Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review - The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer


Originally published on Care & Cost here.

The opening page of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladiesbegins with a quote by Susan Sontag that is so on-point, yet so rare and fresh, that one can’t help being excited by the prospect of what’s to come.

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.

Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.

You open the book with great expectations. It is weighty, yes – 570 pages, 100 of which are end notes – but beginning, you immediately find its expansive scholarship wrapped in a writing style so fluid and lyrically engaging that it instantly dispels any hesitancy, and you are captured.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Toward A Healthier America


Originally Published 12/1/10 on Care & Cost

Note: This article was published to frame the approach that David Kibbe and I have in developing our new national health care professional forum, Care & Cost.  

It’s not that we don’t know what’s wrong with health care or how to fix it. The problem, instead, is how to change a system rigged to protect industry excess over care and cost.

As we begin this forum, we see American health care edging closer to a cliff and dragging the larger American economy with it. The health care cost bubble, inflated by duplication and waste, is poised to pop. At the same time, the industry’s bloat has encouraged innovation, driving improvements in quality, safety and cost throughout health care.

Clinics As Health Care's Transformational Engines


Originally Published 12/1/10 in Medical Home News

The recent explosion of interest in onsite clinics - not just by employers, but by health plans, hospital systems, public health programs, and others - is anything but just another health care fad. At once, clinics’ growing popularity signals purchasers’ weariness with an intransigent, self-interested health system, as well as their guarded optimism about a better way.

If Employers Walked Away From Health Coverage

Originally Published on 11/24/10 on Kaiser Health News
What would happen if the rank and file of America's employers, financially overwhelmed by the burden associated with sponsoring health coverage, suddenly opted out?
It isn't so far-fetched. Enrollment by working age families in private health coveragedropped more than 10 percent over the last decade, as individuals and business were priced out of the coverage market. Others, victims of the downturned economy, have lost their jobs and access to subsidized coverage. Those who still have coverage have narrower benefits with higher out-of-pocket costs than before.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Healthy Eats For Data-Hungry Doctors


Imagine that an innovative health plan - aware that half or more of health care cost is waste and that physician costs to obtain the identical outcome can vary by as much as eight fold - hopes to sweep market share by producing better quality health care for a dramatically lower cost. So it begins to evaluate its vast data stores. It’s goal is to identify the specialists, outpatient services and hospitals within each market that, for episodes of specific high-frequency or high value conditions, consistently produce the best outcomes at the lowest cost. Imagine that, because higher quality is typically produced at lower costs - there are generally fewer complications and lower incidences of revisiting treatment - the health plan will pay high performers more than low performers. Just as importantly, it will limit the network, steering more patients to high performers and away from low performers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Keeping An Eye On The Health Care Prize

Published on Kaiser Health News, 9/20/10

Many reformers undoubtedly believe that passage of the health overhaul law laid the issue to rest. But policy's wheels continue to turn, and the process is anything but over.

Decades of fee-for-service reimbursement became the health industry's article of faith, encouraging virtually everyone in the system to do as much as possible to every patient, with half or more of all expenditures wasted or unnecessary. But it was also a recipe for national disaster. Over the last decade, nearly all U.S. economic growth was absorbed by health care.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beyond Meaningful Use: Three Five-Year Trends in the Uses of Patient Health Data and Clinical IT


Finally, we have a Final Rule on the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs. The rules and criteria are simpler and more flexible, and the measures easier to compute. But they are still an “all or nothing” proposition for physicians, who will have to meet all of the objectives and measures to receive any incentive payment. Doctors who get three-quarters of the way there won’t receive a dime. And a lot of uncertainty remains about dependent processes that CMS and ONC must quickly put in place, like accreditation of “testing and certifying bodies,” and the testing schemas for certification. All in all, we expect most physicians in small practices to sit on the sidelines until the dust settles, likely in 2012 or 2013.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why The FMA Is Off-Base On Reform


First Published in the Florida Times-Union

At an Orlando meeting last week, Florida Medical Association (FMA) members fumed that their parent, the AMA, isn’t adequately representing Florida’s private practice doctors. After talk of secession and forming a new group, they settled for writing a stern letter urging the AMA to straighten up.

The FMA dustup began with a resolution written by Douglas Stevens MD, a Fort Myers cosmetic surgeon – you can’t make this stuff up – complaining that the AMA’s support for recent reforms was “a severe intrusion in the patient-physician relationship and allows government control over essentially all aspects of medical care.” He wrote that it will “relegate physicians to the role of government employees…and essentially end the profession of medicine as we know it.” A St. Petersburg neurological surgeon, David McKalip, added, “Without (AMA) support, the whole thing (i.e., reform) would have died."

Monday, April 26, 2010

An Open Letter (1) to the New National Coordinator for Health IT - Untying HITECH's Gordian Knot


First Published on THCB.

Congratulations to David Blumenthal on being named National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT). Dr. Blumenthal will be the person most responsible for the rules and distribution of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) nearly $20 billion allocation, referred to as HITECH, designated to support physician and hospital adoption of health information technologies that can improve care.

The job is fraught with difficulties, which Dr. Blumenthal has readily acknowledged. His recent New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Perspective, "
Stimulating the Adoption of Health Information Technology," is a concise, clear and honest appraisal of two of these challenges, namely how to interpret and act upon the key terms used in the legislation, "meaningful use" and "certified EHR technology." Dr. Blumenthal gets to the heart of the matter by identifying the tasks on which the National Coordinator's success will most depend, and which will foster the greatest controversy.

The country needs Dr. Blumenthal to succeed. The issues are complex and, with huge ideological and financial stakes involved, politically charged.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Clinical Groupware: Platforms, Not Software


First Published on THCB

Kibbe Clinical Groupware is rapidly gaining acceptance as a term describing a new class of affordable, ergonomic, and Web-based care management tools.

Since David first articulated Clinical Groupware's conceptual framework on this blog early last year -- see here and here -- we've been discussing Clinical Groupware with a growing number of people and organizations who want to know what it is, where it's going, and what problems it may solve, particularly for small and medium size medical practices, their patients and their institutional/corporate sponsors and networks.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy: The Continuity of Care Record Gains Ground As A Standard


We live in a time of such great progress in so many arenas that, too often and without a second thought, we take significant advances for granted. But, now and then, we should catalog the steps forward, and then look backward to appreciate how these steps were made possible. They sprung from grand conceptions of possibilities and, then, the persistent focused toil that is required to bring ideas to useful fruition.
We could see this in a relatively quiet announcement this week at HIMSS 09. Microsoft unveiled this:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Are We Adequately Securing Health Care Information?

In a discussion about electronic health records (EHRs) a couple weeks ago, one of the Human Resource team members at a prospective client said, "I don't believe it's possible to secure electronic health data. It's always an accident waiting to happen."

There is some truth to that. More and more, our Personal Health Information (PHI) is in electronic formats that allow it to be exchanged with professionals and organizations throughout the health care continuum. It is highly unlikely that each contact point has the protections to wrap that data up tightly, away from those who would exploit it.

Editor's inbox: Reader questions breadth of sources in article on onsite clinics


First published in Employee Benefit News, April 5, 2010

The article "Reconfiguring onsite health clinics" (EBN February) presented a remarkably limited perspective on modern clinics, resulting in statements like this one: "'In a tough economy, an initial clinic approach should probably employ mid-level practitioners, such as a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, because they are most cost-effective when rendering basic medical services,' explains Mercer's [Bruce] Hochstadt."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Value Trumps Price In Onsite Clinics


First published in American City Business Journals (in Boston, Silicon Valley, Jacksonville, Nashville, San Jose and elsewhere.)

Onsite health clinics are new territory for most employers. It can be difficult to sort through the different approaches used by different vendors. Worse, in difficult economic times it’s tempting to “get in” as cheaply as possible.But like many purchases, you may get what you pay for with clinics, especially if you scrimp. Here are three reasons to favor value over price when considering an onsite clinic vendor:

Monday, March 22, 2010

On Really Managing Care and Cost


One of my favorite health care stories is about Jerry Reeves MD, who in 2004 took the helm of a 300,000 life health plan in Las Vegas, including about 110,000 union members, and drove so much waste out of that system - without reducing benefits and while improving quality - that the union gave members a 60 cent/hour raise. There was no magic here. It was a straightforward and rigorously managed combination of proven approaches.

Dr. Reeves' work betrayed the lie that tremendous health care costs are inevitable. To a large degree, the nation's major health plans abetted this perception when they effectively stopped doing medical management in 1999. (Most have recently begun managing again in earnest.) The result was an explosion in cost - 4 times general inflation and 3.5 times workers earnings between 1999 and 2009 - that has priced a growing percentage of individual and corporate purchasers out of the health coverage market, dangerously destabilizing the health care marketplace and the larger US economy. In 2008, PriceWaterhouse Coopers published a scathing analysis suggesting that $1.2 trillion (55%) of the $2.2 trillion health care spend at that time was waste.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vote Yes


One of us was at a local diner yesterday, when a good friend and health plan broker walked up to say hello. This guy delivers premium increases every day to employers, and understands how broken things are. "I hope Congress votes yes," he said flatly. "We've got to finally move beyond the status quo and try to change the system."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Surprise


Check out this March 3rd article - see the image - from the recent HIMSS conference, in which Dave Garets, President and CEO of HIMSS Analytics, "gazes into the future and predicts major trends for the next 12 months." HIMSS Analytics is the research and consulting arm of the health IT vendors' association, and presumably on Health IT's leading edge.

From the article:

"Q: What will constitute the surprise of 2010 - the one technology or policy or X-factor that no one saw coming."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why Rush Vendor Certification of EHR Technologies


A surprise move by ONC/HHS indicates the wheels may be falling off health IT reform at about the same rate they've fallen off Democrats' broader health reforms.

David Blumenthal and his staff have unveiled two separate plans to test and certify EHR technology products and services. We don't think this is a good idea. We've supported the purpose and spirit of the ARRA/HITECH incentive programs, and believe ONC's/HHS' re-definition of EHR technology puts it on a trajectory to improve the quality and efficiency of health care in the U.S. But this recently-announced two-stage EHR technology certification plan bears all the marks of a hastily drawn up blueprint that, if rushed into production, could easily collapse of its own bureaucratic weight.

Monday, March 1, 2010

After the Failure of Reform


The stalemate in the bi-partisan health care summit was cast the moment it was announced.

Republicans demanded that the reform process start anew, and Mr. Obama insisted on the Senate bill as the framework going forward. The President may now offer a more modest reform bill that can demonstrate some progress on the health care crisis, but that remains to be seen. We hoped the White House would seize the opportunity presented by Massachusetts’ election of Scott Brown to begin again, huddling away from the lobbyists to develop a new set of provisions that would include reasonable Republican elements, like medical liability reform, as well as other meaningful cost reduction provisions excluded from the first round of bills: pricing/quality transparency, a move away from fee-for-service reimbursement, and the re-empowerment of primary care.

Monday, February 1, 2010

13 Questions to Ask On-Site Clinic Vendors


First published in Workforce Management Online

Commentary: How can you evaluate which clinics are the best? Here, in the opinion of a health care analyst and clinic company advisor, are some questions and rationales to help identify the vendors that will be most likely to provide the best possible experience, quality improvement and savings.

Thinking about opening a primary care clinic at your business site? Many organizations are.

Work-site medical clinics are catching on as employers discover they can save significant dollars and improve the care for their employees and families. Clinic vendors’ medical management and business models vary dramatically, however, and, as a result, so do their impacts on cost and quality.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Silver Lining


Massachusett's voters' stunning rejection of Democrat Martha Coakley, in favor of a not-very-impressive Scott Brown, should be exactly the splash of cold water that the Democratic party - and Congress as a whole - needed. The defeat can be understood in two ways: one large and one fairly small.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Right now, American health care information technology is undergoing two enormous leaps. First, it is moving onto Web-based and mobile platforms - which are less expensive and facilitate information exchange - and away from client-server enterprise-centric technologies, which are more expensive and have limited interoperability. In addition, more EHR development activity is headed into the cloud, driven by large consumer-based firms with the technological depth to take it there. Both these trends will facilitate greater openness, lower user cost, improved ease of use, and faster adoption of EHRs.

But they could also impact the shape of EHR technologies in another profoundly important way. What is often lost in our discussions about electronic health record technology in the US is the relationship these tools have to our health and health care problems...globally. We could be designing our health IT in ways that are good for the health of people both here and around the world, not simply to enhance care in the US.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Special Issue of Health Wonk Review - American Health Care Reform: Voices of Health Care Analysts

Here we are, with the first edition of Health Wonk Review (HWR) in a new decade. It is a pregnant moment, as reconciliation begins between the House and Senate health care reform bills, when the best health wonks are weighing in on how we arrived here and what it will probably mean to have a few key successes and some very significant failures at a time when most everyone in the country who doesn’t have power yearns for real solutions.