A few weeks ago, the medical community received unexpected good news from the government about a “simplification of quality measures:”
Strictly speaking, and contrary to what Mr. Slavitt’s tweet would lead us to believe, the agreement to the new rules was primarily between commercial insurers and CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Physicians were not actually party to the deal.
Nevertheless, doctors were expected to greet the news with cheers. As Rich Duszak reported, Adam Slavitt, acting administrator for CMS, also declared that “patients and care providers deserve a uniform approach to measure [sic] quality.”
Indeed, we all deserve uniform quality measures. Equality in quality!
Like a pro golfer swears by a certain brand of clubs or a marathon runner has a chosen make of shoes, surgeons can form strong loyalties to the tools of their craft. Preferences for these items — such as artificial hips and knees, surgical screws, stents, pacemakers and other implants — develop over time, perhaps out of habit or acquired during their training.
Of course, surgeons should have what they need to be at the top of their trade. But the downside of too much variation is that it can drive up the costs of procedures for hospitals, insurers and even patients. When a hospital carries seven brands of the same type of product instead of one or two, it’s not as likely to get volume discounts. Moreover, if hospitals within a health system negotiate independently of one another, they may pay drastically different prices for the exact same item.
Carrying many brands of a given item may also increase risks for error and patient harm. Staff members need to be trained and competent in a variety of tools; the greater the number of tools, the greater the risk for error.
These physician preference items are no small contributor to health care costs. Around the year 2020, medical supplies are expected to eclipse labor as the biggest expense for hospitals, according to the Association for Healthcare Resource and Materials Management. Higher costs for physician preference items are major drivers of this increase.Continue reading…
The electronic health record (EHR) is now used by the majority of physicians during every patient encounter. The EHR has become the most important tool in our “black bag” and precisely for that reason, the EHR must be highly accurate and free of bias. As our most heavily utilized tool, the EHR must also be flexible and highly optimized so as to ensure it does not adversely impact the delivery of healthcare. Unfortunately, numerous surveys have found widespread physician dissatisfaction with EHR design.
The fact that EHR programming code is shielded from objective scrutiny by independent evaluators increases the risk that the EHR will contain errors and bias which could adversely impact our patient’s health, hinder our ability to deliver healthcare, “warp” the design of the healthcare system and drain financial resources from our patients and society.
EHR “errors” are well documented in the literature and are referred to as “e-iatrogenesis” or “technology induced” errors. “Bias” in EHR programming code is not discussed in the literature.
The number of mergers, acquisitions, and collaborative partnerships in healthcare continues to skyrocket. That’s not going to change for the next few years unless the FTC decides to be more restrictive. In all of these activities, older generation executives (I can say that because I’m older) have underestimated the importance and difficulties—technically and culturally—of integrating data and data governance in these new organizations, and the difficulties are exponentially more complicated in partnerships and collaboratives that have no formal overarching governance body. In 2014, 100 percent of Pioneer ACOs reported that they had underestimated the challenges of data integration and how the lack of data integration has had a major and negative impact on the performance of the ACOs.
Seamless Data Governance
After 33 years of professional observations and being buried up to my neck in this topic, especially the last two years as the topic finally matures in healthcare, I’m convinced that the role model organizations in data governance practice it seamlessly. That is, it’s difficult to point a finger directly at a thing called “Data Governance” in these organizations, because it’s completely engrained, everywhere. As I’ll state below, it reminds me of the U.S. transition in the early 1980s when organizations finally realized that product quality was not something that you could put in an oversight-driven Quality Department, operating as a separate function. Quality must be culturally embedded in every teammates’ DNA. Data governance is the same, especially data quality.Continue reading…
In the world of medicine, blood clots during hospitalization have become synonymous with imperfect care. As many as 600,000 patients per year experience a blood clot, and more than 100,000 die as a result, accounting for between 5 and 10 percent of hospital deaths. Regulatory agencies have taken clots as signals that safety and quality have been compromised, and have instituted significant financial penalties on physicians and hospitals for these “preventable events.”
In reality, clots aren’t always as preventable in real-world practice as they are in theory. Blood clots happen even under conditions of perfect, best-practice patient care, which should be seen as testimony to the limits of penalty schemes aiming to improve the quality of care. These penalties should be re-examined.
In a study recently published in JAMA Surgery of 128 blood clot or venous thromboembolism (VTE) cases, my team found that nearly 50 percent of the cases reviewed at The Johns Hopkins Hospital were not actually preventable. In fact, these patients received perfect care by all objective measures — all appropriate preventive measures were taken, including the prescription of the ideal medication and assuring that every dose of medicine was administered. Yet the blood clots still occurred, and the hospital was still financially penalized.
Some measures of health care quality and patient safety should be taken with a grain of salt. A few need a spoonful.
In April, a team of Johns Hopkins researchers published an article examining how well a state of Maryland pay-for-performance program measure for dangerous blood clots identified cases that were potentially preventable. In reviewing the clinical records of 157 hospital patients deemed by the state program to have developed these clots — known as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism — they found that more than 40 percent had been misclassified. The vast majority of these patients had clots that were not truly preventable, such as those associated with central catheters, for which the efficacy of prophylaxis remains unproven.
These misclassified cases of blood clots resulted in potentially $200,000 in lost reimbursement from the state, which penalizes hospitals when the additional treatment costs related to more than 60 preventable harms exceeds established benchmarks.
Why the discrepancies? The state identified cases of these clots using billing data, which utilize the diagnosis codes that medical billing specialists enter on claims. These data, also known as administrative data, lack the detail that would be available in the actual clinical record, considered by many to be the most trusted source for safety and quality measures.
In the future, doctors who provide better healthcare will be paid more. When a doctor gives good care, she will get credit. For factors out of that doctor’s control, she won’t be penalized. The patient, too, will be rewarded for taking care of his own health. In short, payments will align with good care, and good care will become more common.
This is the promise of value-based care, which is coming, according to almost everyone. Medicare is pushing it. Private payers are preparing for it.Top providers are tooling up.
And yet, the question lingers — how exactly do we measure quality? Today quality measurement is rigid, periodic, and manual. Here’s a peek behind the curtain of what we measure today — and what’s possible tomorrow.
Recently, a jury awarded a young California resident $28.2 million for a delayed diagnosis of a pelvic tumor. The jury found Kaiser Permanente (KP) negligent. Doctors in the system, touted to be one of the finest systems by the President, allegedly refused an immediate MRI for back pain in a 17 year old. The patient eventually received an MRI three months after presentation, which found a tumor so extensive that the patient needed an amputation.
The case is instructive at multiple levels. It shows a tense dialectic between the individual and society. It also highlights a truism that many don’t understand or don’t acknowledge – missed/ delayed diagnosis and waste are reciprocal. They’re birds of a feather. You can’t have less of one without more of the other.
The patient presented with back pain. MRI for back pain is the poster child of waste. Why so? Because so many are negative. Even more are meaninglessly positive –disc bulges which simply mean “I’m Homo sapiens and I wasn’t intelligently designed to be sitting at the desk.”
High quality doctors don’t order MRI for back pain immediately, reflexively and incontinently. Think about this. A high quality doctor should say “I don’t think you need an MRI because it won’t change the management and doesn’t improve outcomes.” That’s the resounding message from the top. If it doesn’t improve outcomes it’s not a worthy test. High quality doctors will, once in a while, cost their organization a lot of money.
But quality is still not settled. Quality doctors must satisfy patients. If a patient asks for an MRI for back pain the quality doctor must acquiesce, if that refusal dissatisfies. I’m confused. Ordering an MRI for back pain is poor care. But not ordering an MRI for back pain is poor care. Which is it?
We don’t know the facts of the case. It’s possible that the patient had a neurological deficit that should have raised the urgency. It’s possible that the physician didn’t examine the patient and had he/ she examined, the tumor might have been detected. We don’t know. We shouldn’t judge (1).Continue reading…
Chief information officers (CIOs) and chief medical information officers (CMIOs) have spent the better part of two decades on a quest for interoperability; yet, their Achilles heel lies in the “information” part of their titles. If information is the sole beacon of efficiency and value, the invaluable contours of human suffering, personal preferences and humanity itself are lost.
Information is the first step to developing knowledge and understanding, but what physicians and patients rely on in the real clinical setting, rife with changes, are knowledge, understanding and empathy. The cold, hard calculus of a=b does not always apply when dealing with people because they are much more complex and complicated than binary machines with screens. If it were so easy, there would be no problem reaching 100% compliance with medication or a plan of action.
Sadly, all data lives in a database; which might as well be called a wait-a-base; after all, the data just sits there and waits for someone to look at it.
The fundamental problem with today’s information architecture is that all data are not created equal. Data, information and knowledge degrade with each new doctor that becomes involved. In addition, systems design lacks an understanding of how the human computer works in the context of illness, anxiety or uncertainty. Healthcare is a people business in need of data, not a data business in need of people. Data are the means; people are the beginning and the end.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recent announcement to move the Medicare program toward value-based payments is among the most promising recent developments in health care.
While changing the way we pay for care will not be easy, we believe that shifting away from fee-for-service to value-based payments could be a catalyst to a better, more affordable health care system in our country.
Three Benefits of Paying for Quality
There are numerous potential benefits to paying for quality rather than quantity, including the three we want to focus on today.
- We believe this payment shift has the potential to accelerate progress toward achieving the Triple Aim – defined as better individual care, better population care, and lower cost.
- We believe the payment shift by Medicare will accelerate the transition to value-based payments among commercial insurers – a major benefit to employers in terms of improved health for employees and greater affordability.
- We believe value-based payments have the potential to help slow – and possibly reverse – the epidemic of physician burnout in the United States, particularly among primary care doctors.Continue reading…