31 de desembre 2018

Times of resistance

The economist Albert O. Hirschman famously argued that citizens of democracies have only three possible responses to injustice or wrongdoing by their governments: we may leave, complain, or comply. But in When All Else Fails, Jason Brennan argues that there is a fourth option. When governments violate our rights, we may resist. We may even have a moral duty to do so.
For centuries, almost everyone has believed that we must allow the government and its representatives to act without interference, no matter how they behave. We may complain, protest, sue, or vote officials out, but we can’t fight back. But Brennan makes the case that we have no duty to allow the state or its agents to commit injustice. We have every right to react with acts of “uncivil disobedience.” We may resist arrest for violation of unjust laws. We may disobey orders, sabotage government property, or reveal classified information. We may deceive ignorant, irrational, or malicious voters. We may even use force in self-defense or to defend others.
The result is a provocative challenge to long-held beliefs about how citizens may respond when government officials behave unjustly or abuse their power.
Food for thought.

22 de desembre 2018

Welfare State apocalypsis


Too many people argue over the end of the welfare state. There are reasons for concern, but apocalyptic views are unnecessary. A new book reviews the ageing process and the implications for the welfare state. The message is a balanced perspective:
Upon closer inspection, available evidence suggests that caring for a growing older population may not be so costly to finance and that older people provide significant economic and societal benefits, especially when healthy and active:
– Population ageing has a modest and very gradual effect on health expenditure forecasts, compared
to traditional cost drivers such as price growth and technological innovation.
– Demand for long-term care is expected to increase substantially due to population ageing but it is coming from a low baseline currently. However, projected increases in long-term care spending do not account for the economic cost of informal long-term care, as this is not captured in international statistics (nor fully understood).
– Many older people continue to provide paid or unpaid work beyond official retirement age and continue to make a positive economic and societal contribution. The value of unpaid work provided by older people is considerable but not regularly quantified.
– While in Europe older people's consumption is mainly financed by public transfers, many older people pay for (part of) their consumption from private sources, including from incomes from their own continued work or from accumulated assets.
– Accumulation of asset wealth also benefits the economy indirectly through its contribution to productivity growth; health is a key predictor of asset accumulation.
– Older people, even if not in paid employment, continue to pay consumption and other non-labour-related taxes, and thus contribute to public-sector revenues.
 Mostly, I agree with this view. The retirement funding issue is the largest challenge for the welfare state and our politicians are playing with fire.

19 de desembre 2018

At a glance

Health at a Glance: Europe 2018

Every two years OECD publishes this report for the European Union on the state of health. The new one has an interesting thematic chapter on mental health. It says:
According to the latest IHME estimates, more than one in six people across EU countries (17.3%) had a mental health problem in 2016  – that is, nearly 84 million people.
The most common mental disorder across EU countries is anxiety disorder, with an estimated 25 million people (or 5.4% of the population) living with anxiety disorders, followed by depressive disorders, which affect over 21 million people (or 4.5% of the
population).An estimated 11 million people across EU countries (2.4%) have drug and alcohol use disorders. Severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorders affect almost 5 million people (1.0% of the population), while schizophrenic disorders affect another estimated 1.5 million people (0.3%).
And the second thematic chapter is about health expenditure: Strategies to reduce wasteful spending: Turning the lens to hospitals and pharmaceuticals. It says:
For hospitals, reducing or eliminating unnecessary investigations and procedures, many of which expose patients to unnecessary risks without the prospect of clinical benefit, is an obvious target for direct intervention. Expanding the use of day surgery can also be instigated at hospital level. However minimising avoidable admissions, particularly for ambulatory care-sensitive conditions, reducing unnecessary length of stay, and improving discharge processes require broader perspectives. Enhanced primary care services, expanded postacute care facilities, post-discharge care coordination, and in home care services all require health system reforms that cannot be initiated by hospitals  alone.
For pharmaceuticals, creating and supporting competitive markets and promoting the uptake of generics and biosimilars can generate substantial savings. That said, reducing waste does not necessarily mean spending less; it may equally be achieved by gaining better value for money from existing expenditure. Both supply and demand side levers offer scope for better value. Using health technology assessment to inform selection, pricing and procurement of new medicines facilitates an understanding of the true opportunity costs of therapies and helps avoid the displacement of high value interventions with ones of lesser value.
This is not new. We have already heard the same for years. Therefore, current inertia is supported by strong incentives that prevent change (either in policy or management). This is the key challenge.

16 de desembre 2018

Broken markets create broken politics

Monopolies and the Death of Competition

These are some selected key messages from the book:
Capitalism without competition is not capitalism.
Competition matters because it prevents unjust inequality, rather than the transfer of wealth from consumer or supplier to the monopolist. If there is no competition, consumers and workers have less freedom to choose. Competition creates clear price signals in markets, driving supply and demand. It promotes efficiency. Competition creates more choices, more innovation, economic development and growth, and a stronger democracy by dispersing economic power. It promotes individual initiative and freedom. Competition is the essence of capitalism, yet it is dying.
Competition is the basis for evolution. An absence of competition means an absence of evolution, a failure to adapt to new conditions. It threatens our survival. There are fewer winners and many losers when there is less competition. Rising market power by dominant firms has created less competition, lower investment in the real economy, lower productivity, less economic dynamism with fewer startups, higher prices for dominant firms, lower wages and more wealth inequality. The evidence from economic studies is pouring in like a flood.
As you may imagine, what the authors do is precisely to show the evidence of the monopolist and oligopolist activities in the US markets. Our close markets are in the same situation and antitrust authorities are failing to preserve competition. Unfortunately, recent legislation has not helped to reverse the trend. Higly recommendable book.

The author 6 years ago at TV3:

15 de desembre 2018

Ill-prepared for the arrival of new medicines

Pharmaceutical Innovation and Access to Medicines

While in the last years the number of new drugs in the market has been limited, this trend has changed and countries may expect larger bills in the next future. The OECD report explains the main challenges of pharmaceutical innovation and says:
Despite a slowdown in growth in the 2000s, pharmaceutical spending has nevertheless increased sharply in some therapeutic areas, such as oncology and certain rare diseases where many new medicines target small population groups and command high prices. While these may well address unmet needs, they often have prices that may not be justified by the health benefits they confer.
Countries may be ill-prepared for the arrival of novel medicines targeting wide  population groups. In 2013, the first of a new class of very effective but expensive
drugs known as direct-acting anti-virals (DAAs) for hepatitis C created a shock due to the potential budget impact of treating all infected people. Many countries initially restricted access to the most severely affected patients, creating frustration among patients and clinicians alike. Although subsequent entries of alternative products have created competition on prices and allowed payers to expand eligibility to treatment, the initial shock highlighted the lack of readiness of payers for such events.
In some countries, sudden, large price increases for off-patent medicines have made important treatments unaffordable for patients.
Finally, innovation is lacking in certain areas of high-unmet need, such as new antimicrobials, non-vascular dementia, and some rare diseases.
The report summarises different proposals and measures that would be helpful for a government that cares about citizens' welfare. Unfortunately, this is not our case.

12 de desembre 2018

The charade of doing well by doing good

Winners Take All

Anand Ghiridhas has done a great job with his new book. He has set up the context for understanding the duality government elites. I've picked only several key statements. The whole book is well written and gives a lot of examples (US-based of course).
Many millions of Americans, on the left and right, feel one thing in common: that the game is rigged against people like them. Perhaps this is why we hear constant condemnation of “the system,” for it is the system that people expect to turn fortuitous developments into societal progress. Instead, the system—in America and around the world—has been organized to siphon the gains from innovation upward, such that the fortunes of the world’s billionaires now grow at more than double the pace of everyone else’s, and the top 10 percent of humanity have come to hold 90 percent of the planet’s wealth.
Some elites faced with this kind of gathering anger have hidden behind walls and gates and on landed estates, emerging only to try to seize even greater political power to protect themselves against the mob. But in recent years a great many fortunate people have also tried something else, something both laudable and self-serving: They have tried to help by taking ownership of the problem.
What is at stake is whether the reform of our common life is led by governments elected by and accountable to the people, or rather by wealthy elites claiming to know our best interests. We must decide whether, in the name of ascendant values such as efficiency and scale, we are willing to allow democratic purpose to be usurped by private actors who often genuinely aspire to improve things but, first things first, seek to protect themselves. Yes, government is dysfunctional at present. But that is all the more reason to treat its repair as our foremost national priority.

09 de desembre 2018

Claiming for global regulation of genome editing

Genome editing and human reproduction

The Nuffield Council of Bioethics release last July a key document on Bioethics of Genetics. Now that a chinese "scientist" claims to have edited the genomes of twin baby girls is the right moment to read it. And the key principles are:
Principle 1: The welfare of the future person
Gametes or embryos that have been subject to genome editing procedures (or that are derived from cells that have been subject to such procedures) should be used only where the procedure is carried out in a manner and for a purpose that is intended to secure the welfare of and is consistent with the welfare of a person who may be born as a consequence of treatment using those cells.
Principle 2: Social justice and solidarity
The use of gametes or embryos that have been subject to genome editing procedures (or that are derived from cells that have been subject to such procedures) should be permitted only in circumstances in which it cannot reasonably be expected to produce or exacerbate social division or the unmitigated marginalisation or disadvantage of groups within society.
New concerns are arising from CRISPR application and international regulations would be necessary to cope with them. The Association for responsible research and innovation in genome editing is precisely requesting this effort. The only precedents are the Declaration of Human Rights and it seems that it will not be an easy task to fulfill.

PS. Check the former post on Nuffield reports on this topic

02 de desembre 2018

Ageing policies, a long way ahead


A new book by WHO provides some insights about the impact of ageing. The frame of the message is built around these questions:
1. What are the implications of population ageing for health and long-term care needs and costs?
2. What are the implications of population ageing for paid and unpaid work?
3. What are the implications of population ageing for the acceptability, equity and
effectiveness of financing care and consumption?
4. The policy options: How can decision-makers respond to population ageing?
5. Building on what we know and improving the evidence base for policy-making.
And these are the policies they suggest:
I. Policies to promote healthy and active ageing
II. Policies to promote cost-effective health and long-term care interventions
III. Policies that support paid and unpaid work
IV. Policies to support acceptable, equitable and efficient funding and income transfers
This is just a start. Since ageing is a multidimensional issue, governmental policies should embrace a wider multisector strategy (that the book forgets). There is a long way ahead.

Doctor Prats - Caminem junts

23 de novembre 2018

Driving evidence-based health policy

Driving Better Health Policy: “It’s the Evidence, Stupid”

Baicker and Chandra are backing an evidence-based health policy. I reviewed it in a previous post. Now the Uwe Reinhardt Memorial Lecture insists on it.
Speaking in favor of evidence-based health policy can be more controversial than one might think. Health policy analysts, health services researchers, and economists in particular often get in trouble by trying to quantify what many hold as unquantifiable and trying to put a price tag on what many think should be priceless.
This is the ouline of the lecture:
Slogans are Not Policies
Differentiating Between Goals and Policies
Evidence is Rarely Straightforward
Fact Patterns Alone Do Not Reveal Policy Effects
Separating Evidence from Preferences
Using Evidence to Inform Policy
And these are the take-away messages:
  • Serious policy assessment requires a detailed description of the policy—slogans are not policies.
  • Clearly articulating and differentiating between goals and policies is crucial to evaluating the most effective way to achieve policy goals.
  • Evidence is often mixed or ambiguous. Researchers should not let their own policy preferences bias their interpretation or synthesis of the evidence. 
  • Evidence does not speak for itself. Researchers need to dedicate effort to timely, accessible, reliable translation.
Agreed. Unfortunately, our close politicians are not interested in evidence if it goes against their ideological criteria. Therefore, claiming evidence for health policy is useless, unless the premise of "politicians will take into account evidence" is really credible. The lecture forgot this "minor" issue, the cognitive biases of health policy.

Josep Segú

17 de novembre 2018

In favour of positive discrimination for troublemakers

IN DEFENSE OF TROUBLEMAKERS: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business
L'Illusion du consensus

Charlan Nemeth has done a great job explaining the role of dissent in life and organizations. Her last book shows exactly what happens when we emphasize excessively the consensus.
Rather than worry about appeasing others or making sure we do not offend by disagreeing with them, the message of this book is that there is importance and value in authentic debate. The idea that dissent causes irritation and conflict is only partially accurate. Dissent and debate also bring joy and invigorate discussion. Best of all, genuine dissent and debate not only make us think but make us think well. We become free to “know what we know.” We make better decisions, find more creative solutions, and are better able to render justice.
The topic has strong connections with political correctness and hate. The book by Chantal Mouffe addresses this issue with precision.
Afin d’éviter toute confusion, je devrais peut-être préciser que, contrairement à certains penseurs postmodernes qui envisagent un pluralisme sans aucune frontière, je ne crois pas qu’une politique démocratique doive considérer comme légitimes toutes les revendications formulées dans un société donnée. Le pluralisme que je défends exige de discriminer parmi ces demandes celles que l’on peut accepter comme faisant partie du débat démocratique et celles qui doivent en être exclues. Une société démocratique ne peut pas traiter comme des adversaires légitimes ceux qui remettent en question ses institutions de base. L’approche agonistique ne prétend pas englober toutes les différences ni abolir toutes formes d’exclusion. Mais les exclusions sont envisagées en termes politiques et non pas en termes moraux. Certaines revendications se trouvent exclues de fait, non parce qu’elles sont « mauvaises », mais parce qu’elles défient les institutions constitutives de l’association politique démocratique. Entendons-nous bien, la nature des institutions fait aussi partie du débat agonistique, mais pour qu’un tel débat puisse avoir lieu, l’existence d’un espace symbolique partagé est nécessaire. C’est cette idée que j’ai voulu exprimer quand j’ai soutenu, dans le chapitre 1, que la démocratie nécessitait un « consensus conflictuel » : consensus sur les valeurs éthico-politiques de liberté et d’égalité pour tous mais dissensus sur leur interprétation. Il faut par conséquent tracer une ligne de démarcation entre ceux qui rejettent complètement ces valeurs et ceux qui, tout en les acceptant, en défendent des interprétations opposées.
Troublemakers as dissenters in politics are welcome. Though, if they want to undermine democracy, then forget any positive discrimination. This is not their place.

PS. Bad blood wins the Business book of the year contest.

Oriol Romaní

16 de novembre 2018

"Going Dutch" in regulating the mandatory coverage

Can universal access be achieved in a voluntary private health insurance market? Dutch private insurers caught between competing logics

Healthcare in The Netherlands is widely seen as a benchmark for many scholars. Though it is expensive, it combines mandatory coverage with the choice of private insurance coverage. Sounds of interest, though the devil is in the details.
This article explains the main issues surrounding such model:
The Dutch history of voluntary private health insurance shows both the strengths and weaknesses of public–private health insurance systems, especially in the context of a rising demand for (universal) access to health care. As we have explained, social and private health insurance are based on two divergent logics of different institutional orders (the market and the state).
The Dutch case strongly  suggests that universal access can only be achieved in a competitive individual private health insurance market if this market is effectively regulated. The tension between adverse selection and universal access that had vexed the Dutch private health insurance industry throughout its existence was resolved by combining elements from both the insurance logic and the welfare state logic: i.e. an individual mandate, guaranteed issue, community-rated premiums, income-related subsidies and a sophisticated risk equalization scheme .
Achieving universal access in a competitive private health insurance market is institutionally complex and requires broad political and societal support.
Therefore, unless there is a smart regulator, forget it...

PS. Spanish embroglio at Marginal revolution.

PS. How is Obamacare doing?

From Lisa Eckdahl latest album

14 de novembre 2018

Provider payment strategies to improve health

Value-based provider payment: towards a theoretically preferred design

The case for improving health is related, among many things, with the incentive structure of the whole system (people, professionals and providers). If we focus our aim towards providers, then we need to reassess current flaws in the system, and ask what do we have to do. A new article tries to address these issues.
In order to tackle the problems related to current payment methods, worldwide, policymakers and purchasers of care are exploring alternative payment strategies to help steering health care systems towards value . A well-known endeavour in this regard is pay-for-performance (P4P), in which providers are explicitly rewarded for ‘doing a better job’. Although P4P is an appealing idea, explicit financial incentives for value should in principle be used only modestly in provider payment methods because of the multitasking problem. Therefore, it is not surprising that in practice, the majority of provider revenues (typically referred to as the base payment) is not explicitly linked to value. This base payment, however, does create implicit (dis)incentives for value, because each payment method influences providers’ behaviour through incentives.
The article reflects a conceptual framework of key components and design features of a theoretically preferred Value Based Payment method. And the key message is:
We conclude that value is ideally conceptualised as a multifaceted concept, comprising not only high quality of care at the lowest possible costs but also efficient cooperation, innovation and health promotion. Second, starting from these value dimensions, we derived various design features of a theoretically preferred VBP model. We conclude that in order to stimulate value in a broad sense, the payment should consist of two main components that must be carefully designed. The first component is a risk-adjusted global base payment with risk-sharing elements paid to a multidisciplinary provider group for the provision of (virtually) the full continuum of care to a certain population. The second component is a relatively low-powered variable payment that explicitly rewards aspects of value that can be adequately measured.
I fully agree with what they say. Close politicians and officials should take this message into consideration regarding the next primary care physicians' strike, and forget the current confusing approach.

Norman Rockwell 
Estimate $5,000,000 — 7,000,000
(It may be yours, upcoming auction at Sotheby's)

11 de novembre 2018

Living with dementia

Care Needed. Improving the lives of people with dementia

Across the OECD, nearly 19 million people are living with dementia. Millions of family members and friends provide care and support to loved ones with dementia throughout their lives. Until a cure or disease-modifying treatment for dementia is developed, the progress of the disease cannot be stopped. 
We all know cases of close relatives with dementia, and we understand the suffering that surrounds the disease. OECD has made a good job coping with this difficult topic.
These are the three key chapters:

  • Identifying people with dementia 
  • Helping people with dementia live well in the community 
  • Health and long-term care services for advanced dementia are poor

As people live at home longer, communities need to be better equipped to meet the needs
of people living with dementia. Post-diagnostic care pathways can help connect people with dementia and their families with available services. But communities themselves must also adapt: community-friendly initiatives that train local populations and businesses to respond more effectively to people with dementia can help to reduce stigma around dementia while making the environment safer and more welcoming. Aging at home also means that informal carers will play an important role in supporting people with dementia. Informal carers should receive the support they need, and governments should assess whether existing services for carers are also adequate for carers of people with dementia, who may have unique needs.
Definitely, every country needs to develop a strategy for this disease. Catalonia has already defined its strategy, though resources are not enough.

Jaume Plensa at Madison Square Park

10 de novembre 2018

Next generation sequencing is knocking at the door (and the door is open)

Genetic testing: Opportunities to unlock value in precision medicine
Next-Generation Sequencing to Diagnose Suspected Genetic Disorders
Documento de consenso sobre la implementación de la secuenciación masiva de nueva generación en el diagnóstico genético de la predisposición hereditaria al cáncer

This week I've been reading three pieces on the same topic. First, a McKinsey insight on genetic testing, second a NEJM basic article that reviews the whole state of the issue, and third a consensus by three societies on how to implement next generation sequencing .
All of them are required reading for anyone interested in the topic. You'll notice that technology is knocking at the door and we do need to understand how to manage it. Otherwise it will enter anyway (without knocking) and then it will be more value extraction (by others) than value creation (for patients).
Unfortunately, what you'll not find in these articles is how to manage the introduction of the technology with organizational patterns, allocation and coordination of tasks and decisions. If you want some clues on this, read my previous post on Geisinger, they are applying what it seems to me the most appropriate perspective.

Sense Sal-Fins que surti el sol

09 de novembre 2018

The Cost of End-of-Life Care

The Myth Regarding the High Cost of End-of-Life Care
Systematic review of high-cost patients’ characteristics and healthcare utilisation

The size of the healthcare costs at the end of life is properly reflected in this article (forget exaggerations):
We estimated that in 2011, among those with the highest costs, only 11% were in their last year of life, and approximately 13% of the $1.6 trillion spent on personal healthcare costs in the United States was devoted to care of individuals in their last year of life.
Longitudinal analyses of spending show that the population with the highest annual health care costs can be divided into 3 broad illness trajectories:
  • individuals who have high health care costs because it is their last year of life (population at the end of life), 
  • individuals who experience a significant health event during a given year but who return to stable health (population with a discrete high-cost event and,
  • individuals who persistently generate high annual health care costs owing to chronic conditions, functional limitations, or other conditions but who are not in their last year of life and live for several years generating high health care expenses (population with persistent high costs).
Understanding individual costs is a required step for the analysis and improvement of healthcare delivery. Unfortunately it is a marginal practice. For a systematic review, check this article.

‘Windrush: A Celebration’, Barbican,
London, November 17, barbican.org .uk

08 de novembre 2018

Pharmarketing impact on prescribing behaviour

Influence of pharmaceutical marketing on Medicare prescriptions in the District of Columbia

Gifts from pharmaceutical companies are believed to influence prescribing behavior, but few studies have addressed the association between industry gifts to physicians and drug costs, prescription volume, or preference for generic drugs
Governments in USA and EU have enacted laws for greater transparency of the relationship between pharma firms and physicians. Unfortunately evidence is limited about the concrete impact of gifts on physicians prescribing decisions.
This article sheds light on the issue and its conclusions say:
In 2013, 1,122 (39.1%) of 2,873 Medicare Part D prescribers received gifts from pharmaceutical companies totaling $3.9 million in 2013. Compared to non-gift recipients, gift recipients prescribed 2.3 more claims per patient, prescribed medications costing $50 more per claim, and prescribed 7.8% more branded drugs. In six specialties (General Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Urology, Ophthalmology, and Dermatology), gifts were associated with a significantly increased average cost of claims. For Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, and Ophthalmology, gifts were associated with more branded claims. Gift acceptance was associated with increased average cost per claim for PAs and NPs. Gift acceptance was also associated with higher proportion of branded claims for PAs but not NPs. Physicians who received small gifts (less than $500 annually) had more expensive claims ($114 vs. $85) and more branded claims (30.3% vs. 25.7%) than physicians who received no gifts. Those receiving large gifts (greater than $500 annually) had the highest average costs per claim ($189) and branded claims (39.9%) than other groups.
If gifts from pharmaceutical companies are associated with more prescriptions per patient, more costly prescriptions, and a higher proportion of branded prescriptions, then all of us as patients have to be concerned. And my impression is that regulation is not enough. Maybe one day the doors of  physician offices will reflect current pharma payments to the patients. Right now they have to look at the web.
Beyond this, I suggest you check this news and you'll see the current flaws between pharma and research.

Museu Picasso. Barcelona

27 d’octubre 2018

The "secret sauce" of Kaiser Permanente

Financing and Payment Strategies to Support High-Quality
Care for People with Serious Illness: Proceedings of a

A recent report by NASEM explains in one paragraph what is the key factor of succesful Kaiser Permanente model:
The “secret sauce” that enables Kaiser Permanente to deliver high quality care, explained Annet Arakelian, executive director of Medicare strategy and care delivery at Kaiser, is the way it has aligned its revenues and expenses. Kaiser’s revenue comes from the Kaiser Foundation health plan that collects premiums from groups, individual members, and some prospective contracts with government payers. Expenses go through a hospital
service agreement with Kaiser Foundation hospitals and a capitated medical service agreement with the Permanente Medical Groups that employ the physicians who work at Kaiser hospitals and clinics. The hospitals and foundation are nonprofit organizations, while the medical groups are for profit agencies with their own board of directors and governance processes. Incentives are aligned across the hospitals, health plan, and medical groups on quality metrics, as well as financial and regulatory initiatives.
Great definition. This is the ingredient for success. And you'll understand why it is so difficult to replicate in a private world with vested interests between different stakeholders: insurers and providers. The nonprofit element of the foundation and hospitals is crucial.

Second statement. Regarding the report on how to pay for serious illness:
Susan Wang, regional lead for shared decision making at the Southern
California Permanente Medical Group, explained that Kaiser’s approach to
comprehensive financing of serious illness care begins with a population
health perspective, which stems from the capitated arrangement that features
a fixed payment per person enrolled in its medical groups. “Because
we are capitated, we are accountable for our entire membership, it behooves
us to touch our patients at every opportunity,” said Wang
Summary: Kaiser has a patient centered strategy. Finance follows the patient not the specific illness. Great. Agree.

26 d’octubre 2018

The media and the Theranos incredible deception

On Theranos failure, highly recommended for journalists.
From CBSNEWS, a basic piece to understand the power of the media in creating and destroying (false) value:

Was the media duped by Elizabeth Holmes?
A conversation with 60 Minutes about media coverage of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her hot startup, Theranos

20 d’octubre 2018

The biggest financial heist in history

The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World

In 2009, with the dust yet to settle on the financial crisis, a baby-faced, seemingly mild-mannered Wharton grad began setting in motion a fraud of unprecedented gall and magnitude – one that would come to symbolize the next great threat to the global financial system. His name is Jho Low, a man whose behavior was so preposterous he might seem made up.
An epic true-tale of hubris and greed from two Pulitzer-finalist Wall Street Journal reporters, Billion Dollar Whale reveals how a young social climber pulled off one of the biggest financial heists in history–right under the nose of the global financial industry–exposing the shocking secret nexus of elite wealth, banking, Hollywood, and politics
This book is specially helpful to understand our times. There are value creators and at the same time value extractors. Beyond them there is the greatest fraudster, Jho Low, a guy that stole $3.5 billion from Malaysian sovereign fund 1MDB, and helped former Malaysia president to get $700m.The total amount of the heist could be $6.5 billion, 2.5% of Malaysian GDP. If you want to know the details, just read the book.
It is strongly recommended to understand the corruption of the global financial system and audit firms  (Goldman Sachs, Deloitte et al.). This guy would not have been able to commit any theft without their help.
Once you have started the book it will be difficult to stop. Right now, there are others following Jho Low's path and value extractors are among us. Our institutions are extremely fragile tackling these issues. Just take this week cum/ex fraud:.
The German finance ministry said it was aware of 418 different cases of cum-ex tax fraud with a combined value of €5.7bn, adding that any guess about the total damage caused was “speculation” as the investigations were still ongoing.
An investigation published on Thursday by Correctiv, a German non-profit investigative journalism group, and 19 news organisations, cited leaked spreadsheets that show “an organised theft from the tax coffers of at least ten European states, besides Germany” that it claimed had cost taxpayers about €55.2bn.

18 d’octubre 2018

Forecasting global life expectancy and morbidity

Forecasting life expectancy, years of life lost, and all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 250 causes of death: reference and alternative scenarios for 2016–40 for 195 countries and territories

Key messages from The Lancet article:
Global life expectancy was projected to increase by 4·4 years (95% UI 2·2–6·4) for men and 4·4 years (2·1–6·4) for women by 2040, to 74·3 years (72·1–76·4) and 79·7 years (77·4–81·8), respectively.
Compared with the past, global progress in extending life expectancy was forecasted to be slower from 2016–40. This trend resulted from forecasts of slowed advances on key drivers such as SDI; worsening of several risks, particularly high BMI; and stagnated gains on cardiovascular diseases, which was a major factor in historical improvements in life expectancy.

11 d’octubre 2018

Genome sequencing, what's it worth?

Evaluating the Outcomes Associated with Genomic Sequencing: A Roadmap for Future Research
The health economic evidence base for WES -whole exome sequencing- and WGS -whole genome sequencing- is very limited . A recent literature review identified just eight economic evaluations of either WGS or WES, six of which were cost-effectiveness analyses using diagnostic yield as the outcome measure. Only two publications presented cost-utility analyses using quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) as the measure of health outcomes, as recommended by most health technology assessment (HTA) agencies. However, neither of these cost-utility analyses provides information on health outcomes that HTA agencies can use to inform the translation of NGS technologies into clinical practice for specific disorders.
Last May I wrote a post on this topic. Now James Buchanan and Sarah Wordsworth provide a roadmap for future research with three steps.
First, it is crucial that health economists generate evidence on the clinical utility of genomic sequencing using the methods and metrics that are recommended by HTA agencies. Here, we are primarily referring to the use of preference-based HRQoL instruments such as EQ-5D questionnaires to generate utility weights that can be used to calculate QALYs 
If there is reason to believe that patient wellbeing will change after undergoing genomic sequencing (for example, supportive qualitative evidence), but commonly used HRQoL instruments show no effect, a second step would be to explore the use of alternative health-state valuation techniques to generate utility weights within the QALY framework. The time-trade-off (TTO) technique is one such approach
A third step would be to make full use of existing evidence on the diagnostic yield of WGS and WES. Studies that link this evidence to patient survival and quality of life (for example, trials or observational studies with long-term follow-up), could inform decision making regarding the translation of these technologies into clinical practice.
Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. I'm dubious regarding the potential of QALYs on assessing value of such technology, despite I have no alternative solutions right now.

Exhibition at Saatchi gallery

06 d’octubre 2018

Geisinger (it is not any fiord)

A suggestion for weekend reading: excellent interview by Eric Topol with the Geisinger Health System CEO, in Medscape.

Regarding genetics in clinical practice:
Our approach is based on asking, "What if we did whole-exome sequencing on our entire population?" We started this to see whether we could find medically actionable genetic conditions that we could do something about. We are 200,000 patients into it—or I should say, research subjects, because we started with research—and we have found that 3.5%-4% of those people have something actionable: BRCA, malignant hyperthermia, Lynch syndrome, genes associated with cardiac arrhythmia.
They are unique.

Banksy is a genius 

03 d’octubre 2018

As time goes by

The order of time

I've just finished the book I started this summer: The order of time. It's quite difficult to enter in physicists territories, and time is the last frontier and a mystery. But Carlo Rovelli does a great job explaining in easy terms such complicated things.
This is the disconcerting conclusion that emerges from Boltzmann’s work: the difference between the past and the future refers only to our own blurred vision of the world. It’s a conclusion that leaves us flabbergasted: is it really possible that a perception so vivid, basic, existential—my perception of the passage of time—depends on the fact that I cannot apprehend the world in all of its minute detail? On a kind of distortion that’s produced by myopia? Is it true that, if I could see exactly and take into consideration the actual dance of millions of molecules, then the future would be “just like” the past? Is it possible that I have as much knowledge of the past—or ignorance of it—as I do of the future? Even allowing for the fact that our perceptions of the world are frequently wrong, can the world really be so profoundly different from our perception of it as this?
All this undermines the very basis of our usual way of understanding time. It provokes incredulity, just as much as the discovery of the movement of the Earth did. But just as with the movement of the Earth, the evidence is overwhelming: all the phenomena that characterize the flowing of time are reduced to a “particular” state in the world’s past, the “particularity” of which may be attributed to the blurring of our perspective.
 As The Guardian review says, the book is "an expression of the scientific desire to know and understand the world". Rovelli's message: time doesn't go by, time doesn't really exist as we imagine, it is only our construct.

La rumba del temps by Joan Miquel Oliver

27 de setembre 2018

Insuring biomarkers coverage

From the Past to the Present:Insurer Coverage Frameworks for Next-Generation Tumor Sequencing

Technology is one step ahead regulation and coverage. Sounds normal. However, the size of this step may be bigger than you think if we refer to next generation sequencing biomarkers. A new article in Value in Health journal covers this topic in detail.
One of the challenges of insurance coverage for next-generation sequencing is that it pushes the very boundaries of the underlined framework used by insurers in coverage decisions.  For example,to receive insurance coverage, a medical technology must be determined “medically necessary” and not “experimental/investigational.” Next-generation sequencing blurs the boundaries between these two concepts, making coverage decisions difficult.
Therefore some trade-offs are unavoidable. Inside the article you'll find them.

Anoro, Barnadas gallery

24 de setembre 2018

Healthcare services governance

The Firm Divided
Manager-Shareholder Conflict and the Fight for Control of the Modern Corporation

There is a unique feature of health services,- where public or non-profit organizations play a major role- it requires a deep understanding of the governance of the firms and its conflicts.
A new book provides a summary for private firms. In my opinion, most of the recommendations are applicable to public and not-for-profit organizations.
There are many partial solutions to manager–shareholder conflict, but none of them
work perfectly. In fact, even when they are all combined, the outcome is far from perfect. In some solutions, shareholders and directors play a hands-on role, taking responsibility themselves for keeping managers in line. In short, they monitor. Shareholders do some monitoring themselves; the rest they leave to a board of directors, which they elect—but everyone is involved in managing the managers. Directors play more of a hands-off role in the next set of solutions.
They set a few ground rules that executives must follow, create few incentives, and then step back and allow events to unfold. That is, they motivate. 
However, directors cannot do everything themselves, so in the third set of solutions they enlist outside parties to do some of the monitoring and motivating on their behalf. They delegate. These outsiders have their own selfish reasons for getting involved, but their presence can still benefit shareholders. 
As a last resort, and the last time that shareholders are even indirectly involved in the game, shareholders can sell, or threaten to sell, their shares to another firm. Selling is the ultimate hands-off policy. 
All of these approaches to corporate governance occur in a world of rules and regulations. That is why there is a final solution to manager–shareholder conflict, of which shareholders are entirely passive beneficiaries: the fight to change the rules of the game. These are the key steps to effective corporate governance: monitor, motivate, delegate, sell. The rules of the game matter as well.
Definitely, the last resort doesn't apply to publicly owned and nonprofit organizations. For private managers, this is a real threat, not replicable elsewhere. It is precisely for this reason that governance matters and an additional effort should be devoted.

21 de setembre 2018

Economics of ownership in healthcare

Private Provision of Publicly Funded Health Care: The Economics of Ownership

You'll find an interesting review of public private provision by Martin Chalkley in this brief. It says:
Viewed through the lens of economics, concern over ownership arises from the impossibility of complete contracts between purchasers of health care and providers of health care. Were complete contracts feasible they would render the question of ownership redundant. But contracts will always be incomplete: it is not possible to specify in advance all of the relevant circumstances around the care of every patient who is to be served, so as to ensure that they receive appropriate quality of care at a cost that reflects complete efficiency and does not leave the provider either with unsustainable losses or supernormal profits.
But the existence of the collective purchaser(s) for health care means that purchasers have power that individual consumers in other sectors do not have. NHS purchasing arrangements have the potential to ensure that private ownership does not lead either to a ‘race to the bottom’ – sacrificing quality in order to cut costs – or to supernormal profits being earned – which would siphon off NHS funds that could otherwise be used to deliver more health care.
And the final statement:
 We conclude overall that when considering the ownership of health care providers in a publicly funded health care system, statements such as “public good, private bad”, or the other way about, are misplaced. All health care providers require regulation. All health care providers require carefully thought out contractual arrangements that recognise the incentives and constraints they operate with – and these do differ between ownership types. The collective nature of health care purchasing provides the means for achieving this.
That's it. A clear message for any open-mind politician.

18 de setembre 2018

Are we paying too much for pharmaceutical innovation?

Economics of the Pharmaceutical Industry
The question of whether innovation is too high or too low is a first-order—perhaps the first- order—policy question in the economics of the pharmaceutical industry. Yet, economists have not produced a definitive answer. At best, we have suggestive analyses that point to the low rate of surplus capture by innovators, and modeled estimates suggesting that the social return to innovation is positive on the margin. While helpful, these findings each require a speculative leap in order to draw an inference about the social efficiency of innovation. Much rides on the answer to this question. If innovation is indeed excessive, then public and private payers are wasting money paying excessively high rewards to firms producing innovations. In contrast, if innovation is too low, lives are being lost prematurely due to a lack of medical progress.
This is the "answer" that Lackdawalla gives in an interesting article in Journal of Economic Literature (more details inside). If you want a review in 50 pages of the main issues surrounding the industry, this is the article you have to read.

14 de setembre 2018

Lamarck returns

Lamarck's Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution's Past and Present

I've just started to read this amazing book. Chapter 1 says:
Charles Darwin espoused evolution as driven by natural selection. However, an earlier theory, proposed more than a half century before the first publication of Darwin’s greatest work, came from a naturalist whose life and work were limned by the flames of the French Revolution.
Lamarck arrived at a three-step process in what was to be the first really rational explanation for what we now call “organic evolution.” First, an animal experienced a radical change of the environment around it. Second, the initial response to the environmental change was some new kind of behavior by that animal (or whole species). Third, the behavioral change was followed by morphological changes that were heritable in subsequent generations. This proposed process came to be named after its author. Today, a variant on what Lamarck proposed is sometimes called “neo-Lamarckism,” but more often “epigenetics,” or “heritable epigenetics.”
Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, had a different view about heredity and why animals changed through time. His scientific beliefs were that things that happen to us during our lives can change what we pass on to our next generation, and perhaps into even further generations. Darwin knew well what Lamarck theorized. Darwin believed that his own theories about evolution could not coexist with any aspect of what Lamarck postulated. We now know this is no longer the case.
Lamarck’s Revenge looks anew at what are, perhaps, humanity’s most basic questions: the “where,” “when,” and “why” of getting to the present-day biota on this planet. But the vehicle to do this is by asking specifically about the “how.” What were the evolutionary mechanisms, the balance between Darwinian and neo-Lamarckian (aka heritable epigenetics), that produced not only our physical biology but some aspects of our heritable behavior as well?
Here are some possibilities. First, that the process known as epigenetics combined with periods of extraordinary environmental change has played a far greater role in what is called the “history of life” than is accepted by all but a small cadre of revolutionary biologists. This is perhaps most decisively shown through the epigenetic process of “lateral gene transfer,” where on a given day, in a given minute, some organism is invaded by another and a product of that invasion is the incorporation of vast numbers of new genes, making the invaded creature something else again, neither the invader nor the invaded. This is known.
Second, new evidence points to a probable role of epigenetics in producing rapid species transitions by mechanisms other than lateral gene transfer. Science has discovered that major evolutionary change of a species can happen a thousand times faster by epigenetics than by the process demanded by the Darwinian theory of single, random mutations along a creature’s genome or DNA (or, in some cases, RNA). This is most likely to occur during and immediately after rare, major environmental perturbations (such as mass extinctions and their aftermath).

13 de setembre 2018

Commercial determinants of health

Systems Thinking as a Framework for Analyzing Commercial Determinants of Health

Unhealthy commodity industries (UCIs) are defined as industries in which a significant share of their product portfolio comprises unhealthy products including tobacco, alcohol, energy‐dense and low‐nutrient foods and beverages, and gambling services.
Unhealthy commodity industries actively design and shape the NCD policy system, intervene at different levels of the system to gain agency over policy and politics, and legitimize their presence in public health policy decisions.

07 de setembre 2018

Reviewing health systems

Spain Health system review

The series Health systems in transition by WHO is a helful source to understand the current state of healthcare. Now you can red the updated version for Spain. Check p.68 and you'll have to reduce the number of members with private insurance by 1.5m, because income protection products have been added,, and they don't reflect health insurance, they are "income insurance". Anyway, in p.61 you'll find the size of administrative costs, 3%. This is one of the reasons why the spanish health system is so cheap. But if you split between private and public you get the following: private insurance premiums are 10% approx of public expenditure, and represent half of administrative costs.I know that the estimation is quite difficult, but anyway, this is what the table says.
A big effort and a very helpful text for anyone interested in understanding the health system.

05 de setembre 2018

Khan el-Khalili based drug pricing

When is it too expensive? Cost-effectiveness thresholds and health care decision-making

In one week of difference, the same technology: CAR T-cells has had two different options for drug pricing. Last week, under NICE review the answer was no to Gilead, and yesterday was yes to Novartis. The first paradigm applied to Yescarta is well known: marginal effectiveness should be acceptable at an affordable cost (NICE). The second one applied to Kymriah is based on preferences and willingness to pay under confidential prices. It is also a well known system specially at bazaars like Khan el-Khalili in Cairo.
This is an example of how two systems are applied in practice and nobody cares about it. I'm concerned about transparency, and that's why I can't understand why with public money the expenditure is confidential. I would agree if somebody explain the budget impact that have been agreed, otherwise with public money Kahn el-Khalili system is not acceptable. After more than four decades, Torrance would ask himself if all this effort on cost-effectiveness analysis has had any sense to arrive at this point.
Anyway, the remaining question is: when is too expensive? This is precisely what this editorial asks. And the and the answer (?) is:
For deciding whether something is too expensive, thresholds are crucial. Depending on which perspective is taken, the word ‘threshold’ may either refer to the consumption value of health or the marginal cost-effectiveness of current spending. 
This is a standard health economics perspective that no health politician nowadays will buy. Right now they are not buying the idea, and I think that they prefer confidential prices. It allows to reflect power,  discretionality, or even worse arbitrariness. Khan el-Khalili system has won.

04 de setembre 2018

A controversial view of epigenetic inheritance

A critical view on transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in humans

A new article in Nature suggest that more evidence is needed to ascertain the role of epigenetic inheritance.
Even if the molecular mechanisms exist to transmit epigenetic information across generations in humans, it is very likely that the transgenerational transmission of culture by communication, imitation, teaching and learning surpasses the effects of epigenetic inheritance and our ability to detect this phenomenon. Cultural inheritance has certainly had an adaptive role in the evolution of our species, but the evidence for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, as laid out above, is not (yet) conclusive. 
Let's wait for new evidence...

02 de setembre 2018

Overturning conventional wisdom

Clinical trials are the standard way to produce new evidence. A new book reminds us that this is quite new. It starts explaining the scurby case and how it took 50 years to apply its results (lemon) to avoid death among sailors. There is aplenty of details and experiments among medicine, social and policy domains. You'll find a reference to the Rand Health Insurance Experiment and nudge examples.
If you want a good review of the book, check this one or Diane Coyle.
The more we ask the question ‘What’s your evidence?’, the more likely we are to find out what works – and what does not. Scepticism isn’t the enemy of optimism: it’s the channel through which our desire to solve big problems translates into real results. If we let our curiosity roam free, we might be surprised how much we can learn about the world, one coin toss at a time.

31 d’agost 2018

Is there a room for autonomous medical diagnosis?

Pivotal trial of an autonomous AI-based diagnostic system for detection of diabetic retinopathy inprimary care offices

With an eye to AI and autonomous diagnosis

In Digital medicine you'll find the article on an artificial intelligence-based  diagnostic of diabetic retinopathy. It's the first AI system approved by FDA last April, and represents the begining of new aids for medical decision making. Therefore, there is a room for supporting decision making with AI, but maybe one day autonomous diagnosis could be the issue, who knows.
The prespecified sensitivity end point agreed with the FDA was 85.0% and this was met with a point estimate of primary sensitivity of 87.2%. However, the confidence intervals of this estimate were 81.8–91.2% (that is, spanned the superiority end point). The study also employed an intention-to-screen protocol; however, 40 participants successfully enrolled in the study were excluded from analysis as their images were subsequently found to be insufficient quality to be graded by the image reading center. The authors attempt to address this by considering a worst-case scenario where all such images are incorrectly graded and repeating the analysis. In this approach the sensitivity would
be 80.7% (76.7–84.2%).
 Although deep learning will not be a panacea, it has huge potential in many clinical areas where high dimensional data is mapped to a simple classification and for which datasets are potentially stable over extended periods. As such, it will be incumbent on healthcare professionals to become more familiar with this and other AI technologies in the coming years to ensure that they are used appropriately.

Alice Francis - Coco Baca Bum Bum

30 d’agost 2018

The uselessness of current hospital rankings

Personalized Hospital Ratings — Transparency for the Internet Age

Eric Topol said in a tweet: It's high time to transcend hospital ratings and move to indvidualized ratings of hospitals. He refers to an NEJM article that supports personalized hospital ratings like the Rand ones.
As currently constructed, the weighting systems that underlie overall hospital performance ratings are expressions of the values, preferences, and tastes of their creators. Why not ask patients what’s important to them instead?
It makes sense.

29 d’agost 2018

The paucity of public information about medical devices

The need for transparency of clinical evidence for medical devices in Europe

Last year EU approved a new law for assessing safety and efficacy of medical devices. Unfortunately, it comes late and it is not enough to solve current situation of lack of information on evidence. An article in Lancet explains precisely what should be done to increase the transparency of information on medical devices.All the details in this list:

 A small task force of regulators and invited stakeholders has recommended what information should be included in the summaries of safety and clinical performance and which components of the Eudamed database need to be open to public access. Those recommendations are now under revision. The European Commission has been delegated authority to translate them into further legislation, but it has indicated that it does not consider that to be a priority. Any member of the public or any organisation with an interest in these issues should therefore make representations now to the European Commission. The medical device regulations will take effect from 2020.
The time is now.