Category Archives: Culture

Rerun: We need a liberal immigration policy to support health care reform

I went down to Copley Square, Boston yesterday to protest President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration. I’m very concerned about the direction the country is taking. Beyond that, I’m also saddened at the lack of appreciation for immigrants in building our economy and helping health care reform succeed. Below is a rerun of my blog post from 2011.


Over the last decade, the United States has intentionally made itself less attractive to immigrants, forgetting that immigration has been a huge driver of the country’s economic success. In a recent article (America needs a 21st century immigration policy), leading entrepreneurs, executives and investors including Steve Case and Sheryl Sandberg said:

To some, the link between immigration reform and economic growth may be surprising.  To America’s most innovative industries, it is a link we know is fundamental.

The global economy means companies that drive U.S. job creation and economic growth are in a worldwide competition for talent.  While other countries are aggressively creating policies and incentives to attract a highly educated workforce, America has stagnated.  Once a magnet for the world’s top minds, America now faces a “reverse brain drain” and is no longer the first choice for many entrepreneurs creating new companies and jobs.

America needs a pro-growth immigration system that works for U.S. workers and employers in today’s global economy.  And we need it now.

Openness and encouragement of immigration is vital for the success of health care reform. Why?

  1. Immigrants innovate and create economic growth. This growth is how the country gets wealthier and better able to support health care expenses without raising tax rates
  2. Immigrants tend to be younger, so they mitigate the overall aging of the population, making it easier for the country to afford its commitments to older citizens
  3. Immigrants can use their intellectual capital and training –whether acquired abroad or here– to fill health care jobs such as primary care physician, pharmacist, nurse that would otherwise go unfilled

President Obama actually understands this dynamic, but has to tread carefully since immigrant bashing is so popular on the right. But unfriendliness to immigration is all over in the place. For example in Massachusetts the state has decided –for short-sighted financial reasons– to exclude legal immigrants from subsidized health insurance. With luck, that decision will be overturned as unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

I agree with the Republican rhetoric of the need for a “pro-growth agenda.” Low taxes and limited regulation can certainly play a part. But policies that encourage immigration, especially of younger, well educated people, are absolutely essential. We need it for the economy as a whole and for the health care economy in particular.

LBJ would think walking meetings are pretty lame

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Don’t talk to me about walking meetings

The Wall Street Journal continues to go soft on us. I just read about “walking meetings,” which are just what they sound like: conducting meetings while walking around. According to the Journal, these meetings are great for combating obesity and diabetes, and improving creativity. With meetings, phone calls and emails taking up more than 90 percent of the workday for some people (consultants like myself included), the Journal touts studies purporting to show the benefits of wandering around at work.

Walking meetings aren’t really new. Kaiser’s Dr. Ted Eytan touted the idea on my blog five years ago.

Sure it’s good to get moving, and taking a walk can be just the thing to clear one’s head, but when I’m in a meeting I’m usually taking notes and often viewing documents. Many meetings are confidential and sometimes they involve 10 or more people. So IMHO most serious meetings are not suitable for walking.

When I was an economics student at Wesleyan in the 1980s, professor Stanley Lebergott told me about a pretty crazy job interview his colleague Douglas Cater had with Lyndon Johnson at the White House –swimming nude in the pool and having to keep up with Johnson while trying to answer questions. Although I believed my professor, you might not, so here’s how it’s recounted in Jack Valenti’s memoirs:

I’ll never forget the day LBJ brought Doug to the White House to sort of interview him. ‘Let’s go for a swim, Doug. Okay with you?’ said the president. Well, of course it was, so Doug, Bill Moyers, and I followed the president to the swimming pool. Doug’s eyes almost popped out when LBJ, Bill, and I threw off our clothes and jumped into the pool, nekkid, as we say in Texas. After a moment’s hesitation, Cater stripped and plunged in, too.

As we splashed around, the president began chatting with Doug about his ideas for making the Johnson administration more effective. I daresay, many of us have been interviewed in odd places, but as Doug said later, ‘Nothing compares with my waterlogged birthday suit interview with the president.’

Compared to this, walking meetings are nothing. Can’t the Journal find something more inspiring or scandalous to write about?

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Are men comfortable with female physicians? Other factors to consider

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Nuzzel showed me that my friends have been sharing a new athenainsight: Are male patients comfortable with women doctors?  The post uses athenahealth billing data to demonstrate that male patients are less likely to return to female physicians than they are to male physicians, but for female patients the sex of their doctor doesn’t make a difference.

Athena’s conclusion is that men may be “less enthusiastic than women about seeing physicians of the opposite” sex. The article links to a Quora exchange, where all the respondents indicate that as patients they are equally comfortable with women as they are with men.

These findings are interesting, but I don’t think they tell the whole story.

When my long-time primary care physician retired I looked for a new doctor. I believe in the value of long-term relationships so wanted to pick someone I could be with for 15 years or more. I wanted someone affiliated with my preferred health system, with excellent clinical and at least decent communications skills, and around my age (late 40s).

My retiring physician recommended a female colleague in a practice close to where I live, who fit the bill. He had been involved in her training and had worked with her.

Like the Quora respondents, I was comfortable with being examined by a female physician. As I’ve written, I’m also comfortable being examined by a physician who is a friend.

But, although it was further down my list of criteria, I did have the sex of the physician somewhere on my list of factors. Why? Because at least on average, men work more hours and retire at an older age, making them more likely to be available to patients when needed.  One survey showed that 44 percent of female physicians worked part time, compared with 22 percent of men. Another showed 25 percent of women compared to 12 percent of men.

My personal experience reinforces those statistics. The recommended primary care doctor works part-time. Other  female physicians my family sees have taken time off to care for sick family members and attend to other family issues. One retired in her 40s to take care of sick parents. Working less or taking time off doesn’t make them bad doctors or bad people –quite the contrary, it may even keep them fresh or help them stay connected with patient needs– but it does have an impact on availability and longevity of the relationship.

In the end I chose the female primary care physician my retiring doctor recommended, and I plan to stay with her. But I’m also adjusting my expectations about primary care. For one thing I’m focused more on the relationship with the overall practice, rather than just with my personal doctor.

The practice seems to do a reasonable job of working together as a team, and I hope this will serve its patients as well or better in the long term than the more traditional and familiar one-on-one doctor/patient relationship. If it doesn’t turn out that way then my likely next step is to switch to a concierge practice rather than seek out a male physician.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Medicare and the end of racial segregation in healthcare

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The story of how Medicare ended segregation in healthcare settings is a pretty remarkable one. Temple University Professor David Barton Smith’s  The Power to Health: Civil Rights, Medicare, and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health Care System brings the events of 50 years ago to light.

“In four months [government bureaucrats] transformed the nation’s hospitals from our most racially and economically segregated institutions to our most integrated,”he writes. “A profound transformation, now taken for granted, happened almost overnight.”

In the early 1960s healthcare was even more segregated than the economy as a whole. In Southern states there were separate hospitals for whites and blacks; there were separate waiting rooms in physician offices, with black patients seen last.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in programs that received federal funds. But when Medicare was enacted in 1965, no one really took the provision seriously. After all, the Brown v. Board of Education decision a decade earlier had not led to rapid progress in school desegregation.

And yet Wilbur Cohen and a small team from the Social Security Administration and Public Health Service put together rules that prevented hospitals that discriminated from receiving Medicare funding. Learning their lesson from the failure of Brown’s “all deliberate speed” language, which had let school segregation fester, the team decided to enforce the rules from day 1.

Since hospitals couldn’t afford to forego Medicare, desegregation was achieved in a matter of months. Imagine that.

Image courtesy of podpad at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

MGH marketers take on Boston Children’s

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The doctor will see you now –and forever

I was driving along in Boston last weekend when I heard an intriguing radio advertisement for MassGeneral Hospital for Children, the pediatric division of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

MGH is a world famous hospital, but when it comes to pediatrics it’s much smaller, less well known, and lower ranked than Boston Children’s Hospital –the #1 rated children’s hospital by US News.

I thought MGH picked a clever angle for the ad: highlighting a patient with Crohn’s disease who was diagnosed at age 10 and is now an adult. The message: illnesses that occur in childhood may need ongoing care into adulthood. Therefore why not start with a hospital that cares for children and adults? Boston Children’s isn’t mentioned, but it’s the clear target.

The Crohn’s example is not accidental. It’s a fast growing illness among kids, and it lasts for life. I don’t have the data but my sense is that it must be a highly profitable line of business for hospitals because of the frequent surgeries, endoscopy, and use of biologic drugs. (I would have been surprised if they had uses a common but non-lucrative disease like diabetes.)

The transition from a pediatric to adult gastroenterologist is an important step on the patient journey. A bad transition can be stressful and even lead to worse health outcomes. I’d be interested to learn what processes MGH has in place to make the transition smoother for its patients than what Children’s can offer. (I’ll have to research that.) It’s also unclear how highly to weigh this factor when choosing a place for a child to be treated, especially if that child might move away for and after college.

I don’t want to sound too cynical on this. In my own experience, I’ve seen physicians from Children’s and MGH –including in gastroenterology– collaborate closely to help one another’s patients. If you have a child with inflammatory bowel disease and live near Boston, count your blessings.

Image courtesy of kdshutterman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Drinking while grocery shopping. Is pot next?

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Where did my grocery cart disappear to?

Amazon.com seems to be unstoppable. It’s grabbed the lion’s share of the e-commerce market, turned other retailers into mere showrooms for shoppers who then purchase online, discarded list prices in favor of its own internal comparisons, and turned Prime Day into a new national shopping holiday. Little buttons around the house can be pressed to reorder staples, and voice commands to my Amazon Echo can summon goods to the home.

Supermarkets are now in Amazon’s sights. I’ve received come-ons lately for Amazon Fresh.

But instead of quaking in their boots, some supermarkets are taking a page from the casino playbook and offering inexpensive alcoholic beverages to customers. From the Wall Street Journal (Supermarkets Invite Shoppers to Drink While They Shop):

At nearly 350 Whole Foods locations nationwide, shoppers can carry open beverages out of the bar area and around the store as they shop around. Some stores have added cup holders to their shopping carts or placed racks around the store where shoppers can place empty stemless wine glasses. In some Texas locations, the $1 cans of beer rest in ice-filled buckets labeled “walkin’ around beer.” “When customers find out that they can sip and shop, a lot of times it’s a lightbulb moment,” Mr. Kopperud says.

Take that Jeff Bezos!

As just about everyone knows, alcohol lowers inhibitions and is more or less guaranteed to boost retail sales. Impulse purchase anyone?

But let’s fast forward this story just a bit. With the movement toward the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes –which I oppose– it’s just a matter of time before these same stores start opening marijuana boutiques at their entrances, featuring a wide variety of tasty edibles. For Whole Foods they will likely be organic, gluten free and artisanal.

You can bet the munchies will contribute to a healthy boost to the average sale!

Come to think of it, these two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. A walkin’ around beer and a marijuana edible sounds pretty darn attractive.

Ok, Amazon. What’s your reply?

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Staying away from substance abuse on campus

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Safe at home

The opioid epidemic is truly devastating. Drug overdoses (mostly opioids) are a leading cause of death in the US, topping guns and car crashes. People don’t want to become addicted to drugs or die from overdoses, so why does it happen so often?

It often starts with a doctor writing a prescription for someone complaining of chronic or acute pain or following a surgical procedure. Little thought is given to the number of pills prescribed; extra pills are either consumed by the patient or left lying around in the medicine cabinet where they may be taken by family members or house guests who have developed a habit. When prescription pills run out and the cost of buying them on the black market is too high, users shift quickly to heroin, which is cheap, potent and readily available. The downward spiral can be steep.

Thankfully, the country is starting to get a grip on the opioid crisis. Health insurers are tightening up on opioid coverage, doctors are trying alternative therapies (like massage) or being more conservative in their prescribing. TV and newspaper stories are pointing out the perils.

Awareness is spreading, including to the younger generation. I’m really pleased to see that some colleges are offering “sober dorms” for students committed to a substance-free lifestyle. The idea is not brand new –a Rutgers program dates back to 1988—but it seems to be gaining traction as more schools try out the approach.

A number of schools offer housing for people in recovery, designed to prevent relapse. New Jersey has a new law requiring any college with more than one quarter of students living on campus to offer sober housing. Other schools are starting to offer sober dorms to students who are looking for a clean lifestyle, whether they are in recovery or not.

It’s also my impression that college administrators are doing more than they used to to enforce alcohol and drug laws, regardless of a dorm’s official designation.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.