Welcome to Practice Rounds, our weekly column exploring what's being covered in the larger world of healthcare.
CDC Director Resigns
More shakeups in Washington this week as Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resigned amid reports from Politico she traded in tobacco stocks after accepting the job. In a statement, an HHS spokesperson said, "Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director. Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period." Fitzgerald's departure came immediately following the ascension of Alex Azar, who was sworn in as the Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS). Azar replaced another health official who had to resign over unethical behavior, Tom Price, MD, also the subject of Politico investigative reporting.
Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway Partner for Patients
Three of the largest companies the world announced this week that they are partnering to address rising U.S. health care costs, particularly taking aim at their own employees. The companies say they will create an independent company, free from profit, which will focus on creating technology solutions to reduce the cost of care. The three companies did not announce many details, including specific avenues they intend to explore in reducing health costs. Despite the lack of details, The New York Times reports that the announcement did some damage to the stocks of major insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare and Anthem. "Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation," Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, said in a statement.
In a single year, more than 600,000 patients in the State of Washington underwent a treatment they didn't need, according to NPR Health News . Researchers at the nonprofit Washington Health Alliance examined claims from 1.3 million patients and found nearly half got unnecessary care. The treatments cost an estimated $282 million. According to the researchers, approximately 75 percent of annual cervical cancer screenings were performed on women who had adequate prior screenings. Moreover, about 85 percent of the lab tests to prep healthy patients for low-risk surgery were unnecessary and needless annual heart tests on low-risk patients cost an extra $40 million.
Quote of the Week
"Gone are the days when online reviews were just for hotels and restaurants. Today healthcare providers are every bit as likely to get reviewed as the local diner on Yelp."