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A Public Health Crisis Requires a Roadmap of Solutions

July 12, 2018
2:50 pm

It’s indisputable that the opioid addiction crisis with which America is currently grappling is one of historic magnitude.  We’re losing more than 115 people per day from opioid overdoses.  Families and communities are being devastated and public resources – healthcare, social services, law enforcement – are being stretched thin.

This is a serious problem, but it is not an insolvable one.  Recently, the Healthcare Leadership Council, working with over 70 organizations from the healthcare, employer, patient advocacy, and addiction treatment sectors, released a “Roadmap for Action” consisting of over 30 achievable, high-impact solutions to address opioid misuse and addiction.  The Roadmap is the product of several weeks of deliberations, idea sharing and consensus building and represents a collaboration of unprecedented breadth to address a national public health crisis.

The Roadmap identifies five key priorities as essential, including:

•    Improving healthcare system approaches to pain management
•    Improving current approaches to prevent opioid misuse
•    Expanding access to evidence-based substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health services
•    Promoting improved care coordination through data access and analytics
•    Developing sustainable payment systems that support coordination and quality care

This package of solution addresses both regulatory and legislative priorities but, just as importantly, it includes actions that healthcare leaders should take.  Winning this battle will require a public-private effort.  And the recommendations we’re offering, some of which are detailed in the following paragraphs, reflect this broad-based strategy.

Health sector leaders have a responsibility to improve access to evidence-based, non-opioid and non-pharmacological pain management therapies. (It’s vital to recognize that, in taking on the opioid crisis, we cannot place obstacles between millions of Americans suffering from chronic and acute pain and the treatments they need.) Developing and evaluating these treatments will require long-term evidence generation and data collection, but their proliferation will cut costs and improve outcomes for patients in the long run.

We must also focus on improving data-driven coordinated care, and in order to do this we must create access to real-time prescribing data within the clinician workflow. Improving critical data access must also include legislative action to change a law known as 42 CFR Part 2 to allow confidential information sharing on SUD diagnosis history while still adhering to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It is important that patients’ privacy be protected, but it is also vital that care providers understand their patients’ substance abuse histories if they are to provide them with the well-informed care that they need.

And we must develop sustainable payment frameworks that prioritize quality, coordinated, value-based care connecting patients with the medical resources they need, whether that be a pharmacist, primary care provider, nurse practitioner, licensed addiction treatment professional, or certified peer recovery specialist.  In fact, we must engage the full community of medical professionals in coordinated care to treat patients struggling with substance use disorder.

This is just a sample of the comprehensive, multi-faceted plan we’re going to be advancing.  No single organization, regulatory agency or legislative body can solve this crisis by themselves.  Working together, though, we have the ability to save lives and prevent tragedies.  The time for bold and decisive action is now.

Utilizing Technology to Propel Precision Medicine Forward

April 04, 2016
11:18 am

As we’ve seen, there has been a steadily increasing level of discussion and enthusiasm surrounding precision medicine.  The Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) has remained engaged in this conversation, given the expertise and involvement of its members.  HLC hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill last April on the subject, in which Bio-Reference Laboratories, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Mayo Clinic detailed the benefits that have already been realized, and the potential that has yet to be reached.  They each shared stories of how targeted therapy transformed the lives of patients in ways that conventional medicine could not.  Although the cost of sequencing will continue to benefit and see increased usage from price declines, early genetic testing has allowed for immediate diagnosis and treatment, bypassing the costly trial and error approach.  Our member experts all agreed that one organization alone cannot succeed in integrating genome based knowledge into personalized care.

Last year the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) was announced by the National Institute of Health (NIH).  This year the White House hosted a PMI Summit, in which President Obama both participated and partnered with the NIH in an educational tweet chat that answered questions from the public regarding the initiative.  During this chat, NIH Director Francis Collins cited a paradox, “Only by studying populations at scale can you really understand individual differences.”  The PMI Cohort Program is currently working towards collecting one million or more participants that reflect the diversity of our country.

Precision medicine is an area that would directly benefit from the ability to collect, store and share data electronically.  In order to see real success, harmonization of data privacy laws is a necessary next step.  Diverse state privacy regulations regarding patient information accompany HIPAA laws, adding to the complexity of sharing data in a way that would improve the quality of patient care.  Federal rules for research subjects intersect with additional privacy policies that are also burdensome to the healthcare system.  The ability to utilize any data gathered from partnering facilities is an important function, and dialogue between the federal government and states is needed to ensure this is feasible across the country.  This is a field of health policy we have discussed fully in the Healthcare Leadership Council’s recently-released “VIable Options: Six Steps to Transform Healthcare Now” policy recommendations. The U.S. is on the cusp of a new era in healthcare, and the flow of health data is a crucial part of it.

The “Talk to Each Other” Challenge for Healthcare

June 30, 2015
10:36 am

There is an excellent read in the Wall Street Journal today from Susan DeVore, the President and CEO of the Premier, Inc. alliance of 3,000 community hospitals throughout the country.  (Ms. DeVore is also chairman of the Healthcare Leadership Council.)

In her WSJ piece, Ms. DeVore notes that, while other industries have made excellent use of evolving information technologies to improve customer service and strengthen cost-efficiency, healthcare has lagged behind.  Improved data sharing is essential, she writes, “to ensure the right information about the right patient is available at the right time.”  She is absolutely correct in her assertion that making this happen is a responsibility shared by the private sector and public officials.

The DeVore column is below:

SUSAN DEVORE: Imagine what Twitter would be like if you were only able to have and Tweet to one follower? Or if email only worked within the four walls of your organization? Technology has made information sharing seamless and almost limitless for most people and industries. But it hasn’t reached its full potential in health care.

In health care, technology is foundational to drive change and improve the quality and value of patient care. The problem is that important health-care data cannot flow freely among the various health-information-technology systems that hospitals and health systems use. This hinders the ability for providers to connect and easily exchange information across their organizations and with other health systems.

As health systems focus on accountable care and increasingly move toward alternative payment models, the need for interoperable data across all health-information technology systems becomes critical. The ability to seamlessly pull discrete data anytime, anywhere helps to ensure the right information about the right patient is available at the right time. But today, providers are challenged with having to double check data pulled from disparate devices to make sure the information matches, such as dosing and blood sugar levels. Not only is this a step back for efficiency, but it is another manual process that has the potential to create errors and patient-safety issues.

To truly leverage health-information technology’s full potential, diverse networks and systems in health care must be able to talk to each other. To do so, we should require the use of innovative technology solutions such as open application programming interfaces (APIs) and secure third-party applications that connect the data to enable the real-time exchange of information.

Designing and implementing health-information technology that promotes collaboration among all stakeholders would create a learning health system that focuses on improving health-care quality, efficiency, safety, affordability and access. Private-public partnerships on interoperability governance, standards, measures and system transparency are essential to make this work.

A few weeks ago I was watching as my grandchildren were playing with their parents’ smartphones. At their ages, they are only interested in the bells and whistles, but in their little hands were devices probably considered impossible 10 or 15 years ago. Through innovation, ingenuity and necessity, my hope is that the challenge of interoperability becomes an obsolete concern.

Perpetuating Misconceptions on Patient Confidentiality

April 27, 2011
1:17 pm

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard the case of Sorrell v. IMS Health Care which concerns a Vermont law that bans the voluntary exchange of a physician’s prescribing history.  (The Healthcare Leadership Council signed an amicus brief in this case, advocating that the Vermont law be invalidated.  We joined a number of individuals and organizations, including the Associated Press, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two former HHS Secretaries in doing so.)  This could have been an opportunity to illuminate the often-confusing issue of patient privacy laws for the public but, unfortunately, some of what I’ve heard has done just the opposite.

Vermont Public Radio did an interview yesterday with the state’s attorney general regarding his defense of the law restricting information exchange. (You can hear the interview here.) He compared the release of a physician’s prescribing history to allowing someone to paw through your tax returns.  I’ll admit that if I heard that and didn’t know better, I’d be petitioning the Supreme Court to strengthen the Vermont law instead of striking it down.  But, nowhere in the interview did the attorney general mention the fact that the medical information at the heart of the Sorrell case is all de-identified.  There is no use of names, addresses or any other data that could be used to identify an individual.  So, instead of taking the opportunity to help the public better understand how de-identified health data can be used to improve healthcare quality and advance medical research, we see the use of scare tactics that are not grounded in fact. 

On a more positive front, the tenor of the questioning by the Supreme Court Justices yesterday seemed to indicate they are leaning toward striking down the Vermont law which, as we said in our amicus brief, “makes it harder, not easier for healthcare professionals to identify and reduce the substantial variations that exist in the delivery of healthcare services and the considerable health disparities that affect the lives of many Americans.”

The Supreme Court and the Importance of Information

April 04, 2011
1:58 pm

Last week, my organization, the Healthcare Leadership Council, joined with two distinguished healthcare leaders, Dr. Louis W. Sullivan and Tommy Thompson, both former secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services, in filing a ‘friend of the court’ brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.  We did so because of the critical nature of medical information and the importance of keeping databases accurate, up-to-date and accessible to medical professionals.

The case in question is Sorrell v. IMS Health and it concerns a Vermont law that bans the commercial use of de-identified patient data that is part of a physician’s prescribing history.  It’s the kind of law that plays to the kneejerk instinct to keep patient information in a sealed and inaccessible lockbox, but the ramifications of this approach to quality healthcare are quite severe.

What’s important to note here is that the Vermont law really isn’t protecting anybody.  The patient data in question is already de-identified.  Anyone making use of this information won’t see patient names.  Furthermore, there are already rigorous federal and state regulations in effect to protect against wrongful use of medical information.

The downside of the Vermont law is that barring all commercial use of such data also stops the flow of resources that is used to maintain current, accurate databases and to create new analytical tools that enable the use of data for health system improvements.

Secretaries Sullivan and Thompson and the HLC are far from alone in holding this point of view.  Over 50 organizations and individuals, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Press, have also filed amicus briefs to invalidate Vermont’s statute.