Health care industry reacting to overtesting, overtreatment

Carla Johnson’s lede:

The American health care system wastes an estimated $750 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine. At a recent AHCJ chapter event in Chicago, four panelists discussed one source of that waste: unnecessary tests and procedures.

Moderated and organized by AHCJ member Kevin B. O’Reilly, senior editor of CAP Today, the panel looked at the issue through the lenses of doctors, journalists, health system executives and academics.

Read the whole shebang at the Association of Health Care Journalists’ Covering Health blog.

Here is Lucas

Today marks the one-month birthday of our son, Lucas. Elizabeth is doing a marvelous job ensuring that he is properly nourished, and he is growing quite beautifully. Lucas has so many looks. Here he is being pensive.

Lucas-Baby Bella-05

You can stay updated on Luke’s evolving appearance at his (password-protected) website. For access, please send your request to the address below. Thanks.

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Here is my new cubicle …

2013-11-04 10.00.29 … at the College of American Pathologists, where I started a position Monday as senior editor for a monthly magazine the college publishes, CAP TODAY. The publication focuses principally on clinical issues in pathology, laboratory medicine and laboratory management. So, I have a lot to learn. The job is out in the suburb of Northfield, so I had to buy a car to make the daily commute. It’s interesting work so far and, hey, free coffee! I will, as I’ve done with all my previous jobs, post links to my articles. Given the audience at which the publication is aimed, however, these stories may be less accessible to the general reader than most of my previous work.

Health care reads for Sept. 16, 2013

In Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, Peter Frost reports that Illinois is way behind other states in getting the word out about buying insurance under the Affordable Care Act:

At the Minnesota State Fair last month, state employees handed out thousands of paperboard fans bearing pictures of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox to promote Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace.

Over Connecticut beaches this summer, airplanes flew banners emblazoned with “Get Covered!” as teams below distributed free sunscreen packets as part of the state’s campaign to get more of its residents insured under the Affordable Care Act.

In Colorado, Oregon and a handful of other states, radio and TV spots have been running for weeks encouraging the uninsured to seek health coverage starting Oct. 1.

In Illinois so far? Mostly silence.

The whole shebang.

And in New York magazine, Jonathan Chait attempts to explain — at length — why Obamacare “continues to drive many Republicans to madness.” He begins:

The Republican party has voted unanimously against establishing the Affordable Care Act in the Senate and then in the House of Representatives, then voted some 40 times to repeal or cripple it; it has mounted a nearly successful campaign to nullify it through the courts and a failed presidential campaign that promised to repeal it; and it has used its control of state governments to block the law’s implementation across vast swaths of the country, at enormous economic cost to those states. Yet somehow, in the wake of all this, the party is consumed with the question Have we done enough to stop Obamacare?

The whole shebang.

Shut down

Yesterday, the American Medical Association announced that it will shut down American Medical News — where I’ve worked as a reporter since 2005 — effective Sept. 9. Our last day in the office will be Aug. 28. Here’s a largely accurate Chicago Tribune report.

Which means that as of the end of the month, I’ll be free to bring my talents to your fine organization. If you (or someone you know) are in need of temporary or ongoing assistance from a top-notch writer, editor and communicator with deep experience reporting for sophisticated audiences, please get in touch:

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Here is my LinkedIn profile.

The fire across the street

On Saturday afternoon, I was absorbed in a big reorganization project on my computer so I didn’t pay much mind when sirens started to sound. Epworth United Methodist Church across the street runs a shelter and there have been a handful of times when ambulances have been called out to cart folks away for treatment.

But the sirens got louder and I heard yells through my closed windows. I looked up from my desk and saw this:

The roof was on fire

You can see that the fire truck has recently arrived and a firefighter is lugging the fire hose up the steps of the parsonage. It was fascinating to watch from my window as the men  fearlessly fought the fire, extending the ladder across the street to hack their way through the roof to go at it from above. A crowd of dozens gathered to watch. Within minutes, the fire was safely under control and it was out completely within the hour. No one was hurt, I learned later.

Later that evening, the board-up company was there doing its job, hammering away through the night. I awoke to this sight:

I'm so board with the U.S.A.

It felt scary enough to me — I could feel the heat and smell the smoke from across the street — but the firefighters apparently did their job well. It didn’t even make the news, so far as I can tell.

Update: While no one was hurt, the pastor and his family are living in a Super 8 for the time being. All of their clothes and most of their belongings were destroyed by smoke and fire-hose water.

When the Dawn

I initially wrote this soon after Elizabeth and I began dating. I revised it recently and it seems appropriate, given our recent wedding celebration, to share it here.


When the day is a dunce, dropping itself unceremoniously upon
Its helpless victims, those fools who awoke expecting
Or hoping, against hope, for brilliantine benevolence

When the night is a nincompoop, crawling clumsily upon
Its cooperating witnesses, those ne’er-do-wells who lie awake pondering
What they maybe, might have, could have done, or been

When the morning is a malcontent, thrusting itself unremorsefully upon
Its undercover agents, those daydreamers busy dredging
Inconceivable-seeming days against the crooked currents

When the night has come again
And the land is dark
Well, then, what wonder have we here?

Sweetness and light!
Sweetness and light!
Twinkling with a casual brilliance
Enfolding with the night
Standing at the crossroads
Walking amid the bogs and marshes
Past little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Accompanying what is present
And supplying what is lacking
Bedecked by boisterous eyes
And limned by lavishing lips
Brightening the sanctuaries
Drawing dignity within reach
Darkening the door
And daring to eat a peach

When the dawn is irradiated, shining unapologetically upon
Its reliable sources, those cloying crooners who rise singing
Unabashedly trumpeting their sweetness and light

When they march gaily across the glen
And the sun is high
Well, then, what wonder have we here?

– 30 –

Why so unserious?

In Red Eye, Melanie Zanona writes about a recent series of street attacks in Chicago:

While none of the victims were seriously injured — the Michigan man suffered a broken jaw and the Gold Coast man suffered lacerations and bruises to his head and body — the attacks have once again raised concerns among Chicagoans and tourists on how to protect themselves.

Hmm. If my jaw were broken, I’m pretty sure I’d consider it a serious injury.

Bronzed article

It looks as though I am no longer golden. I did manage to again land a journalism award from the American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors, but this time around it is a mere bronze — and a tie, at that.

The recognition comes in the best how-to article category, for a story I wrote on how physicians can help ease the strain experienced by family members called upon to make end-of-life care decisions for their loved ones. While the story is obviously geared toward doctors, it may be helpful as a primer on the topic for nonphysicians. Check it out.

A chair is a mystical thing

… everything in life, directly or indirectly, has a great degree of mystery. To paraphrase Warren Zevon, “Some days I feel like my shadow’s casting me.” Persons, places, things … time itself is a mystery. You know, like, who can explain it? It’s really difficult to define anything. What’s slow can speed up. Love can turn into hate. Peace can turn into war. Pride can turn into humility. Anger to grief.

How would you define a simple thing like a chair, for instance—something you sit on? Well, it’s more than that. You can sit on a curb, or a fence. But they are not chairs. So what makes a chair a chair? Maybe it’s got arms? A cross has arms, so has a person. Maybe the chair doesn’t have arms? Okay, so it’s a post or a flagpole. But those aren’t chairs. A chair has four legs. So does a table. So does a dog. But they’re not chairs either. So a chair is a mystical thing. It’s got a divine presence.

There’s a gloomy veil of chaos that surrounds it. And “chaos” in Greek means “air.” So we live in chaos and we breathe it. Is it any wonder why some people snap and go crazy? Mystery is ancient. It’s the essence of everything. It violates all conventions of beauty and understanding. It was there before the beginning, and it will be there beyond the end. We were created in it.

The Mississippi Sheiks recorded a song called “Stop and Listen.” To most music aficionados, it’s but a ragtime blues. But to me, it’s words of wisdom. Saint Paul said we see through the glass darkly. There’s plenty of mystery in nature and contemporary life. For some people, it’s too harsh to deal with. But I don’t see it that way.

Bob Dylan, on painting

Depressing quote of the day

“They were good up to about 14,” said Mattie Ashford, 77, who helped raise them after their mother died when they were 3. “Then they started running with the wrong crowd, getting into trouble.”

So says the grandmother of twin 17-year-old men, now both in jail. One brother was charged Wednesday with murder in an iPhone robbery gone wrong on the el. The other acted as his lookout and accomplice in a series of robberies across the city.

Read the rest of Jeremy Gorner and Jason Meisner’s impressively sad Chicago Tribune story on the case.