Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: health care reform

Four Ways Data is Transforming Your Health

The increasing availability of data about health care in the U.S. is empowering patients to take charge of their care and quietly revolutionizing how patients are treated. Last month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released data on which services were provided by over 880,000 health care providers, how many times each service was provided, and what the providers charged. Yesterday, top health and technology experts for the federal government and the Brookings Institution gathered to discuss how the growing catalogue of public health care data is leading to profound improvements in America’s health care. The event was hosted by Brookings’ Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform in collaboration with 1776 DC’s Challenge Festival.

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Here are the top four ways that data transparency is already beginning to transform Americans’ health. The benefits are expected to grow as the data is analyzed, matched with other sources, and organized into user-friendly and accessible formats.

 

1.    Selecting the best doctor

When Farzad Mostashari learned that his mother needed an epidural steroid injection, he wanted to find out which orthopedic surgeon was the best at this specific procedure. So he searched the millions of medical claims recently released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to discover which providers were the most experienced in this procedure.

An interesting result emerged. “There is one provider who does more than everyone else combined,” said Mostashari, who is a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is focused on payment reform and delivery system transformation. “He’s probably pretty good.”

As health care data increasingly becomes available, patients will have more information to make the most rational decisions for their health care, said Kavita Patel, a physician and fellow in the Economic Studies program and managing director for clinical transformation and delivery at the Engelberg Center.

Patel asks her patients why they choose to see her. “Nobody’s ever said: ‘I looked up your quality scores and saw that your out-of-pocket costs are less than the average provider in your area,” Patel said of her 12 years in medical practice. “This is one of the first times that everyone in this room can take out a laptop…and look at this data.”

Mostashari added that the data can be used to identify outliers. For instance, he found that while the average orthopedic surgeon performed controversial spinal fusion surgeries on 7 percent of the patients they saw, some did so on 35 percent. This knowledge empowers patients to choose providers that best align with their health care values and preferences.

 

2.    Reducing costs

The newly-released CMS data enables comparisons of the prices different providers charge for the same services. This data reveals that in some cases providers charge vastly different rates to Medicare for the same services, Mostashari said. The Wall Street Journal provides a consumer-friendly database detailing the types of procedures, number of each, and costs per procedure charged by individual health care providers.

Last year’s release of hospital charges led some hospitals that were charging higher rates to uninsured and underinsured patients than their peers to seek advice from CMS. “Some hospital associations called us and said, ‘We want to change. Help us develop new accounting practices to set prices more fairly for those who are uninsured or underinsured,’” said Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator at CMS.

The ability to access and analyze a growing amount of data on procedures performed and their outcomes also helps patients and providers avoid low value services and make decisions about the relative risks and benefits of different procedures. Patel pointed out an ABIM Foundation initiative called Choosing Wisely that equips providers and patients with lists of procedures that should be carefully considered and discussed to ensure that care is supported by evidence, not duplicative, free from harm, and truly necessary.

 

3.    Promoting accountability

When health care providers know that their records will be publically available for scrutiny, they are incentivized to ensure that they won’t be embarrassed by what people find. This can profoundly change which procedures providers choose. For instance, one analysis revealed a wide disparity between the percentage of black versus white patients who were tested for cholesterol levels. “Simply asking providers how often they were doing [cholesterol tests], without any payment incentive,” removed this disparity, said Darshak Sanghavi, the Richard Merkin fellow and a managing director of the Engelberg Center. “This is one example of how simple transparency can improve health care and ultimately save lives.”

 

4.    Expediting spread of best practices

Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator at CMS, has seen data transparency expedite the uptake of best practices by health care providers and public health authorities. For example, when analyzing the data on dialysis providers, CMS found that there was an uptick in blood transfusions by certain providers in specific geographic regions. “Our medical team got on the phone and called the dialysis providers and said: ‘Did you know you are doing more blood transfusions than your peers?’” The result? Those providers decreased blood transfusions, improving health outcomes for their patients. The same pattern occurred for nursing home facilities that overused antipsychotic drugs.

“I want to convince folks that you can change policy, you can change procedures, you can make things safer,” Blum said. “Data liberation can help us build [accountable care organizations], help us build better payment policies, help us reduce hospital readmissions. There is tremendous opportunity ahead for us.”

Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health & Human Services, added that data transparency is affording entrepreneurs from outside the health care sector – such as startups Aidin, Purple Binder, and Oscar – the potential to transform the health care system.

“We’re sitting on the edge of an incredible moment in history,” he said. “Everybody is looking at things in a different way because everybody understands that we have to do things differently.”

“Government data is a public good and a national asset,” said Claudia Williams, Senior Advisor for Health IT and Innovation for the U.S. CTO in the White House. “It’s something we have to release if we can to allow innovation and change.”

How do you make your health care decisions? Have you used any of these new tools?

Categories: General

The President and His Stent: How the Patient-Physician Relationship Represents What Works Best in U.S. Health Care

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Dr. Ted A. Bass

The decision by former President George W. Bush and his doctors to treat a blockage in one of his heart arteries with angioplasty and stenting has become the newest chapter in the intense debate over appropriateness in stenting.

Bush’s physical examination revealed irregularities that led to tests that revealed a blockage in his coronary artery, which Bush and his doctors decided to treat with a stent, according to his statement. That he was not having a heart attack and apparently had not felt any symptoms, such as chest pain, brought objections from those who would place sharp limits on the use of stents.

Only President Bush’s physicians and family know what alternative therapy choices were presented to Bush, but we do know medical advances allowed him to choose from several therapeutic courses. Bush, in consultation with his doctors, chose the one that was right for him and the quality of life he wished to maintain.

High quality medical care is patient-centered. We strongly value the right of patients, with their doctors, to make informed choices in line with their health and quality of life goals. This right is threatened by critics who would “reform” the health care system by ignoring the complex nature of medicine, cardiovascular disease and the individual needs of each patient.

For those who are quick to dismiss the benefit of stents, I would encourage them to speak to our patients. As a practicing interventional cardiologist, I see first-hand the benefits of interventional cardiology procedures. I see it when a patient’s life is saved during a heart attack, in infants born with a serious heart defect whose hearts beat strong because of advances of interventional care and in seniors who enjoy productive lives again after a minimally invasive heart procedure. In patients with stable coronary artery disease, stenting reduces chest pain from poor circulation of the heart arteries, decreases the need for repeat procedures, and improves the overall circulation of the heart.

And this is what the President Bush case demonstrates:  Health care decisions must be made between the patient and his or her doctor. As outsiders in the Bush case, we do not presume to make that decision for him – nor should others. While it is important to review patient cases to continually improve, learn from and advance the science of medicine, we must not judge the appropriateness of a medical decision on the basis of limited information. To do so is to rush to a judgment that is short sighted, uninformed and, ultimately, emphasizes attention-seeking soundbites over patient care.

In our quest to reduce costs and ensure that appropriate and optimal treatment is provided to each patient and is in step with the guidelines, let us not forget the doctor-patient relationship at the heart of all we do as physicians. It is a fundamental trust that must not be jeopardized.

Now tell us what you think. Do you agree that stents are beneficial to patients? Why or why not? What does the case of President Bush illustrate in terms of the doctor-patient relationship?

Implementation of Health Care Law Expanding Coverage to More Young Adults

LJB head shot 03

Linda Barlow

For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of 19-25 year-olds gaining access to health insurance is on the rise, according to the Commonwealth Fund 2012 Biennial Health Insurance Survey. Researchers point to a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA), which allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, as a likely cause of this groundbreaking trend.

“The early provisions of the Affordable Care Act are helping young adults gain coverage and improving the affordability of health care during difficult economic times for American families,” said Sara Collins, Ph.D., a Commonwealth Fund vice president and lead author of the Biennial Survey’s report, Insuring the Future: Current Trends in Health Coverage and the Effects of Implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The improvements in young adult health coverage are significant, according to the Biennial Survey:

  • Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Americans ages 19-25 reported that they were insured at the time of the survey in 2012, up from 69 percent in 2010, or a gain in health insurance coverage for an estimated 3.4 million young adults.
  • The share of young adults in this same age group who were uninsured for any time during the year prior to the survey fell from 48 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012 – an estimated decline of 1.9 million, from 13.6 million uninsured young adults in 2010 to 11.7 million in 2012.

Of the estimated 3.1 million young adults who are now covered through the ACA, 60 percent are leveraging it for mental health, substance abuse, or pregnancy treatment, according to a study from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). For one large, national employer profiled in the study, the newly-covered young adults used about $2 million in health care services in 2011 – about 0.2 percent of the employer’s total health spending.

Access is a major barrier to care for young adults, who were previously terminated from their parents’ plans when they turned 19. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), young adults typically face difficulties obtaining their own coverage because they work in entry-level, low-wage or temporary jobs that are less likely to provide health insurance. Lack of insurance makes it harder for young adults to receive adequate medical care –  a problem that plagued one in five young adults before the ACA began to take effect.

“Young adult women have additional health needs and are particularly vulnerable when they are uninsured, as they are at an age when they require reproductive health services,” noted Karyn Schwartz and Tanya Schwartz, authors of KFF’s Issue Paper, How Will Health Reform Impact Young Adults? “Having health insurance and consistent access to the medical system may increase the likelihood that they receive timely pre-natal care if they become pregnant.”

Meanwhile, some skeptics are expressing concerns about key aspects and implications of the Act, from objecting to young single males being required to purchase a plan including maternity benefits and well-baby coverage – to others saying that full implementation of the ACA in 2014 will mean much higher premiums for young adults. Many have challenged these assertions, however, noting that the ACA’s age-based pricing requirements are largely in line with premiums individuals are paying now.

Although the news for young adults is mostly good, the survey also found that 84 million people – nearly half of all working age U.S. adults – went without health insurance in 2012, or faced out-of-pocket costs that were so high relative to their income that they were considered “underinsured.”

The survey did indicate that 87 percent of the 55 million uninsured Americans in 2012 are eligible for subsidized health insurance through the insurance marketplaces or expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Up to 85 percent of the 30 million uninsured adults also might be eligible for either Medicaid or subsidized health insurance plans with reduced out-of-pocket costs.

Click here to learn more about pricing options for young adults seeking health insurance coverage.

Now it’s your turn. Does rollout of the ACA mean more accessible and affordable health insurance coverage, or will it drive up costs, particularly for younger Americans? Get the conversation started.

Categories: Access to Care

Making Life Easier for Patients and Loved Ones: Meet MyHealthTeams

Talk to anyone impacted by a chronic condition – autism, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer – whatever disease or condition, they will all tell you it’s not easy. It’s not easy finding the support that best suits them. It’s not easy finding providers. It’s not easy period. At MyHealthTeams we create social networks for chronic condition communities. We believe that when you or a loved one are diagnosed with a disease, it should be easy to connect with people just like you, who can share their daily experiences, and help you discover the best people around to help you.

Since we founded MyHealthTeams in 2010, we’ve launched three social networks – MyAutismTeam, for parents of children with autism; MyBCTeam, for women facing breast cancer; and MyMSTeam, for those living with multiple sclerosis.

Each of the social networks we’ve built has been fully embraced by the communities we’ve addressed. Our flagship community, MyAutismTeam, has in less then 24 months, grown from 30 parents to more than 40,000 parents across the US.

Emily Ybarra, mother of a 4-year old boy with autism, was having difficulty finding a dentist capable of handling her child’s sensory processing disorder – a common challenge associated with autism.  After joining MyAutismTeam she connected with other parents near her in Orem, Utah and asked if anyone could recommend a dentist capable of “working with a special-needs child who recoils from human contact.”

Within a few days she had a referral to the autism-friendly dentist she still uses today.  More important, she had established friendships with many other parents of children on the autism spectrum.  Parents nearby reached out to her, but so did parents from all across the country who could empathize with the challenges of having a child with sensory processing disorder.   She wasn’t alone and she didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

MyBCTeam already has roughly 4,000 women on the site since our launch in September 2012 and the majority of those women are actively engaged on the site or the MyBCTeam mobile apps every month.

This past week we launched MyMSTeam and as of this writing we are already closing in on 500 registered members.

Users of all three of these social networks share recommendations of local providers, openly discuss daily triumphs and issues, share tips and advice, and gain access to local services.  Thousands of posts, comments and updates are shared every day across these three sites and that number climbs each week as the networks expand.

Three major drivers behind the growth of our sites:

  1. People crave connection with other people just like them – they just need a safe and reliable environment to do so.
  2. The simplicity of our technology – our communities reflect aspects of social networks that our users are already familiar with (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) which provides for high user engagement.
  3. The rapid word-of-mouth among these communities.

One in two Americans live with a chronic condition[i] and they are seeking support from not only their medical providers, but also from people like them. In fact, for women with breast cancer, recent studies show that having strong social support improves outcomes[ii]. Sharing with people who are in your shoes offers a sense of community that can’t be found elsewhere – these are people who know the language of your condition; they understand the daily frustrations and the small triumphs that can mean so much.

With The Affordable Care Act on the horizon, implementing and expanding wellness programs has taken on a new importance for companies.  Organizations are seeking resources that not only help improve the quality of life for their employees, but also help control health care spending. Social networks, like the ones created by MyHealthTeams, allow employers to offer unique resources to their employees allowing them to create the support networks they need to get through to the next day.

For more information on the social networks created by MyHealthTeams, visit http://www.myhealthteams.com.


[i]An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease, Charting a New Course to Save Lives and Increase Productivity and Economic Growth, Milken Institute, By Ross DeVol and Armen Dedroussian, Oct 2007 (free download http://www.milkeninstitute.org/publications/publications.taf?function=detail&ID=38801018&cat=resrep)

[ii] Journal of Clinical Oncology, Social Networks, Social Support, and Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Candyce H. Kroenke, et al., March 1, 2006

Categories: Access to Care