Tag Archives: Globalization

Growing General Surgeon Shortage

On the heels of my recent post, Free Medical School Tuition Could Solve Physician Shortage, comes a new article about the shortage of general surgeons.

Friday, Reuters Health reported about a new study in the US that projected that the shortage of general surgeons in the US will get worse as the number of doctors entering the workforce fails to keep pace with population growth.

The study’s researchers predicted shortages based on their estimates of population growth by 2050, and by the number of medical schools and hospital-sponsored general surgery trainee positions.

  • By 2050, there will be a deficit of 7,047 general surgeons nationwide
  • That is higher than the shortage of 6,000 they predicted a decade ago based on the pace of population growth and new surgeons entering the job market at that time.

The lead study author, Dr. E. Christopher Ellison of Ohio State University, was quoted as saying, “Leaders in surgery have predicted a pending shortage in the general surgery workforce for more than 10 years.”

Dr. Ellison also said that, “the impact of the general surgeon shortages on patients is measured in the timeliness of care and the consequences of delays in care.”

The study was published in the journal Surgery, and the researchers noted that there should be about 7.5 general surgeons for every 100,000 people, to maintain acceptable access to surgical care.

According to the study, the number of general surgery resident positions and the number of residents completing their training has been rising in the US, but these increases have been insufficient to maintain the ideal number of surgeons for the population.

The authors stated, that if anything, the projected shortage is an underestimate.

Dr. Ellison: “We have not considered the impact of the aging population on the surgeon’s workload…Patients 65 years and older are more likely to need general surgery services, and as that segment of the population increases, there will be a corresponding increase in the demands for general surgeons.”

Ellison also added, that because most general surgeons practice in metropolitan areas, the impact of the shortage will be more keenly felt by rural communities.

The researchers assumed, in calculating the projected shortage, that some young trainees would choose subspecialties like vascular or transplant surgery, instead of general surgery. They assumed, also, that general surgeons would work for 30 years before retiring.

Two possibilities can be reached from the findings of the study: one, it is possible that the researchers have over- or under-estimated how many general surgeons will enter the profession each year and how many years they will remain on the job; and two, it is also possible that population growth estimates might change again, altering the shortage projections.

Dr. Anupam Jena, a Harvard Medical School researcher and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital said the following: “Because there are fixed high costs to developing a general surgical practice in a more remotely populated area, we observe fewer practices in these areas. I wouldn’t call this a shortage per se, but I do think it’s a problem that as a society we need to figure out solutions to.”

Dr. Jena was not part of the study. Two solutions offered by Dr. Jena, however, were identifying ways for rural patients who need surgical care to be promptly evaluated and treated at medical centers several hours away, or it might involve encouraging graduates of both American and foreign medical training programs to work in remote parts of the country.

I’ve discussed the projected shortage of physicians in the past, but this is the first time, a specific specialty of physicians has been studied for a projected shortage specifically. And as in the past, I have suggested that medical travel could alleviate the shortage, especially in workers’ compensation.

Either we follow the suggestions of Dr. Jena and others, or we consider looking abroad for the solution to a growing problem — a shortage of general surgeons.

 

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Universal Health Care in Reach? Not So Fast

The magazine, The Economist, published a ten-page special report in their April 28th edition on universal health care worldwide.

The report, which one social media commenter said was a perfect example of title and context differentiation, and gave no data or reason why health care was closer to being universal, is an example of a neoliberal publication going out on a limb with an issue vital to all human beings, and giving it short-shrift.

Throughout the report, The Economist mentions the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the Gates Foundation as international organizations involved with public health in developing countries. The report contains statistics on the percentage of people in certain countries who do not have insurance, and other statistics to paint a bleak picture of health care in developing countries.

What the report fails to do is mention that it is exactly the World Bank, the IMF, international financial organizations, philanthropies like the Gates and other foundations, and the WHO, that have been responsible for preventing these countries from improving their health care systems.

Chapter Nine of the Waitzkin, et al., book previously reviewed in this blog, discusses in detail how these institutions influenced health care around the world for the benefit of multinational corporations in the developed world, and to the detriment of the health care in the Global South.

In particular, the WHO, which began in 1948 as a sub-organization of the United Nations, lost considerable funding due to ideological opposition to several programs operated by sub-organizations of the UN, and because the Reagan administration withheld annual dues. The UN began experiencing increasing budgetary shortfalls, which was passed onto organizations like the WHO.

But to the rescue, came the World Bank, and with this influx of private funds, the agenda of WHO changed to match that of the World Bank, international financial institutions and trade agreements. It was in the interest of these entities that health care be carried out in a vertical, top-down approach that left out key parts of the health care services needed in developing countries, namely surgery and concentrated on addressing infectious diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

But there is another reason why public health in developing countries is in such a dismal state, and it has to do with the debt crisis these nations and others were subjected to by the nations of the Global North and the World Bank, IMF and international financial institutions.

According to the blog, One.org, “Developing countries spent years repaying billions of dollars in loans, many of which had been accumulated during the Cold War under corrupt regimes. Years later, these debts became a serious barrier to poverty reduction and economic development in many poor countries. Governments began taking on new loans to repay old ones and many countries ended up spending more each year to service debt payments than they did on health and education combined.

After many years of activism on the part of advocates for the poor and other activists, the nations of the Global North, through such organizations as the G8, the IMF and World Bank, decide to abolish debts worth billions of dollars owed by developing countries. Yet, despite this action, data in the World Bank’s global development finance 2012 report shows total external debt stocks owed by developing countries increased by $437 billion over 12 months to stand at $4 trillion at the end of 2010, the latest period of available data, according to the Guardian.

Third world debt was a serious issue when I was in college studying international relations and foreign policy, and I was aware of the efforts to reduce or eliminate this debt, so when I read in The Economist that the World Bank and WHO are engaged in public health issues around the world, I have to ask myself how is it possible that the very institutions responsible for the state of affairs experienced in developing countries as pertains to health care, are the very same institutions undoing the wreckage they created. Or at least not in ways that are advantageous to the citizens of those countries.

Instead of the vertical, top-down orientation these institutions are engaged in, a broad, horizontal orientation needs to be implemented that will radically alter the health care systems of these countries and provide all of their people with truly universal health care.

Lastly, The Economist looks at the US, and rightly points to our stubborn adherence to individualism and even quotes Republican congressman, Jason Chaffetz, who said, “Americans have choices.And they’ve got to make a choice. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”

Many Republicans, like Rep. Chaffetz, says The Economist, believe health care is not a right but something people choose to buy (or not) in a marketplace.  I can tell you, dear readers, I did not choose to have End-Stage Renal Disease, nor did I choose to be long-term unemployed (that is due to neoliberal economic policies and to the financial meltdown caused by the very institutions that have a negative impact on universal health care), so Rep. Chaffetz and his Republican colleagues are wrong. And besides, you can’t buy health, as we all get sick and we all die. What you buy is a policy, but policies are not the same as care.

One other reason The Economist cites for the US being an outlier in providing universal care is resistance to reform by powerful interest groups.

I don’t believe this report did anything to move the debate forward towards universal health care, either here in the US, or around the world. It really did not cover any new ground, and its prediction for health care universally achieved is either wishful thinking or a delusion. Either way, until the economic order changes, nothing in health care will.

 

US Hospitals Seek Expansion in China

In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal had the following article last week about American hospitals looking to expand oversees to China.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/overseas-markets-beckon-u-s-hospital-firms-hungry-to-expand-1524394800

 

 

Tariffs Threaten U.S. Health Care

The petulant man-child occupying the White House is proposing to impose a 25 percent tariff on Chinese products and ingredients, according to a report in the New York Times on Friday.

Some of the products and ingredients are essential to health care in the U.S. such as pacemakers, artificial joints, defibrillators, dental fillings, birth-control pills and vaccines.

In addition, dozens of drugs and medical devices are also among products targeted for the tariff. Some of them are in short supply, and dangerously so. They are epinephrine, which treats allergic reactions, and others like insulin, whose price rising has led to public outrage.

This proposed tariff has unsettled the medical device and supply industries, since a growing number of products and their components are manufactured in China.

The manufacturing of medical equipment has shifted from throwaway surgical gloves to more complicated products like MRI scanners.

An International Trade Commission in January, the Times reported, said the fastest growth in China’s medical device industry has been in sales of orthopedic devices, plates, and screws, made mostly of titanium and used for surgery and sports medicine.

One analyst, the Times continued, estimated that 12 percent of medical devices imported to the US come from China, which amounts to $3 billion a year.

A report this week by RBC Capital Markets, the article mentioned, estimated that if the tariffs took effect, this could cost the medical device industry up to $1.5 billion each year. Some of these higher costs would result in higher prices for those devices, and would affect baby boomers, who are the biggest recipients of hip and knee replacements.

This no doubt would be a boon to the medical travel industry, from the US to countries not imposing tariffs on Chinese products, or not.

Greg Crist, spokesperson for AdvaMed, the device members trade group, said its members were “disappointed because this action threatens to affect the health and well-being of American patients and those around the world, the Times article added.

While it is unclear if the tariffs would be enacted, companies have until May to lobby the administration for changes. But the man-child ratcheted up the pressure by threatening to levy tariffs on an additional $100 billion in imports.

However, analysts said that it was unclear if the tariffs would have an effect on the drug industry, even though China is a leading exporter of raw pharmaceutical ingredients, according to the article.

“We don’t see much impact,” said Umer Raffat, a pharmaceutical industry analyst for Evercore ISI on Tuesday to investors.

This is so because many generic drugs that contain Chinese ingredients are manufactured in places like India and would not be subject to the tariffs.

Yet, one trade group has sounded the alarm, the article indicated. They said that the tariffs could exacerbate the issue of health care costs as the administration is pledging to lower drug prices.

Lastly, there are two drugs on the list of 1,300 Chines exports: epinephrine and lidocaine, which are in short supply in their injectable form.

“Things are so bad right now with the injectables, we don’t need anything else to pile on, to possibly make things worse,” said Erin R. Fox, a drug-shortage expert at the University of Utah.

She also said that the tariffs could exacerbate the shortfalls of generic injectable drugs, the decades-old products that are the mainstay of hospitals and have long been in short supply due to manufacturing problems and disruptions in supply.

For some widely used products, it is unclear, according to the article, how American consumers would be affected. Insulin is one example; however, all three companies that sell insulin in the US, Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk said they did not import insulin from China.

Whatever happens with the tariffs, the effect they would have on health care here and around the world is uncertain. However, it would be prudent for those in the health care industry, the medical travel industry, and the workers’ comp industry to be aware and act accordingly to provide their patients with the drugs and devices they need.

Medical Travel for Americans is Alive and Well

Many of you have probably thought that going abroad for medical care after passage of ACA was a thing of the past, or that the idea that workers injured on the job would go abroad was a “stupid, ridiculous idea and a non-starter”, have forgotten that medical care in the US is the most expensive in the world.

But the simple, undeniable fact is that we spend too much on medical care and get very poor results and outcomes, while other countries spend far less and get better outcomes.

Why are we so stubborn? And why hasn’t the workers’ comp world realized that they are fighting an uphill battle to lower costs every time they come out with some new strategy or cost containment measure that never lives up to its promise industry-wide?

Sure, there are individual cases where these companies save money for a particular client, but overall, the cost of medical care for workers’ comp still rises, even if that rise is slow at times, or appears to have shrunk, only to rise once again the next year, as seen in the NCCI State of the Line reports.

An article yesterday in Salon.com said that traveling abroad for medical care simply makes more sense — even regular teeth cleaning is four times more expensive in the US than it is in Mexico.

One of the first procedures mentioned in the article involves a Minnesota couple who went out of the country for an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure. On her fourth trip to the Czech Republic, it finally worked, and she got pregnant. The procedure in the US would have cost them between $12,000 and $15,000.

While IVF is not something that workers’ comp would cover, the fact remains that procedures cost far too much in the US, and in the case of IVF, only have a 29% success rate, according to a CNBC report cited in the article.

An estimated 1.7 million Americans traveled abroad for care in 2017, according the Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, and author of the same titled book. In my seven years of studying medical travel, Josef Woodman’s name has figured prominently in many articles and forums of discussion on the subject.

The article goes on to say that that is 10 times more than the 2008 estimate from Time magazine.

Some of the top destinations for medical care are: India, Israel (always go to a Jewish doctor first), Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea (unless that little twerp up north gets an itchy trigger finger), and Turkey.

However, there are other, more accessible destinations closer to home like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, etc.

Typical operations are orthopedic or spine surgery (are you listening work comp world?), reproductive operations, cardiovascular and eye surgery.

For example, a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) in the US costs an estimated $92,000 (you could buy a couple of nice cars for that amount), whereas in India, the same operation would cost $9,800.

A total knee replacement (are you still listening ,workers’ compsters?) cost around $31,000 in the good ole US of A, but in Thailand, costs around $13,000. Tell me how you can save that much on a knee replacement using any of your so-called cost saving schemes?

These same operations in Costa Rica would cost 45 to 65% less than in the US, and would not require such long flights from most parts of the US. What are you waiting for? Save some money, I guarantee your insureds will love you for it.

Malaysia would be 60 to 80% less, but why go there when you can go to Costa Rica?

According to Woodman, medical tourism (travel) is a Band-Aid for the country’s dysfunctional health care system.

Woodman told Salon, “I don’t think you can penetrate this with philanthropy. It’s gonna be baby steps all the way. But in the meantime, medical tourism is a really important option.”

Woodman also said he did not like the term “medical tourism” because it is not a vacation. You may have noticed that I use the term “medical travel” instead. It is travel for medical purposes, and if there is tourism component to it, it is incidental to the reason for going in the first place.

Patients who cannot afford dental work, IVF or orthopedic surgery in the US, Woodman said, should consider travelling abroad. If their operation or treatment is expected to cost them $6,000 out of pocket, they will save money — even with the plane ticket.

Oh, by the way, that Minnesota couple spent, get this, only $235 for the IVF, not including flights. With such reasonable cost savings, it would be a no-brainer for workers’ comp to do the same.

But some people are stupid, ridiculous, and non-starters in my book.

Foreign-born, US-trained Physicians in Medical Travel vs US-born, Foreign-trained Physicians Practicing in the US and Foreign-born, Foreign-trained Physicians Practicing in the US

Those of you in the Workers’ Comp space have probably read my earlier posts extolling the benefits of medical travel, and promoting its implementation into workers’ comp.

Yet, in all those posts, hard evidence of the quality of care provided by physicians in these destinations was not presented.

However,  there is evidence that foreign trained, US  born doctors practicing in the US, provide as good as or better care than that provided by graduates of US medical schools, according to a recent study mentioned over the weekend in a post by Peter Rousmaniere, in his blog, Working Immigrants.

From this data, it may be possible to suggest that foreign-born doctors, trained in US schools provide the same good or better care than their American-born classmates, when they return to their home countries and work in medical travel facilities.

Before beginning to write this post, I tried to research some data on this, but was unable to find any recent information. However, it is well known that there are considerable numbers of foreign-born, US trained and Western trained physicians in medical travel facilities, which is one key factor in choosing to go abroad for medical care.

As Peter reported, among the 12.4 million workers in the health care field in 2015, 2.1 million, or 17% were foreign born. Of these, the foreign born accounted for 28% of the 910,000 physicians and surgeons practicing in the US. 24% of that number are in nursing, psychiatric and home health care.

How many of the foreign-born physicians trained in the US return home is not certain, but given the fact that many foreign born, foreign trained physicians have a hard time gaining access to practice in the US, it is not difficult to ascertain that those who do not enter the US end up working in their home country. In order to practice in the US, they must pass tests by a special commission and enter a residency program, even if they have done them before.

How many foreign trained, US born physicians practice in the US? According to Peter, about 25% of practicing physicians graduated from foreign medical schools. About a third of them are Americans. They are more likely, Peter says, to practice in rural and poorer communities, and are overrepresented in primary care. Given the physician shortage that I and others have commented on, there will be a need for more foreign-born doctors, and perhaps, more US trained, foreign-born doctors to work in medical travel facilities.

The Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) gave roughly 10,000 certifications in 2015. 30.9% were issued to US citizens, 18.9% were issued to citizens of India and Pakistan, and 7.9% from Canada.

The states with the highest percentage of practicing physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools are New Jersey (40%), New York (38%), and Florida (35%).

Most of the New Jersey physicians no doubt practice in the Metropolitan New York Area, given the state’s proximity to NYC. And Florida has a large percentage given the demographics of that state.

So, if foreign-born, US trained physicians are ok for treating injured workers here, why can’t their fellow countrymen do the same back home if an injured worker, or his employer choose that as an option to expensive surgery at an American hospital?

Don’t tell me there is a difference, because there isn’t. It is only ignorance and prejudice that prevents foreign-born, US trained physicians from treating injured workers in medical travel facilities. That is another problem our health care and workers’ comp systems need to deal with.

Words and Phrases: Global Healthcare or Whatever You Want to Call It

This past Saturday, while waiting for power to be restored in my area due to a pesky lizard’s venture where lizards don’t belong, I was able to use my cell phone to read some posts on LinkedIn.

I came across a discussion by three of the top medical travel personnel answering the question, “Is the term “Medical Tourism” obsolete?”

This discussion thread was begun by Stella Tsartsara, and followed by Ilan Geva and Elizabeth Ziemba, including yours truly, who put his two cents into the conversation.

Since Stella has given me her approval to use her comments, and I suspect that Ilan and Elizabeth would not mind, I am going to quote them verbatim here for the reader to digest. There will be some names that I will leave out, because one, I have not contacted them, and two, they were mentioned in passing by the individual who I am quoting.

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“I see Elizabeth Ziemba talking about carrying capacity of HC systems. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told me half of the international projects I do have nothing to do with Medical Tourism, XXXXXXXXXXXXXX told me we are dealing with “International Healthcare” anymore, we are passed the term “Medical Tourism ” probably instigated by people traveling to another destination for (cheaper) surgery not covered by their insurance where the “patient” had time to do some sightseeing. But once the demand came to more serious interventions like heart surgery then the only organization needed was a reliable MTF and good research from the patient to guarantee results. Here the “tourism” is at the 4-5th place after doctor, hospital reputation, waiting list time, safety, post- surgery follow up, price and cost reimbursement from insurance.

Now with the Cross Border Healthcare and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) Wikileaks revelation on the globalization of healthcare officially by the states, things take a completely new turn and the fact that we are talking about Medical Tourism is raising some eyebrows. Or at least it should be split from Healthcare delivery.”

https://data.awp.is/international/2015/02/04/22.html

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“I have no possibility for edit, I rephrase here that XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told me some time ago that her projects deal with international healthcare mostly which is a healthy sign of evolution in the industry although XXXXXXXXXXX says this word does not exist either, to which of course I agree.

Terms are the beginning of taking the trend seriously by the demand. It’s about shaping policy in the end.”

Ilan Geva:

“Stella, I think that the term Medical Tourism was pushed upon us by an association. The fact is no one, except our circle of Professionals, is using it or cares about it. In the effort to differentiate and stand out, many started to use Medical Travel, Global Healthcare…whatever. Patients don’t really care what you call it, they have a need or a want that requires a solution. Many of them are not looking for the “Tourism “aspect of a medical issue. Have you noticed that even the MTA is not using their name as much as they used to? They are now pushing the GHA brand.

Is that an indicator that medical tourism is dead? Who knows, and frankly, who cares? Globally, there are enough tremors in the healthcare sector, enough to guarantee continued movement of patients from one region to another. Maybe we should start calling it “Medical Voyages”?”

Elizabeth Ziemba:

“Thanks for starting a very interesting conversation, Stella. The term “medical tourism” isn’t dead yet because it is still the top search term in the sector and is heavily used by the media. But the sector itself has outgrown the term. I will be giving a presentation at the IMTJ/World Health Care Congress about this very topic. The sector is changing but it is hard to get away from “medical tourism” when SEO rules. I must admit that the name of my company, Medical Tourism Training, was selected because of its SEO and familiarity to people. Even now, people react to it favorably even though I hate it. Time to look past the label to the substance.”

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“Ilan Geva “medical tourism” is not dead and maybe never dead as there are interventions where tourism plays an important part and here individual consultants have a bigger profit margin. But definitely movement of patients for elective treatment is not and cannot be called this way.

In EU we call it “Cross Border Healthcare” because we established the Institutional parameters for its organization and delivery.

This is what is lacking from an international perspective for the term to have a meaning. By the way trained eyes in institutional development like XXXXXXXXXXX will see immediately that the TiSA is exactly the same (with 2 additions on insurance and compulsory post-surgery monitoring & liability) with the EU Directive 24/11/EC on the Cross Border Healthcare in EU.”

Me:

“I have used “Medical Travel” in my posts, but for the purpose of selecting a category to place them in, or to tag them when I write, I use both “Medical Tourism” and “Medical Travel”.”

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“Elizabeth Ziemba & Richard Krasner, MA, MHA I tend to agree more with Ilan Geva on the matter. However as I said there will always be room for the “tourism” side for hundreds of treatments where tourism plays a very significant part like Medical SPA, cosmetic surgery, diagnostics, dental etc, although still I do believe that it’s not a priority. What Ilan said it’s a revelation for the “association”. Who else would give international care such a limited meaning maybe pushed by its operators back then.

But what is coming ahead e.g. Institutional and Regulative development of international healthcare (among public hospitals as well) has absolutely nothing to do with “tourism”. We have to set things straight if we want to be taken seriously by those who will be in our path in the consultation activities for its future development. Those who were (are still) building the TiSA are not going to look or refer to “medical tourism”.”

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“I also have the impression that something is moving in layers that are not yet visible to us, on the management of this new trend. I believe that actors are organizing themselves differently and as there is not yet a market (it’s still a taboo internationally exactly because it involves also public HC, we in EU have solved this but it’s not the case at global level) and the demand is still hybrid, there is no business development and marketing yet of this new consulting set of skills and delivery. But very soon we are going to see a new type of developers in this perspective catering for the state development of international HC. I have proposed years ago through this group the organization of such Groups combining inevitably many specializations and some do exist already run by big Hospital Groups.”

It would seem there is not clear consensus on what term is appropriate for the activity of leaving one’s home country and travelling to a second country for medical care, no matter what the reason for travel may be.

If, as Stella said, it was for heart surgery, doubtless the patient would not be doing much sightseeing post-operation. Yet, on the other hand, if it was for less invasive, and less stressful surgeries and procedures, and if the patient was cleared by the physician and physically able, then the tourism part would apply.

The revelations by Wikileaks of the negotiations on the TisA is no doubt a concern to the entire industry, whether one calls it medical tourism, medical travel, health tourism, health travel, etc. The result is the same. Knowledge of the existence of such an agreement may forestall that agreement being finalized, if not totally scrapped altogether if the right individuals lead a campaign against it in member countries.

Such was the case with Brexit, and such was the case with the 2016 U.S. elections that Wikileaks had a hand in derailing.

The solution, therefore is a stronger effort on the part of all stakeholders to develop strategies, plans, and standards to regulate the industry and to promote it effectively. Relying on an association we know is unreliable is not going to work. Before TiSA is tossed aside like the TPP, or the Paris Climate Treaty by nationalistic dunderheads, the industry must do more.

P.S. The rest of the thread can be seen here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4304089/4304089-6368077962927050755