Monday, April 17, 2017

More Pharmaceutical Industry Price Gouging`

A recent New York Times article tells us that Lannett, a large generic drug maker, is echoing other companies I have written about in raising prices on its products by several hundred percent. Here's what Arthur Bedrosian, Lannett CEO, told a group of investors:
According to the investors, Mr. Bedrosian was asked if the price-hike business model in the drug industry was over. He chuckled and said no, adding that he had tripled the price of one of Lannett’s drugs that very morning. He did not identify which one, the investors said.
Mr. Bedrosian's "chuckle" may remind you of Donald Trump's cheerful boast about how he could grab women by the "pussy."

The market loves Lannett, which provides yet another example of market failure. In the future the market may ultimately punish Lannett the way it punished Valeant (see here and here) and Turing Pharmaceuticals, but by the time that happens patients will have been hurt and public and private payers will have been bilked of billions.

The NYT cites studies showing that when there are fewer than five competitors, our national theology of the wisdom of markets doesn't hold. That suggests a regulatory strategy that allows price regulation in the absence of adequate competition. Let's hope that Congress is prepared to act on the basis of protecting patients and the public from the kind of legal larceny the Mr. Bedrosian is chuckling about!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Personal View of the Medical Home concept

Into my mid 70s I felt remarkably fit. I was still playing tennis and taking my favorite hikes during the summer in Vermont. That changed when a mysterious problem I've written about in a couple of posts (here & here) set in.

As a result of the problem that developed, I've had more medical appointments in the last six months than in the previous 25 years. As someone with an interest in health policy & systems, my experience has sharpened my sense of what's required to make a "medical home" work. (For those who aren't familiar with the medical home concept, I've copied material from the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative at the end of my post.)

Here's my patient's eye view of my experience:
  1. In the fall of 2016 I was floundering as to what to do about the problem, Whatever was causing pain and discoloration of my left foot/ankle/lower leg was still a mystery. My primary care physician (PCP) suggested seeing a dermatologist, something I hadn't thought of myself.
  2. The dermatologist said what she saw was unusual. She did a biopsy which, alas, came back as "non-specific changes," That meant we were still unsure. She could simply have sent me back to my PCP, but to her credit, she suggested that we get a second opinion from someone at the hospital my care group is associated with.
  3. Initially the referral went to the referral coordinator and an appointment was set with a presumably thoroughly competent dermatologist, but one who did not have more experience than the one I had seen. I discussed this with my PCP. He called the chief of the department who recommended a senior colleague who he said "is especially good with complex cases."
  4. I saw the recommended dermatologist who had some hypotheses about obscure possibilities and did two further biopsies which showed (a) clotting in the tiny blood vessels and (b) no inflammation. 
  5. With a narrower set diagnostic possibilities, the second dermatologist wrote to my PCP, recommending that I see a hematologist and suggesting some further blood tests. My PCP agreed, and referred me to an excellent hematologist with whom I had shared patients before I retired from practice ten years ago.
  6. By this time my blood count showed something new - an abnormal level of platelets, which are crucial for clotting. The hematologist prescribed a medication that acts on the bone marrow with the aim reducing the platelets. We've used the group's secure email to follow the counts and adjust the medication. We've only met in-person once, but the email communication has been very reliable.
  7. As the platelets have come down, the lower leg and ankle problems have completely cleared up. But the toes have not, and in particular my left fourth toe was exquisitely painful. Last weekend I saw an ugly open sore on the toe. I didn't know what gangrene looked like, but my imagination ran away with unpleasant possibilities.
  8. On Monday morning I was able to see an urgent care physician who allayed by fears and prescribed  oral and topical antibiotics. 
  9. I informed the hematologist and my PCP about the situation to make sure we were all "on the same page."
  10. Happily, the wound is improving, and the pain is markedly reduced. 
So what's the point of all these details?

For me it's this: in the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, it can take an "extended family" to treat a chronic condition. My experience has been one of receiving excellent continuity of care even though I've been bouncing between clinicians the way a pin ball bounces. But the clinicians were part of the same "family." They had access to the same electronic health record and communicated with each other - either directly or via my sending "FYI" updates to them. For the underlying chronic problem I've had my blood drawn at the practice's laboratory. The results get to the hematologist and to me within a few hours, and she has followed up with email advice very promptly.

My guess is that my treatment in the past few weeks has not occupied much physician time, but as a patient I have felt very attended to. When I was worried about toe pain and an open wound I was able to see a clinician promptly, and her findings went to my PCP and the hematologist I am working with.

I believe my experience shows how a "medical home" and "team care" can be more than euphemisms. Continuity of care doesn't require continuous appointments with a single physician. When a "medical home" functions the way a harmonious extended family does, it works!

Here's the material about the medical home concept for those who want to read about it in more detail:

The medical home is best described as a model or philosophy of primary care that is patient-centered, comprehensive, team-based, coordinated, accessible, and focused on quality and safety. It has become a widely accepted model for how primary care should be organized and delivered throughout the health care system, and is a philosophy of health care delivery that encourages providers and care teams to meet patients where they are, from the most simple to the most complex conditions. It is a place where patients are treated with respect, dignity, and compassion, and enable strong and trusting relationships with providers and staff. Above all, the medical home is not a final destination instead, it is a model for achieving primary care excellence so that care is received in the right place, at the right time, and in the manner that best suits a patient's needs.
In 2007, the major primary care physician associations developed and endorsed the Joint Principles of the Patient-Centered Medical Home. The model has since evolved, and today the PCPCC actively promotes the medical home as defined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

Features of the Medical Home

Adapted from the AHRQ definition, the PCPCC describes the medical home as an approach to the delivery of primary care that is:
  • Patient-centered: A partnership among practitioners, patients, and their families ensures that decisions respect patients’ wants, needs, and preferences, and that patients have the education and support they need to make decisions and participate in their own care.
  • Comprehensive: A team of care providers is wholly accountable for a patient’s physical and mental health care needs, including prevention and wellness, acute care, and chronic care.
  • Coordinated: Care is organized across all elements of the broader health care system, including specialty care, hospitals, home health care, community services and supports.
  • Accessible: Patients are able to access services with shorter waiting times, "after hours" care, 24/7 electronic or telephone access, and strong communication through health IT innovations.
  • Committed to quality and safety: Clinicians and staff enhance quality improvement to ensure that patients and families make informed decisions about their health