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Is healthcare going to the dogs?  In at least one way, it probably should.

While not often spoken of together, physicians and veterinarians share an otherwise unique position of helping people make healthcare decisions in the awkward and charged space between risk, benefit and cost.  Both share an ethical requirement to provide the information necessary for informed decision making. Before starting a treatment or procedure, patients (and pet owners) need to understand the potential risks and benefits of their care, as well as the reasonable alternatives.

But veterinarians often share some other important information, information that physicians seldom share, or even know – that being: exactly what will it cost.

When our family dog recently became very sick, my veterinarian shared not only about the diagnosis, her recommended treatment, its risks, benefits and the plausible alternatives, but she also provided a detailed estimate of what Cosmo’s care was going to cost me.

Isn’t it crazy that when it comes to our own healthcare, we don’t get the same information?

Continue reading “Informed Consent 2.0″

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flying cadeuciiThe Meaningful Use program is at a critical inflection point.  On one hand, the payers could jump on the MU bandwagon, follow Medicare’s example and demand provider MU attestation.

On the other hand, they could throw private practice a bone and help them weather the storm until MU goes away or loses its teeth. Let me explain.

Payers could take the easy money and penalize according to the upcoming ACA “adjustment” schedule.  Lots of people think this is inevitable. This would certainly provide an easy way to increase payer revenue and is as simple as letting the practices [continue] to do all the work.

However, this would be incredibly short-sighted.

Meaningful use, as things stand in 2014,  has not been shown to improve patient care. Indeed, it is common for Stage 1 attesting MDs to abandon the program during Stage 2, with many doctors citing lack of efficacy of the program. Stage 3 MU is projected to have even worse results.

What this tells me is that the stress and time-cost of MDs and their staff is not worth the benefits of Meaningful Use.  Don’t get me wrong – there are some great things in the MU guidelines, and we are implementing them in the software we create, but they are overshadowed by the onerous, less-effective 5% and it’s all or nothing. There is no MU wiggle-room.  These days you have to have real grit and determination to stay in private practice, no matter your specialty.

Without financial support or legislative reform, Meaningful Use will eventually drive independent doctors out of business.

That’s bad news for payers.

Continue reading “The Case For Payers to Oppose Meaningful Use”

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Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 9.43.45 AMHealthcare is very different from most other industries. It is fragmented, conservative, highly regulated, and hierarchical. It doesn’t follow most of the usual business rules around supply and demand or consumerism. An important aspect of my role at Microsoft is helping my colleagues at the company understand the many ways that healthcare is different from other “businesses”.

Having said that, there are a lot of things that healthcare could learn from a company like Microsoft or other technology companies. When someone asks me what it’s like to work at Microsoft, I often say what someone told me when I started at the company 13 years ago. Microsoft is like a global colony of ants, working independently and yet together but always “neurally” connected by enabling technologies. At any given moment, I can be connected to any one of my 100,000 fellow workers or tens of thousands of partners with just a couple of clicks or taps on a screen. I have tools that show me who’s available, what they do, what they know, and where they are. I can engage in synchronous or asynchronous communication and collaboration activities with a single member or multiple members of my team using messaging, email, voice, video or multi-party web conferencing. We can use business analytics tools, exchange information, review documents, co-author presentations, and collaborate with our customers and partners anywhere in the world from anywhere we might be. Our business moves, and changes, at the speed of light. It is the rhythm of the industry.

I sometimes wake up in the morning and think, “If only my clinical colleagues could avail themselves of similar tools and technologies how different could healthcare be?” I’ve been using information communications technologies in my daily work for so long that I almost take for granted that this is the way work is done. But I also know that in the real world of healthcare the journey is still quite different. That hit home again last week when I asked my mother’s family doctor for a copy of a report on an imaging study he had ordered. It took five phone calls to make something happen and my only choice was to receive the report via fax machine. Fax machine, really?

Continue reading “What Healthcare Could Learn From a Technology Company”

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Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.23.49 PMWe are residents and a software developers. Before starting residency, we spent time as software developers in the startup community. We were witness to tremendous enthusiasm directed at solving problems and engaging people in their health. The number of startups trying to disrupt healthcare using data and technology has grown dramatically and every day established healthcare companies appear eager to feed this frenzy through App and Design Competitions.

When we started residency, the restrictiveness of data and reliance on decades-old technology was grossly apparent. Culturally, hospitals are an environment of budgets and deadlines that are better suited towards maintaining the status quo than promoting the creative process. Hospital IT departments harbor a deep cover-your-rear-end mentality and are incentivized for two things: first, keep systems running, and second, prevent security breaches. Perhaps rightly so–privacy and security need to be prioritized–but this environment has delayed them from facing the inevitable challenges of effectively using their own data and investing in new tools, including ones that could improve the triple aim of greater quality care with greater patient satisfaction and lower cost.

In the future, as hospitals and health systems become more accountable for the long term outcome of patients, we are optimistic that they will innovate as much out of cost-cutting necessity as for providing a better product to patients. We have little evidence that established players can power innovation solely on their own engines and expect many of the solutions will come from problem-solvers outside medicine. Doctors and patients will choose from an arsenal of apps to interact with the health information in EMRs. These healthcare apps come in three major categories: education, workflow, and decision support.

Continue reading “The Non-Physician’s Guide to Hacking the Healthcare System”

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Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 2.13.16 PMHeart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. To combat these threats, the Department of Health and Human Services (co-led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS]) has joined with private and non-profit organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Pharmacists Association and the YMCA, to launch Million Hearts®, a national initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The initiative is working to encourage clinicians nationwide to improve the quality of care through use of the ABCS strategies – Aspirin when appropriate,Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management and Smoking cessation.

On July 7th, as we marked the halfway point in this ambitious drive to improve America’s health, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in collaboration with the CDC, launched the EHR Innovations for Improving Hypertension Challenge to accelerate improvement on the Million Hearts® “B” strategy – Blood Pressure Control. The goal is to show how professionals are using health IT to improve patients’ cardiovascular health. Evidence-based treatment protocols are an essential tool for providers to use in improving blood pressure control.

What makes this ONC challenge unique?  First, it taps the expertise of clinicians who care for patients with hypertension and are using health IT to improve their control. Second, the challenge is designed to promote the scalability of critical tools for maximum impact and reach. Continue reading “A Challenge to Control Blood Pressure Using HIT”

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Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 5.59.22 PMThere is a growing group of articulate and engaged patients committed to getting access to all their medical information in order to be better positioned to work collaboratively with their clinical teams. Published studies like the OpenNotes project have consistently shown significant benefits and a lack of serious problems. Health care systems are slow to change and just beginning to understand both the need and value to this more transparent and collaborative approach.

My institution, for example, is not ready (or even interested) in anything approaching opening chart notes to patients. In fact, although our secure portal will be launched in the near future, there was some resistance to making even problem lists, medication lists, lab and x-rays available through the portal.

That need not prevent individuals from contributing to change. A few years ago I began providing every patient with a copy of their office visit note as they left the office after their visit. The intent was for us to do the assessment and plan collaboratively and make sure they have a copy of our (collaborative) plan.  Patients have been very appreciative, and use it to share the assessment and plan with family and consultants, and as a reference. A few bring it back at the next visit with notes on it about what they did and what happened.

To the objectors who say that one cannot be honest in a note if the patient is going to see it, I say: balderdash. (Actually, what I say is much stronger…)  For one thing (the smaller point) the patient is already allowed to see it if they but ask.  More importantly, this argument depends entirely on the principle that the clinician knows best and needs to keep secrets in the interest of the patient. What I have experienced is a variation on the advice I got many years ago regarding relationships: if it’s important, then it’s important enough to be open about and deal with. If you aren’t willing to deal with it openly, you are not allowed to save it up and spring it on your partner (patient) later.

Continue reading “An Open Note to Open Notes Objectors”

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flying cadeuciiAs a result of the determined efforts by Massachusett’s politicians, businesses, health insurance companies, hospitals, individual physicians and the Massachusetts Medical Society, nearly 100% of patients in Massachusetts now have health insurance. This is something all the healthcare players in Massachusetts can be proud of, and “universal insurance” enjoys broad public support here in Massachusetts

In an attempt to improve healthcare quality and reduce cost, Massachusetts is moving away from the “fee-for-service” system and replacing it with “physician groups” which contract with insurance companies. Most of these contracts include financial incentive/disincentive clauses about “quality” and “cost.” As a result, in Massachusetts, it is now almost impossible for a solo practitioner to obtain a contract directly with one of the state’s largest insurance companies. Almost all contracts are mediated through a local physician organization, such as an IPA, PHO or ACO.

As a result, health insurance companies now have much greater influence over the Massachusetts healthcare industry. These large insurance companies define the terms of the contract and can tell the small or medium-sized hospitals/physician contracting group their contract is a “take it or leave it” proposition. Needless to say, it is impossible for any small or medium-sized hospital/physician contracting group to refuse to accept the insurance contract when their financial viability is predicated on having access to the insurance company’s patient panel.

Originally Certified EMRs and Meaningful Use policies were created so as to provide the financially incentive to encourage primary care physicians to adopt electronic medical record programs and then use these electronic medical record programs according to specified “meaningful use” mandates. It was the hope that the appropriate use of EMRs would improve the quality or reduce the cost of healthcare. Since the program’s introduction, Meaningful Use has been expanded to almost every medical specialty and subspecialty, regardless of the appropriateness/relevance.

There has now been a fair amount of data accumulated regarding the effectiveness of electronic medical record programs. Unfortunately, most of the published data is not high quality and the majority of clinical trials are now being funded by the EMR industry. As we have seen with clinical trial sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, only an irrational person would accept the results of a vendor sponsored EMR trial on face value.

Recently, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (HHS)  asked the RAND corporation to review all EMR data. RAND created the “Health Information Technology: An Updated Systematic Review with a Focus on Meaningful Use Functionalities

Continue reading “The Misuse of Meaningful Use, Part II”

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davidshaywitzAt his yearly CEO summit, noted VC Vinod Khoslaspoke with Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page (file under “King, Good To Be The”).

Towards the end of a wide-ranging conversation that encompassed driverless cars, flying wind turbines, and high-altitude balloons providing internet access, Khosla began to ask about health.

Specifically, Khosla wondered whether they could “imagine Google becoming a health company? Maybe a larger business than the search business or the media business?”

Their response, surprisingly, was basically, “no.”  While glucose-sensing contact lenses might be “very cool,” in the words of Larry Page, Brin notes that,

“Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we’ll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.”

Adds Page,

“We have Calico, obviously, we did that with Art Levinson, which is pretty independent effort. Focuses on health and longevity. I’m really excited about that. I am really excited about the possibility of data also, to improve health. But that’s– I think what Sergey’s saying, it’s so heavily regulated. It’s a difficult area. I can give you an example. Imagine you had the ability to search people’s medical records in the U.S.. Any medical researcher can do it. Maybe they have the names removed. Maybe when the medical researcher searches your data, you get to see which researcher searched it and why. I imagine that would save 10,000 lives in the first year. Just that. That’s almost impossible to do because of HIPAA. I do worry that we regulate ourselves out of some really great possibilities that are certainly on the data-mining end.”

Khosla then asked a question about a use case involving one of my favorite portfolio companies of his, Ginger.io, related to the monitoring of a patient’s psychiatric state.

Responded Page, “I was talking to them about that last night. It was cool.”

That pretty much captures Brin and Page’s view of healthcare – fun to work on a few “cool” projects, but beyond that, the regulatory challenges are just too great to warrant serious investment.

Continue reading “Google Co-Founders: “Thanks, But No Thanks””

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flying cadeuciiAn organization’s “business model” means: How does it make a living? What revenue streams sustain it? How it does that makes all the difference in the world.

Saturday, Natasha Singer wrote in the New York Times about health plans and healthcare providers using “big data,” including your shopping patterns, car ownership and Internet usage, to segment their markets.

The beginning of the article featured the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) using “predictive health analytics” to target people who would benefit the most from intervention so that they would not need expensive emergency services and surgery. The later part of the article mentioned organizations that used big data to find their best customers among the worried well and get them in for more tests and procedures. The article quoted experts fretting that this would just lead to more unnecessary and unhelpful care just to fatten the providers’ bottom lines.

The article missed the real news here: Why is one organization (UPMC) using big data so that people end up using fewer expensive healthcare resources, while others use it to get people to use more healthcare, even if they don’t really need it?

Because they are paid differently. They have different business models.

UPMC is an integrated system with its own insurance arm covering 2.4 million people. As a system it has largely found a way out of the fee-for-service model. It has a healthier bottom line if its customers are healthier and so need fewer acute and emergency services. The other organizations are fee-for-service. Getting people in for more tests and biopsies is a revenue stream. For UPMC it would just be a cost.

The evil here is not using predictive modeling to segment the market. The evil here is the fee-for-service system that rewards waste and profiteering in medicine.

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Bob Wachter

The following is an excerpt from the preface of my new book, which  is tentatively titled: “Disrupted: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s New Age.”  Author’s note and request to THCB readers.

If you’re a 24-year-old who does not plan on getting sick for the next couple of decades, this is probably not the book blog post for you.

By the time you need our healthcare system, it will be wired in ways we can’t imagine today. By then, computers will have transformed healthcare – as they already have retail, publishing, photography, and travel – leaving it better, safer, and maybe even cheaper. Most of the kinks, perhaps other than what our society will do with boatloads of unemployed dermatologists, radiologists, and hospital administrators, will have been ironed out. I hope to live to see this day myself. It’ll be, as my kids say, hecka cool.

But for the rest of us – both those who need our medical system today and those who currently work in it – the path to computerization will be strewn with landmines, large and small. The challenges are everywhere. Medicine, our most intimately human profession, is being dehumanized by the entry of the computer into the exam room. While computers are preventing many medical errors, they are also causing new kinds of mistakes, some of them whoppers. Sensors and monitors are throwing off mountains of data, often leading to more cacophony than clarity. Patients are now in the loop – many get to see their laboratory and pathology results before their doctor does; some are even reading their doctor’s notes – yet are woefully unprepared to handle their hard-fought empowerment.

In short, while someday the computerization of medicine will undoubtedly be that long-awaited “disruptive innovation,” today it’s often just plain disruptive: of the doctor-patient relationship, clinicians’ professional interactions and workflow, and the way we measure and try to improve things. I’d never heard the term “unanticipated consequences” in my professional world until a few years ago, and now we use it all the time, since we – yes, even the insiders – are constantly astonished by the speed with which things are changing and the unpredictability of the results.

Before we go any further, it’s important that you understand that I am all for the computerization of healthcare. I bought my first Mac in 1984, back when one inserted and ejected floppy disks so often (“Insert Excel Disk 2”) that the machine felt more like an infuriating toaster than a sparkling harbinger of a new era. Today, I can’t live without my MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone, Facetime, Twitter, OpenTable, and Evernote. I even blog and tweet. In other words, I am a typical, electronically overendowed American.

And healthcare needs to be disrupted. Despite being staffed with (mostly) well trained and committed doctors and nurses, our system delivers evidence-based care about half the time, kills a jumbo jet’s worth of patients each day from medical mistakes, and is bankrupting the country. Patients and policymakers are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo, and they’re right.

Continue reading “Disrupted: How Computerization Is Changing the Practice of Medicine In Surprising Ways”

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