Charlie Baker is the president and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc., a nonprofit health plan that covers more than 1 million New Englanders. Baker blogs regularly at Let’s Talk Health Care.
One of the reasons the operating model in health care doesn’t change much over time is pretty simple: most of the people who think about it, write about it, work in it and study it have trouble seeing the model any differently than they see it today. I was struck, therefore, by Hebrew Senior Life’s Len Fishman the other day when he and I served on a panel at the 30th annual meeting of the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium. We were told to discuss health care 30 years from now — me from the plan perspective, and Len from the long term care perspective. I went pretty far out there in my remarks, imagining, among other things, a world in which there were no health plans at all(!). Len did too. His presentation on the future of long term care could not have looked more different than what we have today. He literally re-imagined the whole thing. It was startling — and refreshing.
This question — is the future just like the past, or something different — was raised again for me earlier this week when Brian Rosman — a good guy with whom I almost never agree — posted a blog on the Health Care for All Web site that basically said that more publicly available information on health care cost and quality could/might/will lead to higher costs and higher prices, because no one really cares about costs, and if they do, they’ll flock to higher cost options, because they’ll think they’re better than lower cost ones.
The plan is more than two years overdue and came only after scolding from a Government Accountability Office report in 2006 and an internal, semi-secret review of ONC’s doings by the Institute of Medicine late in 2007. The IOM criticized ONC for the lack of a viable strategic road map almost four years after President Bush’s call for interoperable health information technology and personal health records. A lot has happened since 2004 in this area, though you’d hardly know it reading the ONC Plan.
ONC is a top-down, heavily bureaucratic,
large-medical-enterprise-centric, and large-IT-vendor-led juggernaut
that has always been out of touch with what goes on down on the ground
where consumers, patients, nurses, and primary care doctors live and
Sean Neill is a South African-born, British-trained anesthesiologist, who
recently relocated to Midwestern USA. He blogs regularly at OnMedica about his cross-cultural experience, frequently pointing out oddities of American health care.
Watching television in America takes some getting used to. Apart from the accent, it is strange to hear companies marketing drugs directly to the consumer. Not only do they sell their own brand, but they actively name and shame their competitors’ products. During a commercial break there may be two different brands of antihistamine telling you how bad the other is.
Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) is the promotion of prescription drugs through newspaper, magazine, television and internet marketing. Although the drug industry is mounting major campaigns to have DTCA allowed in Europe and Canada, the only two developed countries where it is currently legal are the U.S. and New Zealand.
Studies have shown that increases in DTCA have contributed to overall
increases in spending on both the advertised drug itself and on other
drugs that treat the same conditions. For example, one study of 64
drugs found a median increase in sales of $2.20 for every $1 spent on
DTCA. It has been reported that 10 of the leading 12 brand-name drugs
with DTCA campaigns have sales in excess of $1 billion annually.
The Joint Commission just released its 2009 National Patient Safety Goals, and –- no surprise –- they focus on infection prevention. While this seems natural today, it wasn’t always so. In fact, the conflation of infection control and patient safety is one of the most surprising twists of the patient safety revolution.
The inclusion – make that dominance – of infection prevention in the safety field was anything but preordained. The IOM Report on medical errors, which sparked the modern patient safety movement, mentions the word “infections” 8 times and the word “medications” 234 times. In other words, the Founding Fathers of patient safety didn’t appear to have preventing infections in mind when they articulated the scope of the endeavor.
So how did it come to pass that infection prevention became one of, if not the, central focus of the patient safety enterprise? The first step was recognition of the importance of measurement. Without measurable rates of adverse events, there could be no public reporting, no research demonstrating improvements, no pay for performance (or, more au currant, “no pay for errors” – note that more than half of the “no pay” entities on CMS’s present and proposed list are infections), and ultimately no one who could be held accountable for progress in safety.
Consumers, employers, payers and providers agree that information flows are critical to helping stem health care costs. While there is shared concern about health care costs, there is also a shared desire for more, accessible information and better online tools for managing it.
The American Medical Association has now added a second pillar to its
national health care reform plan. The first pillar, of course, has
always been “Don’t sue,” a sturdy principle that over the decades has
led the AMA to alliances with such notable victims of overzealous
attorneys as tobacco companies. (For historical perspective, see Howard
Wolinsky and Tom Brune’s 1994 book, The Serpent on the Staff.)
McKinsey Quarterly released an interesting study this week under the moniker, “What Consumers Want in Health Care." The central theme of the publication was the large and growing opportunity for a new type of health care “infomediaries” (who traffic in the flow, enhancement, and interconnectivity of information) to have a large and sustained impact in the transformation of our current system to a next-generation system required to meet the health needs of the future.
A few relevant quotes:
Retail health consumers constitute a market worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Currently 116 million consumers have a choice of health insurance (expected to be 151M by 2011).
Most consumers still do not “shop” for insurance — 74 percent will like purchase from current health insurer.
People who do “shop” do so during moments of considerable change — and a full 41 percent either considered or changed insurance.
Most people need additional guidance, education, and advice to make decisions.
Innovative, cross-industry products that assist with the complex decision making will be highly valued by an influx of consumers eager for options but unsure where to turn.
Doctor-owned specialty hospitals deliver better quality of care, are more convenient for physicians and patients and take business away from not-for-profit and investor-owned general acute care hospitals, which have been trying to put them out of business for years.
The NY Times reports on the latest effort by liberal Democrats to take down the for-profit specialty hospitals. The Democrats behind this drive don’t believe in for-profit health care providers even though not-for-profit providers are as profit driven as the investor-owned providers. Most Republicans oppose the effort to restrict the growth of doctor-owned hospitals because they understand that many local hospital markets are dominated by a few institutions and that patients and insurance buyers need more competition among providers to keep costs under control.
It is something of a surprise that it popped up this way, but the establishment
challenge to Health 2.0 was going to start somewhere. And it appears to have started with two big states, New York & California ordering 13 companies to stop Gene Testing.
Karen Nickel, from the California Department of Public Health, argues that these companies are “operating without a clinical laboratory license in California. The genetic tests have not been validated for clinical utility and accuracy.”
But as those companies are outsourcing the testing anyway, that argument barely holds water. Here’s what Navigenics CEO Mari Baker said“Navigenics uses a doctor to transit orders and review results, and it relies on a state-certified lab testing company to do the gene tests.”
So what this really is about, of course, is who has the right to order a test? Is it you or do you have to go through a doctor? Or put another way, is it your DNA or is it the state’s?