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Friday
Sep122014

Should We Expect Healthcare Providers to Plot Their Own Demise?

The Triple Aim of improving quality, improving patient care and reducing costs is a noble mission, but can we expect the current vendors of medical services to take the lead in reducing costs?

There is so much to debate in healthcare regarding where to focus reform efforts. Many will look at the high costs of caring for chronically ill patients and conclude that that the segment that accounts for the greatest share of expenditures must surely be the target for cost savings and disruption.  It’s difficult to argue against the need to continually improve how we care for the acutely and chronically ill. However, to use one analogy, we can’t continue to get better at putting out fires once they are in full burn without equal or greater efforts devoted to preventing fires. For the population as a whole, the benefits of prevention far outweigh the benefits of incremental improvements in managing chaos.

Given that hospitals and physician practices exist to perform medical interventions, how can we expect these organizations to lead the efforts in reducing demand for their services by promoting wellness and patient education programs?  We can’t. The same logic applies to patient engagement. How can we expect provider organizations to lead efforts that ultimately will reduce the demand for medical services? We can’t. Instead, we have patient engagement programs that predominantly target medication adherence.

Granted, there are attempts at creating patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations (ACOs) that have incentives to better coordinate care and attempt to reduce duplication of tests, overtreatment and medical errors, all things that should help reduce overall costs. But, it would take some pretty massive incentives to ask physician practices to become public health promotion centers. In fact, the pendulum is moving away from primary care physicians’ offering even basic preventive health services. One data point to support my statement: vaccinations are moving from primary care facilities to pharmacies. One anecdote: my mother’s primary care physician effectively refused to give her a shingles vaccine on two occasions, saying she’d be better off getting it at CVS. My mother interpreted the doctor’s comment and attitude to mean that the vaccine isn’t medically important, even though the doctor more likely was trying to save my mother some money (CVS charges less than $100;  the doctor’s administrative staff could only say that depending on her insurance, the cost to her could be as high as $300).

So, if we want to make a serious dent in the level of health care expenditures in the US, we’re going to have to bolster our public health efforts and educate and engage the greater population on how to adopt behaviors that help maintain health and avoid disease. Harvard School of Public Health received a gift of $350 million this week. That’s an encouraging sign. To quote the benefactor, Hong Kong billionaire Gerald Chan, “While medical doctors give health benefits to individual patients, public health is a field that helps to give benefit to the whole population”. [1]

While we still need better one-on-one communication between physicians and patients, we can’t expect a meaningful reduction in healthcare expenditures until we reduce the demand for medical services. And, we shouldn’t expect the providers of those services to lead the efforts to reduce demand.

 


[1] Source: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/09/07/harvard-school-public-health-gets-largest-gift-university-history/YixNC3xkBfMtg3mrSmE6zJ/story.html See also: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/9/8/chan-gift-public-health/

Friday
May092014

Big Data in Healthcare and Life Sciences Reports

Three new reports on the future of Big Data in healthcare, life sciences, and urban planning (Connected Cities) are available from the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC). 

I am pleased to have worked with MassTLC to produce the healthcare and life sciences reports. The reports resulted from a Delphi process that included one-on-one interviews with leading thinkers and practitioners in each field followed by an onsite roundtable meeting. The insights from the academics, researchers, industry leaders, investors, and policymakers are eye-opening and offer a balanced view on the challenges and opportunities involved in applying big data methods and tools to life sciences research and healthcare delivery. 

The reports are available for free download from the MassTLC site

Saturday
Mar012014

Post-HIMSS Interview with NaviNet

2014 NAVINET EXPERT INTERVIEW SERIES

Laura McCaughey’s Interview with Janice McCallum on 2014 Outlook for Health Insurance Exchanges, Health Start-ups, and Need for Price Transparency Tools

Janice McCallum, Managing Director of Health Content Advisors, is a leading blogger and contributor to healthcare IT conversations on social media. Last night, Janice graciously spent time with us after Hillary Clinton’s HIMSS14 keynote address to discuss what surprised her in 2013, her thoughts about the progress of health insurances exchanges (HIX) to date, the most interesting start-ups she’s seen in the past few months, and what applications she expects to have the biggest influence on healthcare in 2014.

(1) What event/nonevent or trend surprised you the most last year?
I’ve lived through several periods of rapid change where digital technology radically improved access to information and transformed how we purchase goods and services. So, it’s not easy to surprise me; I’ve seen a lot!

But, to answer your question, I’d have to single out the problems with the Massachusetts Health Connector as it transitioned to an ACA-compliant health exchange last fall as the biggest surprise. The HealthCare.gov problems didn’t surprise me as much, since I had an inkling of how complex the set of data extraction and matching algorithms had to be. However, within Massachusetts (my home state), where we had ample experience with an existing insurance marketplace that we call the “Connector,” it took me by surprise that the transition to the ACA HIX was—and still is—such a disaster. Perhaps it was due to overconfidence, or more likely, it was due to the fact that Mass chose the same IT contractor as the federal government used for the launch of Healthcare.gov: CGI Federal. I don’t place the entire blame for early problems with the Healthcare.gov site on CGI’s shoulders, but it does appear that they had insufficient resources to complete either job on time. Overall, I’d say there’s plenty of blame to go around, but for now the focus has to be on moving forward and fixing the problems.

(2) Uncertainty and painful reality around health insurance exchanges (HIX) are keeping payers, providers, and patients up at night—and demanding a lot of problem-solving during the day. What advice would you give to health plan CIOs as they strategize to leverage technology to insulate their companies from the reality of HIX versus the model?
I can only offer high-level strategic advice, since I’m not an expert in the technology underpinnings of the exchanges. My advice is to learn from the successes and failures on HealthCare.gov and the state exchanges, adopt best practices from the successes, and avoid duplicating the mistakes made by others.

(3) You are quite active in the world of innovation. What are some of the most interesting start-ups you’ve seen in your travels over the past few months?
I see a lot of well-intentioned start-ups that aim to help patients/consumers manage their health—whether their audience consists of consumers managing chronic diseases, trying to maintain wellness, or fitness enthusiasts who want to analyze data to gain a competitive edge – or just a better understanding of the effects of exercise. However, I think it will be a couple of years before these consumer apps really take off, because it will require more connectivity between consumers, researchers, providers, and payers. More important, business models that offer benefits to consumers are needed. I’m concerned that the business model that is gaining momentum involves sending data to providers and payers who will use the data to dictate to patients/consumers what they must do to stay compliant with their health plan. Personally, I want to see a more inclusive model where motivated patients have full access to the data and their observations and analyses are taken seriously by payers and providers. At present, we don’t have an evidence base that is solid enough to jump to a model where health plans make decisions based on device data without involving the consumers, whose observations about the data could reveal insights about interactions or other factors that affect the interpretation of data.

Apart from devices and sensor data start-ups, I’d point to investments by Google Ventures for early-stage companies that merit watching. Their investments include One Medical Group, Foundation Medicine (which recently went public), InformedDNA, and About.me. On February 20, 2014, Google Ventures announced investments in two enterprise/mobile security companies—Ionic Security and ThreatStream. These applications certainly play a big role in healthcare enterprises. Also, I think Rock Health does a very good job of tracking and categorizing healthcare start-ups.

(4) What application do you expect to have the biggest influence on healthcare in 2014?
Apps that help consumers track healthcare expenses and aid in price transparency will be in demand in 2014 as high-deductible and health savings account (HSA) plans expand. Castlight Health is a player in the price transparency space and is a darling of the investment community, but it is targeted to the employer, not consumer, segment. I am more interested in tools that help consumers understand what an encounter with a provider or an episode of healthcare will cost. To really make an impact, apps will have to provide information to consumers before they make a decision to visit their general practitioner, urgent care center, a specialist, or choose some other path.

Apple’s planned Healthbook platform may be a game-changer in this space if they can go beyond consolidating data from apps and patient health records (PHRs) and connect that data with information from a consumer’s health plan. I think Intuit had planned to focus on the financial tracking aspect when they acquired Medfusion in 2010 to grow the Quicken Health Expense Tracker. But, that goal was short-lived when Intuit’s corporate strategy shifted away from the consumer market, and they sold Medfusion back to its founder.

To succeed in achieving the price transparency and out-of-pocket expense tracking objectives, these consumer application developers—Apple, HealthVault, and others—will have to collaborate with health plans in order to have access to the cost-sharing structures of each health plan. Policymakers and health plan executives keep emphasizing how important it is for consumers to make wise healthcare decisions. In 2014, I’d really like to see significant movement toward giving consumers access to information that helps them make better decisions about their health and their utilization of healthcare services.

This interview was originally published at http://www.navinet.net/blog/2014-navinet-expert-interview-series-janice-mccallum on February 27, 2014.

Saturday
Jan042014

Healthcare IT Predictions for 2014: Patient Engagement, Interoperability and the Value of Price Transparency

As 2013 comes to a close, we are excited to welcome the insights of top healthcare IT leaders in our Healthcare IT Predictions for 2014 blog series. So far we’ve heard from David Harlow, renowned healthcare lawyer, and John Lynn, prolific blogger on healthcare IT, EMR and HIPAA. Today, we welcome Janice McCallum, managing director of Health Content Advisors. Janice is a top authority on commercial applications across stakeholder groups and relevant sectors, including providers, clinicians, payers, life sciences, government and patients. At Health Content Advisors, Janice helps publishers and suppliers of healthcare information services develop effective marketing and business development strategies for reaching today’s clinicians and consumers.


1)    What healthcare IT buzzwords will move to the center of conversation in 2014?

Patient engagement will continue to be a hot topic in 2014 because of the increased role that patients are playing in nearly every aspect of their healthcare. However, there’s not much clarity on the definition of “patient engagement”. Since the Meaningful Use program is a key driver of patient engagement initiatives; and since IT infrastructure is critical to Meaningful Use implementation, patient engagement is still very much a health IT issue. I’ve said many times that providing patients with access to their data is the most important element for providers that want to engage patients. But, patient engagement is just a first step in a process to rebalance the current information asymmetry between physicians and patients.

Leonard Kish coined the phrase: “Patient Engagement is the Blockbuster Drug of the Century” last year.  I agree, but due to the range of interpretations of what it encompasses, I expect “patient engagement” to be the most overused and least understood buzzword in 2014.

2)    Jacob Reider has taken over for Farzad Mostashari as Interim National Coordinator post at the ONC; what does the industry need most from the next leader?

Given the political environment, our next National Coordinator for Health IT will need have a rare mix of health IT knowledge, political savvy and management skills. To respond to concerns from provider organizations, I would recommend that the next ONC leader have some experience within a provider organization; ideally, someone who has dealt with implementing reporting systems for early stage Meaningful Use. Better yet, I’d like to see a new ONC leader who wants to put him or herself out of a job by helping to consolidate the various quality-reporting programs within HHS and encouraging industry associations to take over the leadership function for health IT standards.

3)    What is your top prediction for Healthcare IT in 2014?

My top prediction is that the topic of price transparency will be paramount. Even though price is a business rather than an IT issue, provider IT systems need to be capable of providing reliable price estimates to patients, since an increasing number of providers require patients to pre-pay their copay portion of medical bills at check-in. We can’t expect patients to approve an unknown charge to their credit card or their bank account without some reasonable estimates of costs, although I have heard of plans by some providers to do just that! Price transparency also helps inform consumer choices about where to seek care and what care plans to choose.

4)    What initiatives do healthcare stakeholders need to prioritize in order to reach true interoperability in 2014?

I’m not even sure how to define true interoperability. Common data standards are a huge part of facilitating data interoperability. But, different stakeholder groups will continue to have different data standards, especially when the different parties include research data, clinical data, patient-reported data and sensor data. Furthermore, a big part of the health information exchange problem stems from the incomplete nature of patient records in any single institution or network, errors in patient records, and the lack of unique IDs. The solution has to involve patient review and control of his/her own records.

This post was originally published at the Orion Health Blog on December 3, 2013.

Thursday
May302013

Health Data Meaningful Updates

I’ve been so busy with guest posts and speaking engagements in the past couple of months that I’ve neglected updating my own site. I’ll try to rectify that now with condensed versions of some recent activity below.

       I.            Navinet Expert Interview Series, March 2013

Laura McCaughey and I discuss big data, population health, health IT, shared decisionmaking, the Accountable Care Act and medical cost trends, all in under 2 pages! A few outtakes:

 

Laura: What do you see as the biggest developments in HIT in the next year?

Janice: “I think the biggest developments will occur as provider organizations build upon the population health analysis that got its start with the foundation laid by the Meaningful Use framework. In particular, we’ll see more analyses of treatment plans, costs, and outcomes by segments of patients. The segmentation possibilities are almost endless. When combined with genomic data and other nontraditional types of data, they will bring us a long way toward the goal of personalized medicine.”

Laura: There’s been so much talk around big data for a variety of industries, but what does it mean for the healthcare industry?

Janice: “…to benefit from many of the existing Big Data technologies and modeling that are being used in retail, financial services, and other industries, the health care industry needs to improve the amount of collaboration at the level of sharing data sets and sharing results from previous analyses. Obviously, there are some limitations on how patient registries can be shared, but there is good progress in creating large research datasets that include de-identified patient data. In fact, the Agency for Healthcare and Quality recently released a registry of patient registries (RoPR).”

Laura: Last year you identified the accountable care organization (ACO) model as one of the major factors to shape care collaboration. How much of that has happened, and how much further do we need to go? 

Janice: “I think most ACOs have just scratched the surface in establishing a new model of providing care and involving patients in decisions about their care. It will take some time for the culture of physician-patient communication to change. Furthermore, the tools that have been available to educate and support clinicians and patients haven’t kept up with the organizational changes. In particular, patient education/patient information tools and materials are sorely lacking for patients who want to take a more active role in their health and medical care. I cringe every time I hear that patient education materials have to be prepared to meet the reading level of the “lowest common denominator” in the spectrum of patients. While I understand that some public health messages must be understandable to a very broad spectrum of the population, the same rationale doesn’t apply to all information made available to patients.”

Laura: What are some of the key components that a HIT platform needs in order to be successful in today’s changing healthcare landscape? 

Janice: “ACOs and the so-called patient-centered medical home (PCMH) concept should put a high priority on configuring their systems so that patients can both contribute information and download information from their records. This way patients can act as their own up-to-date “mobile record.” Not all patients are ready to take on this role, but that’s not a good reason to prevent those patients who are ready from improving access to information that can improve the quality of care they receive and possibly reduce the cost. The early innovators among the patient populations who actively track, update, and analyze their personal health records can serve as models for the “laggards” who will wait until the benefits become more obvious and the tools become easier to use.

Laura: The Accountable Care Act (ACA)will soon be implemented, and millions of newly insured Americans will be receiving care that did not previously. How are payers planning to handle this? 

Janice: “Apart from having designed new plans that are ready to be promoted and sold on health insurance exchanges (now called health insurance marketplaces), I can only make an educated guess on how payers are planning to handle the new populations of patients who will be insured as a result of the ACA. Note, I have a different view on how much the newly insured will increase the demand for medical services, compared with the conventional wisdom, which estimates that the previously uninsured will flood primary care physicians with pent-up need for medical care. I agree that physician practices will enroll many new patients in areas where there had been a large number of uninsured. However, I think that a large number of the newly insured patients will have so much experience managing their own care that they won’t overburden the provider organizations as much as some analysts predict. Plus, many of the insurance plans available to these populations will include significant co-pays (significant is in the eye of the beholder in this case!). With high co-pays, I predict that populations that were unable to afford insurance coverage in the past will not be able to afford most co-pays and will find ways to reduce their costs of care whenever possible by using retail clinics and other lower-cost options, such as telehealth.”

Laura: The medical cost trend has slowed considerably in the past few years. What can providers and payers do to help keep costs from rising?

Janice: “The best advice I have to keep costs from rising is to provide more information about costs to patients before they choose a course of treatment. Providing more information about the likely benefits and risks of treatment plan options under consideration to patients will also increase the patient’s level of commitment to the chosen treatment plan. Moving to this “shared decision-making” model will likely reduce costs in the short term, although that’s not a sure bet, since cost is not the only criterion that patients will consider.

As I consider the topics we’ve just discussed, it occurs to me that the most significant move that payers could make to slow the rise in costs would be to simplify health insurance plans so that costs are far more transparent. Some payers are ahead of others in offering data on costs. For instance, Aetna offers an average estimated cost by region in its Aetna Navigator tool. Although not complete, Aetna’s move in the direction of providing cost information is a step in the right direction.”

 See full interview at: http://www.navinet.net/blog/2013-navinet-expert-interview-series-janice-mccallum-health-content-advisors


     II. Making Health Data Healthier: How to Determine What’s Valuable and How to Use It

A dialogue between Geeta Nayyar, MD, MBA, Chief Medical Information Officer at AT&T, and me about managing and leveraging health data for the benefit of providers and patients.

On the topic of Meaningful Use:

Geeta: In your opinion, how does Meaningful Use help advance the value of data in medical research and clinical applications?

Janice:  “The Meaningful Use incentive program has jump-started the adoption of electronic health records and set the framework for coordinating a fragmented group of providers, health IT vendors, and analytics companies. The common sets of data to be collected, tracked, and analyzed set the stage for greater collaboration between providers/clinicians, payer organizations, medical researchers and patients.

...

Frankly, I wish the value of data standards and collaboration were so obvious that providers and payers would develop industry standards without external pressure. Since that wasn’t the case prior to the Meaningful Use program, I would say that we’ve seen great strides in enhancing the value of data available for medical and clinical applications in a short period of time.”

 

See full interview at:

http://networkingexchangeblog.att.com/enterprise-business/making-health-data-healthier/.

 

   III.            Webinar on Meaningful Use for Medical Librarians

I recently gave an hour-long webinar, Meaningful Use: A Means to an End, to the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM), New England Region.  Along with providing some context to the Meaningful Use program, the webinar focused on roles for medical librarians in implementing meaningful use programs, especially elements that relate to patient engagement, quality measures, and clinical decision support.

Please contact me (janice@healthcontentadvisors.com) if you are interested in a customized version of the webinar/presentation for another audience.