Tag Archives: chronic disease management

A New Focus for Health Insurance: ‘Negaclaims’

Historically, the “do more, bill more” fee-for-service model of healthcare measured success by increased billings. In the fee-for-value era, we need a new framework for assessing healthcare results. Quality indicators are logical, but they are mostly geared toward measuring actions taken. We can borrow a concept from the energy sector for an additional metric.  We need a concept for removing waste and unnecessary care that could be inspired by a concept from the energy sector described in this blurb from Wikipedia for something called Negawatts.

Negawatt power  is a theoretical unit of power representing an amount of energy (measured in watts) saved. The energy saved is a direct result of energy conservation or increased energy efficiency. The term was coined by the chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute and environmentalist Amory Lovins in 1989, arguing that utility customers don’t want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services such as hot showers, cold beer, lit rooms, and spinning shafts, which can come more cheaply if electricity is used more efficiently. Lovins felt an international behavioral change was necessary in order to decrease countries’ dependence on excessive amounts of energy. The concept of a negawatt could influence a behavioral change in consumers by encouraging them to think about the energy that they spend.

The healthcare parallel would be a “Negaclaim™” — i.e., an unnecessary claim avoided. This isn’t about simply denying care. Just as consumers aren’t interested in kilowatt hours, patients aren’t interested in claims — they want health restored and diseases prevented, which can be done more efficiently and effectively. When individuals are fully educated on the trade-offs associated with interventions, they generally choose the less invasive approach. A nice byproduct is that the invasive approaches are frequently more costly and medically unnecessary. The following are a few of many examples of how unnecessary care can be eliminated while improving the patient experience:

  • Day-to-day and chronic disease care: One of the key reasons Direct Primary Care (DPC) has proven itself to be the Triple Aim  leader is that a proper primary care relationship involves time spent with patients to explain trade-offs of various medical options.  Without incentives to push for “more,” DPC providers have demonstrated that they can reduce unnecessary utilization by 40-80%. By contrast, “hamster wheel” primary care has effectively turned primary care into 7-minute, drive-by appointments that leave little time to do anything but direct patients toward additional costly items, whether it’s ordering a prescription, test, hospitalization or specialist visit. In many cases, those could be avoided with a robust primary care relationship.
  • High Cost Procedures: Leah Binder wrote about what major employers such as Walmart, Loews, Pepsico and others are doing to reduce risk to their employees while also saving money, in What We Can Learn From Walmart: How Our Healthcare System Can Save Lives and Dollars. Employees found that 40% of the transplants that were recommended by local hospitals were deemed medically unnecessary by top physicians at the Mayo Clinic and other nationally renowned facilities. Employees were thrilled to avoid risky (and expensive) procedures. It also sent a great message to employees that their employer valued them enough to send them to the best medical centers in the world for second opinions.
  • End of Life: Quality of life is affected dramatically by the end-of-life decisions we make. This was outlined in How Not to Die. The system is oriented to do more even if it is at odds with quality of life. Doctors themselves recognize this when they are the patient, as described in Why Doctors Die Differently. While quality of life is the driving factor for patients and families, there is a second-order benefit that the procedures that reduce quality of life are typically very expensive.

The problem in healthcare has been that providers have incentives to do stuff because of the flawed reimbursement models that dominate our present healthcare system. Respected studies such as from the Institute of Medicine demonstrate that there is more than $750 billion in waste. PwC stated that more than half of healthcare spending is waste. Incentives have driven providers to encourage more interventions, and consumers have been led to believe that more is better even though, in many cases, less is more.

That has added a challenge for health insurers. The general perception is that health insurers reflexively deny claims (sometimes getting in trouble for that). This has resulted in health insurers having the lowest Net Promoter Score of any industry. Consumers have clearly decided that health insurers aren’t doing this for consumer benefit. Fair or not, they have concluded it’s simply for the financial health of the insurer. Clearly, health insurers need a different approach if they want to improve their image and the health of their customers while ensuring their financial viability.

One incentive that has changed revolves around the Medical Loss Ratio (see Aetna’s explanation here).  In contrast to “customer service” reps focused on claims, an investment in patient engagement can have the same or greater effect on reducing claims while qualifying as a healthcare expense. Enter patient engagement.

Patient Engagement Is the Blockbuster Drug of the Century
Leonard Kish made the case that if patient engagement was a drug, it would eclipse all blockbuster drugs before it. Kish cited results of studies showing benefit when patients were successfully engaged in their health.

Compared to those not enrolled in the study, coordinated care “patients have an 88 percent reduced risk of dying of a cardiac-related cause when enrolled within 90 days of a heart attack, compared to those not in the program.” And, clinical care teams reduced overall mortality by 76 percent and cardiac mortality by 73 percent.

Rather than reflexively denying claims and building up a mountain of ill will, insurance companies should invest resources in helping their customers get engaged in their health. Their customers would, in effect, “self-deny” their own claims.

Note that when I describe patient engagement, I’m including family members and caregivers. Did you know that families provide care valued at more than $450 billion per year  – more than our total spending on Medicare! Thus, much of what is outlined below speaks to caregivers (particularly with elderly patients), not just the patient. Having more resources/tools as a caregiver would be welcomed, as most of us have no clinical background and are thrown into a caregiving role virtually overnight.

[Disclosure: My patient relationship management company is one of the organizations providing patient engagement tools to healthcare providers, which is why I'm familiar with these examples.]

Just about every myth has been debunked about how patients of all types supposedly won’t get engaged in their health, whether it’s low-income diabetes patients, native American populations or the elderly. However, providers are largely failing in their efforts at engaging patients as they haven’t had the incentives, tools or training.  Provider-patient communications guru Stephen Wilkins points this out clearly in a few pieces.

Despite less than stellar results that Wilkins highlights, the initial attempts by providers at engaging patients are welcomed just as a muddy puddle of water in the Sahara Desert is welcomed. However, much more can be done.

Catalyzing Patient Engagement in Health Plans’ Best Interests
A wave of new requirements and challenges have crashed on top of providers. Insurers could help if they focus in the right areas and are mindful of the challenges. JAMA recently wrote a piece highlighting one facet of patient engagement — shared decision-making (SDM). Physicians aren’t going to magically take on this challenge without a change.

The brevity of visits constrains the opportunities to address these elements of SDM. Furthermore, clinicians are not adequately trained to facilitate SDM, especially eliciting patient values and preferences for treatment.

[Note: Resources to train clinicians on patient engagement are emerging. One would expect that a host of continuing education courses will emerge. One example is HIMSS (the professional association for healthIT), which released a seminal book on patient engagement.]

In the places where providers have successfully achieved the Triple Aim objectives with challenging patient populations, they have had payment aligned with outcomes. Teams were unleashed, led by doctors, to get creative about how to tackle the challenges. While doctors are vital, they use non-physicians for a substantial part of the interaction with patients. It turns out, for example, that doctors and even nurses can be less effective at effecting behavioral change in patients than non-typical care team members. Rather than being relegated to low-level tasks, medical assistants and health coaches play a vital role in the successful models. Once again, while the goal is an improved health outcome, there is a second-order benefit that being more effective lowers costs by avoiding complications, and the medical assistants and health coaches are generally paid less than doctors and nurses. Unfortunately, in a typical fee-for-service reimbursement model, these types of services typically aren’t compensated despite their impressive results.

Dr. Rob Lamberts described this problem in detail in Washington, We Have a Problem. He summarizes the conflict between people’s desires and healthcare’s flawed reimbursement framework.

This is why, I believe, any system that profits more from people with “problems” than those without is destined to collapse. Our system is opposed to the goal of every person I see: to stay healthy and stay on as few drugs, have as few procedures, and avoid as many doctors (and drug companies) as possible.

Health insurers have implicitly viewed their customers as adversaries by creating a claim-denying framework as the default. The smart health plans will figure out how to harness the consumer goals. This isn’t some fanciful dream as it has been demonstrated (profitably, I might add) by the physician-entrepreneur organizations outlined in The Hot Spotters Sequel: Population Health Heroes.

This isn’t about minor tweaks to a fundamentally flawed model. Rather, as one physician-entrepreneur put it, too many models are “putting wings on cars and calling them airplanes.” Rather, it’s supporting proven models where they have rethought care delivery – here’s how one physician-entrepreneur describes rethinking care delivery from the ground up (video).

While financial rewards are important, most physicians are not motivated primarily by money but by autonomy, mastery and purpose. In the successful models, the physician-entrepreneurs created their own autonomy and recognized that the focus of their mastery and purpose had to fundamentally shift. A nice byproduct was the growth of “Negaclaims” as the educated and empowered patients better understood the significant risks of overtreatment and errors.

Too frequently, health plans have tried to micromanage clinical processes. With proper financial incentives combined with a move toward enabling clinical teams to become masters at driving patient engagement, the health plan is much more likely to achieve the desired outcomes. As the Stephen Wilkins pieces referenced above illustrate, clinicians haven’t been trained or rewarded directly or indirectly for encouraging patient engagement. It should be no surprise that most haven’t achieved mastery in helping their patients achieve patient engagement. Instead, the language of medicine has been punitive and demeaning, talking about “non-compliant” patients as though they were petulant criminals. That doesn’t further the partnership between patients and their care teams, which is necessary for optimal outcomes.

Previously, I outlined the strong business case for patient engagement. Those who have understood that business case have moved on to practice the 7 habits of highly patient-centric providers. It’s clear that past efforts by health plans to reduce claims have fallen short and created ill will and sub-optimal health outcomes. Putting the patient/member at the center need not be a marketing gimmick. Rather, it’s central to the notion of “Negaclaims” and to a winning strategy in the fee-for-value era.

Healthcare's Age of Agility Will Shuffle Market Leadership

Surgeon and author, Dr. Atul Gawande outlined how, at the turn of the 20th century, more than forty per cent of household income went to paying for food, and food production consumed roughly half the workforce. The drive to change that began in a small town in Texas where an array of new methods of food production were tested. The results were stunning. Today, food accounts for 8% of household budgets and 2% of the workforce.

As a swarm of small innovations led to the transformation of farming, so too is a rapidly building wave of innovative new care and payment models leading to similar breakthroughs in healthcare. The winners in the next epoch of healthcare will be those that have agility in contrast to the lumbering nature of traditional healthcare systems.

In old line models, attempting a new care or payment model meant long planning and development cycles. The cost and complexity of testing new models prevent many from being tried. Demonstrating how healthcare hasn’t experienced the benefits of modern, cloud-based software, the leading HealthIT vendor is known to charge $100 million and up for its software and it takes a year or two to start realizing any benefit. [See also Health Systems Spending Billions to Prepare for the Last Battle]

Iterative Testing And Refinement Will Prevail
There’s a striking parallel between the transformation of healthcare and what happened with advertising campaigns as a result of traditional media getting disrupted by digital media.

Once upon a time, because the stakes were high with large ad campaigns, 90% of the effort around an ad campaign was in the planning/building of a campaign — i.e., creating ads, focus grouping creative/promotions, planning where to place ads, etc. When ads were created and it was decided where to run the ads, marketers sat back and watched to see how it would play out with little ability to change the course of a campaign.

Today, as little as 20% of the marketing effort is done upfront before putting elements to the test. The Internet is much more effective at testing offers and ad creative than a contrived focus group. Likewise, smart marketers can tap very sophisticated tools to optimize their ad spending so that the actual place ads run can be radically different than what an ad director may have thought initally.

I’d expect a similar transition to happen in healthcare. As Dr. Farzad Mostashari (National Coordinator for Health IT) said, “what’s transformative isn’t just harvesting & analyzing Big Data — it’s instrumenting what we do, testing predictions, A/B trials…”

It’s well understood that the mega healthIT systems (e.g., a $900M implementation was announced not long ago in the Northeast) take a couple years to implement. The reason for the long implementation, in part, is due to all of the decisions that have to be made regarding customization. The stakes are high as it’s only logical to do system-wide changes when 100’s of millions are at stake, leading some healthcare providers to have weak operating results as a result of healthIT costs as Zina Moukheiber reported. The market leader is noted for its customizability. However, once customized, it’s also noted for its rigidity. That is, if a workflow changes, it’s a major project to change the supporting healthIT to support the new workflow.

Where processes are well understood and predictable (e.g., surgeries), applying a manufacturing mindset is very appropriate. It’s akin to setting up an assembly line at an auto plant at great expense. Once that is done, it can be used for a long period of time and is worth the upfront investment. The danger comes in when it comes to chronic disease management (where more than 75% of healthcare dollars are spent). With accountable models and recognition that the patient or family members have the greatest impact on outcomes (i.e., not healthcare professionals), setting up a rigid system is a recipe for disaster.

If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s going to take iteration for many years to hone how to tackle chronic conditions as it involves complexity of the variety humans present to the healthcare system. In an agile system that has modern software economics (i.e., dramatically lower cost), it’s feasible to do smaller scale tests. If they prove successful, they can be expanded. Listening to a recent podcast from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement on reducing readmissions echo’ed this point — i.e., addressing an issue like this will take a series of changes vs. one silver bullet.

The rigid mega healthIT systems are a vestige of the “do more, bill more” model of reimbursement, particularly given that healthcare is a supply-driven market (e.g., MDs who own a stake in imaging equipment order scans at three times the rate of MDs who don’t). Spending nine figures doesn’t sound as bad when you have capital projects planned in excess of $1 Billion. Perhaps we should refer to the legacy model as the “build more, do more, bill more” model. Any health analyst will tell you that the cure for healthcare’s hyperinflation is NOT building more healthcare facilities. It would be as if a fire department argued that the way to solve a wave of structural fires was to buy more fire fighting equipment. Indeed, that might help, however there’s a much more cost-effective approach such as having buildings inspected for fire prevention capabilities.

In their book, The Innovator’s Prescription, Clayton Christensen and Dr. Jason Hwang point out how applying technology into old business models has only raised costs. Thus, buying new technology isn’t a silver bullet if it’s put into an old business model. Rather, the new technologies need to go hand-in-hand with agile, new processes. The organizations who optimize their approaches for a more agile model will prevail.

Plugging new technology into old business models has caused health care costs to rise rather than fall

Images are courtesy of Jason Hwang, M.D., M.B.A. Co-author of The Innovator’s Prescription.

Dramatic Gains From New Care And Payment Models
Innovators such as Iora Health, WhiteGlove Health and Qliance rethought the care delivery and payment models from the ground up. Their results have been impressive. For example, Qliance has Net Promoter Scores higher than Google or Apple, while reducing the direct costs of healthcare (i.e., their service coupled with a high deductible wrap-around policy) 20-40%. More impressively, they have reduced utilization of the most expensive downstream costs (surgical, specialist and emergency visits) 40-80%. Iora has reported similar outcomes with some of the toughest patient populations out there. [See “David Clause” in Obamacare Ready to Slay the Healthcare Cost Beast for more on the outcomes Iora and Qliance have reported.]

The next wave of innovators are taking advantage of second-mover advantage as the wave of healthtech startups provide them off-the-shelf software that is an order of magnitude less investment than the first wave of innovators. It’s a couple orders of magnitude less expensive than legacy healthIT. More importantly for the innovators is the speed that they can not only stand up the new technology but also easily iterate based on real world experience. Rather than months or years, it’s hours or days. This is a key component of IT agility. They also make the most of investment others make rather than be threatened by them. A simple example: WebMD is used by over 100M consumers per month. Clinicians can curate information that they think will be useful for patients from WebMD and others (e.g., medical societies) who’ve made large investments in consumer-friendly content. Healthcare can no longer afford to reinvent the wheel. [See Khan Academy Approach to Solve Wicked Problem in Healthcare for examples of new approaches taken.]

Change is already happening faster than many expected. Oliver Wyman’s recent paper highlighted the rapidity of the market shift in The ACO Surprise (PDF). When I was presenting to the Pioneer ACOs over the summer (see summary here), it was already apparent to the pioneering organizations that their new models required new systems. They went on to state they didn’t expect to get anything for the new requirements from their traditional healthIT suppliers for at least the next two years. Meanwhile, the market shift is taking place much quicker than that.

New York Digital Health Accelerator Is A Model To Emulate
Zina Moukheiber highlighted a program that is a key plank of perhaps the largest effort in the country to reinvent healthcare delivery and payment.

The New York Health Home program was designed to make obsolete the traditional uncoordinated and unaccountable “system” that has cared for Medicaid patients in New York. Managing a $50B budget gives Dr. Nirav Shah (NY’s state Commissioner of Health) the clout to attract hundreds of companies that want to enable the reinvention of healthcare. Dr. Shah and other leaders in New York’s public and private sector recognized that with an entirely new set of objectives a new set of technology requirements naturally emanates from that. Through the New York Digital Health Accelerator (NYDHA), they are supporting the growth of agile startups to meet these new requirements. [Disclosure: My company was one of the 8 companies selected for the accelerator program.] Just two months into the program, there are pilots and deployments with the accelerator companies underway in the leading healthcare providers in New York.

The graphic below depicts the transition from the slide rule to the mainframe and then back out to mobile devices. Dr. Shah’s comments in the video above echo’ed the shift from an old “mainframe” method of healthcare delivery to a more distributed “smartphone” model.

Centralization followed by decentralization in computing

New business models require new technology. As David Whitlinger (head of the New York eHealth Collaborative) highlighted in the video above, his organization has built a state health information network but what it needs are the applications riding on top of that network to realize its full value. The startups in the NYDHA will be the first to get access to the statewide network due to their agility in taking advantage of the state’s health information exchange.

A new ecosystem of disruptive business models must arise