Validating Health Care Performance

Brian Klepper

Posted 8/20/18 in Valid Points, the Newsletter of The Validation Institute

The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their true names. – Confucius

BKlepperFor purchasers, health care is the Wild West. Vendors of all types – disease managers, wellness companies, care navigation firms, ambulatory surgery centers, benefits advisors, worksite clinic firms, and on and on – have a long history of making exuberant claims about their outcomes and savings. Purchasers – self-funded employers and unions – generally have no alternative but to take those promises at face value, assuming they’re grounded in solid data and hard math. They may be more resigned than surprised when the expected results don’t materialize.

The propensity of vendors in the population health management sector to over-promise and under-deliver became so pronounced that Al Lewis, a nationally prominent health care outcomes analyst, wrote an entertaining book about it, called Why Nobody Believes the Numbers. Why Nobody Believes tells how 12 companies cooked their numbers, and how they mostly thrived despite a flow of bogus results. Anyone familiar with corporate health benefit plans over the past couple decades is aware of the immense popularity of wellness and disease management programs despite skinny evidence showing that they’re effective.

In 2010, Sean Slovenski, then CEO of an Intel-GE subsidiary called Care Innovations (and now Walmart’s SVP & President of Health and Wellness) created a new organization, The Validation Institute, to evaluate the calculation methods of health care organizations making claims about their performance. If their data sources and data are credible, if their math makes sense and if the evaluator find that the intervention has produced the promised results elsewhere, then the product/service would be “validated.” If not, the evaluators provide guidance on how to do the calculations properly.

This approach – independent, objective, highly capable third party review and evaluation – was the right solution, providing a fresh, straightforward way for responsible vendors to be accountable.

For purchasers, validation represents a significant advantage. They can be confident that vendors’ performance will approximate what they promised. By reducing this uncertainty, an increasing number of purchasers, Walmart included, now give validated vendors preferred status in the bidding process.

With rapidly growing momentum and increasing influence, the Validation Institute is poised to close a glaring gap in health care purchasing. Accordingly, every purchaser should insist that every health care vendor become validated and build the validation requirement into its Request for Proposal process. Likewise, the validation process should become a critical step in every vendor’s go-to-market plan.

In a health system awash with excess and opacity, an important first step is a rigorous process that gets to transparent outcomes. In health care, that step starts at The Validation Institute.

Brian Klepper is a health care analyst.

The Gold Standard for Current Cancer Treatment

Published Online 6/27/2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

EandBA couple of months before Elaine died from peritoneal cancer, we hired Anila, a cheerful, hearty Albanian house cleaner. On her first visit, Anila saw that Elaine was bedridden. “Kerosene can save her,” she said. “There is science. Look it up on the Internet.” Later, Elaine and I had a good laugh over it. She said, “Maybe that’s all they have available in Albania.” But in retrospect I’ve thought, “Could it be any worse than the treatment she got here?”

Elaine was a bright light to those who knew her, one of those rare people whose inherent grace put others at ease and made them feel special. A trained pianist, she was also a gifted and productive artist who in her last year painted and gave away more than a dozen original pieces to friends and family. Continue reading “The Gold Standard for Current Cancer Treatment”

13 Questions To Ask Onsite Clinic Vendors

Brian Klepper

Published 2/24/10 in Workforce Magazine

Thinking about opening a primary care clinic at your business site? Many organizations are.

Work-site medical clinics are catching on as employers discover they can save significant dollars and improve the care for their employees and families. Clinic vendors’ medical management and business models vary dramatically, however, and, as a result, so do their impacts on cost and quality.

Though on-site clinics have been around for more than 25 years, the designs have evolved. Some older clinic vendors offer elaborately expensive facilities with conventional doctor office arrangements, which makes it difficult to deliver savings. By contrast, contemporary vendors are more likely to heavily invest in tools and programs, creating comprehensive medical management platforms.

Continue reading “13 Questions To Ask Onsite Clinic Vendors”

Congress’ Drug Addiction

Posted 2/26/16 on Employee Benefit News.

The Congressional committee that recently demanded Martin Shkreli’s appearance must have hoped to spotlight a smug jerk responsible for the outrageous prescription drug pricing that we’re all up against. Of course there are lots of Shkrelis running drug companies, but most are shrewder and less brash, and might not make for such good theater.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), one of the Committee’s questioners, seemed to think that his witness could move healthcare forward by disclosing the machinery of the drug sector’s excesses. “The way I see it, you could go down in history as the poster boy for greedy drug company executives or you could change the system. Yeah, you.” Continue reading “Congress’ Drug Addiction”

Why Does The FDA Approve Cancer Drugs That Don’t Work

BRIAN KLEPPER

Posted 10/23/15 on The Health Care Blog

A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that two-thirds of cancer drugs considered by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the past five years were approved without evidence that they improve health outcomes or length of life. (This study closely corroborates and acknowledges the findings published last year by John Fauber of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Elbert Chu of MedPage Today.) Follow-up studies showed that 86 percent of the drugs approved with surrogate endpoints (or measures) and more than half (57%) of the cancer drugs approved by the FDA “have unknown effects on overall survival or fail to show gains in survival.” In other words, the authors write, “most cancer drug approvals have not been shown to, or do not, improve clinically relevant end points.”

Continue reading “Why Does The FDA Approve Cancer Drugs That Don’t Work”

Will Specialty Drug Pricing Be The Straw?

Published 5/27/15 in Employee Benefit News

ALP_H_BK_0010Over the next few years, drug manufacturers will release a host of new drugs that are more complex and, in many cases, more effective than we’ve had access to in the past. There will be better solutions for common problems, and new solutions for uncommon ones. Specialty drugs, many of them “precision therapies,” will offer tremendous promise for better health outcomes across the breadth of human health and treatment.

Not surprisingly, most of these drugs will have breathtaking price tags, often a high multiple of conventional drugs. Specialty drugs are an exploding growth industry, with spending rising almost 20 times as fast as conventional drugs. Unless something changes, in just another five years we’ll likely spend more on specialty than non-specialty drugs. Or, for that matter, on doctors.

Continue reading “Will Specialty Drug Pricing Be The Straw?”

Developing a Coordinated, Considered Response to Predatory Health Care

Brian Klepper

Posted 9/21/14 on the NBCH Newsletter Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010In today’s New York Times, Elizabeth Rosenthal describes the growing and egregious over-treatment and overpricing practices by physicians and health systems, abetted by health plans.

The excesses detailed in this article are at the core of our national health care quality and cost crisis. The best solutions are collaborative, considered actions by group purchasers, potentially the most empowered of health care’s stakeholders.

When predatory anecdotes like these come to light, the benefits managers – or better yet, the CFOs – of local employers, unions and governmental agencies should immediately call the health plan and demand that the health systems, physicians and other providers involved be removed from the provider panel. (Small communities held hostage by a few dominant health care players are a separate topic that I’ll address soon.)

As Tom Emerick, former VP Human Resources at Walmart has stated repeatedly, health care will not improve until purchasers demand different behaviors from health care vendors, focusing business on organizations that facilitate high quality care at reasonable cost, and publicly avoiding those that do not.

This is a serious issue that demands a coordinated response. It is at the top of NBCH’s agenda. Join with us on this.

Brian Klepper is the CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health.