Never Say Never

Earlier this week, USA Today ran a story called “Feds stop public disclosure of many serious hospital errors”. The title immediately caught my attention. Effective this week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has removed data from their public spreadsheets on eight avoidable “hospital acquired conditions” (HACs). These include, for example, how often a hospital gives a patient the incorrect blood type or how many patients have surgical towels left in their body accidentally. CMS said the new data includes more reliable measurements of the same condition, but the change has advocates for patient safety up in arms.

Patients want to know when their neighborhood hospital does something truly great for the community. This could include delivering exceptional care, advancing cutting-edge research or attracting top-notch doctors. Likewise, many patients believe they deserve to know if the hospital has areas needing significant improvement. This may mean the hospital regularly makes a certain kind of major medical error or has a high rate of accidental patient deaths.

This shift in data available to patients and their families is interesting, especially in light of the recent pressures for hospitals to be more transparent with patients.

So-called “never” events, unfortunately, sometimes happen. And sometimes, no one is to blame – but should the public still know about it?

The Solution to America’s Weight Problem? Stop Being Sedentary.

In my field of healthcare, we constantly hear and spread messages about what’s healthy. The messages range from the best and worst fast foods to exercises that will slim you down more quickly. Now – more than ever – these messages seem to be everywhere, and this week I read a fascinating story on NPR called “What Makes Us Fat: Is It Eating Too Much Or Moving Too Little?”

A recent study shows that the increase in overweight Americans is not necessarily due to the fact that we eat worse than we did 50 years ago, or even that we consume bigger portions. The findings suggest that a shift in the types of jobs Americans hold has led to a significant decrease in physical activity.

“In 1960, 1 out of 2 Americans had a job where they had lots of physical activity and actually exercised at work; by 2008, very few Americans do work that doesn’t involve sitting around all day,” according to Dr. Tim Church, a professor of preventative medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.

His research found that only 1 in 5 Americans move on the job, but Church says that’s likely a “gross underestimate,” adding that it’s probably more like 1 in 10.

I believe that it’s the culmination of a number of factors that have led to a more overweight and unhealthy culture. I know it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise after coming home from a long day at the office. However, this article suggests (as we’ve all heard before) that just 30 minutes a day of exercise will help combat the sedentary lifestyle of the office worker. Walk your dog (as I do) or find a fun and engaging exercise class at a nearby gym. Whatever it is, just 30 minutes can lead to a healthier and happier you.

Meet Logan

I’d like to introduce you to Logan. He’s my 5-year-old Shiba Inu who quickly became more than just my dog; he’s an important part of my family.

Originally bred in Japan, Shiba Inu’s are an ancient dog breed with a long and interesting history. They are energetic and independent animals that can be extremely protective but loving. He’s an incredibly smart dog with a loyal and affectionate nature. His quirky personality definitely keeps me on my toes, but he’s a great face to come home to after a long day at work. Though, as you can see, he’s not much use when I need help getting out of bed in the morning!

Think Before You Share

The healthcare landscape looks drastically different than it did even ten years ago. The economic crisis of ‘08 played a big hand in the changes we see today, from mergers and acquisitions to reorganizing hospitals and finding creative ways to cut costs. There was also a tiny piece of legislation passed, which you may have heard about.

All that aside, I also believe the boom of social media has made a significant impact in the evolving healthcare landscape.

Social media has shifted how we communicate with people across the board. Physicians, patients and families now have the ability to reach out and engage with hospitals like never before. They can post shining reviews on their Facebook or a scathing complaint on their Twitter. Pictures of the hospital or the patient can be uploaded in the blink of an eye to Instagram. With social media has come a layer of accountability hospitals and doctors have not experienced in years past.

Ragan’s Health Care Communications News ran an article this week titled “Are health care and social media a bad combination?” It focused on a story about a New York nurse who posted a picture of a messy trauma room after a patient had been treated. The nurse was fired for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

In years past, HIPAA simply meant not sharing a patient’s information or any part of their medical records without their consent. In 2014, camera phones and social media has blurred the line of privacy. Posting anything of or about patients can lead to a terrible public relations nightmare – or even worse a serious lawsuit.

This article lays out some good, common sense tips to avoid situations like what happened in New York:

  1. Don’t engage in unauthorized photo sharing on social media.
  2. Always keep HIPAA in mind.
  3. Enforce a written policy for social media including an action plan if someone violates the policy.
  4. Hold classes to teach employees about acceptable social media behaviors.

Maximizing the Museum

It’s no secret among my friends and family that I have a strong passion for travel. I love exploring new cultures, meeting people from every corner of the world, and discovering all that a new place has to offer – from food to music to art.

Around the world, museums offer travelers a gateway into more than just beautiful art; it’s a glimpse into history. This week, a New York Times article discusses the recent challenges faced by museums throughout Europe. As more and more people have the desire and ability to travel abroad, destinations such as the Vatican and the Louvre are faced with the reality of having to accommodate the floods of visitors while preserving the art, beauty and tranquility that attracts travelers in the first place.

This challenge is encouraging museums to discover new and innovative ways to keep their doors open while taking care of the artwork. Years ago, self-guided tours became a big hit. Today, museums are taking new measures such as timed tickets, longer hours and new A/C systems to preserve the art. With all the talk about the decline of the humanities, I’m encouraged not only by the public’s interest, but also the museums’ willingness to adapt to the times.

Do You Feel Like I (Think You) Do?

I recently took a New York Times quiz gauging how well I could read emotions. The quiz gives a series of pictures focused on a person’s eyes and asks you to identify, out of four choices, the emotion that best describes what they are feeling.

The quiz got me thinking about the importance of reading people. In healthcare, body language and expressions help us connect to the people we serve. Understanding and connecting with patients and their families is at the core of our field. When we get these people to open up in such vulnerable situations, we are able to do our jobs even better.

In my current role, I have the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life. It can be both a treasure and a challenge, but being able to read people allows me to be a better manager and coworker.

Beyond healthcare, reading emotion is a great skill in business and in life. It’s something that’s necessary to be a truly effective leader. My advice for any professional is to take the time to work on this – focus more on the people around you and less on yourself. Whether it’s a supervisor, or someone you supervise, a coworker, a patient or a customer, having the ability to gauge emotions is a skill worth honing.

In the meantime, take the New York Times quiz here and let me know how you did.

Until next time.

Innovative Approach to Medicaid

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced they have set aside more than $100 million over the next five years to help states test and implement new payment and delivery models for Medicaid. It’s being called the Medicaid Innovation Accelerator Program (IAP) – and, if you ask me, it’s a step in the right direction.

Recent changes in healthcare have brought both challenges and opportunities for professionals in every sector of the industry. Some of the best advances and solutions we’ve seen in response to the changing landscape have happened thanks to people coming together and using innovative ways of approaching the issue. It’s exciting and refreshing to watch as new, creative approaches develop.

By keeping states siloed and disengaged, the current system hinders progress by preventing collaboration and the spread of best practices. The IAP opens the dialogue that has been missing between states. In the coming weeks, CMS will hold interactive webinars to gauge feedback from states, consumers and subject area experts to determine how to best move IAP forward. I’m curious and excited to see what ideas this program can produce over the next five years.

Changing with the Times – CVS Plays Innovator

On February 5, CVS Caremark sent shockwaves through healthcare and retail circles when it announced it would stop selling tobacco products at its 7,600 stores by October of this year. The move was estimated to cost the company some $2 billion per year. It’s hard to believe people when they say something isn’t about the money, but this time, it really wasn’t about the money. It was about helping people live longer, fuller, healthier lives. And it was a bold, forward-looking move by CVS.

Now, the pharmacy giant is catapulting itself into the future again, as it partners with more traditional providers across the country. With last week’s announcement of more partnerships, CVS now has established affiliations with healthcare providers in six states: Hartford HealthCare and ProHealth Physicians in Connecticut, Memorial Health in Georgia, Lahey Health and Baystate Health in Massachusetts, Texas Health Resources in Texas, Palmetto Health in South Carolina and The Baton Rouge Clinic in Louisiana. Most of these affiliations revolve around so-called MinuteClinics, where doctors can treat conditions that do not require a trip to an emergency room or an urgent care center.

It’s a huge step in the direction of population health management – keeping chronically ill patients out of the hospital and leading healthier lives – of the same vein as the decision to quit selling tobacco products.

“MinuteClinic locations are not intended to act as primary care sites, but instead complement the work of the primary care physicians by supporting their efforts in providing convenient and accessible care,” CVS officials told ­HealthLeaders in an email. “MinuteClinic provides treatment for common family illnesses and administers wellness and prevention services, including health-condition monitoring for patient with chronic diseases.”

So far, in the era of “Obamacare,” CVS is making a name for itself as an innovator planning for the future. Its competitors may want to take note.

This Penny’s Thoughts

Today’s internet-driven world, where any information we want is just a keystroke away, can be daunting. At the same time, modern society has provided us all with a public forum, a chance to be authors. This blog is my effort.

You will soon learn that healthcare is my passion. I have almost two decades of experience in this industry – specializing in Medicare, Medicaid and managed care – and I have done everything from working in the C-suite as a top executive to working in the maternity suite providing direct care.

You will also be able to tell rather quickly that I am from New York. I love to travel, for business and pleasure, and always get plenty of reading done on those long flights and layovers. The Scottish highlands are my favorite place to visit, but I’m nowhere near done exploring.

I plan to share with you things I find interesting day-to-day, from politics to news stories, to horseback riding, to life on Long Island. Thanks for the indulgence.

Comments and cheers are all welcomed.


Penelope Kokkinides is a lifelong New Yorker and health care professional. Here, I plan to share with you the wide-ranging things I find interesting day-to-day. I love to travel, by horseback or jet plane, and hope you will tag along on this journey with me.