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Category: Hospitals

Design Encompasses the Whole of Health Care at HxRefactored Conference

downloadHxRefactored, the conference put on jointly by Health 2.0 & Mad*Pow about technology & design in health care, draws a relatively small crowd–participants numbered in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands found at some health conferences. So I asked a leading health IT expert, Shahid Shah, why he invests so much effort in coming and make presentations to HxRefactored each year. He answered, “This is the only health IT event that covers not just the digital aspects, but the entire healthcare experience, focused on developers and designers who are building solutions. It goes beyond platitudes, cheerleading, and hand waving and gets into actionable advice that engineers need to know to build complex systems that will actually get used.”

And that really shows the key influence provided by design, broadly defined. You can get as “meta” as you want and stay within the field of design:

  • Worried whether your staff will adapt to and use a new IT system? Success with that is a design goal.
  • Determined not to let an IT system “get in the way,” but to ensure it enhances relationship-building with patients? Definitely a matter of design.
  • Eager to make innovation a standard kind of thinking throughout your institution? Designers with the proper combination of support and independence can get you there.

Reflecting the sweep of design itself, sessions at HxRefactored varied from chronicling the path to successful designs, to describing the contributions technologies make, to recommending strategies for getting designs adopted.

Design as a way of Life

A hoary shibboleth of design is that practitioners must seek out users and collaborate tightly with them. A more pointed statement of that principle is to turn all users into designers. This means not flying in to do a design, collecting your pay, and taking off again. Instead, designers hang out in the hallways to meet people, cajole users into joining creativity workshops, and–with teeth gritted–attend committee meetings.

Comprehensive engagement came up from the start of the conference, as when Adam Connor in his keynote pointed out that isolated researcher can’t transfer their insights automatically to others in the organization–everyone in the organization must participate in user research. He also pointed out that no system makes sense except when one views the larger environment of which it is a part.

The CTO of HHS, Susannah Fox, in her inspiring keynote, said “Technology is a Trojan Horse for change…We say interoperability and open data, but we mean culture change.” Design, for her, must recognize people without power, which currently includes most patients and their caregivers.

Fox championed Maker-style innovation at the grassroots, such as promoted in the famous work of Eric von Hippel at MIT. Hundreds of people are making custom prosthetics, for instance. She also mentioned that a very useful sleeve to keep an IV firmly in a child’s skin was designed by a parent. Similarly, patients could improve their medical devices, but manufacturers deny patients access to their own device-generated information, and prohibit patients from making changes. Patients who lack access to research labs and academic libraries are finding the information online to improve their experiences. Fox didn’t describe the risks and downsides of these practices, but I found that acceptable because the risks and downsides are cited all too often to throw up barriers to competition and innovation.

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Climate Change and the Migration of Infectious Disease

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Zika is all over the news. Zika is surely dangerous, but it has its limitations and is likely to be well contained. However, its greater significance extends beyond any current spread. Instead, it exemplifies the crucial emerging trend of a novel infectious agent that has swiftly become a global threat.

The common phrase, ‘this time is different’, is almost always wrong. Yet, our modern circumstances are distinctly unlike any previous era. Humans possess a unique ability for rapid travel and we choose to journey with our favorite pets and plants. This unprecedented degree of mobility extends across every planetary habitat. Further yet, it now occurs during a phase of a rapidly shifting climate. Certainly, species migration or global climate change are not new but it is only in this present moment that these factors can amplify through instantaneous global travel in a singular manner.

In fact, the results of this unusual conjunction are already apparent. For example, Zika’s advance across Europe and to the Americas has been extremely rapid. This is such an extraordinary event that at the beginning of this year, the World Health Organization declared Zika a global emergency in recognition of its rapid spread from continent to continent. Its rising incidence mirrors our prior concerns about the global scope of other recent epidemics such as Ebola or SARS.

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All Providers Are Not Equal

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Giving consumers information and data on providers’ quality of care and clinical results is one important path to enhanced transparency, patient engagement, and better health care.     

Two publications out this month add significantly to the dialogue on this issue.  The journal Health Affairs devotes most of its April issue to the theme of “patients’ and consumers’ use of evidence to inform health care decisions.”  And the cover story in the May issue of Consumer Reports is entitled What You Don’t Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You.  Accompanying that story online is Consumer Reports’ latest ratings of doctors in six states and two metro areas.  

(Disclaimer:  I contributed an article to the April issue of Health Affairs and was involved in one element of the Consumer Reports piece.) 

Among observations in the Health Affairs papers: 

Star-based provider ratings, summarized information (instead of details) and well known signifiers of quality such as blue ribbons work best to compel consumers to both pay attention and make wise choices among health plans and providers.

Getting consumers to consider quality and cost (and the concept of value) remains a challenge.  A survey of some 2,000 people found that most don’t think cost and quality of care are necessarily related.   That’s good and bad.  Good because previously published research indicated that most people leaned to believing that higher price means better quality.   Bad because the new survey signals that people are still disconnected from pursuing value in health care by consciously choosing lower-cost/high-quality providers.   Continue reading…

What Might We Expect in the MACRA Proposed Rule?

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Nearly a year ago President Obama signed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) into law. MACRA, among other things, repeals the 1997 Balanced Budget Act’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula for calculating annual updates to Medicare Part B physician and other eligible professionals’ payment rates.1 The bill received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, only 45 out of 529 total votes cast opposed the bill despite the fact the legislation is estimated to add $141 billion to the federal deficit by 2025.2 Support for the legislation can, in part, be attributed to the Congress having grown tired of rescinding SGR mandated payment cuts or passing nearly 20 “doc fix” “patches,” over 18 years. Presently, Medicare physicians are awaiting CMS’s proposed rule that will define how the agency intends to implement the six sections of MACRA Title I, or how the agency will annually update physician performance beginning in 2019 based on the use of the law’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and its Alternative Payment Models (APMs) pathway. The proposed rule, expected to be published in the next few weeks, is highly anticipated because the rewards and penalties under either MIPS and APMs can be significant.

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Why We Know so Little About ACOs: The Managed Care Culture at Work

flying cadeuciiThis is the third essay in a three-part series in which I explore the answer to that question. In the first installment  I blamed this problem on the flimsy definition of “ACO.” ACO proponents “defined” the ACO in terms of their hopes for it, not in terms of the mechanisms ACOs would use to accomplish those hopes.

In the second installment  I reviewed a paper published by the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) to document my statement that we have no useful information on ACOs and to illustrate the quandary the hope-based “definition” of “ACO” creates for researchers. I criticized the CHCS paper as well for its cavalier attitude about evidence. The paper relied heavily on press releases and anonymous sources, and ignored the costs providers and insurers incur to set up and maintain ACOs.

In this last installment, I explore the role that culture – the culture of the managed care movement and the larger health policy community – played in elevating the ACO to the status of national health policy and, at the same time, thwarting the production of useful research on what it is ACOs do for patients.

The ACO isn’t the only example of hope-based health policy

If the ACO were the only example of an undocumented and poorly defined health care “reform” that was flogged from obscurity to fame by a few well-placed health policy entrepreneurs, we might dismiss the problems created by the flabby definition of the ACO as an aberration. But the ACO is not the only example of such “reforms.”

To the contrary, the ACO illustrates the norm, not the exception. It is an excellent illustration of how health policy has been made in America since the modern health care reform debate began circa 1970. Over the last half-century, every managed care “reform” that was eventually unleashed on all or large portions of the American populace followed the trajectory of the ACO:

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Readmissions, Observation, and Improving Hospital Care

Ashish JhaReducing Hospital Use

Because hospitals are expensive and often cause harm, there has been a big focus on reducing hospital use.  This focus has been the underpinning for numerous policy interventions, most notable of which is the Affordable Care Act’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), which penalizes hospitals for higher than expected readmission rates. The motivation behind HRRP is simple: the readmission rate, the proportion of discharged patients who return to the hospital within 30 days, had been more or less flat for years and reducing this rate would save money and potentially improve care. So it was big news when, as the HRRP penalties kicked in, government officials started reporting that the national readmission rate for Medicare patients was declining.

Rising Use of Observation Status

But during this time, another phenomenon was coming into focus: increasing use of observation status.  When a patient needs hospital services, there are two options: that patient can be admitted for inpatient care or can be “admitted to observation”. When patients are “admitted to observation” they essentially still get inpatient care, but technically, they are outpatients.  For a variety of reasons, we’ve seen a decline in patients admitted to “inpatient” status and a rise in those going to observation status. These two phenomena – a drop in readmissions and an increase in observation – seemed related.

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Silicon Valley’s Healthcare Problem

flying cadeuciiSilicon Valley wants to love healthcare. The industry is enormous and full of inefficiency, which is to say, perfect for technology investment. So it comes as no surprise that venture money in healthcare technology startups has quadrupled since 2011 to $4.5BN in 2015. Moreover, the government wants to invite Silicon Valley-style innovation in healthcare. In January, CMS leaders stated that the next wave of EHR policy will focus on promoting startup innovation in healthcare by incentivizing open APIs and interoperability. Everyone agrees—so let’s just get going, right?

Here’s an important truth to recognize on the eve of what some like to call the “disruption of healthcare”: Silicon Valley and healthcare are fundamentally at odds.

In technology we fail fast, launch and iterate, proudly make mistakes and learn from them. In medicine, the first principle is “do no harm.” Entrepreneurs are obsessed with growth–exponential growth, hypergrowth, 10X growth–and the faster the better. Conversely, in healthcare organizations, progress is measured in months and years. My company is currently in Y Combinator, a three-month accelerator program. I have had phone calls with healthcare organizations that took longer than that to schedule.

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Can the Exchanges Be Saved?

Michael Turpin 1“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” —William Arthur Ward

Looking confidently past the skeletons of drowned state and federal healthcare experiments, America’s health insurance exchanges set sail in January 2014. Disregarding the rough seas ahead, healthcare reform pundits and legislators applauded the Affordable Care Act’s signature public expansion vehicle as an impenetrable solution for achieving affordable coverage and competition.

Less than two years later, the exchanges are taking on water.

In November, United Healthcare lowered earnings projections, a move driven primarily by its hesitancy to commit to enrolling new exchange members until risks are better understood. While other insurers were quick to reassure investors that the public exchange market remains a viable means for organic growth, a low-pressure system of doubt is already building over the nascent public exchanges.

Initial enrollment projections for 2016 are fewer than 10 million members—about half of the 20 million target estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. In their rush to expand coverage to the uninsured and under insured, many public officials and industry neophytes failed to consult with those who have firsthand experience with the difficulties of underwriting those who are obtaining insurance for the first time.

FAST FOCUS 

Enrollment projections for 2016 are fewer than 10 million members—about half the Congressional Budget Office target of 20 million.
The rush to participate in public exchanges has attracted inexperienced players seeking a piece of a $300 billion premium opportunity.
Investors want desperately to believe healthcare is ripe for transformational disruption.

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Should Your Employer Have the Right to Track Your Weight?

Suppose there were:  (1) a widely held but false perception that gays had lower productivity and higher healthcare costs than straights; (2) false literature that companies with gay conversion programs outperformed the stock market; and (3) a mandate that companies disclose to shareholders the percentage of gays they employ.

Obviously, many corporate CEOs would stop hiring gays, de facto require gay conversion among current employees, and fire gays who failed the program, in order to maximize stock price and hence their own net worth.

Preposterous? Of course, but if Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Vitality Group and a few pharmaceutical companies get their way, this exact same scenario will befall overweight employees.  Indeed, two-thirds of this dystopian scenario is already in place:

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