The July 2010 Issue

Is the Current Recession Compromising Hospital Quality?

During past recessions, the financial stability of hospitals seemed to be nearly indestructible, but researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and St. Joseph Mercy Health System say that the current national economic crisis may be an exception.  Hospitals are reporting declining profits, most likely due to individuals losing their health insurance when they lose their jobs.  As a result, hospital plans for renovation and new construction are being scrapped, and hospitals are being forced to reduce their staff, according to an analysis in the May/June issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

The researchers speculate that hospital cutbacks may risk the quality and safety of healthcare delivery.  “In uncertain economic times, it’s especially important to have certainty that hospitals are doing things safely.  However, as hospitals reduce staff and make other changes to make ends meet, we don’t necessarily have that certainty.  That’s why it’s as important as ever to not only measure the quality of hospital care, but also understand the systems that do deliver consistent, cost-effective and high quality care,” says lead author Jeremy Sussman, MD, MS, an internal medicine physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar at the University of Michigan Health System.

During this recession, every source of income for hospitals is at risk.  Almost three-fourths report receiving less reimbursement from insurance payers per discharge, and over half report a decrease in patient admissions, according to the American Hospital Association’s report, “The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Health Services for Patients and Communities.”  Though this is a difficult time for hospitals and many other organizations across the country, the authors say this is a critical time to improve monitoring of hospital quality.  They encourage the federal government to increase public awareness of local medical needs, hospital financial stability, and available patient services.

“We were surprised by how well hospitals have done during recessions in the last several decades and how, despite the economy in the last twelve months, relatively few hospitals are closing down.  Instead, hospitals seem to be dealing with the economic crisis by reducing staff, scaling back or completely stopping new construction projects, and implementing various efforts to improve efficiencies of care,” says Sussman.  “Our primary concern is that hospitals are making decisions to hold off on improvements in infrastructure and technology and cut staffing in ways that lead to a decrease in quality of care.”


Enjoy Being “Broke” This Summer

By Judy Carter

It’s summertime, and you look forward to your time away from the call center: vacations, long weekends, and day trips.  Due to today’s still precarious economy, many of us are choosing to cut back on our leisure activities.  Here are some tips from Judy Carter, corporate humorist and author of The Comedy Bible, on how to enjoy life outside of the call center without maxing out your credit cards.

Discover the joy of a “broke” vacation.  Being broke forces creativity, and creative people have more fun.  Happiness is not a fancy hotel.  Some inexpensive alternatives are:

  • Camp out in your own backyard.
  • Stay at a youth hostel even if you’re pushing fifty.  How much time do you really spend in a hotel room anyway?
  • Go on a “volunteer vacation” to a foreign country.  There are plenty of opportunities to use your skills to assist someone less advantaged than you.  Why have another boring vacation when you can help someone and have an adventure at the same time?  Trust me, when you see how little other people have in other countries, you’ll feel rich.

Go on a “broke date.”  Find alternatives to eating out at pricey restaurants.  You can get a great bottle of wine for under ten dollars, a loaf of fresh sourdough bread, a hunk of cheese, and enjoy a picnic in the park.  Food from street vendors is fun and romantic.  Walking around New York City, eating a classic hot dog or some roasted chestnuts and visiting art museums won’t empty your bank account, but it will be an enriching experience.  Go on a tour of a winery or a food-processing plant.  There’s no admission charge, and they usually offer free wine and food samples afterwards.

Don’t wait until you can afford an expensive gym membership to get fit.  Countless studies show being active triggers “feel good” brain cells to activate.  The proverbial “runner’s high” is a scientific fact.  You don’t need a treadmill to walk.  Just walk!  You don’t need a Stairmaster; just take the stairs.  You don’t need an Abs Roller; have some sex!

Go on a “broke” shopping spree.  Buy used stuff on eBay.  Go to garage sales.  Check out thrift stores in rich neighborhoods.

There are so many simple pleasures available, no matter where you live or what the state of your bank account is.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t afford this summer, explore the range of activities available to you – and enjoy!  You’ll find yourself back at work refreshed and relaxed.

Judy Carter, the author of The Comedy Bible, is a motivational-humorist offering training and keynotes for corporate America.  She has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America and CNN.  For more information, visit Corporate Comedy Works, or email


DoD Approves 911 Call Center Software

Amcom Software, Inc’s pc/psap 911 call center solution has received Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) certification and is now listed under the Department of Defense’s Unified Capabilities Approved Products List.  This encompasses Information Assurance (IA) accreditation from the Defense IA/Security Accreditation Working Group (DSAWG) and Interoperability Certification (IOC) from the Joint Staff (JS).  This accreditation means that pc/psap provides the highest levels of security and interoperability as required by the US Government and the US Military.

The pc/psap 911 call center solution lets military bases handle 911 calls made from the base as well as from off-base housing.  The system speeds dispatching and response to 911 calls through intuitive functionality for call handling, integration with mapping systems, and the ability to record all 911 calls.  Call-takers can use recordings to work with internal or local police as well as other nearby 911 call centers in the event that the call center covers a large geographical area.

“Our customers in the military, government, higher education, and healthcare industries often remark on the importance of security and how comforting it is for them to be able to use a solution with the stamp of approval from the US Government,” said Chris Heim, CEO, Amcom Software.


Service Helps Lessen the Impact of Caregiving from the Office

RememberItNow! LLC announced new additions to their eHealth service, making long-distance care easier.  According to a 2009 study by AARP, over seven in ten caregivers were employed at some time when caregiving.  Among them, two-thirds have gone in late, left early, or taken time off to deal with caregiving issues.  That means 66 percent of caregivers are struggling to find a balance between work and care.

“When I started RememberItNow!, I was working full-time and trying to manage my father’s healthcare.  I didn’t know who his doctors were or how to keep track of all his medical information.  Keeping the family updated on his health was a challenge.  In addition, Dad kept forgetting to take his pills, and I wanted an easy way to remind him, without being a nag,” reflects Pam Swingley, CEO and founder of RememberItNow!

A caregiver spends twenty hours per week on care-related tasks, similar to a part-time job.  This unproductive time affects that person’s efficiency at work, and adds to the stress of caring for a loved one.  RememberItNow! makes it easier to manage care from the office, providing caregivers with peace of mind.


Health Insurer Launches Live Chat

UPMC Health Plan has announced the launch of live chat, an Internet technology that allows members to engage in live online discussions with a UPMC Health Plan representative about any subject that could previously have been discussed over the phone.  The Pittsburgh-based health insurer said that this will enable company representatives to advise members online on everything from claims, billing, covered benefits, eligibility, enrolment forms, ID cards, and changing a primary care physician.

As the healthcare industry shifts away from paper-based systems and increasingly relies on the Internet for online communications, health insurance companies have been enhancing their Web sites with tools that give their members a wide range of services, including offering patients the ability to pay their bills online, assist with cost estimates, receive medical advice, and locate doctors.

“This is another example of how we strive to provide great service for our members and providers,” Mary Beth Jenkins, chief operating officer of UPMC Health Plan, said in a statement.  UPMC Health Plan conducted a survey of members who had used live chat and found that more than 89 percent said they would more than likely use online chat again to contact the company.  More than 73 percent of providers indicated that they were likely to use live chat again.  [This information is provided by InformationWeek Healthcare.]

—- Receives One-Millionth Doctor Review, a Web site founded in 2004 to allow patients to rate their medical doctors, announced receiving their one-millionth patient-submitted doctor review. cofounder John Swapceinski stated, “We believe that by checking their reviews on our Web site, doctors will come to realize that customer service is an often overlooked, but important part of the patient experience.”  Swapceinski further said, “We are gratified to be able to help millions of patients across the US and Canada find good doctors, which improves their quality of care.”

The one-millionth review was for Dr. Duanne Pitt, an orthopedic surgeon in Scottsdale, Arizona, and reads in part, “Thank the Lord for Dr. Pitt and his knowledge.  He saved my life, my sanity, and my marriage.  I fully recommend him to anyone who requires back surgery.  His staff was always very helpful.  Whenever I saw him in his office, it was normally within fifteen to thirty minutes.  He was always very polite and helpful when explaining the treatments.”


U-M Poll Finds Parents Want E-communications with Kids’ Docs

Healthcare reform legislation includes promoting electronic health records to improve the efficiency and quality of medical care.  Yet little attention has been paid to understanding whether parents have an interest in (or have access to) electronic methods for interacting with their children’s physicians.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked 1,612 parents of children from birth to age seventeen across the United States about how they communicate with their children’s healthcare providers.  The poll found that about one-half of the parents think it would be very helpful to be able to accomplish administrative and clinical tasks, such as requesting records or prescription refills, through email or online.

Half of the parents would like to have access to electronic communication features with their children’s doctor’s office.  However, less than 15 percent of parents report that they are currently able to use email or the Internet to schedule appointments for immunizations, obtain lab records, complete screening forms, request prescription refills, or get medical advice.

While having access to electronic methods of communicating with physicians may increase efficiency for parents, challenges exist for widespread adoption of online communication by physicians.


Young Physicians Taught to Practice Defensive Medicine

According to a national survey of physicians by Jackson Healthcare, the vast majority of physicians (83 percent) between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four report being taught to practice defensive medicine in medical school or residency by an attending physician or mentor.  “Defensive medicine” is defined as medically unnecessary tests and treatments ordered by physicians to avoid lawsuits.

“Older physicians are sharing lawsuit stories and advice with younger physicians,” reported Richard Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of Jackson Healthcare.  “The US is the only major country in the world where physicians are personally financially liable for mistakes,” he added.

Data suggests that, with each decade, defensive medicine is growing in prominence and practice, with the percentage of respondents, by age group, that reported they were taught defensive medicine listed as:

  • 83 percent (ages twenty-five to thirty-four)
  • 63 percent (ages thirty-five to forty-four)
  • 47 percent (ages forty-five to fifty-four)
  • 32 percent (ages fifty-five to sixty-four)
  • 19 percent (ages sixty-five and older)

The survey also found that defensive medicine negatively affects physicians and patients beyond financial costs.  It limits patient access and quality, slows the adoption of medical innovations, and discourages future generations to pursue the practice of medicine.

For more information, contact Bob Schlotman at 770-643-5697.