Categories

Tag: Brian Klepper

An Open Letter to the New National Coordinator for Health IT – Untying HITECH’s Gordian Knot: Part 1

KibbeB&WjpgCongratulations to David Blumenthal on being named National Coordinator for Health Information  Technology (ONCHIT). Dr. Blumenthal will be the person most responsible for the rules and distribution of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s (ARRA) nearly $20 billion allocation, referred to as HITECH, designated to support physician and hospital adoption of health information technologies that can improve care.

The job is fraught with difficulties, which Dr. Blumenthal has readily acknowledged. His recent New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Perspective, “Stimulating the Adoption of Health Information Technology,” is a concise, clear and honest appraisal of two of these challenges, namely how to interpret and act upon the key terms used in the legislation, “meaningful use” and “certified EHR technology.” Dr. Blumenthal gets to the heart of the matter by identifying the tasks on which the National Coordinator’s success will most depend, and which will foster the greatest controversy.

The country needs Dr. Blumenthal to succeed. The issues are complex and, with huge ideological and financial stakes involved, politically charged.

Continue reading…

An Open Letter to the New National Coordinator for Health IT: Part 2 – Opening the Aperture of Innovation

6a00d8341c909d53ef01157012476e970b-pi

One of the important decisions before Dr. Blumenthal and his colleagues at ONC and HHS is whether the national health information network will be one of closed appliances that bundle together proprietary hardware, software, and networking technology, or one of open data exchange and management platforms in which the component parts required to do medical computing can be assembled from different sources. If the former direction is chosen, power and control will be concentrated in the hands of a very few companies.  If the latter, we could see an unprecedented burst of disruptive innovation as new products and services are developed to
create the next generation of e-health services in this country.

Separating the data from the devices and applications, and maintaining a certain degree of independence of both from the networks used for transmission, is far more than a technical quibble. It can determine the economics of technology in stunning ways.

Continue reading…

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Continuity of Care Record Gains Ground As A Standard

Brian KlepperWe live in a time of such great progress in so many arenas that, too often and without a second thought, we take significant advances for granted. But, now and then, we should catalog the steps forward, and then look backward to appreciate how these steps were made possible. They sprung from grand conceptions of possibilities and, then, the persistent focused toil that is required to bring ideas to useful fruition.

We could see this in a relatively quiet announcement this week at HIMSS 09. Microsoft unveiled its Amalga Unified Intelligence System (UIS) 2009, the next generation release of the enterprise data aggregation platform that enables hospitals to unlock patient data stored in a wide range of systems and make it easily accessible to every authorized member of the team inside and beyond the hospital – including the patient – to help them drive real-time improvements in the quality, safety and efficiency of care delivery.”

Continue reading…

Will CIGNA Remake The Health Plan Marketplace?

ALP_H_BK_0010America’s health plans are floundering. If their job has been to provide the nation’s mainstream families
with access to affordable care (let’s leave quality out of it for the moment), they have failed miserably, though they were very profitable along the way, at least until Q1 2008. In 2008, the Milliman Medical Index – an estimate of the total cost for health coverage premium and out-of-pocket costs for a family of four – was $15,609. Now it is almost certainly above $17,000, more than the total income of more than one-third of American households.

To many health plan execs, these are simply market dynamics that must be accommodated through new product and service designs. I just attended a health plan conference where the overarching themes were the transition away from group to individual coverage, and the use of incentives and touch points like texting, email, and ergonomic Web interfaces to cultivate member competency, loyalty and retention.

There are important steps forward but, to me, the discussion tiptoed
around the more glaring problem – costs this high have exhausted many
purchasers’ ability to pay, and are rapidly shrinking health plans’ commercial market and profitability.

Continue reading…

Is the Healthcare Economy Rightsizing?

Brian KlepperMore than at any time in recent memory, powerful forces are buffeting
the health care sector. We are in

the midst of profound upheaval,
driven by
market and policy responses to the industry's long-term 
excesses
.
We can already see evidence that the dysfunction of our traditional
health system is accelerating. It also seems clear that the center
cannot hold indefinitely.


Dog Eat Dog

It is useful to remember that the health care industry's
different stakeholders are adversaries. While they clearly share a
common understanding that a wholesale meltdown is possible, there is
little real motivation for collaboration and no unity. Independent of
role, the industry as a whole has been focused on, and extremely
effective at, securing dollars from purchasers: government, employers
and individuals. But each silo within the industry has been separately
focused on growing its own slice of the health care pie. In every
niche, there are courteous conceits –
access, appropriateness, efficiency and value – reserved
for the good manners of public relations. But these are meaningful in
practice only if they do not conflict with the professional's or the
firm's economic performance.

Continue reading…

Five Recommendations for an ONC Head Who Understands Health IT Innovation

Now that the legislative language of the HITECH Act — the $20 billion health IT allocation within the economic stimulus package — has been set, it’s time to identify a National Coordinator (NC) for Health IT who can capably lead that office. As many now realize, the language of the Bill can be ambiguous, requiring wise regulatory interpretation and execution to ensure that the money is spent well and that desired outcomes are achieved. Among other tasks, the NC will influence appointments to the new Health Information Technology (HIT) Policy and Standards Committees, refine the Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology certification process, and oversee how information exchange grants and provider incentive payments will be handled.

Continue reading…

Dr. George Lundberg for Surgeon General

The report that Mr. Obama’s Surgeon General choice might be neurosurgeon and CNN medical  correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta produced an upwelling of strong opinion, particularly in the medical community. Some argued that Dr. Gupta has clearly demonstrated his abilities as an able communicator.

But others said that Gupta lacks the experience, seriousness and focus on public health. (I can’t help thinking that anyone who has achieved working neurosurgeon and national TV commentator status is pretty capable and serious, demeanor notwithstanding.)

And so it is that on Facebook, that Dr. Richard Lippin, a longtime Preventive Medicine physician based in Pennsylvania, has posted a letter he sent to President Obama and Secretary Daschle, urging the consideration of Dr. George Lundberg for Surgeon General.

The header reads: “We need a physician with the gravitas and the moral credentials and authority to use this bully pulpit position to speak for science and values based priority public health issues for all Americans. Dr. George Lundberg fits the bill.”Picture 1

The letter provides a brief bio of Dr. Lundberg, the brilliantly eclectic, progressive, Alabama-born, down-to-earth physician who has been a visible mainstay of American medicine for decades. Dr. Lippin doesn’t mention Dr. Lundberg’s landmark 2002 book on American health care and reform, Severed Trust. (The title alone provides a lot of insight into Dr. Lundberg’s view of the world.)

But Dr. Lippin does believe the Surgeon General choice is about healing both America and American medicine, He writes, “we have a genuine crisis on many levels in US Medicine. Also we need desperately for the medical profession to regain its moral and ethical foundations and furthermore we also need medical leaders who must regain the trust of the American Public which has been dangerously eroded.

I agree with Dr. Lippin that those are the tasks, and I agree that Dr. Lundberg is a terrifically suitable candidate. Over many years, I have developed a warm friendship with him. It is impossible to not be bowled over by his range and grasp of issues, and by his unswerving willingness to stand clearly and openly for approaches that are tied to evidence and reason. The ultimate critical thinker, his judgments are founded most closely to merit, possibility and an unshakable belief in the correctness of the pursuit of excellence in health.

He is also bold and politically savvy. You don’t become the longest running Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (until he got politically at odds with them) and then build Medscape into the most widely read Web resource for clinicians worldwide unless you can continuously strike the delicate balances between science, sensibility and moral imperatives among your peers.

I can’t say whether Dr. Lundberg would be the best candidate for the job ahead. He has a huge following in the medical community, nationally and worldwide, the result of many, many years of consistently high performance infused with unassailable integrity. Whether he’s the right person for this moment is another issue, though, fraught with the complexities of political consideration, a vision consistent with the larger plan of the Obama team, fluency with the bewildering array of new technologies that are changing the face of medicine and the patient-physician relationship, and so on.

But Dr. Lippin makes an important point. American medicine is demoralized in the field. Overt, rampant financial conflict has caused many to believe that the profession has lost its compass. With that loss, the trust of patients and the authority that trust conveys have also diminished.

Restoring that trust and authority isn’t simply a matter of leadership or preaching, but will depend on fundamentally changing the business of medicine, a much larger task indeed that will require an orchestrated effort by all of us, not just physicians.

But the new Surgeon General, whoever he or she is, should be grounded first in science, evidence and best practice, in tirelessly advocating and maneuvering for a care delivery system that is as advanced and nuanced as the diagnostic and treatment approaches we’ve developed, and on advancing the health of ALL our people in ways that leverage rather than squander increasingly precious resources.

While there is no question that Dr. Lundberg is worthy, I’d be surprised if the call for his consideration is heard in the din of this transition. Even so, it is deeply gratifying to see an outpouring of support by his peers, the result of successfully dedicating his life to advancing medical knowledge and its best application.

Five “Shovel-Ready” Health Care Reforms

Microsoft Health Vault’s leader Peter Neupert has a wonderful blog post that makes two important points really well. One message is that health care reform is about the outcomes, not the technology. We should think expansively about which technologies to invest in, based on the results we want to get.

The other message is the economic stimulus package is different than the reform effort. It is moving at hyper-speed through Congress, and it may be difficult for staffers and other advisors to sort through and incorporate what may seem like opposing Health IT views against a backdrop of traditional ideology and extremely forceful special interest lobbying.

Even so, there’s consistency among the health care professionals who worry about these issues all the time. Peter unexpectedly discovered that the messages of his fellow panelists from the Health Leadership Council, the National Quality Forum, the Permanente Federation and the General Accounting Office were remarkably in sync with his own testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Congress is about to make some big moves in health care that will require immense resource expenditures but, depending on what we pay for, may or may not bear the fruits we hope for. They should move carefully. Not all health care reform has to be labyrinthine. Not all ideas must require huge cost or take years to come to fruition and gain market traction. There are relatively simple actions that are available now, and that the Obama Health Team could tackle to effect tremendously positive, immediate impacts on the system.

Of course, right now the Health IT industry is focused on the promise of a huge stimulus windfall that would be dedicated to their products. But the opportunities we describe below follow principles that have broad support among students of the health care crisis. Two would change the way we pay for health care services, tying payments to documented results. Three are based on how we pull together and make use of the data that can drive clinical and financial decisions, and they overlap, though not perfectly, in their potential. Still, if any system adjustments can be passed through policy initiatives that focus on what’s best for the common rather than the special interests, these should be among the most straightforward.

Payment
Re-Empower Primary Care
There is general agreement that primary care is in crisis, the result of years of abuse and neglect by the medical establishment and by CMS. In simple terms, the primary care/specialist ratio in the US is 30/70. In all other developed nations, its about 70/30. And our costs are roughly double theirs.

We should allow primary care physicians to do the jobs they were trained for, changing their roles from “gatekeepers” to “patient advocates and guides.” We should immediately start financially rewarding them for collaborating with specialists to manage patients throughout the full continuum of care. Keep in mind that, as the Dartmouth Atlas and other studies have made clear, most health care waste is concentrated in the sub-specialties and in inpatient settings, incentivized by a fee-for-service reimbursement system that rewards more procedures, independent of their utility.  One very thoughtful approach to invigorating primary care has been advanced by Norbert Goldfield MD and colleagues.

Of course, truly re-empowering primary care will require more than just paying primary care physicians more. Higher reimbursements will help them afford to spend more time with each patient, yes, but PCPs also need help acquiring tools that can help them better manage those patients. And they need the authority to work collaboratively with specialists. Challenging, but certainly doable and important!

Changing America’s current imbalance between primary and specialty care should drive significant downstream waste from the system, dramatically improving quality and reducing cost.

Increase the Incentives For Programs That Tie Payment To Outcomes
Projects like the CMS/Premier Hospital Quality Incentive Demonstration (HQID), in which 250 participating hospitals got 1-2 percent bonuses for achieving quality improvements, have clearly demonstrated that incentives work. The hospitals that pursued the incentives made greater strides in quality improvements than their peers who did not work toward the incentives.

But we need to make the financial incentives large enough to drive real paradigmatic change. Too many programs offer incentives that are trivial in the minds of providers. Does it make sense for physicians in small, busy practices to rework their office flows to try to meet the challenges associated with hitting targets in exchange for a 1 or 2 percent financial bump, tied to a fraction of their patient population?

Now that there’s no question that incentives work, we could easily give these programs teeth by raising the incentive antes to 15 or 20 percent, while also demanding commensurate levels of savings. And we should go in, understanding that the goal is to drive out unnecessary care, and create expectations that,  by managing better upfront, the total spend will be lower.

Data

Establish a National All-Payers Database
Data sets, including those comprised of health care claims, must be large to generate credibly useful information.

But health care is financed through many different payer streams and by many players within each stream.  Nearly all treat their data as proprietary, and information remains fragmented. So, for example, physicians rarely receive useful information on their complete pool of diabetic patients: instead, they get small slices of data from each payer, each analyzed using a different proprietary methodology. Or, we fail to accumulate adequate sample sizes to identify which treatments, interventions, drugs, devices, health plans, physicians or facility services provide the best value.

But merging those data across payers and making the aggregated set freely available would create the basis to identify true evidence-based best clinical and administrative results. Based on hundreds of millions or billions of records, we might be able to credibly identify which professionals, services or approaches most consistently produce the best results within value parameters. The data set would always be building, providing an always slightly-new base for answering our most difficult questions. Together with the analytical tools that are also becoming stronger and more refined, the potential is vast.

Of course, health plans, always politically formidable, might fight tooth and nail to maintain the competitive advantage they believe is inherent in their data. But health care is a special enterprise, with objectives that are ultimately rooted in the common interest, so they have no real excuse to refuse this. And health plans, like the rest of us, would gain access to much larger data sets that can be mined to advantage.

There also are precedents here. Several states have already begun to establish all-payer databases. At a June 2008 meeting, a presentation on Maine’s experience highlighted 3 fundamental, telling principles that are challenges to any effort.

1. Nobody wants to pay to develop and manage the database.
2. Nobody wants to contribute their data to the database.
3. Everyone wants the aggregated data that develops in the database.

The solution: make it a national effort, paid for by CMS, and with mandatory participation, user fees, and open access to the data.

Create Uniform Nationally Accessible Disease Registries

Many physicians have come to appreciate the value of disease registries. Registries allow clinicians to count all active patients with distinct conditions, e.g. hypertension or diabetes. They can track characteristics within a patient subset, e.g. diabetic patients on a particular medicine. They can monitor and stratify patient status and progress within each group, and generate reminders and alerts to assure guideline level care. And they can identify trends in performance and, with relative ease, get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Even so, many registries are still in silos, meaning that the sample sizes remain small and that the parameters that define the registries’ characteristics often vary between implementations.

What we need are freely available, Web-based registries with easy data entry and easy querying capabilities. The impact on our management of patients with chronic illness, who consume 70 percent of our health resources, would almost certainly be powerfully positive.

Release Medicare’s Physician Data
Nearly a year and a half ago, the consumer advocacy organization Consumer Checkbook sued the US. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the Medicare physician data in four states and DC. HHS argued that physicians have a right to privacy, even though, in the case of Medicare and Medicaid, they are vendors taking public dollars, and even though hospitals do not enjoy the same protection from scrutiny. In August 2007, the court held with Checkbook, and on the AMA’s “advice,” HHS promptly appealed, locking up the data for the duration of the Bush Administration.

The large commercial health plans have traditionally considered their claims data proprietary and so have not made their data sets publicly available. Self-funded health plans, administered by Third Party Administrators (TPAs), develop sizable data sets but have resisted collaborating, and have also not expressed an interest in making their data available.

So for those outside the health plan community, there are few, if any, data sources with sample sizes large enough to accurately evaluate and profile physician performance. This is significant, since studies have shown that there can be profound differences, 6x-8x, in resource consumption (i.e., cost) between the least and most expensive physician (within a specialty and market) to obtain the identical outcome.

In other words, not all doctors perform equally. While more patients are paying out-of-pocket for a larger portion of care, there is still virtually no credible information to guide their physician choices.

The American people could quickly learn which physicians within a specialty and a market consistently get the best outcomes at the lowest costs if Medicare physician data were made publicly available. Releasing these data would also put pressure on physicians everywhere to understand their own numbers, and to improve if their performance values are lacking.  We see this as beneficial to the great majority of physicians who seek excellence in their work.

Smoothing the Way

American health care is a vast enterprise in which millions of professionals and hundreds of thousands of organizations vie for an ever larger portion of what has historically been an always growing resource pool. The chaos and dysfunction that has developed in health care is largely due to two system characteristics. One is the fee-for-service reimbursement system that has rewarded more rather than the right care. The other is a lack of transparency that prevents us from knowing and understanding performance, even when that performance is dangerous: what works and what does not, which approaches are high and low value, who does a good job and who does not.

The five action steps outlined above would allow us to better identify the problems and opportunities in our health system, as well as the strongest solutions to drive decision-making. Then they would leverage that information to create strong incentives for the right care, organically changing the dynamics of care and reimbursement and, to the degree possible, smoothing the transition required to heal the way we supply, deliver and finance care in America.

America’s CEOs set priorities for Obama Administration

Bksobersmile
This past Monday and Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal convened an extraordinary conference of about 100 CEOs to develop and recommend issue priorities for the new Administration. (See the participant list here.)

This meeting brought together the nation’s industry power players. Several Senators and Congressional representatives participated, as well as Rahm Emanuel, the President-elect’s new Chief of Staff, and others who advise Mr. Obama.

Based on their business’ core focus, the attendees were assigned into four major areas: 1) Finance and the US Economy, 2) Energy and the Environment, 3) American and the Global Economy, and 4) Health Care.

Then in the General Session that followed, the focus groups’ recommendations were incorporated into a final list and reranked by all the participants. Here’s the graph showing the relative ranking of all issues.

Continue reading…

More on Physician Reimbursement, CMS, the AMA’s RVS Update Committee (RUC)

by ROY POSES, MD

(Note by Brian Klepper: At Health Care Renewal, Dr. Roy Poses, a Clinical Associate Professor at Brown University’s School of Medicine, writes a consistently excellent blog on health care financial conflict . Both he and I have written extensively – a link to his most recent column is provided below; mine is here – about the obscene sole source advisory relationship that CMS maintains with the conflicted, lopsided and secretive AMA’s RVS Update Committee (or RUC).

Essentially, the facts are that the RUC, a proprietary committee within the AMA overwhelmingly dominated by specialists, has been the only advisor to CMS on physician reimbursement for many years. It has consistently urged CMS to increase specialty reimbursement at the expense of primary care.

The result has been to drive medical students into specialties. Over the last five years, the percent of medical school graduates going into Family Practice has dropped from 14 percent to 8 percent. Only 25 percent of Internal Medicine residents now go into office-based practice; the rest become hospitalists or subspecialists.

Here is Dr. Poses’ most recent post, reprinted from Health Care Renewal, this time on a recent report from the RUC that makes recommendations for paying physicians under the Medicare’s Patient-Centered Medical Home pilot. As you might suspect, this does little to change the current corrosive paradigm.)

We have posted a number of times, (most recently here, and see links to earlier posts) about the RBRVS Update Committee’s (RUC) responsibility for Medicare’s relatively poor reimbursement of primary care and other “cognitive” physicians’ services compared to procedures. This imbalance has rippled through all of US health care, affecting how private insurers and managed care organizations reimburse physicians, and generally how the US systems favors procedures over talking, examining, thinking, diagnosing, prognosticating, deciding, and prescribing and super-specialization over generalism and primary care.

The RUC ostensibly is just an advocacy group sponsored by the American Medical Association, yet it seems to be the only source of outside input about physicians’ reimbursement used by the US Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Given this influence, it is dismaying that it is secretive, unrepresentative, and unaccountable. Neither its membership nor proceedings are public. It is dominated by proceduralists and sub-specialists. It is unaccountable to US physicians, much less the general public.

CMS in its wisdom also put the RUC in charge of figuring out how physicians’ practices participating in trials of the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) would be paid. The PCMH has gotten a lot of buzz lately. It purports to be the modern way to characterize a well-functioning primary care practice. Various powers that be that now want to support primary care seem only interested in supporting such care that fits the PCMH model. Yet putting the RUC, which seems to be the single most important cause of the decline of primary care, in charge of payment for this new version of primary care, appears to be a great case of putting the fox in charge of the hen-house. On the Retired Doc’s Thoughts blog, Dr James Gaulte first pointed this out.

The RUC just released its report on how physicians providing medical homes ought to be paid. Now, on the Happy Hospitalist blog, this post dissected how the RUC came up with its recommendations, in all their mind-numbing detail. That blog summarized the results as “punching primary care in the face,” and furthermore,

The payment rates that are recommended are insulting and downright degrading. Do they think nobody is paying attention? These people have no business trying to create public policy.

Unless I’m completely off base in my interpretation, if I was an outpatient doc, I would run faster than Forest Gump from this proposed financial disaster.

This is a reminder of what can go wrong with a “single-payer health care system,” which is what Medicare is. When the government sets what physicians are paid, which is what happens in Medicare, (and de facto happens for our entire health care system, as private insurance companies and managed care organizations seem to slavishly follow the CMS’ lead as engineered by the RUC), the government ought to provide a rational, transparent, accountable method of doing so. The current RUC based system is the opposite, irrational, opaque, and unaccountable. If we don’t fix it, we can kiss primary care goodbye, with all the negative consequences that would entail. And further woe unto us if the calls for health care reform lead to “Medicare for all,” with the RUC based system intact.

Roy Poses can be contacted at Roy_Poses@brown.edu.

Registration

Forgotten Password?