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Tag: evidenced-based medicine

Op-Ed: Why the Senate should be abolished, Parts 34-36

Irrelevant small states with no people in them that exist by an accident of history are chronically over-represented in this country — both in the electoral college and most obviously in the Senate. And those states are much more conservative than metro areas where people actually live, which means that even if they send Democrats to DC, they’re not exactly raging Trotskyites.

Hence we get Max Baucus, representing less than 1 million people, or one-sixth of an average state’s population, pushing moderate reform and saying that single-payer is a political non-starter. He’s right, but it’s only because of the political structure that guarantees him his power. If San Francisco, which has roughly the same population as Montana, sent a Senator to Congress I think the result would be somewhat different.

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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.

Jack says cover the uninsured & spend less!

It’s no secret what the Dartmouth group’s solution for the health care system has been — reduce practice variation, get surgery and physician resource use rates similar to the Mayo Clinics’ of the world, and take the huge savings that would be generated to cover the uninsured. In fact Wennberg, Skinner, Fisher & Weinstein, now joined by “gone native” journalist Shannon Brownlee, have a new White Paper out—their own open letter to Obama’s mob.

Along the way that requires demand-side reductions (achieved by shared decision making) and supply side changes.

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Dispatches from IHI’s quality forum

Don Berwick is one of the leading lights of the health care quality world; an
oft-quoted and published visionary who founded the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to spread the gospel of transformation and improvement around the world. Sometimes, however, he can come across as messianic, especially when preaching to the choir in a setting like the IHI Forum, which took place last week in Nashville.

Some criticize Berwick and IHI for a lack of measurable outcomes for the interventions they preach. The most recent complaint like this concerns IHI’s 5 Million Lives campaign, which recommended that hospitals adopt a series of interventions to improve patient safety, promising that if they did so, 5 million patients would be saved. 

The campaign officially ended at this week’s conference, and no one at IHI can show data on the number of lives saved. It’s true that Berwick has a powerful voice and a broad platform, and he could use it to structure the work that needs to be done, rather than sticking to a combination of inspirational cheerleading and emotional appeal. But back when no one was thinking about quality, Berwick was championing it; and for some community hospital quality leaders who feel like they are the lone voice in the wilderness, his words keep them going all throughout the year.

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Nudging the value glacier

In just two years, seniors will spend a quarter of their monthly Social Security checks on Medicare out-of-pocket expenses, including premiums, co-payments and deductibles.Meanwhile, Medicare bookkeepers predict total health spending in the U.S. to increase from 2.2 trillion today to 4.3 trillion in 2017.

At that rate of growth, it won’t be long before the entire Social Security check goes toward medical care. So what’s the solution?

Barry Straube, CMS chief medical officer, said the solution is transforming Medicare into an active purchaser that seeks to get more bang — in terms of high quality care and improved health — for its buck.

In health care lingo, that’s called value-based purchasing – the topic of a two-day conference put on by the ECRI Institute that Straube,and other health care bigwigs attended this week in Washington D.C.

“Medicare should be paying for care that promotes health, prevents complications, optimizes quality and efficiency, and keeps health care costs down,” Straube said. “… We have a system that arguably is based on resource consumption and volume irrespective to the value associated with that care.”

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Addressing an epidemic of overtreatment

Health care costs in the U.S. are approaching 17 percent of the GDP and may be as high as 20 percent in the next few years.

What is causing the US to have the highest cost and lowest value for the healthcare dollar?  Simple – it’s overtreatment.

Overtreatment
takes many forms – from over ordering expensive diagnostic tests to the
prescribing of expensive and sometimes unneeded therapeutics.

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Extracting more value from the health care dollar

Americans spend more money on health care than any other nation, but get far less in return, say multiple health care executives in Sunday’s  Washington Post.

That’s not news to readers of this blog, but probably is not yet common knowledge among the general American taxpayer. That might change. The news media seems to be writing about this "value gap" more frequently, particularly in citing the growing momentum behind creating a center for comparative effectiveness research to evaluate drugs, devices and treatments to find out what works best.

Defining and measuring value is not easy, but increasingly public and
private health care purchasers are using their market power to demand higher quality care. Whether the science is
ready to support this "value-based purchasing" is the topic at the ECRI Institute’s annual conference today and tomorrow. (I’m attending the conference and will report on it tomorrow.)

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An Impending Hanging: Will Health 2.0 Be Compromised By The Economic Downturn?

Nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging. — Samuel JohnsonBrianklepper_2

I’ve been preparing for tomorrow’s 3rd Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco, where I’ll join my pals Matthew, Indu Subaiya, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn and Michael Millenson amid a Who’s-Who cast of health industry luminaries. I spent part of Monday reviewing the attendee and sponsor lists, impressive indeed, testament to how seriously this topic is being taken throughout health care.

The meeting is sold out at 950 participants. It’s worth remembering that, before the first Health 2.0 conference 13 months ago, Matthew, who with Indu took enormous professional and personal financial risk to pull this off, told me he’d be surprised if 75 people showed up. There were almost 500, many of them with genuine influence.

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Evidence of a Need for Change

The Health Care Blog regular Michael Millenson wrote a great piece recently in Miller-McCune Magazine on the necessity of practicing more evidenced-based medicine, and why it’s not happening.

Here is a powerful snippet but it’s definitely worth checking out in its entirety.

Experts believe that a stunning 20 to 40 percent of the $2.4 trillion America spends on health care in 2008 will be wasted on misuse (including harmful and fatal errors), overuse (care that’s unnecessary) or underuse ( effective care that’s not provided). If you take a midrange figure — let’s say 30 percent — you end up with $720 billion in savings. That’s enough in health care savings to pay the cumulative costs of the Iraq war (about $560 billion by mid-September 2008) and still have enough cash left over to pay for universal health care and the entire federal education budget. If you simply sent out a rebate check, it would come to some $2,100 for every man, woman and child in the country.And that’s just one year of savings.The failure to follow best practice carries a price tag in human lives, too, and it is equally enormous. Providing appropriate, effective and safe care where we know how to do it — no “medical mysteries” included — could annually prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in and out of the hospital and millions of injuries.

The never ending stent-bypass debate

A new study – a big one ($50 MM) – was recently released that compared the short and long term effects of drug eluding stents to bypass surgery for patients with serious heart disease.  The headlines — “Heart Surgery Bests Stents” — pretty much told the story.  In this particular case, 18% of those patients who had stents installed to treat their disease ended up either dying or needing another treatment over the next twelve months.  Only 12% of bypass patients ended up with complications or passing on.  The death rate in both instances was the same – 8%.

Stents — the tool of choice for interventional cardiologists — and bypass surgery — the technique of choice for cardiothoracic surgeons — have been playing this “which is better” game for almost ten years. Needless to say, both sides were represented in the stories that ran covering the results of this study. The bypass surgeons said, “More people should have bypass surgery instead of stents.” The stent docs said this study proved that stenting – which involves a much less aggressive and invasive procedure than bypass surgery — comes in a close second to bypass surgery, even in patients with complex conditions.

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