In any economic disaster, the largest, best-financed organizations have a natural advantage over smaller, cash-strapped organizations. The bigger entities have a greater ability to withstand economic downturns, while the small ones can quickly go out of business because they lack the financial reserves needed to tide them over.
In the roughly 2 ½ months since the COVID-19 pandemic began sinking its hooks into America, the pertinence of this business axiom has been amply illustrated. Small companies across the country are desperate to reopen so they can survive, while many large corporations are seeing their stock prices soar. Most healthcare systems are not for profit, so they don’t issue stock; yet bigger hospitals are not suffering as much financially as smaller and rural hospitals are. Even though the large hospitals’ losses from elective surgery bans have been higher, they have much deeper reserves and greater access to bank lines of credit.
Physician practices have been hit disproportionately by the pandemic. Most practices have switched to telemedicine visits as patients have shunned in-person encounters and the offices have tried to protect their staffs. But the revenue from virtual encounters has not come close to making up for the loss of revenues from office visits that, in many cases, include lab tests and/or minor procedures.
The COVID crisis has shown us clearly that major portions of the American care system are extremely dysfunctional and some are now badly broken. We need to put in place a cash flow for American health care that can help our care sites survive and ultimately thrive, and we need to put that approach to save the sites in place now because a vast majority of hospitals and medical practices are badly damaged and some are financially crippled and even destroyed by their response to the crisis.
We have learned a lot in the COVID crisis that we need to use now in building our next steps and our collective response to the crisis.
The COVID crisis has shown us all that our care sites do not have good patient data, do not have good patient linkages, usually do not have team care of any kind in place, and most are so dependent on current piecework fee volumes from patients that they quickly collapse financially when that volume is interrupted.
We should be on the cusp of a golden age of care delivery that uses all of the best patient support tools to deliver continuously improved care — and we now know that the piecework way we buy almost all of our care today will keep that golden age from happening for the vast majority of American patients for the foreseeable future until we change the way we buy care.
We need to buy care in a way that both requires the use of those tools and rewards caregivers and care teams when they use them.
We need a dependable cash flow for care to anchor that process.
We are unlike most of the rest of the industrialized world in not having a dependable cash flow now to buy care. We rely on a hodgepodge and mishmash of unlinked, unaligned and uncoordinated payment sources now and that lack of coordination in payment creates a vast and damaging lack of coordination in the delivery of care.
We can make a huge improvement in that entire process and we can give our health care system a stable and functionally useful future cash flow by becoming a much more highly skilled purchaser of coverage and care. We need a flow of money to make that happen.
We actually can create that flow relatively quickly and fairly easily by imposing a payroll tax on every employee that exactly copies the approach we use now for our Social Security payroll tax process and then using that money in a health care purchasing pool to buy health coverage for every person who is not on Medicaid.
Is the beginning of the end in sight? Perhaps. After much stress and strain, many experts believe we’re seeing early signs of a COVID-19 plateau in some states and cities. Everything could change tomorrow, but healthcare leaders should be preparing now to reopen their shuttered operating rooms and get back to business.
When restrictions loosen, lost days and weeks could have dire implications for health systems already weakened by months of deferred and canceled elective procedures. These surgeries — joint replacements, tumor biopsies, gallbladder removals, and cosmetic procedures, for instance — underpin the economics of hospitals and physician groups. Delay some of these surgeries for too long and patient care can also suffer. Essential? Absolutely.
Unfortunately, healthcare leaders will be reopening their doors to a world unlike anything they’ve seen before. Aren’t we all seeing our personal health through a new lens?
“This pandemic highlights why we need that free flow of healthcare data. So that we can make better decisions sooner.”
In the way that Covid-19 has proven the utility of telehealth as a means for health systems to reach their patients, has the pandemic also become the final argument for healthcare data interoperability? Has this pandemic been the worst case scenario we needed to make our best ‘case-in-point’ for why U.S. healthcare needs a national health data infrastructure that makes it possible for hospitals to share information with one another and government health organizations?
Interoperability advocates have been clamoring for this for years, but Dan Burton, CEO of data-and-analytics health tech company, Health Catalyst, says this public health crisis has likely created an inflection point in the interoperability argument.
By POOJA RAO, TARUN RAJ, BHARGAVA REDDY, MANOJ TLD, and PREETHAM SRINIVAS
In March 2020, we re-purposed our chest X-ray AI tool, qXR, to detect signs of COVID-19. We validated it on a test set of 11479 CXRs with 515 PCR-confirmed COVID-19 positives. The algorithm performs at an AUC of 0.9 (95% CI : 0.88 – 0.92) on this test set. At our most common operating threshold for this version, sensitivity is 0.912 (95% CI : 0.88 – 0.93) and specificity is 0.775 (95% CI : 0.77 – 0.78). qXR for COVID-19 is used at over 28 sites across the world to triage suspected patients with COVID-19 and to monitor the progress of infection in patients admitted to hospital
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused a great deal of disruption around the world. Healthcare systems are overwhelmed as we speak, in the face of WHO guidance to ‘test, test, test’ . Many countries are facing a severe shortage of Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests. There has been a lot of debate around the role of radiology — both chest X-rays (CXRs) and chest CT scans — as an alternative or supplement to RT-PCR in triage and diagnosis. Opinions on the subject range from ‘Radiology is fundamental in this process’  to ‘framing CT as pivotal for COVID-19 diagnosis is a distraction during a pandemic, and possibly dangerous’ .
Caution: This post is not a prediction. It’s just a tutorial about the concept of herd immunity, with an eye to why it’s probably not an approach the US wants to take in solving the complex problems we’ve gotten ourselves into with COVID-19.
Click this graphic to go see a six second animation of these images, created in 2017 by Reddit user TheOtherEdmund. You many need to watch a few times. Get a feel for the differences in what happens in the different blocks, and come back to discuss:
This weekend I’ve labored to understand this concept, which first came to my ears regarding coronavirus in March, when British prime minister Boris Johnson proposed it as a possible approach for Britain to take: let the virus take its course, and they’d end up with “herd immunity,” and that would be the end of that.
In my unsophisticated knowledge “herd immunity” meant “you let the weak cows die, and the rest of the herd will be fine.” And in fact in April a Tennessee protestor held up a sign saying “Sacrifice the Weak – Reopen TN.” (It’s not clear whether the sign was mocking or real (Snopes), but it illustrates the point.)
“I think that the baseline platform of telehealth adoption created a whole springboard opportunity for the plethora of digital health companies that are out there eager to get into the space and grow their businesses. I think the industry as a whole now is a whole lot more receptive to looking at things like that then they were eight weeks ago.”
Among those in the industry very open to digital health, digital therapeutics, precision medicine, and virtual care solutions in this time of covid19 is GuideWell, which counts Florida Blue and four other healthcare businesses among its subsidiaries.
The national healthcare company is looking to bring together health tech startups around five different kinds of healthcare challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic via its Covid-19 Innovation Collaborative. With the application deadline set for Friday, May 8, we caught up with GuideWell Innovation’s Executive Director, Kirstie McCool, about the details behind the unique model for the Collaborative, its non-dilutive funding awards, and what happens to the startups that are selected to participate. (Hello, other Blues plans!)
If the Collaborative’s areas of focus aren’t enough to clue you in on where the healthcare giant is interested in rounding out its own array of services as a payer, provider, and innovator, we asked Kirstie point-blank to tell us what she thinks is next in terms of supporting the traditional healthcare system with outside-in innovation. Tune in around the 15:20 mark for that part of the conversation, and a final word-to-the-wise for any startup looking to work with a large healthcare enterprise.
Everyone has an opinion on whether and when we should open
the country. Never in the history of America have we had so many “correct”
theories and experts to pontificate on a new pandemic. But somehow, few seem to
recall history or attempt to learn from it.
Over a century ago, almost 100 million people out of a world population of 1.8 billion lost their lives to the so-called “Spanish Flu”. At 8.5 million casualties, the death toll from World War I pales in comparison. In the US alone, we lost over 675,000 people in one year to this pandemic. In fact, we lost more people to the 1918 flu than to World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. It was estimated that 5-10% of young adults had died. Nothing has ever come close in devastating the world’s population.
In early 1918, Dr. Miner from Haskell County in Kansas encountered several patients with a severe form of the flu that faded away by March 1918. He was concerned enough to report his observations to the US public health services, who published his concerns but then ignored the issue; there were more pressing problems facing the world, namely World War I. But in Camp Funston, a military complex, soldiers were faced with such cold weather and inadequate clothing that 7,000 of them suffered from the flu and nearly 100 died. Still, these warning signs didn’t seem alarming enough to prevent 1.5 million soldiers from crossing the ocean and going to war in Europe.
A number of politically tinged narratives have
divided physicians during the pandemic. It would be unfortunate if politics
obscured the major problem brought into stark relief by the pandemic: a system
that marginalizes physicians and strips them of agency.
In practices big and small, hospital-employed
or private practice, nursing homes or hospitals, there are serious issues
raising their heads for doctors and their patients.
No masks for you
When I walked into my office Thursday, March 12th, I assembled the office staff for the first time to talk about COVID. The prior weekend had been awash with scenes of mayhem in Italy, and I had come away with the dawning realization that my wishful thinking on the virus from Wuhan skipping us was dead wrong. The US focus had been on travel from China and other Far East hotspots. There was no such limitation on travel from Europe. The virus had clearly seeded Italy and possibly other parts of Europe heavily, and now the US was faced with the very real possibility that there was significant community spread that had occurred from travelers from Europe and Italy over the last month. I had assumed that seeing no cases in our hospitals and ICUs by early March meant the virus had been contained in China. That was clearly not the case.
Our testing apparatus had also largely been limited in the US to symptomatic patients who had been to high-risk countries. If Europe was seeded, this meant we had not been screening nearly enough people. When I heard the first few cases pop up in my county, it was clear the jig was up. It was pandemic panic mode time. There was a chance that there were thousands of cases in the community we didn’t know about and that we were weeks away from the die-off happening in hospitals in China and Italy. So what I told the staff the morning of March 12th was that we needed to start acting now as if there was significant spread of COVID in the community. This meant canceling clinic visits for all but urgent patients, wearing masks, trying to buy masks, attention to hand hygiene, cleaning rooms between patients, screening everyone for flu-like symptoms before coming to the office, and moving to a skeleton staff in the office. I left the office that day wearing a mask as I headed to the ER.
As more people die every day from COVID-19 (we
were edging towards 20,000 casualties in the U.S. at the time this article was
written), the answers to what a cure could look like are waiting to be
discovered in EMRs and patients’ homes. We have the technology and business
models to turn this data into insights, but we are stalling… What seems to be the problem?
First this. It’s time to end the illusion that
patients do not pay for healthcare. Whether it is out of pocket, paycheck, or
taxes, U.S. citizens pay for 100% of the healthcare spend. It is indeed their healthcare. It follows logically
from this that patients should be allowed and empowered to lower the cost and
increase the quality of the care they receive. Receiving access to their own
medical records is one important way to accomplish this.
In 2017, when I asked the World Economic Forum
if there is a study on the cost of lack of interoperability in healthcare they
said – “That’s a good idea.”