Annie Lowrey’s July 28 article “Doctor shortage likely to worsen with health law” in the New York Times noted the growing shortage of primary care doctors particularly in economically disadvantaged communities, both in rural and inner-city America. This problem will likely get worse before it gets better as more Americans gain coverage and seek a regular source of care. As the article suggests, training more doctors and incentivizing them to pursue careers in primary care will be a key part of the solution. And it will require a multipronged campaign, using both some of the traditional strategies for workforce renewal and a few unique tactics not typically deployed in efforts to fix health care.
The primary care workforce pipeline had dried up before the Affordable Care Act was passed. Currently, one out of every five Americans lacks access to primary care. As a result, up to 75% of the care delivered in emergency departments these days is primary care . This overcrowds and overburdens EDs, raises costs, and limits EDs’ ability to do what they were designed to do: provide acute, emergency care that makes the difference between life and death. So the primary care shortage threatens our access not only to primary care but also to emergency care.
How did we get here? Many are quick to point to primary care doctors’ low salaries compared to those of their sub-specialist colleagues. Indeed, choosing a career in primary care rather than a sub-specialty means walking away from 3.5 million dollars of additional lifetime earnings.That’s tough to do when you’re looking at $150-200,000 of debt, which is the average debt of an American medical student at graduation.But the crisis in our primary care pipeline goes far beyond the money.
In the next 10 years, data and the ability to analyze the data will do for the doctor’s mind what x-ray and medical imaging have done for their vision. How? By turning data into actionable information.
For instance, take Watson, IBM’s intelligent supercomputer. Watson can analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process vast amounts of information. With this information, it can suggest options targeted to a patient’s circumstances. This is an example of technology that can help physicians and nurses identify the most effective courses of treatment for their patients. And fast: in less than 3 seconds Watson can sift through the equivalent of about 200 million pages, evaluate the information, and provide precise responses. With medical information doubling every 5 years, advanced health analytic systems technologies can help improve patient care through the delivery of up- to-date, evidence-based health care.
Care coordination is one of the four pillars of Meaningful Use, one of the six NCQA Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) standards and one of the main goals of Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). Care coordination, particularly for patients with multiple chronic conditions, is expected to reduce unnecessary repetition of laboratory testing or imaging and the number of avoidable admissions. Other than reducing overall costs, care coordination is also supposed to improve quality of care. According to experts like Joe Flower, “Lack of care coordination is at the core of the mess healthcare is in”, and nobody in their right mind would argue that it is best that medical care remains disorganized and uncoordinated, if it is indeed so. It seems that our fee-for-service, fragmented and fractured (lots of f-words here) health care system is not conducive to care coordination. When patients float around in a sea of hospitals, physicians, nursing homes and other facilities, each care provider gets paid, and is responsible for the piecework performed at their independent entity and nobody is minding the handoff of patients to the next provider of care, and nobody is assembling a comprehensive picture of the entire care process, let alone orchestrating, or coordinating, the progression of patients between stages of care and the overall needs of patients in transit. What would it take then, to see that the bits and pieces of health care we now have, become a safe and affordable continuum of care?
CMS is taking the lead, as it should, in an all-out effort to encourage health care coordination through various carrot-stick initiatives, aligned to ultimately base payment for medical care on value to the patient, as measured on a population level, instead of fee-for-service and no accountability for outcomes. These initiatives fall into three general categories:
- Health Information Technology to assist with documentation, information exchange and measurements as required in any coordination effort.
- Incentives and penalties for providers based on measures thought to be influenced by care coordination (e.g. preventable hospitalizations, readmission rates, etc.)
- Financial and structural encouragement for vertical integration of the delivery system (e.g. ACOs, consolidation, employed physicians, etc.)Continue reading…
The term patient-centered has become a serious contender for the most flippantly used term in health care publications and conversations. Of course meaningful use is still #1 on the popularity charts, with ACO quickly moving up, but even meaningful use and ACO are almost always accompanied by patient-centered as a way to add legitimacy and desirability to the constructs.
Even Paul Ryan’s new recipe for fiscal Nirvana is touting patient-centered health care as one of a litany of fictional achievements made possible based on an array of wishful thinking assumptions. But perhaps the most common usage of patient-centered terminology is the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH), which is touted as the ultimate patient friendly solution to our health care difficulties. Since PCMH is heavily reliant on Health Information Technology (HIT) to achieve patient-centeredness, and since Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) is being increasingly aligned with this goal, it may behoove us to explore the features and functionality that would qualify an EHR to support a patient-centered approach to health care delivery.
But first, what exactly is patient-centered health care? From reading the NCQA medical home specifications, the Meaningful Use definitions, the HIT suggestions from PCAST and the brand new ACO regulations, all of which assert a patient-centered approach, one would conclude that patient-centered care is made possible by providing all patients with timely electronic access to the entirety of their medical records including lots of patient education, electronically coordinating a multitude of transfers of care, empowering non-physicians to provide most medical care, measuring a bewildering array of health care processes and constantly evaluating and reporting on population metrics, while somehow allowing patients and families to express their wishes regarding the nature of care within the boundaries specified by each proposal. I am excluding the Ryan budget proposal here, since other than having “patient-centered” typed in various spots, there is no reference to actual health care delivery, or what is left of it after most seniors, sick and disabled folks are reduced to begging for medical care. Computers and EHRs can, and to some extent already do, support many of the above activities, but is this truly patient-centered (singular) care, or should we add an “s” and refer to a plurality of patients-centered, or population-centered, care?Continue reading…
First it was United Health Group’s (UHG) Ingenix Division’s acquisition of leading HIE vendor (and top competitor to Medicity) Axolotl. Then this morning Aetna counters by acquiring Medicity. In just a few short months these two payers have completely changed the landscape of the HIE market by acquiring the two leading HIE vendors in the market today. Now that both of these vendors are in the hands of payers what are the implications both to the HIE market and more broadly the healthcare sector? Following is our assessment based on our continuing research of the HIE market and a number of interviews today, not only with the Aetna and Medicity, but also several other active participants in the HIE market.
Aetna acquired Medicity for a King’s ransom of $500M, a handsome multiple of Medicity’s 2010 gross revenue. Medicity will operate as a separate entity under the Aetna brand maintaining its current headquarters in Utah. According to Medicity, initial conversations began in late October/early November and quickly accelerated to the deal announced today. Aetna plans to close the deal before the end of year. As part of the deal, the senior management team of Medicity has agreed to stay in place for the next few years.
While some may argue that Aetna was simply looking to counter the move by UHG or Aetna’s new CEO was looking to make a mark, Chilmark sees a more thoughtful and strategic move at play here which in the end may justify the price paid.
Last month The American College of Physicians (ACP) released a well-reasoned and thorough position paper, The Patient-Centered Medical Home Neighbor: The Interface of the Patient-Centered Medical Home with Specialty/Subspecialty Practices.
As I’ve written before, the Big Idea behind ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations) is the notion of accountability, not the specifics of organizational structure.
The purpose of the ACP position paper is to address the gaps that exist in care coordination when a physician refers a patient to a specialist. The obvious and logical answer proposed is to develop “Care Coordination Agreements” between primary care physicians and referring specialists, and the position paper takes 35 pages to explain why and how.
A simplified way of thinking about Care Coordination Agreements is that they recognize that coordination of care is a team sport, that specialists are part of the team, and that this paper proposes rules of the game about how primary care physicians and specialists should play together on behalf of their common patients.
However, there’s a great big CAVEAT buried in the position paper. I don’t doubt the earnestness of the authors, but I do take this caveat as a Freudian slip recognition that not all specialists will be eager to play on the team and to play by the rules:
At this time, implementation of the above principles within care coordination agreements represents an aspiration goal…
The care coordination agreements should be viewed solely as a means of specifying a set of expected working procedures agreed upon by the collaborating practices toward the goals of improved communication and care coordination — they are not legally enforceable agreements between the practices. [emphasis of “solely” is in the original document, not added]
Don’t expect to hold us accountable….and don’t expect to be able to sue us if we don’t get it right
Vince Kuraitis, JD, MBA is a health care consultant and primary author of the e-CareManagement blog where this post first appeared.