Problems with Accuracy in Health Plan Member Data

By Claire Thayer, September 24,2014

LexisNexis illustrates the types of problems encountered with accuracy in health plan member data in MCOL’s infoGraphoid this week:

Wondering if your member data is current and complete? LexisNexis offers a no-cost evaluation. MCOL’s weekly infoGraphoid is a benefit for MCOL Basic members and eleased each Wednesday as part of the MCOL Daily Factoid e-newsletter distribution service – find out more here.


Put Your Money Where Your Scalpel Is

By Kim Bellard, September 22, 2014

I propose taking value-based purchasing from the payor-provider contractual backroom and putting it in the health plan benefit design, where consumers directly see and are impacted by it.

One of the most troubling things about our health care system is the lack of accountability. Providers get paid pretty much regardless of how patients actually fare under their care, and often even if demonstrable errors are committed.

Patients don't get a pass when it comes to blame either.  They don't often take good care of themselves, they don't always follow instructions, and they sometimes opt for high risk and/or unproven procedures with limited chance of success.

The mantra to combat all this is "value-based purchasing," a phrase whose meaning, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder.  In theory, it involves adding performance-based financial incentives to payment arrangements, and may also include bundled payments, shared savings programspay-for-performance, or even penalties.

Frankly, I think none of these go far enough, nor do they adequately involve the patients.

I want to accomplish a few things with my proposed plan design approach.  One, I want to more directly relate provider payment to patient outcome -- not in the aggregate, as many incentive programs try to do, but at individual patient level.  Second, I want to reduce how much other health plan subscribers have to subsidize care that is of little benefit.  And third, I want to stop rewarding providers for care that has little or no positive impact.<

The following chart outlines how these might be accomplished (assume the "base" plan design was 80/20):

  Percent of Allowable Charges:  
  Insurer Patient Provider    
Condition much improved 100 25 0   50%
Condition a little better 80 20 0   25%
Condition no better 60 15 0   10%
Condition a little worse 40 10 0   10%
Condition much worse     -100   5%
  Total Weighted Costs    
  80 20 -5    

In other words, a surgical procedure whose allowable charges were $10,000 would pay the provider $12,500 (125%) if things went really well for the patient, only $7,500 (75%) if the patient was no better after it -- and the provider would actually owe the patient $10,000 if he/she ended up much worse after the surgery.  Providers would not be able to balance bill patients for any of the reductions.

If I've done my math right, with the assumed prevalence rates shown above, the payouts are revenue neutral for payors (weighted cost of 80) and patients (weighted cost of 20), prior to the provider payback. 

Health plans and providers who want to test this approach would probably want to do at least a year of data collection so they can fine-tune the final payment levels for the different stages, based on the measured prevalences.  I think we might be surprised by what we'd learn.

There is good evidence that direct engagement by physicians can boost patient use of portals, and I can't

think of anything that would give physicians more incentive to do so than directly tying their payments to such use. 

Ideally, I'd like to see this approach applied not just to the surgeon's fees, but to bundled payments including the hospital/facility and any ancillary providers.  The more providers who have a direct financial stake in the actual outcome, the better.

What we need is a surgical practice and/or health system that has enough confidence in its outcomes to bet on it, and a health plan (or self-funded employer plan) who are willing to take not just the financial risk but also the risk of how to communicate the approach to members.

The question is -- is anyone bold enough to try?

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting


Humana Study on Workplace Wellness: It’s not just ROI

By Clive Riddle, September 19, 2014 

Humana has just published a 22 page report Measuring wellness: From data to insights which based on their study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, examining “why companies implement workplace wellness, how data influences these programs and identifies obstacles that inhibit program participation.” The study surveyed 225 U.S.-based executives and 630 full-time employees from organizations with workplace wellness programs. 

Beth Bierbower, President of Humana’s Employer Group Segment, tells us “It’s interesting to validate that employers now view ROI as an important, but not exclusive or even primary measure of a wellness program’s success. Employers are now seeing that employee health is important beyond health care costs, it has profound impacts on productivity, retention, workplace engagement and morale.” The report states that instead of asking about ROI, “perhaps the question should be, ‘do we improve health at a reasonable price’ as opposed to ‘do we save money by doing so.’” 

Here are some key findings highlighted from the study:

  • Nearly 70 percent of executives consider their organization’s wellness program to be cost effective, even though not all of the outcomes are measurable.
  • While 86 percent of executives say improving employee health as an indirect driver of productivity, morale and engagement is their top reason for implementing a wellness program, cost factors are still important, including reducing employee health care costs (66 percent) and controlling medical claims (48 percent).
  • About 30 percent of employees rate subsidized gym memberships, onsite health and wellness facilities, and budgeted wellness activity time during business hours, as the three most important services that would motivate participation.          
  • 64 percent of employees have used fitness devices to monitor health and capture data, but only 19 percent use them regularly.         
  • Two-thirds of executives feel data collection and interpretation is the biggest challenge confronting effective workplace wellness.         
  • 53% of survey respondents say their organization collects health-related employee data as part of its wellness program
  • The biggest disconnects between executives and employees regarding their perceptions of obstacles to employee participation in wellness programs, were in regards to the statements: “Employees don’t perceive health and wellness as a high priority” (30% of executives agreed vs. 2% of employees); “Employees are concerned that personal information will not remain confidential (43% of executives agreed vs. 27% of employees); and “Employees distrust employer motives” (24% of executives agreed vs. 11% of employees.)     

Clinicians Embracing mHealth – but not so much if patients are involved

By Clive Riddle, September 12, 2014 

Although lagging behind many other service sectors, healthcare clinicians do continue to their march towards the inevitable professional embrace of mobile apps, social media and other web applications – typically as long as that embrace falls short of interacting with their patients. 

Wolters Kluwer Health just released survey results on nurse practitioner use of mobile health, social media and the web. The survey was conducted on their behalf by Lippincott Solutions. 

The survey found that 65% of nurses currently use a mobile device at work for professional purposes at least 30 minutes per day, and 95% of healthcare organizations allow them to consult websites and other online resources for clinical information at work. 

The survey findings also indicated:

  • 83% of nurses perceive that their organization's policy allows patient care staff access to web sites, including social media, to access general health information regarding patient conditions
  • 48% of respondents that access health information say their organization encourages nurses to access online resources; while 41% allow for occasional use; and 5% only as a last resort
  • 89% of healthcare organizations allow nurses to use online search engines at work
  • 60% of respondents say they use social media to follow healthcare issues at work
  • 86% say they follow healthcare issues on social media outside of work
  • 20% of nurses use mobile health apps for two hours or more per day
  • Among those who use mobile devices at work, Nurse Managers, at 77%, are more likely to use them than Staff Nurses, at 58% 

But their report notes that “73% of healthcare respondents say that organizational policies strictly prohibit direct patient care staff to have social interaction with patients on social media and social sites, compared to 51% say that organizational policies prohibit direct patient care staff to have access to their organizations’ own social media pages.” 

A Walters Kluwer survey of physicians last year found that 21% of doctors didn’t use smartphones in their practice, 46% used them less than 25% of the day, and 33% used them more than 25% of the day. Regarding use of tablets, 39% of doctors didn’t use tablets in their practice, 37% used them less than 25% of the day, and 24% used them more than 25% of the day. Of those who did use mobile devices at work,  24% use mhealth apps; while 33% used their smartphones to communicate with patients, and  17% used their tablets for patient communication. 

While many integrated systems like Kaiser have structured electronic interaction with patients into their system, basic impediments for many continue to be a lack of reimbursement, as well as legal concerns about doing so. 

Yet it is exactly that interaction that their customers are asking for.  For example, Harris Poll results just released for a survey commissioned by Wellocracy found that 66% of those who have used a wearable mhealth tracker or app in the past 12 months ndicated that they would be interested in receiving personalized feedback on their health data from a trusted health expert, such as a doctor, nutritionist, fitness trainer or licensed lifestyle coach, and of those respondents: 75% would be willing to pay for personalized feedback and coaching from a doctor, and 73% from a nutritionist, nurse or dietician.


Healthcare (Health Care) in a word (or two)

By Clive Riddle, September 5, 2014

MCOL has launched a survey, albeit a little tongue-in-cheek, on solving a great question for the ages:  do we spell it healthcare (one word) or health care (two words)? You can click here to take the survey, and see real-time results, or click here to check out a one-minute video on the topic.

Early results from the survey to-date indicate a slight preference for one word: 44.7% have said one word; 31.6% have said two words; 13.2% have responded that it depends on the context; and 10.5% have answered that either is fine. Remember though, respondents work within this industry (more on that to follow.)

How have others weighed-in on this conundrum?  Major news organization, medical journals and the AP consistently use “health care” in two words.  Many major blogs have taken the same position, such as The Incidental Economist (Feb 2013) and Archelle On Health (May 2011).

But many  either take the position of one word, while lamenting the times they are a-changing, or they argue the both uses are acceptable, depending upon the context.

One of the most quoted blogs regarding this topic comes from Michael Millenson’s The Doctor Weighs In, in his August 2010 post - “Healthcare” vs. “Health Care”: The Definitive Word(s) .  Millenson makes the case that learned authorities use two words, but goes on to say: “So why isn’t that the end of the issue? Because conventions are not set in concrete. For example, at the time the Internet first became popular, the AP preferred the term “Web site” over “website” because the World Wide Web is a proper name. “ and acknowledges one word use is on the way up: “However, I think a tipping point for fusing “health” and “care” was reached with the federal legislation setting up the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at the end of 1999.”

Are the times a-changing? Certainly a review of Google search results placing both terms within quotations, indicates two words is the clear winner:  109 million results versus 47.8 million – a ratio of 2.28 to one.  When the results are filtered to only display content created in the past twelve months, two words still easily wins: 15 million results versus 9.4 million, but the ratio reduces to 1.6 to one.  The times it would seem are changing – but not at the rate of Bob Dylan record sales in Greenwich Village in 1961.

But what about context?

While many make the case that usage is driven by context, there isn’t agreement about what that context is.  Some say one word is used by those in the business when communicating to each other, and two words is for use with the general public. The Metropolitan Philadelphia Chapter of HFMA concluded in The Great Debate of Our Industry: Healthcare vs. Health care “so there still is no final answer here. Both health care and healthcare remain acceptable term.”  The author seems to go for the context route, stating” the single word healthcare may show you are an industry insider, and I save the term health care for those who write about our industry from the outside.”

In the March 2008 Medical Malprocess Blog post Health Care or Healthcare?, an often mentioned approach regarding context -  in which two words refers what a patient receives, and one word refers to a system:  “Health care as two words refers to what happens to a patient. …Healthcare as one word refers to a system or systems to offer, provide, and deliver health care (two words).”, in Healthcare vs. health care tells us the times are a-changing but context depends upon international use: “Healthcare is on its way to becoming a one-word noun throughout the English-speaking world. The change is well underway in British publications, where healthcare already appears about three times as often as health care and is used as both a noun and an adjective. Many American and Canadian publications resist the change, meanwhile, and health care remains the more common form in North American newswriting, as well as in government and scholarly texts. In many cases—such as on health-related U.S. government websites—health care is the noun (e.g., “your health care is important”) and healthcare is the adjective (e.g., “find a healthcare professional”), but this is not consistently borne out, and both forms are widely used both ways. Many publications and websites seem to have no policy on this at all. Short answer: Outside North America (Australia goes along with the U.K. on this one), use healthcare. In the U.S. and Canada, make it two words (unless you want to help speed the compounding process).”

What to make of all of this? Google search results, and purists would agree that two words is still king – for the general public, but eventually it would seem one word will take hold – although perhaps not as rapidly as some might think. During this transition – context will drive usage, and those in the business of healthcare might be more comfortable with one word with conversing with each other.