Jerry Avorn, MD, Co-director of NaRCAD
As I write this in mid-January, it is difficult to know how the health care system will be transformed in the coming weeks, months, and years. But one thing is clear: the new administration and Congress are intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act, and they will have the votes in Washington to do so. Despite their holding this policy position for six years, followed by a long (if issues-light) campaign season, it is not at all clear what will replace it.
But one thing is certain: the new administration is committed to reducing federal support for health care for enormous numbers of American citizens. “Better coverage and lower costs” is more bumper-sticker rhetoric than plausible policy, and doesn’t meet the basic criteria of arithmetic.
This means that all those who care for patients in the U.S., as well as policymakers, will be forced to live under the yoke of that awful cliché, “doing more with less.” (Our colleagues in Canada and overseas must be reading this message from the richest nation on earth with a mixture of horror and pity.) Appropriate clinical decision making is about to be transformed from a noble goal we should all strive for to a literal matter of life and death.
As the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured swell, prescribing a costly drug when a more inexpensive one would work as well will increasingly mean that patients without adequate coverage will simply be unable to afford treatment for their atrial fibrillation, hypertension, or heart failure. The aftermath of the November election will convert a bumpy, imperfect patchwork of coverage into a public administration catastrophe, soon to be followed by a public health debacle.
These changes will transform the active provision of evidence-based, non-commercial information about clinical care from a smart choice for quality improvement to an urgent requirement. Practitioners who care for the millions of patients whose coverage is legislated away will desperately need the very best information about comparative efficacy and cost-effectiveness.
Most of us engaged in academic detailing programs have shied away from emphasizing cost-containment as a primary feature or goal of such programs, and for good reason. But just as battlefield medicine often has to dispense with the niceties of office practice to address front-line emergencies, we will need to consider the possibility of “battlefield academic detailing” in the coming year to help deal with the widespread health care financial trauma that patients throughout the U.S. will be confronting, along with their health care professionals.
Most of us in American medicine – patients and clinicians alike – will find our hazard ratios going up, and our quality of life going down. Now more than ever, it will be imperative to communicate the best science as effectively as we can.
Biography. Jerry Avorn, MD, Co-Director of NaRCAD
Dr. Avorn is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics (DoPE) at Brigham & Women's Hospital. A general internist, geriatrician, and drug epidemiologist, he pioneered the concept of academic detailing and is recognized internationally as a leading expert on this topic and on optimal medication use, particularly in the elderly. Read more.
Jerry Avorn, MD, NaRCAD Co-Director
Often, in discussing academic detailing programs with current or potential sponsors, the question comes up: “Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to deliver the message to a whole group of clinicians at once, instead of the much more cumbersome process of talking to prescribers one at a time?” Sure, it would be cheaper.
So would just mailing (or e-mailing) memos to people telling them what to do, or requiring time-consuming groveling on 1-800-DROP-DEAD prior authorization numbers before a costly resource can be ordered. The problem is that cheaper solutions often don’t work, or don’t work well. We have decades of proof that putting health care professionals together in a darkened auditorium and subjecting them to a PowerPoint Tolerance Test does not reliably change behavior.
The main reason that academic detailing relies on one-on-one interactive communication is that it is the best way for the outreach educator to accomplish several key goals:
Well-trained academic detailers understand this, and they use the interactivity to craft a real-time, care-improvement message that best addresses the learning needs (and attitudes and biases!) of the person they’re visiting. Less competent academic detailers force their “targets” to sit still while they administer a canned micro-lecture monologue, which works poorly. They may feel they “got through all the points” they wanted to cover, but if there was no interactivity, no conversation, then the person they were talking at might as well have been falling asleep in a darkened amphitheatre.
We know this is the case from decades of experience and scores of randomized controlled trials. We also know, perhaps most compellingly, that when the drug industry wants to change what we know and about its products, it sends people to our offices to talk with us—it doesn’t rely only on the less expensive modalities of mailings, e-messages, and sponsored lectures.
So the next time someone suggests that it might be more inexpensive to just gather prescribers into a big room and have someone talk at them for an hour, agree with them. Then point out that it’s also less time-intensive to scarf down a Big Mac than eat a real meal, shoot off a series of emoticons rather than a personalized note, or listen to a ring tone of a Beethoven sonata rather than hear it performed by musicians. Cheaper isn’t everything.
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