Health systems have recently been the subject of high-profile media accusations that they prioritize “profits over patients”, as an unflattering New York Times series has framed it.
New consumer survey data from strategic healthcare communications consulting firm Jarrard Inc. shows that while consumers find some merit in these claims, they tend to see their local hospital in a better light. As shown in the graphic above, a majority of US adults believe that, on a national level, hospitals are more focused on making money than caring for patients, and that they don’t do enough to help low-income people access high quality care.
Despite only one in five survey participants having seen news stories alleging hospitals fail to provide enough charity care in exchange for tax breaks, 65 percent of survey respondents find those allegations believable.
But while the consumer perception of hospitals may be suffering nationally, the responses were quite different when consumers were asked about their preferred local hospital. More than half strongly agreed that their preferred local hospital is a good community partner—one that puts patient care ahead of making money.
(Just as with Congress: people love to criticize the institution, while continuing to return their own representatives to Washington.) While the negative national attention can be disheartening, at the end of the day, to consumers,healthcare is local, and health systems must continue to build direct consumer relationships to strengthen patient loyalty.
Although the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) practice model was first conceived over 50 years ago, its rapid adoption coincided with the launch of ACOs and value-based care. Primary care practices which adopted the medical home model expanded access and support available to patients, enhanced focus on chronic disease management, and embraced team-based care, with a focus on practice and provider sustainability.
But despite the model’s success, a recent conversation with a physician leader suggests that some of most progressive primary care practices are looking to move beyond the medical home. A primary care physician himself, he leads a network of hundreds of doctors, with nearly all the primary care practices PCMH-certified. He shared that “the medical home model in its traditional form doesn’t quite encapsulate what we’re trying to do now”. In his mind, it now feels paternalistic, focusing on what physicians think patients need without paying as much attention to what patients want from their healthcare.
We started brainstorming how a “consumer-centered medical home” might look. Built on the foundation of the PCMH, it would deliver access on the patient’s terms, bringing care online and into the home. Team-based care, supported by technology and even artificial intelligence tools, would enable easy, ongoing communication with patients.
As the list grew, it became increasingly clear that while a small practice could adopt the PCMH, scale is critical for these enhanced capabilities—being able to deliver more services to patients without increasing provider burnout. A tall order for sure, but an exciting vision for primary care that builds consumer loyalty in a competitive marketplace, while keeping the focus on improved care management and outcomes.
Last week, we introduced our framework for value delivery as a “healthcare platform”, in which an organization’s proximity to both the consumer and to the premium dollar determines how it competes as a “care supplier,” a “care ecosystem,” a “premium owner,” or a “population manager.” Traditionally, different healthcare companies have operated primarily in one of these four domains. However, as shown in the graphic below, we’ve recently seen many shift their business into one or more additional quadrants, as they seek to expand their value propositions. UnitedHealth Group is an obvious example: it has moved well beyond the traditional insurance business, via numerous provider and care delivery acquisitions across the continuum.
Other players have shifted from their own “pure play” positions toward more comprehensive “platform” strategies as well: One Medical adding Iora Health to enhance population health capabilities; Walmart moving beyond retail and pharmacy services, partnering with Oak Street Health to expand its ability to manage Medicare patients; Amazon getting into the employer health business.
There’s a clear pattern emerging—value propositions are converging on a “strategic high ground” that encompasses all four dimensions of platform value, creating a comprehensive set of solutions to deliver accessible care, promote health, and grow consumer loyalty, with an aligned financial model centered on managing the total cost of care. Health systems looking to build platform strategies will find many of these competitors also vying for pride of place as the “platform of choice” for healthcare consumers and purchasers.
Humana, the nation’s second-largest Medicare Advantage (MA) insurer, is pushing further into home-based care, partnering with Denver-based startup DispatchHealthto offer its members—especially those with conditions like heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic cellulitis—access tohospital-level care at home.
The service will initially be available in the Denver and Tacoma, WA markets, with plans to expand to Arizona, Nevada, and Texas across 2021. Humana members who meet hospital admission criteria will receive daily home visits from an on-call, dedicated DispatchHealth medical team, as well as 24/7 physician coverage enabled by remote monitoring and an emergency call button.
DispatchHealth will also coordinate other patient care and wraparound services in the home as needed, including pharmacy, imaging, physical therapy, durable medical equipment, and meal delivery. Dispatch’s earlier offerings centered around home-based, on-demand urgent and emergency care services, now available in at least 29 cities nationwide.
Humana’s partnership with DispatchHealth could deliver a full care continuum of home-based services to its Medicare Advantage enrollees and has the potential to displace hospitals from at least a portion of acute care services.
Post-COVID, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the nexus of care delivery has shifted even more rapidly to consumers’ homes—and traditional providers will need to rethink service strategies accordingly.
UnitedHealth Group, both the nation’s largest health insurer and largest employer of physicians, just announced plans to continue to rapidly grow the number of physicians in its Optum division.
This week CEO Dave Wichmann told investors in the company’s fourth quarter earnings call that Optum entered 2021 with over 50,000 employed or affiliated physicians, and expects to add at least 10,000 more across the year.(For context,HCA Healthcare, the largest for-profit US health system, employs or affiliates with roughly 46,000 physicians, and Kaiser Permanente employs about 23,300.) Optum is already making progress toward its ambitious goal with the announcement last week that the company is in talks to acquire Atrius Health, a 715-physician practice in the Boston area.
As was the case with other health plans, United’s health insurance business took an expected hit last quarter due to increased costs from COVID testing and treatment, combined with rebounding healthcare utilization. Optum, however, saw revenue up over 20 percent, which drove much of the company’s overall fourth quarter growth.
Expect United, and other large insurers, flush with record profits from last year, to continue to expand their portfolio of care, digital and analytics assets(see also Optum’s recently announced plan to acquire Change Healthcare for $13B) as they looks to grow integrated insurance and care delivery offerings.
It’s part of what we expect to be a 2021 “land grab” for strategic advantage in healthcare, as providers, health plans, and disruptors look to create comprehensive platforms to secure long-term consumer loyalty.
At the beginning of the pandemic, physicians and health systems implemented telemedicine solutions with unprecedented speed. In doing so, they went from mostly lagging behind payers and disruptors in digital medicine, to becoming the anchors who kept patients and doctors connected during the greatest health crisis in a century.
But over the past few weeks, we’ve detected a marked shift in the tone and focus of conversations around telemedicine with doctors and executives. Universally, systems have seen a drop in virtual visits as in-person care has returned—and most agree that today’s levels of telemedicine visits are lower than ideal.
“We peaked at 45 percent of outpatient visits delivered virtually in early May. Now telemedicine accounts for just five percent,” one physician leader told us. “I don’t know what ‘percent virtual’ is ideal, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than five percent.” Another leader described a shift from “rally to reality”.
At the height of the crisis, the entire system was singularly focused on keeping patients connected to care, bolstered by a loosening of regulatory and payment restrictions.
As systems now plan for a long-term virtual care strategy, we’re sensing a shift in focus to pre-COVID challenges: operations (centralization is needed to create a sustainable model, but each doctor wants to do virtual visits his own way), payment (should we really invest before we’re sure health plans will continue to pay at parity?), and turf battles (reemerging political discussions of who “owns” virtual care strategy).
Health plans, retailers and disruptors recognize the power of virtual care to build relationships and loyalty with consumers—and will invest heavily behind it. Providers have the advantage today. But to keep it, they’ll have to get out of their own way and continue to build, scale and refine their virtual care platforms.