Posted in Accountable Care, health innovation challenges, HealthIT, population health

On the ‘N of 1’ As a Standard for ‘Accountable Care’

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

When I penned the post, ‘CTE on the Accountable Care Agenda? Junior Seau it’s latest victim?‘ in 2012 my intention was to draw a circle around seemingly unrelated events now finding increasing conversational gravity in the emerging ‘population health‘ zeitgeist where social determinants of health are valued as strategic grist for the mill of health systems and especially their ‘integrated‘ bretheren’s leadership.

It was also my hope that the commentary might generate some sober conversation in the healthcare social media, healthtech and healthIT social media communities. Much to my dismay, there was none.

The causes of this silo-ed, episodic, ‘we’re not concerned with life or health related events that occur beyond the walls of our cathedrals of medicine‘ sick care focus are well known and documented. Though mitigated somewhat by select provisions in the Affordable Care Act with emphasis on transitions of care, avoidance of 30 day re-admissions and continuum of care coordination particularly in the long term, post acute care (LTPAC) space, it’s mostly ‘modified” business as usual in U.S. Healthcare operations.

Oft referred to as the ‘burning [fee for services] platform‘ now clearly in the crosshairs of regulators, health industry leadership, payors, employers and even patients as the source of the problem, everyone is now focused on ‘value based healthcare‘ as the ecosystem’s likely successor footprint.

Yet, we do have a long way to go.

Case in Point

As someone who’s been in the belly of the beast of the ‘healthcare borg’ dating back to the mid 70s, I have witnessed and been to more or less degrees both a strategist (‘disruptor’) and implementation principal to successor waves of ‘innovation’ – ALL intended to tame the rapacious appetite of our ‘do more to earn more‘ healthcare financing and delivery ecosystem.

Decades later the bottomline is we’ve failed, writ large and collectively as an industry. The healthcare spend run rate as a percentage of GDP (then 8%) is now approaching 18-20%., where one out of every five dollars spent in the U.S. finds its way into the coffers of the silo-ed sick-care system we’ve collectively co-created. And while the change or re-engineering imperative was then limited and contained behind mostly closed door board rooms of health systems, health plans and large self funded employers or multiple employer trusts, today that ‘conversation’ is top of mind for our nation. Then, only corporation’s and government’s financial stability were ‘at risk’, today it’s entire nation states at peril.

So clearly something must be done. It must be bold (all inclusive), truly innovative and impactful. No mere tweaks at the margin will do and this may be the last hurrah for a public/private partnership to succeed before the Government has to intervene and solve the problem from the ‘top down’.

Enter the Triple Aim, Value Based Healthcare and the Population Health Mandate

There is non-stop discussion at meetings, conferences, webinars and expositions on the subject of a structural and scaleable pivot of ‘U.S. Healthcare Inc.’, from it’s Fee For Services (FFS) roots and incentives to a successor, sustainable version. Perhaps best framed by Don Berwick and the Institute Healthcare Improvement (IHI) as the ‘triple aim’, the charge to healthcare industry leadership is for a better experience of care, with better outcomes at lower per capita costs.

This ambitious tasking rightly shifts the focus of health system leadership from that which is customarily provided within the walls of the acute – and now subacute – delivery system operating units, to the ‘upstream‘ arguably ‘roots’ of the social determinants of health as discerned by proactive risk stratification coupled with outreach to defined populations.

Technology As Enabler?

Concurrent with the pre-occupation on value based healthcare and emerging focus on population health management, we’ve been discussing and evidencing the value of ‘mhealth’ or ‘digital health‘ apps, platforms and technologies to nest inside current clinical workflows (and beyond?) and fuel delivery of the triple aim. Yet, closing in on a decade later (the iPhone launched in 2007) there is sparse and limited evidence of the salutary benefit of digital health apps to make a dent in the aggregate quality, cost and access challenges we face as an industry.

Whether we’re in collective denial, have all drunk the ‘kool-aid’ thinking this time will be different or simply point to some evidence based believe or faith that technology can serve the greater good of the triple aim’s goals, the expectations and stakes are high – very high in fact. Much talk about contributions from AI, Big Data, Gamification, VR, the Internet of Things and even the Internet of Medical Things, all get woven into often lofty forward looking tech-speak and even policy solutions of how we’re going to make this happen. Yet is this warranted?

A Long Way to Go

A recent experience of mine suggests much work remains ahead. As indicated in the Junior Seau (RIP) post there is a grand canyon divide between the ad copy and rhetoric of population health initiatives and current healthcare operations and financing.

In November I moved to South Lake Tahoe for the ski season. I am 65, in general good health and reasonably active (I surf in San Diego) and recently qualified for Medicare and chose to enroll (i.e., assign my benefits) to a private sector alternative operating under Part C as the ‘Medicare Advantage’ (NOTE: which is a misnomer, since it isn’t Medicare but rather a private and in some markets ‘enhanced version’ when when the health plan is profitable) program organized by Kaiser Permanente in San Diego California. Kaiser Permanente (KP) is a trophy IDS (integrated delivery system) and is often and rightfully acknowledged as ‘best in class‘ in their approach to the organization, delivery and financing of healthcare services. I agree, and thus elected to enroll via their ‘Senior Health Plan‘.

KP has made enormous investments in HealthIT having adapted EPIC to serve their regions’ individual operating units. KP has also embraced technology and innovation via their Garfield Innovation Center and present with a well staffed and focused social media enterprise that seems linked to its member services group.

The Event

On Friday, I headed up to the summit at Heavenly Mountain with my girlfriend Lori. Upon exiting the Gondola and traversing up to the Ski lift to the Summit I started to feel light headed, stopped, looked up and collapsed backwards. According to Lori:

‘your eyes rolled up, your face went pale and you looked expressionless. I was alarmed.’

None-the-less, determined to get to the top for the first run of the season I elected to proceed and we entered the lift to the Summit. On the way up, we had cross winds gusting between 20-30 MPH. The temperature hovered in the low 20s to teens and the air was thin and dry.

I was wearing a ski dickey and found it difficult to speak and breath. Clearly this was not normal. Yet, we exited (9500 foot elevation) and began our decent down to Tamarack Lodge. Midway through the run I stopped, began to feel light headed and very dizzy. Gasping for air, I leaned onto my poles and then everything went dark. I collapsed again.

Lori took charge, summoned the ski patrol via a passing skier. Ski Patrol arrived, placed me on oxygen, suggested I was experiencing altitude sickness and STRONGLY recommended immediate descent to the Heavenly Center for hydration and rest (65oo foot elevation).

The Social Stream – More than What I Had for Lunch

Once the fog lifted and I began to feel better, I decided to tweet my experience in the public square and tag my health plan (KP San Diego, the Heavenly Ski Center and my Twitter ‘friends’) to alert them about my experience. For both my twitter colleagues and the Heavenly Center it was an FYI with a Ski Patrol shout out to Nathan (the EMT).

For KP San Diego it was a ‘heads-up’ as in hey, this happened to me today and ‘I think you should know.’ Now I know KP has a patient portal via MyChart and one I’ve been in and out of a few times, in addition to a ‘go to the emergency department‘ when in need advisory. Yet, we’re in the age of population health, risk assessment, prevention and ‘patient generated health data’ (PGHD) including massive investments in ‘listening’ technology for the rich streams of content posted to social networks.

Now add the fact that healthcare is a litigious and thus risk averse environment. Therefore sitting on the sidelines and at best ‘listening’ is probably less risky than realtime or ‘asynchronous’ attempts to ‘intervene’. I’m sure a bevy of corporate lawyers counsel against ill advised engagement outside the normal ‘theater of operations’. Yet, I am old enough to remember when the Darling and Nork cases began to peck away at the immunity from liability traditionally argued by many hospital administrators that ‘we’re just the doctor’s workshop’ and have no control (and by extension no liability) for their actions. Yup, that once was the standard of practice a few decades ago.

The Messaging

Here are the series of tweets posted related to this narrative.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-1-35-02-pm

 

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The Health Plan’s Response

Several days later… and in ‘async’ fashion KP weighed in via Direct Message on Twitter. I previously tweeted about my inability to reschedule a colonoscopy from a San Diego location to the Sacramento area since I am in South Lake Tahoe for the ski season. I learned that I could NOT opt for a local option as the health plan didn’t operate that way [paraphrased]. The tweets below pertain specifically to the incident on the mountain.

9:19am
@KPMemberService
Hi, Gregg. I noticed your recent tweets and wanted to follow back up with you. If you’ve already sent your email, we have not received it. Can you please resend it? Thank you! ^Jamison

9:49am
Gregg Masters MPH @2healthguru

No point in sending log to you. After DM, spoke to my PCP. She advised I can not schedule colonoscopy in NorCal (Sacramento) w/o changing PCPs. Suggested we delay until I return to Oceanside in April. Really bad form for KP. If true, you are NOT an IDN, but a federation of providers under a common marketing banner with discrete regional accounting, but worse clinical operations. I am VERY disappointed, since I am and have been a fan of KP. I am 65. I’ve been self employed since 2000, and un-insured by choice since. My health plan is my health. If KP is committed to my health, then a simple risk profile of these facts would expedite the colonoscopy as a preventive tool. I shouldn’t have to point this out to my health plan. Then add my fainting on mountain at Heavenly (9500 foot elevation) with minimally hypoxia if not cerebral edema, AND ZERO recognition or comment from @KPsandiego who I tagged [in tweet]. I mean seriously, with the investment made in tech, how can you not leverage proactively on behalf of your members? I am shocked. If this is M-F brand listening tool only and not deployed as adjunctive to KPs clinical risk management surveillance program, you are clearly missing the boat of the PGHD wave that is sweeping the ecosystem under the banner of ‘digital health’ tools. Again, I am a KP fan and believe you need be held to a higher standard given all the accolades received via others in the industry. Please pass this concern in its entirety to both Robert Pearl and Bernard Tyson who I personally hold responsible for these systemic (x2) ‘fails’. I am blogging about this experience (including this response) as a N of 1 example of ‘accountable care’ in the new age of population health contextualized via social [i.e, lifestyles of] determinants of health plan members (including their known risk profiles). Thanks for asking. My concerns go considerably beyond the usual scope of member services, and I do hope you pass on my comments in their entirety to senior leadership. My blog comments will be posted to @ACOwatch as my N of 1 version of ‘accountable care’ to this post: acowatch.me/2012/05/02/cte… Thanks Gregg

@KPMemberService
Thank you for your detailed reply, Gregg. I will definitely make sure to pass along your experience and concerns to our senior management staff. ^Jamison

Much To Do About Nothing or Reflexive Provider vs. Patient Centric Response?

One can argue,  hey dude work within the system, i.e., call/alert KP via member services, enter a note to your PCP in the MyChart portal or head to an Urgent/Emergent Care Center – quit whining.

Yet, am I wrong to think that in an era of ubiquitous, real time and ‘asynchronous’ tech stacks afforded by major social networks where participants are ‘tagged’ as in a ‘headsUP’ fashion, need be viewed solely as a forum for posted images of cats or what’s on the menu today?

When and where do we walk the talk of the upside of digital health tools, the value of patient generated data and the big data and massive analytics engines that routinely data-mine these streams for population health insights and actionable ‘intelligence’?

So maybe this is just too much to expect even from best in class performers – the likes of KP. Maybe the residual ‘resistance ifs futile’ legacy inertia is just too powerful to overcome systemically and we’ll just have to be happy with at best tweaks at the margins.

I for one think we need to up the ante and hold both the providers and financiers accountable to this dysfunctional ecosystem we’re so often powerless to influence or change.

I am committed to make a difference. Where are  you?

 

 

 

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