The fall sports season is tantalizingly near; players and fans alike are gearing up for the Friday night lights and Sunday afternoon showdowns. But the season comes at a cost; every bone-jarring hit and wince-inducing header carries the risk of sustaining a concussion.
Most media coverage focuses on the National Football League’s professional players, but 65% of traumatic brain injuries are sustained by children. The majority are thought to be undiagnosed, but the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year. This puts athletes at risk of sustaining a second concussion before their brains are fully healed, leading to longer recoveries, permanent neurological damage, and the potentially-fatal Second Impact Syndrome.
A just-released app hopes to change that. Sway Medical, founded by Chase Curtiss in 2011, aims to help health professionals objectively rate the risk of concussion at the source: on the football field or soccer pitch. On-the-spot concussion diagnosis is just the beginning, though; in the near future, the young company plans to enter the hospital space by the end of the year.
The FDA-approved app, called Sway Balance, uses proprietary software and the iPhone’s accelerometer to assess an athlete’s balance over time. In a phone interview, founder and CEO Chase Curtiss said that the app can be used by a health professional to “set up a baseline,” then “compare an athlete over the course of a season to that established norm.” Poor performance compared to baseline is indicative of a possible concussion.
Health care professionals can purchase a yearly subscription to the app for $199 – a fraction of the cost of a typical balance platform – and the patient-facing app is free to download.
Sway Medical has partnered with ImPACT Applications, an organization which Curtiss described as conducting the “gold standard of concussion testing on the market.” ImPACT uses baseline cognitive testing – verbal and visual memory, processing speed, and reaction time – and synchronous testing immediately after a hit to assess if a concussion has occurred.
“But you don’t have an element of physical control of the body,” Curtiss said – which is where Sway Balance comes in. “[ImPACT’s] interest in us is in pairing a balance test with cognitive testing.”
Use of an at-home telemonitoring blood pressure device significantly reduced out-of-control high blood pressure, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It’s another data point showing the potential of telemedicine to have a profound effect on American medicine, by positively modifying health behaviors, providing real-time data to clinicians through “automated hovering,” and helping Americans get and stay healthy – all of which holds the promise of bending the cost curve.
Led by Karen Margolis, MD, MPH, a Senior Investigator at Health Partners Institute for Education and Research, the cluster-randomized study investigated whether using a cloud-connected, at-home blood pressure monitor paired with pharmacist and case manager support would lead to controlled blood pressure more than typical care, which involved check-ups with a physician.
Those using the telemonitoring device were 90% more likely to have controlled blood pressure at both the six and twelve-month checkups than the control group (57.2% and 30%, respectively), and had, on average, statistically significant lower systolic and diastolic readings.
Ignaz Semmelweiss was laughed out of his Viennese hospital when he suggested that physicians should wash their hands in between conducting an autopsy and delivering a baby.
150 years later, we know just how right he was, but hand sanitation compliance rates at hospitals still hover in the 30% to 50% range. This makes it easy for hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) such as MRSA and VRE to run rampant, a (literally) dirty, not-so-little, and not-so-secret reality for American patients.
A Healthbox-backed startup is trying to change that. SwipeSense, founded in 2012 by Northwestern University graduates Mert Iseri and Yuri Malina, is a system designed to improve sanitation practices in hospitals using portable hand sanitizers and wirelessly-collected data on their use.
The organization wants to help stem the tide of avoidable HAIs. Each year, about 100,000 Americans die from infections they contract during their time in the hospital – more than the number of Americans killed by guns, motor vehicles, and leukemiacombined. In addition to the direct human toll, HAIs cause patient length of stays to increase by 8.0 days in ICUs and 7.4 to 9.4days in acute care wards, taking up expensive capacity and preventing others from accessing needed hospital beds. They’re also expensive, causing an estimated $4.5 to $5.7 billion in excess costs.
Iseri and Malina were inspired to create SwipeSense by a project they did for Design for America, a student group created to catalyze social change using human-centered design (also founded by Iseri and Malina). It took them to Northwestern Memorial University Hospital in their college town of Evanston, Illinois, where they identified two salient issues with hand sanitation: convenience and compliance.
“It’s obvious it’s not the fault of the nurse or physician…it’s something wrong with the system,” Malina told me in an interview. Even though alcohol foam and soap dispensers are ubiquitous in American hospitals, they often aren’t at the immediate point of care: “medical staff need to sanitize four or five times per patient encounter,” Malina said, making proper sanitation an arduous, time-consuming, and unrealistic task. “Our philosophy at SwipeSense is that the right thing to do should be the easiest thing to do… We want to make something that people love.”
Mitt Romney’s/Paul Ryan’s premium support/voucher plan was heavily derided during the dark days of Campaign 2012, but the devil was always more in the details than the theory. While the re-election of President Obama left premium support dead on the Medicare level, health insurers are increasingly turning to the ideas that drove it – choice, competition, and the power of a (carefully regulated) market – to address high costs on the procedural level. Call it the micro-voucherization of health insurance.
This is known by wonks as reference pricing, and its recent results in California are promising: the costs of hip and knee replacements fell by 19%, with no attendant decrease in quality. Using reference pricing is an assault on the status quo that holds the promise of “bending the curve” in a meaningful way, but it faces technical and political concerns that may consign it to the graveyard of promising-but-unfulfilled ideas.
Broadly-speaking, reference pricing is the act of offering a set amount of money for the purchase of a good, where the reference is an amount that can reasonably said to offer meaningful coverage for that good. Sometimes, reference pricing is focused on a given procedure – what I’ll refer to as “inputs-oriented reference pricing”; other times, a given outcome, or “outputs-based reference pricing.”
That’s pretty vague, so let’s use the colonoscopy procedure (which has recently received a lot of attention thanks to an informative New York Times article) to help color this in. The inputs-oriented approach would see the payer asking: given the choice to have a colonoscopy – a procedure which varies wildly in cost without varying wildly in quality – what’s a reasonable price to pay? It would decide this based on some combination of price, quality, and geography, and would inform consumers of its spending cap.
Say it finds that most of its insured population can reasonably access a high-quality colonoscopy for $10,000; if a consumer choose provider that charges $15,000, he or she would pay the $5,000 difference out of pocket. Choice is preserved, but at a cost. The simple chart above shows how this may work.
But, if you read the colonoscopy article, you may be asking a separate question: why pay for a colonoscopy at all?
Working with clinicians to set up forums where care teams would discuss their patients daily, I was privy to the excited eyes and cheshire cat smiles that accompanied the talk of “woah” patients – the medically rare, gross, or otherwise notable cases which made the day a bit more interesting. The patient with Anton-Babinski Syndrome. The child whose amputated hand was proof he shouldn’t have been playing with an axe. The all-too-common gunshot wounds of every type, notable for their stories more than the wounds.
With the release of Figure 1, a photo-sharing app for health care professionals, those conversations can leave the hospital and enter the cloud; physicians can upload a picture to their feed, and it’ll be instantly available to the world. It’s Instagram for health care workers, except instead of filtered “selfies” and pictures of brunch, it has pictures of rare medical conditions and x-rays of things inserted where they shouldn’t be. It’s a new, neat idea that could change the face of medical education or serve as stress-relieving entertainment. Or both.
Dr. Joshua Landy, co-founder at Movable Sciences, said in an email interview that he created Figure 1 to fill a gap he identified in clinician-to-clinician communication. Currently, “many physicians collect images of interesting or representative cases on their smartphones,” and share with colleagues. Sensing an opportunity, and “recognizing the educational benefit of these images,” Landy created an app that would “harness thousands of educational assets being collected by individuals each day.”
The app opened to the public three weeks ago, and has a user base “well into the thousands,” Landy said. Anyone can download it, but only health care professionals can upload images; once vetted, physicians will have a “Verified Physician” badge on their profiles. Users can search for images of specific conditions and have conversations with others through a commenting feature – which Landy said has already been used as a virtual classroom, with “experienced healthcare professionals answering questions for medical students.”
In my last post on California and Texas’s imminent expansion of their scope of practice regulations, I didn’t cover one important question: what do patients actually want?
Fortunately, a study just released in Health Affairs looked into it, and the results are clear: many patients want to be seen by nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician’s assistants (PAs) – especially if it allows them to be seen sooner.
To be clear: generally, Americans still prefer being seen by a physician. But preferring a NP/PA – or “not having a preference” between a NP/PA and a physician – is a big deal; it insinuates that, for certain ailments, the public views a NP/PA as just as effective a clinician. That has significant repercussions for how care is delivered, particularly for young people and underserved populations.
The researchers conducted a survey that focused on three different scenarios to judge patient preferences: a straight-up comparison of preference for physicians vs. NPs/PAs; a scenario where a patient could see a NP/PA today vs. a physician tomorrow for a minor ailment; and a scenario where a patient could see a NP/PA today vs. a physician in three days for a minor ailment. Continue reading…
The most important study in American health policy in decades, the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, published two-year results Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. If you’re reading up on the topic, get ready for bombastic claims and scorching heat as opposed to illuminating light. The quick read leads to an easy Drudge headline – “MEDICAID DOESN’T MAKE PEOPLE HEALTHIER: OBAMACARE WILL FAIL!” – but a fuller reading of the evidence provides a more optimistic, and honest, take.
In 2008, Oregon had 90,000 individuals who wanted to enroll in its Medicaid program, but the funding to enroll only a fraction. So it decided to use the opportunity to create an unparalleled experiment: the first Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) – the gold standard research methodology that is able to isolate the causal effect of an intervention – in Medicaid history. It endeavored to show nothing less than the actual, causal effect that Medicaid has on its population, a first in the field.
This study, in other words, is a big, big deal.
Two years of data are in, and the results are mixed. First up, the disappointing: Medicaid coverage.
You’d be forgiven if, after reading last month’s Health Affairs, you came to the conclusion that all manner of wellness programs simply will not work; in it, a spate of articles documented myriad failures to make patients healthier, save money, or both.
Which is a shame, because – let’s face it – we need wellness programs to work and, in theory, they should. So I’d rather we figure out how to make wellness work. It seems that a combination of behavioral economics, technology, and networking theory provide a framework for creating, implementing, and sustaining programs to do just that.
Let’s define what we’re talking about. “Wellness program” is an umbrella term for a wide variety of initiatives – from paying for smoking cessation, to smartphone apps to track how much you walk or how well you comply with your plan of care, and everything in between. The term is almost too broad to be useful, but let’s go with it for now.
When we say “Wellness programs don’t work,” the word work does a lot of, well, work. If a wellness program makes people healthier but doesn’t save lives, is it “working”? What if it saves money but doesn’t make people healthier?
“Will Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) work?”
That question has been thrown around for years, serving as fodder for Twitter-fights, myriad health care blog posts, and hours of beer-soaked barroom debates (if you’re shameless as I am). Adding to the discussion are Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Flier, and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan (or CFV, as I’ll refer to them), of Harvard Business School, Harvard Medical School, and Innosight fame, respectively.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, they answer the question with a resounding “No.” But, in doing so, they treat ACOs and other health care delivery mechanisms – part of what I’ll call the “New New Thing in Health Care” – as mutually exclusive. Contra CFV, ACOs may help spur the exact disruptive innovation in health care that Christensen is known for discussing.
America is only a few months away from Exchange Day—October 1, 2013—when the state and federal health exchanges open up for business. And when they do… well, I’d surprised if a whole lot happens at first; most people assume they open on January 1, 2014. But eventually there will be a flood of people streaming into the exchanges (virtually) to search for health insurance plans, including the Millennials.
Why? A variety of reasons. One is that people like being insured and prefer it to the uncertainty of being uninsured; those previously unable to purchase a policy they could afford now have subsidies to help them do so. Another is that people largely don’t have a choice—forego purchasing health insurance and get fined.
But the bottom line is this: whether compelled to do so by the safe feeling of being insured or the specter of a fine, Millennials are expected to be an enormous group of entrants into the exchanges: while we make up only 22% of the population, we account for 38% of the uninsured in America.
To compound our already-stratospheric opinion of ourselves, we know that the Millennials are a coveted market for health exchange insurers. Face it: you want us. Bad. That’s because we’re relatively healthy, loyal to brands we like that we see as having a positive impact (70% identify as being brand loyal), and we could actually be the first generation to recommend our health insurance plan to others.
So, culling from Millennial research, surveys, and conversations with fellow Millennials, here are a few morsels of unsolicited advice on how to win us over.