HCI3

“‘Let’s go.’ ‘We can’t.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘We’re waiting for Godot.’” ― Samuel Beckett

For the economists in our midst, demand is a critical but pretty dry idea: the quantity of a good or service a buyer is willing to purchase at a given price. It’s presumed to be part of working health care markets.

It’s one of the first things an undergraduate might learn in Econ 100.

There’s no urgency in this demand; it just is.

Of course, nothing—even general economic principles—is simple in health care.  Still, you can look longingly at a few nice supply and demand curves and dream about how things might be—if only.

If only health care consumers picked up their role and skittered up and down those demand curves.

If only they helped us find those elusive market equilibriums for this health care service or that. For some time, lots of people have seen that enormous and powerful potential—and drooled over it.

We’ve been waiting a long time for our consumer to show up in health care. We’ve been waiting for the consumer to obtain and use the information she needs to demand great care.

We’ve been waiting for lots of consumers to do that over and over to help us out of our unfortunate health care jam.

It’s that jam where we pay too much for lots of care of marginal quality riddled with safety problems and delivered by a bunch of dissatisfied, demoralized health professionals.

Indeed we have been waiting a long time for our health care consumer.  Certainly, there have been and continue to be countless reasons why consumers haven’t arrived to help save us.

“Health care is different!”

“There’s no evidence that consumers will behave like normal consumers in health care!”

Continue reading “An Urgent Request”

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My wife Mary and I recently got a series of early morning calls alerting us to the declining health of Mary’s mom, who was in her 90s. She died later that week. We were stricken and so sad, but took comfort that she died with dignity and good care on her own terms, and at her home in San Francisco.

Ten years ago, we received a very different early morning call, about my father.  An otherwise healthy and vigorous 72-year-old, Dad had fallen at home. Presuming he’d had a stroke, paramedics took him to a hospital with a neurosurgery speciality rather than to the university trauma center. That decision proved fatal.

A physician in Seattle at the time, I arrived the next day to find Dad in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. Dad’s head CT revealed a massive intracranial hemorrhage. Dad also had a large, obvious contusion on his forehead.

The following day, the physicians asked to remove Dad from the ventilator.  He died that night. We were profoundly devastated by his death and upset with the care he’d received.

Our family wasn’t interested in blame or lawsuits. We did, however, want answers:  Why hadn’t Dad been treated for a traumatic injury from a fall? Shouldn’t he have had timely surgery to relieve pressure from bleeding? What went wrong?

I’ve spent the last decade searching for answers, for myself and countless others, to questions about how to improve health care.  I’ve had the honor of working with many people pushing health care toward high value, at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(RWJF) and elsewhere.

We’ve worked hard to find solutions.  We all get it:  The health care problem is a big, complex one without silver bullet answers. Still, we’ve made incredible progress with efforts like RWJF’s Aligning Forces for Quality Initiative in which community alliances work to improve the value of their health care.

We’re searching for ways to help us all make smarter health care decisions.  We’re helping health care professionals improve and patients and families be more proactive.  We’re exploring the price and cost of care, and ways to automate health care information with technology.

And importantly, we’re working to align the incentives that health care professionals need to support and deliver great care.  We strongly believe that unless we reward great results, we won’t get them.  That means payment reform, with a focus on financial incentives for those who hunt for waste, resolve safety problems, sustain improvement, and, most of all, innovate to save more lives.

But do financial incentives to promote and reward behavior work?

Continue reading “Aligning Physician Incentives Doesn’t Do It”

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Every day, millions of health care workers wake up and get ready to offer one of the noblest of services – to try and heal and bring comfort to the sick. They do valiant work, day in and day out, even as they confront extrinsic incentives that chip away at their mission and souls.

What are “extrinsic incentives?”

Consider this scenario. You’re driving a year-old car, and the engine light pops on. The car is under full warranty, so you bring it into the dealer. The problem is fixed quickly at no charge. This simple interaction between the buyer and provider of a service illustrates the broader and essential role of extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal) incentives.

Intrinsically, most of us want to do the right thing for ourselves, personally and professionally. You want to maintain the car well, so it retains its value and gets you safely from one place to another. The dealer wants to do the best possible job to keep you happy, so you’ll buy from him again. If the car is serviced well and doesn’t need extra repairs, he does well and so do you.

Continue reading “Building a Better Health Care System: The Incentive Cure”

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