Incrementalism

Atul Gawande with another fun New Yorker feature on The Heroism of Incremental Care:

Rescue work delivers much more certainty. There is a beginning and an end to the effort. And you know what all the money and effort is (and is not) accomplishing. We don’t like to address problems until they are well upon us and unavoidable, and we don’t trust solutions that promise benefits only down the road.

Incrementalists nonetheless want us to take a longer view. They want us to believe that they can recognize problems before they happen, and that, with steady, iterative effort over years, they can reduce, delay, or eliminate them. Yet incrementalists also want us to accept that they will never be able to fully anticipate or prevent all problems. This makes for a hard sell. The incrementalists’ contribution is more cryptic than the rescuers’, and yet also more ambitious. They are claiming, in essence, to be able to predict and shape the future. They want us to put our money on it.

But our free-market insurance only wants to pay for 15 minutes of it, of course.

 

As an American surgeon, I have a battalion of people and millions of dollars of equipment on hand when I arrive in my operating room. Incrementalists are lucky if they can hire a nurse.

and

The difference between what’s made available to me as a surgeon and what’s made available to our internists or pediatricians or H.I.V. specialists is not just shortsighted—it’s immoral.

When people think about rationing care, they talk about rationing care to people. About grandma not getting a pacemaker or a new hip. They speak disparagingly about Canada or the UK. What people don’t realize is that we also ration care internally within medicine. We just do it based on RVUs.

Then, at the end, he finishes with some jabs at half-baked plans to repeal the ACA and a powerful somber note:

In this era of advancing information, it will become evident that, for everyone, life is a preexisting condition waiting to happen.

The Calm Company

Amidst desires for simultaneous growth, quality, profit, and patient satisfaction, the delivery of healthcare has gotten more…complicated. But the disconnect between the powers that be and the providers who actually work on the ground has turned work for big hospitals and institutions into something increasingly more like working for a big widget factory.

Spurred by rising costs, healthcare in the US has felt the need to “catch up” with the “best” business practices. Have more meetings. Look at more processes. More management. More managers for the managers we just hired.

A few bits from the intro to the forthcoming book, The Calm Company, on Signal v. Noisethe blog from 37Signals (the company behind the team management software Basecamp):

Work claws away at life. Life has become work’s leftovers. The doggy bag. The remnants. The scraps.

You’d think with all the hours people are putting in, and all the promises of tech’s flavor of the month, the load would be lessening. It’s not. It’s getting heavier.

Technology has been used to add capacity, not to improve workflow. As an example, MyChart is a great tool that allows patients to communicate with clinics and providers without calling repeatedly or making an appointment just for a routine refill or to answer a simple question. But you don’t get paid to answer MyChart messages. They’re added on to your workload. The more you’re willing to meet patients where they are and do things on MyChart, the more unpaid work you do and the more time and energy you lose. That’s a system flaw. This is part of why the average physician spends 1-2 hours at home charting daily. More uncompensated time.

Crazy companies all tend to be especially great at one thing: wasting. Wasting time, attention, money, energy.

The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer things that induce distraction, always-on anxiety, and stress.

I am routinely impressed at how good healthcare systems are at wasting dollars to save cents. Skimping on cheap patient transporters so that highly paid specialists sit around waiting for the next case to start and then run overtime. Understaffing clinic nurses and MAs, leaving the physicians to deal with more phone triage and data entry. The money in some cases comes from different pots, which sometimes allows departments to seem more profitable or efficient than they really are.

Hospitals make changes like real enterprises do but mostly without the critical reflection to see if process improvements are actually improvements. We tokenize quality through small projects to avoid dealing with foundational infrastructural failures—because those are actually hard.

On-demand is for movies, TV shows, and podcasts, not for you. Your time isn’t an episode recalled when someone wants it at 10pm on a Saturday night, or every few minutes in the collection of conveyor belt chat room conversations you’re supposed to be following all day long.

Study shows women are still better at everything

Yesterday in JAMA:

We found that elderly patients receiving inpatient care from female internists had 30-day lower mortality and readmission rates compared with patients cared for by male internists. This association was consistent across a variety of conditions and across patients’ severity of illness. Taken together with previous evidence suggesting that male and female physicians may practice differently, our findings indicate that potential differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes.

and

Furthermore, given that there are more than 10 million Medicare hospitalizations due to medical conditions in the United States annually and assuming that the association between sex and mortality is causal, we estimate that approximately 32 000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.

Confirmation bias aside, this general finding does ring true to me.

Reading a bit deeper, though, one physician characteristic that was underplayed was that female physicians saw fewer patients overall (i.e. more were part-time). This might function as a proxy for burnout and its associated poor patient care outcomes. Something to consider for the men who are already in medicine and dragging it down.

When breath becomes air

I actually posted this excerpt once before, but I just finished Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air and was moved anew by his missive to his infant daughter:

When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Earlier in the book, in conversations with his oncologist about coming to terms with how to spend his life with cancer, this entreaty comes up multiple times:

Find your values.

In his moving memoir (which doesn’t at all belittle fields like radiology), Kalanithi softly and compellingly argues that this is the key to how you live like you were dying.