Tag Archives: work

July 21, 2016

Pay attention to burden of treatment – and its impact

Think about it: Becoming a patient can sometimes be like getting three new (and unwanted) part-time jobs:

(1) arranger/consumer of professional healthcare services,
(2) manager of self-care and activity adaptation regimens, and
(3) manager of administrative issues (benefits, purchasing, and billing).

The tasks involved in those additional jobs can sometimes be so time-consuming they interfere with other important responsibilities (like going to work). Some tasks may be beyond the patient’s capability and so don’t get done right – or done at all.

The POINT here is that Burden of Treatment is a significant but under-acknowledged and thus unmanaged issue.  Anyone “in the business”  for a while has had a vague sense that this is a practical concern with major impact.  But to date we’ve just been haphazardly addressing it.

All stakeholders in health-related work disruptions do need to stay alert to how much time and effort patients/claimants/employees are spending on treatment and care regimens of various kinds (and their attendant administrative/financial issues).  We also need to assess how well they are managing that burden.  Once we DO start to pay more attention to this issue and see how the impact varies from one treatment regimen to another, we will see that we have an opportunity to work on REDUCING BoT.

Figuring out how to systematically classify and document BoT is a necessary early step to increase awareness and opportunities for active management. There may well be a vast literature on this topic — but I am unaware of it. The particular study whose abstract appears below reminded me that this issues exists.  It explores whether/how to use the terminology in the ICF to document BoT. (ICF is the International Classification of Function, the lesser known companion to the ICD – International Classification of Disease.)  And I don’t know whether the ICF addresses the burden of administrative issues. Do you?

TAKEAWAY MESSAGE:   Let’s all think more about what a high burden of treatment means for our patients/claimants/employees, and what we can do to reduce it.

GONCALVES AV, Jacome CI, Demain SH, Hunt KJ, et al.
Burden of treatment in the light of the international classification of functioning, disability and health: a “best fit” framework synthesis.
Disabil Rehabil. 2016 Jul 3:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]
PubMed

ABSTRACT

PURPOSE: This systematic literature review aimed to (1) summarize and explain the concept of Burden of Treatment (BoT) using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) terminology, and (2) inform the development of a future Comprehensive ICF Core Set for BoT.

METHOD: Searches on EMbase, Medline, CINAHL and PsycINFO were conducted. Only qualitative studies were considered for inclusion. The screening and data extraction stages were followed by a “Best-fit” framework synthesis and content analysis, using the established ICF linking rules. Screening, data extraction, quality appraisal and data analysis were performed by two independent researchers.

RESULTS: Seventeen studies were included in this review. The “Best-fit” framework synthesis generated 179 subthemes which identified that BoT impacts negatively on body functions and structures, restricts valued activities and participation and influences contextual factors through life roles, self-identify and relationships. The identified subthemes were linked to 77 ICF categories.

CONCLUSIONS: This study is part of the preparatory phase of a Comprehensive ICF Core Set for BoT and our findings will inform the further needed studies on this phase. The use of ICF terminology to describe BoT provides an accessible route for understanding this complex concept, which is pivotal for rethinking clinical practice. Implications for rehabilitation Health professionals applying the ICF should consider the negative impact of interventions on patient’s life roles and self-identity, body functions and structures and on valued activities and participation. Health professionals who may be concerned about the treatment burden being experienced by their patients can now use the ICF terminology to discuss this with the multidisciplinary team. Poor adherence to rehabilitation programs may be explained by an increased BoT. This phenomenon can now be mapped to the ICF, and coded using a framework well known by multidisciplinary teams.


July 6, 2016

Where does working age end? Who is too old to work?

I’ve been trying to draw more attention to the special healthcare needs of the working age population since they power the engine of the economy.  The healthcare industry needs to expand its focus beyond symptoms and select treatments that rapidly restore the ability to function in this group  — to help them recover faster and more completely, to keep their jobs and livelihoods, and avoid the negative consequences of prolonged worklessness for them and their family!  Doctors and other healthcare professionals often don’t really THINK ENOUGH about the impact of their treatment regimens on working people’s lives outside the office.

But as I advocate, I’ve begun pondering that definition: “working age”.  It seems safe to use 18 as the low end of the range (even though kids younger than that do work, most of them are still in school).  But what about the top end?  At what age should we stop seeing work as the norm?  Stop expecting anyone to work?   Start thinking it’s silly to insist on working?  What term should we use to describe those who have lived for a really long time but are still very active and working?  What term should we use to describe people who are the exact same age but the press of years has made them too feeble to work anymore, even though they are “healthy”?  We all know people in both of these categories.  Simply calling them both old seems inaccurate.

I found a thoughtful article from the World Health Organization (WHO) exploring how to define “old” or “elderly” — in Africa!   Have you noticed how often we notice oddities about our own culture when we look outside it?  That’s when we notice the automatic assumptions and blind spots we’ve been living with.

I think you’ll enjoy reading the excerpts I’ve pasted below from the full WHO article.  I have colored in red the parts I found most eye-opening.  They are a breath of realistic and straight-spoken fresh air about how humans age.

Bottom line as I see it:  In developing societies where the administrative and legal fictions of retirement and pensions do not exist, the people tend to define old and elderly straightforwardly and on a case by case basis depending on the actual circumstances of humans as they accumulate years (and as younger generations come behind).  Old age begins when one assumes the social role of an elder, when one withdraws from social roles either because it is time for someone younger to take over or because of decline in physical / mental capability.  And finally, when it is no longer possible to actively contribute, one is definitely well into old age.

By that reasoning, if you are still able to play the roles and carry the same load of a person a decade younger, you are not old yet.  I still don’t know what to call you though.  Or, more truthfully, I don’t know what to call myself.  I am still in there pitching though I turn 70 years old this year.  I did recently give up one of my roles to make room for a younger person who deserved her day in the sun.  Didn’t want to hog it and hold her back.

Proposed Working Definition of an Older Person in Africa for the MDS Project

Most developed world countries have accepted the chronological age of 65 years as a definition of ‘elderly’ or older person, but like many westernized concepts, this does not adapt well to the situation in Africa. While this definition is somewhat arbitrary, it is many times associated with the age at which one can begin to receive pension benefits.

Although there are commonly used definitions of old age, there is no general agreement on the age at which a person becomes old. The common use of a calendar age to mark the threshold of old age assumes equivalence with biological age, yet at the same time, it is generally accepted that these two are not necessarily synonymous.

As far back as 1875, in Britain, the Friendly Societies Act, enacted the definition of old age as, “any age after 50”, yet pension schemes mostly used age 60 or 65 years for eligibility. (Roebuck, 1979). The UN has not adopted a standard criterion, but generally use 60+ years to refer to the older population (personal correspondence, 2001).

The more traditional African definitions of an elder or ‘elderly’ person correlate with the chronological ages of 50 to 65 years, depending on the setting, the region and the country. ….. In addition, chronological or “official” definitions of ageing can differ widely from traditional or community definitions of when a person is older.  Lacking an accepted and acceptable definition, in many instances the age at which a person became eligible for statutory and occupational retirement pensions has become the default definition. ….

Defining old
“The ageing process is of course a biological reality which has its own dynamic, largely beyond human control. However, it is also subject to the constructions by which each society makes sense of old age. In the developed world, chronological time plays a paramount role. The age of 60 or 65, roughly equivalent to retirement ages in most developed countries, is said to be the beginning of old age.

In many parts of the developing world, chronological time has little or no importance in the meaning of old age. Other socially constructed meanings of age are more significant such as the roles assigned to older people; in some cases it is the loss of roles accompanying physical decline which is significant in defining old age. Thus, in contrast to the chronological milestones which mark life stages in the developed world, old age in many developing countries is seen to begin at the point when active contribution is no longer possible.” (Gorman, 2000)

Categories of definitions
When attention was drawn to older populations in many developing countries, the definition of old age many times followed the same path as that in more developed countries, that is, the government sets the definition by stating a retirement age. Considering that a majority of old persons in sub-Saharan Africa live in rural areas and work outside the formal sector, and thus expect no formal retirement or retirement benefits, this imported logic seems quite illogical. Further, when this definition is applied to regions where relative life expectancy is much lower and size of older populations is much smaller, the utility of this definition becomes even more limited.

Study results published in 1980 provides a basis for a definition of old age in developing countries (Glascock, 1980). This international anthropological study was conducted in the late 1970’s and included multiple areas in Africa. Definitions fell into three main categories: 1) chronology; 2) change in social role (i.e. change in work patterns, adult status of children and menopause); and 3) change in capabilities (i.e. invalid status, senility and change in physical characteristics). Results from this cultural analysis of old age suggested that change in social role is the predominant means of defining old age. When the preferred definition was chronological, it was most often accompanied by an additional definition.

…… If one considers the self-definition of old age, that is old people defining old age, as people enter older ages it seems their self-definitions of old age become decreasingly multifaceted and increasingly related to health status (Brubaker, 1975, Johnson, 1976 and Freund, 1997).


May 18, 2016

It’s time to establish accountability for job loss

My report on Establishing Accountability to Reduce Job Loss After Injury or Illness (commissioned by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy) was originally conceived as a simple effort to lay out the rationale for adding work and participation in life to the list of positive health outcomes.  (I suspect that I was asked to write it because they thought a physician like me would focus on medical practitioners and the healthcare delivery system.)

Almost immediately, it became obvious to me that in order to make a solid contribution to the on-going public dialogue about health outcomes, the paper would have to explore the meaty issues of explicit expectations, accountability, metrics, credible data, rewards for best practices, and incentives for both participation and performance.

Soon after that, the absurdity of discussing expectations and accountability for the healthcare system alone became obvious —because organizations in other sectors of society play a role in the SAW/RTW process, each of which has enough discretionary power to support or thwart it.

Thus, over time, the purpose of the paper shifted to answering this question:  What has to happen in order to engage the professionals at the front-line  — the ones who work directly with affected individuals and make discretionary decisions about how much effort to make and for what purpose — so they start making a real effort to help people stay employed?

Who are those front-line professionals?

(1) Healthcare professionals.  Most of us view our purpose as making accurate diagnoses and providing appropriate treatment.   We are generally not trained to assess work capacity and prevent work disability.  Yet our opinions about work have considerable weight under law, regulations, insurance policies and traditional business practices.  We generally don’t spend much time and energy thinking about issues outside the exam room.

(2) Workplace supervisors or HR professionals.  Their focus is the business of the organization, producing its goods or delivering its services,as well as abiding by company policies and applicable laws. They can decide how much effort to make to help the employee stay at work and keep their job.  With rare exceptions, they are neither aware of the preventable nature of most work disability, nor are they trained how to negotiate and arrange stay at work or return to work plans, identify alternative temporary tasks or reasonable accommodations.  And they are not incentivized to do so.

(3) Claims/benefits administrators.  Their focus is administering the benefit programs correctly, establishing eligibility, compensability, meeting deadlines, making payments, and other requirements. In between these duties, they decide how much effort to make to help the beneficiary/claimant. Like the workplace professionals, with only rare exceptions, they are neither aware of the preventable nature of most work disability, nor are they trained how to negotiate and arrange stay at work or return to work plans, identify alternative temporary tasks or reasonable accommodations.  And they are not incentivized to do so.

Job loss is the third worst outcome of an injury or illness

As I thought about these players and those who influence their behavior, the biggest realization dawned more slowly:  job loss is a potentially devastating secondary consequence of a health-related employment disruption or a failed SAW/RTW process — because it often leads to permanent withdrawal from the workforce.  In fact it is the third worst outcome of a health condition, the other two being death and loss of limb or core functions like sight and hearing.

Yet we have not seen it that way.  Unlike death and serious injury, job loss is generally not noticed.  It’s actually a hidden outcome.  The frequency with which it occurs can only be estimated indirectly — because it is untracked and thus invisible.  When someone loses their job due to long-lasting illness or injury, they often end up leaving leave the workforce permanently, becoming dependent on public benefits programs like SSDI.

Some years ago, a senior Social Security Administration official commented to me that SSDI is the largest insurance fund IN THE WORLD and yet it has no risk management program, no loss prevention program.  Private sector insurance companies view these as core functions of their organizations.  They know they must identify and take steps to reduce risks and mitigate losses in order to meet their responsibilities and stay solvent.

In my view, government should be likewise obligated to take steps to protect SSDI (and the taxpayers who fund it) from the economic consequences of the dysfunctions, inadequacies and gaps in the upstream social structures and programs — because their failures end up on public benefit programs.

Government will make a major contribution to reducing demand on SSDI by:
(1) establishing policy that job loss/withdrawal from the workforce is a very unfortunate outcome of a health problem and should be avoided whenever possible,
(2) enabling all parties to see more clearly when it happens by requiring reporting of these events; and
(3) establishing consequences of some sort when involved organizations are non-responsive (negative incentives such as financial penalties, loss of privileges, or public exposure) or do take appropriate action (positive incentives such as credits, privileges, or favorable publicity).

This combination of outcomes visibility and accountability should then start to shift how parties in the private marketplace choose vendors and suppliers.

How will things look different when there IS real accountability for job loss?  

Implementing the broad range of actions recommended in the Establishing Accountability report will require a significant long-term effort because of their comprehensive, complex, and varied nature.  Taken as a whole, these actions have the potential to create truly transformational change.

Success will mean that more workers living with adult-onset chronic conditions and impairments (acquired disabilities) will be able to stay fully and productively engaged in their own personal, family, and community life; protect their household’s standard of living; remain economically self-sufficient contributors to their local area economy; and avoid dependency on government programs—which will in turn protect their future health and well-being and improve their children’s future prospects.  At the national level, success has the potential to stem the tide of declining labor force participation, lighten taxpayer burdens, and bolster the nation’s social fabric and the vitality of the economy.  All in all, the initiatives proposed make good use of limited government resources.

The ultimate success of the initiative will hinge on the ability of Federal policy leaders and supporters to create and sustain real multi-stakeholder buy-in and enthusiasm for achieving the future vision described in the paper.   A good next step is for the federal and state governments to decide whether and where to start.  It will take time and effort to achieve consensus among key stakeholders that this kind of initiative is necessary, timely, and deserves priority for person-power and funding.  Once that preliminary groundwork is laid, more detailed planning work can get underway.

Whoever you are, I hope you read the Establishing Accountability paper and agree that change and action is needed.  If my suggested recommendations spur you on to creative thinking, you do NOT need to wait for the government to act.  You can start factoring these issues into your decisions about who to collaborate with now.


May 11, 2016

Best & worst states for people with disabilities who want to work

Have you heard of RespectAbility?  When I went to their website, I found a COOL CHART showing some HOT NUMBERS:  the best and worst states for people with disabilities who want to work.

Before you look at the chart (I’ve pasted it below):
•    Guess which state has the highest employment rate for people with disabilities – 50.1%?   Do you think it’s a blue or a red state?
•    Guess which state has the lowest rate – 25.6%?   Is it blue or red?
•    Answer:  Almost all of the best AND the worst states for people with disabilities with regard to employment are in the red zone of the USA.

So, what else might be the reason for the differences between states?   Hmmmmmmmm. Is it the underlying health of the state’s economy?  I went to Mr. Google to find a ranked list of state economies.  This list on Business Insider was the first one I found.  Yay, here’s the answer, I thought (for a moment).   The WORST state for people with disabilities is the LAST state in the ranking – the state with the weakest economy over all (West Virginia).

BUT then I noticed that two other states among the bottom 10 of Business Insider’s list of state economies are in RespectAbility’s the TOP FIVE for employment of people with disabilities:  North Dakota and Wyoming.    And at the other end, of the 10 states that Business Insider ranked most economically healthy, only 1 was also in RespectAbility’s top group for people with disabilities (South Dakota).

I started to wonder whether Business Insider’s list was the “right” one, and found three other lists, here, here, and here — all of which purported to describe the health of state economies.  Each one has a VERY DIFFERENT RANKING of the states!!   The difference seems to be the method they used:   the underlying data sources and the formula used to calculate the results.

So I said uncle.  As an economic babe-in-the-woods who is unable to sort through this stuff, I have given up my extremely short amateur quest to understand WHY some states are better places to be if you have a disability and want to work!   For now, it is what it is, to use the jargon of today.

CLICK ON the table from RespectAbility pasted below and check out the numbers.  Then go to the full article on the RespectAbility website to read their analysis of why the numbers look the way they do – and what it all means.  And while you’re there, RespectAbility has also asked the current candidates for President of the USA to answer questions about their position on people with disabilities.  Their answers were NOT all the same!

Table-Best and worst states for disabled employment


October 30, 2015

Turning private tragedies into a public concern: job loss after injury or illness

Do you realize that NO professional feels responsible when a working person loses his or her job because of a health problem — neither the doctor, nor the employer, nor the person handling the claim for healthcare, disability, or workers’ compensation benefits?  At most, the professionals may say “that’s a shame” assuming they are even aware it’s happened.  Job loss is often invisible; the person just drops off the radar.  The government insists that employers track workplace injuries and illnesses, hospitalizations and fatalities — but no-one is tracking job loss.  Among the public purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act is promoting employment of people with disabilities.  The millions of workers now silently disappearing from the workforce due to newly-acquired disabilities deserve more visibility — and more help.

An estimated 2.5 million people leave the workforce each year for health reasons, most frequently due to things like low back pain and other common musculoskeletal conditions, as well as the most common mood disorders of depression and anxiety.  And none of the professionals who are called on to respond when those individuals start having difficulty are being held accountable for making an active effort to help them keep their jobs. Obviously, some people really can’t continue to work (for example those who have a terminal illness or have suffered an incapacitating injury).  But some of those lost jobs COULD have been averted if any of those three professionals had devoted more of their skill and discretionary effort to finding a better solution.

In my opinion, this hole in our social fabric through which people with newly-acquired disabilities are falling has been invisible until now — and is unacceptable.

To put this in perspective, as Western societies have evolved over the centuries, other kinds of private tragedies have become public concerns.   Do you realize that until roughly the 19th century, no one felt responsible when a pregnant woman died in childbirth, or her newborn infant did — which was very common?  “That’s a shame,” people said.  It was each family’s private tragedy.   Today,  several professions, many hospitals, and whole departments within public health agencies in every single state focus on keeping pregnant women healthy, providing prenatal care, assuring a safe childbirth, and proper care of newborns.  Maternal and infant mortality rates are now considered basic indicators of the health of a country’s entire population  — and the adequacy of its public health / health care systems.  In the developed countries, maternal and infant deaths are 50 to a 100 times lower than the rates in still-developing countries.  Here is data from the CIA’s World Factbook.

Pic of Mat Infant Mortality rates 2015-10-30

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a comparable table showing job loss rates for the countries?  What do you think it would show?   I bet the developing countries are doing less well by comparison — because their social safety nets tend to be weaker.  And I doubt workers that in the US are a 100-fold better off.   I’ve heard that European countries make it much harder to “throw away” unwanted workers.  It is not only important for workers and their families to stay employed.  Every time a worker loses his or her footing in the world of work, our society takes a DOUBLE hit:  we lose an economic contributor AND at the same time we gain another person dependent on taxpayer funded benefits.

I’ve been part of a two-year effort to start thinking seriously about ways to reduce job loss due to illness and injury among U.S. workers while serving as a member of the US Department of Labor’s Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work (SAW/RTW) Policy Collaborative. This year three of us (economists (David StapletonKevin Hollenbeck, and I) were asked to develop policy papers, each on a specific aspect of the issue.

My task was to think about how to establish accountability for job loss among the professionals who have the best opportunity to influence the outcome.  I felt so LUCKY to be PAID to take the time to explore this topic in depth — it was really fun to put my “thinkatorium” into high gear.  Stimulating conversations with more than 30 experts in various fields and sectors of society helped shape my thinking (thank you all — their names are listed in the report).  The final product is three main recommendations and a set of specific suggestions for action — how to accomplish the recommendations.  I hope you will read my paper to see where this line of inquiry leads you.  I bet you will be surprised — because I was.

On October 22, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy (CSDP) hosted a policy forum to introduce the three policy papers and all of their recommendations. You can view the 90 minute video of the event here.  It includes some very good questions from the audience and subsequent dialogue. All three policy papers are available on Mathematica’s website.

Please consider joining me in transforming these 2.4 million hidden and all-too-private tragedies per year into a public challenge for change.

And before you go — did you notice that the data I cited on maternal and child death rates came from the US Central Intelligence Agency’s INFORMATION WEBSITE???  Who knew?  I just stumbled on it.

Photo announcing policy rec - video of event 2015-10-29


July 31, 2015

Tell us: Who should be helping workers with health problems keep their jobs?

The US Department of Labor (DOL) wants to engage YOU in dialogue (you employers, insurers, physicians/healthcare providers, managed care companies — and working age individuals whose jobs have been affected by new or changed health conditions.) The dialogue concerns some draft recommendations for Establishing Work and Full Participation in Life as ACCOUNTABLE Health Outcomes.

The recommendations are part of a larger report I have drafted.  It is focused on these questions:
1– How can we reduce the number of working adults who lose their jobs or leave the workforce after their ability to work has been disrupted by a health condition—and conversely, how can we increase the number who get the help they need to stay employed?
2– What will create widely-shared social agreement that preserving/restoring the ability to work and participate fully in life should be seen as KEY OUTCOMES of healthcare for the working age population?
3– Who should be helping working people KEEP THEIR JOBS after acquiring a new or changed disability?    Who should be held accountable when they needlessly LOSE THEIR JOBS?
4– How can that accountability be established—for real?

The DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) commissioned this paper.  Many ideas for how to accomplish those things emerged after interviewing about 20 experts in various fields and discussing these issues with a Policy Work Group within ODEP’s SAW/RTW Policy Collaborative.  Because the stay-at-work and return-to-work process is by nature a “team sport”, the reality is that SEVERAL parties will need to be held accountable.

The draft report actually makes more than 20 detailed recommendations, but for now, ODEP would like to get feedback from YOU on the 6 main ones.  This is a reality check, to see if we’re on the right track in your opinion.   I ENCOURAGE you to disagree, make corrections, or suggest things that are missing or would strengthen the proposal.   The purpose of this exercise is to IMPROVE the report – and increase the chances that it actually has a positive impact.  The ultimate goal is to help more people stay in the workforce, remain productive contributors, and enjoy the many benefits of economic self-sufficiency and full social participation.

You can look at the recommendations on ODEP’s “crowdsourcing” website even before you decide whether to vote/comment.  I hope you will.   See the invitation from ODEP below to get started.   Again, FEEL FREE to disagree, to point out mistakes, make additional suggestions, etc. etc.


From: Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor – Office of Disability Employment Policy
Sent: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 3:40 PM
Subject: ODEP’s Latest Online Dialogue Discusses Work as a Health Outcome

 ODEP epolicyworks masthead 2015-07-31

Second Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work Online Dialogue:
Establishing Work and Full Participation as Accountable Health Outcomes

Do you have ideas on how to reduce the number of working adults who lose their jobs or leave the workforce after their ability to work has been disrupted by a health condition—and conversely, how to increase the number who get the help they need to stay employed? If so, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) needs to hear from you!

ODEP is hosting the second in a three-part series of important online dialogues, Establishing Work and Full Participation as Accountable Health Outcomes, to gather input on policy recommendations aimed at establishing work and full participation in life as accountable health outcomes. Through the use of an online crowdsourcing tool, interested stakeholders can provide feedback on these six draft policy recommendations.

Participation is easy. Just review the policy recommendations, register, then share your feedback.

Visit http://WorkAsHealthOutcome.ePolicyWorks.org/ before the dialogue closes on Friday, August 14th. If you have any questions, please contact ePolicyWorks@dol.gov.

Looking forward to your participation,
Jennifer Sheehy
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy


July 9, 2015

Here is where healthcare delivers VALUE — at the most fundamental level

When Professor Michael Porter did some “deep thinking” about where value is actually delivered in healthcare, he created a simple table that displays three tiers.   I found his second value tier EXCITING:   a Harvard Business School professor was validating my own “gut feel” about what really counts.   I summarize Porter’s three tiers this way (you can see his own table below this post):

Tier 1:   Delivering a desired health status — Avoiding death; optimizing health or extent of recovery.
Tier 2:   Minimizing the time it takes to restore the normal rhythm of everyday life — the cycle time required to produce a return to full participation in life (or best attainable level).
Tier 3:   Sustaining health or recovery, minimizing recurrences and iatrogenic (care-induced) illnesses and consequences.

Porter’s free article appeared in the December 23, 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.  In his comments on Tier 2, Porter said:  “Cycle time is a critical outcome for patients — not a secondary process measure, as some believe.”  I have focused most of my professional energy for the last couple of decades on shortening cycle time — because it clearly produces better overall life outcomes.  I hoped Porter’s article would catalyze a lot of discussion and much more attention to Tier 2 — but not much luck so far.

Personally, I believe that the purpose of being alive is to live a fully human life.  From that perspective, the most VALUABLE healthcare services are those that minimize the impact of illness or injury on the rhythm of everyday life.  I want all healthcare professionals to START here:   Our FUNDAMENTAL purpose is to avert premature death, relieve fear and suffering, and to enhance, preserve,or restore as quickly as possible every patient’s ability to participate in the specific activities that make life worth living — which for many includes productive engagement / work.

We are a social species.  We have an innate drive to be useful in some way, to have a role to fulfill.  We are happier when we have a clear purpose in life. Those of us in the middle years of the human lifespan are DESIGNED to work — to hold up our end and contribute to the well-being of our family, clan, community or nation.  The well-being of our country, and even more broadly, the survival of our species depends on maintaining the right balance between dependents and contributors.

The AFL-CIO’s website says this about work:  “Work is what we do to better ourselves, to build dreams and to support our families. But work is more than that. Work cures, creates, builds, innovates and shapes the future. Work connects us all.” As the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer‘s Order for Compline (an evening prayer service) poetically puts it:  “Grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil.”

From What is Value in Healthcare by Michael Porter, NEJM 363;26 Dec 23, 2010, p 2479

From What is Value in Healthcare by Michael Porter, NEJM 363;26 Dec 23, 2010, p 2479


June 5, 2015

Why aren’t we saying and doing THESE THINGS about the ADA?

I’ve been listening to the prevailing conversation about the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (ADA), in workers’ comp and disability benefits circles. Most often it has a negative tone: the ADA imposes obligations and creates complicated legal dances that can get us in trouble unless we do things exactly right. I almost never hear ANYONE in these industries (other than disability rights advocates) talking about what we can do to FULFILL the social purposes for which that law was created!

I am also a member of the US Dept of Labor’s Stay-at-Work and Return-to-Work Policy Collaborative, As a result, I met the EEOC‘s Senior Legal Counsel Aaron Konopasky, PhD, JD.  He opened my eyes to the fact that the ADA now applies MUCH EARLIER and MORE FREQUENTLY in health-related employment disruptions (both workers’ compensation and short / long-disability benefits cases) than has traditionally been thought. (See the mini-white paper Aaron and I co-authored on this issue.)

Seems like one of the key purposes of workers’ comp and disability benefits programs SHOULD BE to help workers who get injured or sick or who lose functional ability over time to KEEP THEIR JOBS / LIVELIHOODS and if needed, FIND NEW WAYS TO EARN A LIVING appropriate for their changed capabilities so they can MAINTAIN THEIR ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE.  If that is so, then it seems like EMPLOYMENT OUTCOMES should be included in the metrics by which effectiveness / success / value of these programs is measured.   (I don’t see this being done now — do you?)

Now let’s look at the flip side:  bad outcomes.  (more…)


May 9, 2015

Keeping Jenny Weast Employed May Take a Village

Jenny Weast’s predicament appears to be a perfect example of how today’s “system” encourages dependency instead of independence among people with disabilities — and increases the barriers to work rather than reducing them!   Jenny is a popular and energetic high school teacher in California who is quadriplegic.  She needs personal care attendants to help her with her activities of daily living, but Medicaid has decided she doesn’t qualify for coverage — because she earns too much money.    According to Jenny’s Facebook page, Medicaid says her “fair share” of these services would be $2400+ dollars per month, which would leave her with 26% of her paycheck to live on.   There is NO CHARITY and NO FOUNDATION in this country (as far as I know – and I have searched) who sees it as their mission to help people with disabilities STAY EMPLOYED.  Karen Cage who has taken up Jenny’s cause has created a crowd-funding opportunity to help defray the expenses of Jenny’s personal care attendants.  I did make a contribution to help Jenny stay employed – because if the government and existing charities won’t help people in her situation – who will?    It’s NOW that her job is in jeopardy.  Jenny will be on SSDI by the time that Congress acts and/or a foundation’s new initiative gets funded and underway.

Many people with disabilities don’t need personal care attendants – they have much more modest expenses, but can’t afford to pay for them because they earn an even-more-modest-than-that  salary.   Small things often make ALL of the difference.    As the centuries old proverb says:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

From what I read, Jenny is not alone by any means.  MIT economist Professor David Autor wrote in his report The Unsustainable Rise of the Disability Rolls in the United States: Causes, Consequences and Policy Options:  “In its current incarnation, the SSDI program spends too few societal resources helping individuals with disabilities to remain employed and too many resources supporting the long-term dependency of individuals who could be self-sufficient with the appropriate accommodation and supports.”

Perhaps the charity of individuals will support Jenny’s caregivers while we encourage Congress to figure out a way to help ALL people who ARE EARNING A LIVING despite significant disabilities to get help with the EXTRA EXPENSES that make it possible for them to work!   Or maybe, one of the big foundations will notice this opportunity to make a big positive difference and step in.  Obviously, the kinds of impairments that warrant extra services and the definition of services that are covered have to be precise enough to actually accomplish the purpose while avoiding wholesale abuse, but …… doesn’t this just plain old make sense?