Cooperating for better care.

Robert Whitcomb

Author Archives

The Blue Shield-Sutter battle

 

giants

Siphnian Treasury at Delphi, North frieze, c. 525 BC, detail showing gods facing right and giants facing left.

Blue Shield of California  alleges that Sutter Health, which runs 23 hospitals in northern California, is charging excessive prices and doing it in sneaky ways that hide its expensiveness from the public. But Sutter, for its part,  said state data show that its per-hospital-discharge prices are at or below its peers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the legal dispute between the giants has prevented Blue Shield and Sutter from reaching a new contract that would affect many employers and consumers.

Blue Shield is telling about 280,000 health plan members that they ”might lose network coverage with Sutter doctors and hospitals”  in the  fight, the paper says.

Some groups have accused Sutter of  sneakily imposing anti-competitive actions and illegally inflated prices.

“‘Blue Shield is demanding significant rate rollbacks as well as several changes to language that has been in our contracts for years, Sutter spokesman Bill Gleeson said. ‘Rate rollbacks of the magnitude that Blue Shield demands would have a negative impact on the level of healthcare services we offer.”‘

The Sutter case but one large example of complaints about big hospital systems’ pricing power,  which has grown as they buy more and more physician practices and outpatient medical facilities. Perhaps the most famous complaints are those involving Partners HealthCare, in the Boston area.

”James Robinson, a University of California at Berkeley professor of health economics, published a study in October showing hospital ownership of physician groups in California led to 10-20 percent higher costs overall for patient care,” the Times reported.

“Consolidation can create better coordination and efficiencies in healthcare. However, it can also create opportunities for higher prices.”

 

 


Big Data is far from a cure-all

 

Listen to this National Public Radio feature on why Big Data is far from a cure-all in medicine, despite all the hype in recent years.


Resistance to ‘Big Data’

 

Peter Zweifel raises some important questions regarding “Big Data”:

”The question of how manageable big data might be when applied to coordinated care is primarily the concern of health insurers, who have a strong incentive to invest in big data. Once insurers and medical directors agree on measures of performance, big data can be condensed so it is more manageable for both of these parties.

”However, it is doubtful whether the cost savings are sufficient to overcome the resistance of service providers who seek to retain their professional autonomy. Big data is a double-edged sword for consumers; improved coordination of care comes at the risk of a loss of privacy,  which governments may be eager to exploit.”

 

 


Planning for patients with advanced illness

 

A blog in HealthAffairs looks at redesigning the American health system to better address the needs of patients with advanced illnesses. To do this, the authors recommend  six steps, and they give examples of places with successful models.

The authors write: “To ensure that the voices of patients with advanced illness will guide treatment decisions, patients’ values and preferences must be documented. Knowing and honoring patients’ preferences requires redesign of the health system using clear and specific design principles.”

The aim is a system that is:

  • “Person- and Family-Centered: Care is focused on treating the person with an illness rather than a disease.
  • ”More Coordinated: When systems are established to document and communicate this person-centered conversation, the healthcare system becomes more organized.
  • ”Individualized: Management of disease and palliative services are not an either/or choice; rather, under individualized plans, patients receive care in the “dose” that fits their medical condition and informed preferences.”

 

 

 


Steps in commercializing new healthcare tech

 

Steve Blank, writing in MedCity News, reports on a new class of life-science/healthcare co-working collaboration space.

He says that startups seeking to commercialize new technologies should:

  • Define ”clinical utility” before spending millions of dollars.
  • Understand who core and tertiary customers are, and the sales and marketing process ”required for initial clinical sales and downstream commercialization.”
  • Assess intellectual property and regulatory risk ”before designing and building”.
  • ”Know what data will be required by future partnerships/collaboration/purchases before doing the science.”
  • “Identify financing vehicles” before they’re needed.

 


Enhanced medical homes for kids seen to improve outcomes

 

An article in JAMA concludes:

Among high-risk children with chronic illness, an enhanced medical home that provided comprehensive care to promote prompt effective care vs usual care reduced serious illnesses and costs.”

The aim of the study was to find out “whether an enhanced medical home providing comprehensive care prevents serious illness (death, intensive care unit [ICU] admission, or hospital stay >7 days) and/or reduces costs among children with chronic illness.”

The study’s authors had noted that regular “Patient-centered medical homes have not been shown to reduce adverse outcomes or costs in adults or children with chronic illness.”

 

 


Jonathan Merril, M.D., joins Cambridge Management Group

Jonathan Merril, M.D., has joined Cambridge Management Group  (cmg625.com) as a senior adviser.

Dr. Merril has devoted his career to improving provider and patient education through technology. He is currently developing a “chronic care university’’ at Partners HealthCare. The new “university’’ is an online service for patients and primary-care providers meant to improve the lives of people with chronic conditions, with the first program to be focused on multiple sclerosis.

Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com) has increasingly worked with providers to improve care and control costs associated with patients with chronic conditions as their numbers increase with the aging of the population. Dr. Merril and his colleagues at Cambridge Management Group recognize the growing need to manage chronic diseases with innovation in diagnostics and therapeutics.

He uses mobile and simulation technology and healthcare-education expertise to work with businesses, government and non-profit organizations to create novel opportunities to enhance care.

He is also the chief executive of Astute Technology, which streams large medical conferences, including those of the American Heart Association, the American Society for Clinical Oncology and many other organizations. Dr. Merril holds many patents in the digital capture of such gatherings.

Dr. Merril has used the Internet and App technology to build some of the most widely used online (including mobile) learning resources for physicians and patients. These systems power the Partners Healthcare Office of Continuing Professional Development and some key activities (including board reviews) of various other large non-profit healthcare organizations.

He is an expert in building and integrating platforms for continuing education, maintenance of licensure and promoting best practices for hospitals and professional societies.

Dr. Merril received his M.D. degree from The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He did his internship in internal medicine and then completed a fellowship in medical informatics in a joint program of George Washington and Massachusetts General Hospital. Jonathan Merril is married and has three children.


How the GOP might unite on an ACA replacement

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Politico discusses how 2015 could be the year that Republicans, now in firm control of Congress, finally define how they would replace the Affordable Care Act.

The Supreme Court will  soon hear case that threatens subsidies that form a core of the Affordable Care Act. That has Republicans putting pressure on themselves to rally around their own plan, drawing on such ideas as tax credits to buy insurance, high-risk pools and letting insurance be sold across state lines.

If the justices follow the GOP plan, subsidies ”could be abruptly cut off to millions of people in states relying on the federal health exchange. That financial assistance would be available in just the 13 states running their own exchanges.”

All this would “spill over into the rest of the U.S. health insurance system. Without subsidies in two-thirds of the states, the uninsured rate would probably rise, reversing its sharp decline. Premiums could soar if only the sickest people stick with their more expensive coverage.”

 

 


The punishment of a bioethicist

 

Healthcare Renewal’s Roy Poses, M.D., and  the Minneapolis Star Tribune look  at the controversial case of Carl Elliott, M.D., a psychiatrist and bioethicist at the University of Minnesota who challenged the University of Minnesota’s handling of the  death of a patient in a clinical trial run by the university.

 

 


PinnacleHealth’s program to get physicians to listen more

 

With  vivid examples, Nirmal Joshi, M.D., chief medical officer for Pinnacle Health System, based in Harrisburg, Pa., discusses in a New York Times piece the necessity of  intense, if sometimes brief, two-way communication between physicians and patients.

Dr. Joshi notes that  the Joint Commission  has found that ”communication failure (rather than a provider’s lack of technical skill) was at the root of over 70 percent of serious adverse health outcomes in hospitals.”

”{O}ne survey found, two out of every three patients are discharged from the hospital without even knowing their diagnosis. Another study discovered that in over 60 percent of cases, patients misunderstood directions after a visit to their doctor’s office. And on average, physicians wait just 18 seconds before interrupting patients’ narratives of their symptoms.”

Dr. J0shi describes started a program  that he and his colleagues started to improve doctors’ communication with their patients at Pinnacle.

They developed a physician-training program, which, he writes in The Times, ”involved mock patient interviews and assessment from {an} actor role-playing the patient. Over 250 physicians were trained using this technique. We also arranged for a ‘physician coach’ to sit in on real patient interviews and provide feedback.”

 And it helped a lot, as his op-ed explains.


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