Bang Head Here!

So here I sit on New Year’s Eve contemplating this year of 2014.  I will not be sad to leave it behind and as the eternal optimist I look forward to a better year in 2015.  It’s a surprise that we can get up every morning if we listen to the media. So much hate, so much violence, so much war, so much obesity, so much politics, so much sadness, so much disaster, so much of everything. How do we survive it all?bang head here

I have never been one to make many New Year’s resolutions. I don’t think waiting until New Year’s to decide to be a better person or any other infamous decisions is the right thing to do. If you are giving up your addictions, why wait? My addictions just continue anyway. That is why they are addictions, I have trouble giving them up and I don’t think you can use the word “addiction” and “healthy” in the same sentence.

I read and I hear that the country has turned the corner and that unemployment is decreasing. I also read and hear that inflation is under control? Has anyone bought bread and milk lately? Everything is going up and now gasoline is hitting the bottom.  I don’t think we have to worry about the major oil companies being “too big to go broke” like the banks were in 2008. They should have plenty of financial cushions from the prices we have been paying at the pump for the last few years. But, it the pundits are correct and our friends in the Middle East are doing this to lower the competition, something will surely “pop”.

I am surrounded by news that is not very comforting. I ignore it some days, and other days it affects my life as it does yours.  Tomorrow, I will choose to ignore it and enjoy my New Year’s parade and some football.  And maybe make a New Year’s resolution.

HealthGrades Report to the Nation for 2014

ImageI received my notice that the HealthGrades Report on hospital quality outcomes for 2014 was online.  If you are not well versed in the HealthGrades ratings, it may come as a shock that your hospital is not as good as you think it is.  Their hospital rating reports for specific procedures and diagnoses are compiled primarily from Medicare claim data, and it includes all hospitals that are Medicare participants.

Our nation generally agrees (97%) that having the correct information about our healthcare is paramount in making good healthcare decisions. According to a recent Harris Interactive Research survey, we are more likely to choose our hospital based on convenience/location (58%) and amount of co-pay (45%) than on quality outcome information (10%).

This year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that expenditures for healthcare in the U.S. were $2.6 trillion and 17.9% of the gross domestic product. Of that expenditure, $814 billion went to hospitals and $515.5 billion went to physicians and clinical services.  We have been told that health reform will reduce healthcare spending over the next 10 years and lower our premiums.  If healthcare costs continue to rise why doesn’t the consumer shop for better, more affordable care?

HealthGrades was founded in 1998 and ever since they have been reporting on the quality and safety of our nation’s hospitals. The most recent survey just posted online at their website claims that in the time period 2010-2012 , an additional 234,252 lives could have been saved if all hospitals had operated at their highest rating level of 5 stars. HealthGrades rates the performance of hospitals on multiple procedures and diseases within the same institution.

The first thing I did was to go to their website and look up the hospital in my home town. What I found was frightening. My chances of survival in my hometown hospital with a heart attack were only a 2.  However, if I were a patient in the same hospital with pneumonia, my chances of a good outcome were a 4.  My hometown hospital only rated a 3 on the overall scale.  Not a very comforting thought. HealthGrades states that patients treated at a hospital receiving 5-stars in a particular procedure or condition have a lower risk of experiencing complications during a hospital stay than if they were treated at a hospital receiving a 1-star in that procedure or condition.  There also is a lower risk of dying during a hospital stay in a 5-star hospital than in a 1-star hospital. They also cite the national ratings average for procedures and conditions for comparison.

You should visit the website and find your healthcare facility. It is imperative that we, as consumers, must take charge of our own health,  and make informed choices on where and from whom we purchase our care.

Influences and Perceptions: How our intuitions deceive us

Why is it that I believe certain truisms? Did I learn them as a child or was I taught by the television ad?
We are much more likely to believe an anecdote or story than we are to believe the scientific evidence. Mothers that believe they know the cause of a child’s illness are unlikely to be swayed by hundreds of scientific studies that say otherwise. If a friend tells you they tried a new herbal remedy or other alternative medicine and it cured their migraine, you are likely to make the connection that the cause is the new alternative medicine. An example of this phenomenon is found with many sufferers of migraines using acupuncture who swear to its effectiveness in spite of evidence to the contrary.
How our mind functions and the assumptions we make often are connected to our perceptions. The condition of “perceptual blindness” was aptly demonstrated by researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons at Harvard University. Their experiment involved a group of students wearing white shirts passing a basketball among the group members. The reviewers of the group were asked to count the number of passes the basketball made between the players. In the middle of the exercise a person in a gorilla suit wanders through the center of the ballplayers. Most of the participant reviewers never see the gorilla. They are focused on the task of counting the passes of the basketball. Another way of expressing this is “looking without seeing”. This is a literal meaning saying that you can look right at an object and if you do not expect to see it, you will not see it. This is the reason that lifeguards at swimming pools must change stations often because they become blind to seeing the body floating in the bottom of the pool. In military training operations, the team can become so focused on the object, such as a bomb, that they lose sight of the other dangers present.

The premise of how our intuitions deceive us is not limited to physical objects. Our brain is conditioned to expect certain responses. We either do not catalog the “out of the ordinary” response our brain is conditioned to expect or it leads to overconfident decisions. A good example of this phenomenon is what happens to the automobile driver who never sees the motorcycle rider. After the accident, the driver usually says “I was looking right there and they came out of nowhere. I never saw them.” The driver of the car is looking for another car, not a motorcycle. This is so frequent that it has led to the redesign of the motorcycle to look more like a car with two headlights, a bigger body, and wider frame.

Another group of social psychologists coined the term flashbulb memory to explain what happens to people when asked to describe what happened in a singular important event. Where were you on September 11, 2001 when our country was attacked? We all have our individual memories, but over time, our mind has embellished those memories to make them stand out. If someone was standing next to you when it happened, their recounting of the event is probably different from yours. And if you answered a questionnaire ten years after the event, your memory would not remember the very same story.

In recent years, psychologists have categorized our thought process into two types: those that are fast and automatic and those that are slow and reflective. The fast and automatic involves perceptions, memory, and causal interference. The fast and automatic decisions are usually low level brain actions and the slow and reflective include tasks which require abstract reasoning. A fast and automatic decision is stopping for a red light. It does not require conscious thought. If I asked you to add 87 + 64, you would have to stop and think about it. This type of thinking allows for correction if we are not on the right track. Intuition influences our decisions automatically and without reflection. It allows us to jump to conclusions and make untrue assumptions. This can cause us trouble and affect our health, wealth, and welfare if we follow blindly. Try your best to slow down, relax, and examine your assumptions before you jump to conclusions based on intuition. When you think about your behaviors with an awareness of everyday illusions, you will have an insight into how the mind works. And it may even lead to understanding why people act the way they do!