The opioid crisis in the United States is having a devastating impact on individuals, their families, and the health care industry. This multi-part series will focus on the role technology can play in addressing this crisis. Part one of the series proposed a strategic framework for evaluating and pursuing technical solutions.
A Framework for Innovation
Deaths from drug overdoses in the United States jumped nearly 10 percent last year, according to recent estimates by the Centers for Disease Control. One major reason for the increase: more Americans are misusing opioids.
Health IT (HIT) can play a pivotal role in addressing the opioid-abuse epidemic. To maximize impact, however, we believe it’s essential to organize and prioritize IT innovations and approaches. In part one of this series, we proposed a conceptual framework that sorts opportunities based on five types of functionality. In this article, we will explore one of these categories: technologies that enhance situational awareness.
The opioid crisis in the United States is having a devastating impact on individuals, their families, and the health care industry. This multi-part series will focus on the role technology can play in addressing this crisis. In this article, we propose a strategic framework for evaluating and pursuing technical solutions. Future articles will explore specific areas and solutions within this framework.
A Full-Blown Crisis
One of the authors recently had the opportunity to participate in a multi-stakeholder workshop in Cleveland, OH dedicated to finding new, collaborative approaches to addressing the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic. While Ohio might be considered ground zero for this epidemic, the evidence is clear that this is a national crisis and it is getting worse. The numbers are frightening, especially the 2016 estimate that 2.1 million people misused opioids for the first time.
Given the statistics, it is likely that many of you have been personally touched by the epidemic.
In our experience, successful improvement efforts in health care almost always address the role of people, process and technology. Strategic innovations aimed at the opioid abuse crisis should account for all three of these in a holistic manner. Innovation should be pursued as a series of practical experiments that address current gaps, result in near-term improvement, provide insights for future tests of change, and lead to a set of sustainable and scalable solutions that will be essential to ensuring long-term success in addressing this enormous problem.
I pay $500 per year for UpToDate, the online reference that helps me stay current on diagnostic criteria and best treatment options for most diseases I might run into in my practice. They also have a rich library of patient information, which I often print out during office visits.
I don’t get any “credit” for doing that, but I do if I print the, often paltry, patient handouts built into my EMR. That was how the rules governing meaningful use of subsidized computer technology for medical offices were written.
If I describe in great detail in my office note how I motivated a patient to quit smoking but forgot to also check the box that smoking cessation education was provided, I look like a negligent doctor. My expensive EMR can’t extract that information from the text. Google, from my mobile device, can translate between languages and manages to send me ads based on words in my web searches.
When I do a diabetic foot exam, it doesn’t count for my quality metrics if I freetext it; I must use the right boxes. If I do it diligently on my iPad in eClinicalWorks, one of my EMRs, even if I use the clickboxes, it doesn’t carry over to the flowsheet or my report card.
Back at their desks after the holidays, health care payers, providers and policymakers across the country are staring down their list of 2019 priorities, wondering which they can actually accomplish. Innovation to improve care quality and reduce costs will top many lists, and progress on this front depends, in no small part, on conditions for such innovation in the health care marketplace. Here are three phenomena unfolding there that I’ll be following closely this year to understand what innovators are up against, and how they’re responding.
The legal battle over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Over 20 million previously uninsured Americans acquired health insurance between 2010 and 2017, many due to the ACA’s premium subsidies, ban on pre-existing condition restrictions, and Medicaid expansion. At the most fundamental level, this coverage expansion has vastly improved one of the most important conditions for a healthy population—access to health care. But it also supports innovation toward better, more affordable care.Coverage expansion means providers get reimbursed for more of the care they deliver to patients who are unable to pay, which strengthens their financial position. It also enables some patients to maintain more continuous health insurance coverage, hence see a doctor more regularly over time. This, in turn, facilitates providers’ development of more effective approaches to management of long-term, chronic disease, which causes untold suffering and costs the U.S. hundreds of billions in direct medical costs. Continue reading…
On Episode 67 of Health in 2 Point 00, Jess is appalled at the CDC’s salmonella warning for hedgehogs. But in other news, Jess asks me about uBiome, which has raised over $100 million, laying off over 50 people; Planned Parenthood’s new chatbot that helps answer teenagers’ questions about sexual health; and Lively’s recent $16 million raise for their telehealth hearing assessment platform. Don’t forget to stop by our booth at HIMSS in 2 weeks! —Matthew Holt
Today’s opioid crisis is one of the most dire side effects driven by our dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system. A recent JAMA Surgery report found that many surgeons prescribe four times more opioids than their patients use. This opens the door for misuse and abuse later on. In fact, the total combined cost of misuse, abuse, dependence and overdose is about $78.5 billion.
Unfortunately, there’s a direct connection between the low-quality care many patients receive, and the astounding rates of opioid addiction. Often, insurance plans offer access to high-cost, volume-centric physicians and include high deductibles — creating an expensive cycle that doesn’t focus on patient outcomes. Instead of taking the time to figure out what is actually ailing a patient, these overworked and nearly burnt-out doctors get them in and out the door with a referral and a prescription for more pills than they could ever need.
What may surprise you is that employers play a large part in setting the stage for addiction. Millions of Americans get their health insurance from their employer, and a majority of those plans are fully-insured. To determine what insurance plan they offer, employers work with a benefits broker to purchase one from a carrier like Aetna or Cigna. Each year, employers and their broker join together for an annual dance — the broker tells them that healthcare costs are rising so their insurance rates have gone up, usually by 5-20 percent. The employers don’t know better than to accept these increases, filtering them down to employees in the form of higher premiums. Despite costs constantly going up, the quality of care does not follow. Continue reading…
Out this week is the AHA (or more precisely their SHSMD division’s) Futurescan publication. This year it’s edited by futurist Ian Morrison @seccurve and it features a bevvy of forecasting articles including one called “Flipping the Stack: Can New Technology Drive Health Care’s Future?” by Indu Subaiya and Matthew Holt (i.e. me)
To take a look at the listing and perhaps even buy a PDF or hard copy (yes, it’s not free, remember that whole capitalism thing, but it’s the cheapest thing you’ll ever get from a hospital!) follow this link — Matthew Holt
On Episode 66 of Health in 2 Point 00, Jess and I talk about money, money and more money. For one, Ciitizen, a health records company focusing on cancer patients, just closed a $17 million round. Limelight Health, which helps employers put together quotes for employee benefits, raised $33.5 million, and The Pill Club, an online birth control prescription and delivery service, raised $51 million. Jess also asks me about ADURO’s $22 million raise and why the employee wellness space is continuing to get so much funding. And again, be sure to find us at our booth at HIMSS! —Matthew Holt
Having survived years of attacks from Republicans at the federal level, will the surviving ACA be rendered obsolete by Democrats’ local and state efforts towards universal health care? This could be an ironic twist of fate for Obamacare. Conceived out of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s ideas and an early experiment in Massachusetts under a Republican governor, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement could very well survive its most recent judiciary challenge. But over time the ACA is susceptible to obsolescence, because of the many universal health care solutions being pushed at the state level.
Let’s start this brief outlook for Obamacare by reviewing how it has played defense, quite successfully thus far: During most of 2017 and 2018, the future of the ACA was always discussed in the context of Republican efforts to repeal it. After all, the GOP controlled the White House and both Chambers of Congress. Hadn’t Republicans spent the last four years of the Obama administration promising to repeal Obamacare the instant they could? And so they went after the ACA in 2017 with all the levers of Washington power. But repealing is one thing, legislating another: We know what happened in July 2017, when the last “repeal and replace” effort was defeated in the U.S. Senate by the narrowest of margins, because three Republican Senators, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and the late and much regretted John McCain, voted against the repeal. With their December 22 tax law, Republicans did succeed in eliminating the ACA’s individual mandate tax penalty owed by individuals failing to maintain “minimum essential coverage.” Most medical plans qualify for this, as long as they meet a number of requirements, such as not charging more for pre-existing conditions. For good measure, the Trump administration used executive orders in 2018 to allow low-cost plans not meeting these ACA guidelines to be offered by employers. Twenty state attorney generals from Republican states, led by Texas and Wisconsin, also initiated litigation against the ACA, arguing that without the tax penalty the law had become unconstitutional.