Guest post by Anil Jain, MD, FACP, chief medical officer, Explorys, and staff, Department of Internal Medicine, Cleveland Clinic.
Nearly every aspect of our lives has been touched by advances in information technology, from searching to shopping and from calling to computing. Given the significant economic implications of spending 18 percent of our GDP, and the lack of a proportional impact on quality, there has been a concerted effort to promote the use of health information technology to drive better care at a lower cost. As part of the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act incentivized the acquisition and adoption of the “meaningful use” of health IT.
Even prior to the HITECH Act, patient care had been profoundly impacted by the use of health informationtechnology. Over the last decade we had seen significant adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), use of patient portals, creation of clinical data repositories and deployment of population health management (PHM) platforms — this has been accelerated even more over the last several years. These health IT tools have given rise to an environment in which providers, researchers, patients and policy experts are empowered for the first time to make clinically enabled data-driven decisions that not only at the population level but also at the individual person level. Not only did the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) reform insurance, but it also has created incentive structures for payment reform models for participating health systems. The ability to assume risk on reimbursement requires leveraging clinical and claims data to understand the characteristics and needs of the contracted population. With this gradual shift of risk moving from health plans and payers to the provider, the need to empower providers with health IT tools is even more critical.
Many companies such as Explorys, a big data health analytics company spun-out from the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, experienced significant growth because of the need to be able to integrate, aggregate and analyze large amounts of information to make the right decision for the right patient at the right time. While EHRs are the workflow tool of choice at the point-of-care, an organization assuming both the clinical and financial risk for their patients/members needs a platform that can aggregate data from disparate sources. The growth of value-based care arrangements is increasing at a staggering rate – many organizations estimate that by 2017, approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of their patients will be in some form of risk-sharing arrangement, such as an Accountable Care Organization (ACO). Already today, there are currently several hundred commercial and Medicare-based ACOs across the U.S.
There is no doubt that there are operational efficiencies gained in a data-driven health system, such as better documentation, streamlined coding, less manual charting, scheduling and billing, etc. But the advantages of having data exhaust from health IT systems when done with the patient in mind extend to clinical improvements with care as well. We know that data-focused health IT is a necessary component of the “triple-aim.” Coined by Dr. Donald Berwick, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the “triple-aim” consists of the following goals: 1) improving health and wellness of the individual; 2) improving the health and wellness of the population and 3) reducing the per-capita health care cost. To achieve these noble objectives providers need to use evidence-based guidelines to do the right thing for the right patient and the right time; provide transparency to reduce unnecessary or wasteful care across patients; provide predictive analytics to prospectively identify patients from the population that need additional resources and finally, use the big data to inform and enhance net new knowledge discovery.
Eric Munz, vice president of business process crowdsourcing at Lionbridge Technologies, where he manages and leads the delivery of in-person, telephonic and video crowd-enabled interpretation solutions to meet the unique needs of customers across a broad range of industries, discusses here the need for interpretation services in health systems.
He also touches upon interpretation mandates for hospitals, the struggles large and small health systems face with interpreting to ensure the best patient care; he discusses the benefits of using a secure interpretation solution; and provides advice for implementing such a solution.
What are interpretation mandates for hospitals? How has equal access to language changed recently with ACA?
There are about 10 different places in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that require hospitals to develop and implement a system that provides interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), to have equal access to healthcare. For example, Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act focuses on non-discriminatory policies and procedures, including those based on the grounds of language and national origin.
Now, healthcare facilities are facing a renewed struggle to provide such interpretation services because of the influx of LEP patients newly enrolled in insurance plans under the ACA. According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 36 percent of newly insured individuals under the ACA in the state of California are LEPs — compared to only 9 percent of LEP patients prior to the ACA enactment. That is a dramatic increase in non-English speaking patients to serve.
Other states facing a jump in patients speaking foreign languages include Texas, Arizona and Florida. Across the nation, healthcare providers must be at the ready to interpret more than 300 languages to remain compliant. Otherwise, they risk incurring monetary penalties.
Why is it often a struggle to deliver interpretation for patients in large and small hospitals alike?
A big city hospital could serve patients representing a dozen different languages or more on any given day. That presents a very practical logistical problem for facilitating so many different conversations in so many different languages. This is why many facilities partner with vendors to provide on-site interpretation, but these interpreters often work on an on-call basis, delaying treatment. They also often charge two-hour minimum rates for their service even if it’s a 30-minute conversation. In a rural hospital, there simply may not be someone with the skillset to speak a particular language within the geographic area.
For these reasons, the biggest challenge for hospital management is determining how to efficiently meet the demand for interpretation services, which are required by law, while remaining cost conscious throughout the process.
Patient-centered healthcare technology is putting the power of good health into patients’ hands. All of the changes in American healthcare regulations point to one top priority, and that’s patient centered care. Why does this matter? Because patients who are empowered to manage their own health are more likely to be proactive and, theoretically, therefore healthier.
Knowledge in the world of healthcare can be a great thing, and the technology community is responding with thousands of apps and other healthcare IT initiatives, such as activity tracking devices and websites designed to help consumers keep close track of their wellness.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic provided FitBits to 149 post-surgical heart patients. The researchers determined that using the FitBit to monitor mobility wirelessly was “easy and practical, and led to a significant relationship between the number of steps taken in the early recovery period, length of stay and dismissal disposition. The research indicates that an activity monitor such as a FitBit could positively affect post-discharge outcomes by empowering patients to take their recovery into their own hands. Better discharge outcomes leads to lower costs in the long run. This is just one example of many.
Consumer health technology is attracting a lot of supporters on the business and medical ends of the spectrum because some of the more recent advances in this area are making it possible for people to be more proactive about their own health and initiate preventive measures. Awareness is a major component of effective prevention, and when consumers have the ability to discover any potential problems before they get out of hand, it can potentially save them a lot of money and improve their overall health status.
The question, then, is how companies can empower consumers to take responsibility for their own health through accurate and convenient information.
The resources that are scattered around the Internet would seem like the most obvious choice, but the problem there is that a consumer can just as easily base his or her decision on the large amount of misinformation that is circulating in and around the data that could really help them understand their condition.
A patient won’t prevent a thing if they misdiagnose their own problems. Even then, simply determining the potential problem doesn’t automatically suggest the appropriate answer or treatment. There have, however, been some technological advances that can address these concerns.
Making Reliable Technology Available
If the Internet isn’t the most reliable source, then, what other options are available? How can consumers find the best information and make sure they get an accurate diagnosis without actually going to the doctor?
QuantiaMD, the largest social learning network for physicians, developed by Quantia, Inc., conducted a recent poll of its members to understand physician perspectives regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Despite millions of enrollees, individuals and doctors remain confused about the law – a troubling fact as many patients look to their physicians as a primary resource on health care policy.
The poll garnered responses from 1,265 physicians from around the country and opened up a dialog about the ACA. Results of the study included:
84 percent of physicians said they did not feel like they had enough information on the ACA to serve as a reliable resource to their patients.
81 percent of physicians don’t feel they have enough information on the ACA to understand its impact on their practice and comply with its requirements.
When asked where they get the most reliable information about the ACA, the majority (35 percent) of physicians responded saying there aren’t any reliable sources of information.
79 percent said they would use an HHS-produced FAQ with their patients if such a resource were available.
“This poll proves how physicians have been left out of the health care reform process,” said Mike Paskavitz, Editor-in-Chief, Quantia, Inc. “As the patient’s most trusted point of access to the healthcare system, physicians can be a tremendous communication channel for the ACA, and this poll demonstrates that there hasn’t been much, if any, communication directed at them. This poll was a huge eye opener for Quantia and validates the importance of the Affordable Care Act curriculum we have been developing for our members.”
In the new healthcare ecosystem that is increasingly migrating to cyberspace, who can healthcare consumers rely on? Who in the healthcare service supply chain will prevail? Who will be the next Amazon or Yelp? Chances are it will be the organization that can deliver and mediate a centralized consumer experience – connecting healthcare consumers not only with care and treatment options, but also with pharmacists, labs, therapists, clinics, wellness coaches and other resources along the care chain.
More today than ever before as the care conundrum continues, fewer and fewer crave office visits, hospital stays or trying to reach physicians by phone. When we’re well, we see no reason to visit a physician. When we’re sick we increasingly wait until we’re sicker. And when we’re somewhere in between, we avoid calling because we know we’ll be put on hold. If there were a better way to consume healthcare, most of us would likely take it.
Interestingly, within this conundrum lies an opportunity for the myriad of healthcare players – from payers and providers at one end of the supply chain to wellness tacticians, retailers and mobile tool providers at the other end – to create a sustainable dialogue with healthcare consumers.
According to a recent survey conducted by Purdue Healthcare Advisors, a nonprofit healthcare consulting organization, hospital executives are reluctant to implement ACOs — 46 percent — and they have no plans to implement an Accountable Care Organization (ACO)-like model in the near future.
Conducted in October 2013 among 206 hospital executives at a director level and above, the survey also reveals that executives are struggling with finding solutions for lower reimbursements and increased costs, while still maintaining an acceptable level of quality care.
“This survey has identified a significant need for advocacy and education to support hospitals and help them survive the wave of changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act,” said Mary Anne Sloan, director of Purdue Healthcare Advisors. “Hospital executives are charged with enhancing patient care and managing margins with a shrinking workforce and diminishing patient volumes.”
Hospital executives find ACOs to be unstable and financially risky
Executives are waiting for ACO models that are more stable and mature to avoid having to reinvest funds to implement changes or updates, according to the survey. The executives who do not have plans to implement an ACO model in the future (46 percent) cited the following reasons:
According to a new report from AMN Healthcare, a healthcare staffing firm, 78 percent of hospital executives believe there is a shortage of physicians nationwide, 66 percent believe there is a shortage of nurses, and 50 percent believe there is a shortage of advanced practitioners. The survey also indicates that the vacancy rate for physicians at hospitals approaches 18 percent, while the vacancy rate for nurses is 17 percent, considerably higher than when AMN Healthcare conducted a similar survey in 2009.
“Change in healthcare is a continuous evolution, but the one constant is people,” said AMN president Susan Salka. “No matter what models of care are in place, it takes physicians, nurses and other clinicians to provide quality patient care, and the fact is we simply do not have enough of them.”
AMN Healthcare’s 2013 Clinical Workforce Survey asked hospital executives nationwide to comment on clinical staffing trends affecting their facilities. More than 70 percent rated the staffing of physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants as a high priority in 2013, compared to only 24 percent of hospital executives who rated staffing these professionals as a high priority in AMN Healthcare’s 2009 workforce survey.