Op-Ed: As a doctor, I use telemedicine. With the coronavirus threat, it could revolutionize healthcare

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-03-17/op-ed-as-a-doctor-i-use-telemedicine-with-the-coronavirus-threat-it-could-revolutionize-healthcare?fbclid=IwAR1D6sHWYhvei0Hda4dRuqRaydyxO7AVRjWQj-2UTFqwf3gdKaWuVfxa2Hs

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As a physician, waiting for the worst of coronavirus to hit, I see a lot to fear. It seems increasingly likely that this will be one of the most significant pandemics in modern human history, and that it will change our approach to healthcare going forward. But not all of its legacy will be negative. Here’s one thing I hope will come out of the crisis: an increased reliance on telemedicine, something that should have happened long ago.

A few months ago, when I was between jobs, I took a part-time job in a rural hospital serving a county of more than 150,000 people. On the verge of bankruptcy, the hospital was unable to attract many specialists to join its ranks, and in desperation, had turned to telemedicine to cover many services. So, for example, if a patient was rushed to the emergency room after a stroke, there was unlikely to be a neurologist in the room. Instead, a neurologist would assess the patient on a mobile screen from far away, with local nursing staff and doctors aiding him or her.

I had been skeptical of telemedicine going in. Physical exams are the bedrock of how doctors and nurses assess patients. We look patients and their loved ones in the eye, palpate sore spots with our fingers and offer comfort with a hand on a shoulder. Physical contact, I’d always thought, was at the heart of how doctors and patients communicate.

It was with this skepticism that I found myself next to a young man who been brought to the emergency room after attempting to take his own life. Again. This time, instead of seeing a psychiatrist in person, he saw one on a screen with wheels. The psychiatrist was in some distant location, but she had been in touch with the local doctors and had access to his medical records. Despite her physical remoteness, she connected with him, and he opened up. She knew of all the local resources to refer him to, and at the end of her conversation, she had developed a real rapport with him. After the visit ended and the nurse wheeled the monitor out of the room, I asked the young man what he thought, and to my surprise, he told me he was more comfortable with this than an in-person visit. He wasn’t the only one — many patients say they prefer a virtual doc to one sitting across from them.

Over the past few decades, medical care has been transformed by technology. Whenever a new drug becomes available, or a medical procedure is approved by the FDA, the medical community is quick to deploy it. Yet, when it comes to how we see patients, our current practices haven’t changed much since the time of Hippocrates. If a patient is sick they either have to come see us in clinic, urgent care, the emergency room or the hospital. Despite the internet transforming every aspect of our lives, from how we find love to how we order groceries, the way we deliver medical care has stagnated.

In the United States, not only are doctors often inaccessible for those living in rural areas, hospitals everywhere have huge economic challenges. One healthcare executive jokingly told me his hospital made more money from its parking lots than its clinics.

The response to COVID-19 might help change that.

One of the main reasons China has been able to slow coronavirus transmission has been because of a dramatic increase in virtual visits. In fact, China has moved half of all medical care online, allowing patients to consult with their doctors and get prescriptions from the comfort of their homes. Hospitals have been notorious petri dishes for deadly bugs since long before COVID-19, and this pandemic has brought that risk into crystal-clear focus. On Tuesday, Medicare announced that it will greatly expand coverage for telemedicine visits, previously sharply restricted. And at a White House briefing, the government announced it was urging states to similarly expand Medicaid coverage to include telemedicine visits by Skype, Facetime or other platforms. Some insurers have also said they will cover telehealth visits at parity with in-person visits.

These measures are commendable, but policies need to be put in place to ensure that the expansion of telemedicine is not temporary. Of course, in-person visits will still be necessary in many cases. But supporting telemedicine on a par with such visits has the potential to protect patients and healthcare personnel and allow for much more efficiency in the system. That said, physicians and nurses will need high-quality training to provide compassionate and thorough care to a patient from across a computer screen. Technology that allows patients to be “examined” remotely needs to be better studied and made more accessible. And since the backbone of telemedicine is reliable high-speed internet, Congress should consider Elizabeth Warren’s plan to bring broadband internet to the remotest parts of this country, to ensure broad access to these services.

This week my team converted most of our clinic visits from face to face to virtual visits. Some were over the phone, others were over video, often with a family member present as well. While there were some patients that still needed to be seen in person, we were able to minimize the risk of viral transmission not only for patients, but also for valuable members of our clinical team. Even before this crisis, as part of my job at the Veterans Affairs Health System in Boston, I often consulted with patients I had never seen as part of an “E Consult” system. While I was initially nervous when I first started doing this, it allowed me to expand my footprint far beyond what I could manage if I were seeing every patient in person.

At some point, I fervently hope the coronavirus will be a thing of the past. But I hope it leaves behind a legacy. I hope it changes how well we wash our hands, how well we fund public health and how well we protect the healthcare workers caring for our sickest patients. And, most of all, I hope it pushes us to embrace telemedicine.

 

 

 

 

Ochsner to pay tuition for future physicians, nurses who pledge to 5 years with system

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-physician-relationships/ochsner-to-pay-tuition-for-future-physicians-nurses-who-pledge-to-5-years-with-system.html%20?utm_medium=email

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New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System created a $10 million tuition fund to grow its own workforce amid current labor market challenges, according to The Advocate, a Louisiana news outlet.

The system will begin by paying tuition for a cohort of 30 primary care physicians and psychiatrists. The physicians must commit to working in Louisiana with the health system for at least five years to receive the funding.

Ochsner has plans to offer similar scholarship opportunities for employees who want to become licensed practical nurses or registered nurses. It plans to ultimately cover tuition for about 1,000 employees, according to the report.

Read the full story here.

 

 

The top 10 questions from the 2020 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that every CEO must answer

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/strategy/the-top-10-questions-from-the-2020-j-p-morgan-healthcare-conference-that-every-ceo-must-answer.html

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As we enter a new decade, everyone is searching for something to truly change the game in healthcare over the next 10 years. To find that answer, an estimated 50,000 people headed to San Francisco this week for the prestigious J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. Every one of them is placing big bets on who will win and lose in the future of healthcare. The shortcut to figuring this out is actually a question — or 10 questions to be more precise. And what matters most is whether or not the right people are asking and answering those questions.  

While the prophets are ever present and ever ready to pitch their promises in every corner of the city, the pragmatists head up to the 32nd floor of the Westin St. Francis Hotel to hear from the CEOs and CFOs of close to 30 of the largest and most prestigious providers of care in the country. Why? Remember, this is an investor conference and if you want to understand any market, the first rule is to follow the money. And if you want to understand the future business model of healthcare, you better listen closely to the health providers in that room and take notes. 

What providers are saying matters to everyone in healthcare

Healthcare is the largest industry in our economy with over $4 trillion spent per year. Healthcare delivery systems and healthcare providers account for over $2 trillion of that spend, so that feels like a pretty good place to start, right? For that reason alone, it’s critical to listen closely to the executives in those organizations, as their decisions will affect the quality, access and cost of care more than any other stakeholder in healthcare.

Some will say that what they saw this year from healthcare providers was more of the same, but I encourage you to ignore that cynicism and look more closely. As the futurist William Gibson once said, “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” The potential for any health system to drive major change is certainly there and the examples are everywhere. The biggest blocker is whether they are asking the right questions. One question can change everything. Here’s proof. 

The stunning power of and need for good questions 

Last year I titled my summary The #1 Takeaway from the 2019 JP Morgan Conference – It’s the Platform, Stupid.” The overwhelming response to the article was pretty surprising to me  — it really resonated with leaders. One example was Jeff Bolton, the chief administrative officer of Mayo Clinic, who told me that the article had inspired their team to ask a single question, “Does Mayo need to be a platform?” They answered the question “yes” and then took aggressive action to activate a strategy around it. Keep reading to learn about what they set in motion. 

Soon after, I had a discussion with John Starcher, CEO of Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health, one of the largest health systems in the country, who shared with me that he is taking his team off site for a few days to think about their future. It occurred to me that the most helpful thing for his team wouldn’t be a laundry list of ideas from the other 30 healthcare delivery systems that presented, but rather the questions that they asked at the board and executive level that drove their strategy. Any of those questions would have the potential to change the game for John’s team or any executive team. After all, if you’re going to change anything, the first thing you need to do is change is your mind. 

The wisdom of the crowd 

So, I set out to figure this out: If you were having a leadership or board retreat, what are the 10 questions you should be asking and answering that may change the future of your organization over the next 10 years? I didn’t have the answers, so I decided to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, listening to all 30 of the nonprofit provider presentations, spending additional time with a number of the presenters and reaching out to dozens of experts in the market to help define and refine a set of 10 questions that could spark the conversation that fires up an executive team to develop to the right strategy for their organization. 

A special thank you to a number of the most respected leaders in healthcare who took their time to contribute to and help think through these questions: 

  • Mike Allen, CFO of OSF Healthcare (Peoria, Ill.)
  • Jeff Bolton, CAO of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.)
  • Robin Damschroder, CFO of Henry Ford Health System (Detroit)
  • JP Gallagher, CEO of NorthShore University HealthSystem (Evanston, Ill.)
  • Kris Zimmer, CFO of SSM Health (St. Louis) 
  • Wright Lassiter, CEO of Henry Ford Health System (Detroit)
  • Mary Lou Mastro, CEO of Edwards-Elmhurst Health (Warrenville, Ill.)
  • Dominic Nakis, CFO of Advocate Aurora Health (Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.) 
  • Dr. Janice Nevin, CEO of ChristianaCare (Newark, Del.)
  • Randy Oostra, CEO or ProMedica (Toledo, Ohio)
  • John Orsini, CFO of Northwestern Medicine (Chicago)
  • Lou Shapiro, CEO of Hospital for Special Surgery (New York City) 
  • John Starcher, President & CEO, Bon Secours Mercy Health (Cincinnati)
  • Vinny Tammaro, CFO, Yale New Haven Health (New Haven, Conn.)
  • Bert Zimmerli, CFO of Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City)

Here are the top 10 questions from the 2020 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

Based on the wisdom of the crowd including the 30 nonprofit provider presentations at the 2020 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, here are the Top 10 Questions that every CEO needs to answer that may make or break their next 10 years.

1. Business model: Will we think differently and truly leverage our “platform?” As referenced earlier in this article, this was the major theme from last year — health systems leveraging their current assets to build high-value offerings and new revenue streams on top of the infrastructure they have in place. Providers are pivoting from the traditional strategy of buying and building hospitals and simply providing care toward a new and more dynamic strategy that focuses on leveraging the platform they have in place to create more value and growth. Mayo Clinic is an organization that all health systems follow closely. Mayo adopted the platform model around their ‘digital assets’ into what they refer to as Mayo Clinic Platform, which initially targets three game-changing initiatives: a Home Hospital to deliver more health in the home even for high acuity patients, a Clinical Data Analytics Platform for research and development and an Advanced Diagnostics Platform focused on predictive analytics, using algorithms to capture subtle signals before a disease even develops. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the top pediatric hospitals in the world, is leveraging their platform to drive international volume, where revenue is 3.5x more per patient. They are also making investments in cell and gene therapy, where their spinoff of Spark Therapeutics returned hundreds of millions of dollars back to their organization. Both organizations were clear that any returns that they generate will be re-invested back into raising the bar on both access to care and quality of care.

 

2. Market share: Are we leveraging a “share of cup” strategy? Starbucks had dominant share in the market against Caribou Coffee, Peet’s Coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts. Instead of solely focusing on how to grab a little more market share, they reframed the definition of their market. They called it “share of cup” meaning that anywhere and any time a cup of coffee was consumed, they wanted it to be Starbucks. In that definition of the market, they had very little share, but enormous growth potential. Hospital for Special Surgery in New York is the largest and highest volume orthopedic shop in the world. Their belief is that wherever and whenever a musculoskeletal issue occurs, they should be part of that conversation. This thinking has led them to build a robust referral network, which 33 percent of the time leads to no surgical treatment. So instead of fighting for share of market in New York, they have a very small share and a very big opportunity in a “share of cup” approach. NorthShore University Health System in Illinois has taken a similar approach on a regional level, converting one of their full-service hospitals into the first orthopedic and spine institute in the state. The results have exceeded expectations on every measure and they already have to increase their capacity due to even higher demand than they originally modeled. 

 

3. Structure: Are we a holding company or an operating company? There has been a tremendous amount of consolidation over the last few years, but questions remain over the merits of those moves. The reality is that many of these organizations haven’t made the tough decisions and are essentially operating as a holding company. They are not getting any strategic or operational leverage. You can place all health systems on a continuum along these two endpoints — being a holding vs. an operating company — but the most critical step is to have an open conversation about where you’re at today, where you intend to be in the future, when you’re going to get there and how you’re going to make it happen. Bon Secours Mercy Health’s CEO John Starcher shared, “It makes sense to merge, but only if you’re willing to make the tough decisions.” His team hit the mark on every measure of their integration following their merger. They then leveraged that same competency to acquire the largest private provider of care in Ireland, as well as seven hospitals in South Carolina and Virginia. Northwestern Medicine has leveraged a similar approach to transform from a $1 billion hospital into a $5 billion health system in a handful of years. Both of these organizations prioritized and made tough decisions quickly and each has created an organizational competency in executing efficiently and effectively on mergers and acquisitions. 

 

4. Culture: Do we have employees or a team? Every organization states that their employees are their most important asset, but few have truly engaged them as a team. Hospitals and healthcare delivery systems can become extraordinarily political, and it’s easy to see why. These are incredibly complex businesses with tens of thousands of employees in hundreds of locations and thousands of departments. Getting that type of organization to move in the same direction is incredibly challenging in any industry. At the same time, the upside of breaking through is perhaps the most important test of any leadership team. JP Gallagher, CEO of North Shore University Health System, shared his perspective that, “Healthcare is a team sport.” The tough question is whether or not your employees are truly working as a team. Christiana Care provides care in four states — Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They have taken a unique approach that they frame as “for the love of health,” incorporating the essence of what they do in every communication both internally and externally, in their values and in their marketing. In a multi-state system, it is tricky to create a caring and collaborative culture, but it’s critical and they’ve nailed it. Their CEO shared that, “If you lead with love, excellence will follow.” That’s not only well said but spot-on. Creating a world-class team requires not only loving what you do, but the team you’re part of.

 

5. Physicians: Are our physicians optimistic or pessimistic? There’s a lot of concern about “physician burnout” with a reflex to blame it on EHRs, cutting off the needed conversation to dive deeper into where it really comes from and how best to address it. The challenge over the next decade is to create an optimistic, engaged and collaborative culture with physicians. In reading this, some will react with skepticism, which is exactly why leadership here is so important. One suggestion I was given was to make this question edgier and ask, “Are our physicians with us or not?” However the question is asked, the bottom line is that leadership needs to find a way to turn this into a dynamic, hyper-engaged model. A little while back I spent the day with the leadership team at Cleveland Clinic. At the end of the day, their CEO Dr. Tom Mihaljevic was asked what he would tell someone who was thinking of going to medical school. He said he would tell them that, “This is absolutely the best time to be a doctor.” His answer was based on the fact that there has never been a time when you could do more to help people. He wasn’t ignoring the challenges, he was simply reframing those issues as important problems that smart people need to help solve in the future. Those who adopt that type of optimism and truly engage and partner with their physicians will create a major competitive advantage over the next decade.

 

6. Customer: Do we treat sick patients or care for consumers? Words matter here – patients vs. consumers. Most hospitals are in a B2B, not B2C, mindset. Patients get sick, they try to access care, they check into an ER, they get admitted, they are treated, they get discharged. People get confused, anxious and concerned, then they seek not only care, but simplicity, compassion and comfort. With half of America coming through their stores every week, Walmart is already the largest provider organization that no one thinks of as they provide ‘consumer’ care, not ‘patient’ care. But they are starting to broaden their lens, and health systems will need to make moves as well. Competing with Walmart, CVS and other consumer-centric models will require a different mindset. I think Dr. Janice Nevin, the CEO ChristianaCare, captured this really well when she said, “Our mindset is that our role is to ensure everything that can be digital will be digital. Everything than can be done in the home will be done in the home.” Henry Ford Health System CEO Wright Lassiter commented, “Trust is the fundamental currency in healthcare.” Building that trust will require a digital experience in the future that is just as compassionate and caring as what health systems strive to deliver in person in the past. 

 

7. Data: Will we make data liquid? The most undervalued and misunderstood asset of health systems may be their data. While some at the conference refer to this as having the economic equivalent of being the “oil of healthcare,” the real and more practical question is whether or not your organization will make data liquid, available and accessible to the right players on your team at the right time. Jeff Bolton from Mayo commented that, “The current model is broken. Data and tech can eliminate fragmentation.” In a recent Strata survey, we asked leaders in health systems whether they had access to the information they needed to do their job, and 90 percent said no. For many health systems, data is a science project, hidden behind the scenes primarily used for research and impossible to access for most stakeholders. The call to action is activating that data to improve clinical outcomes, operations and/or financial performance. 

 

8. Cost: Are we serious about reducing the cost of care and delivering value? Affordability is a hot topic, and for good reason, as high deductible plans, price transparency and other factors have accelerated its urgency. As Intermountain Healthcare CEO Dr. Marc Harrison shared, “We have an absolute responsibility to make healthcare affordable.” While the consumer side will be a moving target for some time, the No. 1 challenge for hospitals right now is to lower their cost structure so they can compete more effectively in the future. Advocate Aurora HealthBaylor Scott & White Health, CommonSpirit Health and many others are targeting cost reductions of over $1 billion over the next few years. As most hospitals are now in a continuous process to reduce cost in order to compete more effectively in the future, organizations like Yale New Haven Health in Connecticut have implemented advanced cost accounting solutions to better understand both cost and margins. Yale is using this data to understand variation, supporting an initiative that drove over $150 million in savings. Additionally, they have combined cost data with clinical feeds from their EHR to understand the cost of harm events, which turn out to be 5x more expensive. As more providers take on risk, having a “source of truth” on the cost of care will be essential. Advocate Aurora Health CFO Dominic Nakis shared that, “We believe the market will continue to move to taking on risk.” Many of the presenting organizations shared that same perspective, but they won’t be able to manage that risk unless they understand the cost of care for every patient at every point of care across the continuum every day.

 

9. Capital: Do we have an “asset-light” strategy? Traditional strategy for health systems was defined primarily by what they built or bought. Many hospitals still maintain an “if you build it, they will come” strategy at the board level. Yet, Uber has become the biggest transportation company in the world without owning a single car and Airbnb has become the biggest hospitality company in the world without owning a single room. These models are important to reflect upon as healthcare delivery systems assess their capital investment strategy. Intermountain Healthcare CFO Bert Zimmerli refers to their overall thought process as an “asset-light expansion strategy.” In 2019, they opened a virtual hospital and they have now delivered over 700,000 virtual interactions. The number of virtual visits at Kaiser Permanente now exceeds the number of in-person visits at their facilities. With that said, there will be a balance. I really like how Robin Damschroder the CFO of Henry Ford Health System framed it: “We believe healthcare will be more like the airline and banking industry, both of which are fully digitally enabled but have a balance of ‘bricks and clicks’ with defined roles where you can seamlessly move between the two. Clearly, we have a lot of ‘bricks’ so building out the platform that integrates ‘clicks’ is essential.” 

 

10. Performance: Do we want our team to build a budget or improve performance? The most significant barrier to driving change that many organizations have baked into their operating model is their budget process. The typical hospital spends close to five months creating a budget that is typically more than $100 million off the mark. After it’s presented to the board, it is typically thrown out within 90 days. It creates a culture of politics, entitlement and inertia. According to a Strata survey of 200 organizations, close to 40 percent are now ditching the traditional budget process in favor of a more dynamic approach, often referred to as Advanced PlanningOSF HealthCare leverages a rolling approach, radically simplifying and streamlining the planning process while holding their team accountable for driving improvement vs. hitting a budget. When it comes to driving performance, SSM Health CEO Laura Kaiser captured the underlying mindset that’s needed: “We have a strong bias toward purposeful action.” Well said, and it certainly applies to all of the questions here among the top 10.

 

5 additional questions to consider

As you would imagine or might suggest, the questions above can and in some cases should be replaced with others. Additional critical questions to answer that came from the group included the following:

  1. Competition: Who else will we compete with in the future and are we positioned to win?
  2. Digital health: Are we going to be a “digital health” company, providing tech-enabled services?
  3. Affordability: How are we making care more affordable and easier to understand and access?
  4. Social determinants: Is this a mission, marketing or operations strategy?
  5. Leadership: Have we made the tough decisions we need to make, and will we in the future?

 

Start asking questions

The point here isn’t to get locked into a single list of questions, but rather to force your team to ask and answer the most important and challenging ones that will take you from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. After reviewing these questions with your team, the one additional question you need to consider is one of competency: Do you have the ability and bandwidth to execute on what you’ve targeted? In the end, that’s what matters most. While there are many interesting opportunities, too many teams end up chasing too much and delivering too little.

The next 10 years can and should be the best 10 years for every health system and every healthcare provider, but making it happen will require some really tough questions. “The current path we’re on will leave us with a healthcare delivery model that is completely unsustainable,” stated Randy Osstra, CEO of ProMedica Health System. “We need to take meaningful action toward creating a new model of health and well-being — one that supports healthy aging, addresses social determinants of health, encourages appropriate care in the lowest cost setting, and creates funding and incentives to force a truly integrated approach.”

Strong leaders are needed now more than ever. The rest of healthcare is watching, not just professionally but personally. We are all grateful to you for the extraordinary and often heroic care that you deliver without hesitation to our family and friends every day both in our communities and across our country. But now we all need you to not only deliver care, but a new and better version of healthcare. So, ask and answer these and other tough questions. We know you will do everything that you can to help make healthcare healthier for all of us over the next 10 years.

 

 

 

Every American family basically pays an $8,000 ‘poll tax’ under the U.S. health system, top economists say

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/07/every-american-family-basically-pays-an-poll-tax-under-us-health-system-top-economists-say/?utm_campaign=post_most&utm_medium=Email&utm_source=Newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Princeton economist Anne Case speaks about “deaths of despair” in the United States at the American Economic Association's annual meeting in San Diego this past weekend. (Heather Long/The Washington Post)

America’s sky-high health-care costs are so far above what people pay in other countries that they are the equivalent of a hefty tax, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say. They are surprised Americans aren’t revolting against these taxes.

“A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us,” Case said at conference in San Diego on Saturday. The U.S. health-care system is “like a tribute to a foreign power, but we’re doing it to ourselves.”

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world, costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system — Switzerland’s. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton view this extra cost as a “poll tax,” meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay. (Most Americans think of a poll tax as money people once had to pay to register to vote, but “polle” was an archaic German word for “head.” The idea behind a poll tax is that it falls on every head.)

Despite paying $8,000 more a year than anyone else, American families do not have better health outcomes, the economists argue. Life expectancy in the United States is lower than in Europe.

“We can brag we have the most expensive health care. We can also now brag that it delivers the worst health of any rich country,” Case said.

Case and Deaton, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, made the critical remarks about U.S. health care during a talk at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting, where thousands of economists gather to discuss the health of the U.S. economy and their latest research on what’s working and what’s not.

The two economists have risen to prominence in recent years for their work on America’s “deaths of despair.” They discovered Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 have been committing suicide, overdosing on opioids or dying from alcohol-related problems like liver disease at skyrocketing rates since 2000. These “deaths of despair” have been especially large among white Americans without college degrees as job options have rapidly declined for them.

Their forthcoming book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,” includes a scathing chapter examining how the U.S. health-care system has played a key role in these deaths. The authors call out pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, device manufacturers and doctors for their roles in driving up costs and creating the opioid epidemic.

In the research looking at the taxing nature of the U.S. health-care system compared with others, Deaton is especially critical of U.S. doctors, pointing out that 16 percent of people in the top 1 percent of income earners are physicians, according to research by Williams College professor Jon Bakija and others.

“We have half as many physicians per head as most European countries, yet they get paid two times as much, on average,” Deaton said in an interview on the sidelines of the AEA conference. “Physicians are a giant rent-seeking conspiracy that’s taking money away from the rest of us, and yet everybody loves physicians. You can’t touch them.”

As calls grow among the 2020 presidential candidates to overhaul America’s health-care system, Case and Deaton have been careful not to endorse a particular policy.

“It’s the waste that we would really like to see disappear,” Deaton said.

After looking at other health systems around the world that deliver better health outcomes, the academics say it’s clear that two things need to happen in the United States: Everyone needs to be in the health system (via insurance or a government-run system like Medicare-for-all), and there must be cost controls, including price caps on drugs and government decisions not to cover some procedures.

The economists say they understand it will be difficult to alter the health-care system, with so many powerful interests lobbying to keep it intact. They pointed to the practice of “surprise billing,” where someone is taken to a hospital — even an “in network” hospital covered by their insurance — but they end up getting a large bill because a doctor or specialist who sees them at the hospital might be considered out of network.

Surprise billing has been widely criticized by people across the political spectrum, yet a bipartisan push in Congress to curb it was killed at the end of last year after lobbying pressure.

“We believe in capitalism, and we think it needs to be put back on the rails,” Case said.

 

 

 

Market Consolidation on Trial

Market Consolidation on Trial

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra alleges that Sutter Health used its pre-eminent market power to artificially inflate prices. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

As a jury trial draws near in a major class-action lawsuit alleging anticompetitive practices by Northern California’s largest health system (PDF), a new CHCF study shows the correlation between the prices consumers pay and the extensive consolidation in the state’s health care markets. Importantly, the researchers estimated the independent effect of several types of industry consolidation in California — such as health insurers buying other insurers and hospitals buying physician practices. The report, prepared by UC Berkeley researchers, also examines potential policy responses.

While other states have initiated antitrust complaints against large hospital systems and medical groups in the past, the case against Sutter Health is unique in both the expansive nature of the alleged conduct and in the scale of the potential monetary damages. The complaint goes beyond claims of explicit anticompetitive contract terms and argues that by virtue of its very size and structure, the Northern California system imposed implicit or “de facto” terms that led to artificially inflated prices. Sutter Health vigorously denies the allegations.

The formation of large health systems like Sutter is neither new (PDF) nor unique to California (PDF). Several factors seem to be encouraging their growth, including payment models that place health care providers at financial risk for the cost of care, increased expectations from policymakers and payers around the continuum of patient needs that must be managed, and economies of scale for investments in information technology and administrative services. Some market participants also point to consolidation in other parts of the health care system, such as health plans and physician groups, as encouragement for their own mergers.

Economic Consolidation in California

In general, economists study two major categories of market consolidation:

  • Horizontal consolidation: Entities of the same type merge, such as the merger of two hospitals or insurance companies, or the merger of providers into a physician network.
  • Vertical consolidation: Entities of different types merge, such as when a hospital purchases a physician practice or when a pharmacy buys an insurance company.

To measure market consolidation, the CHCF study relied on the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), a metric used by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. An HHI of between 1,500 and 2,500 is considered moderately concentrated, and 2,500 or above is considered highly concentrated. According to this measure, horizontal concentration is high in California among hospitals, insurance companies, and specialist providers (and moderately high among primary care physicians), even though the level of concentration in all but primary care has remained relatively flat from 2010 to 2018.

The percentage of physicians in practices owned by a hospital or health system increased dramatically in California between 2010 and 2018 — from 24% in 2010 to 42% in 2018. The percentage of specialists in practices owned by a hospital or health system rose even faster, from 25% in 2010 to 52% in 2018.

Consolidation Is Not Clinical Integration

While this study defined and quantified the extent of consolidation across several industry segments in California, it is important to note that it did not define, quantify, or evaluate clinical integration within the state. Clinical integration has been defined by others in many ways, but generally involves arrangements for coordinating and delivering a wide range of medical services across multiple settings.

As the CHCF study authors point out, other analysis has shown that various types of clinical integration can lead to broader adoption of health information technology and evidence-based care management processes. Data from the Integrated Healthcare Association suggests that certain patient benefit designs and provider risk-sharing arrangements associated with clinical integration can lead to higher quality and lower costs.

Crucially, an emerging body of law (PDF) suggests that clinical integration does not require formal ownership and joint bargaining with payers.

Relationship Between Consolidation and Health Insurance Premiums

Among the six variables analyzed in the CHCF study, three showed a positive and statistically significant association with higher premiums: insurance company mergers, hospital mergers, and the percentage of primary care physicians in practices owned by hospitals and health systems. The remaining three variables studied — specialist provider mergers, primary care provider mergers, and the percentage of specialists in practices owned by a hospital and health system — were statistically insignificant.

The figure below shows the independent relationship between market concentration and premiums for these three variables. As the lines move left to right, concentration increases — that is, fewer individual insurers, hospitals, or providers occupy the market. The vertical axis shows the average premiums associated with each level of market concentration. In short, regardless of the industry structure represented by the other variables, insurer consolidation, hospital consolidation, and hospital-physician mergers each lead to higher premiums.

Unexplained Price Variation and Growth

Health insurance premiums rise when the underlying cost of medical care increases. California ranks as the 16th most expensive state on average in terms of the seven common services the researchers studied, after adjusting for wage differences across states. Among all states, California has the eighth-highest prices for normal childbirth, defined as vaginal delivery without complications. Childbirth is the most common type of hospital admission, and the relatively standardized procedure is comparable across states.

Even within California, prices vary widely and are growing rapidly. For example, the 2016 average wage-adjusted price for a vaginal delivery was twice as high in Rating Area 9 (which has Monterey as its largest county) as it was in Rating Area 19 (San Diego) — $22,751 versus $11,387. (See next figure.) Prices for the service are increasing rapidly across counties — rising anywhere from 29% in San Francisco from 2012 to 2016 to 40% in Orange County over the same period.

The authors of the CHCF report investigated the impact of various types of consolidation on the prices of individual medical services in California. For cesarean births without complications, a 10% rise in hospital HHI is associated with a 1.3% increase in price.

Potential Policy Responses to Consolidation

While the study shows significant associations between various types of market concentration and the prices consumers pay, policymakers should carefully consider implementing steps that restrain the inflationary impact of consolidation while allowing the benefits of clinical integration to proliferate. To that end, the authors of the CHCF report offered a series of recommendations, which include:

Enforce antitrust laws. Federal and state governments should scrutinize proposed mergers and acquisitions to evaluate whether the net result is procompetitive or anticompetitive.

Restrict anticompetitive behaviors. Anticompetitive behaviors, such as all-or-nothing and anti-incentive contract terms, should be addressed through legislation or the courts in markets where providers are highly concentrated.

Revise anticompetitive reimbursement incentives. Reimbursement policies that reduce competition, such as Medicare rules that implicitly reward hospital-owned physician groups, should be adjusted.

Reduce barriers to market entry. Policies that restrict who can participate in the health care market, such as laws prohibiting nurse practitioners from practicing independently from a physician, should be changed when markets are concentrated.

Regulate provider and insurer rates. If antitrust enforcement is not successful and significant barriers to market entry exist — including those in small markets unable to support a competitive number of hospitals and specialists — regulating provider and insurer rates should be considered.

Encouraging meaningful competition in health care markets is an exceedingly difficult task for policymakers. It is no easier to promote the benefits of clinical integration while restraining the inflationary aspects of economic consolidation through public policy. Despite these challenges, the rapid rise in health care premiums and prices in the state require a fresh look at the consequences of widespread horizontal and vertical consolidation in California.

 

 

 

Healthcare Executives See a Mixed Outlook

https://www.jpmorgan.com/commercial-banking/insights/healthcare-mixed-outlook

Image result for Healthcare Executives See a Mixed Outlook

In a recent survey of healthcare leaders, most were confident about their own organizations going into the new year. But respondents expressed concern about a range of evolving industry-wide challenges, including costs, technology and talent.

A majority of US healthcare executives surveyed by J.P. Morgan said they were optimistic about the financial performance of their own organizations going into 2019, as well as the national and local economies. But most were less positive about the outlook for the industry as a whole, with 28 percent expressing pessimism and another 31 percent merely neutral.

National economy 71% optimistic, 20% neutral, 9% pessimistic
Healthcare Industry's performance 41% optimistic, 31% neutral, 28% pessimistic
Your organization's performance 62% optimistic, 13% neutral, 25% pessimistic
Legend - Optimistic, Blue
Legend: Neutral Gray
Legend: Pessimistic, Green

Respondents to the survey, conducted Oct. 16 to Nov. 2 of 2018, said their biggest concerns were revenue growth, rising expenses and labor costs. The executives said their organizations plan to invest the most in information technology and physician recruitment.

Healthcare Changes Shape Perceptions

The pessimism about the industry likely stems, in part, from regulatory uncertainty and an ongoing shift from a fee-for-service model toward a value-based payment system, said Will Williams, Senior Healthcare Industry Executive within J.P. Morgan’s Commercial Banking Healthcare group. “Healthcare is going through the most transition of any industry in the country right now,” he said. Amid this upheaval, healthcare organizations face a combination of challenges, including lower reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare patients, increased competition, and higher costs for labor, pharmaceuticals and technology investments.

The optimism that executives feel about their own hospital or healthcare group may come from a sense that an individual organization can adapt to industry changes, said Jenny Edwards, Commercial Banker in the healthcare practice at J.P. Morgan. “You can control certain factors, and make adjustments to compensate for the headwinds.”

Biggest Challenges for the New Year

Growth Strategies

For 61 percent of respondents, the focus is on attracting new patients, followed by expanding target markets or lines of business (53 percent), and expanding or diversifying product and service offerings (44 percent). Hospitals, for example, have worked to add more patients to their broader healthcare system by opening clinics for urgent care or physical therapy, Edwards said.

As patient habits change, hospital systems have needed to become more consumer-focused, Edwards said. Patients are more likely to shop around for their care, expect transparent pricing and review healthcare workers on social media sites. This “retail-ization” trend in healthcare is accelerating, Edwards said. “You can shop for healthcare like you would a new pair of jeans.”

Skilled Talent Wanted

The talent shortage is top of mind for many healthcare executives, with 92 percent of survey respondents saying they were at least somewhat concerned with finding candidates with the right skill set. For 35 percent of respondents, the talent shortage is one of their top three challenges.

For those respondents who expressed concern, the most difficulty arises in filling positions for physicians (52 percent) and nurses (46 percent). To address the challenge, 76 percent said they expect to increase compensation of their staff over the next 12 months. According to 37 percent of respondents, the talent pool’s high compensation expectations factor into the shortage.

Most Challenging Positions to Fill

52%
46%
38%
29%
21%
21%

The talent shortage is an issue across the industry, Williams said, and burnout among doctors and nurses presents an ongoing problem. One contributing cause could be evolving changes in daily practice, with considerably more time today spent on electronic medical record entries and less on patient care. Williams said, “Doctors are getting frustrated. The problem is trying to replace those doctors as they quit practicing.”

Healthcare executives are particularly concerned about shortages of primary care professionals. “Rural communities already have these shortages,” said Brendan Corrigan, Vice Chair of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Council.

Labor costs tend to be higher in healthcare than in other sectors, Williams said, as a hospital must have coverage for all of its major roles 24 hours a day. When asked where they struggle with workforce management, the survey respondents cite staff turnover and its associated cost (47 percent), the ability to flex staff based on patient volumes (41 percent), and the cost of overtime and premium labor (36 percent). These workforce issues not only represent specific challenges; they all contribute to labor costs, which, as noted above, rank in the top three challenges for 2019.

Investments for a Changing Industry

A majority (51 percent) of organizations plan to invest in IT over the next 12 months. Other areas for investment included physician recruitment (44 percent) and new or replacement facilities (36 percent).

Since healthcare organizations manage a large amount of private patient health information, data security remains a large part of IT expenditures. “It’s a huge focus—they’re spending a lot of time and money on preventing a breach,” Edwards said. She goes on to note that the transition to patient EMR systems brings another big IT expense—more than $1 billion for the largest healthcare systems.

Overall, the survey showed healthcare executives grappling with rising costs and structural changes that affect the entire industry. “Healthcare is trying to figure out how to fix themselves,” Williams said.

 

 

 

Why is healthcare such an attractive target for private equity?

https://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/articles/why-healthcare-such-attractive-target-private-equity

Image result for private equity healthcare

Thanks to TV shows and movies, we tend to think of
private equity bidding wars as involving fast-growing
Silicon Valley companies. But when Oak Street Health,
a Chicago-based network of seven primary care clinics,
began looking for investors last year, more than a dozen
firms flew to Chicago to court the physicians and most of
them ended up bidding for the group of seven primary care clinics, according to a report in Modern Healthcare.

Oak Street is not alone — almost any independent
physician group of scale these days is likely to be an
attractive target for so-called “smart money,” investors
and their advisers.

Increased regulatory requirements and complexity has led
many independent small groups to “throw up their hands
and decide to sell to or join larger entities,” says Andrew
Kadar, a managing director in L.E.K. Consulting’s healthcare
services practice, which advises private equity groups.
While many such physicians sell to a health system and
become salaried employees, investor-backed practice management groups may have certain advantages, Kadar says. “Each private equity firm has its own approach, but in general they tend to give physicians a continued degree of independence and are willing to invest in new tools and technology.”

What is private equity up to? What attracts these
titans of capitalism to one of the most bureaucratic,
heavily regulated industries in the United States? And
what does the acquisition spree mean for physicians?

Here are five things to know about private equity and
healthcare in 2019.

1. The feeding frenzy is just ramping up

The driving force behind investors’ interest in healthcare
is the amount of “dry powder” in the industry — the term
market watchers use for funds sitting idle and ready to
invest, which McKinsey estimates at around $1.8 trillion

Investors are hungry for deals, and healthcare providers
are an attractive target for multiple reasons:

• The healthcare industry is growing faster than the
GDP. Healthcare is a relatively recession-proof industry
(demand remains constant even during downturns).

Many providers are currently not professionally
managed, and many specialties remain fragmented.

Investors see an opportunity to create value by
increasing efficiencies and consolidating market power.

Thus, with many independent providers still competing
on their own, there remains ample opportunity to
roll up practices into a single practice-management
organization owned by investors. “A lot of deals are
making the headlines, but when you look closely you’ll
see that most specialties aren’t highly penetrated yet by
investors,” says Bill Frack, a former managing director at
L.E.K. Consulting who is now leading a new healthcare
delivery venture. “We are still at the beginning.”

2. Investors have various strategies for creating value

Far from the leveraged-buyout days of the 1980s, which
relied primarily on financial engineering to generate
returns, almost all private equity deals today require
investors to find ways to add value to organizations over
the course of their holding period (typically around five
to seven years). By and large, in healthcare they follow
two strategies for doing so.

The most prevalent play is to buy high-volume, high margin specialist groups such as anesthesiologists,
dermatologists, and orthopedic surgeons. The PE
group then looks to maximize fee-for-service revenue
in the group by ensuring that the team is correctly
and exhaustively coding patient encounters (via ICD10) and encouraging physicians to see more patients.

Simultaneously, they work to improve revenue-cycle
management and drive efficiencies of scale into sales
and back-office administration.

Private equity firms may also look to vertically integrate
by acquiring providers of services for which their
specialists were previously referring out. For instance, oncologist groups might buy radiation treatment centers;
orthopedic surgeons might acquire rehab centers;
dermatologists might acquire pathology labs to process
biopsies, and so on.

Investors exit either through a sale to a larger PE group or,
for the largest groups, through an initial public offering.
Consolidating fee-for-service providers “is a very mature
strategy, and there’s not a single specialty you could
name where an investor wouldn’t have an incentive to
[form a roll-up],” says Brandon Hull, who serves on the
advisory council of New Mountain Capital, a private
equity firm that is investing in healthcare, and is a longtime board member at athenahealth.

Hull says investors are starting to take another approach
to creating value — which he argues “is more virtuous
and aligned with social goals.” In this strategy, investors buy up general medicine specialists — such as internal
medicine, pediatrics, or ob-gyns — and then negotiate
value-based contracts from payers.

To succeed under these contracts, investor-backed medical
groups identify the most cost-effective proceduralists
and diagnosticians in their network and instruct general
practitioners to refer only to them; and they work hard
to play a larger role in patients’ health and thus keep
healthcare utilization down. Groups that employ this
approach include Privia and Iora Health. In this strategy,
investors typically exit by selling the organization to a
larger PE group, a payer, or a health system.

Interestingly, groups that pursue the first strategy often
transition to the second – for instance, an efficiently run
orthopedic group might start with a focus on growing
revenue by maximizing fee-for-service opportunities,
but then consider pursuing bundled payments for hip
replacements. Or an investor-backed oncology group
confident in its treatment protocols and ability to keep
operational costs down might accept capitated payments
for treating patients recently diagnosed with cancer.

3. Private equity can be a great deal for physicians

How these deals are structured depends on whether a
specialty group is the first group acquired by investors —

what is known in private-equity lingo as “the platform”—
or whether it’s being added to an existing group, what is
known as a “tuck-in.”

Physicians in the platform practice are often offered
substantial equity and can benefit from the group’s
appreciation — while, of course, being exposed to the risk that
their share-value may decrease if the group fails to deliver on
its intended value proposition. Physicians in subsequent tuckin groups tend to have simpler contracts with a salary base
and added incentives tied to productivity and other measures.
L.E.K.’s Frack says both models can be attractive, but
that a more simple employment model is probably best
suited to most physicians. “I would tell docs that if they
have a strong group of doctors, they don’t have much to
lose. Even if the deal falls flat for investors, the doctors
will likely just be acquired by another investor, and they
won’t be left holding the bag.”

4. Technology underpins it all

A similar private-equity healthcare frenzy in the 1990s failed
spectacularly. One reason for the collapse was that the
technology did not exist for investors to realize back-office
efficiencies and handle the complexity of value-based contracts.

Today, cloud-based EHR and revenue-cycle management
systems harness the power of network effects to help
provider organizations handle complex and unique
payer contracts, improve back-office efficiency through
automation and machine-learning, implement best practices
for care, and quickly onboard the new practices they acquire.

Technology is particularly important for the general
medicine specialist groups looking to win under fee-for-value contracts. “The moment you start to care about
a patient’s entire episode of care, you need a massive
upgrade of your back-end systems, including full
visibility into what’s happening to your patient outside
your office. Now the technology exists to truly achieve
care coordination,” New Mountain Capital’s Hull says.

5. Public perception can be a problem

Even if physicians believe a private equity deal is their
best option, there’s a public relations risk in tying a medical practice to capitalists whose ultimate goal is to earn a return. Most coverage of private equity in mainstream media outlets questions whether investors’ profit motive is bad for patients. Physician associations and medical journals have also raised concerns in a very public way.

Such public skepticism should worry anyone who
remembers the crash of the first private-equity wave in
the 1990s, says New Mountain Capital’s Hull, who ties
that crash to the failure of managed care. “The American
consumer perceived that doctors were getting bonuses
for denying them care; this became the grim punchline
of late-night talk shows, and the whole thing fell apart.”
Frack advises investors and physicians to “monitor
quality data like a hawk, so that the group can counter
anecdotal accounts of bad care.”

Hull adds that savvy investors should take a page from
the many healthcare startups that are laser-focused on building trust with patients, particularly when it comes
to end-of-life decisions and hospice care. “They know
that success in healthcare depends on patients trusting
their doctors to help them make the best medical
decisions,” Hull says.

Positioned to accommodate uncertainty L.E.K.’s Kadar argues out that whatever direction Washington decides to take healthcare, an efficient, professionally managed group practice with advantages
of scale is well-positioned to succeed — and private
equity is one way for physician groups to reach that goal.

“These groups can adapt more quickly than smaller,
independent practices, whether progressives or
conservatives are in power,” he says. As an example,
Kadar imagines a scenario in which Medicare-for-all
comes to pass. “It turns out that most [PE-backed] groups
do very well on Medicare Advantage contracts. If your
group is focused on delivering more efficient, effective care, with strong operations, you’re in a good position no matter what happens.”

 

 

 

 

 

Infographic: 4 drivers of a sustainable physician workforce

https://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/articles/infographic-4-drivers-sustainable-physician-workforce

Click to access infographic-4-drivers-of-sustainable-physician-workforce_0.pdf

When physicians feel they have the tools, resources, and latitude they need to work at the top of their license and provide high-quality patient care, they’re more effective, more loyal, and less prone to burnout. Explore this infographic to understand 4 factors that correlate to more effective and satisfied physicians.