Creeping (Raging?) Cynicism

My absence is a tribute to a good summer. Last weekend we broke from VT’s deluges and went to visit friends in Sunny Chicago—awesome theater at Steppenwolf (Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts) and my 1st Wrigley Field visit were highlights. This week vigorous brushcutting has topped the agenda, plus a visit by some wonderful friends.

But last night, right after Michael Phelps’ 6th and latest, my spirits plummeted. Admittedly, I am in a deep-deep funk over Georgia. (Humankind sucks.) But it was two back-to-back articles in the Wall Street Journal that iced the cake.

On Page A1, “Bad Blood: New Therapy For Sepsis Infections Raises Hope But Many Questions.” We die by the freighterload from sepsis infections, and a relatively new therapy looks promising. But wait: The basic supporting research apparently has enough holes to drive my Kubota through. For example, in one sample, 30% of folks getting the new therapy died, compared to 46% mortality for those treated using traditional approaches—fine, except a ton of un-cited studies show that in general 30% mortality is the norm. Then there is the “missing subjects” problem—25 cases that have evaporated. And, surprise, the folks who performed the “unbiased research” seem to be hooked up to the folks who are providing the fix. There’s a lot of contention over the facts, but there’s a distinct odor to the air.

Move on to page B6, and the headline shouts: “Research Study For Boston Scientific Stent Is Found To Have Flaw.” The BS study (excuse the abbreviation) reports a statistically positive outcome—but 16 other data analysis regimes provide different and non-positive conclusions.

While I am well aware of the contention that revolves around research activities, and I am also aware that two similar articles in the same day’s paper is doubtless coincidental, I am nonetheless overwhelmed by the Infinitely Long Encyclopedia of Horrors that seems to attend the Wonderful World of American Healthcare. (Our system performance is ranked #37 by the World Health Organization—though we do come in 1st in costs.)

Attached you’ll find some new slides I’m adding to my Master Health”care” Presentation. They are from Skin in the Game: How Putting Yourself First Today Will Revolutionize Healthcare Tomorrow, by John Hammergren (CEO, McKesson) & Phil Harkins. To preview, there is the report of 140,000,000 illegible prescriptions a year in the U.S. of A. And the fact that of the annual 1,500,000,000,000 healthcare claims filed annually, 30% have errors—which is not quite as bad as it sounds, because 15% of the claims are simply lost.

Georgia tops my short-term nausea list—but, increasingly, American healthcare seems to border on hopeless. (You know there’s a problem when Hammergren and Harkins use the airline industry as a good example.)

On a brighter note, go Cubbies!

Tom Peters posted this on August 15, 2008, in Healthcare.
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