I was surprised when the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics in London honored two of my favorite institutions: the National Health Service and the World Wide Web. I was not surprised when LA Times sports writer Diane Pucin posted the following tweet: “For the life of me, though, am still baffled by NHS tribute at opening ceremonies. Like a tribute to United Health Care or something in US.” @swaldman responded to the sports writer with “Well, maybe, if United Health Care were government-run and a source of national pride.”
I was not surprised when Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer of NBC admitted they had no idea why Tim Berners-Lee was being honored by sending out a tweet. Ever since I read his book Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), Berners-Lee has been one of my heroes. Finally locating my hard copy of the book in the guest bedroom where my son Colin used to sleep, I quickly located the marked passage I was looking for:
“People have sometimes asked me whether I am upset that I have not made a lot of money from the Web. In fact, I made some quite conscious decisions about which way to take my life. These I would not change…. What does distress me, though, is how important a question it seems to be to some.
Continue reading “The Olympics, Doctors, NHS, Transformation, and Heroes: Why the Difference between USA and UK?”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Don Berwick, Kent Bottles, NHS, The Olympics, Tim Berners-Lee, UK health system, universal healthcare
Jul 30, 2012
I’ve had a couple of meetings recently with leading figures in UK health policy – one of them a senior figure at a doctors’ organisation, the other at a private health company – who both talked excitedly about the lessons Britain could learn from the US.
That’s rarer than you might think. Our National Health Service may be cautiously embracing market-led reforms, but there’s still plenty of scepticism about the US’s full-on competitive system, and people here tend to be nervous about citing it as an inspiration.
Still, the two figures I am referring to, both leading players in the British Government’s NHS reform programme, were talking not about US healthcare as a whole, but about one particular organisation with something of a cult following on this side of the Atlantic.
I am referring to Kaiser Permanente, and its ideas are about to become very big over here.
Kaiser is one of those iconic organisations that aren’t just known for what they do, but whose names come to define their particular way of doing things – in Kaiser’s case, managed care.
It is the classic managed care organisation, running all the disparate parts of the local health system as a fully integrated whole, and deftly incentivising doctors to make sure patients receive their care in the part of the health system where it can be delivered most efficiently.
Continue reading “The KP Model in the UK”
Filed Under: The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Competition, Health Reform, Kaiser Permanente, Managed Care, managed care organisation, NHS, Pay for Performance, UK health system
Jun 17, 2012
While there are important differences between the NHS and the US health system, both face similar challenges in improving productivity and disrupting the traditional model of healthcare that is no longer fit for purpose. Both are facing rising demands of an ageing population, increasing prevalence of chronic conditions and consumer expectations. Both systems have powerful incumbent providers such as general hospitals that are not always responsive to changing patient and system needs. As Elizbaeth Tesiberg and many others of both sides of the Atlantic have argued, “innovation is the only long-term solution to high-quality, affordable health care.”
Leading pioneers from around the world are already transforming healthcare. In its recent report, Healthy competition, the London based think tank Reform, highlighted a number of case studies of successful change. Reform explored four crucial areas that can improve productivity in healthcare: service reconfiguration, integrating care, standardisation of processes and procedures, and measuring and publishing outcomes.
Greater patient safety through service reconfiguration
Successful reconfiguration has achieved higher quality and greater value for money. In Finland, the Pirkanmaa region closed joint replacement departments in five hospitals and concentrated care at one specialist hospital. The new hospital delivered complication rates below 1 per cent compared to an average of up to 12 per cent for general hospitals. The NHS in London moved emergency stroke care from 34 general hospitals to eight specialist units with dedicated staff. London now has the highest standards of stroke care of any major international city.
Continue reading “Healthy Competition”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: health care reform, Innovation, NHS
Mar 22, 2012
I remember reading an article that observed that systems of universal insurance – which need to put their energy into providing a “decent minimum” for the masses – must also offer a “safety valve for the wealthy disaffected.” Canada bans private insurance for basic hospital and medical care services. So, when affluent Canadians want “the best,” some of them pop across the border to Cleveland or Ann Arbor.
But from the time of its founding in 1948, the British National Health Service has allowed – and, depending on which party is in power, promoted – a private insurance market. Private insurance in a single payer, government run healthcare system is a funny animal: one part incest, one part conflict of interest, and three parts strange bedfellows. And it’s infinitely fascinating. Here’s how it works:
The insurance part isn’t too difficult to understand. People living in Britain can obtain private insurance, and about 10 percent of them do. About one-third of people with private insurance purchase it with their own money, while the rest receive it as a benefit of employment. Many of the big multinationals provide such insurance, either to all their employees or to senior executives. It’s considered a plum perk for everyone, and most expats coming to work in the UK consider it an essential benefit.
Continue reading “The Awkward World of Private Insurance in the UK”
Filed Under: Health Plans, THCB
Tagged: NHS, primary care, private health insurance, private practice, universal health insurance
Jan 16, 2012
I’ve heard a lot of shocking things since arriving in England five months ago on my sabbatical. But nothing has had me more gobsmacked than when, earlier this month, I was chatting with James Morrow, a Cambridge-area general practitioner. We were talking about physicians’ salaries in the UK and he casually mentioned that he was the primary breadwinner in his family.
His wife, you see, is a surgeon.
This more than any other factoid captures the Alice in Wonderland world of GPs here in England. Yes—and it’s a good thing you’re sitting down—the average GP makes about 20% more than the average subspecialist (though the specialists sometimes earn more through private practice—more on this in a later blog). This is important in and of itself, but the pay is also a metaphor for a well-considered decision by the National Health Service (NHS) nearly a decade ago to nurture a contented, surprisingly independent primary care workforce with strong incentives to improve quality.
Appreciating the enormity of this decision and its relevance to the US healthcare system requires a little historical perspective.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, the British system cleaves the world of primary care and everything else much more starkly than we do in the States. All the specialists (the “ologists,” as they like to call them) are based in hospitals, where they have their outpatient practices, perform their procedures, and staff their specialty wards. Primary care in the community is delivered by GPs, who resemble our family practitioners in training and disposition, but also differ from them in many ways.
Continue reading “The British Primary Care System and Its Lessons for America”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: ACOs, Bob Wachter, Don Berwick, gatekeeping, general practitioners, NHS, physician pay, primary care, specialist physicians
Nov 29, 2011
President Obama’s battle to get his healthcare bill through Congress was big news on this side of the Atlantic last year, not least for the way our own National Health Service (NHS) was used as a reference point in the debate. Now though, it is Britain’s (or, to be specific, England’s) turn to be consumed by arguments about healthcare reform, and if you were to listen to some critics, you’d imagine just as much was at stake. The reform in question is the British Government’s Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently the subject of some fairly furious wrangling in the House of Lords. The bill entered committee stage last week after the Government won a key Lords vote, but although it now looks almost certain to become law in some form, there’s still fierce debate about many of the details.
Depending on where you stand, the health bill will either drag Britain’s creaking NHS into the 21st century, or it marks the first stage in the dismantling of a national institution. Actually though, some of this rhetoric is a little overblown. The bill represents a wide-ranging and pretty dramatic package of reforms, but it’s still some way short of an Obama moment. One thing it does not do is challenge the fundamental tenet on which the NHS was founded, which is that everyone in Britain has access to universal healthcare ‘free at the point of use’, funded through taxation. That tenet is rather less perfectly applied than is sometimes admitted – many people do have to pay prescription charges, and NHS coverage of dentistry is pretty patchy – but it’s nevertheless an article of faith for the British public, and no mainstream political party would dare to challenge it (overtly at least).
Still, the bill does make two very substantial changes to the way the NHS is organised across England (although it has been brought by the UK government, it does not apply to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, all of which have devolved powers for their own parts of the NHS). The two key changes are both designed to make the NHS more efficient in the face of Britain’s financial crisis, both could have far-reaching implications and both have been hugely controversial. Firstly, it abolishes a whole tier of NHS management and hands its powers instead to the family doctors at the frontline – the general practitioners, or GPs, as they are known here. Secondly, it loosens the constraints on the NHS’s internal market, providing scope for private companies to compete to run many more NHS services. The two reforms are intended to work together to drive efficiency across the health service, and the efficiencies required are pretty frightening – 4% a year for the next four years.
Continue reading “Inside the NHS Reform Fight”
Filed Under: THCB, The Battle of Britain
Tagged: British Health and Social Care Bill, health care reform, NHS, Prime Minister David Cameron
Nov 1, 2011
The latest issue of Health Affairs is devoted to racial and ethnic disparities in the consumption of health care. Naturally, they found some. Why are they there?
Let’s consider another necessity: food. Suppose you get a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese and a large order of fries, my favorite fast food indulgence when I put all considerations about healthy eating aside. Do you think your burger would have less cheese if you were a black customer? Would your fries be less crispy if you were Hispanic? Would the meat would be less juicy if you earned a poverty level wage?
The answer to these questions is obvious. Just about anybody in America can have the same fast food dinner anyone else in America is having — usually with very little inconvenience. If there is any disparity in this market, it is due solely to individual preference and choice.
So what makes health care different? I am happy to report that increasingly, it isn’t different. MinuteClinics, RediClinics and other walk-in establishments around the country offer standardized services that are comparable to the market for cheeseburgers and fries. In fact, almost one of every five people who got a flu shot last year got it at a supermarket or a drugstore. At a walk-in clinic, your flu shot costs the same as my flu shot. Your allergy prescription is just as inexpensive and just as accessible as mine. If there is any difference between us it is solely due to differences in needs and preferences. Nothing more. Continue reading “Why Are There Disparities In Health Care? Because It’s Free”
Filed Under: Superhealthanomics
Tagged: Gary Becker, NHS, non-price rationing
Oct 14, 2011
The National Audit Office (NAO) in the UK has recently published a report evaluating the status of “The National Programme for IT in the NHS” (NPfIT). The program is a very ambitious top down initiative to deploy Health Information Technology across all NHS facilities in an attempt to provide an electronic care record for every patient in the UK. The blunt conclusion of the report states that “The original vision for the National Programme for IT in the NHS will not be realized” and “This is yet another example of a department fundamentally underestimating the scale and complexity of a major IT-enabled change programme”. Is this gloom ridden report in any way pertinent to our own quest for an EHR for every patient by 2014? Of course not. We don’t have a Socialist system where the government can decide on a particular EHR product, buy it, contract billions of dollars in services, and force all hospitals and doctors to install it and use it in their facilities on a government dictated schedule.
Instead, the United States Government is building a National EHR, and I find the business model fascinating. No, the Feds did not hire a team of software developers, did not set up a business entity and didn’t even hire a defense contractor to do all these things. Instead, they legislate and engage in a flurry of rule makings which are then applied in quick succession, like giant levers, to the delivery side of our health care system. This is nothing short of brilliant. Continue reading “NPfIT Blazing the Trail”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: HIT, Margalit Gur-Arie, NHS, NPfIT
May 24, 2011
‘In the time when new media.
Was the big idea.’
These two lines at the end of the album track ‘Kite’ earned U2 a place in a recent list of suspect popular song lyrics. Some Health 2.0 vendors are also struggling to get ‘social media’ to rhyme with ‘healthcare’ but will no doubt carrying on trying to do so. With Goldman Sachs throwing $1.5 billion in Facebook’s direction it makes sense for anyone in the online health business to position themselves as close to the social media company as possible, on the off chance that they will be able to pan a few nuggets out of the fast flowing stream of cash.
While no doubt some of the funds the bank is putting together will be used for healthcare related applications it is not immediately obvious what Facebook can do that Google and Microsoft have not already tried. Both these companies are trying to sell to healthcare providers whose business models if they do exist are confused and, in some cases failing. One way to gain a better understanding of the healthcare market is to view it as a mathematical equations that can be solved by eliminating one variable at a time.
So What If The UK’s National Health Service Did Not Exist?
You log on to NHS.uk and are greeted with a message saying “Sorry, this service has been discontinued. The UK government can no longer afford to provide you with healthcare.” And that is it, apart one last piece on advice. “Please take care.” This presumably aimed at Darwin Award candidates who were hoping to break the land speed record using fireworks and a skateboard and fully expect the local hospital to fix any resulting damage. Also perhaps directed at anyone with a grumbling appendix thinking of entering a baked bean-eating contest. (More about these people later.)
So what difference would it make if there were no healthcare provider? For a start everyone in the UK, apart from the 1.3-million ex-NHS workers, would be £1600 a year better off. A young person leaving school would have saved enough to pay for their university education. A young couple in their mid twenties would have saved enough to put a down payment on their first house. OK average life expectancy would fall and the last couple of years (or most likely months) of a person’s life would probably be more unpleasant, but the proceeding sixty five or so years would be a lot better. There, two of the government’s major economic headaches eliminated in a stroke – an unfortunate turn of phrase in this case. With an extra £100 billion per annum sloshing around in the economy most of the 1.3 million former NHS employees would be able to find new jobs. Continue reading “Let’s Face(book) the Hard Truth About Healthcare”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Facebook, Healthcare, NHS, Peter Kruger, Social Media
Feb 21, 2011
The key policy levers enabling this to happen are:
1. The purchaser provider split, with GP commissioning consortia taking the leading role on the purchaser side of the divide.
2. Patient Choice.
3. Competition between a plurality of ‘any willing providers’.
4. Payment by Results with price competition.
5. Patient held budgets.
6. Foundation trusts becoming social enterprises and the abolition of the cap on their private income.
These policies are mutually reinforcing and this is how they will work:
GPs will be formed into GP consortia and will control 80% (£80bn) of the NHS budget to buy in services for their patients from a variety of providers (including FTs, private hospitals and third sector organisations) competing against each other in competitive healthcare market. Market competition will be enforced by applying EU competition law and overseen by the economic regulator, Monitor, as well as the new National Commissioning Board. Money will follow the patients via the Payment by Results (PbR) system. This has traditionally been a fixed pricing system, but the tariffs will now be opened up to price competition (I’ll come back to this).
Continue reading “For ‘Liberating the NHS’ Read ‘Dismantling the NHS’”
Filed Under: OP-ED
Tagged: Clive Peedell, NHS, UK health system, `
Jan 22, 2011