31 de gener 2013

Plausible stories about the future

Sustainable Health Systems - Visions, Strategies, Critical Uncertainties and Scenarios

Last week the "health output" of the Davos World Economic Forum was a report on Sustainable Health Systems - Visions, Strategies, Critical Uncertainties and Scenarios. A quick look at the document will show you that the future could lie only in three scenarios. This is an easy way to limit what may happen. A reduccionist perspective I would say. Anyway, you may agree or disagree after reading it. The three options would be:

  • In Health Incorporated, the boundaries of the health industry are redefined. Corporations provide new products and services as markets liberalize, governments cut back on public services and a new sense of conditional solidarity emerges.
  • In New Social Contract, governments are responsible for driving health system efficiency and for regulating organizations and individuals to pursue healthy living.
  • In Super-empowered Individuals, citizens use an array of products and services to manage their own health. Meanwhile, corporations compete for this lucrative market and governments try to address the consequences.
Fortunately the future will be more complex, an organized chaos at best, evolving from what we already see right now.

PS. Horrendous stories about the past.

30 de gener 2013

Pharma confidential

We have just entered a new world. A confidential pricing market has been created!.  A complete new pharmaceutical market that Adam Smith couldn't realise. It's not a joke, it is what an official answered yesterday to the press. The Ministry can't explain the prices of prescription medicines not funded by NHS because they are confidential. The journalist was asking about the price of 400 medicines that were delisted from public coverage last September and why pharmaceutical firms have increased its price thrice. Does this make any sense? Do we need such regulator? Maybe a vacation is the best option . Last April a new regulation introduced the notified price, this is a free price that has to be notified for prescription medicines not funded by NHS. However, notified price it is not confidential price. That's the reason why we have to ask for compliance with the law, just that. The Comision Interministerial de Precios has not published any administered price since last June, and notified prices are considered confidential by the Ministry oficials.

29 de gener 2013

On predictive modeling

A better understanding of population morbidity allows to predict how such population will evolve. Currently there is an increasing interest on chronic care and a specific program has been set up. The potential tools available to define chronic populations have been presented and you can check them in this document.Although we do need more details, it is a first step in the right direction. However, I'm not so sure about the split of chronic care from integrated care. Why now?

28 de gener 2013

Health disparities

We all know that there are differences in health and health services throughout geography. If you want to check the extent of such differences, I suggest you have a look at Interactive atlas of health inequalities that WHO has published. You can select the country and you´ll find the comparison.
The number of variables is limited, but is a first step in the right direction since OECD only publishes data at a state level.

23 de gener 2013

On food and public health policies

Is the food industry in the driver's seat?

The role of stakeholders in health policy requires transparency. Otherwise any potential relationship may end in conflict with general interest. The appointment of high level officials in any regulatory body has to be clean, without doubts over conflicts of interest.
Have a look at this article at EJPH. Some months ago I highlighted my concerns about this here.

22 de gener 2013

Years behind the leader

U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health

This latest report of IOM-NAS highlights the outcomes of a health system and poor health behaviours. The concern about the US population health is growing. I was astonished by this statement:
Demographers refer to this measure as 35q15, or the probability of dying in the 35 years following one’s 15th birthday. For females in the 16 peer countries, 35q15 was around 2 percent in 2007 but was approximately twice as high—4 percent—in the United States. This means that the probability of a 15-year-old U.S. female dying within 35 years was double the average for 16 peer high-income countries.
In all high-income countries, including the United States, 35q15 has been declining for more than half a century. But the relative position of the United States has deteriorated since the late 1950s, when it was near the average of its peers. These countries, on average, had reduced their 35q15 for females to the U.S. 2007 level of 4 percent almost 40 years earlier. In this sense, one can say that, in 2007, the United States was 40 years behind the average of its peers (and 50 years behind the leading peer country).
Forty years behind the leader! that's a lot. A great effort is needed to balance such situation. An important sailors alert: those that want fierce and unregulated competition without mandatory insurance should have these results in their mind. Is this really what they want?

PS. The cheapest ad for a company is the one you may watch on TV3,  i.e. yesterday on TN about prenatal genetic screening. Why do all the citizens have to pay for this advertisement through our taxes?

21 de gener 2013

Stop the blame game

La renovación de la atención primaria desde la consulta

Nowadays, those in contact with physicians in publicly funded health care are used to hear about blaming over the politicians and managers, about health system . As this HBR blog states: "Playing the blame game never works". In general, the suggestion is:
  • Don't blame others for your mistakes. 
  • When you complain, do so constructively.
  • Set an example by confidently taking ownership for failures.
  • Always focus on learning. 
  • Reward people for making mistakes. 
But what about the system?. If we focus on primary care, I've started reading "La renovación de la atención primaria desde la consulta" . The first chapter explains that innovation should start from the doctor's office, stop complaining. Sounds excellent, however some of our difficulties are systemic and somebody has to fix them.
I really suggest you read it, because when you arrive at chapter 8 and 9 you'll have an overall assessment of the current situation. Don't miss the opportunity to have a look at them.

18 de gener 2013

A new tax conundrum

The anouncement of a potential increase in VAT rate for health care products that currently are under the reduced tax rate, a shift from 10% to 21%, represents the third step in a dangerous growth spiral for health expenditure. From 2010, VAT rates have grown 3 pp (from 7 to 10% the reduced rate) and 5 pp (from 16 to 21%).  For public health expenditure, these changes represented an increase in 1,1% or 45 m euro. Right now, the new rate could replicate past events. You can check this information in this recent report. I couldn't find a similar one for private sector.
This is a nonsense. The publicly funded hospitals have to pay a VAT that goes to the government for the goods and services they acquire and they can't put a tax on the services they provide. The hospital resources to pay the tax comes from public funds (the citizens taxes). The result is that hospitals need more funds to pay for more taxes that come from the same body that receives them!
Some years ago, hospitals were asking for VAT rate of 0%, and we all know that this is difficult to achieve under EU rules. Surprisingly a "minor" change in legislation last november has allowed the construction industry for VAT rate of 0%. The final buyer has to pay for the standard VAT amount, but those involved in the process don't have to.
Why does the UK have a reduced tax of 5% or tax exemption in health and we can't apply the same? 

 Dramophone by Caravan Palace

17 de gener 2013

The outcomes and the process in health policy

The tobacco ban in Spain: how it happened, a vision from inside the government

Politicians and high level officials often complain about the constraints of the political process. Once they have set up a clear goal, the outcome is subject to a process that it is out of their control. Rather than considering such fact as a failure, this is only a fact that sometimes may happen and others not. The case of tobacco legislation is an interesting political proces that you can check at the latest issue of Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Ildefonso Hernández, the former Director General de Salud Pública explains his experience with enacting a law that has had and it is still having strong impact on tobacco consumption and health.
If you want to have a whole picture of the political process in general, I would suggest you this recent book published by the World Bank: Understanding Policy Change. It covers all the critical issues of the political process. A must read for potential politicians and those to blame for policy and politics.

16 de gener 2013

Squeezing the lemon

Now we know that 5% of population has paid one third of pharmaceutical copayments that  started six months ago (one euro per prescription). About 45 m € have been collected. Just now, when a court from outside says that we have to withdraw such a measure. The issue is not about copayment, that is really working as expected, it's about power, about who sets the rules.
From the begining I considered that was a controversial measure. However, my impression is that it's effects will last. The decline in consumption, number of prescriptions, is a historical achievement: 21% in six months!. The question is, has this lower consumption had an impact on health?, if not, we have a serious problem of not taken such a measure before. Nowadays we don't know wether there were fewer prescriptions or less medicines dispensed. This fact is crucial and requires further scrutiny.
Up to now, over six months the top 5% consuming population has paid 36 € per person, it seems a very reasonable amount. The lemon has been squeezed reasonably.

A musical break with Caravan Palace

15 de gener 2013

Road safety at the top of Health in All Policies

Cost savings associated with 10 years of road safety policies in Catalonia

You can get a clear understanding of the impressive results of road safety policies with a quick look at this excellent article. The summary:
A substantial reduction in deaths from road traffic collisions was observed between 2000 and 2010. Between 2001 and 2010, with the implementation of new road safety policies, there were 26 063 fewer road traffic collisions with victims than expected, 2909 fewer deaths (57%) and 25 444 fewer hospitalizations. The estimated total cost savings were around €18 000 million. Of these, around 97% resulted from reductions in lost productivity. Of the remaining cost savings, 63% were associated with specialized health care, 15% with adapting to disability and 8.1% with hospital care.
In my opinion, next steps for additional reductions  in traffic accidents should be adressed with investment in renovation of roads. A clear example of such need is this recent demonstration or the current and tragic situation of N-II and other roads in Girona. You can follow it by twitter at  #VergonyaN2. Otherwise, you can watch this documentary, and you'll confirm how politicians can neglect citizens for years. After a decade, Catalonia is still waiting for public  investment coming from neighbouring country. Hopefully we will not have to wait for another decade. Soon we'll just keep our taxes and we'll belong to a new State. I't just a compelling argument to prevent mortality.

PS. WHO on Health in All Policies.

PS. On Moisés Broggi death. An interview included in the book "What Catalans want".

14 de gener 2013

Beware of the framing effect

Inevitably the debates over health reform are rooted in what we currently observe. And our perception is subject to be selected according to our preferences. Decision making under uncertainty has explained how individuals depart from rationality towards multiple biases and this is present everyday in health policy debates.
Currently, the demonstrations against what is called privatization of health services have achieved a difficult tipping point. Both parts, those that are in favour and those that are against are subject to framing effects. In simplest terms, a frame is a model, or lens, for understanding, interpreting, and solving a problem. Politicians have a number of frames that they use to judge people, simplify problems, and make decisions. While framing a concern represents the initial step toward a successful resolution, it is also the first place a decision can go wrong. Because most problems can be framed, or looked at, in more than one way, the lens politicians employ to define an issue can significantly influence how they respond.
And this is exactly what is happening. The frame under the current proposals is that "private management is cheaper". We are not discussing efficiency, lens are focusing on implicitly saving money. Unfortunately this frame should be confronted with the reality. Is it really cheaper? Is being cheaper enough?. Data is scarce and evidence is pending to be provided.
Therefore the recommendation would be: frame the problem from a larger number of reference points and perspectives. A variety of frames allows the decision maker to evaluate the goodness of fit with the specific context. And this is what nobody wants to talk about, about the context. Different ownership alternatives may contribute to efficiency in different ways according to context and the behaviour of the regulator.

PS. On framing bias in medicine and how to tackle it.

07 de gener 2013

Una vida en bona salut

Saber de què emmalalteixen i de què moren les poblacions, és la primera preocupació de l'epidemiologia. I també ho ha de ser per a un economista de la salut. La millor forma a data d'avui de saber-ho,  és llegir sencer el Lancet del 15 de desembre passat. La publicació del Global Burden of Disease (GBD) per a 2010 ofereix informació detallada sobre la qüestió. M'he guardat especialment l'article referit a l'esperança de vida en bona salut, que confirma allò que sabem: "la geografia forma part també del teu destí". Les diferències són notables, podeu consultar les taules completes. Veureu Andorra i Espanya al top 10 mundial en esperança de vida. Aquest fet hauria de fer-nos reflexionar sobre les causes i les conseqüències que se'n deriven, què cal preservar i què cal millorar. I especialment convindria fer-ho en aquest moment convuls que vivim, on moltes qüestions pengen d'un fil molt prim que es pot trencar en qualsevol moment.

PS. No he trobat per ara cap estimació de l'esperança de vida en bona salut dels catalans més actualitzada.
La darrera és del 2005, 63 anys per als homes (81,5% de la vida), 60,6 per les dones (72,3% de la vida). Algú la deu tenir però al Pla de Salut només surt aquesta i si no hi és potser que algú s'afanyi. Convindria tenir la del 2010 perquè malauradament aquesta vegada no hi és al GBD, però estic convençut que a la propera edició ja hi serà.

PS. Els 18 factors per construir el GBD en un gràfic i la base de dades sencera.

PS. La salut dels palestins també al Lancet,  on també trobareu la carta del bon amic Norbert que explica el que fa Healing across the divides.

PS. Per cert, els de TV3 s'ho han de fer mirar novament. L'enaltiment i l'apologia del risc contrari a la salut hauria d'evitar-se amb diners públics. Em refereixo al reportatge en hora punta de Kilian Jornet. Desconec on és el CAC, però si algú vol emprendre tals aventures que ho faci pel seu propi compte, el pitjor és difondre-les amb recursos públics. Cal rebutjar aquest tipus de promoció de riscos innecessaris per la salut i la vida.

PS. Bon comentari de Sergi Pàmies sobre la qüestió.

PS. Aquí us deixo en David Cutler i la seva lliçó inaugural del curs a la UPF. Haureu de dedicar-hi una hora i mitja del vostre temps.