NEW @ THCB PRESS: Surviving Workplace Wellness. Spring 2014. Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. e-book edition. # LIGHTHOUSE Healthcare. Illuminated.

value-based care

As the fashionistas might say, transparency in health care is having a moment. It made the PricewaterhouseCoopers top 10 list for 2014 industry issues, and there is every reason to expect transparency to be very visible this year and beyond.

Without a doubt, transparency is hot.

Despite this, there is increasing grumbling by observers who say that transparency is complicated and hard to operationalize. We also hear that transparency is “not enough” to constrain costs in our dysfunctional system, especially in the face of provider market power.

The word itself invites skepticism, in that it seems to over-simplify and promise a magical solution, as if daylight will provide health care pricing with a glow of rationality.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Transparency can and will provide information about price, quality, and consumer experience that market participants need in order to better understand the health care system and increase its value.

While this information is surely necessary, we have seen many examples of when it is not sufficient. Clearly, transparency is not the only tool that we need.

Here are a few thoughts about transparency issues for 2014.

Transparency tools will hit Main Street.

Increasingly, consumer-facing tools with various kinds information about health care prices are being created, whether it is okcopay or Change Healthcare. These entries join a growing list of transparency tools from carriers or third-party vendors.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Hospital Price Transparency challenge, designed to promote awareness of hospital charge data, had a record number of entrant and the winning submissions are downright inspiring. RWJF also awarded grants for research on the use of price data in health care, including a number of studies of promising transparency tools aimed at consumers and providers.

The field is becoming more crowded, and it is increasingly important to determine the optimal way to reach the consumer with price and quality information.

There will be greater focus on the customer experience.

There is no doubt that the customer experience in health care lags behind the rest of the service sector, and consumers are increasingly demanding responsiveness and convenience in their encounters with the medical profession. The growth of evening and weekend hours, email communications with physicians, and patient portals are all harbingers of a new age where medicine is far more customer friendly.

RWJF’s Open Notes initiative allows patients to share notes with their doctors, while the Foundation’s Flip the Clinic program completely reimagines the doctor patient encounter in the ambulatory care setting.

Continue reading “Transparency a Go Go?”

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Hospitals are busily merging with other hospitals and buying up groups of doctors. They claim that size brings efficiency and the opportunity to deliver more “value-based” care — and fewer unnecessary services.

They argue that they have to get bigger to cut waste. What’s the evidence that bigger hospitals offer better value? Not a lot.

If you think of value as some combination of needed services delivered for the right price, large hospitals are no better than small hospitals on both counts.

The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care and other sources have shown time and again that some of the biggest and best-known U.S. hospitals are no less guilty of subjecting patients to useless tests and marginal treatments.

Larger hospitals are also very good at raising prices. In 2010, an analysis for the Massachusetts attorney general found no correlation between price and quality of care.

study published recently in Health Affairs offered similar results for the rest of the country: On average, higher-priced hospitals are bigger, but offer no better quality of care.

Continue reading “Bigger Hospitals Mean Bigger Hospitals with Higher Prices. Not Better Care.”

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Forget for a moment the familiar scenes of action and outraged reaction that are playing out in our long-running national debate over how best to provide access to health care for every American. Instead, ask one simple question: what happens in the doctor’s office or hospital once access is achieved.

I set out to write a book addressing that question almost twenty years ago. I thought myself well qualified: I’d written about health care for a decade for the Chicago Tribune while receiving various awards and other recognition. But it didn’t take long for a painful realization to set in of how naïve I really was.

Digging through hundreds of studies, articles and other first-hand sources stretching back for decades, I was stunned to discover that repeated evidence of unsafe, ineffective, wasteful and downright random care had had no effect whatsoever on how doctors treated patients. Literally none. Moreover, the few professionals who understood this truth couldn’t talk about it in public without endangering their careers or engendering vitriol from peers.

Fortunately, I had no academic or clinical career to imperil. In the conclusion to Demanding Medical Excellence: Doctors and Accountability in the Information Age, I gave vent to anger and indignation. I wrote:

From ulcers to urinary tract infections, tonsils to organ transplants, back pain to breast cancer, asthma to arteriosclerosis, the evidence is irrefutable. Tens of thousands of patients have died or been injured year after year because readily available information was not used ­– and is not being used today – to guide their care. If one counts the lives lost to preventable medical mistakes, the toll reaches the hundreds of thousands.

The only barrier to saving these lives is the willingness of doctors and hospital administrators to change.

Demanding Medical Excellence came out in October, 1997. What progress has been made since then, and where we have fallen short? I address that question in a short article, “The Long Wait for Medical Excellence,” in the October, 2013 issue of Health Affairs. The purpose of this blog entry is to recap some of what’s said there (for you non-subscribers) and to add a few impolite observations that don’t jibe with the rules of a peer-reviewed journal.

Continue reading “Still Demanding Medical Excellence”

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recent analysis of the ACO market by Oliver Wyman market suggests we’re well on our way toward being “there.”

My personal take on this report:

Provocative, fresh, thoughtful, well reasoned, expansive — albeit a bit of a stretch

However, I suspect many others will describe it as:

Speculative, harebrained, unsupported, overly extrapolative, out-to-lunch, wishful to the point of being woo woo.

So now that I hopefully have your attention, what’s this report all about? In a nutshell:

The healthcare world has only gotten serious about accountable care organizations in the past two years, but it is already clear that they are well positioned to provide a serious competitive threat to traditional fee-for-service medicine. In “The ACO Surprise,” our analysis finds that 25 to 31 million Americans already receive their care through ACOs—and roughly 45 percent of the population live in regions served by at least one ACO.

Let’s dig in to the report. In this blog post, I’ll summarize their math, surface their critical assumptions and observations, and comment on their reasoning. I’ve indented direct quotations from the report.

While I don’t agree with all of Oliver Wyman’s math and assumptions, I applaud them for the process they have gone through. Please take my commentary as “quibbling at the edges” and that overall I’m on board with their methodology and conclusions.

Continue reading “ACOs: Is There a “There” There?”

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Vikram Khanna
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