What do the classic children’s’ book “The Little Engine that Could” and federal investment in health information exchanges have in common? More than you’d think.
Much has been said about the fragmentation of the U.S. health care system and how this fragmentation can result in higher costs and worse outcomes for patients. Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) – organizations that facilitate the secure sharing of health information – are one effort to improve communication among providers, better coordinate care, boost patient satisfaction, and reduce health care costs.
To spur these exchanges the federal government has invested nearly $600 million to support the development of statewide HIEs. But, what has been the return on this investment and are the results worth the expense? This month, Sens. Lamar Alexander, Richard Burr, and Mike Enzi asked the Government Accountability Office to examine that very question.
The senators’ goal to learn more about what the government received in return for its investment is certainly a worthy one, but it is a difficult question to answer. To date, there has been very little research on the effect of HIEs on health outcomes, costs, or patient and provider attitudes toward HIEs. In fact, according to a recent RAND review of the existing research supporting the efficacy of HIEs, very few of the more than 100 existing operational HIEs have been evaluated. Without evaluation, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about what works and what doesn’t and to ensure that any future investment on the part of federal or state government is made wisely. By not building evaluation into this program, we’re missing opportunities to improve the health care system by learning from experience.
Here’s an analogy that is useful in thinking about federal investment in HIEs. Imagine that 150 years ago, the United States decided to build a national rail network to connect all major U.S. cities at an estimated total cost of $60 billion (in today’s dollars). What if five years into the effort $600 million had been spent to build portions of the tracks between Chicago and Pittsburgh, New York and Boston, and Washington and Philadelphia?
Thanks to the flood of new data expected to enter the health field from all angles–patient sensors, public health requirements in Meaningful Use, records on providers released by the US government, previously suppressed clinical research to be published by pharmaceutical companies–the health field faces a fork in the road, one direction headed toward chaos and the other toward order.
The road toward chaos is forged by the providers’ and insurers’ appetites for categorizing us, marketing to us, and controlling our use of the health care system, abetted by lax regulation. The alternative road is toward a healthy data order where privacy is protected, records contain more reliable information, and research is supported or even initiated by cooperating patients.
This was my main take-away from a day of meetings and a panel held recently by Patient Privacy Rights, a non-profit for whom I have volunteered during the past three years. The organization itself has evolved greatly during that time, tempering much of the negativity in which it began and producing a stream of productive proposals for improving the collection and reuse of health data. One recent contribution consists of measuring and grading how closely technology systems, websites, and applications meet patients’ expectations to control and understand personal health data flows.
With sponsorship by Microsoft at their Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC, PPR offered a public panel on privacy–which was attended by 25 guests, a very good turnout for something publicized very modestly–to capitalize on current public discussions about government data collection, and (without taking a stand on what the NSA does) to alert people to the many “little NSAs” trying to get their hands on our personal health data.
It was a privilege and an eye-opener to be part of Friday’s panel, which was moderated by noted privacy expert Daniel Weitzner and included Dr. Deborah Peel (founder of PPR), Dr. Adrian Gropper (CTO of PPR), Latanya Sweeney of Harvard and MIT, journalist Sydney Brownstone of Fast Company, and me. Although this article incorporates much that I heard from the participants, it consists largely of my own opinions and observations.
So far California has received $910 million in federal grants to launch its new health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
The California exchange, “Covered California,” has so far awarded a $183 million contract to Accenture to build the website, enrollment, and eligibility system and another $174 million to operate the exchange for four years.
The state will also spend $250 million on a two-year marketing campaign. By comparison California Senator Barbara Boxer spent $28 million on her 2010 statewide reelection campaign while her challenger spent another $22 million.
The most recent installment of the $910 million in federal money was a $674 million grant. The exchange’s executive director noted that was less than the $706 million he had asked for. “The feds reduced the 2014 potential payment for outreach and enrollment by about $30 million,” he said. “But we think we have enough resources on hand to do the biggest outreach that I have ever seen.”
“Make it work.”
This advice on health reform to Democrats earlier this month illustrates that President Clinton knows what the opponents of Obamacare also know: success is the best political revenge.
As the health reform law moves off the drawing board into the real world, its opponents are doing their best to make it not work — by shifting their energies from fulminations about the boogeymen they imagine in the law to hampering, complicating or outright obstructing its implementation.
For openers, half the states have announced they will probably not expand their Medicaid programs under the law — though there have been defectors, most notably Florida. This will leave a large segment of the uninsured priced out of even the subsidized insurance markets created under Obamacare, while adding enormous complexity and uncertainty for small businesses and multi-state employers who want to comply with the law and cover their lower-income workers.
The same states, more or less, are also refusing to establish health insurance exchanges — online marketplaces where small businesses and individuals can purchase private health insurance — the fulcrum of the law’s provision for those not covered by Medicaid. As of last Friday’s deadline, 24 states and the District of Columbia were going ahead with exchanges and 26 were not.
Although healthcare providers are making progress in adopting health IT, Americans seem to be resistant to change to Electronic Health Records (EHRs). In fact, only 26 percent of Americans want their medical records to be digital, according to findings from the third annual EHR online survey of 2,147 U.S. adults, conducted for Xerox by Harris Interactive in May 2012.
Last month the Institute of Medicine issued a seminal report entitled “Best Care at Lower Cost: The Path to Continuously Learning Health in America.” The report estimates the American healthcare system suffered a $750 billion loss in 2009 from inefficient services and administrative expenditures. The report is grounded on the principle that effective, real-time insights for providers and patients which result in collaborative and efficient care depend on the adoption and use of digital records.
As people are naturally resistant to change, education will be key in gaining support among Americans for the transition to EHRs. If providers can help patients understand “what’s in it for me,” that will likely go a long way in making Americans feel more comfortable with the switch to digital.
Let’s take a look at five ways EHRs directly impact the patient. For these examples, we’ll use a fictitious patient named “Joe”:
- Health Information Exchanges (HIE): HIEs work on the principle of a network – they grow stronger as more participants join. If Joe’s primary care doctor switches to digital, that’s a great step in the right direction. However, it isn’t truly meaningful until his primary care doctor joins an HIE and begins sharing Joe’s patient health history, medication history, lab results, family and social history and vital statistics with his specialists, emergency care providers, and so on. This sharing of information helps ensure that Joe gets the best quality of care, because all of his providers will be in sync and have the most up-to-date information. It also helps reduce the amount of duplicate exams and labs Joe will be asked to give.
The Obama administration’s progress—with just a few stumbles—towards health care reform implementation took another major step this past week. In a carefully chosen small business setting—a Washington DC hardware store—HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius released draft regulations for the health benefit exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act.
The exchanges, required to be established for every state, are predicted to serve some 24 million consumers by 2019 (provided that the ACA is neither significantly changed nor found unconstitutional), with the majority receiving federal subsidies to help pay for coverage. So far, a dozen states have enacted bills to create exchanges, while in nine states such legislation has failed.
Responding to strident opposition to the ACA requirements from conservatives and from many business owners, Secretary Sibelius emphasized the flexibility of the draft regulations, which would allow considerable variation among states, give participating businesses considerable latitude in coverage selection, and interpret states’ readiness for exchange operation more loosely than implied by the ACA itself. In describing the intent of the exchanges, she stated that they will “offer Americans competition, choice, and clout.”
Well, maybe, depending on one’s interpretation of the draft regs.
This is a summary of the HIT Trends Report for March 2011. You can get the current issue or subscribe here.
Government drivers. Federal communications dominated this month’s news. ONC defended its core EHR strategy through a report published in Health Affairs analyzing the most recent studies to prove the benefits. It found that 92% of studies reported positive or mixed but predominately positive results. The study updates prior research by Chaudhry (2006) and Goldzweig (2009).
It also released its 5 year HIT strategy that is more of a comprehensive tactical plan of the work over the next years. The plan seems generally aligned with most industry expectations. (Adopt EMRs. Exchange patient info. Make it secure and private. Get patients empowered. Measure everything.) ONC is asking for public feedback. Early comments wish the plan contained more on fraud prevention and innovative solutions and architectures.
There’s also some pushback on its Stage Two and Three requirements. A CCHIT industry survey indicates some potential overreach in areas such as agency reporting, formulary checking, medication reconciliation, patient info access and other areas. Yet CMS put out its first rules on ACOs for comments, and the HIT requirements are ginormous. Writing in the NEJM, CMS head, Don Berwick says, “Information management — making sure patients and all health care providers have the right information at the point of care — will be a core competency of ACOs.”Continue reading…
Before entering the convoluted healthcare IT sector, I had worked in the manufacturing sector both as an IT analyst and in corporate strategy for Europe’s second largest enterprise software company. In those many years I learn quite a bit about not only how to effectively deploy large enterprise software systems (SAP, PeopleSoft, i2, PTC, SSA, Dassault Systemes, etc.) but how to create models that would guide clients in a methodical manner in IT adoption. A common model used was the five stage Maturity Model, which was originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University.
The beauty of the maturity model is its simplicity and focus on process change. This proved very effective in educating all stakeholders within a manufacturing company, from the C-suite on down, as to how they needed to think about their internal processes, the technology they were preparing to deploy and the final end-point that they should strive towards. But one should not look at maturity models as completely static for the technology does change overtime and subsequently what is possible.
Trying something new here – soliciting your collective input, the proverbial wisdom of the crowd.
As you may have read in yesterday’s post, Chilmark is quickly approaching publication of the Health Information Exchange (HIE) report. One of the last tasks is final editing/polishing of report. Am now in the process of creating a definition for HIE that clearly articulates what the primary purpose of an HIE is, but also keeping that definition loose enough to reflect what a market that is evolving so quickly that in five years time, there will not be an HIE market as we know it today.
So, with that in mind, here’s the HIE definition for the report.
Definition of an HIE:
A Health Information Exchange (HIE) is a technology network infrastructure whose primary purpose is to insure the secure, digital exchange of clinical information among all stakeholders that are engaged in the care of a patient to promote collaborative care models that improve the quality and value of care provided.
Does this make sense to you? Does this definition resonate with your own view of the market? Any and all comments welcomed, but please be quick to get them in as we are on a fast track to have this report done within the week.
John Moore is an IT Analyst at Chilmark Research, where this post was first published.
Yesterday in New Orleans, SureScripts announced a new line of business: Clinical Interoperability. Leveraging their existing ePrescribing solution platform, currently serving over 200K physicians nationwide, and combining it with the technology stack of messaging solution provider Kryptiq, SureScripts will offer providers, EHR vendors, HIEs and other stakeholders the opportunity to securely share clinical information across town, the state, a region and the country. In this combination, SureScripts will provide the rails and Kryptiq will address the last mile of connectivity. This announcement has some pretty big implications for the HIE market. Chilmark was briefed prior to this announcement by both SureScripts and Kryptiq, following is what we learned.
SureScripts primary focus has been to provide the network that would support physicians transition to ePrescribing. Therefore, SureScripts has been focused on transmitting NDP data and not clinical notes. SureScripts got into the transmission of clinical summaries from one of its larger customers, MinuteClinic wanted to send clinical summaries of patient visits directly to primary care providers. In the past year SureScripts has facilitated the movement of over 0ne million patient summaries for MinuteClinic to primary care physicians using CCR. Seeing an opportunity, SureScripts sought a partner that could take this capability to the next level.
Kryptiq, a company profiled in Chilmark’s forthcoming HIE Market Trends Report due out next month, can be characterized as vendor of HIE capabilities that allow for the organic growth of an HIE without the overhead. Kryptiq has worked behind the scenes for a number of EHR companies to provide secure, structured messaging services within these EHRss ecosystems of customers connecting them to one another as well as to other systems, including SureScripts to facilitate care coordination.