Last fall, I conducted one of the “3 CEOs” interviews at the 2012 Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. For my interview, I drew Steve Schelhammer, CEO of Phytel, a population health management technology provider. Aside from a little technical glitch — one that got edited out of this clip — with Schelhammer’s earpiece microphone not working, I think this went very well. The most amazing part is that this was the first session of the morning and not only was I on time, I was awake and alert.
As regular readers might already know, 2012 was a transformative year in my life, and mostly not in a good way. I ended the year on a high note, taking a character-building six-day, 400-mile bike tour through the mountains, desert and coastline of Southern California that brought rain, mud, cold, more climbing than my poor legs could ever hope to endure in the Midwest, some harrowing descents and even a hail storm. But the final leg from Oceanside to San Diego felt triumphant, like I was cruising down the Champs-Élysées during the last stage of the Tour de France, save the stop at the original Rubio’s fish taco stand about five miles from the finish.
But the months before that were difficult. My grandmother passed away at the end of November at the ripe old age of 93, but at least she lived a long, full life and got to see all of her grandchildren grow up. The worst part of 2012 was in April and May, when my father endured needless suffering in a poorly run hospital during his last month of life as he lost his courageous but futile battle with an insidious neurodegenerative disorder called multiple system atrophy, or MSA. (On a personal note, March is MSA Awareness Month, and I am raising funds for the newly renamed Multiple System Atrophy Coalition.)
That ordeal changed my whole perspective, as you may have noticed in my writing since then. No longer do I care about the financial machinations of healthcare such as electronic transactions, revenue-cycle management, the new HIPAA omnibus rule or reasons why healthcare facilities aren’t ready to switch to ICD-10 coding. Nor am I much interested in those who believe it’s more worthwhile to take the Medicare penalties starting in 2015 for not achieving “meaningful use” than to put the time and money into adopting electronic health records. I’m not interested in lists of “best hospitals” or “best doctors” based solely on reputation. I am sick of the excuses for why healthcare can’t fix its broken processes.
And don’t get me started on those opposed to reform because they somehow believe that the U.S. has the “best healthcare in the world.” We don’t. We simply have the most expensive, least efficient healthcare in the world, and it’s really dangerous in many cases.
No, I am dedicated to bringing news about efforts to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors. Yes, we need to bring costs down and increase access to care, too, but we can make a big dent on those fronts by creating incentives to do the right thing instead of doing the easy thing. Accountable care and bundled payments seem like they’re steps in the right direction, though the jury remains out. All the recent questioning about whether meaningful use has had its intended effect and even whether current EHR systems are safe also makes me optimistic that people are starting to care about quality.
Keep that in mind as you pitch me for the upcoming HIMSS conference. Also keep in mind that I have two distinct audiences: CIOs read InformationWeek Healthcare, while a broad mix of innovators, consultants and healthcare and IT professionals keep up with my work at MobiHealthNews. For the latter, I’m interested in mobile tools for doctors and on the consumerization of health IT.
I’m not doing a whole lot of feature writing at the moment, so I’d like to see and hear things I can relate in a 500-word story. Contract wins don’t really interest me since there are far too many of them to report on. Mergers and acquisitions as well as venture investments matter to MobiHealthNews but not so much to InformationWeek. And remember, I see through the hype. I want substance. Policy insights are good. Case studies are better, as long as we’re talking about quality and safety. Think care coordination and health information exchange for example, but not necessarily the technical workings behind the scenes.
And, as always, I tend to find a lot more interesting things happening in the educational sessions than in that zoo known as the exhibit hall. I’m there for the conference, not the “show.”
Many of you already have sent your pitches. I expect to get to them no later than this weekend, and I’ll respond in the order I’ve received them. Thank you kindly for your patience.
In a rare turn of events, I’m the one being asked the questions on a podcast by Sivad Business Solutions, which hosts regular audio discussions on a variety of business topics. I give kind of a high-level view of health IT and offer my very strong opinions on patient safety and healthcare reform. There’s an interesting discussion about EHRs being designed to maximize reimbursements rather than assure safety.
Interestingly, we recorded this via Skype. I like the audio quality, if not the nasal quality of my own voice, more than usual that day.
Hopefully the embedded audio works. If not, click here.
I’ve spent a lot of time on social media since Thursday morning debating the meaning of the Supreme Court’s rather stunning decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was stunning in that Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with the four liberal-minded justices, but also stunning in that the court went against conventional wisdom by upholding the individual mandate on the grounds that it was a legal exercise of Congress’ constitutional right to levy taxes.
I had to remind a lot of people that this decision neither solves the crisis, as supporters have claimed, or turns us into the Soviet Union, as some on the lunatic fringe have suggested. Expanding insurance only throws more money at the same problem. This was my first tweet after I learned of the decision:
The cynic in me likes to point out that the individual mandate was an idea first conceived by the conservative Heritage Foundation and championed in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. Both somehow now oppose the idea. The law that ultimately passed Congress was written by Liz Fowler, a top legal counsel to Max Baucus’ Senate Finance Committee who previously was a lobbyist for WellPoint. Her reward for doing the bidding of the insurance industry was for Obama to appoint her deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at HHS. This was insider dealing at its finest, as much a gift to insurers as the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act was a gift to Big Pharma.
Of course, I initially was misinformed about the Supreme Court ruling because CNN jumped the gun (as did Fox News) and erroneously reported that the court had struck down the individual mandate on the grounds that it violated the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution. But so were millions of others.
I suppose that was fitting, since the national media have for more than two years been misinforming the public about what is really in the law. There are small but real elements of actual care reform — not just an insurance expansion — in there, but very few have been reported. The actual reform has been drowned out by ideologues on both sides. Here’s a handy explanation of most of what’s really there (it’s a good list but not exhaustive). The insurance expansion, the only thing people are talking about, really is just throwing more money at the problem. There is a lot more work to be done to fix our broken system.
What I consider real reform in the ACA includes accountable care organizations and the creation of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Along with the innovation center, CMS also gets the power to expand pilot programs that are successful at saving money or producing better outcomes. In the past, successful “demonstrations” would need specific authorization from Congress, which could take years.
Notice that there isn’t a whole lot specific to IT. That’s because the “meaningful use” incentive program for EHRs was authorized by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Another key element of real reform that also is not part of the ACA is Medicare’s new policy of not reimbursing for certain preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge.
We need more attention to quality of care. Many have argued that tort reform needs to be part of the equation, too, because defensive medicine leads to duplicative and often unnecessary care. Perhaps, but lawsuits are a small issue compared to the problem of medical errors. Cut down on mistakes and you cut down on malpractice suits. Properly implemented EHRs and health information exchange — and I do mean properly implemented — will help by improving communication between providers so everybody involved with a patient’s care knows exactly what’s going on at all times.
All of these facts lead me to conclude that true healthcare reform hasn’t really happened yet. Look at this Supreme Court ruling as a beginning, not an end, to reform.
I have railed more often than I can count against politicians and the national media for misleading or at least failing to inform the public on what health reform is all about. For me, it was quite refreshing to see an interview in the Washington Post with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), attempting to shed some light on the parts of reform that have nothing to do with insurance.
“The Affordable Care Act is mostly known as an insurance expansion, expected to extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans,” started the post by Sarah Kliff. “But … a big chunk of the law is dedicated something arguably more ambitious: an overhaul of the American business model for medicine. ‘This is a very significant piece of the bill that has received virtually no attention because it’s so non-controversial,’ Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told me in a recent interview.”
On Thursday, Whitehouse released a 52-page document outlining what he sees as the 47 changes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is making to how care is delivered. That doesn’t even count the reforms in the HITECH section of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from a year earlier, by the way.
Health IT, of course, is a big part of reform.”The HITECH Act took important steps to restructure financial incentives to shift the pattern of health IT adoption. The HITECH Act’s Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments are encouraging doctors and hospitals to adopt and “meaningfully use” certified
electronic health records,” Whitehouse noted.
Also from that report:
Health information technology (IT) will radically transform the health care industry, and is the essential, underlying framework for health care delivery system reform. The ACA’s payment reforms, pilot projects, and other delivery system reforms are built with the expectation of having IT-enabled providers. In particular, the shift to new models of care, like ACOs, will rely heavily on information exchange and reporting quality outcomes. Indeed, the formation of ACOs is contingent on having providers “online” to transfer information and patient records, and report quality measures.
Whitehouse did discuss ACOs with the Washington Post, but there’s a reason why the interview appears on a page called the WonkBlog. This stuff is too complicated and wonky for the average person.
What isn’t complicated is explaining that throwing more money at a broken system, as the insurance expansion does, will not lower the cost of care. It also isn’t complicated to explain that tens of thousands of Americans needlessly die each year due to medical errors or low-quality care. Yet, more than a few defenders of the ACA have said that the insurance mandate would help guarantee “quality care” for millions.
The insurance expansion guarantees insurance coverage. It does not guarantee quality care. Whoever wins Friday’s Mega Millions drawing wouldn’t necessarily be able to buy quality care, either. Nor would Bill Gates, for that matter. You can’t get quality care unless you’re willing to address the causes of errors and adverse events. Period.
Sen. Whitehouse seems to understand that. I doubt too many other members of Congress do, despite the fact that a former colleague, the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who had the “Cadillac” coverage so many people covet, died as a result of a medical error.
The video from the Dell Healthcare Think Tank dinner at HIMSS12 last week, which I participated in, is now available. It’s long, but if you’re into health IT policy and healthcare reform, it probably is worth your time.
Did you happen to catch my InformationWeek Healthcare story about how UPMC believes it has the roadmap in place to achieve true accountable care? Well, here’s the rest of the story.
Last week, Nuance Communications invited me to Pittsburgh for a tour of the Center for Connected Medicine, an impressive, high-tech showcase on the 60th floor of the U.S. Steel Tower. There, I interviewed, among others, Rasu Shrestha, M.D., UPMC’s vice president for medical information technology, medical director of interoperability & imaging informatics and division chief of radiology informatics. Here is that interview.
Podcast details: Interview with Rasu Shrestha, M.D., UPMC vice president for medical information technology, Feb. 7, 2012, at the Center for Connected Medicine, Pittsburgh. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 15.6 MB, running time 17:08.
1:10 “Clinical language understanding” and “bringing data to life”
3:05 Analytics beyond patient care
3:55 Computer-assisted coding
6:35 Business intelligence in the context of ACOs
7:45 UPMC striving to be an ACO
8:35 Aggregating data from payer and provider sides of the organization
10:30 Keeping medication lists up to date
11:45 Health information exchange among multiple vendor systems
13:00 What to watch for in the near future from UPMC
14:10 Overcoming cultural barriers to change
Did you miss Eric Dishman’s keynote address Tuesday at the Medical Group Management Association‘s annual conference in Las Vegas? That’s OK, because I secured a few minutes with Dishman, director of health innovation and policy at Intel, immediately after his talk, and the results are right here.
This podcast, recorded in the somewhat noisy press room at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is a companion piece of sorts to my coverage in MobiHealthNews on Thursday, so I hope you have a chance to check out both.
Podcast details: Intel’s Eric Dishman on connected care management, recorded Oct. 26, 2011, at MGMA annual conference in Las Vegas. MP3, mono, 64 kbps, 5.2 MB. Running time 11:08.
0:30 Virtual care coordination in nontraditional settings
1:05 Overlap/collaboration with Care Innovations joint venture
2:10 Prototype device for monitoring symptoms of Parkinson’s patients
4:00 Home monitoring of “classic” chronic diseases
4:55 Tracking behavioral changes for prevention and early detection
6:05 Realizing the potential of mobile health
6:55 Care coordination and health reform
8:30 ACOs and payment for quality
9:35 Intel’s future providing “strategic blueprints” for healthcare
10:20 How to share ideas with him
As you probably heard, CMS today released a 696-page final rule on accountable care organizations. I wrote a piece for InformationWeek Healthcare that should be posted no later than tomorrow morning, so I’m not going to rehash that. What I will do is show you the various reactions from many interest groups to the rule, particularly the ones that have an IT bent. Unfortunately, there haven’t been too many released so far, and none from the major health IT associations. Now, AMIA and CHIME are gearing up for their annual conferences next week and, let’s face it, the rule is 696 pages long, so I’ll update this page as statements come in.
For the official line, see CMS Admnistrator Don Berwick’s commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine. Notably, he mentions EHRs in the very first paragraph, in which he explains how he delivered accountable care as a Harvard pediatrician.
STATEMENT ON FINAL ACO RULE
President and CEO
American Hospital Association
October 20, 2011
Today’s rules represent the direction in which the hospital field is moving – toward better coordinated patient care across care settings. We commend CMS for listening to the concerns of America’s hospitals. The hospital field is actively working on ways to improve care delivery and the final accountable care organization rule provides hospitals a better path to do so.
In response to the concerns of the AHA and its hospital members, CMS made significant changes to the financial model, provided more flexibility in the assignment of beneficiaries and took a second look at the quality framework. We believe today’s menu of ACO options allows America’s hospitals to create new models of accountable care organizations on which the transformation of health care delivery is so dependent.
The AHA is also encouraged by the historic effort among several federal agencies to achieve the goal of better coordinated care. Specifically the antitrust agencies responded to hospital concerns and reversed their plan to require antitrust preapproval for every ACO applicant and instead provided guidance. We believe removing this barrier was essential to encouraging ACO participation.
Hospital and health system leaders welcome the concept of providing patient care in a more accountable, more coordinated way and know that they will be held increasingly at financial risk in improving outcomes for patients and becoming more efficient in the delivery of services. Hospitals already are engaged in private sector ACO initiatives and the final rule provides an additional avenue for the provision of accountable care.
The AHA strongly supports the goals and principles of the ACO program and delivery system reforms that improve patient care and quality while reducing costs. We will continue to work with CMS and other agencies to remove the substantial legal and regulatory barriers throughout the health care system to clinical integration that still remain.
I understand the American Medical Association had similar impressions, but I haven’t actually seen the AMA’s statement yet. However, the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), which stands to lose if expensive diagnostic tests are reduced, was disappointed:
AdvaMed Statement on
Final Accountable Care Organization Regulation
WASHINGTON , D.C. – Ann-Marie Lynch, executive vice president of the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), released the following statement regarding the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) final rule on Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs):
“AdvaMed is concerned that CMS failed to address key issues in the final ACO rule that would have advanced patient care, ensured patient access to innovative treatments and technologies, and avoided incentives to stint on care.
“We are also concerned the rule does not address the very real danger of slowing the development of new treatments and cures. The failure to consider how innovative products play an important role in improving patient care threatens medical progress for current and future patients. Without certain design elements, the ACO program may have the effect of limiting treatment options and discouraging physicians from adopting new advancements in care.
“CMS failed to include or even discuss common-sense provisions to support continued medical progress, despite concerns expressed by the life science industry, patient groups, and members of Congress. CMS’ action runs counter to the President’s January 18 Executive Order directing agencies issuing regulations to seek to identify ways to promote innovation and undercuts the President’s goal of fostering a ‘national bioeconomy.’
“We are also disappointed that CMS rolled back rather than revamped the quality measures included in the draft rule. The final rule lacks sufficient measures of patient outcomes to assure quality of care. There are large areas of clinical practice not addressed at all – including cancer, severe arthritis, chronic pain and osteoporosis.
“This rule is a missed opportunity to ensure that the sweeping changes in payment policy established by the Affordable Care Act will support medical progress and assure that patients can receive the care most appropriate for their needs.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges was thrilled that med schools won’t be held to the same standards as everyone else:
AAMC Applauds Final ACO Rule Excluding Medical Education Payments
Washington, October 20, 2011— AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., issued the following statement today on the Medicare Shared Savings Program “Accountable Care Organizations”(ACO) Final Rule:
“The AAMC is pleased that the ACO final rule excludes indirect medical education payments from the methodology used to assess shared savings under the program. By not including these policy payments in the historical cost analysis, medical schools and teaching hospitals— institutions that often treat the sickest and most vulnerable patients—have a better opportunity to participate in the ACO initiative.
While we are still examining the details of the final rule, the AAMC has always been supportive of new models of care that put patients first and also leverage the benefits of institutions’ educational and research missions to reign in the unsustainable growth in health care costs. We look forward to working with our members, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help identify ways to partner with the academic medicine community and institutions working to advance meaningful health system innovation.”
The Campaign for Better Care, a coalition of consumer groups interested in quality care for seniors, called the rule a “reasonable compromise”:
Consumer Groups Say New Accountable Care Organization Rule is a Reasonable Compromise, Urge All Parties to Get On-Board to Ensure Patients Will Soon Benefit from Better Coordinated, More Patient-Centered Care
Statement of Campaign for Better Care Leader Debra L. Ness
“The final rule on Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today, has provisions that will both please and concern various parties. As advocates for consumers, particularly for our oldest and sickest patients who urgently need better-coordinated care, we applaud this effort to incentivize better primary care, increase coordination, and share accountability across providers. We are very pleased that this final rule will require ACOs to adhere to strong patient-centered criteria, use beneficiary experience of care measures to evaluate performance, and ensure full transparency, notification and choice for beneficiaries. These provisions are all essential to realizing the promise of successful ACOs, which patients in this country are counting on.
This new rule is not perfect, but it provides a path away from the broken, dysfunctional health care system we have today toward a system that offers higher quality, better coordinated and more patient-centered care.
We consider it most unfortunate that the provisions requiring beneficiary participation on ACO boards have been tempered. We urge the Department to closely monitor these provisions to ensure that consumers and beneficiaries are engaged in the design, governance and assessment of ACOs in their communities. We will be watching closely to assess whether ACOs operate in the public interest and reflect the needs and perspectives of the communities they serve. Consumers and patients hope and expect that these provisions will be strengthened down the road if needed.
In the end, we see this rule as a reasonable compromise. The Department was enormously responsive to the comments that were filed and in particular, to concerns raised by providers. It is time now for all parties to come together to create successful ACOs that deliver care that is truly patient-centered, that improves quality and care coordination, and that lowers costs. This new model of care deserves to be tested along with the numerous other innovations that have and will be promoted by the CMS Innovation Center. Patients and consumers have no time to waste.
The stakes are too high to ignore the promise that ACOs offer to improve care and bring us better value for our health care dollars. We must not let opponents of reform use any remaining differences to block the progress Americans so urgently need. Transformation is never easy, but the cost of failure to patients, families and the country is simply too high.”
AARP called the rule a “good first step” in improving quality and lowering Medicare costs:
AARP Statement on New HHS Programs Designed to Improve Coordination and Quality of Patient Care in Medicare
WASHINGTON—AARP Legislative Policy Director David Certner released a statement following today’s announcement that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a final rule introducing two new programs—the Medicare Shared Savings Program and the Advance Payment model—to help providers better coordinate patient care and use health care dollars more wisely through accountable care organizations (ACOs). Both programs create incentives for health care providers to work together to treat an individual patient across care settings – including doctors’ offices, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. Certner’s statement follows:
“Accountable care organizations have the potential to improve the quality and lower the cost of health care for all patients. By working across the spectrum of providers to ensure that patients get the right care at the right time and in the right setting, accountable care organizations have shown great promise in positively changing the way we deliver care.
“The programs announced today can benefit people in Medicare by encouraging providers to work together to better coordinate patient care, which can lead to fewer hospital readmissions and lower Medicare costs. AARP believes today’s announcement is a good first step and we welcome the chance to further review these programs.”