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A Million Jobs in Healthcare’s Future

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“The Future is Here. It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed.”

It’s true.

Science fiction writer William Gibson said that right. We simply have to look around enough – now – to find out what the future holds.

The future may never be evenly distributed. But it’s surely becoming the present faster.

What would you do when…

Here are a series of what-would-you-do-when questions to think about. Each of these are a reality today, somewhere.

There’s more medical data than insight

Kaiser Permanente presently manages 30 petabytes of data. Images. Lab tests. EHRs. Patient data. Billing. Registries. Clinical trials. Sooner than later, most medical devices (big and small) will become smart. They will have an IP address like a Fitbit and send data over the cloud.

What would happen when medical data expands to exabytes, zettabytes, and may be even a yottabyte (10^24)?

What it means for jobs: Expect a boom in data-related opportunities. Data scientists. Visualization gurus. Statisticians. Mathematicians who can build predictive models. Anyone who can spot wisdom from information.

Genetic programming becomes the new software gig

People interested in programming are well-suited to become biologists of tomorrow because ATGC (the genomic alphabet) can now be tinkered digitally using tools like CRISPR.

[Read: A programming language for living cells]

If you are a developer, you could join a bio hackerspace or create your own. Explore how programming can make foul-smelling E.coli develop the fragrance of bananas.

The Definitive Guide to Repealing & Replacing Obamacare

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“So how about it, Nash? You scared?”

“Terrified… mortified… petrified… stupefied… by you.” (–A Beautiful Mind)

Fear is now a sign that you are an intelligent, educated, open-minded and caring person. Being scared is incontestable proof that you have a beautiful heart. When it comes to your health, there is palpable terror that soon, very soon, the bad guys will take away Obamacare, which was the source of health care and life itself for many.

Obamacare is Now Officially the Status Quo

Obamacare went into effect only three years ago, but in the age of information technology, years are like decades. Obamacare  is deeply and solidly entrenched in the health care landscape. There is zero chance that anybody will be able to dig up its rhizomic growth into the actual practice of medicine, so let’s play along and see what can be done about the large shiny part, visible to the naked eye, namely health insurance.

Population Health Isn’t Working Out Quite the Way They Said It Would. What’s Going On?

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I hate shots.  Every year when flu season rolls around, I think, “what’s in it for me?” The answer is, “it isn’t for me. It’s for the herd.” I am young and healthy enough that I am unlikely to die of the flu but I have children, older people and vulnerable patients I care about it, so I get a flu shot every year.

This is true population health. I get a flu shot for the benefit of others. Population health has been extended to a much larger set of activities that have no communal benefit. One patient with diabetes doesn’t benefit from another getting a foot exam. (Mammograms, colonoscopies, no communal benefit. STD screening, on the other hand, fits in the category of true population health.)

This distinction matters. Here’s why:

  1. People are keenly aware of being told to do things that aren’t for their personal benefit.
  2. People reject recommendations that don’t match their health needs.
  3. People are much more likely to follow recommendations from people they trust.  Points 1 & 2 above undermine trust.

Lively discussion with my fellow panelists at upcoming HIMSS17 panel on consumer engagement highlighted my own misgivings about the absence of the patient’s individuality and voice in population health efforts. We all want better health in the population, but are we going about it in the right way?

Population health puts people into categories by conditions (diabetes, hypertension, depression), age, lab results and medical billing data. These categories presume their own importance. When in fact, psychosocial, behavioral and environmental factors determine individual health far more.  Patient goals, preferences and barriers to care tell us what stands between that patient and better health. Without this data, population health efforts are undermined.

Dashboards Are For 737 Pilots, Not Physicians.

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You’re right, Dr Hatch.  Nobody’s feels like they’re winning.  Last week I was in a room with a group of physicians, and the Chief Medical Officer of an ACO was explaining to them that he could give them all dashboards that they would love.

But the physicians didn’t look like they were dreaming of the same valentines.  “What would we do with a dashboard?”  Said one.  “Is this another Meaningful Use requirement gone bad?” Said another.

The undertone is that “we didn’t sign up for this population health” stuff.  Physicians are intellectually challenged by, and find meaning in the personal conversations and diagnostic puzzles that are well represented in caring for individual people.  We are not intellectually challenged by the need to remind patients to get a colonoscopy, mammogram or flu shot. 

A Reset For Physicians?

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Last week, the nominee to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma testified before the Senate Finance Committee. She conveyed a message akin to that of her new boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a physician and House of Representatives veteran: the federal government has made life miserable for providers adding unnecessary complexity and cost.

She challenged the value of electronic health records especially in small practices and rural settings and likened interoperability to a bridge too far. And she observed that Medicare and Medicaid, that cover 128 million Americans accounting for $1 trillion in federal spending, should play a leading role in fixing the problems it has created.

In their confirmation testimony, both Verma and Price were particularly deferential to the plight of physicians, explicitly associating the profession’s challenges with laws and regulations that frustrate clinicians and compromise patient care.

It’s clear the role physicians will play in the post Affordable Care Act era will be a prominent theme under their leadership.

The Public Health Enemy at the Gate

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President Donald Trump  keeps getting kicked around in court when challenges are brought against his ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Trump says he wants to halt the flow of people who might be planning attacks. What we cannot forget is that the kind of attack he has in mind is not confined to bombs and shootings. Trump is terrified that immigrants bring diseases with them. If racism fails, public health will likely afford Trump the rationale he seeks for making it difficult for those he does not like to enter our country.

The president is a self-described germaphobe. He has doubts about vaccines. He likely does not wake up every day to thrill at the latest advances in science. This is a president who might possibly let an infectious disease do what he has so far not been able to accomplish by impugning the country or religion of immigrants he doesn’t like: provide the basis for a ban.

The threat of a pandemic is yet another avenue he could possibly embrace to create a Fortress America. He might demand more walls, quarantine stations at airports and one-way tickets home for every potential human vector — including the frail, kids and pregnant women. No one who is sick, might be sick or who can be smeared as the source of Americans getting sick would get in.

Pandemic flu, Zika, yellow fever, West Nile and a host of other maladies are likely to keep popping up over the next four years. The news media are great at stoking fear about all of them. Public officials are ill-prepared to know what to do about any of them.

Don’t Get Too Distracted By the Smoke Coming Out of Washington

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Health care has risen to the top of the national agenda and Washington policymakers are once again debating how to affordably provide coverage and care for Americans. It is a discussion we welcome. But in the meantime, let’s not lose sight of the fundamentals that will ultimately produce greater value for our health care dollars.

At the heart of a high-performing health system is quality outcomes. For consumers to make informed decisions, they’ll need more data—reliable, actionable data. Health plans operating in managed care are accustomed to demonstrating their value and in fact have performed well under such scrutiny.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a national organization dedicated to measuring and improving health quality, has published annual evaluations of every private, Medicare and Medicaid health plan in the country for more than a decade.

A Measure of Insight on MACRA

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Featured Presentation: http://bit.ly/2lhvpjM

A 2016 study by Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College and the Medical Group Management Association found that physicians and their staff spend between 6 and 12 hours per week processing and reporting quality metrics to the government – at a cost of $15.4 billion a year.

As a recent Health Catalyst MACRA survey confirms, that burden is expected to significantly worsen in 2017 and beyond as physicians struggle to report quality metrics for the Medicare Access & CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) – the federal law that changes the way Medicare pays doctors. Commercial health insurers are expected to follow the government’s lead with similar programs of their own. In complex organizations, successfully achieving performance targets and submitting accurately for MACRA incentives will require integrating multiple measures across financial, regulatory and quality departments.

Trump Issues Obamacare Proposed Rule to “Increase Patients Health Insurance Choices For 2018”

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CMS this morning released the following statement:

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today issued a proposed rule for 2018, which proposes new reforms that are critical to stabilizing the individual and small group health insurance markets to help protect patients. This proposed rule would make changes to special enrollment periods, the annual open enrollment period, guaranteed availability, network adequacy rules, essential community providers, and actuarial value requirements; and announces upcoming changes to the qualified health plan certification timeline.

“Americans participating in the individual health insurance markets deserve as many health insurance options as possible,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  “This proposal will take steps to stabilize the Marketplace, provide more flexibility to states and insurers, and give patients access to more coverage options. They will help protect Americans enrolled in the individual and small group health insurance markets while future reforms are being debated.”

The rule proposes a variety of policy and operational changes to stabilize the Marketplace, including:

  • Open Enrollment Period: The rule proposes to shorten the upcoming annual open enrollment period for the individual market. For the 2018 coverage year, we propose an open enrollment period of November 1, 2017, to December 15, 2017.  This proposed change will align the Marketplaces with the Employer-Sponsored Insurance Market and Medicare, and help lower prices for Americans by reducing adverse selection.
  • Special Enrollment Period Pre-Enrollment Verification: The rule proposes to expand pre-enrollment verification of eligibility to individuals who newly enroll through special enrollment periods in Marketplaces using the HealthCare.gov platform. This proposed change would help make sure that special enrollment periods are available to all who are eligible for them, but will require individuals to submit supporting documentation, a common practice in the employer health insurance market. This will help place downward pressure on premiums, curb abuses, and encourage year-round enrollment.
     
  • Guaranteed Availability: The rule proposes to address potential abuses by allowing an issuer to collect premiums for prior unpaid coverage, before enrolling a patient in the next year’s plan with the same issuer. This will incentivize patients to avoid coverage lapses.
     
  • Determining the Level of Coverage: The rule proposes to make adjustments to the de minimis range used for determining the level of coverage by providing greater flexibility to issuers to provide patients with more coverage options.
     

Teaching Health Delivery Science in the Digital Age

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Our health system is facing an existential crisis. We’re not alone. As the largest hospital in the western United States and a member of the 2016-17 U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals Honor Roll, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is known for its exceptional quality of care… but also for its high cost of care. In an era of value-based healthcare financing and full-risk contracts, it is an existential challenge for health systems like Cedars-Sinai to bend the cost curve while maintaining or improving patient outcomes, satisfaction, and safety. If we can’t bring down costs, then insurance companies may take their business elsewhere.

To meet the challenge, healthcare systems like ours must become facile with managing and interpreting big data; learn how to implement health information technology in clinical practice; perform continuous self-assessments to ensure high-quality, safe and effective care; measure and address patient preferences and values; master the principles of digital health science; and, ultimately, ensure all these activities are cost-effective. This is exceedingly hard to do, but there is a science for doing it all. It’s called health delivery science.

We recently launched a new Master’s Degree program in Health Delivery Science (MHDS) at Cedars-Sinai, the first of its kind in the nation. Having struggled with the challenges of adapting to the requirements of value-based healthcare, we’ve learned enough lessons to fill not only a textbook, but an entire curriculum. So, we decided to develop a comprehensive degree program to teach others about our own successes and failures. We hope that other organizations can benefit from our blueprint. This article outlines our new curriculum as a framework for how to define and teach health delivery science in the digital age.