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Welcome to the New & Improved THCB!

Welcome back–and thank you for bearing with us while we figured out all the technical stuff transitioning the old THCB site to the new one! Hopefully this all looks familiar, but while the content is the same, under the hood everything is actually brand new.

We’ve made some simplifications, particularly having the “big 4” categories listed at the top of the page: Health Tech, Health Policy, Medical Practice & Health Care Business. The left margin has Videos (THCB Spotlight, WTF Health and Health in 2 Point 00), and our latest tweets from @THCBstaff below them. The right margin has room for our soon-to-come podcast “HardCore Health”, as well as 15 years worth of Archives and a place to sign up for our email newsletter, the THCB Reader.

If you want to comment and were previously registered, your registration should have carried over — login is on the top right. Of course you can still register in the same place (and yes, to stop spammers, you do need to do so in order to comment).

We will be adding new features and changing stuff around a little as we stretch our new technical legs! I hope you enjoy the new and improved THCB site — Matthew Holt

When Health Care Organizations Are Fundamentally Dishonest

By BRIAN KLEPPER

A class action legal ruling this month, on a case originally filed in 2014, found that UnitedHealthCare’s (UHC) mental health subsidiary, United Behavioral Health (UBH), established internal policies that discriminated against patients with behavioral health or substance abuse conditions. While an appeal is expected, patients with legitimate claims were systematically denied coverage, and employer/union purchasers who had paid for coverage for their employees and their family members received diminished or no value for their investments.

Central to the plaintiff’s argument was the fact that UBH developed its own clinical guidelines and ignored generally accepted standards of care. In the 106 page ruling, Judge Joseph C. Spero of the US District Court in Northern California wrote, “In every version of the Guidelines in the class period, and at every level of care that is at issue in this case, there is an excessive emphasis on addressing acute symptoms and stabilizing crises while ignoring the effective treatment of members’ underlying conditions.” He concluded that the emphasis was “pervasive and result[ed] in a significantly narrower scope of coverage than is consistent with generally accepted standards of care.” Judge Spero found that UBH’s cost-cutting focus “tainted the process, causing UBH to make decisions about Guidelines based as much or more on its own bottom line as on the interests of the plan members, to whom it owes a fiduciary duty.”

In a statement to FierceHealthcare, UnitedHealth said it “looks forward to demonstrating in the next phase of this case how our members received appropriate care…We remain committed to providing our members with access to the right care for the treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders.”

It is important to be clear about what transpired here. Based on evidence, a subsidiary of UnitedHealthCare, America’s second-largest health care firm, has been found in a court of law to have intentionally denied the coverage of thousands of patients filing claims. The organization justified the restrictions in coverage using internal guidelines tilted to favor financial performance rather than accepted standards of care. In other words, UBH’s leaders (as well as those at UHC) knowingly defrauded their customers and devised a mechanism to rationalize their scheme. In his ruling, Judge Spero described testimony by UHC representatives as “evasive — and even deceptive.”

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Build-Your-Own ‘Squad’ – YourCoach Redefines Health Coaching

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Health coaches are playing an ever-more important role in healthcare, but there’s no one single authority when it comes to finding one — or vetting them for that matter — until now.

Marina Borukhovich, CEO of startup YourCoach, talks about how she hopes to disrupt health coaching after she learned the value of having a ‘squad’ of experts help her through her breast cancer journey.

In fact, ‘Squads’ are the value-add that YourCoach is hoping will set them apart. The app’s signature feature is that it lets you build-your-own team of experts who can work together to tackle any aspect of health and wellness.

“We’re connecting coaches from around the world who are going to lead the client holistically,” explains Marina. “So, it could be diabetes support, it could be pull[ing] somebody in who does meditation, they could bring in a business coach. It just really depends on the person…and what you need as a person.”

“We’re building ‘Team YOU.”

Joining in on the fun in this interview is Eugene Borukhovich, who some of you will recognize as the face of Bayer’s G4A program.

Eugene serves as an advisor to YourCoach and is also Marina’s husband — possibly making them the “Beyonce & Jay-Z” power couple of digital health. Is this a blessing or a curse? Apparently, there are 3am pitch practices that sound like the solid foundation of any marriage.

Listen in to meet them both.

Filmed at JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, January 2019.

The Cruelty of Managed Medicare

By HANS DUVEFELT MD

Jeanette Brown had lost twenty pounds, and she was worried.

“I’m not trying,” she told me at her regular diabetes visit as I pored over her lab results. What I saw sent a chill down my spine:

A normal weight, diet controlled diabetic for many years, her glycosylated hemoglobin had jumped from 6.9 to 9.3 in three months while losing that much weight.

That is exactly what happened to my mother some years ago, before she was diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer that took her life in less than two years.

Jeanette had a normal physical exam and all her bloodwork except for the sugar numbers was fine. Her review of systems was quite unremarkable as well, maybe a little fatigue.

“When people lose this much weight without trying, we usually do tests to rule out cancer, even if there’s no specific symptom to suggest that,” I explained. “In your case, being a former smoker, we need to check your lungs with a CT scan, and because of your Hepatitis C, even though your liver ultrasounds have been normal, we need a CT of your abdomen.”

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New THCB site coming MONDAY! (It’ll be down this weekend)

I’m thrilled to tell you that after a lot of work by Zoya Khan, Dan Kogan and his tech whizzes, there’ll be a new THCB site up on Monday. Hopefully you’ll notice the changes and think it’s an improvement!

But while we do the switch (to a new server, template, host, et al) the site will be down this weekend starting Friday night PT.  So go outside and enjoy some fresh air and we’ll be back Monday morning!  Thanks!  — Matthew Holt

ONC & CMS Proposed Rules | Part 2: Interoperability

By DAVE LEVIN MD 

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have proposed final rules on interoperability, data blocking and other activities as part of implementing the 21st Century Cures Act. In this series, we will explore the ideas behind the rules, why they are necessary and the expected impact. Given that these are complex and controversial topics open to interpretation, we invite readers to respond with their own ideas, corrections and opinions. You can find Part 1 of the series here

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In 2016, Congress enacted the 21st Century Cures Act with specific goals to “advance interoperability and support the access, exchange and use of electronic health information.” The purpose was to spur innovation and competition in health IT while ensuring patients and providers have ready access to the information and applications they need.

The free flow of data and the ability for applications to connect and exchange it “without special effort” are central to and supported by a combination of rules proposed by ONC and CMS. These rules address both technical requirements and expected behaviors. In this article, we look at specific technical and behavioral requirements for interoperability. Future articles will examine data blocking and other behavioral issues.

Compatible “Plugs and Sockets”

The proposed rules explicitly mandate the adoption and use of application programming interface (API) technology (or a successor) for a simple reason: APIs have achieved powerful, scalable and efficient interoperability across much of the digital economy. Put simply, APIs provide compatible “plugs and sockets” that make it easy for different applications to connect, exchange data and collaborate. They are an essential foundation for building the next generation of health IT applications. (Note: readers who want to go deeper into APIs can do so at the API Learning Center).

APIs are versatile and flexible. This makes them powerful but can also lead to wide variations in how they work. Therefore, ONC is proposing that certified health IT applications use a specific API based on the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) specification. FHIR is a consensus standard developed and maintained by the standards development organization (SDO) Health Level–7 (HL7). Mandating the use of the FHIR standard API helps to ensure a foundational compatibility and basic interoperability. This gives API technology suppliers (like EHR vendors) a clear set of standards to follow in order to fulfill the API requirement. It also ensures “consumers” of that API (like hospitals and health IT developers), have consistency when integrating applications.

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Health Care Must Open More Doors to Mental Health Patients

By ARPAN WAGHRAY, MD and BENJAMIN F. MILLER, PsyD

Benjamin F. Miller

Arpan Waghray

If someone we love has a physical ailment, we can list a variety of places for them to seek care: a clinician’s office, a pharmacy, an urgent care clinic, a school health clinic, an emergency department — the list goes on.

And, in every case, we would feel confident the clinicians in those places would know how to handle the case — or at least know where to send the patient if they need more intensive or specialized care.

But, sadly, the same isn’t true for a loved one with a mental health or substance misuse need, even thought mental health problems are more prevalent than many physical conditions.

As deaths of despair from drug or alcohol misuse or suicide continue to rise, we need a comprehensive, coordinated “no wrong door” approach that fully integrates mental health into the health care system and beyond. We need to transform our clinical practice, creating more options for care and putting mental health and substance use patients’ best interests first. Policy and payment reform must happen to make this new vision of care possible.

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Health in 2 Point 00, Episode 73 | Mergers, Medicaid, & Money

Today on Health in 2 Point 00, Jess and I power through a whopping six questions. In this episode, Jess asks me about the merger between Cambia Health Solutions and Blue Cross NC, Alex Azar getting grilled by Rep. Joe Kennedy on Medicaid work requirements, Omada Health adding connected blood pressure and glucose monitors, 23andMe’s new Type 2 Diabetes predisposition test, and raises by Akili Interactive and MAP Health Management. —Matthew Holt 

Come Together.Health, Right Now…Over Me

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

At HIMSS19, the year-old ‘Digital Health Collaborative’ announced its relaunch as ‘Together.Health.’ More than just a feel-good name, the new moniker is indicative of how the organization is literally trying to help the health innovation world ‘get its #%&! together.’

“We’re building a hub-and-spoke model,” says Stephen Konya of the US Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

He and Nick Dougherty of MassChallenge Health Tech are founding co-chairs for Together.Health and the pair have managed to build a roster of more than 40 different partners – including almost every digital health accelerator and incubator in the country. Add into the mix  some of the biggest health innovation investors in the biz, the usual healthcare incumbents, and a number of different government organizations and economic development groups with local, regional, and federal reach and one begins to clearly see how Together.Health is filling a void for ‘spokes’ that were definitely missing the connecting power of a ‘hub.’

But, what’s the real value of all this together-ness? According to Konya and Dougherty, faster uptake for innovation in healthcare.

For example, the organization’s first project is the development of a standard Business Associates Agreement (BAA) for startups and health systems to use to streamline the onerous paperwork process required before piloting or deploying new solutions. This is a process that currently takes 9-12 months and varies by health system. Together.Health thinks they can shorten that timeframe to 2-3 months just by getting the right people into the room and agreeing to keep 80% of the questions in the assessment in a standard format. The idea is meant to help prevent startups from ‘running out of runway’ (and their health system champions from simply ‘running away’ in frustration), while everyone waits for the necessary paperwork to make its way through Legal.

The pragmatism doesn’t stop there. Listen in to my interview with Stephen Konya to hear about the two other challenges Together.Health is taking on this year: putting together a common curriculum for health accelerator programs and mapping the US Health Innovation Ecosystem.

Want to get a jump on learning what’s happening in some of those health innovation pockets in the US? I had the opportunity to interview 10 ecosystem leaders at the Together.Health Spring Summit at HIMSS and the variety of conversations (and concerns) they share is pretty remarkable.

You can check out the whole Together.Health playlist here, or wait for a few of my favs (and their dishy gossip!) to make an appearance here on THCB over the next week.

Get a glimpse of the future of healthcare by meeting the people who are going to change it. Find more WTF Health interviews here or check out www.wtf.health

Health Care Price Tags Won’t Find You the Best Doctor

By MICHAEL L. MILLENSON

Say you want to know which baseball players provide the most value for the big dollars they’re being paid. A Google search quickly yields analytics. But suppose your primary care physician just diagnosed you with cancer. What will a search for a “high value” cancer doctor tell you?

Not much.

Public concern over bloated and unintelligible medical bills has prompted pushback ranging from an exposé by a satirical TV show to a government edict that hospitals list their prices online. But despite widespread agreement about the importance of high-value care, information about the clinical outcomes of individual physicians, which can put cost into perspective, is scarce. Even when information about quality of care is available, it’s often unreliable, outdated, or limited in scope.

For those who are sick and scared, posting health care price tags isn’t good enough. The glaring information gap about the quality of care must be eliminated.

“When people are comparison shopping, knowing the price of something is not enough,” notes Eric Schneider, a primary care physician and senior vice president of policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund. “People want to know the quality of the goods and services they’re buying.”

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