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Digressing to diversify: Consequences of healthcare or lack thereof!

May 28, 2013

There is a plethora of diverse threads in the entire gamut of the ‘health space’ within India and China. They will continue to multiply, as these markets mature. The resulting fabric could well turn out to be a riotous chaos unless ‘tamed’ in good time. Together, these two could add up to a significant chunk of the global ‘health’ space. Many of the things unfolding and the scale, in these markets, may be a first time in the history of mankind. Yet, there is something they can learn say from the recent proactive measures in the tort space rearing in the US of A.

Sometimes you need to digress from the mainstream and then converge. In the process you achieve diversity. My suggested way forward ­­­­does not tantamount to diversity for the sake for diversity. It is just that we are conditioned to see these disparate parts as silos.

Let us take a stock of some very well known facts relating to the two of the world’s largest healthcare markets in making:

  • More than half the world population lives in Asia
  • More than half of that resides in China and India
  • Both practice very diverse forms of health-care and often lack thereof
  • Larger numbers are outside modern practices than in
  • Millions will move from outside in
  • Millions too will move from alternate practices to western/ allopathic medicine
  • There is a big divide between healthcare and insurance
  • Healthcare insurance is still largely around hospitalization
  • Insurers are struggling to balance challenges of coping with volumes and pricing
  • Regulators are dealing with ensuing challenges and trying to lift the game
  • Rising numbers of ageing population and nuclear families pose further challenges
  • Raging health inflation
  • Not only local population to be addressed, emerging health tourism too
  • More and more childless seeking surrogate mothers in here
  • Growing bio-pharma industry and emergence of local brands
  • Significant M&A in the space
  • Increasing clinical trials activity
  • Spurt to medical education. Evils of supply demand mismatch. Long way to professionalism
  • Consumerism on rise
  • Social media; nothing to hide
  • Governance; fervent call
  • Litigious societies, in making­­­
  • Urbanization
  • Quackery aplenty
  • Money-lending menace
  • Ageing population
  • Life style diseases due to excesses
  • Diseases due to deficiency and starvation
  • Wellness emerging

Writing on another wall:

With so many threads, not all though, to weave into a meaningful form; here is a recipe for a potential chaos if not disaster. Take for instance the rapid migration of populations from rural to urban areas; demise of public healthcare and joint families into nuclear and rising lifestyle conditions there will be a huge mismatch between supply and demand of health care services. On the supply side, some of the providers may have questionable standards and experience. There will be lots of positive and negative energy flying out of these developments.

At this point, I am tempted to digress from the current stereotypic approach and dip into some ongoing debates in the US. Not that India and China are headed the American way. But the only way wherever these two countries are headed for, in their unique ways, they can future proof themselves is learning from the USA today. Thanks to some eye-opening debates at the American College of Surgeons:

New approaches to liability reform: The current medical liability system in the US is broken. It is costly, draining health care system of approximately USD 55.6 billion per year and accounting for 2.4 percent of annual health care spending. An estimated USD 45.6 billion is spent on defensive medicine. Of the money spent within the medical liability system itself (excluding defensive medicine), administrative costs comprise 54 to 60 percent of total costs, including attorney’s fees and other overhead.

Furthermore, fewer than 3 percent of patients who are injured as a result of medical errors ever seek compensation for their injuries. Additionally, nearly 25 percent of awards are not factually supported by the merits of the case. Fear of litigation leads practitioners to modify their practices to focus on specialties with lower risk and avoid procedures and patients perceived as higher risk.

At the heart of the very costly and inefficient liability system and the inaccurate process of compensating injuries related to medical errors is tort law. Again, something that differs from state to state. The American College of Surgeons has a vision to ensure that the ultimate goal of physicians and hospitals is to deliver safe high quality patient care. That requires a liability system integrated with health care infrastructure to promote those ends. A system that manages risk through the creation of a just culture of safety and quality improvement. A system that provides just compensation when patients are injured as a result of medical errors, and movement away from the “lawsuit lottery”. A system that is efficient in which the majority of money is spent compensating the injured patient, and frivolous claims are dismissed early to avoid wasting resources. Injured patients should not have to wait an average of five years to receive compensation. This would require more than tort reform.

  •  AHRQ program promotes patient safety and liability reform: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is a USD 25 million initiative which provides grants to health care organizations that have agreed to develop systems that promote patient safety and medical liability reform. Their goals also include reducing preventable injuries; foster better doctor-patient communications; ensure fair and timely compensation for injured patients; reduce number of frivolous lawsuits and reduce liability premiums.
  • Medical mediation: bringing everyone to the table. Growing focus on mediation as a viable form of alternative disputes resolution (ADR) in medical liability cases.
  • The University of Michigan’s Early Disclosure and Offer Program (D&O). Instituted 10 years ago, this has served to increase accountability, improve the physician patient relationship, reduce cost litigation, and improve patient safety.
  • Health courts: With a broken medical liability system, two schools of thought emerge. Whether to have health courts or strengthen existing systems?
  • New directions in liability reform: It calls for reforms that can transform the current medical liability system into a system that is patient focused. In which safety, quality, accountability, and equity are paramount. It recognizes this will require a sustained commitment and iterative efforts from the health care community. The first step is setting up experiments with innovative reforms that are focused on the appropriate goals. The regulatory system must begin to support notions of just culture as well as mechanisms for early dispute resolution.

Furthermore, providers and insurers must publicly demonstrate a commitment to vigorous self-regulation; if liability is no longer the main mechanism of enforcing quality standards, the medical community must assure the public that it can assume greater responsibility for that task. Encouraging this paradigm shift and looking toward reforms that solve shortcomings in the liability system beyond cost containment are paramount to developing a system that truly drives quality and safety improvements.

  • Safe harbors: These are designed to protect physicians from liability risk if they provide care that follows approved clinical practice standards. The creation of safe harbors may improve both patient safety and medical liability system performance. Safe harbors have many potential benefits, which include discouraging non-meritorious liability claims, mitigating the unpredictability of settlements and verdicts, reducing defensive practices and bolstering the integration of evidence based care into clinical practice to improve patient safety.
  • CRICO way: The largest medical liability insurer in Massachusetts and an internationally known leader in evidence-based risk management. CRICO’s mission is to provide superior medical liability insurance to its members and to assist them in delivering the safest healthcare in the world. To achieve this CRICO is committed to defending good medical practice, offering compensation for substandard medical care, and contesting at trial non-meritorious cases in which no medical fault is apparent.
  • Connecticut Center for Patient Safety (CTCPS): The US health care system boasts some of the world’s most sophisticated medical treatment, superior medical education and training, and hundreds of thousands of conscientious and committed health care professionals. Nonetheless, patient safety in the US has been the source of concern for many years now. Patient injury is widespread, and there is little evidence of consistent improvement. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 10 percent of hospitalized patients develop a hospital-acquired infection (HAI), and that 1.6 to 3.8 million infections occur annually in long-term care facilities. The annual direct costs of these infections may be as great as USD 45 billion.

The CTCPS looks forward to working with and not against the health care sector. By collaborating to improve patient safety, patient advocates and providers can honor the needs and rights of patients, acknowledge the harm that has been previously done, and help ensure that such harm does not occur in future.

 In conclusion

Leafing through a recent issue of the Bulletin of American College of Surgeons, I thought the writing on the wall could not be clearer. It is a special issue on new approaches to liability reform. Very inspiring to see a section of the medical profession determined to address consequences of their own malpractice. Still early days of tort action in India and China, it will neither be forever quiet on the liability front nor will liability related issues be the only ones heating up the health space.

Harmonization of the various under-currents unleashed by the forces of rapid change and coping with consequences of fast growth is what this feature is about. Neither is this an attempt at pushing the realm of insurance beyond known boundaries nor transgressing into others. This is an attempt to take a holistic view and address a not too distant future, far more complex than the current paradigm allows us to believe, that stares us in our face. The big question, therefore, how must we re-visit the architecture for everything to do with health? Should not anything and everything to do with it all be under one roof to ensure a seamlessly coordinated approach?

Note: The author is grateful to the American College of Surgeons’ March 2013 Bulletin; a special issue on “New approaches to liability reform”. He has generously quoted from thought provoking works appearing in this issue.

From → Articles, Healthcare

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