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Apple’s EHR: Why Health Records on Your iPhone is Just the Beginning

Americans on average will visit a care provider about 300 times over the course of their lives. That’s hundreds of blood pressure readings, numerous diagnoses, and hundreds of entries into a patient’s medical record—and that’s potentially with dozens of different doctors. So it’s understandable, inevitable even, that patients would struggle to keep every provider up-to-date on their medical history.

This issue is compounded by much of our healthcare information being fragmented among multiple, incompatible health systems’ electronic health records. The majority of these systems store and exchange health information in unique, often proprietary ways—and thus don’t effectively talk with one another.

Fortunately, recent news from Apple points to a reprieve for patients struggling to keep all of their providers up-to-date. Apple has teamed with roughly a dozen hospitals across the country, including the likes of Geisinger Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, to make patient’s medical history available to them on their phone. Patients can bring their phone with them to participating health systems and provide caregivers with an up-to-date medical history.

Empowering patients with the ability to carry their health records on their phone is great, and will surely help them overcome the issue of fragmented healthcare records. Yet the underlying standardization of how healthcare data is exchanged that has made this possible is the real feat. In fact, this standardization may potentially pave the way for innovation and rapid expansion of the health information technology (HIT) industry.

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Why Do We Need ACOs and Insurance Companies?

Six years ago Ezekiel Emanuel and Jeffrey Liebman made the foolish prediction that ACOs would eat the insurance industry’s lunch. “By 2020, the American health insurance industry will be extinct,” they wrote. “Insurance companies will be replaced by accountable care organizations….”  This would happen, they argued, because ACOs are just so darned good at lowering costs compared with insurance companies.

The first Medicare ACO programs began in 2012. Today there are 800 to 1,000 ACOs in business. [1] But ACOs aren’t even close to displacing the insurance industry. The most obvious reason is they don’t want to be insurance companies – they don’t want to bear full insurance risk. And the reason for that is they can’t cut costs. The performance of the Medicare ACOs, which are the only ACOs for which we have reliable data, illustrates both problems: Very few want to accept “downside risk” (the risk of losing money if they can’t cut costs); and they are incapable of cutting costs.

ACO hype confronts reality: Reality wins

Anyone paying attention to the research knew even before 2012 that ACOs wouldn’t cut costs for a general population (as opposed to a small slice of the population that is very sick). The Physician Group Practice Demonstration, which was widely seen as the first test of the ACO concept, raised Medicare spending. According to the final evaluation of the demonstration, the ten participating ACOs raised Medicare’s costs by 1.2 percent over the five years the demonstration ran (2005-2010), and it might have been worse if the ACOs hadn’t upcoded. [2] This failure to cut costs occurred despite the fact that the ten participating “group practices”/ACOs were very experienced in managing risk. They had names anyone who studies health policy would recognize, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic, Geisinger Clinic, and Marshfield Clinic. According to the final report on the demo, “Seven of the ten participants had currently or previously owned a health maintenance organization ….” (p. 15)

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Health in 2 point 00, Episode 3

Here’s the third episode of Health in 2 point 00, hosted by Jessica DaMassa. This week the tech and parties of HIMSS18 are looming on the horizon and she asks me as many questions as I can answer in two minutes. Hope you enjoy it! And if you have questions please leave them in the comments–Matthew Holt

Consider This Speculative Amazon Scenario

Amazon has many puzzled about its plans for healthcare. Arguably, Amazon is just as puzzled, but is – in effect — running a massive Delphi process to sort out the plan. Amazon is, after all, the Breaker of Industries, Destroyer of Margins. Allow rumors to float, hire some people, have meetings, seek a few regulatory approvals, start a vaguely missioned non-profit with other business titans. Fear and greed do the rest.

Stock prices gyrate as investors bet and counter bet on who is vulnerable, incumbent CEOs promise cooperation or competitive hostility, analysts speculate, “old hands” pontificate, and consultants send megabytes of unsolicited slide decks to South Lake Union. All that information gets exposed without any material commitment.

Disrupting the roadblocks to healthcare innovation

Proper strategic planning requires consideration of a few disruptive (if less likely) scenarios. Amazon getting into hospital supply or creating yet another benefits buying group is easy to imagine but conservative in scope. And we know Bezos thinks long-term and that profits are secondary to platform building.

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The Luxury to Choose

The 80 year-old woman lay on her mat, her legs powerless, looking up at the small group that had come to visit her. There were no more treatment options left. The oral liquid morphine we had brought in the small plastic bottle had blunted her pain. But, she would be dead in the coming days. The cervical cancer that was slowly taking her life is a notoriously horrible disease if left undetected and untreated and that is exactly what had happened in this case.

We had traveled hours by van along dirt roads to this village with a team of health workers from Hospice Africa Uganda, the country’s authority on end-of-life care, to visit the woman. She was the second patient of a similar condition I would see that afternoon.

Back home, seeing an 80 year-old woman with advanced cervical cancer, let alone two in the same day, was exceedingly rare. In high-income countries, cervical cancer is a largely treatable disease, especially when caught in the early stages. And it is now preventable thanks to a widely accessible vaccine against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the infectious agent that causes most cervical cancers, called Gardasil, which is recommended for all pre-teens in the United States.

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A Health Tech’s Secret Weapon: The People Under The Hood

The recently-announced acquisition of the oncology data company Flatiron Health by Roche for $2.1B represents a robust validation of the much-discussed but infrequently-realized hypothesis that technology entrepreneurs who can turn health data into actionable insights can capture significant value for this accomplishment.

Four questions underlying this deal (a transaction first reported, as usual, by Chrissy Farr) are: (1) What is the Flatiron business model? (2) What makes Flatiron different from other health data companies? (3) Why did Roche pay so much for this asset? (4) What are the lessons other health tech companies might learn?

The Flatiron Business Model

To a first approximation, Flatiron has a model that can be seen as similar to tech platforms like Google and Facebook – delight (or at least offer a useful service to) front-end users, and then sell the data generated to other businesses. For Flatiron, the front-end users are oncologists (mostly community, some academic), and the data customers are pharma companies. In contrast to Google (and also in contrast to the less successful Practice Fusion, recently acquired at a loss), Flatiron doesn’t sell access to front-end users themselves (e.g. through targeted ads), but rather access to de-identified, aggregated clinical information.

Success of this model requires that the Flatiron platform is attractive to oncology practices, who must feel that they’re getting distinct value from it and believe that it helps them fulfill their primary mission of taking care of cancer patients. If this is true, then the Flatiron platform will enjoy continued traction from its current base, and may more easily win over new users (including practices that use a different EMR system, like Epic, but still want access to the Flatiron network and analytics).

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CMS Quietly Launches an Offensive Against Direct Primary Care

Our healthcare system is self-destructing, a fact made more obvious every single day.  A few years ago, a number of brave physicians who were fed up with administrative burden, burnout, and obstacles to providing care for patients started a movement –known as Direct Primary Care (DPC.)  This is an innovative practice model where the payment arrangement is directly between a patient and their physician, leaving third parties, such as insurance or government agencies, completely out of the equation. 

The rapidly growing number of DPC physicians have organized into a group called the DPC Coalition (DPCC); suddenly, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) is paying attention.  As of February 2018, there are 770 DPC practices across the United States with new clinics opening each week as brave physicians leave the “system” behind, never looking back. Breaking free from the chains of insurance and government, this group is restoring the practice of medicine to its core, a relationship between a physician and their patient.    

CMS understands there is a problem with the way Medicare services are being delivered to tax payers; it turns out their idyllic version of “high quality” care is not as affordable as they predicted.  All evidence indicates the DPC model is not only capable of generating significant cost reduction, but also saving the federal government billions if administered on a large-enough scale.  As fewer physicians accept Medicare and convert to DPC practices, CMS wants a piece of the pie. 

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2018 Forecast: Another Theranos, Hospital Hiring Slows & Successful HIT Exits

For what is now an annual tradition, we are once again attempting to be healthcare soothsayers. We are proud to share with you our 10 healthcare predictions for 2018. In 2017, amaz-ingly, eight of our predictions came true.

For 2018, we are betting on the following:

1. Another Theranos

We think at least one healthcare information technology company with an enterprise value of more than $1 billion (not including Outcome Health, which we could not have predicted tanking so spectacularly quickly) will be exposed as not having product results to support their hype. It will also expose embarrassed investors who did not do careful diligence and founders with poor integrity.

2. Hospital hiring slows

After a decade of sustained hiring every month, hospitals will stop. Many will downsize their administrative staffs as admissions continue to slowdown and reimbursement pressures intensify. We expect multiple months with net healthcare job losses which would be the first time this has occurred since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the data.

3. Successful HCIT exits

After a long wait, and more than $10 billion of venture capital invested in startups over the past five years, we will begin to see successful IPO and M&A exits. These will reassure growth investors to keep pouring money into companies with traction.

4. Amazon does not disrupt PBMs

Despite daily rumors, we think Amazon will not shake up the PBM sector. Instead, Amazon will limit its healthcare market footprint to its existing consumer products and distributing non- regulated healthcare goods to healthcare providers (adopting a B2B and not B2C strategy).

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Questioning the Link Between Sports-Related Concussions and CTE

On Jan. 18, an article by Dr. Lee Goldstein of Boston University and colleagues in Brain, a leading neurological journal, was released and touted as proving the link between subconcussive hits to the head and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) (“Real risk of CTE comes from repeated hits to the head, study shows,” Feb. 4). That same day the CTE advocacy group — the Concussion Legacy Foundation — announced a national campaign called F14G Football to convert all under-14 football into flag football, thereby eliminating tackle football.

The message sent to assembled media and onlookers was that eliminating tackle football for youth is the key to safeguarding the brains and futures of America’s youth.

The truth is not so simple.

The scientific evidence linking youth casual sports play to brain injury, brain injury to CTE, and CTE to dementia is not strong. We believe that further scientific research and data are necessary for accurate risk-benefit analysis among policymakers for two reasons.

First, evidence-based science calls for research to be conducted under generally accepted principles. The case series presented by the Boston University group, primarily due to its ascertainment bias, is weaker than the evidentiary standard sufficient to demonstrate an association or causation and conflicts with pathologic findings in other studies.

CTE pathology in the brain has been shown by British pathologists to be present in approximately 12 percent of normal healthy aged people who died at an average age of 81 years (Ling et al. Acta Neuropathologica). The presence of CTE pathology in the brain on autopsy has not been shown to correlate with neurologic symptoms before death.

To be clear, CTE pathology could be present in a normal person.

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The Doctor Squared Movement: An Alternative to Regulatory Burden

The 4th amendment of the U.S. Constitution shields an individual (or business) from unreasonable government intrusion. It is inferred this right extends to ALL people, regardless of profession.  Advanced nurse practitioners are independently practicing medicine in 23 states yet are not subject to onerous Maintenance of Certification (MOC) requirements– physicians are not equally protected under the law.  Physicians must fight, as one group, against the burden of MOC.  We have two choices:  become a Doctor Squared (Dr. ²) or join an alternative certification organization such as the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons (NBPAS.)

A Doctor Squared (Dr. ²) denotes one who obtains both an MD and a DNP (Doctor of Nurse Practitioner) degree.  This allows independent practice and eliminates the power of MOC.  Reviewing a list of affordable DNP programs in the country shows a degree from the University of Massachusetts – Boston DNP program only costs $10,180.  Coursework is online, and will take only 3 years if attending part-time.  Renewal of an MD license in Washington State costs $697 biannually while DNP license costs $125, putting more money in my pocket.  Additionally, the continuing education requirement is different; advanced practice nurses must complete 15 hours annually while physicians need 50 hours annually even though both professions are independently practicing medicine.  According to Medscape, malpractice insurance rates are $12,000 yearly (2012) for a family physician, while a family nurse practitioner pays $1200, one-tenth as high.  Remember, the cost of MOC for internal medicine is $23,600 every 10 years. 

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