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UPMC’s Rasu Shrestha on Consumer Health in ‘Big’ Healthcare

The phrase ‘consumer health’ doesn’t mean what it used to. And, when you really think about it, neither does the word ‘consumer.’ We’ve changed. Wielding the power of our smart phones, wearable devices, and proximity to CVS Minute Clinics – and armed with expectations of near-instant gratification thanks to the Amazons and Ubers of the world – we’re more demanding, exacting and impatient of the health system than ever before.

As all of this starts to change demand, supply, and (fingers crossed) our entire industry, it’s tempting to focus on what the new guys are doing. I’m as guilty as any for being fixated on the doings of the big tech companies and sexy little startups that are coming into our space. But, the reality is that the greatest amount of change will have to come from those stalwarts of the ‘healthcare establishment’ – the health systems and the payers that ARE the system in and of itself.

So, how are they thinking about the consumerization of healthcare? What does it mean to ‘empower consumers’ when your organization is bearing the risk associated with caring for their lives? Lucky for us, Dr. Rasu Shrestha, Chief Innovation Officer of health-system/payer-system giant UPMC can break it down.

Warning: This interview is long and heady, but, man, is it ever worth it. Rasu talks about the macroeconomics of shifting risk from insurers to providers and consumers, business model implications for all players involved, and how the ‘free the data’ movement feeds into all this. Last but not least, he talks about the kinds of startups he’s hoping will help payers and providers usher in this new consumer-driven era.

If you’re doing any kind of business in healthcare today, you’ll want to give this a listen. And, if Rasu wants to add another doctorate to his name, this interview analyzing ‘the macroeconomics and shifting risk environment of the consumerization of healthcare’ might be the start of his dissertation. We’ll look for our @wtf_health footnote.

Get a glimpse of the future of healthcare by meeting the people who are going to change it. Find more WTF Health interviews here or check out www.wtf.health. Filmed at the Bayer G4A Accelerator Launch in NYC, May 2018.

The UPMC-Highmark Brawl Spills Into Philadelphia’s Backyard

The UPMC/Highmark rivalry continues to open new fronts in Pennsylvania. Highmark’s response to UPMC is differentiated in two ways: first, Highmark is using a coalition-building strategy and, second, it is controlling its exposure to big in-patient assets; in contrast, UPMC is building an integrated, single-brand system and happily taking over hospitals (and building more) along the way. When UPMC and Highmark make major investments in a region, local systems will be caught in the capex arms and feel the pressure to affiliate. Credibly threatening to respond in kind may defuse the arms race. But unaffiliated systems may struggle to find partners willing to bankroll a battle with both Highmark and UPMC, leaving no option for unaligned systems than to pick sides. Philadelphia systems – so far largely neutral to Highmark vs. UPMC – should be able to stay neutral as the fight develops in their western backyard. If the battle moves into northeastern Pennsylvania or jumps into south Jersey, however, the Philadelphia systems will have to develop a response.

The competitive rivalry between Highmark and UPMC is truly epic. Long ago – when Highmark largely focused on insurance and UPMC largely focused on care delivery — they were good partners in the Pittsburgh market. But as each has become more vertically integrated – with Highmark acquiring the West Penn Allegheny system and UPMC’s health plan buisness growing – they have since become bitter rivals. The competition has expanded out of Western Pennsylvania and into the rest of the state. 

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Big Data in Healthcare: Good or Evil? Depends on the Dollars

flying cadeuciiAn organization’s “business model” means: How does it make a living? What revenue streams sustain it? How it does that makes all the difference in the world.

Saturday, Natasha Singer wrote in the New York Times about health plans and healthcare providers using “big data,” including your shopping patterns, car ownership and Internet usage, to segment their markets.

The beginning of the article featured the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) using “predictive health analytics” to target people who would benefit the most from intervention so that they would not need expensive emergency services and surgery. The later part of the article mentioned organizations that used big data to find their best customers among the worried well and get them in for more tests and procedures. The article quoted experts fretting that this would just lead to more unnecessary and unhelpful care just to fatten the providers’ bottom lines.

The article missed the real news here: Why is one organization (UPMC) using big data so that people end up using fewer expensive healthcare resources, while others use it to get people to use more healthcare, even if they don’t really need it?

Because they are paid differently. They have different business models.

UPMC is an integrated system with its own insurance arm covering 2.4 million people. As a system it has largely found a way out of the fee-for-service model. It has a healthier bottom line if its customers are healthier and so need fewer acute and emergency services. The other organizations are fee-for-service. Getting people in for more tests and biopsies is a revenue stream. For UPMC it would just be a cost.

The evil here is not using predictive modeling to segment the market. The evil here is the fee-for-service system that rewards waste and profiteering in medicine.

Health Care Innovations Hiding in Plain Sight

While the nation has been focused on the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, innovations in hospitals and physician practices far from Capitol Hill have been triggering an historic transformation of our health care system. Propelled by a mix of urgency and vision, innovators at hospitals, physician groups and companies are remaking American health care by demonstrating that more effective and affordable care is achievable quite apart from statutory changes in Washington.

These organizations are working to achieve the Triple Aim: improve the health of the population; enhance the patient experience of care (including quality, access, and reliability); and reduce, or at least control, the per capita cost of care. This approach, developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, is a sharp break with the traditional focus on single encounters with patients within the strict walls of health care delivery, typically addressing only the most immediate problems.
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Friday Funny: Health care meets Jerry Springer – (in Pittsburgh!)

I know that secretly you’re all bored of this Supreme Court nonsense, and want to get back to the real business of health care, which is often the ongoing war between regional insurers and regional health systems. And the war in Pittsburgh between Highmark and UPMC has been as fierce as anywhere. But it’s been lacking in the kind of juice that makes for a good Friday afternoon scandal. Until now.

Last Sunday Highmark CEO Ken Melani got arrested. (This is a real arrest not one of the fake kind featured in last Friday’s funny). Melani’s mistress  was some 25 years younger than him and had been working for him at Highmark. That then progressed to her moving in with him. But after an argument with Melani last Sunday she went back to her husband’s place. Melani went around there and apparently accused her of only wanting him for his money –he was on about $4.5m a year–and ended up in a fist fight with her husband. Apparently his mistress wasn’t leaving him for good and wasn’t intending to get back with her husband, but one policeman apparently heard Melani say that he’d have killed both of them if the police hadn’t stopped him.  Either way it’s juicy stuff for health care.

Highmark  is in the process of buying  the only non-UPMC chain in Pittsburgh, West Penn Allegheny, and is still trying to get to a contract with UPMC that keeps it playing in the town–which UPMC of course dominates. Melani is now on unpaid leave and presumably not coming back any time soon, while as of today Highmark Chairman Robert Baum has taken the reins.

This may end up meaning nothing in the ongoing UPMC/Highmark battle, but I do sit here musing that the only way this would have been better for the Friday Funny is if the mistress in question had been UPMC’s CEO Jeffrey Romoff’s wife–who herself is some 30 years younger than Romoff and happens to be wife number 4. But as the Rolling Stones say, you can’t get everything you want!

When Will UPMC Explain the Whole Story?

The UPMC kidney transplant story continues to develop.  This was the one where a doctor and nurse were disciplined in a matter that clearly reflected some systemic problems, more than personnel problems regarding those two people.

Now UPI reports:

A report by a federal agency on a kidney transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center suggests more problems than the hospital has acknowledged.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said its investigation found the nephrologist should have been aware the kidney donor was infected with hepatitis C, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday. The hospital has suspended the lead surgeon and the transplant coordinator.

The CMS report said the test results were available for two months in the donor’s medical record. But none of the doctors and nurses apparently reviewed the record, and the kidney was transplanted into a man who was not infected with the virus.

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