THCB

THCB

Bridging the Gap between MUS2 and Patient Engagement Through Appointment Reminders

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MaloofMedical technology has undergone dramatic changes in the last 10 years. Right now, I make and cancel appointments, get prescriptions filled, look at test results, pay bills and email my doctor—all from my computer. I track multiple health markers on my cellphone, and am proactive about my preventive screenings. I am the definition of an engaged patient.

But, I know how the system works from the inside out. The question for most doctors is how to teach patients to be more engaged with the convoluted, fragmented, and confusing healthcare system. They are asking this because they are struggling to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements.

Most docs complain that the 5% patient portal requirement is unfair because it is out of their control. Maybe it is, or maybe there are smarter ways to work the system in their favor that they just don’t know about.

The Next Health Economy

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Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 6.09.38 AMThere’s a growing view in U.S. healthcare circles that the industry is on the cusp of remarkable – perhaps even revolutionary – transformation. At a recent summit sponsored by the Altarum Institute’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending, speaker after speaker returned to the theme that we are slowly but surely moving from a volume-based system (paying for stuff) to a value-based model (paying for results).

The health sector is moving toward the traditional economic principles of other industries.  Revenues flow to businesses that are high quality, efficient and knowledgeable about customer desires. In other words, high performers reap the financial rewards, not those that are simply doing more. We at PwC describe this future state as the New Health Economy.

Several stars have aligned to make this shift possible. Cost pressures have turned attention to getting our money’s worth in healthcare. Technological advances such as cloud storage, mobile devices and data analytics provide the tools to deliver the right care to the right patient at the right time. And consumers today have both the freedom and responsibility that come with making more decisions and spending their own money.

What was striking at the Altarum summit was the widespread agreement on where American healthcare is headed. Speakers referenced the rise of myriad alternative payment programs, including overall spending growth limits in Massachusetts, site agnostic payments for specialty care such as oncology and provider bonuses tied to patient satisfaction.

Pathologizing the Human Condition

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The American Psychiatric Association recently published a new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). The DSM-5 is what medical, mental health, and chemical dependency professionals use to diagnose developmental, mental health, substance abuse and dependence, learning, and personality “disorders.” Now in its 5th edition, the DSM was first published in 1952. At that time, the DSM was 129 pages containing 106 diagnoses.

Now, 61 years later, the DSM-5 consists of approximately 950 pages and roughly 375 diagnoses. The DSM-5, while researched far more than previous editions, is based on the medical model or the model of disease. Simply put, the medical model finds the causes of disease and illness and then prescribes a treatment to cure the disease or illness. This means a person has a pathology or pathogen that needs to be treated and cured.

The questions that eat at me during my day as a psychologist and at night as a person searching for answers are:

  • Is it possible to accurately identify mental health “issues,” “illness,” or “disorders?” versus extreme ranges within the sphere of the human condition?
  • Even if it is possible to identify these conditions, does it determine the course of “treatment” or “intervention?”
  • If so, is there a “treatment” for every identified “condition?”
  • Does it mean there is a treatment that works?
  • Do you need a diagnosis to get help?

Over the years, many have been critical of this approach to mental “health” issues. Referring to mental “health” is actually a newer name as people have historically been thought to have mental “illness.” This makes more sense for people who are unfortunately compromised by severe conditions termed schizophrenia, bi-polar (manic-depressive), and severe depression and anxiety. But does this make sense for children, adolescents, and adults who are challenged with some other, and possibly less severe, aspect of their functioning and development? Do all human problems warrant a medical or mental health diagnosis? When did a weakness become a “disorder” that requires “intervention” and/or “treatment?”

To be fair, the DSM provided structure and guidelines for approaching the complicated business of determining who had a “problem” that required help. However, it seems things have gone too far. Critics of the DSM believe that this latest edition has taken the business of diagnosing to a new level, one where approximately 50% of the population can be diagnosed with something. Critics also believe that this pathology finding approach supports the continued trend of medication prescribing as the number one mode of treatment, and continued trend of increased health care costs and premiums with increased utilization of individuals who need a “diagnosis” to meet “medical necessity” to receive services. What does that mean? It means if you don’t have a diagnosis, you don’t get help. It means you have to have a problem (pathology) to get help (treatment and intervention).

Without going into detail about some of the changes in the newest edition of the DSM, some diagnostic categories have been added and some diagnosis “thresholds” have been lowered. This means that you need fewer symptoms to “meet diagnostic criteria.” Here are some examples of concerns with the new DSM-5:

  • Temper tantrums will now be diagnosed as Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
  • Normal forgetting will now be diagnosed as Minor Neurocognitive Disorder
  • Gluttony will be diagnosed as Binge Eating Disorder
  • Grief will be diagnosed as Major Depression
  • First time substance users and college partiers will get a diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder
  • Everyday Worry will be diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Those New Neighbors

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Daniel GarrettLook at who is entering the New Health Economy: Amazon, with digital health applications; Intel, with a home health gateway; Google, with a fit platform, not to mention the news out of Cupertino last week.

Why? According to the 2013 PwC Global Innovation Survey, nearly half of drug and device companies are focusing on traditional product innovation rather than on breaking their efficacy and safety mold. And the stakes are high: As patients become value-seeking consumers, they want quick and easy technology connections to their health source.

It appears that the biggest barrier to transforming traditional healthcare business is culture. Most (89%) of the drug and device CEOs surveyed by PwC view technological advances as the global trend to follow. Yet three-quarters of these executives cite an inability to grasp new information technologies.

Many of these firms invested heavily in social media in 2012 and 2013, but then retreated, possibly awaiting further guidance from the FDA on what is acceptable conduct for “socializing” with consumers.

In fact, the FDA released draft guidance this spring outlining rules for interactive promotional media, including blogs, social networking sites, online patient forums, and podcasts. Some companies, such as Qu Biologics, already use social media to enhance trial recruitment. Companies can scan social media for information about adverse events related to their products. A recent study showed that social media had three times more adverse-event reports for 23 commonly used prescription medications than the FDA did during the same time period.

Any cultural transformation should begin at home. Although drug and device companies say they value social media as an important accelerator of innovation, the evidence is scant on how these firms use technology to promote internal communications that can better connect employees across traditional silos—from R&D to commercial business units.

Why the Creative Destruction of Healthcare May Not Be Such a Good Idea

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From childhood most of us remember the sage parental advice on how to deal with bullies–“sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Of course, we all know that words do hurt, maybe not physically, but they certainly take a toll on our psyche.

These days in planning meetings at my own company, in articles I read on the web and at various tech industry conferences, I come across words and language that I know feel hurtful, or are at least disrespectful, to the health industry and the people who work there. I hear cavalier talk about the need to disrupt the healthcare industry.

Some thought leaders even say we will creatively destruct the healthcare industry. Consumers armed with technology will rise up, they say, and disrupt everything about the current state of healthcare.

Now imagine for a minute that you are a hospital executive, a doctor, a nurse or other clinician and you hear people who work outside your industry talking about disrupting or destructing it.

Imagine being told that consumers, patients, and tech companies will rise up and destroy your business.

There you are doing the best you can to make it through each day keeping your hospital or practice economically sound, dealing with the barrage of patients at your door, staying one step ahead of ever-increasing rules, regulations and rising costs, while those who’ve never worked a day in your world tell you they are going to disrupt and/or destroy it.

Even if there is a need to disrupt healthcare (and even many who work in the health industry might agree), nobody appreciates being told by some outsider that they know your business better than you do.

I don’t imagine my colleagues who work at Microsoft (or Google, or Apple, or Amazon) would appreciate being told by a hospital administrator or a doctor that they knew better how to run a tech company, or what ails the tech industry.

Nor do I think that most patients and consumers can really appreciate the amazing complexity of our healthcare system or the unbelievable pressures under which it operates these days.

MedPAC’s SGR Solution: Bad Medicine For A Chronic Problem

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The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is the closest thing Congress has to adult supervision on important health policy questions. The Commission commands bipartisan respect both for its record of sound policy advice and for its leadership.

With its October recommendations, MedPac attempted to solve the sustainable growth rate (SGR) physician payment formula budget crisis by spreading its more than $300 billion cost beyond the physician community.  More than two-thirds of the burden would fall on hospitals, pharmaceutical and device manufacturers and, significantly, on Medicare beneficiaries themselves. Clearly MedPac’s intent was to widen the circle of pain.

However, a significant portion of the burden, over $100 billion, would still be borne by the physician community through 17 percent reductions in specialists’ fees and a ten-year freeze on primary care fees.    If implemented, MedPac’s policies will give rise to a festival of unintended consequences: weakening multi-specialty group practices (which rely upon specialist comp to cross-subsidize their primary care services); winding down private practice-based primary care medicine; accelerating the hospital roll-up of medical practices while widening hospitals’ losses on the practices they already own; and triggering a further wave of ill-timed cost shifting to private insurers.

Obamacare Observations from the Marketplace

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flying cadeuciiA few observations from my travels and conversations in the marketplace:

About half of the enrollments are coming from people who were previously insured and half are not. When I try to gauge this, I go to carriers who had high market share before Obamacare and have maintained that through the first open enrollment. Some carriers have said only a small percentage of their enrollments had coverage before but health plans only would know who they insured before.

By sticking to the high market share carriers who have maintained a stable market share and knowing how many of their customers are repeat buyers, it’s possible to get a better sense for the overall market. Other conventional polls have suggested the repeat buyers are closer to two-thirds of the exchange enrollees.

The number of those in the key 18-34 demographic group improved only slightly during the last month of open enrollment so the average age is still high. The actuaries I talk to think this issue of average age is made to be far more important than it should be. It is better to have a young group than an old group. But remember, the youngest people pay one-third of the premium that older people pay.

The real issue is are we getting a large enough group to get the proper cross section of healthy and sick?

The bigger concern continues to be the relatively small number of previously uninsured people who have signed up compared to the size of the eligible group. The recent report released by Express Scripts reporting on very costly pharmacy claim experience from January and February enrollees is far more concerning than the average age.

So Many EHRs. So Expensive.

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There are currently 386 software packages certified by an ONC approved certification body as ambulatory Complete EHRs, which means that the software should allow the user to fulfill all Meaningful Use requirements and possibly qualify the proud owner for all sorts of CMS incentives. There are 204 more software packages which are certified as ambulatory EHR Modules, and a proper combination of these packages could result in a Complete product, which if used appropriately could lead to the same fortuitous results.

There are 423 distinct manufacturers of ambulatory EHRs and EHR modules on the federal list. Most are software vendors, or wannabe software vendors, but a fair amount are facilities that developed an EHR for in-house use and had it certified. These are not really available for purchase. A very large number of listed vendors offer niche products for distinct specialties, such as optometry, oncology, behavioral health, etc. All that said, there is still an inordinate number of EHR “choices”, or so the story goes. By comparison, since we all love car analogies, there are 1,310 individual trims currently sold in the U.S., and around50 car manufacturers overall. If you ask an average citizen on the street to name their top 10 cars, chances are that you will get a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, a Caddie, maybe a Ford truck, a Beemer, a Porsche and perhaps even a Beetle. You are not likely to hear anything about a Tesla or a Coda and rarely will anybody mention a Scion. Automotive modules are not widely sold for home assembly, so there is no parallel lesson there. One way or another, we manage to find our way when it comes to automobiles.

Pay for Performance in Healthcare: Do We Need Less, More, or Different?

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The debate over pay for performance in healthcare gets progressively more interesting, and confusing. And, with Medicare’s recent launch of its value-based purchasing and readmission penalty programs, the debate is no longer theoretical.

Just in the past several months, we’ve seen studies showing that pay for performance works, and others showing that it doesn’t. We’ve heard from some theorists who describe P4P as sapping intrinsic motivation and doing violence to professionalism, and others who feel that its effects are as natural and predictable as water running downhill. Some commentators beg us to stop it, while others denounce P4P’s current incarnations as too wimpy to work and recommend they be turbo-charged.

If we weren’t talking about the central policy question of a field as important as healthcare, we could call this a draw and move on. But the stakes are too high, so it’s worth taking a moment to review what we know.

In the U.S., the main test of P4P has been Medicare’s Hospital Quality Incentive Demonstration (HQID) program. A recent analysis of this program, which offered relatively small performance-based bonuses to a sample of 252 hospitals in the large Premier network, found that, after 6 years, hospitals in the intervention group had no better outcomes than those (3363 hospitals) in the control arm. Prior papers from the HQID demonstrated mild improvements in adherence to some process measures, but – as in a disconcerting number of studies – this did not translate into meaningful improvements in hard outcomes such as mortality.

The Cost Cutting EHR

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Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) are at the heart of health care transformation. Everything we want to change and improve upon, hinges on the availability of EHRs in every hospital and every physician practice. We all know that EHRs can improve quality of care by providing evidence-based, patient-centered clinical decision support at the point of care, while measuring outcomes and customer satisfaction, so we can monitor and reward providers for their efforts. But this is not nearly enough. After all, our current health care crisis is not due to hundreds of thousands of citizens succumbing en masse to shoddy medical practices as much as it is due to having to squander 17% of GDP on pampering Americans with unnecessary, excessive and way too technologically advanced diagnostics and therapies. We must cut health care costs or perish. There could be an EHR for that. The following is a blueprint for transforming any EHR into a cost-cutting machine guaranteed to chop health care costs in half in less than one year of use.

Cost Awareness – There’s been much discussion lately revolving around small studies showing that when physicians are made aware of costs, they order fewer tests and save the system money, and it was suggested that EHRs can help place costs of everything in front of ordering providers. Absolutely. There is a tiny problem with obtaining true costs, as opposed to arbitrary prices, but in this era of Data Liberacion, surely we can summon the liberation of all insurance negotiated fee schedules. The innovative computer geeks can take it from there, and if we are missing some numbers here and there, we can make them up just as well as hospitals do. Armed with these data, the CPOE module will display the cost for every test about to be ordered, in a very patient-centered way, since we know what insurance the patient has. This in itself should also reduce disparities since Medicaid pays so much less for everything that we can easily order twice as many tests for Medicaid patients, for the same cost to society. Just so patients don’t feel disempowered, patient portals should clearly display tests and procedures costs as well. We could show the costs to their insurer, but a more deterring shock value would come from displaying the hospital list price, so patients can be better prepared in case the insurer decides to deny payments.