Entries in Clinical & Quality (54)


Stopping on Green - Part 2

By Laurie Gelb, July 28, 2014

(Read the first installmant of this part post at Stopping on Green

 They Don’t Need No Satisfaction

If/as we rethink the adherence doctrine, with its emphasis on following bottom-up, and begin to consider supporting patients as largely self-informed deciders rather than passive consumers, to what corollaries does that lead?

Imperative 1: Consign “patient satisfaction” to the worm bin, and focus on beliefs and behaviors that drive optimal outcomes.  These are not the same thing. The latter arise from knowledge, experience and culture.  Patients aren’t satisfied, and can’t be, with a product that they hate, fear and continually shy from, unless they seek it out obsessively. They can be content with a single or series of encounters that turn out well, or “the best they could,” but we don’t want them to repeat the experience unless/until they have to, and indeed most of them [the worried well notwithstanding] don’t.  In what other category do we worry about who likes Dr. Smith how much while telling all and sundry that only 10% of the solution rests with Dr. Smith? And speaking of that 90%…

Imperative 2: Disease management that constrains high utilizers’ cost curves while optimizing the outcomes for which we all pay.  As we tell patients continually, but fail to support, we are actually not in charge of managing _their_ disease. To manage disease, we have to support patient, clinician and caregiver choices that avoid duplication, optimize coordination and keep health, not health care, as the laser focus. 

Imperative 3: An an e-health platform that supports all of the above.

E-health is only as good as the health part. It can’t be acceptable to cede EMR design to bureaucrats, process refinement to the business office and online functionality to Webmasters and programmers. 

Baby, I Don't Have a Car

Are we so focused on “consumer-driven care” that we have forgotten to provide consumers with a vehicle to drive toward optimal outcomes? 

We can’t decide to educate simply if/how/when to deviate from our bibles. It doesn’t pay enough for a layperson to learn our bibles. We have to educate in a different way — not simply about vocabulary and labels (the much-touted health literacy, which means about as much as knowing how to read an electrical schematic out loud). 

We can, as any educational program, provide healthcare intelligence. A consumer knows how to change a light bulb and if/how she can rewire a socket. In short, she knows what she doesn’t know. When we preach “follow,” many patients are honestly unsure as to the decisions they have the capacity to make. Then, when they call the overloaded provider’s office to ask about their current concern, we fail to address the underlying uncertainty about the parameters that prompted the question in the first place. Definitions of terms are not a substitute, since knowing what wiring is doesn’t mean I’m off to the junction box.  

The Long and Winding Road

I know that on some freeways, I can exceed the speed limit, but that still doesn’t mean I can drive 100 mph [an action whose commitment time is obviously greater, given braking distances, than if I were driving 70]. I also know that speed can mean death [stakes]. We know that we must never pour a drop of water into a gas tank, to take one example. Or that we should never pour gasoline onto a flame. We are not going to deviate “just a little” to see what happens. How did we internalize, abstract the rationale for these absolutes? We learned something from someone and/or tried it once, depending on our respective backgrounds.

Even when disease management prides itself on counseling small, incremental changes (bring an apple to work!), we are prescribing without insight on either side. If I hate apples, I’m left wondering if it’s comparable to bring a red plum, which I do like. Think about how long that simple question would take to answer via the Internet, and you have a glimpse of the muddy information overload around fruit. And everything else that might be healthy. 

Few of us eat eight servings of fruit and veggies daily (or know how many we ate). We can’t. When as content providers we offer these lofty outcome measures as “information,” consumers roll their eyes, laugh, sigh, blink, snort, tune out and move on. We want and expect them to deviate if/as necessary. In wellness, we encourage them to “do the exercise you like” and eat the greens they like, etc. We don’t say, eat a carrot salad every day because we know they wouldn’t, however good an idea it might be. Yet our most common copy point in command voice is, “Eat [insert official content here].” That implies a literal meaning, for something that we don’t mean. This language is worse than gibberish; it spawns opposition because it rings so far from the truth of daily living. 

Moreover, to apply information, you have to know something about evaluating information quality, relevance and how literally you need to take it.  How are we imparting a health care “street sense?” 

Teach Your Patients Well

If we put on a can of peas the bland, cover-the-bases “content” that populates the major health information sites, human knowledge of peas would come from experience and the “word on the street,” just as it does for other areas in which the “official voice” is seldom heard because it is too opaque. How much of what you know about street drugs comes from officialdom? Amazon can recommend, sales associates can counsel, but for health care, with far greater stakes, there’s canned risk assessments (scripted encounters, waiting room brochures, package inserts, click here for a percentage you’ll need the footnotes to understand). For the obese, the dyslipidemic, the diabetic, the hypertensive, the smokers, we’ve made a better path the ultimate cliché. 

For decades, we’ve said, “We need to teach people the principles of weight management,” while forgetting the public health 101 concept of self-efficacy. If they don’t believe they can’t do it, they won’t even try. Weight management and all the rest of the “good ideas” require a series of choices that many people don’t believe they have the wherewithal to undertake, particularly in the face of an increasingly contradictory evidence base that our nagging letters usually fail to acknowledge at all. We’re not having conversations, as occur whenever you chat with your mechanic; we’re lecturing, pretentiously, and everyone’s falling asleep, only to wake up when the EOB appears.

And then we have the “act as if” faction in our ranks. “Big change is the only way it happens!” Yes, big change can happen if/when someone is scared, cornered, bored, self-impatient, angry, sorrowful. But we’re being paid on outcomes. Can we bank on emotion to inspire often short-lived change? And change from what? Our baseline measurement system is hopelessly flawed. Surveys reveal “the right answer.” Focus groups are pay for-a-play. Claims data reflect reimbursement, less often reality. Medical charts reflect adversarial legal incentives and a shortage of time. Even “real dialogues” during outpatient visits vamp to the camera, and social media monitoring finds the outliers with lightning speed. The best evidence of the real you have at your disposal any time is looking at you in the mirror.

Tell Me Why

Our risk assessment tools don’t allow the patient to contribute the facts that s/he knows best. Clinicians use heuristics to document and chart. Most charted histories omit at least one potentially relevant condition, event or genetic predisposition; it was not on a form, and/or it was not discussed. Many patients also reveal “medical history fatigue” which constrains the completeness of any particular history, and patients who have seen their chart notes are also aware that not all the information they provide is captured, apart from the form itself.  

 Since our brains are small, our days short and we’re only human, just as we have to use heuristics (decision shortcuts) to make everyday decisions about which route to take to work or what to order for lunch, we use heuristics to prioritize, consider, make, avoid, deny, delay and simply tune out myriad health issues and choices.  We’ve failed miserably to convey stakes and commitment times in health care, a lack of knowledge that can only constrain optimal decision-making. If an alien from another planet watched TV or went online for a few minutes, who could blame him for thinking that allergies or erectile dysfunction must be the world’s worst plague? 

It's All in the Game

In short, instead of focusing on an illusory “healthy mindset” whose stock doctrines are breathtakingly obvious (don’t touch the hot stove, stop smoking and cut back on Twinkies), we can more productively allocate all the money spent on bland DM pap to upgrading to the decision support available for silk blouses and video games. 

This week’s stiff-upper-lip letter from a major network, syndicated by a major vendor: …”We understand that there are many reasons why you may not want to take your medication…if you have any questions or concerns, we encourage you to contact your doctor or local pharmacy.”  Talk about “information” that will never be [read or] used! Each two-page letter contains two sentences about the particular drug’s rationale and consequences for not taking it; the rest is unadulterated condescension. How recently was any of your communication…interactive? Inquisitive? Conversational? Brief? 

Direct education in decision-making requires not just doling out information, but encouraging its acquisition through other channels, preaching that it is best leveraged in combination and in understanding, not rote. And then, it falls to MCOs, agencies, clinicians, jurisdictions…anyone with skin in the game, to kick our cheerleaders off the field and start playing full contact football. Our opponents include disease, ignorance, fear, denial, poverty, hunger, addiction and crime. And they've got a large lead. 


All Things to All People Isn't Working

By Kim Bellard, July 18, 2014

When it comes to hospitals, we may need to paraphrase Lincoln: they can treat all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but they can't -- or, rather, they shouldn't -- try to treat all of the people all of the time.

US News & World Report just released their annual "Best Hospitals" rankings.  They evaluated nearly 5,000 hospitals against a detailed methodology

What struck me was that, out of those nearly 5,000 hospitals, only 144 scored a national ranking in even one specialty.  None -- I repeat that, none -- ranked in all 16 specialties.  Only Boston, Los Angeles, and New York had more than one Honor Roll hospital.  Several states have no hospital with a national ranking in any specialty.

There's a lesson there.

A few days ago Clayton Christensen, the Harvard-based guru of "disruptive innovation," told Forbes that the U.S. health industry is "sick and getting sicker."  He offered several suggestions for what he thinks need to change, but I want to pick one in particular, his emphasis on cutting administrative waste.  

It is not unusual to cite administrative waste as a problem in our health care system, but Christensen comes at it from a different angle.  As he said:

An increasing proportion of [health care] cost is spent on administrative and overhead activities that are not productive in any way.  They exist because we assume every hospital should be able to do everything for everybody. But that’s not possible if we want quality and efficiency. Overhead creep is the result.

Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of The Cleveland Clinic, gets it as well (or at least, says the right things).  As he recently said at the Aspen Ideas Festival: "What we need to understand is that not all hospitals can be all things to all people."

Cosgrove noted The Cleveland Clinic's expertise in cardiothoracic surgery, done on a scale that he believes results in care that is cost-effective and of high quality.  They draw patients for these services not just from their metro area, their region, or even just the U.S., but also internationally.  He wants to see a future where we get patients to the right physicians, rather than trying to have expertise available everywhere.

Given the solid data on the importance of volume/experience, then, why are each of my local hospitals trying to make themselves the leader in, say, open heart surgery?  Or in cancer, neurology, or sports medicine for that matter? 

Somehow it is hard for me to believe they've got my interests -- the patient's interests -- as their top priority.  

Becker's Hospital Review recently hosted an Executive Roundtable on affiliation, and I was struck by a comment one of the hospital CEOs made:

There are too many tertiary facilities' values are not aligned with rural hospitals' values: Their goal is to pull patients out of smaller communities, which is not what smaller communities are looking for in an affiliation. Keeping patients close to home is what's important.

Wouldn't you like to think that doing what is best for the patient is what's important? 

The point is, most of us don't live in places where we should be expecting that we're going to get the best care for every condition locally.  Nor should we expect that even the "best" hospital/health system for some conditions are best for other conditions as well.  Who is treating you where for what matters.

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


May I Speak to the Doctor's Computer? 

By Kim Bellard, June 25, 2014

There's a new provocative study in Computers in Human Behavior that suggests we may be more likely to tell the truth about personal matters, such as health problems or medical history, when talking to a virtual human instead of to an actual human.  I'm not sure if these findings threaten to set back the patient-physician relationship 10,000 years, or promise to advance it fifty years.

The article -- It's Only a Computer, by Lucas, Gratch, King, and Morency -- tested participants' willingness to disclose information to a "virtual human" on a computer screen.  When the participants believed the virtual human was fully automated instead of being controlled by a human, they reported lower fear of self-disclosure, were less likely to shade the truth in order to create a good impression ("impression management"), and were rated as being more willing to disclose information.  The key to the behavior was their belief that no human was involved, whether or not a human was actually acting behind the scenes.

The virtual human idea is not pie-in-the-sky, good only for research studies.  Versions of it are already being tested, such as by, whose digital health avatar was profiled by MIT Technology Review a year ago.  It captures patient information via an avatar, which can respond to patient statements or data and can even answer questions.  

Clearly, we're entering a new world.

The kind of artificial intelligence that might power these avatars/virtual humans can also be used to assist physicians instead of competing with them.  IBM, of course, has been touting Watson in health care for several years now.  As Wired recently reported, there are a number of AI efforts out there to assist physicians. 

Wired also notes that companies are trying to keep their products viewed as offering recommendations instead of making decisions, which would push them over into FDA approval and regulation.  We probably will get there, but that step will be a big gulp.

Some experts believe people will improve their health behaviors -- e.g., get more exercise or lose more weight -- if they know they are being monitored.  Others fear people will end up forgetting about their trackers and will slide back to their previous behaviors. 

The plethora of tracking devices poses issues not only with the sheer volume of data generated, but also with integrating the disparate data from multiple operating systems into a unified record. 

The idea that health information is only collected at a medical office or lab, and that patients should wait to act on it until a human can talk to them, is simply no longer viable.  The data are increasingly going to be available 24/7, and when it means something important there have to be mechanisms to act upon it in real-time.   Maybe that is through alerts to physicians, who then initiate contact with patients, or maybe the wearable ecosystem can trigger its own alerts and advise the user what is going on using avatars and other automated mechanisms.

A recent op-ed by Dominic Basulto in The Washington Post stated that "Google and Apple want to be your doctor, and that's a good thing."  Mr. Basulto concluded:

Companies like Apple and Google can help to break down the notion that health has to be something offered by a monolithic company with a confusing set of rules and terms. It might just be the case that mobile health care facilitated by wearable tech will turn out to be better than traditional doctors.

I think it is a stretch to say that mobile health will be "better" than traditional doctors, but I think these and other technological options can certainly radically change when, why and where people need to see physicians or other health care professionals.  And that's good.

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


Stopping on Green 

By Laurie Gelb, June 9, 2014

The intersection greets you with a green light, but an accident blocks your lane. You brake instinctively, disregarding an official signal to proceed. Contradictory stimuli define our lives. 

Cut to health care’s adherence doctrine. “Ask your doctor. Take your medication as prescribed.” In what other subject area is it optimal for end-users to follow instructions without having internalized a rationale and therefore knowing when and how to ignore them? If you’re repairing something and the instructions say “use an inch of duck tape” and it takes two, do you stop working or use more tape?  You make a split-second decision in the moment. 

We expect to kludge. Every day, most people take action that is unprecedented for them, slightly different, under new circumstances or seen in a new light. When a wall-mounted sink falls off, most of us can imagine that we should use the main water shutoff even if we’ve never used it before. And if we came to a screeching halt at every choice about food, drink, OTC, rx, exercise, surgery, medical equipment, caregiving, parenting, safety, environmental controls, etc., we couldn’t function. Certainly, some health decisions merit more than a second for consideration, but that doesn’t mean they get it, whereas some receive more consideration than they deserve.

You might ask, why is understanding the rationale for and exceptions to instructions so important, considering that patients can consult a clinician that knows both well? But you know the answer: seldom is the clinician or the network next to patients as they make critical choices to act, avoid, deny, even everyday re-evaluation of instructions about meds, diet, exercise, procedures, lifestyle, rehab.The vast majority of decisions that drive health outcomes are unknown, unseen and uninfluenced by content and service providers. And our constituents, knowing their own context better than anyone while facing their own toppled sinks, must often take what is for them unprecedented action. 

As the green light illustrates, we haven’t abstracted information until we can act optimally when things go wrong, or when conditions differ from a perfect world. The necessity of lifelong learning applies to health care in spades, while the evidence base for preaching “follow” (along with paternalistic clinicians and arsenic cosmetics) reeks of mold.

Memorizing that 2x2=4 doesn’t mean that you understand arithmetic. When a toddler repeats words, she hasn’t yet learned the language. We should want health care choices made by reason, not rote. Since any ongoing regimen, including observation, should be re-evaluated periodically, the notion of “set it and forget it” doesn’t apply. 

Few life choices entail a greater emotional investment than your own and loved ones’ health, while typical messaging dispassionately informs you that following the rules offers the best odds.  Yet the “exceptions” are so ubiquitous as to be cliché. Long-distance runners drop dead of early MIs as grizzled sun-worshippers light up into their 80s.  The “what you get is what you follow” thesis merits growing skepticism as truisms (fats block arteries, calcium strengthens bones, exercise prolongs life) emerge as increasingly complex and non-curvilinear propositions. Moreover, today’s patients face competing risks and lifestyle choices that their ancestors never knew. 

Instead of preaching reliance on catechisms that may or may not apply to a given situation, how about skill-building in decision-making directly, including the rationale for caring at all, transcending health calculators and guidelines. Economic studies show lower costs for the “engaged.” It can’t be an innate urge to obsess about health care that engages them, since hypochondriacs entails higher costs. The truly engaged understand enough to add value to their care.

Let’s not seek “informed consumers” a la the cereal aisle, who can only consume the information and care we provide, but informed patients, caregivers, clinicians, administrators and payors, who can collectively lift all boats. Clinicians can ask better questions to optimize outcomes, while EHR designers find better ways to incorporate the answers. Payors can better align provider and patient incentives. Patients and caregivers can ask better questions as well, while acting optimally on the stimuli life presents. 

Our “best” patients are not necessarily the most compliant with our every word. Instead, they ask realistic questions and probe for the best kludges so they can best apply what they know to what they don’t. Indeed, exploring disease information on one’s own has been associated with greater adherence in the traditional sense, time and again. Our “best customers” and the caregivers that support them understand that intention is not action, there is no free ride in health care and sometimes they must preserve their own health and even lives by stopping on green. 

Last week’s Modern Healthcare piece on the Cleveland Clinic illustrates, hardly for the first time, that even marquee institutions mislay part of the achievable.  By the same token, the lives we can save or improve by helping decision-makers to do their best work are incremental to the followers who leave more to chance.

Next installment: what are quick wins for patient satisfaction [sic], disease management and e-health if/as we rethink the adherence doctrine?


How do you Define Population Health?

By Clive Riddle, March 7, 2014

This week, the inaugural issue of Population Health News was published. In their Thought Leaders Corner, a number of members of their national advisory board answered the question – how do you define population health? Here’s what the experts had to say:

Fred Goldstein, M.S., Founder and President of Accountable Health, LLC; and Executive Director of Population Health Alliance says “A population health management program is one that strives to address health needs at all points along the continuum of health and well-being through the participation of, engagement with and targeted interventions for the population. The goal of a population health management program is to maintain or improve the physical and psychosocial well-being of individuals through cost-effective and tailored health solutions.” (Fred cites this description is from Population Health Alliance, formerly the Care Continuum Alliance)

Thomas Graf, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Population Health and Longitudinal Care Service Lines at Geisinger Health System offers this definition:  “Population health is the ability to define and understand the health status of every individual patient and proactively deploy medical resources to support those patients, whether it is to push resource to them where they are, or effectively connect them to the optimal resource in a patient specific manner, accelerated by technology.”

Paul Grundy, M.D., MPH, FACOEM, FACPM, the Global Director of Healthcare Transformation for IBM and President of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) elaborates that  “population Health is ‘the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.’ For me, the ability to deliver population health requires a place in the delivery system that acts as the system integrator where the data flow about the population and is held accountable. We ask the house of primary care to give us a set of principles for this system integrator that is known as the patient-centered medical home (PCMH).  The medical home is defined as a ‘healthcare setting that facilitates partnerships between individual patients and their personal providers and when appropriate, a patient’s family. It lies at the center of the effort to address population health through the provision of integrated and coordinated, team-based care. It is a delivery organization that fosters clinician-led primary care with comprehensive, accessible, holistic and evidence-based coordination and management. PCMH builds the infrastructure through which data flow and is held accountable as the system integrator for POPULATION HEALTH.”

David Nash M.D., MBA, Founding Dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University observes that "population health recognizes that the social determinants of healthcare, like poverty and education, are the key drivers of a society's well-being. Medical care is responsible for 15% of a society's quality of life.”

Vince Kuraitis, J.D., MBA, Principal and Founder of Better Health Technologies, LLC explains that “definitions of population health usually focus on improving the health and health outcomes of a population. That said, the understanding and point of view of population health managers will vary greatly. Consider three highly variable factors in populations: 1. What's the COMPOSITION of YOUR POPULATION? The answer will vary depending upon whether you are a health plan, a physician practice, an employer or the government. 2. How STABLE is your population? How long do you expect it to remain with you? If you are a health plan, you will expect 18% to 20% annual churn in membership and an average tenure of around three years. If you are Medicare, your members will be with you for the rest of their lives. 3. Are you at FINANCIAL RISK for the health of your population? Upside risk? Downside risk? What are the details?   These factors will affect the economics of a population and in turn, the type and timing of potential interventions. Population managers will consider ROI as a primary metric for evaluating success. While this might seem narrow, it's very real. For example, if you are a health plan, you are more likely to invest in a congestive heart failure disease management program that has potential to identify patients and interventions that will keep patients from being admitted to a hospital within the next one to three years. If you are Medicare, you might consider a diabetes prevention that promises to reduce eye or foot problems over the course of 15 years.”

Finally, Al Lewis, Founder and President of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium International, Inc. informs us that “population health is the provision of free (or financially incentivized) health-related tests, education and support services to groups who are (rightly or wrongly) believed—due to demographics, claims history or even company/health plan policy—to be at risk for chronic disease or chronic disease exacerbations absent those interventions, whether or not such interventions are requested by the employee or member.”

The second issue of Population Health News will include additional responses from Population Health Thought Leaders. Stay tuned.