Lawton Burns and Mark Pauly, economists at the Wharton School, just published an article that should be required reading for all policy makers and health services researchers. The article, entitled “Transformation of the health care industry: Curb your enthusiasm,” appears in the latest edition of the Milbank Quarterly.
Burns and Pauly undertook an enormous task and executed it well. They first sought to explain the assumptions underlying Managed Care (MC) 2.0 – the proposals promoted by the managed care movement in the wake of the HMO backlash of the late 1990s. Then they evaluated the probability that the MC 2.0 proposals will work as advertised. To do that, they looked at the relevant research and then at the social conditions that are impeding the implementation of those proposals. That’s a lot to bite off.
This is an unusually valuable article because of its scope, organization, and documentation. I will summarize it first, then discuss it in more detail. I’ll close with a discussion of my one serious criticism of this excellent paper: The authors, having made it clear they think the current “value-based” approach to cost containment is doomed, profess to see no solutions to rising health care costs.
Testing a mantra
Burns and Pauly are among the small minority of health services researchers who seem to be curious about the powerful norms that influence their profession but which are rarely acknowledged and never studied. They do not come right out and say, “Our profession resembles a religion more than a scientific discipline,” but you get the feeling they might agree with that statement if you could talk to them over coffee. They communicate their interest in the undiscussed norms both in the way they treat health policy jargon (they view it with some skepticism) and in their willingness to declare that fundamental assumptions underlying MC 2.0 were never tested.
It’s not every day that an analytics firm focusing on improving the efficacy and value of drugs has a big raise in the health tech world–especially one I don’t know much about. This morning Aetion raised $36m to add onto $11m they raised last year. Their new round is led by famed venture firm NEA and includes Amgen Ventures. I spoke to CEO and part-time extreme skier Carolyn Magill to find out what Aetion does and why big pharma and major payers need their help in the brave new world of value-based care.
Intrigued by many things in my first few days in the U.S., what perplexed me the most was that there seemed to be a DaVita Dialysis wherever I went; in malls, in the mainstreet of West Philadelphia, near high rises and near lower rises. I felt that I was being ominously followed by nephrologists. How on earth could providers of renal replacement therapy have a similar spatial distribution as McDonalds?
After reading Friedrich Hayek’s essay, Use of Knowledge in Society, I realized why. In stead of building a multiplex for dialysis, which has shops selling pulmonary edema-inducing fried chicken, DaVita set shop where people lived or hung out. It wasn’t a terribly clever business plan but its genius was its simplicity, its humility. If the mountain will not come to Muhammed, Muhammed must go to the mountain. DaVita went to the masses.
The link between Hayek’s wisdom and DaVita’s business plan may seem tenuous. But Hayek has been misunderstood, particularly in healthcare. Many a times and oft in the policy world Hayek has been rated about money and usances. This is because of a misperception that Hayek was all about profit and loss, which are anathema to healthcare. Hayek’s message was simple: local knowledge can’t be aggregated. From this premise sprouts others – dispersed agents in certain times and places possess fragments of knowledge which don’t come easily to central planners.
For Hayek, socialism and capitalism weren’t moral but epistemic issues. Socialism would fail because of a coordination problem – markets would succeed because they could use price signals to coordinate. Healthcare doesn’t use price signals to coordinate, not explicitly, at least. Nor does it capitalize on dispersed agents – on local knowledge. Hayek, a supporter of universal healthcare, didn’t specifically discuss healthcare in his essays. Nonetheless, it would be a useful intellectual exercise to speculate how Hayek might have applied his wisdom to modern healthcare.
What does local knowledge in healthcare even mean? Stated in a rather unlettered way, it is the provision of healthcare locally. AEDs are no good if they aren’t located where people congregate. The value of local presence of medical facilities, particularly in poor neighborhoods, is hardly rocket science. Just as great cities grew near rivers, great hospitals germinated in poor neighborhoods. But, with growing centralization of healthcare, with hospitals becoming multiplexes, futuristic cities with a distinct architectural phenotype, different from the neighborhoods they serve, the value of decentralization can be missed.
2017 was a pivotal year for the growth of value-based care. For many practices, this meant completing their first performance year as part of the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). A much smaller percentage of practices was able to participate in approved advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs).
While practices await feedback on their 2017 performance, early lessons have already become evident. Clearly, as practices are assigned greater responsibility and accountability for patient populations, it becomes increasingly important that they effectively navigate the reimbursement models upon which their financial viability depends.
Where should provider practices start? The MIPS model may not be a long-term answer. MedPAC has recently clearly articulated their disfavor with MIPS and desire to replace it. In contrast, advanced APMs provide a much more fertile ground for providers to work collectively. They can contribute their unique clinical expertise to define opportunities to improve quality and cost, focused on areas that have potentially greater beneficial impact on patient care and practice pathways. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) recently acknowledged as much by unveiling the Bundled Payments for Care Improvements (BPCI) effort that measures performance and sets payment against four broadly defined models of care.
Your address to HIMSS acknowledges many of the problems with Healthcare IT, highlighting lack of interoperability, lack of data exchange, and lack of cybersecurity, and suggesting some regulations that could be eliminated. This is a welcome realization of some of EHR’s more obvious limitations and problems.However, most of your recommendations for improvement of health IT are insufficient, unproven, or have been repeatedly shown to fail.
We applaud your acknowledgement of: 1. The frustration (and often rage) of many clinicians when using the current EHRs’ clunky and inefficient user interfaces; 2. Patients’ frustration and alienation when doctors spend much time entering data into the EHRs rather than listening to them; 3. The need for better cybersecurity; 4. Benefits of increased patient access to their data; and 5.Healthcare systems’ refusal to share patient data with others clinicians (data hoarding).
We are also delighted for your strong support for the Sync for Science program.
However, your solutions to these problems are faulty or have already failed—and thus we are obliged to explain why and how they fail:
Belief in the magic of value-based care as a cure for excessive spending
Claim that “open APIs” (defined in next sentence) will solve the problems of lack of interoperability. Here, APIs refer to software programs that try to translate different forms and formats of information into a single commonly understood item.
Belief that a patient’s personal data store or personal EHR, called “MyHealthEData,” will help solve the problems of patient care.
Confusing patients with customers. We train doctors to make diagnoses, order and interpret tests, and help patients make profoundly complex decisions. Healthcare decisions are not like buying a toaster.
Attributing so many of the problems of EHRs to the regulations created in 2009, the “Meaningful Use” rules. In fact, meta-analyses of EHRs—both before the Meaningful Use rules, and after–fail to find they reduce costs, mortality, or morbidity.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar spoke earlier this week at the American Federation of Hospitals, giving a widely reported speech that offered new details on the Trump administration’s plans for Accountable Care Organizations, the CMS quality measurement program, and a new drive for patient access to medical records. The full text of his remarks follows. – The Editors.
It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you today. I want to thank Chip [Kahn] and all of the Federation’s members for inviting me to share our vision for HHS and America’s healthcare system, and how we hope to work with all of you to make it a reality.
One of the key commitments President Trump has made across this administration has been to see the private sector as our partners, not as just entities to be regulated or overseen.
That charge has been taken seriously at HHS from Day One. We at HHS see stakeholders, including our nation’s hospitals, as part of the solution to our country’s many healthcare challenges. We recognize that it’s not just government that wants better healthcare for all Americans. Our partners in the private sector, all of you, want the same.
It’s an exciting time to take over the helm as Secretary of HHS, full of both challenges and opportunities. The same goes for our stakeholders, as advances in science are transforming medicine. It seems like it’s every other week that FDA is approving some novel therapy, or NIH announces a finding that revolutionizes how we think about a key piece of biology.
But innovation in payment and delivery systems is simply not proceeding at the same pace. When I was at HHS in the 2000s, concepts like personalized medicine and cell therapies for cancer were in their infancy. Now, personalized medicine has come to life, and cell therapies are receiving FDA approval.
Meanwhile, on the delivery side, back in the 2000s, shifting to a value-based system was just getting going as well. And yet here we are today — more than a decade later — and value-based payment is still far from reaching its potential.
Following is the full text of CMS administrator Seema Verma’s remarks at HIMSS18 in Las Vegas.
It is a privilege to be with you here today and speak about the amazing advancements happening all across the nation in healthcare. One of the most exciting parts about being the CMS Administrator is the opportunity to see the cutting-edge breakthroughs that are happening every day. As we walk the exhibit hall of this conference, it is easy to be struck by how innovation is accelerating in healthcare.
We have procedures that we couldn’t have imagined a generation ago that are saving thousands of lives.
Precision medicine has opened the door to a new world of therapies specifically tailored to a patient’s unique genetic code.
We can now treat retinal disease that causes blindness.
Robotic technology is making surgeries less invasive, and we are on the verge of having the world’s first artificial pancreas.
3D training tools are enabling doctors to learn anatomy without a cadaver.
Telemedicine is also improving access to care and empowering CMS beneficiaries to lead healthier lives.
And it doesn’t stop with traditional healthcare innovators. The automobile industry is partnering with leading technology companies to perfect driverless cars that may one day give independence to our nation’s elderly and people with disabilities. And through smart phones and wear-able technology, we are compiling health information every second, and Americans are using that information to track activity, calories, and heart rates. Innovators are even developing ways to monitor chronic illness with electronic watches. The list of innovation is endless.
But while all of this technology is changing every area of our lives, we face enormous challenges in healthcare, and the value that we are receiving for the amount of money that is being spent.
Last year CMS released a report showing that the rate of growth in healthcare spending is not slowing down. Despite all of the changes and regulations over the past decade, healthcare continues to grow more quickly than the overall economy. By 2026, we will be spending one in every five dollars on healthcare.
Pay for performance, the catchall term for policies that purport to pay doctors and hospitals based on quality and cost measures, has been taking a bashing.
Last November, University of Pittsburgh and Harvard researchers published a major study in Annals of Internal Medicine showing that a Medicare pay-for-performance program did not improve quality or reduce cost and, to make matters worse, it actually penalized doctors for caring for the poorest and sickest patients because their “quality scores” suffered. In December, Ankur Gupta and colleagues reported that a Medicare program that rewards and punishes hospitals based on arbitrary limits on the number of hospital admissions of heart failure patients may have increased death rates. On New Year’s Day, the New York Times reported that penalties for “inappropriate care” concocted by Veterans Affairs induced an Oregon hospital to deny acute medical care to its sickest patients, including an 81-year-old “malnourished and dehydrated” vet with skin ulcers and broken ribs.
And just three weeks ago, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission recommended that Congress repeal a Medicare pay-for-performance program, imposed by Congress in 2015, because the program is costly and ineffective.
This bad news comes on top of a decade of less-publicized research indicting policies intended to reward and penalize doctors based on measures — most of them inaccurate — of their cost and quality. That research demonstrates that penalties against doctors:
Cause doctors to game quality measures. For example, a Medicare program that punished hospitals for hospital-acquired infections actually induced some hospitals to characterize infections acquired after admission as “present upon admission” or to simply not report the infection rather than reduce actual infection rates.
Subjecting doctors and hospitals to carrots and sticks hasn’t worked for several reasons. The most fundamental one: Clinician skill is not the only factor that determines the quality of care. Consider one widely used performance measure: the percent of patients diagnosed with high blood pressure whose blood pressure is brought under control. Doctors who treat older, sicker, and poorer patients with high blood pressure will inevitably score worse on this so-called quality measure than doctors who treat healthier and higher-income patients.
Value-based healthcare is gaining popularity as an approach to increase sustainability in healthcare. It has its critics, possibly because its roots are in a health system where part of the drive for a hospital to improve outcomes is to increase market share by being the best at what you do. This is not really a solution for improving population health and does not translate well to publicly-funded healthcare systems such as the NHS. However, when we put aside dogma about how we would wish to fund healthcare, value-based healthcare provides us with a very useful set of tools with which to tackle some of the fundamental problems of sustainability in delivering high quality care.
What is value?
Defined by Professor Michael Porter at Harvard Business School, value is defined as a function of outcomes and costs. Therefore to achieve high value we must deliver the best possible outcomes in the most efficient way, outcomes which matter from the perspective of the individual receiving healthcare and not provider process measures or targets. Sir Muir Gray expands on the idea of technical value (outcomes/costs) to specifically describe ‘personal value’ and ‘allocative value’, encouraging us to focus also on shared decision making, individual preferences for care and ensuring that resources are allocated for maximum value.
This article seeks to demonstrate that the role of data and informatics in supporting value-based care goes much further than the collection and remote analysis of big datasets – in fact, the true benefit sits much closer to the interaction between clinician and patient.