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Category: The Business of Health Care

Healthcare is Different

I’m often asked why healthcare has been slow to automate its processes compared to other industries such as the airlines, shipping/logistics, or the financial services industry.

Many clinicians say that healthcare is different.

I’m going to be a bit controversial in this post and agree that healthcare has unique challenges that make it more difficult to automate than other industries.

Here’s an inventory of the issues

1.  Flow of funds – Hospitals and professionals are seldom paid by their customer.   Payment usually comes from an intermediary such as the government or insurance payer.  Thus, healthcare IT resources are focused on back office systems that facilitate communications between providers and payers rather than innovative retail workflows such as those found at the Apple Store.

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Can Everyone Become a Billionaire?

I’m going to tell you something that Barack Obama doesn’t understand.

And because he doesn’t understand it, our country is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when we cannot afford to waste hundreds of millions of dollars.

Time and again President Obama has told us how he intends to solve our health care problems: spend money on pilot programs and other experiments; find out what works and then go copy it. He’s also repeatedly said the same thing about education. The only difference: in education we’ve already been following this approach with no success for 25 years.

Still, if the president were right about health and education, why wouldn’t the same idea apply to every other field? Why couldn’t we study the best way to make a computer, or invest in the stock market and do any number of other things — and then copy it?

I want to propose a principle that covers all of this: entrepreneurship cannot be replicated. Put differently, there is no such thing as a cookbook entrepreneur.

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Let’s Stop Bashing Profits and Business In Healthcare

I’m tired of profit-bashing and business-bashing in healthcare.  And every American should be, too!

Well-run, profitable businesses, along with our sense of decency, democratic institutions, education and free enterprise systems, and adherence to the rule of law, have made the United States the most extraordinary nation in recorded history.  Together they have unleashed the talents, creativity and productivity of our people, generated enormous sums of capital, and created unheard of social, economic, scientific and political advances.

Is there anything nobler than providing the environment and opportunity for people to fulfill their potential and achieve their dreams, and for providing the goods and services that enable people to raise their standard of living?  Not even the practice of medicine can do so much good for so many people. But that’s precisely what businesses do.  (That also may explain why far more Americans today are interested in job creation than restructuring healthcare.)

In our system, an individual has an idea, attracts capital, and hires people to build a product or provide a service. When they meet a need, they prosper – and attract more capital and hire more people. Everybody wins.  If they fail, they alone suffer the consequences.  That’s what capitalism is all about and that’s what has made America great.

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Do We Have Any Clue How to Cut the Cost of Healthcare?

At the Society of Hospital Medicine’s annual meeting last week in Dallas, Lenny Feldman of Johns Hopkins presented the results of a neat little study. His hypothesis: physicians given information about the costs of their laboratory tests would order fewer of them.

Feldman randomized 62 tests either to be displayed per usual on the computerized order entry screen or to have the cost of the test appear next to the test’s name. Some of these were relatively inexpensive and frequently performed tests. After randomization, for example, the costs of hemoglobins ($3.46) and comprehensive metabolic panels ($15.44) were displayed, while TSHs ($24.53) and blood gases ($28.25) were not. He also randomized more expensive tests: the costs of BNPs ($49.56) were displayed, while hepatitis C genotypes ($238.62) were not.

The educational intervention was surprisingly powerful. Over the six-month study, the aggregate expenditures for each test whose costs were displayed went down by $15,692, while non-displayed tests had a mean increase of $1,718. Over the entire group of 31 tests whose costs were shown to physicians, costs fell by nearly $500,000.

Coincidentally, last week’s Archives of Surgery reported the results of an intervention aimed at decreasing lab ordering on the surgical services of Rhode Island Hospital. There, simply announcing the service’s overall expenditures on non-ICU laboratory tests for the prior week at a house staff conference led to significant savings: $55,000 over an 11-week study period.

Have we found the Holy Grail, the key to flattening the cost curve? A little physician education leads to increased awareness of the cost consequences of their choices and, voila, our economy is rescued from the brink of disaster. How nice.Continue reading…

New Study Proves Reducing Healthcare Costs While Improving Care Is Achievable

The results are in: population-based care management doesn’t just improve patient satisfaction – it also can significantly reduce medical costs.

It is widely known that chronic disease accounts for 75% of the total cost of healthcare in the United States. In the late 1990s, the care management industry grew out of the need to combat this problem, by increasing medication compliance, reducing gaps in care, and helping individuals become more empowered to actively manage their own health.

Care management programs have long been shown to increase medication compliance and use of other preventative services, and individuals who participate in care management programs find them extremely valuable. Yet the care management industry has always faced challenges in verifiably demonstrating the effectiveness of its programs in  reducing medical costs. Several methodologies have been created to attempt to reverse-engineer a calculation of savings delivered by care management programs, but the gold standard of healthcare effectiveness measures, a randomized controlled trial, has rarely been done and none in a large population.

I’m pleased to say that this is no longer the case. A study from Health Dialog appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine today, uses a randomized controlled trial to definitively show the savings delivered by an enhanced care management program. The trial looked at 174,120 individuals over twelve months, measuring those individuals’ health outcomes and the total savings as a result of an enhanced care management program. The program included chronic condition management and patient decision support programs, and these services were delivered telephonically as well as online.Continue reading…

Profit-seeking Health Insurers Seek Profits

Healthcare reform becomes official this week, as many of the provisions of the legislation kick in. One provision requires insurers to accept children with preexisting conditions while capping what they can charge, undoing a standard industry practice. Several insurers have indicated that they will stop selling child-only policies. Industry officials are having a field day criticizing insurance industry greed.

Maybe these officials haven’t noticed, but insurers are greedy and there is nothing anyone in the Obama administration can do about it. Maybe it needs repeating. Insurers are greedy, have always been greedy, and always will be greedy. So are all investor-owned companies. People don’t invest in health insurance companies (or any other investor-owned companies) for charity. They invest in them to make money. (Investors tend to be greedy too, and that includes the pension funds that most working Americans rely upon for their comfortable retirements.)Continue reading…

Can CMS Be a Venture Capitalist?

Lisa Suennen, a venture capitalist, writes this post about the provision in the national health care reform act that created the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMI). This agency has $10 billion to “research, develop, test and expand innovative payment and service delivery models that will improve the quality and reduce the costs of care” for patients covered by CMS-related programs. Lisa notes, “What is great about CMI is that they have the authority to run their programs much more like a business would without many historical governmental constraints. ”

I don’t want to be a stick in the mud, particularly as my able friend Don Berwick takes charge of CMS, but I want to point out that previous efforts by the government to be innovative in other fields have failed because:

(1) Venture funding embodies risk-taking. Government usually does not do this because there is a political imperative never to be blamed for misspending taxpayer money. The bureaucracy, therefore, systematically eliminates ideas that are untested.Continue reading…

Will the NFIB please go away…..

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Let’s be honest–I absolutely abhor the so-called National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). It’s not a representative business group. In 2004 95% of their members said they voted for Bush, compared to 53% of all small business owners. (Remember that election was 50–50) Nonetheless, the first line of the recent NY Times article on NFIB joining the Republican Attorneys-General lawsuit on the individual mandate is that they’re trying to depoliticize the “largely Republican assault” on the new health care law. Ha, bloody ha.

But I’m not grumpy that the NFIB is joining this pointless lawsuit. I’m grumpy that they’re so blatantly going against the interest of small businesses. And yes I run one! So to remind you how stupid the NFIB is (in global not political terms) I’ve reprinted an article I wrote on Spot-on back in 2006–-and sadly nothing has changed. (The great thing about being a relatively veteran blogger is that I can really recycle material!)

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Small Business Shock-troops That Can’t Do Basic Math

Long ago, back in 1994 when Democrats walked freely in Washington, an outfit called the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) took a large role in overturning the Clinton health care plan and, consequently, a supporting role in the Republican Congressional victory later that year. And in health care policy, as they say in the movies: They’re baaaaaack.

Now, The NFIB is a narrow-(minded) interest group like any other; typical of any Washington trade association. But in health care it’s policy involves cutting off its nose to spite its own face and doing so with a rather dull knife.

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