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Why Is the USA Only the 35th Healthiest Country in the World?

By ETIENNE DEFFARGES

According the 2019 Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, the U.S. ranks 35th out of 169 countries. Even though we are the 11th wealthiest country in the world, we are behind pretty much all developed economies in terms of health. In the Americas, not just Canada (16th) but also Cuba (30th), Chile and Costa Rica (tied for 33rd) rank ahead of us in this Bloomberg study.

To answer this layered question, we need to look at the top ranked countries in the Bloomberg Index: From first to 12th, they are Spain; Italy; Iceland; Japan; Switzerland; Sweden; Australia; Singapore; Norway; Israel; Luxembourg; and France. What are they doing right that the U.S. isn’t? In a nutshell, they embrace half a dozen critical economic and societal traits that are absent in the U.S.:

·     Universal health care

·     Better diet: fresh ingredients and less packaged and processed food

·     Strict regulations limiting opioid prescriptions

·     Lower levels of economic inequality

·     Severe and effective gun control laws

·     Increased attention when driving

When it comes to access to health care, the 34 countries that are ahead of the U.S. in the Bloomberg health rankings all offer universal health care to their people. This means that preventive, primary and acute care is available to 100% of the population. In contrast, 25 – 30 million Americans do not have health care insurance, and an equal number are under insured. For 15 – 18% of our population, financial concerns about how to pay for a visit to the doctor, how to meet high insurance deductibles, or cash payments after insurance take precedence over taking care of their health. Lack of preventive care leads to visits to the emergency rooms for ailments that could have been prevented through regular primary care follow-up, at a very high cost to our health system. Note: We spent $10,700 per capita in health care in 2017, more than three as much as Spain ($3,200) and Italy ($3,400). Many Americans postpone important medical operations for years, until they reach 65 years of age, when they finally qualify for universal health care or Medicare. Lack of prevention and primary care, health interventions postponed, and the constant worry that medical costs might bankrupt one’s family: none of this is conducive to healthy lives.

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Financial Toxicity is Hurting my Cancer Patients

By LEILA ALI-AKBARIAN MD, MPH

As news of Tom Brokaw’s cancer diagnosis spreads, so does his revelation that his cancer treatments cost nearly $10,000 per day. In spite of this devastating diagnosis, Mr. Brokaw is not taking his financial privilege for granted.  He is using his voice to bring attention to the millions of Americans who are unable to afford their cancer treatments.

My patient Phil is among them. At a recent appointment, Phil mentioned that his wife has asked for divorce. When I inquired, he revealed a situation so common in oncology, we have a name for it: Financial Toxicity.  This occurs when the burden of medical costs becomes so high, it worsens health and increases distress.  

Phil, at the age of 53, suffers with the same type of bone cancer as Mr. Brokaw.  Phil had to stop working because of treatments and increasing pain. His wife’s full time job was barely enough to support them. Even with health insurance, the medical bills were mounting. Many plans require co-pays of 20 percent or more of total costs, leading to insurmountable patient debt.  Phil’s wife began to panic about their future and her debt inheritance. In spite of loving her husband, divorce has felt like the only solution to avoiding financial devastation. 

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Six Health-Focused Fixes for SNAP

By CHRISTINA BADARACCO

The $867 billion Farm Bill squeaked through our polarized Congress at the end of last year, though it was nearly derailed by arguments over work requirements for SNAP recipients. That debate was tabled after the USDA crafted a compromise, but it is sure to continue at the state level and in the next round of debates. While Republicans tend to favor work requirements and Democrats tend to oppose them, here’s something both sides can agree on: SNAP should help Americans eat healthy food.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamps—provides financial resources to buy food and nutrition education to some 40 million low-income Americans. Costing taxpayers almost $80 billion per year, the program serves Americans across the spectrum of ages, ethnicities, and zip codes. Simultaneously, we reached a deficit of almost $800 billion in 2018. So how can we ensure this at-risk population of Americans can access nutritious food and better health outcomes within the confines of our current resources?

Studies have proven time and again how participation in SNAP reduces rates of poverty and food insecurity. And the program has improved substantially in recent years, with recipients now using debit-style cards to buy groceries and receiving increased benefits at thousands of farmers markets across the country.

Despite these clear benefits, SNAP dollars often don’t support healthy diets. In fact, a 2015 study determined that SNAP participants had poorer diets, with more empty calories and less fresh produce, than income-eligible non-participants. In 2017, another study found that participants have an increased risk of death due to diet-related disease than non-participants. The authors reported that the discrepancy might be partly caused by individuals who think they have high risk of poor health and/or struggle to pay medical bills are more likely to put in the effort to enroll in and redeem SNAP benefits. A recent survey of Americans across the country showed that foods purchased using SNAP benefits were higher in calories and unhealthy components, like processed meat and sweeteners, than those purchased by non-participants of the same income level.

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The Next Frontier: Clinically Driven, Employer-Customized Care

Health systems and employers are bypassing insurers to deliver higher-quality, more affordable care

By MICHAEL J. ALKIRE

Employee health plan premiums are rising along with the total healthcare spending tab, spurring employers to rethink their benefits design strategy. Footing the tab, employers are becoming a more active and forceful driver in managing wellness, seeking healthcare partners that can keep their workforce healthy through affordable, convenient care.

Likewise, as health systems assume accountability for the health of their communities, a market has been born that is ripe for new partnerships between local health systems and national employers in their community to resourcefully and effectively manage wellness and overall healthcare costs. Together, they are bypassing traditional third-party payers to pursue a new type of healthcare financing and delivery model.

While just 3 percent of self-insured employers are contracting directly with health systems today, dodging third parties to redesign employee benefit and care plans is becoming increasingly popular. AdventHealth in Florida announced a partnership with Disney in 2018 to provide health benefits to Disney employees at a lower cost in exchange for taking on some risk, and Henry Ford Health System has a multi-year, risk-based contract with General Motors.

The notion of bypassing payers is attractive for employers, especially on the back of consecutive cost increases they and their employees have swallowed over the last several years. Payers have traditionally offered employers rigid, fee-for-service plans that not only provide little room for customization, but often exacerbate issues with care coordination and lead to suboptimal health outcomes for both employees and their families. Adding to this frustration for employers is the need to manage complex benefits packages and their corresponding administrative burdens.

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Patients Win When Payers and Providers Speak the Same Language

By CECI CONNOLLY

Discouraging headlines remind us daily of the ugly battles between payers and providers. Fighting for their slice of the $3.5 trillion health care pie, these companies often seem to leave the consumer out of the equation.  But it is not the case across the board. Our latest research documents that when doctors and health plans drop their guards, align incentives and focus on the mutual goal of delivering the best possible care, patients win.

For example, when SelectHealth in Utah partnered with obstetricians and refused to pay for medically unnecessary — often  dangerous — early inductions of labor, procedure rates dropped from 28% to zero, leading to shorter labors, fewer C-sections and $2.5 million in annual savings for all. When Kaiser Foundation Health Plan execs collaborated with Permanente doctors around opioid safety, prescriptions for the often-deadly drugs dropped 40%. And, when Security Health Plan in Wisconsin enlisted physicians and surgeons to develop a new outpatient surgery and rehab center, health outcomes improved; patient satisfaction jumped to 98%; and they saved $4.7 million in the first two years.

These productive partnerships occur in multiple communities across the nation as illustrated in in “Accelerating Adoption of Evidence-Based Care: Payer-Provider Partnerships,” a new report by the Alliance of Community Health Plans. With funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), the 18-month project uncovered five best practices in effective collaboration for health plans:

  1. Build consensus and commitment to change;
  2. Create a team that includes the necessary skill sets, perspectives and staff roles;
  3. Customize education, tools and access to specialized knowledge that the audience needs;
  4. Share timely and accurate data and feedback in a culture of transparency, accountability and healthy competition; and
  5. Align financial investments with clinical and patient experience goals.

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THCB Spotlights: Lightbeam Health Solutions

By ZOYA KHAN

Today, THCB is spotlighting Lightbeam Health Solutions. Lightbeam is an end-to-end population health management solution, which means they build everything from the ground up (i.e. no acquisitions or 3rd party interfaces are used). “Interface to innovation” as Jorge Miranda, CRO of Lightbeam, states, allows Lightbeam to build a health system’s value-based contracts relatively quickly. Their main focus is to generate data insights for ACOs and other provider systems, to engage care teams in the coordination of patient care. This is Lightbeam’s 6th year in the health care field, and with 100 customers and over 20 million patients in their enterprise data warehouse (EDW), they have no signs of slowing down.

Lightbeam has 4 main focuses: data ingestion, data insights, the engagement of the team with the data gathered, and the patient outcomes that result from that data. Lightbeam seeks to use their insights to empower care teams by giving the information back to the caregivers, physicians, and patients. According to them, this creates more transparency in the entire process as well as allows the patient and caregivers to play an active role in their health care process.

The ultimate value that clients (health systems or providers) receive from Lightbeam’s system is cutting costs and improving quality. Lightbeam does this by monitoring engagement numbers and patient outcomes based on the data and insights they gathered, ensuring costs savings for clients as well as an effective approach to cutting the high cost of care today. Lightbeam’s ultimate goal is to replace a manual process that is currently being done by multiple people and using multiple resources, to refocus the target on improving care for everyone involved in the health care system.

Zoya Khan is the Editor-in-Chief of THCB as well as an Associate at SMACK.health, a health-tech advisory service for early-stage startups.

Death by 1000 Clicks Redux

By MARK BRAUNSTEIN, MD

Back in the ‘stone ages’ when I (an MIT grad) was an intern, I was called at 4 AM to see someone else’s gravely ill patient because her IV had infiltrated.  I started a new one and drew some blood work to check on her status.  When the results came back (on paper) I (manually) calculated her anion gap.  This is simple arithmetic but I had been up all night and didn’t do it right.

She died. 

On morning rounds the attending assured me that there was nothing I could have done anyway but, of course, in other circumstances it could have made a difference and an EHR could have easily done this calculation and brought the problematic result to my attention.  My passion for EHRs and FHIR apps to improve them really traces back to this patient episode I will never forget.

My criticism of the recent Kaiser Health News and Fortune article Death by 1000 Clicks is generally not about what it says but what it doesn’t say and its tone.

The article emphasizes the undeniable fact that EHRs cause new sources of medical error that can damage patients. It devotes a lot of ink to documenting some of these in dramatic terms. Yes, with hundreds of vendors out there, the quality of EHR software is highly variable. Among the major weaknesses of some EHRs are awkward user interfaces that can lead to errors. In fact, one of the highlights of my health informatics course is a demonstration of this by a physician whose patient died at least in part as a result of a poor EHR presentation of lab test results.

However, the article fails to pay equal attention to the ways EHRs can, if properly used, help prevent errors. It briefly mentions that around a 60% majority of physicians using EHRs feel that they improve quality. The reasons quality is improved deserved more attention. The article also fails to discuss some of the new, exciting technologies to improve EHR usability through innovative third party apps and he real progress being made in data sharing including patient access to their digital records.

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Changing the Way You Care: The Coming 5G Revolution

SPONSORED POST

By VERIZON WIRELESS TEAM

You might not know it yet, but there’s a revolution coming to healthcare.

While digitization has driven innovation across the healthcare sector, the advent of 5G is set to spark a fourth industrial revolution.

3G and 4G networks enabled large-scale change and rapid modernization. However, 5G delivers what these networks could not: blazing speeds and ultra-low latencies that permit enormous data transfers between devices in near-real time. That means that technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality will be capable of transforming the industry as we know it.

Whether it’s strengthening telemedicine connections, implementing new teaching methods at medical school, or connecting large hospitals and clinics, see how 5G-powered technologies will open the door for innovation in healthcare.

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XX Marks the Spot: Why Did Women Tech Experts Rule at DC Health Data Confab?

By MICHAEL L. MILLENSON

Three government experts on a health tech conference panel discuss the urgency of releasing actionable data; all are women. A more senior official, another woman, gives a TED-style talk making the same case. And a four-person, private-sector panel debates privacy and ethics; three of the four are female.

Health Datapalooza, a conference begun with government sponsorship a decade ago, proclaims its goal as “data liberación” – freeing health data from deep within federal agencies and giving it to patients and entrepreneurs. But in 2019, women’s “liberación” seems to have become an unspoken sub-theme.

Interestingly, while women’s status in tech was the focus of a plenary panel on diversity and inclusion, the panelists seemed oblivious to the robust participation of women in their own meeting.

To put some data behind my subjective impressions, I went back and examined the list of speakers, who came from a wide range of organizations and included individual patient activists. I counted 89 men and 99 women. Liberación, indeed.

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Surveyor Health demystifies clinical pharmacy

By MATTHEW HOLT

In some interesting news this week, Inland Empire Health plan (IEHP), a major Medicaid health insurer in southern California with about 1.2 million members, and its contractor Preveon Health announced that they were “extending a pilot” with Surveyor Health, for their MedRiskMaps product.

This is interesting for a bunch of reasons. First it’s a good example of how technology is now being applied to help with the almost absurd complexity of modern medicine–complexity that technology has both added to and may yet cure. Secondly, Surveyor Health has been building its technology for several years and (FD) I’ve been advising them off and on since 2009 and know the principals well. Thirdly, and this is mostly for grins, it represents some of the absurd language used to describe our crazy health care system.

What does the tech do? Surveyor Health’s technology is very complex optimization technology that examines the incredible number of symptoms and interactions undergone by patients taking multiple medications. As you know most chronically ill patients are on upwards of half a dozen medications and some are on many more. The more medications, the more the potential for serious and sometimes fatal drug-drug interactions, side effects and more. You only have to think of the litany of celebrity drug deaths (Michael Jackson, Prince, Anna Nicole Smith, Health Ledger, Tom Petty, to name a few) to understand the seriousness of the issue. Erick von Schweber, a real theoretical physicist and CEO of Surveyor Health tells me that when you get above 11 drugs the calculations involved are more complex than what Google has to do to index the web. (And yes, he now is allowing me to call it AI!)

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