Turning to primary care for vaccine distribution

https://mailchi.mp/da8db2c9bc41/the-weekly-gist-april-23-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

U.S. Starts Vaccine Rollout as High-Risk Health Care Workers Go First - The  New York Times

Now that we’ve entered a new phase of the vaccine rollout, with supply beginning to outstrip demand and all adults eligible to get vaccinated, we’re hearing from a number of health systems that their strategy is shifting from a centralized, scheduled approach to a more distributed, access-driven model. They’re recognizing that, in order to get the vaccine to harder-to-reach populations, and to convince reticent individuals to get vaccinated, they’ll need to lean more heavily on walk-in clinics, community settings, and yes—primary care physicians.

For some time, the primary care community has been complaining they’ve been overlooked in the national vaccination strategy, with health systems, pharmacy chains, and mass vaccination sites getting the lion’s share of doses. But now that we’re moving beyond the “if you build it, they will come” phase, and into the “please come get a shot” phase, we’ll need to lean much more heavily on primary care doctors, and the trusted relationships they have with their patients.

As one chief clinical officer told us this week, that means not just solving the logistical challenges of distributing vaccines to physician offices (which would be greatly aided by single-dose vials of vaccine, among other things), but planning for patient outreach. Simply advertising vaccine availability won’t suffice—now the playbook will have to include reaching out to patients to encourage them to sign up.

There will be workflow challenges as well, particularly while we await those single-dose shots—primary care clinics will likely need to schedule blocks of appointments, setting aside specific times of day or days of the week for vaccinations. The more distributed the vaccine rollout, the more operationally complex it will become. Health systems won’t be able to “get out of the vaccine business”, as one health system executive told us, because many have spent the past decade or more buying up primary care practices and rolling out urgent care locations. Now those assets must be enlisted in the service of vaccination rollout.

Health systems will have to orchestrate a “pull” strategy for vaccines, rather than the vaccination “push” they’ve been conducting for the past several months. To put it in military terms, the vaccination “air war” is over—now it’s time for what’s likely to be a protracted and difficult “ground campaign”.
 

Urgent care centers boost spending on low-acuity visits, study finds

Where Should I go? Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care - Black Hills Parent

Although urgent care centers deter some lower-acuity patients from a costly emergency department visit, they are not associated with a drop in total healthcare spending, according to a study published in Health Affairs in April.

For the study, researchers used insurance claims and enrollment data from 2008 to 2019 from a managed care plan to understand if the presence of an urgent care center substantially decreased lower-acuity ED visits. 

The authors found that the entry of an urgent care center into a ZIP code deterred lower-acuity ED visits, but the effect was small.

The study found that the reduction of just one lower-acuity ED visit was associated with 37 additional urgent care visits. In other words, the number of urgent care visits per enrollee required to reduce one ER visit is 37. 

The study authors found that the prevention of each $1,646 lower-acuity ED visit was offset by an increase of $6,237 in urgent care center costs. 

As a result, the study authors said that despite ED visits costing more per visit, the use of urgent care centers increased net overall spending on lower-acuity care. 

“This study documents for the first time that urgent care centers are associated with increased overall costs for lower-acuity visits across the ED and urgent care settings,” the study authors concluded. 

Amazon Care goes nationwide with telehealth, courts outside employers

Dive Brief:

  • Amazon is expanding its virtual care pilot program, Amazon Care, to employees and outside companies nationwide beginning this summer in a major evolution of its telehealth initiative, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive unprecedented demand for virtual care.
  • Amazon will also offer its on-demand primary care service to other Washington state-based companies and plans to expand its in-person service to Washington, D.C., Baltimore and other cities in the following months, the e-commercebehemoth announced Wednesday.
  • Amazon Care launched 18 months ago as a pilot program in Washington state offering free telehealth consults and in-home visits for a fee for its employees and their families.

Dive Insight:

The nationwide expansion, and the potential of the e-retailer’s heft and technological know-how leveraged in the medical delivery space, threatens existing telehealth providers and retail giants like CVS Health and Walgreens that maintain their own networks of community health clinics.

Amazon Care has two main components: urgent and primary care telehealth with a nurse or doctor via an app, and in-person care, along with prescription delivery, to the home. The Seattle-based company says it will offer the gamut from preventative care like annual vaccinations, to on-demand urgent care including COVID-19 testing, to services like family planning.

Amazon plans to roll out the virtual care offering for its employees and third party companies nationwide this year, but in-person services will only be available shortly after in Washington state and near its second headquarters in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, a spokesperson said.

Making Amazon Care available to outside companies puts Amazon in direct competition with virtual care giants like Teladoc, Amwell and Doctor on Demand, which bring in a sizable chuck of their revenue through deals with employer and payer clients.

Amazon is in discussions with a number of outside companies on supplying Amazon Care, the spokesperson said.

It’s unclear what differentiates the virtual care offering alone from other vendors. Most telehealth platforms are available to consumers right now at little to no cost and offer relatively short wait times, though Amazon contends it provides free access to a medical professional in 60 seconds or less and will eventually link telehealth with in-home care across the U.S.

The timing for the broader U.S. rollout couldn’t be better for Amazon, as telehealth has seen exponential growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of historic consumer demand and investor interest, virtual care giants have spent billions to gobble up market share and build out their suite of services.

The race to offer end-to-end telehealth offerings has resulted in a flurry of recent M&A, the most notable deal being Teladoc’s $18.5 billion acquisition of chronic care manager Livongo last year. In February, Cigna’s health services arm Evernorth also bought vendor MDLive for undisclosed amount. The insurer plans to sell MDLive’s telehealth offerings to third-party clients and offer it to beneficiaries. And just on Tuesday, telemedicine company Doctor on Demand announced plans to merge with clinical navigator Grand Rounds to try and better coordinate virtual care.

Shares in publicly traded telehealth vendors dove following Amazon Care’s announcement Wednesday. As of late morning, Teladoc’s stock had dropped 7.4%, while Amwell was down 6.7%.

But heft doesn’t necessarily translate to disruption in healthcare. Earlier this year, Amazon, J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway disbanded their venture to lower healthcare costs after three years of stagnancy. One reason was a failure for its initiatives to take precedence at its three separate parent companies, all pursuing their own avenues to cut costs.

Now going at it alone, Amazon has a slew of independent initiatives to reshape the U.S. healthcare industry. The $386 billion company bought and launched its own online pharmacy, PillPack, a few years ago, and also partnered last year with employer health provider Crossover Health to offer employee primary care clinics. Currently, Amazon and Crossover operate clinics in 17 locations across Arizona, California, Kentucky, Michigan and Texas.

However, though Amazon Care does give patients the option to fill prescriptions through Amazon Pharmacy, it operates independently of the other services. It remains to be seen how Amazon Care could tie in with these other businesses, but the answer to that question could have major ramifications for current market leaders.

The pandemic brought a “double whammy” to pediatric volumes

https://mailchi.mp/05e4ff455445/the-weekly-gist-february-26-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Sick Little Girl In Hospital Bed Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free  Image. Image 30227571.

Even as surgery and office visit volume rebounds, hospitals across the country continue to report that emergency department volume remains persistently depressed, down 10 to 20 percent compared to before the pandemic. The shift is even more drastic in pediatrics, with some pediatric hospitals and programs reporting that emergency care volume is seeing double the rate of decline.

Pediatric volume has been hit with a “double whammy”with many schools and day cares still closed, contagious illnesses have plummeted. Fewer kids in youth sports means fewer injuries. And unlike adult hospitals, pediatric facilities haven’t filled their beds with COVID patients. “Of all our services, pediatric hospitalists have taken the greatest hit,” one children’s hospital physician leader shared. “Their service is usually full this time of the year with flu and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus]. But with kids not interacting with each other, general pediatric admissions have cratered.” Empty EDs have led some pediatric hospitals to shutter adjacent urgent care clinics: “It doesn’t make sense to operate an empty ED and an empty after-hours clinic”.

For patients, however, this can bring unexpected financial consequences, as they’ll now get an ED bill for services they would formerly have received in urgent care. But while pediatric hospitals have taken a greater volume hit, they’re also likely to see a faster rebound. Once kids are back to school and sports, the usual illnesses and injuries will likely return, and we’d guess parents won’t hesitate to seek care.

Urgent care network to pay $12.5M in billing fraud case

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/urgent-care-network-to-pay-12-5m-in-billing-fraud-case.html?utm_medium=email

Different Types of Fraud and Abuse found in Medical Billing - Leading Medical  Billing Services | medicalbillersandcoders

A company that owned and operated more than 30 urgent care centers has agreed to pay $12.5 million to resolve overbilling allegations, the Department of Justice announced Sept. 3. 

UCXtra Umbrella, which did business in Arizona as Urgent Care Extra, previously admitted to engaging in healthcare fraud and monetary transactions derived from unlawful activity. The company admitted that it had billing procedures in place that caused its providers to overstate the complexity of the medical services provided to patients. This resulted in falsely inflated reimbursement rates from health insurance companies, according to the Justice Department. 

The company also admitted that staff were encouraged to order tests and procedures that may not have been medically necessary to justify higher billing codes and reimbursement. 

Health insurance companies overpaid the company by an estimated $12.5 million due to the fraud scheme, according to the Justice Department.

 

 

Walmart files plans for standalone clinic in Florida

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/capital/walmart-files-plans-for-standalone-clinic-in-florida.html?utm_medium=email

Walmart Health: A Deep Dive into the $WMT Corporate Strategy in Health Care  | by Nisarg Patel | Medium

Walmart plans to open a 6,500-square-foot standalone clinic in Middleburg, Fla., according to the Jacksonville Record & Observer, which cited plans filed with the local water management district. 

The new clinic is part of the expansion Walmart Health announced July 22. The new health center will offer primary care, urgent care, labs, imagining, counseling, optical and hearing services, according to the report. A timeline for when the clinic will open has not been released.

In addition to expanding into Florida, Walmart Health is also planning to open a few clinics in the Chicago market. The company already has freestanding health centers in Georgia and Arkansas. 

 

 

 

 

Consumer confidence declines as COVID surges

https://mailchi.mp/86e2f0f0290d/the-weekly-gist-july-10-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

 

Just as consumer confidence was approaching pre-COVID levels in early June, cases began surging in many parts of the country. The graphic below shares highlights from a recent Morning Consult poll, which found reduced consumer confidence in participating in a range of activities, like dining out or going to a mall.

The poll also showed a significant consumer divide based on political affiliation, with Republicans’ confidence levels for many activities being twice that of Democrats. It remains to be seen whether the current surge will result in consumers pulling back on healthcare utilization the way they are beginning to for other activities.

A coalition of healthcare organizations is urging consumers to continue social distancing but “stop medical distancing”—in hopes that the new surge will not lead patients to avoid needed medical care. While cell tower data at thousands of hospital facilities suggest volumes may be stalling again, we anxiously await the latest national data on outpatient visit and elective procedure volumes.

We’d predict the surge will exacerbate consumer discomfort with “waiting” in healthcare settings—urgent care clinics, emergency departments and the like—though we’d expect the reduction in utilization to be less severe and more regionally varied this time around. 

Let us know what you’re seeing!

 

 

 

 

Meeting growing consumer demand for “care anywhere”

https://mailchi.mp/7d224399ddcb/the-weekly-gist-july-3-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

 

While COVID-19 provided a big push for doctors and health systems to rapidly expand telemedicine visits and other kinds of remote patient interactions, many report that they are now seeing telemedicine visits decline sharply, as in-person visits return.

While it’s natural to be glad that “things are returning to normal”, backing off virtual care is short-sighted, as recent experiences have set new expectations for patients. Survey data shows consumers like using telehealth services, both because they’re more convenient (65 percent) and help avoid COVID infection (63 percent)—and 51 percent say they would continue using them after the pandemic ends.

We’re increasingly convinced that virtual physician visits are just one part of a continuum of care that can be delivered in the convenience and safety of the patient’s home. The graphic below highlights the range of consumer-focused virtual care solutions, from asynchronous chat interactions all the way to hospital care delivered at home.

Health systems that can deliver “care anywhere”—an integrated platform of virtual services consumers can access from home (or wherever they are) for both urgent needs and overall health management, coordinated with in-person resources—have an unprecedented opportunity to build loyalty at a time when consumers are seeking a trusted source of safe, available care solutions.

 

 

Thinking through the new continuum of urgent care

https://mailchi.mp/d594e7a0c816/the-weekly-gist-june-19-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

About ZOOM+Care | On-Demand Healthcare Unlike Any Other

We’ve both received care from of Portland, OR-based Zoom+Care when traveling, and are big fans of its highly efficient, consumer-centric clinic design and urgent care model. We’ve heard reports from across the country that urgent care visits have been slow to rebound as in-person healthcare services have reopened (no surprise that people are reticent to return to a care setting where sitting in a waiting room next to a coughing patient is often part of the experience).

We wondered if Zoom+Care, with scheduled appointments and operations that largely eliminate the wait, had fared any better, and recently we caught up with Torben Nielsen, the company’s CEO, to hear about his experiences across the past three months. As COVID-19 hit in March, Zoom+Care quickly eliminated self-scheduled visits and took many of its 50 clinics offline, requiring all patients to be triaged virtually before any in-person care. The company had a robust chat visit function already in place, and like most health systems, quickly brought video and phone visits online in the first weeks of the pandemic.

They’ve now delivered more than 30,000 virtual visits. With 34 percent of virtual visits coming from patients in markets where Zoom+Care does not have clinics, telehealth has driven rapid expansion into new markets, presenting both opportunities (virtual demand highlights where to site new clinics) and challenges (the need to quickly develop referral relationships for the 10-20 percent of telemedicine patients who would benefit from in-person follow-up).

Telemedicine visits have continued to grow even as self-scheduling was turned back on and in-person volume returned. Nielsen thinks centralization will be a big part of their ongoing virtual care strategy. Over the years Zoom+Care learned that chat visits required a different provider skill set, necessitating a dedicated team—and the same is true of phone and video visits. They’re also exploring what specialty care can be managed virtually, and the best modes to deliver it.

Case in point: it’s no surprise that a visually-oriented specialty like dermatology is well-suited for virtual. But with the grainy images of videoconferencing software, telemedicine falls far short of chat-based care, where a patient can send a high-resolution image and text back and forth with the provider. Given that payment for chat visits falls fall short of video visits, Zoom+Care is now exploring new relationships and economic models to support a multimodal, multispecialty care model.

A fascinating conversation, and confirmation that creating the ideal access platform will require not just layering telemedicine on top of the existing “physical” clinic footprint, but redesigning the entire care journey to create a seamless and connected access experience.

 

 

 

 

The patients stayed away—will they come back?

https://mailchi.mp/9f24c0f1da9a/the-weekly-gist-june-5-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Emergency Department Patient Resources

new analysis from the CDC this week confirmed what we have been hearing anecdotally from health systems for several weeks—as the coronavirus lockdown took hold, there was a precipitous drop in visits to hospital emergency departments. According to the study, visits were down by 42 percent in the month of April compared to the previous year, and despite a rebound in May, were still 26 percent lower than a year ago. Visits in the Northeast dropped the most, as did those among women, and children under 14.

Although visits for minor ailments and symptoms declined the most, even more disconcerting was the drop in visits for chest pain, echoing the concern we’ve heard in many parts of the country that many patients may have suffered minor heart attacks without being treated, or may have waited to be seen until significant damage had been done.

As non-emergent visits have begun to return to many facilities, we continue to hear that emergency department and urgent care volume remains relatively low.

Survey data indicate that patients are fearful of becoming infected with coronavirus if they visit healthcare facilities—especially, it seems, ones where they’ll be forced to wait.

While many providers are investing in messaging campaigns to assure patients it’s safe to return, this nightmarish first-person account by one healthcare insider provides a useful cautionary tale.

Visiting a surgeon for a pre-op consult, she found the experience of visiting a COVID-era hospital downright dystopian. Simply touting safety precautions by itself won’t make patients more comfortable—they’ll need to see and feel that measures are in place to make time spent in a care setting as efficient and reassuring as possible. Otherwise, like the insider in question, they’ll take their business elsewhere. There’s work to be done.