Healthcare

How AI could improve the quality of end-of-life care

Published in venturebeat.com by Scott Bay

The means to predict mortality using artificial intelligence could be a transformative factor in the future of palliative health care. While this topic may seem a bit morbid, AI has the potential to help medical care providers and doctors significantly improve the delivery of patient care in hospice situations.

Getting the right kind of treatment at the end-of-life stage is more important than many assume. Not enough treatment — or even inaccurate treatment — can provide a painful experience for patients, and overcare may result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary medical bills, even if the patient is covered by insurance. While it’s crucial to select the proper medical coverage that includes hospice care regardless of the situation — especially for people over 65 or older, because there are specific plans for specific purposes to help with these medical costs — AI advances may help patients and physicians determine illness sooner to prepare for end-of-life costs and treatments before it’s too late.

A recent study in the journal NPJ Digital Medicine shows that technology will soon allow physicians to improve the timing and delivery of patient care. Researchers used AI to scan electronic health records (EHR) and notes doctors left in patient records to detect potential clinical problems and health risks. The AI system predicted patient mortality rate and final diagnoses more accurately and quickly than physicians. So how does it work?

Using deep learning for patient insight

In the NPJ study, researchers fed almost 48 billion data points (including doctors’ patient notes, patient demographics, procedures, medications, lab results, and vital signs) into a deep learning model. This model analyzed the data and predicted, with 90 percent accuracy, medical issues like mortality rates, longer hospital stay lengths, unplanned readmissions, and patients’ final diagnoses. When compared to traditional predictive models, the deep learning model was more accurate and scalable.

For example, a woman in the final stages of breast cancer came to a city hospital with fluid already in her lungs. Two doctors reviewed her case, and she received a radiology scan. The hospital’s traditional predictive model reviewed her chart and estimated there was a 9.3 percent chance she would die in-hospital. A new type of algorithm (created by Google) reviewed the woman’s chart — about 175,639 data points — and estimated her death risk at an actual 19.9 percent. The patient passed away in a matter of days, proving the algorithm model to be more accurate.

Compared to the traditional method, the deep learning model was 10 percent more accurate. The system’s ability to sift through data that was previously unavailable helped it provide a more accurate mortality estimation. Rather than looking at a few risk factors, the model looks at the patient’s entire electronic health record (EHR), including notes buried deep in PDFs or scribbled on old charts. Using this process, in the future, may enable doctors to save lives and provide better patient care.

Saving lives and money

So what can we do with this information? With more accurate predictions of a patient’s mortality, hospitals and doctors can use better estimations to adjust treatment plans, prioritize patient care, and predict negative outcomes before they occur. In addition to this, health care workers wouldn’t have to spend as much time manipulating patient data into a standardized, legible format.

For example, a report by Futurism notes that Ultromics, an AI diagnostics system developed in England, can diagnose heart disease more accurately than doctors. The same report notes that a startup bot called Optellum is working on an AI system that can diagnose lung cancer by analyzing clumps of cells found in scans. This bot shows promise to diagnose 4,000 additional lung cancer cases per year and at an earlier rate than doctors are currently capable of diagnosing.

Not only can these AI diagnostics systems save lives, but they can also help hospitals save money. In an interview for Futurism‘s report, Timor Kadir, Optellum’s chief science and technology officer, stated that the AI system could cut health care industry costs by $13.5 billion. Sir John Bell, chair of the U.K.’s Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research, added, “There is about $2.97 billion spent on pathology services in the National Health Service. You may be able to reduce that by 50 percent.”

Predicting death for better care

Current research shows that less than half of the eight percent of patients who need palliative care actually receive it. There are times when doctors make inaccurate or overly optimistic prognoses about a patient. Dr. Kenneth Jung, a research scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, told NBC, “Doctors may not make the referral [for palliative care] simply because they’re so focused on managing their patients’ health issues that palliative care doesn’t cross their minds.”

Failing to identify patients who need palliative care can have devastating consequences. If the patient’s health suddenly declines, they may spend their final days receiving aggressive medical treatments in hopes of extending their lives by a few weeks. However, studies have shown that approximately 80 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home, rather than in a hospital. Sadly, the report also notes that 60 percent of these people die in acute care hospitals.

It’s in these cases that AI can help identify patients who are critically ill and might benefit from end-of-life care. Early identification of these patients can help them get the treatment they need sooner. And it may allow patients to remain at home, instead of in the hospital, during their final days.

While some may wonder about the future of AI in health care, the purpose of AI systems is to play a supporting role in the health care industry. These systems will serve as a powerful tool that will help physicians and other health care professionals provide higher quality care and offer palliative treatments in a timely manner.

Scott Bay is a writer who covers AI and Internet of Things for PC Mag, Wired, and Men’s Health.

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Better Sleep for Stressed-Out Caregivers

Those who care for people at the end of their lives tend to struggle to sleep well. Lack of sleep makes it challenging to care effectively, respond appropriately to emergent situations, and give loving care. When you are a caregiver or working with caregivers, it’s important to consider sleep.

Caregivers May Struggle to Sleep

While anecdotal evidence suggests that almost all caregivers of end-of-life patients struggle with sleep, there’s not a lot of research available on how to effectively help them. The general consensus seems to be that (1) caregivers usually don’t sleep well, (2) current strategies for helping people sleep often aren’t effective for them or aren’t something they can implement because of their caregiving situations, and (3) there’s a need for more research to help this population.

Another study suggests some reasons why caregivers might struggle with sleep. These include a disturbed sleep routine, because many caregivers are up with their patients in the night, attending to their needs or simply checking on them.

Caregiving can also be a burden, and many caregivers end up in a depression. It’s difficult to watch a loved one deteriorate before your very eyes. Finally, many caregivers struggle with physical health issues of their own, often due to their caregiving tasks. They may be too sedentary, eat poorly or have other underlying health issues that affect their sleep.

Simply understanding why caregivers don’t get enough sleep may be the first step toward helping them rest. Here are some tips that may promote sleep.

Getting Better Sleep

Getting good rest can be tricky for caregivers, but here are some things that can help.

Re-think the sleep schedule. If the patient always wakes or needs checking in the night, a caregiver can do their best to try to get at least 3 hours of sleep on each side of a wake-up. This schedule can mean going to bed earlier or sleeping in but will help caregivers get the deep sleep and the REM sleep that they need to function well.

Get a comfortable bed. There’s not much worse than trying to sleep on a poor-quality mattress. While a caregiver’s time and money are valuable, it’s worth the effort and expense to find a mattress that they want to fall into at night.

Make the bedroom dark and quiet. This setup promotes sleep and makes it less likely that the caregiver will wake up prematurely or lie awake in bed, unable to sleep.

If you are a caregiver or you are working with caregivers, know that sleep shouldn’t be negotiable. Somehow, caregivers need to figure out how to get the rest that they need.

 

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Understanding Veteran Emergency Medical Care

Published in Camp Lejeune’s The Globe by Ena Sellers Managing editor

This week we would like to highlight essential facts to help you understand emergency medical care for veterans. But first and foremost, if you are experiencing a medical emergency and believe your life is in danger, please go to the nearest emergency room.

According to the Veterans Health Administration Office of Community Care, veterans can seek emergency care and call for an ambulance during a medical emergency before checking with the VA. The key is in acting promptly and notifying the VA within 72 hours of admission.

“This allows VA to assist the veteran in coordinating necessary care or transfer and helps to ensure that the administrative and clinical requirements for VA to pay for the care are met,” according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Now that we have the most important part out of the way, let’s review service-connected emergency care and nonservice-connected emergency care to assist you navigating through the process.

SCEC covers an urgent medical condition that has been adjudicated by the Veterans Benefits Administration as related to the veteran’s service and granted a disability rating. In order to meet the requirements for the SCEC, a veteran must meet the following criteria: the veteran’s medical emergency was perceived, by the veteran or another person without medical training, as life-threatening and immediate medical attention was needed. The veteran is receiving emergency care for a service-connected, or adjunct condition in a community emergency department; the veteran is disabled as a result of a service-connected condition or the veteran is participating in a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Program, and requires emergency treatment to expedite their return to the program.

For a service-connected emergency to be eligible, the emergency must meet five specific requirements. First, the veteran must have received the medical care at a hospital emergency department; second, the emergency was of such nature that the veteran or another person — without medical training, perceived it as life-threatening. Third, a federal facility was not reasonably available to provide the care. Fourth, the veteran has received care within a VA facility during the 24 months before the emergency care. Fifth, the veteran is financially liable to the emergency treatment provider.

Remember that time is of the essence, especially when it comes to submitting a medical claim. According to the VA, veterans who were treated for a service-connected emergency have up to two years from the date the emergency care was provided. Those who were treated for a nonservice-connected emergency have up to 90 days from the date of discharge.

Keep in mind that in order for your claim to be processed, you must allow enough time for the VA to receive and review your documentation. If your documents are incomplete or need further clarification, the processing of your claim might be delayed.

For more information about emergency medical care for veterans, eligibility and claims, visit www.va.gov/communitycare.com.

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Healthcare services, policies for end of life misunderstood says hospice leader

Reform burdensome Medicare regulations to improve end-of-life care

Published in The Hill By Norman McRae, opinion contributor – The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Research shows that more than a quarter of Americans have given little to no thought about how they want to die – or how they prefer to be cared for in their final days. As a hospice care provider for more than 32 years, sadly, this is not a surprise to me.

What too many don’t realize is that with heartfelt consideration and careful planning, death can be a profound, peaceful and personal journey. That is why it is so important that patients and their families have timely access to high-quality hospice care.

Given how warily our culture approaches death and dying, health care services and policies surrounding the end of life are often misunderstood. At the expense of comfort, precious time and countless dollars are spent chasing an elusive cure rather than approaching an end of life illness with peace and reflection.

Hospice care provides a holistic experience that focuses on the wishes and needs of the individual. The hospice model involves an interdisciplinary, team-oriented approach to treatment that includes expert medical care and comprehensive pain management but also includes emotional and spiritual support for the patient AND their family. It’s this philosophy that drew me to this field and what I and our team at Caris continue to practice and uphold today.

For more than 35 years, the Medicare Hospice Benefit has ensured older Americans at the end of life could access this philosophy of care. As Medicare’s original coordinated care model, hospice is a program that works.

While those in the hospice community have grown and adapted to meet the needs of those we serve these last 30-plus years, many of the regulations imposed on the Medicare Hospice Benefit are still outdated relics of the 1980s. Thankfully, members of Congress recognize the need to modernize and changes are on the horizon. We welcome updates to burdensome regulations that will improve the delivery of patient care, including the reduction of existing requirements that create needless and time-consuming administrative work for hospice programs. One positive example of this recently discussed on Capitol Hill is the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed rule to give more flexibility to physician assistants to re-certify patients who have been in hospice care for more than 180 days – a change broadly supported by the hospice community. We applaud efforts underway in Congress – including the Ways and Means Committee’s efforts to address and cut red tape in the Medicare program.

Policymakers should also consider reforms to make palliative care more widely available and hospice care available in a more timely fashion. This means that they must ensure that any proposed payment reforms do not threaten the integrity of the Medicare Hospice Benefit and the principles on which hospice care was founded.

During my tenure, I’ve seen plenty of change, and I imagine I’ll see more, maybe even policy changes to the Medicare Hospice Benefit. What all involved must remember is that any changes must compassionately consider protecting timely access to care while making sure that regulations are less rigid, duplicative and costly. Failure to implement commonsense reforms could unintentionally disrupt or delay patients’ access to high-quality end of life hospice care. Any new policies must continue to support the basic human right of quality end of life care and protect the values of hospice, the right of patient choice and the integrity of our care philosophy.

Norman McRae is on the board of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), chair of the Hospice Action Network (HAN) and the founder of Caris Healthcare in Knoxville, Tenn.

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Tips to cope when you’re juggling several chronic health issues

Be proactive by learning about and tracking your conditions and medications, and by speaking up when you have concerns.

Published in Harvard Health Letter

We don’t want our golden years to be spent juggling a long list of health issues. But that’s the reality for most older adults in the United States.

The CDC reports that 75% of Americans ages 65 or older have several chronic health problems. And a 2013 analysis of Medicare claims published online by Preventing Chronic Disease found that 68% of beneficiaries had two or more chronic conditions and 36% had at least four.

“Having multiple chronic diseases is common because people are living longer. The older we are, the more chronic diseases we accumulate,” says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, associate chief of gerontology at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The challenges

Advances in medicine have improved treatment for many diseases and lengthened life. But those same advances mean that today’s medical care often involves seeing more types of doctors, having more tests, and getting more treatments than in earlier times. In other words, medical care in our golden years is better, but also more complicated.

“People take more medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, to manage these conditions. That’s because there are more effective medicines now than there used to be. However, medications can interfere with each other,” Dr. Salamon explains. In addition, treatment for one problem may make another problem worse. “For example, if you have high blood pressure and a history of falls, and lowering your blood pressure makes you feel lightheaded, your fall risk will increase,” says Dr. Erin Stevens, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Doctors do their best to avoid prescribing medicines that are likely to cause problems, but the risk cannot be perfectly predicted. Bad things that are unlikely still can happen. “Another problem is that people get tired of taking medications, or find them too expensive — and so they don’t take them. This can lead to problems of untreated hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions,” Dr. Salamon explains.

Why do we accumulate chronic conditions?

Many factors play a role in the accumulation of health problems. Most diseases involve a combination of genetics and lifestyle. Being born with certain genes can make you more vulnerable than other people to certain diseases. An unhealthy lifestyle can further increase the risk.

Some genes, and some lifestyle factors, influence the risk for multiple diseases. And having one disease can increase your risk for another. “One disease can affect an organ system which then affects another. For example, diabetes can damage nerves, which can lead to loss of sensation in the extremities, which can lead to imbalance, a fall, and disability,” explains Dr. Erin Stevens, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Or you may have high blood pressure that damages blood vessels, which leads to a stroke.

And sometimes health conditions just go hand in hand, and we don’t know why. For example, depression often accompanies heart disease, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease. Autoimmune diseases also can run in clusters. “So if you have thyroid disease, you may be predisposed to another autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis,” Dr. Stevens says.

Taking back control

To avoid missteps, be proactive in your health care with these strategies.

Get educated about your conditions. Talk with your doctor about what you can do (like exercise or eat a healthy diet) to take to control of any conditions you already have and to prevent conditions you worry about getting.

Become a medication expert. Find out what each of your medications does, why you need it, what side effects you should particularly watch for, and how it may interact with other drugs. You can get such information from your pharmacist or from online sources (such as the AARP website).

If you see many doctors, be sure each of them knows what medicines the other doctors have prescribed (they will, if they are all part of a hospital or health care system that shares electronic health records).

To be safe, Dr. Stevens recommends bringing all of your medications to each doctor appointment, including over-the-counter pills. “Then we can be sure the medication list on the computer matches the pills and doses that you’re taking,” Dr. Salamon says.

Keep track of your symptoms and treatments. If you’re having symptoms you think may be side effects of a medicine or an adverse interaction between drugs, use a notebook or a computer to record when you take medications, when symptoms develop, and how long the symptoms last.

Get a good CEO. Just as a corporation needs a chief executive officer to oversee its many departments, you may need a primary care physician to look at the big picture and help you make sure treatment for numerous conditions is well coordinated.

Consider palliative care. It’s a misconception that palliative care is only for the end of life. When you have serious degenerative illness — like heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, or a breathing disorder — your quality of life suffers. A palliative care physician can help you manage those conditions, maximize your function, and preserve as much quality of life as possible. “We want to meet people early on, not in crisis mode,” Dr. Stevens says. “Maybe we can prevent a fall or address pain. We can talk about what to expect, so when something happens over time, it won’t be a surprise.”

Be your own advocate. Finally, remember that no one understands how you’re feeling better than you do. Ask questions about your treatment, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having trouble managing your conditions or if you’re concerned about the way your doctors are doing the job.

 

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How the Hospice Benefit Could Be Redefined

Published in Home Health Care News By Amy Baxter

As recent changes across the health care system over the last few years indicate that person-centered, interdisciplinary care can improve clinical outcomes, boost patient satisfaction and potentially lower overall costs, hospice care could see an evolution ahead.

Hospice has become known as the first truly interdisciplinary benefit, bringing together many types of care under one roof. As more alternative payment models (APMs), managed care organizations and Medicare Advantage plans seek more flexibility in caring for patients with a person-centered approach, hospice is similarly looking for a way into these increasingly popular care models.

Home Health Care News caught up with Edo Banach, CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), to discover how the association is helping push the boundaries of hospice care with a new advertising campaign aimed at consumers and lawmakers, and efforts to redefine the benefit. Banach, who has been at the helm of NHPCO for more than a year, has an extensive background of working closely with the regulations and innovations departments at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) before the hospice industry “came calling.”

Here’s where Banach believes hospice is going.

Overall, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen during your career in health care?

Banach: One thing that is positive is when I started working in health care 16 years ago, it was really hard. What I’ve seen is, back then, managed care companies weren’t falling all over themselves to manage coordinated care. You had a really more siloed system than you have now, pre-Affordable Care Act (ACA), pre-[Medicare] Part D.

Managed care companies can now pay for less medical benefits [by supplementing with non-medical benefits]. We’re getting more integrated. We are moving in the right direction. I want to make sure that the integration and technology is used as a tool to help supplement real, compassionate interdisciplinary care, not one-step-removed care.

So, you talk about hospice being a movement. Where do you see hospice moving to?

One way we see it moving is upstream, but it is an absolute shame that people have to give up so-called curative care in order to get palliative care, hospice. It shouldn’t be a choice. You should be able to get both.

I think when people get both, they often see the value of palliative care. There is a demonstration now called the Care Choices model, which is testing out if curative and palliative care saves money or not, [if it] is an improvement on quality or not, and that will be very helpful and telling.

My goal in the next couple years, if not the next couple months, is to create a pre-hospice palliative care benefit that will allow folks to benefit from person-centered interdisciplinary care, that you see in hospice, earlier. When they have a serious illness, [palliative care is] a pathway and a glide path to receive the full-on hospice benefit that they will eventually receive.

Most people are on hospice now for only a couple of weeks, if not a couple days.

Just like former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Yes, she took comfort care and passed away two days later. And I think that’s not enough time for the system of care to actually have the impact that it needs to have.

Part of it is the choice that people make. Do you want curative care or do you want palliative care? You should be able to get both, and I think that’s crucial. That’s something that we will get to.

What are your other top priorities?

The other thing is about the length [of stay]. The problem with Medicare fee-for-service [FFS] now is these black lines—if you’re on one side, it is OK, and on the other side it’s not. For home health it’s skilled, homebound, these are the things we talk about and auditors look at a lot. In hospice, it’s [about if] you have a prognosis of less than six months and a need for hospice care.

That six-month limitation is treated as a clinical issue. It’s not a clinical issue; it’s a budgetary issue. It doesn’t make sense anymore. Ideally, in a couple years we will have much more of a glide-path between [when a person is] going along swimmingly and getting whatever is medically necessary under Medicare and receiving interdisciplinary person-centered care under hospice.

And my hope is that interdisciplinary person-centered care actually becomes the rule rather than the exception. That’s how this movement will have worked. I don’t just want to reshape the hospice benefit, I want to reshape health care.

Seems like a big uphill battle to me, as new Medicare benefits really come along quite infrequently.

Yes and no. For this, it’s not actually as radical as it sounds. This is an APM that I expect will actually happen. There’s interest in it, we’ve had meetings about it. I am hopeful this is something that can be done.

You’re right, Medicare benefits come infrequently. But we are not talking about a new benefit here. We’re talking about flexibility to provide more person-centered care that is not the poked-and-prodded variety. And that’s exactly what is happening over at ACOs and in Medicare Advantage land. As that is happening and plans can now pay for supports and services, it will seem even less logical for FFS Medicare to be in this box. So I think it is imminent.

 

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How will population ageing affect future end of life care?

By Anna Bone

Increasing population ageing means that deaths worldwide are expected to rise by 13 million to 70 million per year in the next 15 years. As a result, there is an urgent need to plan ahead to ensure we meet the growing end of life care needs of our population in the future.

Understanding where people die, and how this could change in the future, is vital to ensuring that health services are equipped to support people’s needs and preferences at the end of life. As researchers at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London, we investigated trends in place of death in England and Wales, and found that deaths occurring in care homes could more than double in the next 25 years if recent trends continue.

Using official records on over five and a half million deaths, as well as population forecasts, we estimated the number of people who will die in a range of different settings in years to come. The intention behind this study is that it will help to guide future planning of health and social care. From 2004 to 2014, the proportion of deaths occurring in care homes increased from 17% to 21%, with numbers rising from 85,000 to 106,000 per year. If this trend continues, the number of people dying in care homes will double to over 220,000 per year by 2040, and care homes will overtake hospitals as the most common place to die. Home deaths are also projected to increase over this period to over 216,000 deaths a year. Together, this means that deaths in the community are expected to account for over two-thirds of all deaths by 2040.

We also know that, increasingly, people are living and dying with multiple illnesses and frailty, which adds complexity to their care needs. The rising number of people with complex illness in the community is a challenge for end of life care. A recent study has shown that palliative care needs are expected to increase by 42% by the year 2040. We need greater integration of specialist palliative care into primary care services, as well as more training in palliative care for general health professionals, to ensure that those with palliative care needs can access services they require.

The projected rise of deaths in care homes and in peoples’ own homes is striking. We must ask care home and community services whether they are equipped to both support such an increase in demand and provide high quality end of life care. How can we provide the workforce needed to care for this growing patient group? To enable people to die in their preferred place in future, we need to ensure adequate bed capacity, resources, and training of staff in palliative and end of life care in all care homes in the country. These projections warn of the urgent need to invest more in care homes and community health services. Without this investment, people are likely to seek help from hospitals, which puts pressure on an already strained system and is not where most people would prefer to be at the end of their lives.

The time has come to test new approaches to care in order to ensure that we address this growing need of our population in the years to come. There are promising examples of innovations in care to increase the reach of palliative care services in community settings, for example project ECHO, which facilitates knowledge-sharing between specialist palliative care services, such as hospices, and general health care professionals such as those in care homes. In an era of increasing need alongside constrained health and social care budgets, developing and testing innovative ways to provide high quality care with minimal resources is imperative.

In the words of Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, “how people die remains in the memory of those who live on.”The inevitable population changes described here will affect all of us, directly or indirectly, in the years to come. It is time for us as a society to have an open discussion about how we want health services to be delivered to people towards the end of life. Crucially, we need better evidence on how we can best support a growing number of older people as they reach the end of their lives.

Anna Bone is a PhD Training Fellow at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London. The themes from this blog post come from The Changing Face of Volunteering in Hospice and Palliative Care, published by Oxford University Press.

 

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8 Things to Know About VA Healthcare

Published in Newsmax By Jerry Shaw  

Healthcare benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs are available to all those who served in the active military, naval, or air service. You can qualify under any discharge condition other than dishonorable.

The first step is enrollment for VA health benefits. Veterans may apply by phone or by contacting their local VA facility. They will be asked to choose a preferred VA center, usually one close to their residence. If the particular medical center cannot provide the healthcare needed, the VA helps make arrangements for your specific health needs. 

Here are eight things to know about VA healthcare:

  1. Provider — The VA does not have to be the exclusive healthcare provider. You can receive care from the VA and a local provider, but the VA encourages vets to coordinate with all parties for one treatment plan for health and safety reasons.
  2. Billing private providers — VA healthcare is not considered a health insurance plan and bills private health insurance providersfor medical treatment and prescriptions for treatment of nonservice-connected conditions. The VA doesn’t usually bill Medicare but can bill Medicare supplemental insurance for certain services.
  3. Responsibility — Vets are not responsible for any unpaid balances not covered by a third-party health insurance provider. However, copayments may be required for non-service related care. Copayments are sometimes offset by payments made to the VA by private insurers.
  4. Preventive care services — The VA covers health exams, health and nutrition education, flu shots and other immunizations, and counseling for hereditary diseases.
  5. Hospital services — Inpatient VA healthcare treatment includes surgeries, short-term treatment for illness and injury after surgery, kidney dialysis, and specialized care, such as mental and physical conditions, traumatic injuries, and organ transplants.
  6. Emergency care — Vets under the VA program can receive emergency care in VA hospitals, outpatient clinics, and vet centers. Emergency care in non-VA facilities is allowed under certain conditions.
  7. Mental health treatment — VA services include treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse, military sexual trauma, and other conditions.
  8. Vision, dental, and assisted living care — Routine eye exams and preventive tests are provided as well as eyeglasses or vision disability rehabilitation in some cases. Dental care is provided, depending on individual cases. The VA can help veterans find assisted living, live-in, or home healthcare.

 

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Home Health and Hospice Admissions, Utilization Trending Up

Author: Amy Baxter, Home Health Care News

Home health care and hospice admissions and utilization are both on the rise, according to the latest data report from Excel Health.

Hospice admissions grew 4.6% from the third quarter of 2016 to the third quarter of 2017, rising to 313,500, according to the report, which is based on 100% of the most recent Medicare Part A and B claims data. Excel Health offers on-demand, cloud-based data solutions and has robust medical databases.

Over the same year-to-year time period, hospice utilization grew, with 48.8% in the third quarter of 2017 being the highest utilization to date, and 1.7 percentage points greater than in the third quarter of 2016. Utilization is measured as the number of decedents that had hospice care over the number of total decedents.

Hospice admissions grew year over year in all states except five—Maine, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Iowa. Wyoming experienced the highest admissions growth, rising 19.2% year over year.

Nearly all states also had higher utilization rates, with only two states—North Carolina and Arkansas—seeing a slight drop in utilization year over year.

Home health care admissions grew 0.7% in the second quarter of 2017 from the same three months in 2016, reversing a negative trend seen over the previous few quarters. Fourteen states saw a decline in admissions year over year. Wyoming had the highest growth in admissions—13.2% year over year.

Utilization remained near its constant rate, around 1.6% for all Medicare beneficiaries in the second quarter 2017, according to the report. All states saw higher utilization of home health care services, with both Massachusetts and Mississippi growing 2.4% year over year.

As more baby boomers age into Medicare eligibility, the proportionate demand for home health care has dropped, as the average age of Medicare beneficiaries declines. Demand will likely rise again as a proportion of the Medicare population as baby boomers age.

The growth of home health care and hospice services is not totally surprising, as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day.

From the third quarter of 2016 to the same period in 2017, the total number of Medicare beneficiaries rose 2.3%, from 56.1 million to 57.5 million, according to the report. And the growth of beneficiaries also means spending will rise. By 2027, the rate of Medicare spending as a percentage of total federal spending is expected to rise to 17.5%.

 

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Another Reason to Avoid Heavy Drinking? Dementia

Dr. Arefa Cassoobhoy, a practicing internist, Medscape advisor, and senior medical director for WebMD in a recent Medscape Morning Report 1-minute news story for primary care, reported that heavy drinking can lead to many health issues. 

Dr. Cassoobhoy shared a new study[1] that looks at alcohol use and dementia. The French observational study included over 1 million adults diagnosed with dementia between 2008 and 2013. It found that of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia, 39% were due to an alcohol-related condition like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, liver disease, epilepsy, or head injury. And 18% had an additional diagnosis of alcohol-use disorder.

Overall, alcohol-use disorders were associated with a three-times greater risk for all types of dementia.

The researchers concluded that heavy drinking is the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia. Dr. Cassoobhoy says this should motivate us to focus on early screening, brief interventions, and treatment to help our patients.

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