Physicians, Health Systems and the Drive For Market Dominance

Brian Klepper

Posted 5/23/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

BK 711Several physicians have reached out recently to discuss attractive employment offers from health systems. They are invariably conflicted. They understand the trade-offs, that they’ll give up the autonomy they’ve become accustomed to in exchange for more money and fewer practice management headaches. On the down side, they’ll be accountable for generating significant revenues, sometimes independent of care appropriateness.

Most also are aware that the same care services they provide now will be considerably more expensive once they’re part of a system. Many appreciate that because health systems are corporations with a heavy focus on optimizing short term gains, their future employer’s loyalty is suspect. And then there is the question of whether the health system’s management team is competently preparing to be sustainable in a market that could change dramatically.

As health systems maneuver to dominate regional markets, driving utilization and gaining more leverage over contractual pricing, physician employment has become their principal lever. Primary care physicians (PCPs) are now precious commodities that can manage populations and steer patients into the system’s services. Other specialties – e.g., cardiology, orthopedics, neurosurgery and even gynecologic oncology – are desirable if they’re high yield, driving lucrative, intensive use of inpatient and outpatient services.

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Using Strong Carrots and Sticks To Drive Health Care That Works

Brian Klepper

Posted 5/09/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010On a recent call with a large manufacturer, my company’s team expected to describe how we develop primary care medical homes that become platforms for managing comprehensive health care clinical and financial risk. But the team on the other end of the phone beat us to it. Their remarks – that health care cost is a multi-headed monster that requires a broad array of simultaneously executed approaches – were a breath of fresh air.

They wanted to avoid approaches that don’t work or are designed to accrue to a vendor’s disproportionate financial advantage, and focus instead on mechanisms that measurably improve health and reduce cost. Their conventional current clinic vendor wasn’t onboard, philosophically or in terms of capabilities, and so wasn’t getting results. They were looking for a replacement vendor that could help them drive more appropriate care, with clear rules for patients and providers.

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How Physician Practices Can Prepare for a Health Care Marketplace

Brian Klepper

Posted 4/21/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

BK 711What is the path forward for physicians who want to remain in private practice, outside the constraints of health system employment? How will the environment change and what new demands will that place on practices and physicians? What follows are the observations of one industry-watcher who has worked on all sides of health care, but who now spends most his time focused on the interests of those who pay for it. No crystal ball, but several trends are clear.

There are now concrete signs that health care’s purchasers are exhausted and seeking new solutions, that a competitive marketplace is emerging and getting increasing traction. As they abandon ineffective approaches, the paradigm that has dominated the industry for the past 50 years will be upended. The financial pressure felt by buyers will transfer to the supply side health industry that has come to take ever more money for granted.

For decades, fee-for-service payment, inclusive health plan networks, and a lack of quality, safety and cost transparency have been enforced by health industry influence over policy, effectively neutralizing the power of market forces.

Without market pressure, physicians have felt little need to understand their own performance relative to that of their peers. The variation of physician practice patterns within specialties has been high, with some physicians’ “optimizing their revenue opportunities” by veering wildly away from evidence-based practice. Even so, until recently in this dysfunctional environment, it has been nearly impossible to identify high and low performers.

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Seriously Testing The ACO Waters

Brian Klepper

Published April 2013 in Accountable Care News

BK 711If necessity is the mother of invention, then tentativeness and ambiguity are the parents of procrastination. In health care, fee-for-service remains the dominant paradigm, so the ACO movement, lacking almost any semblance of true financial risk, is far more bark than bite. What’s the point of health systems going to all the trouble – and there’s no question it will be an overwhelmingly complicated overhaul – required to move from volume to value if it isn’t a pressing concern? Or, as several health system CFOs have expressed it, “Why should we change what we do and take less money until we have to.” There is no immediate imperative.

But there are some strategic imperatives. Overall health care cost has continued to explode. Kaiser Family Foundation data show that, for more than a decade, health plan premiums have risen 4.5 times as fast as general inflation and more than 3.5 times workers earnings. A recent RAND calculation showed that $4 of every $5 of household income growth is now absorbed by health care. It doesn’t seem likely that much more revenue can be squeezed from group and individual purchasers. (Though many of us have been saying that for decades.)

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When Employers Get Serious About Managing Health Care Risk

Brian Klepper

Posted 4/07/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010RostLast week I visited with Gary Rost, an unassumingly knowledgeable man and the Executive Director of the Savannah Business Group (SBG), arguably one of the most effective health care coalitions in the country. Their offices are only a couple hours away from my home on the Northeast Florida coast, so it was a quick trip up.

SBG was founded in 1982 as a way of mobilizing employer buying power for better care at lower cost. Its reach now extends beyond Savannah about an hour south, north into South Carolina and west from the coast. The vision described on its site is straightforward and easy for purchasers to appreciate:

“SBG endorses and adheres to the principles of value-based purchasing: performance measurement, transparency, public reporting, pay for performance, informed consumer choice and collective employer leadership.”

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Why Only Business Can Save America From Health Care

Brian Klepper

Posted 3/24/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

BK 711For a large and growing number of us with meager or no coverage, health care is the ultimate “gotcha.” Events conspire, we receive care and then are on the hook for a car- or house-sized bill. There are few alternatives except going without or going broke.

Steven Brill’s recent Time cover story clearly detailed the predatory health care pricing that has been ruinous for many rank-and-file Americans. In Brill’s report, a key mechanism, the hospital chargemaster, with pricing “devoid of any calculation related to cost,” facilitated US health care’s rise to become the nation’s largest and wealthiest industry. His recommendations, like Medicare for all with price controls, seem sensible and compelling.

But efforts to implement Brill’s ideas, on their own, would likely fail, just as many others have, because he does not fully acknowledge the deeper roots of health care’s power. He does not adequately follow the money, question how the industry came to operate a core social function in such a self-interested fashion or pursue why it has been so difficult to dislodge its abuses. For that, we need to turn our attention to a far more intractable and frightening problem: lobbying and the capture of regulation that dictates how American health care works.

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Why EHRs Really Haven’t Made Us Healthier: A Response To Glen Tullman

Brian Klepper

Brian Klepper, Health Care Analyst and TDWI Writers' Group

Recently-fired Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman waxed progressive in a self-promotional Forbes article last week, describing the ways past and forward for electronic health records (EHRs) and health information technology (HIT). He may have been trying to recover from a damning New York Times article that clearly illustrated the relationships between campaign contributions, influence over health information technology policy, and business success.

Tullman recalls building EHRs that moved many physicians away from paper and the errors it fosters. He calls out David C. Kibbe, MD as an example of the forces wanting to preserve paper and opposing EHRs, with quotes from a 2008 blog post suggesting that the current crop are “notoriously expensive,” “difficult to implement” and unable to demonstrate care quality improvements. He predicts that, in the future, the industry will leverage open platforms and interoperability, yielding new monitoring and management utilities that can facilitate better care at lower cost.

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The RUC, Health Care Finance’s Star Chamber, Remains Untouchable

Brian Klepper

Posted 2/1/13 on The Health Affairs Blog

BK PhotoOn January 7, a federal appeals court rejected six Georgia primary care physicians’ (PCPs) challenge to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) 20-year, sole-source relationship with the secretive, specialist-dominated federal advisory committee that determines the relative value of medical services. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) is, in the court’s view, not subject to the public interest rules that govern other federal advisory groups. Like the district court ruling before it, the decision dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims out of hand and on procedural grounds, with almost no discussion of content or merit.

Thus ends the latest attempt to dislodge what is perhaps the most blatantly corrosive mechanism of US health care finance, a star-chamber of powerful interests that, complicit with federal regulators, spins Medicare reimbursement to the industry’s advantage and facilitates payment levels that are followed by much of health care’s commercial sector. Most important, this new legal opinion affirms that the health industry’s grip on US health care policy and practice is all but unshakable and unaccountable, and it appears to have co-opted the reach of law.

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An Archipelago of Health Information Islands

Brian Klepper

Posted 12/27/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

My wife Elaine was hospitalized for 6 days recently with an array of ailments related to her advancing cancer, so diagnosing and addressing her problems required a multidisciplinary approach. In addition to the nursing and support staffs, she was tended by an emergency physician, two hospitalists, three gastroenterologists, a pulmonologist, an infectious disease physician and an interventional radiologist. With the exception of one specialist who had performed a procedure on her two weeks earlier, this episode was the first time any had met Elaine.

Each clinician was familiar with her status before visiting her, because the health system has an enterprise-wide electronic health record (EHR) that aggregates information into each patient’s chart. The hospitalists coordinated the care process and also touched base with Elaine’s primary care physician and her oncologist.

In other words, the system worked exactly like we hoped it would but often doesn’t. Especially in complex cases like this, the likelihood of a positive result is enhanced if the team members have access to the same complete information, and if someone – in this case the hospitalists – quarterbacks the activity.

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Putting Physician Practices Into Context

Brian Klepper 

Posted 12/11/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog 

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage. 

Jack Welch

Physicians and medical societies in all specialties would do well to take a look at this article, published in the November issue of The Journal of Oncology Practice. Authored by Elaine Towle, Thomas Barr and James Senese of Oncology Metrics (a subsidiary of the oncology electronic health record firm Altos Solutions), this year’s National Oncology Practice Benchmark Report aggregates and analyzes data on a wide variety of clinical, operational and financial business metrics. There are 89 charts in categories – work units, patient visits, revenue, practice expense, pharmacy operations, clinical trials, and staffing/productivity – from oncology practices around the country. The focus here is on the practice. The report does not delve into relative patient quality or cost.

The authors have deep experience with oncology practice, and they note that the cornerstone of their firm’s approach is “to promote the discovery and adoption of best practices.” Towle and Barr previously ran oncology practices in New Hampshire and Ft. Worth. This is their 7th annual report, meaning they have had the benefit of years of immersing in and refining their work product.

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Following the Money

Brian Klepper

Posted 12/06/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

On The Health Care Blog, veteran analyst Vince Kuraitis reviews a report from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman (OW), arguing that the trend toward reconfiguring health systems to deliver more accountable care is more widespread than any of us suspect.

“The healthcare world has only gotten serious about accountable care organizations in the past two years, but it is already clear that they are well positioned to provide a serious competitive threat to traditional fee-for-service medicine. In “The ACO Surprise,” our analysis finds that 25 to 31 million Americans already receive their care through ACOs-and roughly 45 percent of the population live in regions served by at least one ACO.”

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Arriving at the Beginning

Brian Klepper

Posted 11/12/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

The most striking aspect of the election was that it decisively clarified the philosophical preferences of most Americans. And because the outcome was largely determined by minorities, women, and the young, it appeared to be a much broader and more independently-minded vision than most pundits have given the electorate credit for. That unexpectedly portends big changes.

Peggy Noonan’s analysis in the Wall Street Journal quotes a brutal summation by conservative activist Heather Higgins:

A majority of the American people believe that the one good point about Republicans is they won’t raise taxes. However they also believe Republicans caused the economic mess in the first place and might do it again, cannot be trusted to care about cutting spending in a way that is remotely concerned about who it hurts, and are retrograde to the point of caricature on everything else.

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Irresistible Forces

Brian Klepper

Posted 10/28/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

At our first meeting years ago, Tom Emerick, Walmart’s then VP of Global Benefits, told me,

“No industry can grow indefinitely at a multiple of general inflation. It will eventually become so expensive that purchasers will simply abandon it.”

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Getting Engaged

Elaine Waples

We hear inspiring things about patient engagement.  The very concept has a hearty, spirited, “do-right” sound to it.

I spent many years in human resources. I remember the conversations we had around employee engagement as we searched for a practical approach. We realized that it is the employees’ belief that the company is moving in the right direction; that the work they do is meaningful and that they are committed to it; that the trust index of respect, credibility and fairness is high; and that employees are willing to work hard to help it get there.

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The Wrong Battles

Brian Klepper

Posted 9/20/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

This week the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) issued a new report describing its vision of primary care’s future. Not surprisingly, the report talks about medical homes, with patient-centered, team-based care.

More surprisingly, though, it makes a point to insist that physicians, not nurse practitioners, should lead primary care practices. The important questions are whether nurse practitioners are qualified to independently practice primary care, and whether they can compensate for the primary care physician shortage. On both counts the AAFP thinks the answer is “no.”

AAFP marshals an important argument to bolster its position. Family physicians have four times as much education and training, accumulating an average of 21,700 hours, while nurse practitioners receive 5,350 hours.

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