Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) and other proponents of the
Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) justified their support for the
HRRP with the claim that research had already demonstrated how hospitals could
reduce readmissions for all Medicare fee-for-service patients, not just
for groups of carefully selected patients. In this three-part series, I am
reviewing the evidence for that claim.
We saw in Part I and Part II that the research MedPAC cited in its 2007 report to Congress (the report Congress relied on in authorizing the HRRP) contained no studies supporting that claim. We saw that the few studies MedPAC relied on that claimed to examine a successful intervention studied interventions administered to carefully selected patient populations. These populations were severely limited by two methods: The patients had to be discharged with one of a handful of diagnoses (heart failure, for example); and the patients had to have characteristics that raised the probability the intervention would work (for example, patients had to agree to a home visit, not be admitted from a nursing home, and be able to consent to the intervention).
In this final installment, I review the research cited by the Yale New Haven Health Services Corporation (hereafter the “Yale group”) in their 2011 report to CMS in which they recommended that CMS apply readmission penalties to all Medicare patients regardless of diagnosis and regardless of the patient’s interest in or ability to respond to the intervention. MedPAC at least limited its recommendation (a) to patients discharged with one of seven conditions/procedures and (b) to patients readmitted with diagnoses “related to” the index admission. The Yale group threw even those modest restrictions out the window.
The Yale group recommended what they called a “hospital-wide (all-condition) readmission measure.” Under this measure, penalties would apply to all patients regardless of the condition for which they were admitted and regardless of whether the readmission was related to the index admission (with the exception of planned admissions). “Any readmission is eligible to be counted as an outcome except those that are considered planned,” they stated. (p. 10)  The National Quality Forum (NQF) adopted the Yale group’s recommendation almost verbatim shortly after the Yale group presented their recommendation to CMS.
In their 2007 report, MedPAC offered these examples of related and unrelated readmissions: “Admission for angina following discharge for PTCA [angioplasty]” would be an example of a related readmission, whereas “[a]dmission for appendectomy following discharge for pneumonia” would not. (p. 109) Congress also endorsed the “related” requirement (see Section 3025 of the Affordable Care Act, the section that authorized CMS to establish the HRRP). But the Yale group dispensed with the “related” requirement with an astonishing excuse: They said they just couldn’t find a way to measure “relatedness.” “[T]here is no reliable way to determine whether a readmission is related to the previous hospitalization …,” they declared. (p. 17) Rather than conclude their “hospital-wide” readmission measure was a bad idea, they plowed ahead on the basis of this rationalization: “Our guiding principle for defining the eligible population was that the measure should capture as many unplanned readmissions as possible across a maximum number of acute care hospitals.” (p. 17) Thus, to take one of MedPAC’s examples of an unrelated admission, the Yale group decided hospitals should be punished for an admission for an appendectomy within 30 days after discharge for pneumonia. 
Physical inactivity is a mounting challenge for America. In reviewing the 2013-2015 American time use survey, we found that most Americans report spending their daily leisure time watching screens, and devote only a small fraction of leisure time—24 minutes for men and 14 minutes for women—to physical activity. A recent longitudinal examination of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that sitting time increased by an hour a day between 2007 and 2016, with the largest increases among adolescents ages 12-19 and adults, 20 years and older. As mortality rates for heart disease have begun to climb, increases in sedentary behavior bodes poorly for future control of disease and health care costs.
The explosion in streaming apps and content is likely contributing to the increased sitting time. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, TV and movie views have more then doubled between 2014 and 2018. The availability of multiple series and the ability to binge watch can keep people glued to their couches for hours at a time. The immersive quality of the programming makes it increasingly difficult for viewers to pull themselves away from their screens. Yet, the technology could provide options to help viewers watch and still get regular physical activity.
Currently, after each episode, an option is available to allow the viewer to immediately call up the next episode. Why not consider adding a pop-up that can remind viewers that sitting more than 20-30 minutes at a time may not be good for health, and that it’s important to move around to avoid chronic diseases? A narrator could ask viewers to treat themselves to an activity break. Then the viewers could have the option to choose a short video that can guide them through a 10- minute exercise break. Or even a 5-minute break. Something is better than nothing.
There could be many options, from a just a simple stand up and stretch, like the 7th inning break at a baseball game, to vigorous workouts, like the 7-minute workout published by the American College of Sports Medicine or doing a Bhangra dance with a Bollywood film star.
A few weeks ago, WTF Health took the show on the road to Australia’s digital health conference, HIC 2019. We captured more than 30 interviews (!) from the conference, which is run by the Health Informatics Society of Australia (hence the HISA Studio branding) and I had the opportunity to chat with most of the Australian Digital Health Agency’s leadership, many administrators from the country’s largest health systems, and a number of health informaticians, clinicians, and patients. I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorites here in a four-part series to give you a flavor of what’s happening in health innovation ‘Down Under.’ For much more, check out all the videos on the playlist here.
I’d like to kick off the series with my interview on all things interoperability with arguably the most famous Australian in health tech, Grahame Grieve.
Grahame Grieve, “the Father of FHIR” architected healthcare’s best shot at EMR data interoperability when he founded HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), but have you heard what prompted Grahame to pursue creating a common standard for electronic health data exchange in the first place? Grahame shares the surprisingly personal and emotional story and weighs in how he thinks FHIR adoption is going so far. If your business has anything to do with health IT, EMR, or healthcare’s play in big data, be sure to tune in to find out what’s next for FHIR, whether or not Big Tech’s new role in healthcare can help speed up adoption, and if Grahame thinks we’ll ever finally solve healthcare’s interoperability problem.
Filmed in the HISA Studio at HIC 2019 in Melbourne, Australia, August 2019.
United States medical education system is heralded as one among the top in the
world for medical training. Given the strict standards of education, multiple
licensing boards, and continuous oversight by governing bodies, getting a placement
to train in the US is extremely competitive. In 2017 alone, nearly 7000+ non-US citizens
(commonly referred to as “foreign medical graduates”) applied to compete with 24,000+
US citizens for American residency spots to pursue specialty training. The
reasons for this competitiveness are simple. The vast majority of medical institutions
in the US boast a comprehensive curriculum that entails basic sciences,
clinical principles, practical and hands-on didactics, and enriched exposure to
the clinical aspects of patient care. This training produces astute clinicians
that are capable of resolving the most complex diagnoses while providing comprehensive
it is high time to recognize that being a shrewd clinician is no longer a
sufficient product for the demands of the healthcare market today. That is to
say, the scope of medicine today for a physician has gone far beyond resolving
complex medical problems, but demands a higher understanding of multidisciplinary
skillsets, most important of which are finance and legal theory. In these
aspects, the US medical education system direly underprepares physicians, and
thus, requires a thorough reevaluation.
art of medicine, as much as it was originally developed to be purely about the
betterment of patient health, has become yet another siloed service industry.
Simply put, patients are customers, and physicians are increasingly held
accountable for the financial metrics and revenue their work produces. Compensation
models are increasingly favoring productivity based payment methods, such
as the relative value unit (RVU) system, and are moving away from the
traditional, salaried physician. This has resulted in increased pressure on
physicians to become more efficient with their workload and patient docket,
while managing the often turbulent and contradictory interests of insurance,
patients, and hospital administration.
Robust exchange of health information is absolutely critical to improving health care quality and lowering costs. In the last few months, government leaders at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have advanced ambitious policies to make interoperability a reality. Overall, this is a great thing. However, there are places where DC regulators need help from the frontlines to understand what will really work.
As California’s largest nonprofit health data network, Manifest MedEx has submitted comments and met with policymakers several times over the last few months to discuss these policies. We’ve weighed in with Administrator Seema Verma and National Coordinator Dr. Don Rucker. We’ve shared the progress and concerns of our network of over 400 California health organizations including hospitals, health plans, nurses, physicians and public health teams.
With the comment periods now closed, here’s a high-level look at what lies ahead:
CMS is leading on interoperability (good). Big new proposals from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will set tough parameters for sharing health information. With a good prognosis to roll out in final form around HIMSS 2020, we’re excited to see requirements that health plans give patients access to their claims records via a standard set of APIs, so patients can connect their data to apps of their choosing. In addition, hospitals will be required to send admit, discharge, transfer (ADT) notifications on patients to community providers, a massive move to make transitions from hospital to home safe and seamless for patients across the country. Studies show that readmissions to the hospital are reduced as much as 20% when patients are seen by a doctor within the first week after a hospitalization. Often the blocker is not knowing a patient was discharged. CMS is putting some serious muscle behind getting information moving and is using their leverage as a payer to create new economic reasons to share. We love it.
Today on Health in 2 Point 00, Jess is in Berlin for the Bayer G4A Signing Day where they’re announcing which startups are going to get deals and Glen Tullman is doing a fireside chat with Eugene Borukhovich. In Episode 97, Jess and I talk about Walmart and fertility. Fertility benefits startup Progyny files for IPO and I’m blown away by this relatively new company. Another startup—Halle Tecco’s Natalist—raises $5M to send care boxes to help women get pregnant. Finally, Jess has a conspiracy theory, noticing that Walmart is sneaking into all aspects of health tech… Walmart is expanding Grand Rounds, partnering with Doctor On Demand and HealthSCOPE to offer telehealth to their employees, Sam’s Club is offering $1 telehealth visits to members, and they just announced a partnership with Embold Health for employees in the southeast. Finally, I’ll be at Society for Participatory Medicine next week in Boston—see you all there. —Matthew Holt
The system is unstable. We are already seeing the precursor waves of massive and multiple disturbances to come. Disruption at key leverage points, new entrants, shifting public awareness and serious political competition cast omens and signs of a highly changed future.
So what’s the frequency? What are the smart bets for a strategic chief financial officer at a payer or provider facing such a bumpy ride? They are radically different from today’s dominant consensus strategies. In this five-part series, Joe Flower lays out the argument, the nature of the instability, and the best-bet strategies.
There are five ways that both healthcare providers and payers can cooperate while they compete to bring the highest value forward to the customer.
Align incentives in the contracts: Healthcare providers must be able to provide performance guarantees that give at least some of the bottom-line risk to them. Work with third-party companies that can actually audit organizations’ abilities to give performance guarantees consistently over time.
Eschew embiggening: Size per se is not a safe harbor from risk. There are few economies of scale in healthcare. Concentration within a given market can be essential to success in offering a true range of services, well supported, at a lower price, customized to the regional population, the provider mix, the state laws, and the local economy. But local concentration is not the same thing as size per se.
And size does not help the customer. There just are no examples in the history of healthcare in which size alone has returned greater value to the patient, the consumer, or the buyer, whether lower cost, greater reliability, or higher quality.
Expand the definition: Widen the “medical services” that you fund and offer to include services such as functional medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, and various other modalities that have been shown to be highly effective at far lower cost. There absolutely are ways to do this within licensing requirements.
Integrate behavioral health: Find ways to fund behavioral health and addiction treatment. Integrate behavioral health directly into the patient experience, triaging at the door to the Emergency Department and in every primary encounter. Find local innovators that can help pre-empt costly crises. Partner with community health, housing, and nutrition advocates. Helping people change their habits, manage their lives, and get beyond their addictions is far less expensive than fixing them over and over.
Retrain clinicians: Physicians and other clinicians are heavily trained to create and document reimbursable events. If you change the economics so that the system finds ROI in promoting health, preventing disease, managing population health, producing cures and reducing suffering as efficiently as possible, those very same clinicians will need to be retrained. Most of them will be deeply grateful, because they, like you, genuinely want to bring real value to the customer. In fact, if you do this you could end the physician shortage and the nurse shortage. People will flock back to do what they became a doctor or a nurse to do: Help people.
Despite an area under the ROC curve of 1, Cassandra’s
prophesies were never believed. She neither hedged nor relied on retrospective
data – her predictions, such as the Trojan war, were prospectively validated. In
medicine, a new type of Cassandra has emerged –
one who speaks in probabilistic tongue, forked unevenly between the
probability of being right and the possibility of being wrong. One who, by conceding
that she may be categorically wrong, is technically never wrong. We call these
new Minervas “predictions.” The Owl of Minerva flies above its denominator.
Deep learning (DL) promises to transform the prediction
industry from a stepping stone for academic promotion and tenure to something
vaguely useful for clinicians at the patient’s bedside. Economists studying AI believe that AI is revolutionary,
revolutionary like the steam engine and the internet, because it better predicts.
Recently published in Nature, a sophisticated DL algorithm was able to predict acute kidney injury (AKI), continuously, in hospitalized patients by extracting data from their electronic health records (EHRs). The algorithm interrogated nearly million EHRS of patients in Veteran Affairs hospitals. As intriguing as their methodology is, it’s less interesting than their results. For every correct prediction of AKI, there were two false positives. The false alarms would have made Cassandra blush, but they’re not bad for prognostic medicine. The DL- generated ROC curve stands head and shoulders above the diagonal representing randomness.
The researchers used a technique called “ablation analysis.”
I have no idea how that works but it sounds clever. Let me make a humble
prophesy of my own – if unleashed at the bedside the AKI-specific, DL-augmented
Cassandra could unleash havoc of a scale one struggles to comprehend.
Leaving aside that the accuracy of algorithms trained
retrospectively falls in the real world – as doctors know, there’s a difference
between book knowledge and practical knowledge – the major problem is the
effect availability of information has on decision making. Prediction is
fundamentally information. Information changes us.
Over four years of medical school, a one-year internship, a four-year radiology residency, a one-year neuroradiology fellowship, and now some time as an attending, one of my consistent takeaways has been how well (and thus how badly) the traditional academic hierarchy conforms to The Peter Principle.
The Peter Principle, formulated by Laurence J Peter in 1969, postulates that an individual’s promotion within an organizational hierarchy is predicated on their performance in their current role rather than their skills/abilities in their intended role. In other words, people are promoted until they are no longer qualified for the position they currently hold, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”
In academic medicine, this is particularly compounded by the conflation of research prowess and administrative skill. Writing papers and even getting grants doesn’t necessarily correlate with the skills necessary to successfully manage humans in a clinical division or department. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to suggest that they may even be inversely correlated. But this is precisely what happens when research is a fiat currency for meaningful academic advancement.
The business world, and particularly the tech giants of Silicon Valley, have widely promoted (and perhaps oversold) their organizational agility, which in many cases has been at least partially attributed to their relatively flat organizational structure: the more hurdles and mid-level managers any idea has to go through, the less likely it is for anything important to get done. A strict hierarchy promotes stability primarily through inertia but consequently strangles change and holds back individual productivity and creativity. The primary function of managers is to preserve their position within management. As Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” (which incidentally is a perfect summary of everything that is wrong in healthcare and politics).
When you left the story your hero had just arranged for Best Buy to attempt delivery on Tuesday afternoon last week. I was in SF for the “can’t miss” Rock Health Summit. I was waiting at the apartment when I got about 4 calls from the same random number in 3 minutes but when I answered no one was there. I called back, no answer. Then I got a voicemail saying the delivery team was outside. I ran outside! No they weren’t! At that point I gave up and had lunch. But then for now the 5th time I called Best Buy and lined up a new delivery. I stressed about 10 times that the delivery team could NOT leave next time without seeing me. There may have been some shouting…..
Monday was the next available day for delivery and it was day that Best Buy was going to finally get it right. I got an email saying they’d be there at 1.30pm
I was across town in a meeting at 12.30 and noticed 4 missed calls from the same number. Being of a very suspicious nature, I called the number, and yes it’s the delivery team. They were outside the apartment, and they were 60 mins early! Thankfully the delivery crew agreed to wait, and I went over to meet them. So at 6th time of asking, the crew was there, the equipment was there, I was there, and we all went into the apartment.