« Personal Health Records: The Hot Consumerism Tool | Main | The Future of Individual Plan Underwriting vs. Guaranteed Issue »

Easy Answers Make Poor Gifts

By Laurie Gelb

A new political era is upon us, and the red herrings that should be frolicking in the wild somehow never left the boardroom.

You’ve heard them all. Members are lazy slugs. Docs are mercenaries with stethoscopes. Pharmas suck the last dollar out of destitute Part D recipients. Often, the pharmacy chains come out best in this narrative – their low generic pricing is actually both market-driven and good for adherence. But improved outcomes are unlikely to be driven in large part by CVS or Walgreens in the current regulatory environment. So what’s next?

Recently, I’ve explored scores of managed care and health system Web sites as a strategist and competition judge. As I’ve pointed and clicked across this year’s domains of top-tier AMCs and health plans, I’ve reflected on my MCOL presentations of the last few years.

Many of us preach the need for customized decision support that validates the complexity and importance of stakeholder choices. Yet the health Web on evidence in 2008 continues to propagate the false dichotomies of idiot vs. expert, with information accessible through clunky largely static pages, with only the most rudimentary support for critical decisions like choosing a physician or evaluating the urgency [often confused with indications] for surgery.

If all you care about in selecting a doc is gender, languages spoken and hospital affiliations, you’re in the right place. If Flash first-reads displaying ethnically diverse docs and patients are your idea of immersive storyline, Google “hospital” or “health plan” and go to town. If your idea of a surgical consult on the Web is a pretty graphic and a few FAQs, welcome to the Net. But don’t we spend a lot of offline ink telling members that they need to ask much more probing questions?

Has Revolution Health and/or HealthGrades provided a quantum leap here? Hardly. Rate-a-doc portals? These probably eliminate some docs from consideration lists, but there’s scant evidence that they are helping distinguish the incompetent from the competent. The “rate a drug” racket probably does more for the raters than the readers.

Finally, hospital rankings and mortality stats, flawed in so many obvious ways, also divert attention from the notion of physician selection as a starting point, not to mention the idea of a medical home. Yes, the data quality is improving, but the support for the right ways to use it is not!

Instead of directly addressing patient and caregiver reasons for fear, loathing and denial of clinical realities (such as very few placebo-equivalent drugs or no-risk surgeries), content developers often seem to think that simply acknowledging the existence of these phenomena solves the problem. The proposition that “I’m OK, you’re OK, disease is OK” is in danger of replacing actual decision support in the health digisphere. With a President-elect who admits incomplete smoking cessation but exercises diligently, might we have a teachable moment here?

As for rational consideration of potential health decisions, the mass media’s tendency to discuss competing risks using anything but anecdotal evidence has increasingly obscured the differences between population-level statistics and individual considerations. And judging from the conflict-of-interest stories sprouting like mushrooms, no one at an academic medical center ever took money from pharma or device manufacturers till recently (NOT!) Another walk away from the real, toward the valley of oversimplification.
Disease is a real entity, with disability and death possibilities for everyone every day “We’re never promised tomorrow,” as Chief Daniels noted during one of his Polonius moments on Hill Street Blues. At the very least, addressing unpleasant facts so as to minimize risks entails the willingness to believe that decision-making can entail choosing among suboptimal choices. When members lose sight of the complexity, the effort, the costs of acquiring and acting on the best information, we’re only letting them kid themselves.

Baby talk is maybe talk. “Eat less simple sugar today! You can do it!” Passive voice is well, passive.
How honest, precise and strong are your communications?

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>