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Today’s NewsStand (November 30, 2010)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Sioux City leader Debi Durham to head economic agency
Gov.-elect Terry Branstad is expected today to name Debi Durham of Sioux City to lead Iowa’s economic development efforts, sources with knowledge of the selection process said. Durham, 50, heads the Sioux City area chamber and economic development groups. She was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2002 and has served on numerous regional and statewide boards. She is a member of the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission. (Des Moines Register)

About 2,000 Iowans will lose jobless benefits
About 2,000 Iowans will be losing federal unemployment insurance benefits on a weekly basis over the next several months because Congress has not extended the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Elisabeth Buck, director of Iowa Workforce Development, said the EUC consisted of up to 47 additional weeks of jobless benefits. Individuals currently on one of the three tiers of EUC benefits will be allowed to finish the tier, she said, however, additional benefits will not be available. (Quad-City Times)

Midterm vote saw record turnout
In total, 1,133,434 Iowans voted in the general election, according to Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro, a Democrat who was defeated in his re-election bid. In the 2006 midterm election, turnout totaled 1,071,509 voters, 61,925 fewer than this year. In 2002, there were 1,040,201 voters. (Des Moines Register)

U.S. News

Health care IT isn’t living up to the hype
It’s been 19 years since the prestigious Institute of Medicine urged greater adoption of computer systems in healthcare, and more than six years since then-President George W. Bush declared, “By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs and improve care.” So, how are we doing so far? (ComputerWorld)

‘Error-free’ hospitals scrutinized
California public health officials are scrutinizing hospitals that claim to be error-free, questioning whether nearly 90 facilities have gone more than three years without any significant mistakes in care. Eighty-seven hospitals — more than 20 percent of the 418 hospitals covered under a law that took effect in 2007 — have made no reports of medical errors, according to the California Department of Public Health. (Los Angeles Times)

HHS cost rules put states in middle
With pressure mounting from lobbyists for insurance agents, state regulators are scrambling to decide whether they want to apply for exemptions from the new federal rules stating how much insurers must spend on medical costs. The health care reform law requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical costs in the individual market. Insurers who fail to meet the spending benchmark, known as the medical loss ratio, must issue rebates to subscribers. (Politico)

Senate widens its probe of bare-bones health plans
What started as a probe into McDonald’s Corp.’s insurance plan for store workers is expanding into broad scrutiny of “mini-med” policies that could ensnare large mini-med carriers including Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp. Congressional investigators are taking a close look at the two carriers and culling insurance policy data on a range of large and small employers, a Senate aide said. (Wall Street Journal)

House OKs delay on doc pay cut
By a voice vote without objection, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stave off a 23 percent Medicare payment cut to physicians that was scheduled for Dec. 1. House leaders approved Senate amendments to a bill that provides certain clarifications and extensions under Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A week before the Thanksgiving recess, the Senate voted to delay the cut after Senate Finance Committee leaders Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had introduced the bill and also said they would work for a more permanent solution. (Modern Healthcare)

Deficit reduction plans would squeeze Medicare
The proposals, put forth by members of bipartisan deficit-reduction panels as well as Republican lawmakers, aim to help reduce the $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit as well as the mounting national debt. The plans would require beneficiaries to pay a larger share of Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly and disabled. One idea would fundamentally transform the 45-year-old program by giving seniors a set amount of money to buy their own Medicare coverage. (Kaiser Health News)

Poll: Cut services to balance the budget
To ease surging budget deficits, Americans prefer cutting federal services to raising taxes by nearly 2-1 in a new poll. Yet there is little consensus on specific, meaningful steps — and a wariness about touching two gargantuan programs, Social Security and Medicare. (Associated Press)

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Today’s NewsStand (November 29, 2010)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

North Iowa is leader, innovator in hospice care
We’re not surprised that North Iowa is a leader, even an innovator, in end-of-life care. That fact came to light recently when a national study lauded Mason City for its high hospice use, noting fewer than 7 percent of Medicare cancer patients died in a hospital. Compare that to around New York City, for example, where 40 percent of Medicare cancer patients died in hospitals. (Mason City Globe Gazette)

Trial for flu medicine to begin soon at Jennie Edmundson
The Loess Hills Clinical Research Center, an independent entity located at Jennie Edmundson Hospital, will participate in an international clinical trial comparing two medications used to treat influenza. The three-year study will compare the effectiveness of Tamiflu, an oral medication commonly used to treat influenza, and intravenous zanamivir, which has only been used in select cases, in treating people hospitalized with the flu. (Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil)

Community’s commitment impresses new hospital administrator
What brought Danielle Gearhart to Independence Iowa to act as CEO/Administrator at the Buchanan County Health Center? Gearhart said that after living in Sidney, Neb. for five years and working with another hospital of similar size and with similar goals, the opportunity to work close to home again was just what she needed. (Independence Bulletin Journal)

Hospital’s EMS Dept. offering ‘Home for the Holidays’ program
The Clarinda Regional Health Center Emergency Medical Services department is offering its “Home for the Holidays” service again this Thanksgiving and Christmas season to help bedfast residents of a care facility to attend a family gathering. The CRHC EMS crew will transport a resident to and from a family gathering free of charge. (Clarinda Herald Journal)

Trinity expanding Bettendorf BirthPlace
Trinity is doubling space at its Bettendorf BirthPlace. Originally, Trinity Bettendorf’s BirthPlace had seven delivery rooms where mothers and babies could stay after delivery. The expansion, which began Monday, will add seven more after-delivery rooms for mothers and babies, similar to the BirthPlace at Trinity Moline. (Quad-Cities Online)

‘Just Drive’ makes sense
The health care professionals at Trinity Regional Medical Center have taken note of the increase in injuries treated at emergency departments throughout the nation resulting from distractions while driving. To help combat this menace they’ve launched a public information campaign called “Just Drive.” (Fort Dodge Messenger)

West Des Moines medical foundation may lay off 200
The Iowa Foundation for Medical Care in West Des Moines is expected to lay off as many as 200 workers - a fourth of its staff - over the next 12 months. The nonprofit organization’s main source of income is the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The foundation recently lost a major contract with CMS, which is expected to result in a dramatic loss of income. (Des Moines Register)

State is using little of old hospital it bought
A former Des Moines hospital remains two-thirds empty, nearly a year after the state spent $4.45 million to buy it with the intention of turning it into office space for government workers. The building was known for decades as Des Moines General Hospital. Legislators agreed to buy it partly because they were told they could save money by using it for state employees now working in rented offices. (Des Moines Register)

U.S. News

Study finds no progress in safety at hospitals
The study, conducted from 2002 to 2007 in 10 North Carolina hospitals, found that harm to patients was common and that the number of incidents did not decrease over time. The most common problems were complications from procedures or drugs and hospital-acquired infections. (New York Times)

Reinhardt: Repeal health care, make GOP cut costs
Go ahead. Repeal health care reform. That’s what President Obama should tell Congressional Republicans, according to Princeton economist and health care expert Uwe E. Reinhardt. His logic: That way the GOP would have to come up with its own solutions to the health care cost crisis, many of which, he wagers, would look much like parts of the current law. “I think it would be a healthy thing,” he says. (Fiscal Times)

How Medicare sets hospital prices: a primer
In a previous post, I described how Medicare came to adopt price schedules for hospitals and physicians that are now derided as Soviet in origin. Actually, as I noted, this was a home-grown American idea that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush embraced and introduced to Medicare. In this and the next post I would like to describe how this system works, starting with inpatient hospital services. (New York Times)

Tax break for employer health plans a target again
Job-based health care benefits could wind up on the chopping block if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans get serious about cutting the deficit. Budget proposals from leaders in both parties have urged shrinking or eliminating tax breaks that help make employer health insurance the leading source of coverage in the nation and a middle-class mainstay. (Associated Press)

Alarm over U.S. debt creates ‘window’ for tough choices
If Americans aren’t prepared for the hard choices needed to control the national debt, most voters here must have missed the memo. The local Republican congressman, Paul Ryan, campaigned for re-election by calling for reductions in the growth of Medicare and Social Security. He won with 68 percent of the vote. (USA Today)

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Chris Hickie
Systems Analyst
Mahaska Health Partnership, Oskaloosa

Why did you choose this as your career?  Early in my IT career I worked for a biomedical computer manufacturer where I was always fascinated with the equipment we engineered and how it was used. Growing up with my mother as an RN, and now my spouse as a veterinarian, I have continually been exposed to hospitals and healthcare in general so working in healthcare just seemed like a perfect fit for me. I have funny memories of being little helping my mother stuff bags full of trial items and giving to mothers-to-be during childbirth classes she taught. As a kid, at the many hours spent helping as a volunteer in the occupational therapy department at the hospital my mother worked at gave me a glance into what my future would eventually become. 

What are the challenges and rewards you experience in your work? We in health care IT are always faced with new challenges, whether it is emerging EMR technologies, new personal computing hardware, wireless or the often updated HIPAA security requirements to name just a few. New technologies are always on the forefront, so juggling the implementation and maintenance of current IT systems often leaves little time to stay current on the leading edge of technology that the health care sector frequently gets left behind on. At the end of the week, just one of the rewards is looking back and knowing I have contributed to a significant footprint in how the organization functions both clinically and financially. It’s always a great feeling knowing that the work I do daily has a real effect in how our staff performs their jobs, which equates into the best possible outcomes for our patients. 

With that, there has never been a more challenging and exciting time to work in health care IT! With the stimulus package impacting the current and future adoption of the electronic health record, we in IT must be the technology enablers for our organization and be the purveyors of change. Healthcare in general is constantly evolving and changing which is an ideal fit for my personality. I find that working for a rural Critical Access Hospital gives me the opportunity to utilize my IT skills and abilities in a way that truly makes an impact in how our patients receive quality health care. 

What are your plans for the future? Future plans would include gaining further knowledge of clinical processes so that I can have a deeper understanding of how best to apply and recommend technology in our organization. Additionally, I would like to get more involved in societies such as HIMSS and local associations so that our voice is heard from a rural hospital perspective.  

How has the hospital supported your career? Working for a smaller rural hospital gives me many of the opportunities that a large organization offers, except that I get much more emphasis focused on my personal satisfaction which carries across to many aspects of my career. Mahaska Health Partnership is always doing a tremendous job of seeking ways to improve employee satisfaction through a number of initiatives which I am always appreciative of. I’m given many opportunities to participate in and lead projects, which only makes me a stronger resource on the team at MHP. 

Lastly, it’s great to feel proud that I work for an organization that truly values its patients, employees and providers - that sentiment alone makes me want to excel in my career and do everything possible to ensure a positive day-to-day experience.

About Chris Hickie:

Education: Herzing College – Madison, WI; Microsoft Certified Professional 

Years with hospital: 2

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Today’s NewsStand (November 24, 2010)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

MyChart lets patients access medical records from home
In July, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City made the lives of thousands of its patients a little easier. The health care provider launched an electronic medical records system that allows patients to access their personal health information through a secure Web portal. The system, called MyChart, shows patients test results, current medications, immunization records, appointments and medical and surgical histories. (Des Moines Register)

Iowa River Landing projects rolling along
The renewed development of Coralville’s Iowa River Landing continues to roll onward. Construction of a 100-room Homewood Suites with retail space on the first level is planned. Mayor Jim Fausett said the hotel will complement the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ planned ambulatory care clinic, which broke ground last month. He said both projects will serve as “a springboard” for future development of the city-owned land. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Ida Grove hospital extends administrator’s contract
The Horn Memorial Hospital Board of Directors voted unanimously at their recent regular monthly board meeting, to extend the contract of CEO/administrator Marc Augsburger. Board president Marc Jensen said Augsburger came to the Ida Grove, Iowa, hospital a year ago with “high recommendations and he has been all that was promised and more.” (Sioux City Journal)

U.S. News

What if employers walked away from health coverage?
It isn’t so far-fetched. Enrollment by working age families in private health coverage dropped more than 10 percent over the last decade, as individuals and business were priced out of the coverage market. Others, victims of the downturned economy, have lost their jobs and access to subsidized coverage. Those who still have coverage have narrower benefits with higher out-of-pocket costs than before. (Kaiser Health News)

Top 10 factors for successful EHR implementation
Right people, right processes, right change management and right technology – these are the “four buckets” that one expert says her list of top 10 internal factors for implementing an EHR fall into.  Without all the components, she says, it is very difficult for organizations to succeed.  (Healthcare IT News)

5 innovative technologies changing health care
From the operating theater to the patient’s bedside, there are new products being revealed all the time that make a real difference for medical staff and patients alike. We’ve found five amazing innovations that are especially clever. Have a read and let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any other medical innovations that are improving health care that you’d add to the list? (Mashable)

In China, uneven progress in health
A quick quiz: Which of the following countries has had the smallest increase in life expectancy since 1990 — Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, South Korea or Sudan? The answer is not war-torn Sudan or tumultuous Pakistan. It isn’t South Korea, which started from a higher level than any of the others. And it isn’t abjectly poor Bangladesh. It’s China, the great economic success story of the last two decades. (New York Times)

3 big developments make AIDS outlook more hopeful
In the nearly 30 years the AIDS epidemic has raged, there has never been a more hopeful day than this. Three striking developments took place Tuesday: U.N. officials said new HIV cases are dropping dramatically worldwide. A study showed that a daily pill already on pharmacy shelves could help prevent new infections in gay men. And the pope opened the way for the use of condoms to prevent AIDS. (Associated Press)

Liberals pounce on GOP Congressman who wants his health care
When a little-known GOP Congressman-elect who campaigned against the new health law demanded that the benefits of his new federal health plan start immediately, it was an irresistible opening for some. “Call Congressman Harris and tell him to stop whining about HIS health care, and start fighting for ours,” intones an outraged-sounding woman in a new radio ad. (National Public Radio)

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Today’s NewsStand (November 23, 2010)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Voss to keep seeking exemption to federal rule on insurers
Iowa Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss said Monday she plans to continue seeking an exemption to the new medical-loss-ratio requirements the federal government is imposing on health insurers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday announced regulations requiring most health insurers to spend at least 80 percent to 85 percent of customers’ premiums on health care. The new regulations will implement requirements in the federal health care reform law. (Des Moines Register)

Culver OKs state pay raises
Gov. Chet Culver’s administration agreed Friday to offer pay increases for state employees that will cost taxpayers more than $200 million, despite Republican requests that the decisions be delayed until Terry Branstad becomes governor in January. A Branstad spokesman called the deal “reckless,” and House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen said it would likely lead to layoffs. (Des Moines Register)

Cresco hospital receives outstanding business award
The Outstanding Industry or Business Award was announced by Cresco Industrial Development Corporation President Roxann Svoboda and accepting the award on behalf Regional Health Services of Howard County were Chief of Staff Dr. Paul Jensen, Board Chairman Jerry Ferrie and CEO David Hartberg. (Cresco Times Plain Dealer)

U.S. News

Income has role in health care satisfaction
Americans’ self-ratings of the quality of their own health care remains high, with 40 percent rating their coverage as excellent, Gallup reported Monday. Overall, 82 percent of Americans rated their health care either excellent or good, which Gallup said was about the same as previous surveys. (UPI)

Data is at the core of connected medicine
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center committed to “meaningful use” long before it was considered meaningful. It was a lonely journey, fraught with a lack of standards, closed systems, vendors that refused to connect to one another, and immature technologies. But now that meaningful use is an accepted part of the national agenda, we realize that the much tougher job of creating truly “connected medicine” lies ahead and will fundamentally transform health care. (InformationWeek)

Wired up at home to monitor illness
Rachel Hofstad, 94, is one of 200 patients in a randomized trial of a home monitoring system being conducted by doctors at the Mayo Clinic. Every morning, she touches a screen to log in and is cued to slip on a blood pressure cuff and push a button. Her pressure and pulse readings are displayed. Next, she slides a forefinger into a sensor that measures blood oxygen. Then she checks her weight on a scale linked to the machine. (New York Times)

Hospitals, doctors, patients try to cut radiation from CT scans
National attention over patients receiving potentially harmful doses of radiation from CT scans and other medical imaging tests has led some hospitals to take more measures to reduce radiation exposure, particularly for those facing repeat scans. To safeguard patients, many are designing new guidelines as well as purchasing new scanners that lower radiation doses. (USA Today)

5 ways evidence-based design adds value to hospitals
Evidence-based design (EBD) has become the fastest growing trend in healthcare development. In EBD, decisions about the built environment are based on credible research that will, in turn, create the most efficient outcome. Here are five ways EBD saves costs and adds value to hospitals. (Becker’s Hospital Review)

3 insurers ordered to halt Medicare sales
The U.S. government’s Medicare program has ordered three health insurers — Universal American Corp., Health Net Inc. and Arcadian Health — to stop marketing to and enrolling new members in their Medicare Advantage health and prescription-drug plans, saying the companies violated regulations. The moves come at a critical time, the midst of the 2011 Medicare open-enrollment season, when seniors choose their plans for Medicare health and drug coverage for next year. (Wall Street Journal)

Government trumpets recovery of $3 billion in health settlements
Government lawyers have recovered a near-record $3 billion this year from health care fraud and other settlements, the Justice Department announced Monday. Assistant Attorney General Tony West credited a record $2.5 billion in recoveries from huge health care fraud cases against giant pharmaceutical firms. (CNN)

Bird flu falls off the radar, but cases show it’s still a threat
In the wake of last year’s pandemic of H1N1 swine flu — which turned into far less of a global threat than had been feared — the world has largely forgotten about the H5N1 bird flu. Nor does it seem any less lethal. In contrast to the swine flu, which killed only 1 out of every 2,000 people who got it, the avian flu kills about 3 out of 5. (New York Times)

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