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.
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.
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.