Tag Archives: william zachry

Practical Tips for the New Traveler

Practical tips and thoughts on travel for the new insurance broker, underwriter, risk manager; or someone who is new to business travel.

Pre-Trip — Plan, Plan, Plan

  • Understand that there are risks associated with travel. As an employee and representative of your firm, your responsibility is to take necessary steps to mitigate them.
  • Read and understand your organization’s travel policies. Follow the policies on travel authorization, approved vendors and rates. The organization will only pay for the travel that it authorizes, and only at an approve rate. Check for spending guidelines or limits per diem on personal meals, etc. Do not expect to be reimbursed for failure to follow the written guidelines.
  • Use the company travel agent and the company credit card if one exists. This is not just for financial information for your company, but often additional protections and insurances built into these resources should something go wrong.
  • Get your travel documents in order. If your state-issued drivers license does not meet the ID requirements, you will need to have an alternative document such as your passport with you to travel beginning in 2018. For more information on compliant states, use the Homeland Security website: https://www.dhs.gov/real-id.
  • If you are traveling alone, leave an itinerary with an immediate family member. Leave a copy with your manager if your company does not have a central travel agent. Ensure that your contact information is current at all times with your HR department and with your travel agent.
  • If you are traveling with a group, put together an itinerary. The itinerary should include, who is traveling with you, their cell phone numbers; the flight information (airline and flight number); ground-transportation information (local phone contact); the hotel name, address, telephone number, and reservation number; meeting times and places — with telephone numbers, of host names, telephone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses; meal arrangements; and scheduled entertainment.
  • If traveling as a group, appoint a central coordinator to double check to make sure you are all on the same flights and staying at the same hotel.
  • Travel costs escalate the closer to your date of travel. Wherever possible, make your travel and accommodation arrangements as soon as you know when you will be traveling. Follow your company travel policy on non-refundable tickets.
  • As an employee traveling, you should always manage travel expenses as part of your overall budget.
  • If an airline is checking your bag, always doublecheck the tag to ensure that it goes through to the right location. (There are a lot of San Juan and San Jose cities out there)
  • Always have a spare set of underclothes and a toothbrush in your carry-on luggage.
  • List what you want to take and practice packing it. Consider bringing your laptop, cell phone, reports, contracts, brochures, clothes and shaving kit toothbrush medication and your lens prescriptions if you wear glasses or contact lenses. If visiting foreign countries, make sure that you have the proper electronic conversion to keep your laptop and phones alive. 220 volts can wreak havoc with your stuff if you are not careful.
  • Have a list of your medications and lens prescriptions where you can access them quickly in the event you need to replace while traveling.

See also: The Insurer of the Future – Part 6  

Airline Rules

  • Be a smart flyer. You will have missed connections and missed meetings. In most cases, things will all work out. Anger does not help the situation. Do not stand in lines -– use your phone and call your travel agent or airline directly.
  • If you park at the airport, take a photo of your parking space. It will save you from wandering around a parking lot following a long trip late at night when you are the most tired (especially if you return on a different airline than the one on which you left).
  • Take a photo of your luggage with your phone. It will help you recover it if it is lost.
  • Dehydration is caused by flying, and studies show that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be a risk for frequent flyers; drinking water on all flights and getting up to stretch are simple preventative measures that can be taken.
  • Once you arrive at the airport, secure your car keys (other than on your person). Once you lock your car, you won’t need them again until you return. There usually are special pockets in backpacks or suitcases to use. That way, you always will know where they’ll be when you need them.
  • Global Entry and TSA Pre work well. In time saved and travel friction reduced, the status is worth every penny. If traveling international, get Global Entry. It can take as much as six months to get an appointment for Global Entry.
  • Enroll in every frequent flyer program whether or not you routinely fly a particular airline. Make sure that you have a spreadsheet of the programs and the security code to access them online.
  • Check in early and review your seat selection. With equipment changes, the airlines may move you around without your knowledge.
  • Determine if you are an aisle or a window person.
  • There is a reason exit rows are premium seats. If there are upgrades to be had, it is likely that an “exit row” person will be moved to business class. Ask at the gate to get the open seat if one opens up.
  • When things are blowing up at the airport, use the latest technology to re-schedule your flight and get a place where you can sleep for the night. Waiting in lines during these events can be a colossal waste of time.

Money, Money, Money

  • The company credit card should not to be used for non-business expenses.
  • Have the right currency on a foreign business trip. Take enough cash to cover your needs or to get you to the next cash machine. Some countries or places do not have cash machines.
  • Watch when you are using the credit card to make sure it is not being used inappropriately. Keep it in sight whenever possible.
  • Keep all of your receipts. Take a picture of them with your cell phone when you pay the bill. Document who was at the dinner. Be aware of what the company does and does not pay for. Submit your documented expenses as quickly as possible.

During the Trip – While There, You Are Not Here

  • If you travel enough; you will eventually get a bug. They are not fun. Cancel your appointments. If necessary, go to a doctor or hospital. Do not be a dead hero.
  • Drink lots of water. However, do it strategically. In inclement weather or remote locations, access to bathrooms can be problematic.
  • Exercise upon arrival is a great way to “reset” your internal time-clock. Sunshine works wonders. Take a walk outside (no matter the time of year).
  • Use the gym at the hotel unless the concierge has recommended a jogging route; running around in some cities is both dangerous and often a sign that a crime has been committed.
  • If you are visiting an exotic location (such as Cleveland, Ohio) for business, take advantage of the experience. Tourist destinations are just that because there is usually something worth seeing. Avoiding tourist destinations usually results in not seeing the good things.
  • Don’t be obnoxious, rude or inconsiderate; America has enough problems with our reputation in the world; in fact, lean the other way. Go out of your way to be polite, friendly and considerate. Learn enough of the local language to say “hello, good morning, good day, good evening, yes please, thank you, no thank you and two cappuccinos take away.”
  • The Google translation program is amazingly helpful in reading menus and other written documents.
  • Use the opportunity for international travel to open your eyes to how the rest of the world thinks, acts, lives and believes; Americans often think that choosing a latte is the toughest decision they make in a day.
  • Take pictures (cell phone or full camera.) Anyone can get a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Get a picture of you in front of it.
  • Follow the local signs concerning when not to take a picture. Do not take pictures of any military person or institution without permission.
  • Never give money to panhandlers, beggars or street people; you are likely to be swarmed and possibly attacked. If you want to help the local poor, donate money to a religious institution.
  • Always leave an extra donation in a church or museum that you have visited.
  • Local guides are usually worth every penny.
  • Carry 3×5 cards to PRINT the name and address of hotels and restaurants to give to taxi drivers who may not speak English or even the local language. NEVER leave a hotel in a new city without a card with the hotel’s name and address
  • Try not to schlep your bags to all of your business meetings. Most times, you can leave them at the hotel even if you are checked out. If you do, always count the bags every time you move (in and out of taxi, in and out of business offices, etc.)
  • Read up on the country you are visiting, and ask for advice from others who have been there. A little cultural knowledge goes a long way and can make the difference between a successful trip and failure.
  • Embrace the culture of places that are different from the one you call home.
  • Know how to dress for the culture and business you will be doing; most countries outside the U.S. tend to be a little more formal.
  • Little things count. For example: Wearing a green hat in China means your wife is having an affair.
  • Drink local wines and beer. Ask for advice from dinner guests or restaurant help. This could help avoid some weird stuff (cherry beer late at night with a sandwich at the Holiday Inn by the Brussels airport).
  • In business situations, do not overdrink. Always be sober enough to get safely back to your hotel if you are somehow left alone.
  • If you are with a group and get lost from that group, plan to meet back at the last place where everyone was aware that the group was together.
  • When visiting certain countries, realize the potential for your technology to be hacked and any information you had in that computer to be used against you.
  • If an alarm goes off, do not ignore it. Take stock and determine where you should be.

See also: Risk Exposed to Your Art Business  

Lodging

  • Try to stay above the first floor of a hotel or motel. Also try to stay low enough for the fire ladder to get to your window (usually seventh floor).
  • If you forgot a personal item, the front desk has it. Don’t pay for one in the little store.
  • Pick hotels that have in-house gyms. Exercise, even 30 minutes on a hotel stationary bike, can help with digestion, sleep and staying awake in meetings in a warm room.
  • Stay at places that include breakfast in the price of the stay.
  • During a power outage, your phone and laptop can provide you with needed light.
  • Tip the concierge if you get help from him or her.

Ground Transportation – Do Not Get Ground Down

  • No matter where you go, take identification that allows you to drive. Consider getting an international driver’s license – https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0050-international-drivers-license-scams
  • Uber and Lyft are a non-regulated means of travel available in most cities. There are increasing reports of violence from passengers using these forms of travel. Be cautious when using non-regulated transport.
  • Purchasing auto insurance for rental cars is usually determined by company policy.

Traveling Internationally

  • Read the State Department warning on travel. If traveling overseas, enroll in the State Department’s STEP program and list all locations.
  • Get your international travel documents in order. Passport should be current and not expiring in the next six months, or some countries will not allow you to enter.
  • Keep your passport safe at all times. Keep a notarized photo copy of your passport separate from your passport and keep it safe, as well. This will allow you to get a replacement while traveling much faster.
  • Use chip-enabled cards only while traveling overseas to prevent theft.
  • Most international car rental locations may only have manual transmissions. Know ahead of time if you can’t use a stick.
  • When you’re planning the dates of an international business trip, review local bank holidays and religious holidays, which could affect your ability to schedule meetings or access services that may be closed.
  • Bring a full set of electronics (chargers, adapters, etc.) for the phone, laptop and tablet in your briefcase.
  • Before travel, identify any recommended or required vaccinations in the countries where you are traveling. Ensure that your flu, pertussis and pneumonia vaccinations are up to date. Finally, in many countries of the world, TB is a common illness. If you travel frequently internationally, speak to your physician on whether he or she recommends an annual TB test.

International Communication

Most of us travel with a laptop and cell phone at all times. Using your cell phone and getting Wi-Fi access worldwide is possible but can be expensive if you don’t pre-plan.

  • You should download all local Google maps for where you will be visiting onto your cellphone. This will save you data fees and allow you to get information even if you have no signal.
  • Before an international trip, you will need to activate international service on your phone.
  • Data is VERY expensive overseas. You should turn off your roaming on your phone prior to your trip. Use Wi-Fi dialing and Wi-Fi access to get emails, texts, etc.
  • Be very aware of the Wi-Fi provider and only use trusted sources.
  • Make sure you are aware of your company’s international data and phone policy – it will be different from the normal usage.

Travel Resources:
https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/checklist.html

Noncompliance: a $290 Billion Problem

Noncompliance is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities for savings and improved medical outcomes.

One reason noncompliance has been such a difficult issue is its complexity. Patients don’t take their medications for a multitude of reasons. Reasons for noncompliance vary from patient to patient. That rules out a one-size-fits-all solution.

Noncompliance can be more of a challenge for workers’ compensation claims, potentially because of perceived HIPAA privacy rules. Because of an approach that appears to mirror “don’t ask, don’t tell,” little is known by many of the workers’ compensation physicians about the drugs that are being prescribed for chronic or underlying conditions to their industrially injured patients. Or, if doctors do discuss such issues with the patients, few if any include such information in their reports to the insurance companies.  Claims examiners also do not want to know about underlying medical conditions because of their fear of being roped into paying for this kind of treatment even if it may facilitate a faster recovery from an industrial injury. (Not knowing about underlying conditions, they are also limiting their ability to identify potential catastrophic claims early in the age of the claim.)

Here are some of my thoughts and commentary on noncompliance:

  • Compliance problems are one of the many reasons that the medications are doled out in a plastic weekly (with individual days) dispensing device.
  • There are many new “apps” being developed for phones and computers that are designed to insure compliance.
  • There are also new technologies being developed that will insure compliance for many of the chronic drugs. For instance, Proteus (http://www.proteus.com/) has a chip that is attached to the pill. It gives out a signal when the pill is taken. I was particularly impressed with these folks.
  • Noncompliance is also tied to pharmacy fraud. This is particularly true for physicians who are allowed to dispense out of their offices as well as for those who are involved in prescribing and dispensing opiates.
  • Compliance is significantly different for pain drugs vs. chronic drugs (such as heart medications or statins for cholesterol maintenance). We generally prefer that patients not use pain drugs unless those drugs are needed to maximize the recovery of the patient. Yet we want every patient to take the right medications at the right times to help them maintain appropriate blood pressure, sugar blood levels or anti-convulsive drugs needed to maintain a productive and healthy worker.
  • Noncompliance is one of the problems that has helped fuel the opioid epidemic. A result of the reluctance of many to take all of the pain medication that was prescribed is the filling of medicine cabinets with dangerous pain pills (which are easily accessed by children and visiting friends). One interesting comment from a good friend: “Every time I have a party, my medicine cabinet is completely cleaned out.”
  • I believe that many physicians are unable to keep up with the variety and nature of all the new drugs brought to market. This can result in poorer-quality drugs or poorly targeted drugs being prescribed, with no one the wiser. Education can be problematic with pharmacy, because there is really no independent body providing the education on the drugs.
  • In Canada, some pharmacists are allowed to prescribe as well as dispense certain drugs. There are no studies on the impact of this in prescribing or dispensing patterns. But studies in the U.S. have shown that, if there is a potential financial incentive, then more drugs are prescribed. As more baby boom doctors retire, and they are not replaced through our teaching system, more of the medical care will responsibility will be demanded of pharmacists, PAs and NPs. With more prescriptions being written by the pharmacists, compliance can be even more problematic because far less time is spent with the patients by pharmacists than by the doctors.
  • Off-label use of pharmacy is more problematic with regard to compliance because of the lack of evidence-based medicine (or any research at all) supporting the new uses of the existing drugs.
  • Blood, urine or oral swab testing for compliance is expensive and problematic but can be useful.
  • One of my favorite stories of noncompliance was the case where the prescribing physician was confronted with a blood test that demonstrated that the patient was not taking any of the prescribed (and dispensed) opiates. The doctor’s response was that the blood test proved that the patient was not abusing the drugs, and he continued to prescribe the same dose and volume for the next three months. (I believe that the patient was selling the drugs.)
  • The advent and expansion of universal medical records will assist treating physicians overcome the siloed medical approach that has existed in WC for years.
  • Some of the reasons for noncompliance are also the same reasons that we find it so hard to help injured workers recover.
  • I did not see any statistics, but I am willing to bet that noncompliance is higher with the 20% subset of population who have had ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and are the ones we have designated as at risk for delayed recovery in the workers’ compensation system.

Here is an article from Doug Benner, which is worth the read for good insight into this very complex issue:

The number of patients who are noncompliant with regard to their pharmacy usage has reached epidemic proportions, and doctors’ inability to provide optimal care as a result has mushroomed into one of the most pressing problems in healthcare today.

  • In the U.S., some 3.8 billion prescriptions are written every year, yet more than 50% of them are taken incorrectly or not at all.
  • In a survey of 1,000 patients, nearly 75% admitted to not always taking their medications as directed. A study of more than 75,000 commercially insured patients found that 30% failed to fill a new prescription, and new prescriptions for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol were not filled 20% to 22% of the time.
  • Even among chronically ill patients who regularly fill their prescriptions, only about half the doses taken are taken as their physicians intend.
  • Poor compliance accounts for 33%  to 69% of drug-related adverse events that result in hospital admissions.
  • Poor compliance with medication regimens is associated with as much as 40% of nursing home admissions.
  • In a study of more than 8,400 senior health plan enrollees, only one in three of those who began treatment with concurrent antihypertensive and lipid-lowering drugs were taking both medications as directed or at all at six months.
  • In a study of more than 240,000 patients who were given a new prescription for an antidepressant, less than 30% were still taking the medication six months later.
  • Compared with patients who follow instructions, patients who don’t take their medications as intended have a risk for hospitalization, re-hospitalization and premature death that is 5.4 times higher if they have hypertension, 2.8 times higher if they have dyslipidemia and 1.5 times higher if they have heart disease.
  • The number of patients with serious cardiac conditions who don’t take their medications is especially baffling and problematic. In a study of 34,501 patients age 65 or older, only 26% of those who began a statin regimen to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease maintained a high level of use five years later; the greatest decline occurred during the first six months of treatment.
  • Even after a life-threatening event, compliance with medication regimens remains surprisingly poor. Within two years of initiating therapy, only half of patients hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction (MI) were still taking their prescribed statins, beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs).

One upshot: Poor medication compliance is implicated in more than 125,000 U.S. deaths per year.

Yet compliance — which is used interchangeably with the term “adherence,” although the latter term is gaining ground — has been exhaustively studied. More than 40,000 peer-reviewed papers on the subject have been published, “yet the rates of poor adherence have not changed significantly over the past several decades and continue to remain at an unacceptable level,” observes URAC, a healthcare accreditation organization, in a white paper prepared for industry leaders.

Or, as former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once put it with his customary forthrightness, “Drugs don’t work in people who don’t take them.”

The $290 billion question — $290 billion being how much poor compliance is estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system each year — is: Why?

See also: How to Pick a Health Plan (Carefully)  

An unbelievably complicated problem

One reason noncompliance has been such a tough nut to crack is its daunting complexity. Patients don’t take their medications for a multitude of reasons, many of them emanating from the murky depths of human psychology and many of which the patients (not to mention medical researchers) may not fully understand.

To complicate matters, these reasons vary from patient to patient. That rules out a one-size-fits-all solution. Internist William Shrank, MD, MSHS, chief scientific officer and chief medical officer of Provider Innovation and Analytics at CVS Caremark, has served as lead author or coauthor in more than 100 studies on patient compliance with medication. His conclusion: “There is no silver bullet.”

Researchers have analyzed the steps involved in compliance to better understand where the process breaks down. First, the patient must receive the right prescription from a doctor or another provider. The new prescription must then be filled, a seemingly simple act that can be a major barrier to compliance. The patient must then make it through the first six months on the medication, when the risk for noncompliance is highest. If the medication is for a chronic condition, it must then be taken as intended — indefinitely.

“Adherence is the result of getting through these four steps successfully,” notes the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, in a report aimed at policymakers in Washington, “and a single policy option is not going to address each of these challenges to adherence.”

To thicken the plot, a patient’s unique cluster of reasons for not complying at any given time isn’t stable. With the loss of a job, for example, medications may become unaffordable, so the patient stops taking them, cuts the pills in half to make them last longer or skips some doses.

After a divorce, job loss or any traumatic event, depression may set in; taking medication as directed may then be the last thing on the patient’s mind.

Or, a compliant patient may suffer a medication-related adverse event. As a result, she may stop taking her pills, as up to 20% of patients do because of perceived side effects.

Does the patient tell the doctor? Probably not. Why? The doctor is so busy; she doesn’t want to be a bother. Or, she doesn’t like the doctor, so this is how she retaliates. Or, she decides that her ill effects are a sign that she’s taking too many drugs, so she goes off-regimen. Or, she consults with a friend on a social networking website for patients with similar chronic conditions, and the friend advises her to try alternative medicine instead.

“Is it widely known that adherence is a cluster of behaviors and not a single construct?” asks internist John F. Steiner, MD, MPH, research director at Kaiser Permanente’s Institute for Health Research in Denver and a thought leader on medication compliance issues. “No, that’s actually a radical claim.”

It may be radical, but researchers are putting patients, doctors and the healthcare system itself under a microscope to better understand this ever-shifting cluster of behaviors and why it so often results in noncompliance. While many questions remain unanswered, here’s what has been learned to date.

Patient beliefs and behaviors are often barriers

Patients with chronic conditions may spend only a few hours a year in your office, but they spend roughly 5,000 waking hours each year living the rest of their lives. During that time, out of touch with their doctors and generally unmonitored by the healthcare system, many are allowed to quietly, invisibly slip off their regimens.

In 2009, a team of researchers at Kaiser Permanente combed through much of the vast literature on compliance and distilled the sea of data down to several important patient-related barriers. They include forgetfulness; lack of knowledge about the medication and its use; cultural, health and religious beliefs about the medication; denial or ambivalence regarding the state of their health; financial challenges; lack of health literacy; and lack of social support.

Forgetfulness is the No. 1 barrier to compliance, experts believe, although a survey of 10,000 patients found that only 24% ascribed noncompliance to forgetfulness. Up to 20% failed to take medications because of perceived side effects, 17% had cost issues and 14% didn’t feel the need to take medication because they believed it would have little to no effect on their disease.

Among patients with chronic conditions (such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol), noncompliance tends to be highest if symptoms aren’t experienced.

Myopic? Perhaps. But when doctors are patients, they tend to act just like everyone else. Steiner likes to ask an audience of physicians for a show of hands of who has ever taken an antibiotic. Many hands are raised. He then asks how many doctors took the full course of antibiotics even after their symptoms abated. Many hands go down.

Even the Sickest Patients May Not Take Their Drugs

Noncompliance is plentiful in patients who exhibit symptoms, too — even for life-threatening conditions. Not even a brush with death is enough to get some patients to stick to their regimens. According to one study, after hospitalization for acute MI, about 24% of patients still hadn’t filled their cardiac medication prescription a week after being discharged.

In another study, among patients discharged with prescriptions for aspirin, statins and beta-blockers after an episode of acute MI, about 34% stopped at least one medication and 12% stopped all three medications within a month.

A third study found that only about 40% of patients were still taking statins two years after hospitalization for acute coronary syndrome. Compliance was even lower for patients taking statins for chronic coronary artery disease.

A major reason why many patients go off-regimen is the cost of drugs. But even when patients are given drugs gratis, compliance improves only slightly. One much-discussed study looked at 2,845 Aetna health plan members discharged from the hospital after an acute MI episode who were given all of their drugs — statins, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, ARBs — for free. That was then compared with 3,020 Aetna enrollees who had the usual prescription coverage. In the usual-coverage group, compliance rates were 36% 49%. But without the cost barrier, the rates were only 4% to 6% higher.

What could account for this underwhelming result? Could depression play a role? Although the investigators noted cardiac-related comorbidities of patients at baseline, they didn’t ask about depression. Yet a meta-analysis of 31 studies that collectively included 18,000 people found that depressed patients with a variety of chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease, had 76% greater odds of being noncompliant compared with patients who weren’t depressed.

At least you can understand why depressed patients may lack the motivation to stay on regimen, but, confoundingly, so do many patients who aren’t depressed. As Shrank and cardiologist Lisa Rosenbaum, MD, noted in a 2013 paper:

“Though patients may be forthcoming about the more practical challenges (to adherence), the psychological barriers are tougher to identify and articulate. Patients don’t generally tell their physicians, ‘Every time I look at that pill bottle, it reminds me that I’m ill,’ or ‘I tend to discount future benefits as long as I feel well today.’ Such underlying psychological mechanisms probably contribute to nonadherence far more than we realize and help explain why existing interventions have brought only modest improvements.”

In reality, however, the teamwork concept isn’t working out too well. One reason is a chronic lack of time. The mean duration of a primary care visit ranges from 7.6-17.6 minutes. To be efficient, the doctor must control the conversation, with less time for listening and discussing topics such as medication reviews and preventive care.

Even if more time were available, it’s not what every patient wants. In one study of doctor-patient relationships, behavioral economists used game-theory techniques to identify the factors affecting treatment decisions in patients with a life-threatening disease — in this case, breast cancer — who were considering adjuvant therapy. They found that when patients disregarded their doctor’s treatment recommendations, the doctors responded by telling them in more detail about the benefits of treatment. However, this produced a perplexing result: The more information the patients received, the less likely they were to be compliant.

The researchers conceded that, “Patients want more specific disease and treatment information,” but “the provision of this information might lead to therapy decisions which diverge from the physicians’ recommendations.”

But the larger problem is that too little information is offered to patients who want — and need — more. The average time that a doctor spends discussing all aspects of a newly prescribed medication is a mere 49 seconds. Surveys show that no medication instructions are given by physicians in 19% to 39% of prescriptions; in observational studies, 17% to 25% of prescriptions are not accompanied by instructions from the doctor. For a new prescription, doctors discuss dosing directions in fewer than 60% of cases and review potential adverse events — a major reason why patients quit taking their drugs — only 33% of the time.

Nor do busy doctors typically have the time or skill to sit down with a patient and tease out his or her unique personal barriers to compliance, which is why so much of their advice goes in one ear and out the other, contends behavioral psychologist Kim Lavoie, PhD, associate professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal, co-director of the Montreal Behavioral Medicine Centre and an expert on motivating patients to stick to their regimens.

“Health is not necessarily the patient’s main priority,” Lavoie observes. “If you have a 40-year-old woman who smokes, and you want to get her to quit, what’s likely to be her No. 1 concern? The answer,” she says, “is weight gain. If the conversation doesn’t address that obstacle, my prediction is that she’s not going to quit.”

The authors of a paper that analyzes the doctor-patient interaction note, “Doctors’ communication style can positively influence (patient) beliefs and therefore lead to better adherence to recommendations. However, they are often unable to understand differences in patient preferences regarding information and participation during consultations. They often fail to listen to patients and explore their views on their disease and medication.”

Explore their views? Who has the time for that? But doctors’ failure to listen may not be just a function of time. Doctors, after all, are also psychological beings, who may, at times, act irrationally in counterproductive ways.

“The doctor, just as the patient, also experiences feelings during the consultation such as anxiety or anger, which have been shown to decrease the overall satisfaction of both parties with the consultation and also the patient’s adherence to recommendations,” researchers have discovered.

See also: Is the ACA Repeal Taking Shape?  

Conflicting perspectives on compliance

When you prescribe drugs for patients with chronic conditions or advise them to go on a diet, it’s natural to assume that because patients come to you as their medical expert you share the same goal: the patients’ long-term health.

But this may not be the case. In fact, doctors and patients tend to have conflicting perspectives on the burden of adhering to the medication and lifestyle regimens the doctors prescribe. Doctors “want to maximize patients’ health outcomes in the future and are less interested in patients’ anticipatory feelings in the present,” one paper points out.  Patients “put more weight on leading an easier life now rather than thinking of the consequences of their future health status.”

It might be easier to bridge this gap if the doctor-patient relationship still had the influence it once did, but with many patients switching health plans — and, often, doctors — on a yearly basis as premiums are raised, the relationship now is often perfunctory. The more patients you are forced to see to pay the bills, the less time you have to explore and address patient barriers to compliance.

Too-brief visits with doctors and leaving with more questions than answers may be a reason why many patients seek medical advice elsewhere. The prospect of patients visiting healthcare websites (where the quality of information can be highly variable) rather than trusting doctors to know what they’re doing may make smoke come out of your ears. But now patients are visiting social networking sites, specifically for patients with chronic diseases, where they compare notes. They discuss their medications, dosages and adverse events with each other, give each other advice and often take that advice.

One study found that 55% of patients rely entirely on their physician to make treatment decisions. That means 45% are seeking advice elsewhere. In another study, 68% of patients turned to other sources to validate information received from their doctors. These other sources, needless to say, aren’t other physicians.

Even when doctors take the time to explain things to patients, many patients have little or no idea of what the doctors are talking about. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. — 90 million people — have trouble understanding what the doctor tells them about why they are sick and about how to adhere to medication regimens, according to the Institute of Medicine.

“Each patient, in reality, has his or her own unique barriers, which can vary by disease and medication,” a team of RAND researchers concluded. “Programs for improving adherence must find a balance between ‘customized’ interventions and effective programs that work for large groups or classes of patients.

“This is not to say that society needs thousands of different programs for each barrier,” the researchers continued, “but it needs programs that can identify these barriers and take the diversity of individuals and barriers into account.”

We are not there yet.

Medication regimens can be too complicated

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, especially when doctors are dashing off prescriptions every 15 minutes, the drug regimens being prescribed — even though they may be evidence-based — may not be easy for patients to follow, even if they wanted to.

In a 2012 paper, Kaiser Permanente’s John Steiner calculated how many behaviors per year are required of a hypothetical 67-year-old patient with well-controlled hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia. It came to more than 3,000 behaviors. “And that’s a conservative estimate,” he says.

Writing in the New York Times, internist Danielle Ofri, MD, associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, told of a small experiment she conducted with a group of medical students. They wrote up prescriptions for several common medications: metformin, furosemide, albuterol, lisinopril and rantidine. Each student received two prescriptions and two boxes of Tic Tacs and was instructed to take the “medicines” for a week.

“When we met for our next session, I asked them how they did, and they all had abashed expressions on their faces,” Ofri writes. “Not one was able to take every single pill as directed for seven days.”

Compliance, it turns out, is inversely proportional to the number of times a patient must take medication each day. For medication taken only once daily, the average compliance rate is nearly 80%; for medication that must be taken four times a day, the average rate drops to about 50%.

See also: Potential Key to Tackling Opioid Issues  

One study found that the average patient who takes a statin for dyslipidemia currently takes a total of 11 medications, makes five pharmacy visits over a three-month period and synchronizes — that is, picks up multiple prescriptions at the same time — just half of his or her refills. However, 10% of statin users take 23 or more medications, make 11 or more pharmacy visits to two or more pharmacies over 90 days, have four or more prescribers and only synchronize 10% of their refills.

Picture a Medicare patient whose memory may not be what it once was and who may lack the social support to get to the pharmacy regularly trying to adhere to all of this.

“We’re asking patients to adopt obsessive-compulsive behavior,” admits internist Edmund Pezalla, MD, MPH, national medical director of Pharmacy Policy and Strategy for the health insurer Aetna. “Taking medication every day is hard to do. We’re asking people to deal with the same boring situation over and over again. We’re not programmed to do that. Machines do that. Humans don’t do it very well.”

Fragmented care is a culprit

Even if doctors had more time to spend with patients and if patients were more willing to take their doctors’ advice, the healthcare system creates numerous obstacles to subvert their efforts. A major obstacle is fragmented care.

“In decades past, community-based physicians not only authorized a patient’s admission to the hospital, they performed regular hospital rounds, supervised overall patient care and authorized the patient’s discharge,” notes a report by the New England Health Policy Institute (NEHI). “In theory, medication management was seamless because the admitting physician, the discharging physician and the ‘receiving’ physician in the community were the same individual.”

That’s not the situation today. Patients with chronic conditions now see primary doctors, who, in turn, refer them to specialists. If the patients are hospitalized, a hospitalist likely as not will take over their care. Many patients are discharged, not to their homes, but to long-term acute care hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals or skilled nursing facilities, where more doctors will prescribe medications for them.

“Transferring patients from short-term acute care hospitals to post-acute providers increases the number of times information needs to be passed between providers and increases the opportunity for errors and medication errors in particular,” the NEHI report points out.

Other systemic barriers to compliance include lack of access to healthcare, inconvenience in obtaining prescription refills, wide variations in the cost of the same drugs from one health plan to another and pharmacy policies that limit prescription size and require frequent refills.

Access to pharmacy data is a problem

Even in accountable care organizations and integrated delivery systems, with resources far beyond those of the average doctor, care teams typically lack access to pharmacy data, such as the rate at which a prescription is filled and refilled by a given patient. If you knew which of your patients weren’t picking up their drugs, you would know who needs help with medication compliance.

“For patients with coexisting conditions who take multiple medications prescribed by multiple physicians, there is a vital need to reconcile the prescribed regimen with what a patient is actually taking and to understand why there is a difference between the two,” note David M. Cutler, PhD, and Wendy Everett, ScD, in a 2010 paper. “But optimizing and reconciling medications require substantial investments of time by a skilled healthcare practitioner, as well as electronic data sharing among practitioners — neither of which is widely available in today’s model of healthcare delivery.”

Even if time, skill and electronic-data-sharing were widely available, the complexity of each patient’s barriers and the ever-shifting nature of those barriers would probably still thwart many efforts to improve medication compliance.

“Although the multifactorial nature of nonadherence means there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution, interventions ranging from education to elimination of selected copayments to telephone-based counseling have achieved modest improvements in clinical trials,” Rosenbaum and Shrank point out. “But even if we had more robust interventions,” they write, “we’d lack simple, cost-effective ways of targeting the right intervention to the right patient.”

Why research hasn’t been more helpful

Advances in medicine generally stem from peer-reviewed studies that produce statistically compelling, evidence-based data for doing one thing or another. The more studies, the better and more refined the evidence — or so one would think.

This hasn’t, by and large, been the case with compliance. The ocean of data on the subject has stubbornly resisted attempts at synthesis into a statistically compelling, evidence-based, systematized plan or plans of action for overcoming barriers to compliance across a range of patients, drugs and diseases.

A 2007 Cochrane review of interventions for enhancing medication compliance didn’t mince words: “With the astonishing advances in medical therapeutics during the past two decades, one would think that studies of the nature of non-adherence and the effectiveness of strategies to help patients overcome it would flourish,” the authors wrote. “On the contrary, the literature concerning interventions to improve adherence with medications remains surprisingly weak.”

“There probably is a set of general principles that might emerge from the literature,” suspects Kaiser Permanente’s John Steiner, “but they’re not intuitively evident because of the way the studies are designed and carried out.”

Even the definition of compliance is subject to debate. Is compliance mainly taking one’s medications as instructed — a narrow definition adopted by most researchers because it simplifies research to study only one variable at a time, even if it sacrifices environmental complexity? Or should the definition be broader: “The extent to which a person’s behavior — taking medication, following a diet or executing lifestyle changes — corresponds with the agreed recommendations from a healthcare provider,” as WHO maintains?

Steiner tells of his 93-year-old father, who embodies this definitional dilemma: “He discovered to his great delight that, as long as he took his statin, he could eat anything he wanted,” Steiner says. “By being adherent with his medication, he didn’t need to be adherent with his diet. Those are different adherence behaviors, but, in his case, one trumps the other.”

“The problem is with the way the scientific literature evolves,” Steiner reflects. “It’s reductionistic. You want to do a study on adherence with antihypertensive drugs, for example, and you disregard the six other drugs that the patient is taking.

“That can make the literature seem fragmented,” he says. “We don’t tackle the adherence problem at the patient level. We tackle it at the drug or disease level. It’s easier to study at that level. Measurements are easier. Costs are lower.”

How much compliance is enough?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has introduced uniform standards for compliance outcomes with its five-star rating system for Medicare Advantage plans. The top rating is awarded to plans that achieve 70% to 80% compliance in hyperlipidemia, hypertension and cholesterol management in their members.

But this raises another niggling issue: From a population-based perspective, how much compliance is enough? Setting optimal compliance rates across the board at 80% is arbitrary and potentially counterproductive, Steiner believes.

“There’s almost no evidence that can allow us to set those sorts of thresholds in a scientific way,” he asserts. “For example, for first-generation antiretroviral drugs, studies showed that you needed adherence of 95% or greater to knock out the virus. An 80% adherence threshold would not have been stringent enough for those old drugs.

See also: EpiPen and the Prescription Crisis  

“The converse is also true. Years ago, when rheumatic fever was common, doctors prescribed penicillin to knock out strep throat, because that triggered rheumatic fever. However, studies showed that you only probably needed to take a third of the doses to knock out all the strep. So for that kind of situation, 30% to 40% adherence was probably just fine. If it were 80%, you would increase the risk for side effects, as well as the cost, without increasing the clinical benefit.”

In the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2012, Steiner writes, “If lower levels of adherence are sufficient to achieve clinical goals, pursuit of higher adherence is wasteful. And if higher levels are required, even these adherence targets will not suffice.”

Moderate progress on compliance issues

Despite a tsunami of unanswered questions, the enormous amount of research that has gone into compliance has not been a waste of time. On the contrary, it has produced some valuable insights. The second article in this series looks at the healthcare industry’s initiatives to improve compliance on the basis of this research.

With more than 40,000 peer-reviewed studies on the subject conducted over several decades, you’d think we’d at least be at Compliance 2.0 by now in the state of our knowledge. In reality, it’s more like Compliance 1.5. We aren’t on the verge of solving this immensely complex problem. The outlines of what is, at best, a partial solution are only just starting to emerge.

Despite moderate progress, “The heterogeneity in how adherence is assessed, measured and defined is a major limitation to the data on barriers of adherence,” investigators at RAND concluded in 2009.

That continues to be the case.

The First 100 Days in a New Job

The term “the first 100 days” was coined in a July 24, 1933, radio address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was referring to the 100-day session of the 73rd United States Congress between March 9 and June 17, 1933.

As a board member, I think it is a great idea for a new CEO to think in a similar fashion and prepare a memo outlining what he/she will be doing for the first 100 days of the new job. The first 100 days is the time when the new CEO determines the culture of the organization, gets his/her arms around the finances and the budget and determines who has what skills and experience to help lead the organization and who he/she can rely upon to achieve the goals set by the board. There are several books on the market outlining the steps a new CEO should take in his or her first 100 days.

See also: Insurance CEOs See Wave of Disruption  

As a parallel to the first 100 days concept for the president of the U.S., when one starts a new job with a new company, the culture tends to give the person a level of credibility and deference from leaders in the organization that is not usually afforded to existing employees. I call it Teflon. For me, the game was to retain the Teflon beyond the first 100 days, or to work on my “Teflon renewal process.” I would do that by outlining my goals and expectations in a 100-day memo — and then I would achieve the goals set out in that document.

Every time I was promoted, got a new boss, was involved in a restructuring or saw my role changed, I would prepare a memo for my boss (and myself) outlining my plans for the first 100 days. The document outlined my 100-day goals as well as my mid-term and long-term goals for my department. It also provided insight into my key performance indicators and into the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

The memo outlined my expectations for what I would accomplish as well as the expectations of what I needed from my people to accomplish the goals. More importantly, the memo got me into the habit of doing what I needed do on a daily basis for me to be successful in my new role. This memo also resulted in establishing the way in which I would communicate with my boss.

As a best practice, I recommend everyone consider preparing such a document when they get a new job or role. I also recommend that, as a manager or supervisor, you ask your employees to outline their goals and expectations in their own 100-day document.

See also: CEOs Defy Common Sense on Wellness

Now all I have to do is to prepare my 100-day plan for when I am at home — I need some Teflon with the wife.

Here is an article that provides some detail on how to produce a 100-day action plan for a CEO.

Southern California Is Home to Fraud

Those who are familiar with the California workers’ compensation system are aware that much of the fraud, and a very high percentage of the liens, in the state are in Southern California. These three articles (here, here and here) show why workers’ comp fraud is making a home in Southern California.

Before the passage of SB-899 in 2004, there was one back fusion surgery for every laminectomy (surgery to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or nerves) provided in workers’ compensation in California even though only 3% of laminectomies by group health providers resulted in fusions.

Prior to SB-899, it was almost impossible for the payers to say no to physicians’ requests for multiple surgeries. Back then, six and seven unnecessary back surgeries on a patient were not uncommon — and, apparently, for the benefit of the doctors, not of the injured workers.

To compound the problems for the injured worker, when the multiple back surgeries were not successful, the employee was then given opioids for the intractable pain. This resulted in a large number of injured workers who are now opioid addicts.

Opioid-addicted injured workers now account for a high percentage of the complex and advanced IMRs (independent medical reviews done by Maximus).

Pending regulations from the Division of Workers’ Compensation for a pharmacy formulary (using evidence-based medicine) will help reduce the number of inappropriate requests and questionable denials.

Already, passage of SB-863, with a focus on evidence-based medicine and medical decisions made by medical professionals, helped significantly reduce the abuses and improve the care for the injured workers of California. The IMR process outlined in SB-863 takes medical decisions away from non-medical professionals. It helps protect the injured workers from abuses like those outlined by the FBI in the articles I linked to above.

It would be interesting to see how many of the millions of the liens filed in the system are associated with the indicted doctors mentioned in the article.

An Overlooked Risk in Workers’ Comp

Sleep deprivation is an issue that is often overlooked, yet frequently the cause of decreased productivity, accidents, incidents and mistakes that cost companies billions of dollars each year, reports Circadian, a global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.

Often, the experts at Circadian say, employers are unaware of the impact fatigue or sleep deprivation is having on their operation until a tragic accident occurs. Only then do managers ask the question: “What happened?”

Sleep deprivation is much more dangerous than you might realize. It’s not just annoying, like when an employee snoozes in a meeting or yawns during a conversation. Here are 10 real dangers associated with the overlooked problems in a sleep-deprived workforce:

  1. Decreased communication: When workers are tired, they become poor communicators. In one study, researchers noted that sleep-deprived individuals drop the intensity of their voices; pause for long intervals without apparent reason; enunciate very poorly or mumble instructions inaudibly; mispronounce, slur or run words together; and repeat themselves or lose their place in a sentence sequence.
  2. Performance deteriorates: Performance declines frequently include increased compensatory efforts on activities, decreased vigilance and slower response time. The average functional level of any sleep-deprived individual is comparable to the 9th percentile of non-sleep-deprived individuals. Workers must notice these performance declines, right? Not quite. In fact, sleep-deprived individuals have poor insight into their performance deficits. Also, the performance deficits worsen as time on task increases.
  3. Increased risk of becoming distracted: Sleep-deprived individuals have been shown to have trouble with maintaining focus on relevant cues, developing and updating strategies, keeping track of events and maintaining interest in outcomes and, instead, attend to activities judged to be non-essential. In fact, research suggests that there is a symbiotic relationship between sleep deprivation and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because of the overlap in symptoms.
  4. Driving impairments: Because of federal regulations, the trucking industry is well aware of the driving impairments associated with sleep deprivation. However, plant managers are unaware of the ways in which sleep-deprived workers may be dangerously operating machinery (e.g. forklifts or dump trucks). In fact, 22 hours of sleep deprivation results in neurobehavioral performance impairments that are comparable to a 0.08% blood alcohol level (legally drunk in the U.S.).
  5. Increased number of errors: The cognitive detriments of sleep deprivation increase concurrently with a worker’s time on a given task, resulting in an increased number of errors. These errors include mistakes of both commission (i.e., performing an act that leads to harm) and omission (i.e., not performing an expected task), which can wreak havoc at any work facility. Errors especially are likely in subject-paced tasks in which cognitive slowing occurs and with tasks that are time-sensitive, which cause increases in cognitive errors.
  6. Poor cognitive assimilation and memory: Short-term and working memory declines are associated with sleep deprivation and result in a decreased ability to develop and update strategies based on new information, along with the ability to remember the temporal sequence of events.
  7. Inappropriate moodines: Inappropriate, mood-related behavior often occurs in outbursts, as most sleep-deprived individuals are often quiet and socially withdrawn. However, a single one of these outbursts can be enough to destroy the positive culture of a work environment and cause an HR nightmare. These behavioral outbursts can include irritability, impatience, childish humor, lack of regard for normal social conventions, inappropriate interpersonal behaviors and unwillingness to engage in forward planning.
  8. Greater risk-taking behavior: Brain imaging studies have shown that sleep deprivation was associated with increased activation of brain regions related to risky decision making, while areas that control rationale and logical thinking show lower levels of activation. In fact, sleep deprivation increases one’s expectation of gains while diminishing the implications of losses. What does this mean for your workers? Sleep-deprived workers may be making riskier decisions, ignoring the potential negative implications and taking gambles in scenarios in which the losses outweigh the benefits.
  9. Inability to make necessary adjustments: Flexible thinking, preservation on thoughts and actions, updating strategies based on new information, ability to think divergently and innovation are all hurt by sleep deprivation. A worker may be unable to fill a leadership role on request when sleep-deprived, resulting in a frustrated management team.
  10. Effects of sleep deprivation compound across nights: Four or more nights of partial sleep deprivation containing less than seven hours of sleep per night can be equivalent to a total night of sleep deprivation. A single night of total sleep deprivation can affect your functioning for as long as two weeks. To your brain, sleep is money, and the brain is the best accountant.

According to Circadian, when you have sleep-deprived or fatigued workers, productivity levels and quality of work will be compromised. Furthermore, you create an environment where it becomes not a matter of if your workplace will have an accident or incident but a matter of when, and to what magnitude.

Sleep deprivation is no laughing matter, no matter how frequently our society treats the issue light-heartedly. Eventually, our biological drive to compensate for sleep deprivation wins, and the loser might be your workers, your employer or even you.

The expectation is that employees return to work in January feeling recharged and ready to perform their best. In reality, one in every five workers is sleep-deprived, and those who sleep poorly are 54% more likely to experience stress in their job, according to a new study from international employee health and performance organization Global Corporate Challenge (GCC).

The report, “Waking Up To the Sleep Problem Every Employer Is Facing,” also found that 93% of poor sleepers were more likely to display workplace fatigue, a common symptom of excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) – the condition proven to increase risks of absenteeism, accidents and injury in the workplace.

“Independent research undertaken on GCC participants in the 2014 challenge demonstrates that sleep improves with increased step count in a linear fashion,” said Dr. David Batman, director of research, FCDP. “There are significant increases in productivity and reduction in fatigue and stress levels at work and home. Extrapolation of these results leads to an obvious conclusion that simple exercise improves sleep, and the combined result will be an increase in personal and business performance.”

The results come from the health and performance leaders’ first series of GCC Insights papers, based on aggregate data drawn from employees in 185 countries. With more than 1.5 million people having now been through the program, the data sample is one of the largest, most diverse of its kind.

This GCC Insights paper also provides practical recommendations for employers who recognize that their workers’ mental and physical health inextricably is linked to business success – a realization that, for many, signals a need to rethink outdated well-being strategies in exchange for a longer-term commitment to employee health.

“The cost of poor sleep habits among employee populations has been grossly underestimated; it is having profound consequences for productivity and health,” said Glenn Riseley, founder and president at the GCC. “Luckily, enlightened employers are now changing their cultures so that sleep is no longer seen as a luxury but as a priority.”