30 d’octubre 2013

Waiting guarantee(d)

International comparisons of waiting times in health care – Limitations and prospects

Waiting times are the natural barrier for access to health care in non-market health systems, where willingness to pay it is not the criteria to allocate resources. Regulators know it and they set up some guarantees, a maximum time for access, otherwise there is a need to find an alternative. While this system may appear an improvement, it may produce some distorsions in incentives.
In my opinion, waiting times should be reviewed on a prioritisation criteria, and may be after some guaranteed should be applied. General guarantees distort the aim of such process.
Anyway, we are still waiting for a regulation on prioritisation of waiting lists. Long time ago was anounced, and long time ago was blocked. There is no reason to delay it indefinitely.
If you want to have a look at international data, read this article and its methodological considerations:
The study shows the need for a more coherent approach to waiting times measurement, if  international comparisons are to be made. Currently, there are wide differences in what  countries measure and how they measure it, were they start the measurements and what measures are presented. Few international comparisons of waiting times have been published and none has solely relied on official national statistics.

With The Changing Lights, Stacey Kent attains an even higher level of accuracy 
of tone and delicacy of expression.
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29 d’octubre 2013

Mounting evidence about sugar-obesity link

Sugar: Consumption at a crossroads

Should the government and health officials do more to reduce consumption of sugar, and will they in your opinion? The answer is yes, 90% of the European population consider that governments need to act,  but only 52% believe the governments will do it, according to the Credit Suisse Equity Research Nutrition Survey, 2013. You'll find the details in this report.
Why so many people consider that right now something should be done about sugar intake?. Basically because everybody is increasingly convinced about the relationship between excessive sugar consumption and obesity.
The report is a good guide for all the implications and potential governmental regulation and industry self-regulation.
Definitely, something should be done, asap.

28 d’octubre 2013

The value of clinical pathways

Beneficis de l’organització de l’atenció sanitària a les persones amb ictus: mortalitat evitada i impacte econòmic

The size of efficiency improvement that stems from wide application of clinical pathways is huge.The stroke case has shown a reduction in 7,1% of deaths between 2005 and 2012. The study adds some estimates about benefits for society of saved years: 540 m euros. I'm not so sure about this figure, since it doesn't adjust for quality. The issue deserves a larger research, we need to understand the outcomes and quality of such protocol, known as "ICTUS Code".
Anyway, these are promising results and a good reason to strengthen clinical pathways on a general basis.

23 d’octubre 2013

The rights and wrongs of headlines

Imagine that you see this headline in the newspaper: "Private health insurance has new 100.000 members". You may think, that's quite a lot. And you forget to read that this news reflects two years, not only one. And you go inside the report and you see that in 2011 there was an artificial jump because 4 companies had not reported previously.
And finally you are looking desperately for the right number. How many people have really bought a voluntary insurance policy in 2012? The answer is 47.370 new members, that's the right figure.
The duplicate coverage ratio is up 0,20 percentage points, to 24,6% of the population (1.842.121) p.22.
And that's all. Forget the newspaper, go straight to the report. This is the advantage of internet access and the reason why some journalists should rethink their work, they should avoid press releases and verify data.

PS.You'll not be able find the original press release on the internet, it has been removed.

16 d’octubre 2013

ED Crowding

Informe de l’activitat notificada al Registre del conjunt mínim bàsic de dades d’urgències

How many visits to the emergency department are really urgent?. Up to now we hadn't a clear answer. A recent report says clearly that according to triage data, 13,3% of visits at hospitals ED are non-urgent. Is this figure accurate?. Well, if we look at the US, 12% of visits are non-urgent. We know that triage data is the only possible source for this evaluation right now. Other approaches are possible, but require larger effort.
From the data, we can conclude that reducing non-urgent care at ED is always important, but may have low impact on ED crowding.
In p.13 of the report I find that 3,9% of visits have uncertain funding. I can't understand why. Only 4.681 visits were performed under international social security agreements, it seems that there are very few cases.
Anyway, it is the first release of the report, and this is good news. We need such information to understand what's going on.

14 d’octubre 2013

Behavioural economic-informed regulation

From Nudging to Budging: Using Behavioural Economics to Inform Public Sector Policy

Is it possible to design a regulatory mechanism to budge the private sector away from socially harmful acts?. Adam Oliver, from LSE offers his view at the Journal of Social Policy:
The role of government is not, for the most part, to interfere with personal lifestyle choices unless those choices present harms – or negative externalities – to others, although the government may be warranted in enforcing some behaviours designed to protect people principally from themselves if the intervention is considered openly and explicitly and supported widely, such as seatbelt legislation. The most effective way of preventing people or organisations harming others is to regulate their activities. Nudge is anti-regulation, but behavioural economics is not.
An awareness of the main behavioural economic findings – for example, present bias, reference points, loss aversion and nonlinear probability weighting – can help to inform decisions on where and how to regulate (for instance, traffic light food labelling), and may also ensure that public officials gain a better understanding of their own decision making limitations.
As I have said before, the idea sounds appealing, its implementation remains uncertain.

11 d’octubre 2013

The size of the loss

Estadística dels centres hospitalaris de Catalunya, 2011

We live in difficult times. Economic downturn continues, although some politicians say the opposite. If we take 2011 hospital data, the size of the loss of private acute hospitals was 4,9% of income (33,7 m euro), for public utilization hospitals: 1,3% (71,7 m euro). Two different patterns emerge, in private hospitals income and expenditure increases, while in public hospitals income and expenditure drops (p.32). Public beds per 1000 inhabitants falls in 14 basic points, while in private is quite the same (+1 basic point).
Let's wait for 2012 report.

09 d’octubre 2013

Charting a new territory: health systems vulnerability

Learning from Economic Downturns How to Better Assess, Track, and Mitigate the Impact on the Health Sector

Regarding the measurement of country-specific health system vulnerability to economic crises in comparison to peers and over time, the WB new report says:
Compared to other fields, such as food security (Food Price Watch 2012; Messier et al. 2012) and environmental vulnerability (SOPAC 2010), the health system lags behind in providing standardized definitions, metrics, and applied tools that would help assess crisis-related vulnerabilities. There are no descriptive tools that would allow for retrospective comparison, let alone predictive tools that would enable early warning signals.
The vulnerability assessment that they propose sounds of interest at a first glance. Spain, Cyprus, Italy and Greece are at the top of european ranking of vulnerability (p.60). Data come from 2010, rigth now the position would be a different one, even worse than before. The problem is that variation within each country is huge, comparing countries is an easy way to forget such differences.

08 d’octubre 2013

Fundamental misconceptions about health economists and economics

Economics: the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the world?

Twitter is a risky tool. Your short messages are seen worldwide, be careful. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, sent 10 tweets about economics and economists. Ten misconceptions, one behind the other. Certain people consider that such sentences doesn't deserve an answer, they only reflect the personality and knowledge of the author. Others, like David Parkin, John Appleby and Alan Maynard think the opposite and they decided to write a comment this week in The Lancet. This is an article for the files. And it fits perfectly as a recommended reading for those that share these controversial views of Richard Horton:

Panel: Tweets from @richardhorton: “Economics, second only to ‘management’, may just be the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the world.”
The case against economics:
1 The promise economics offers is seductive: how to allocate scarce resources in society.
It’s a false promise.
2 Economists write as if the economy=society, and societal problems=economic problems. The confl ation is false too.
3 Once there was political economy = economics, ethics, politics. Economists have stripped morality from economics, leaving an arid science.
4 The high points of economic thinking are theories, not data. Reliable experimentally derived data are anathema for most economists.
5 Economists see health as an economic good. It is an opportunity cost, with zero intrinsic value.
6 Rationality, for the economist, means subjecting every thought/decision to a cost-benefit analysis. A wholly narrow view of humanity.
7 The big idea in economics is the market. The assumption is that human beings make cost-benefit decisions based only on self-interest.
8 The essence of economics is price. For those in health who argue for access free at point of delivery, we kill the soul of the economist.
9 Economists deny the existence of citizens. They see only consumers.
10 Finally, it’s acceptable to worsen the lives of some provided the gains of others compensate. Economists institutionalise inequality.A sum of nonsense sentences, one behind the other. 
After reading the comment to each of these tweets, it will be difficult to maintain the same position.
And the authors' conclusion:
What motivated Horton’s critical outburst about economics and economists is not clear. More than 40 years ago, an essay by Alan Williams to defend economic evaluation admitted its imperfections, but concluded with Maurice Chevalier’s view on old age: “Well, there is quite a lot I don’t like about it, but it’s not so bad when you consider the alternative!”Economics, like medicine, is imperfect. The challenge for practitioners of each is to ensure that the perfect does not drive out the good. Our practices may at times be imperfect, but that should not inhibit our drive to improve clinical practice and economic activity for the benefit of all our patients and citizens. We all must strive to avoid confused analysis in displays of modest understanding of each other’s work.

07 d’octubre 2013

Becoming a physician in your country

Once again I have to explain that we live in a weird country. Imagine for a while that you are at the moment of taking the difficult decision about your future professional career. Imagine that you would like to become a physician. You live in a country that still needs new physicians and in the near future a lot of them will retire. If you succeed on that challenge, then you belong to one third (37%) of those that this year have entered into the profession.
The question is why are we not able to fill the remaining 73% with candidates coming from our towns and cities?. There is a perfect messy regulation that blocks any posibility that the students interested in medicine, with excellent curricula and grades, can enter university.
This is a way to constrain career and life development for new generations and restrict access to close professionals for the population. A complete human made disaster. There is only one possibility to survive in such situation, a quick disconnection.