursement.
  • Safety and Regulatory Recording. Avoiding potential malpractice issues and maintaining compliance to regulations are one of the chief concerns for any healthcare operation. Real time monitoring gives users a consistent view of all clinical data, helping spot trouble areas and develop hypothetical models for an array of scenarios. Having a detailed and easily accessible database for regulatory compliance is simply a necessity, and there are few if any ways to better accomplish than with the power and precision that intelligence tools provide.

Hospitals, medical offices, residential care facilities, and other healthcare operations turn to intelligence tools to create database applications to organize business data in the clearest and most extensive possible manner. There is simply no better available tool for detailed analysis; intelligence services can truly revolutionize any healthcare business.

Article Written by Thomas Gibbs of the Marketing Robot. Follow Thomas on Twitter @captain_TOM_T for more marketing tips and updates. 

Health care engineering

Healthcare Engineering Trends Today

In the future, hospitals and other health care institutions will have to adapt to new norms. Photo credit: healtheng.com

In the future, hospitals and other health care institutions will have to adapt to new norms. Photo credit: healtheng.com

Healthcare has been changing at a rapid pace the last few years. Now, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there are even bigger changes in the near future. As the face of healthcare changes, so must the facilities used by healthcare professionals. In an attempt to keep costs down hospitals will become places for the sickest of the sick to be treated, and more emphasis will be placed on other types of care settings and clinics for less urgent needs. These trends in healthcare engineering will usher in the new era of healthcare needs.

Hospitals will quickly become smaller, more compact facilities with an emphasis on emergent care in order to keep costs down. With a large influx of newly insured patients combined with a decrease in the amount of reimbursement per patient on average, there will be a tendency to keep less severe cases out of the hospital and utilizing urgent care, physician’s practices, or similar clinics instead. Many of these urgent care facilities will operate as satellites of bigger hospitals and will be able to offer smooth transitions into more acute care when needed.

Rehabilitation

Along with a tendency to keep less urgent cases out of the hospital setting, there will also be a greater need for quality rehabilitation centers and senior care centers. In order to keep readmission (which comes with a steep fine in many cases) to a minimum, these rehabilitation facilities will continue care to those who no longer need the intense and expensive care of a hospital, but are not yet ready to go home. Quality rehabilitation and senior care centers will be in high demand.

The emphasis on the continuum of care will likely reach into home healthcare as well. The ACA will fine hospitals who reach a certain readmission rate, so caring for the patient until they are fully back to health, in the least expensive but most effective way possible is of the utmost importance. Likely there will be major advancements to home healthcare technology, even reaching into the virtual world, as the need to keep costs down and quality high continues.

Facilities Design

Healthcare engineering professionals will be tasked with designing these smaller, more compact hospital facilities of the future. The new facilities will need to be efficient, and meet the acute needs of the sickest of the sick. Unlike hospitals of the past which would build new wings in departments that brought in high revenue, these hospitals of the future are likely to cost more than they bring in, and will likely depend on the income of the satellite healthcare facilities.

These new facilities also must focus on providing quality care to their patients. New legislation penalizes hospitals for readmission, hospital acquired infections, and improper or missed diagnoses. Medicare or Medicaid will refuse payment if readmission is too high. Even with an influx of more newly insured patients, hospitals must be careful to give quality care that doesn’t miss a step, else risk losing precious revenue.

There is a link between building design and quality of care. Facility designers and individuals in careers in electrical engineering are tasked with the challenge of meeting the new needs of the healthcare industry. When the facility design follows evidence-based strategies, it is more successful at lowering readmissions and providing quality care to the patients in the facility. These new designs will ideally shorten length of stay, reduce fall hazards, reduce spread of infections, and reduce readmission rates.

Then there is the question of already existing facilities. The ability for engineers and designers to repurpose the existing buildings to meet the needs of the new healthcare system is an important part of the whole picture. Just demolishing these buildings is not the most desirable option, and instead finding a way to adapt the current building to meet the needs of the changing system is much preferred.

The healthcare system is undergoing many changes, some small, others more drastic. Healthcare engineering can and will adapt to meet the changing needs in order to help hospitals and other facilities deliver the most cost efficient and highest quality care possible to their patients.

Dee Fletcher is a freelancer and ghost writer, and also enjoys guest blogging. She writes mostly about current trends or events in various industries, but also writes advice and how to articles. She works from her home in Southern California and loves to visit the beach as often as she can.