We need to design a system of health care that optimally meets the country’s needs while also being affordable and socially acceptable. Clinicians should be at the center of this debate if care delivery is to be designed in a way that puts quality of care before financial gain.
This challenge is too important to be left to politicians and policymakers. There is an urgent need for clinicians to step up, lead the debate and design a new future for health care. Placing professional responsibility for health outcomes in the hands of clinicians, rather than bureaucrats or insurance companies with vested interests, must be an ambition for all of us. We need to find the formula that meets the needs of the patients and communities we serve. A sincere collective effort by committed clinicians to design an effective system will lead to a health care system that has a democratic mandate and the appropriate focus on optimizing the outcomes patients and society need.
As clinicians enter the debate, they should keep three things in mind.
Promote the leadership role of clinicians
We need to help politicians and policymakers recognize the role of clinical leaders in shaping a transformed but effective health care system. Clinicians must redefine the debate so that it focuses first and foremost on patients and health outcomes. Cost effective care can and should be a byproduct of optimal care. Accomplishing this will provide a strong common purpose for efforts to address the challenges of designing outcome-based funding structures and improving access to care.
Walgreens has been ordered to pay $1.44 million in a lawsuit brought against it for a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by one of its pharmacist employees. While this may not sound like a big deal, this case represents only the second time HIPAA has been successfully used this way in court and it could have serious repercussions on the health care system.
The story begins when a Walgreens pharmacist looked up the medical records of her husband’s ex-girlfriend, whom she suspected gave her husband an STD. Apparently she found what she was looking for and told her husband about it, who then sent a text message to his ex and informed her that he knew all about her results.
The ex did not appreciate this, and told the Walgreens pharmacy about what happened. At some point after that, the pharmacist accessed the ex’s medical records again, and eventually the ex filed a lawsuit against Walgreens, claiming it was responsible for the HIPAA violation because it failed to properly educate and supervise its employee.
Walgreens argued what the pharmacist did fell outside of her job duties and therefore it was not responsible for the breach. The judge and jury disagreed, and the jury decided Walgreens was responsible for 80% of the damages owed the plaintiff (so I guess that means the total judgement for the plaintiff was $1.8 million). Walgreens has already said it will appeal.
As I said above, it may not sound like a big deal, but it potentially is.
Although HIPAA has a mechanism by which health care providers can be subject to federal civil and criminal penalties for violations, conventional legal wisdom says HIPAA does not allow for a “private cause of action”, meaning a private individual cannot sue a health care provider for breaching their medical privacy.
Or at least that’s how HIPAA used to be interpreted, before Neal Eggeson, the enterprising young attorney who successfully argued the only two cases in which HIPAA has been used in this fashion, came along.
Consider the doctor’s office: the sanctum of care in American medicine, where a patient enters with a need — a question or an ailment or a concern — and leaves with an answer, a diagnosis or a treatment. That room, with its emblematic atmosphere of exam table and tiny sink and bottles of antiseptic, is in many ways the engine of our health care system, the locus of all our collective knowledge and all our collective resources. It’s where health care happens.
But in a less sentimental light, the doctor’s office doesn’t seem so exalted. Yes, it remains the essential hub for clinical care. But what occurs in that room isn’t exactly ideal, nor state-of-the-art. The doctor-patient encounter is fraught with tension, asymmetrical information, and flat-out incomprehension. It is a high-cost, high-resource encounter with surprisingly limited value and limited returns. It is too cursory to be exhaustive (the infamous fifteen-minute median office visit), too infrequent to create an honest relationship (one or two times a year visits at best), and too anonymous to be personal (the average primary care doc has more than 2,300 patients).
At best, it offers a rare personal connection between doctor and patient. At worst, it is theater. The doctor pretends she remembers the patient, and that she has actually had the time to read the patient’s chart in full; the patient pretends that he hasn’t spent hours on the Internet trying to diagnosis himsef, half-admitting what he’s really doing day to day, and pretending he won’t second- guess the doctor’s orders the moment he gets back to a computer.
As woeful as that sounds, we know that there’s real value here. This encounter can be meaningful; it should and must be meaningful. The doctor is a necessary interface to medicine, and his office is a source of care, expertise, and trust. The patient is eager and receptive to learning, primed for guidance and direction. Pragmatically, the doctor’s visit is a powerful part of modern medicine. The problem is that we, collectively, are not optimizing this resource; we have not reconsidered and re-evaluated how we might exploit the visit to its full advantage.
So how can we improve this situation? How can we fix this thing?
There is a consensus that measuring performance can be instrumental in improving value in U.S. health care. In particular clinical areas, such as cardiac and intensive care, measurement has been associated with important improvements in providers’ use of evidence-based strategies and patients’ health outcomes over the past two decades. Perhaps most important, measures have altered the culture of health care delivery for the better, with a growing acceptance that clinical practice can and should be objectively assessed.
Nevertheless, as we argue in the full-length version of this paper, substantial shortcomings in the quality of U.S. health care persist. Furthermore, the growth of performance measurement has been accompanied by increasing concerns about the scientific rigor, transparency, and limitations of available measure sets, and how measures should be used to provide proper incentives to improve performance.
The challenge is to recognize current limitations in how measures are used in order to build a much stronger infrastructure to support the goals of increased accountability, more informed patient choice, and quality improvement. In the following paper, we offer seven policy recommendations for achieving the potential of performance measurement.
1. Decisively move from measuring processes to outcomes.
There is growing interest in relying more on outcome measures and less on process measures, since outcome measures better reflect what patients and providers are interested in. Yet establishing valid outcome measures poses substantial challenges—including the need to riskadjust results to account for patients’ baseline health status and risk factors, assure data validity, recognize surveillance bias, and use sufficiently large sample sizes to permit correct inferences about performance.
2. Use quality measures strategically, adopting other quality improvement approaches where measures fall short.
While working to develop a broad set of outcome measures that can be the basis for attaining the goals of public accountability and information for consumer choice, Medicare should ensure that the use of performance measures supports quality improvement efforts to address important deficiencies in how care is provided, not only to Medicare beneficiaries but to all Americans. CMS’ current focus on reducing preventable rehospitalizations within 30 days of discharge represents a timely, strategic use of performance measurement to address an evident problem where there are demonstrated approaches to achieve successful improvement . Read more.
I have two sons, both healthy happy boys, both brought into this world in very different ways. I work in healthcare and like many readers of THCB, the business of healthcare is often viewed through the business lens. When we become the healthcare consumer, and are knee deep in the conundrum that is our healthcare system, the perspective changes dramatically.
Ezra was born in a major medical center, under the supervison of state of the art OB/GYNs, with all of the greatest technology, and under the care of the best nurses. My wife wanted a “natural birth”, so natural that I affectionately describe it as a “granola birth”. We were active duty military at the time so our choices were limited. She hired a birth doula, read Ina May’s “Guide to Childbirth”, chose to see a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner for her wellness visits, and was adamant that she did not want an epidural.
As we approached 40 weeks the adventure began. At 36 weeks she could no longer see the NP, she had to now see the OB/GYN. The OB/GYN began to make reference to not allowing us to go past 40 weeks, it would “endanger the child”. My wife began to feel very uncomfortable and that she was slowly losing control of the experience she wanted to have. At the 40 week visit, the OB/GYN gave a very stern warning that an “induction was now necessary for the safety of the baby” regardless of there being no indication that Ezra’s wellbeing was compromised. We resisted as much as possible (with the help of no beds in the maternity ward) but at 41 weeks and 2 days, doctors’ orders brought us into the hospital for an induction.
Recently I came across yet another media article with suggestions as to how digital health products can gain more widespread adoption. The writer notes that “we can learn a lot from the pharma and healthcare industries,” and goes on to discuss the importance of engaging the doctor.
This article, like many I read, doesn’t acknowledge the downsides of using pharma’s tactics.
I have to assume that this is because from a business perspective, there aren’t a lot of downsides to pharma’s tactics. Pharma, along with many other healthcare industry players (hospitals, insurance companies, device manufacturers) has overall been extremely successful from a business standpoint.
So if the intent is to help digital health companies succeed as businesses, then by all means one should encourage them to copy pharma’s tactics.
But as we know, what works for business has often not worked well for serving the needs of individual patients, or to society from a health services and public health perspective.