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Ensuring Quality Of Life To The End

May 22, 2017
4:16 pm

As the value-based approach to healthcare delivery is gaining momentum, the focus on end-of-life care has moved towards center stage.  The benefits of palliative care and advance directives have proven to increase quality of care while decreasing the overall costs.  Particularly near the end of life, patients can have a wide range of preferences regarding where they want to be, how much treatment they want to receive, and how comfortable they want to feel.  It is important that caregivers and providers are aware of these preferences and have them documented.  Health systems and patient advocates alike have been working on educating both sides of the healthcare interaction – the physicians as well as the patients and their families – in order to help with coordination and communication about the patients’ needs and desires.

Premier, Inc ., a member of the Healthcare Leadership Council,  has been an acknowledged leader in communicating the vital role palliative care plays within the healthcare system.  Its CEO, Susan DeVore, wrote in the Health Affairs Blog about the growth in this area and how Premier has worked to improve the patient experience near end-of-life.  This piece is an excellent example of the private sector bringing value and quality to those who need it the most.  The post in its entirety can be viewed below, and the link to the original post is here.

 

The Humanity In End-Of-Life Care

Susan DeVore
May 19, 2017

Health care is personal, especially when it comes to caring for someone as they approach death. However, half of Americans feel they have too little control over end-of-life medical decisions.

As the industry moves toward a more holistic approach to care delivery, health care organizations are beginning to rethink how they treat patients and starting to embed end-of-life care plans into the overall approach earlier on, sometimes before people even become ill. In a recent report on end-of-life care by the Aspen Health Strategy Group, several principles are discussed that take a broader view around caring for seriously ill patients, helping to ensure that care is sensitive, aligned with patient and family wishes, and always working toward enhanced quality of life. One of the top recommendations in the report to achieving that end is increasing emphasis on palliative care.

Deemed the fastest-growing medical specialty in the United States, palliative care is interdisciplinary care (medicine, nursing, social work, chaplaincy, and other specialties when appropriate) that focuses on improving the quality of life for persons of any age with a serious illness, as well as for their families.

While a relatively new concept, palliative care has been increasing in prevalence, in part due to new value-based care incentives that promote an environment in which payment relies on not only treating the illness but keeping patients comfortable and, when possible, at home.

However, there is a significant misunderstanding about what defines effective palliative care among patients and providers. Palliative care is about proactive care, which can be used at any point in an illness. Unlike hospice, palliative care is not just for those who are dying; it can be delivered to anyone with a serious or chronic medical condition from the time of diagnosis, regardless of whether the patient is terminally ill, expected to recover fully, or facing years of chronic or progressive disease. It is often provided at the same time as curative medical regimens to help patients tolerate side effects of disease and treatment, while carrying on with everyday life. This includes social, emotional, and spiritual support, as well as advising families on how to care for their loved ones.

Effective Palliative Care Improves Patient Experience

In dealing with these illnesses at the time of diagnosis through palliative care, caregivers can greatly increase patient satisfaction and outcomes, while reducing costs. For example, one of Premier, Inc.’s (a health care improvement company) members, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, launched palliative care outpatient clinics in 2012 and now offers them at three primary-care offices and two oncology offices. In a 2014 cost comparison of patients’ costs in the six months before their first visit to a Presbyterian outpatient clinic to the six months after, hospitalization costs dropped by 19 percent, use of outpatient hospital services went down by 44 percent, and emergency department costs decreased by 79 percent. All of this was done while maintaining quality. And they’ve continued to expand these services by creating a more robust home palliative program with 24/7 access to trained professionals. Acute care hospitalization rates for these patients are now extremely low when compared to national or regional norms.

Research has also shown advantages in administering palliative care. In a randomized trial of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer, those assigned to early palliative care not only experienced a better quality of life and fewer symptoms of depression than patients receiving standard care, but they also lived more than two months longer.

Health systems in Premier’s quality improvement and population health collaboratives are sharing their best practices in palliative care and implementing effective models across the continuum to make them available in outpatient settings, nursing homes, and at home. They are also driving ongoing educational initiatives to improve cross-specialty generalist palliative care skills and ensure high-risk patients complete advance care directives. At Fairview Health Services, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, nearly all of the oncology clinic sites have interdisciplinary palliative care teams embedded within them. Physicians, social workers, and nurses work together to ensure cancer patients and their families are receiving timely emotional support and are prepared for future decisions using advance care plans.

These efforts are well-aligned with and supported by value-based care delivery and payment models, including accountable care organizations and bundled payment initiatives that require high levels of care coordination. For instance, last year Medicare began paying for voluntary advance care planning. This creates appropriate incentives for physicians, patients, and family members to spend time discussing patients’ health care wishes, which is just as important as having a life insurance policy.

Plan For The Care You Want

Advance care plans can be created even if you’re not ill. In fact, about 90 percent of people say that talking with their doctors and loved ones about their preferred care wishes is important. This includes writing legal instructions on treatments one would or would not want to receive. Patients who have these plans in place report greater satisfaction with their health care, based on how much treatment is desired, and have been shown to have lower costs of care.

Additional efforts dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for future care, especially care delivered at the end of life, are underway. One that is focused on ambulatory practices and other sites of care is the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s program, The Conversation Project. It has developed a starter kit to help people have conversations with family members or other loved ones about their wishes, should they become seriously ill.

However, definitions for palliative care standards and remaining fee-for-service incentives can stand in the way. As addressed in Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences near the End of Life, there are too few standards for professional institutions and other organizations to follow regarding advance care planning. In addition, lingering fee-for-service models incentivize volume over value, which can lead to care that may not be in line with patients’ wishes.

Therapies to treat diseases, especially those that are life-threatening, need to be balanced with therapies to relieve suffering or improve the quality of life in the process.

While progress is being made, we need to continue to think about how we fold standards of humanity into caring for the people we love, should they be faced with a devastating illness. Conversations about serious illness can be difficult to have, but they are essential to ensuring the care delivered is compassionate, wanted, and warranted.

Diving into Genomics at Datapalooza

May 03, 2017
2:15 pm

I had the privilege of moderating a panel at Datapalooza – the annual gathering of hundreds of leaders in health data innovation — that focused on innovations in genomic science, which are rapidly spurring discoveries in personalized medicine.  Clinicians face enormous challenges in keeping pace with evolving best practices in data management and implementing these technologies into routine care.  The panelists focused on how genomic sequencing could be utilized with today’s healthcare information technology infrastructure, and the most effective way to do so.

Keith Stewart, the Carlson and Nelson Endowed Director of the Center for Individualized Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, where he is also a professor of medicine at the Mayo College of Medicine, discussed the importance of understanding genomes.  He said that 24 percent of people who have their genes sequenced discover new medical findings.  Utilizing this information can lead to more precise treatment.  Personalized treatment means that patients have the capability of finding out which drugs will give them more or fewer side effects, and which will be more effective overall.  Different people react to drugs in different ways, and this advanced knowledge can significantly increase quality of life for those who would otherwise suffer from severe side effects.  Dr. Stewart questioned how genome sequencing results can be stored in a way that they can be easily referenced for treatment.  Mayo Clinic, he said, is working on a way to bring genomic sequencing directly to the consumer, without the need for a doctor as a middleman.

Emma Huang, associate scientific director for Janssen research and development, said that the entire health continuum — from prevention to interception to cure — can be pushed forward by genomics.  Models are being developed for integrating genomic data into predictive models in real time.  What the system is lacking is the deep data collection at a population level in order to predict with greater accuracy.  There are currently global initiatives linking human genetics and clinical phenotypes.  Ms. Huang specified that data needs depend on the stage of a patient’s health.  She declared that insights from genomic data need to be available and easily interpreted by patients to achieve results.

A major implementation barrier involves data transfer, flow, and interconnectivity.  Genomics data is rarely generated, analyzed, interpreted, and clinically implemented in the same system.  Mark Dunnenberger, PharmD, program director of pharmacogenomics at NorthShore University HealthSystem, said genomic data needs to be integrated into the system for true value and should be used alongside clinical data.  NorthShore opened the first pharmacogenomics clinic of its kind in 2015, and has recently expanded the offering with an at-home testing program, MedClueRX. Electronic health records were not built to handle the huge volume and complexity of genomic data, and the current method of saving patient information as pdf files does not provide discrete data and tends to get lost in the system.  Pharmacogenomics helps clinicians choose between therapeutically equivalent treatments that benefit unique individuals in varying ways.  Patients grasp the value of pharmacogenomics, Dr. Dunnenberger said, and are willing to invest money regardless of whether it is covered by insurance.

As our nation’s efforts to bring precision medicine the forefront of clinical care accelerate, we must take care to ensure we incorporate this data in ways that will be usable for clinicians and valuable for patients – without creating additional uncertainly or unsustainable costs.  As is often the case, HLC members are forging a path forward for others to follow.

The Challenge of Assessing Value in a Value-Based Healthcare System

September 21, 2016
5:56 pm

The Healthcare Leadership Council released its National Dialogue for Healthcare Innovation (NDHI) policy recommendations earlier this year. One of the core policy reforms we advocate involves concrete steps to speed the process by which new treatments and therapies receive federal approval and become accessible to patients and physicians.

However, just as important as accelerating the approval process is ensuring that patients have access to these treatments once they become available. HLC is pleased to cosponsor an upcoming event that will look at factors that could have a profound effect on patient access to care and health system value.

The National Pharmaceutical Council is hosting a conference in Washington, D.C., on September 29 that will be dedicated to the issue of value assessment frameworks. These frameworks are being developed by various organizations to evaluate new biopharmaceutical treatments and medical technologies and determine if they add value to the health system or, conversely, if they simply add excessive costs without a commensurate improvement in patient health. These initiatives are intended to ultimately have an impact on coverage and reimbursement decisions.

HLC strongly advocates the health system’s transition from fee-for-service to pay-for-value, but we have also insisted that cost containment must be balanced with improved care quality. The development of value assessment frameworks will have a significant impact on maintaining this balance. We look forward to the September 29 forum at which these issues will be discussed in detail.

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.

Bringing Value to the Patient and the Healthcare System: A New Report

February 04, 2016
4:52 pm

This week the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) unveiled its fifth annual report on the patient centered medical home’s (PCMH) impact on cost and quality.  In the quest to improve population health and reduce cost, PCPCC has collected data from peer-reviewed studies on medical homes’ costs and utilization.  Several Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) members – Anthem, Aetna, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Merck, Premier and Takeda — are executive members of PCPCC. The results are instructive in the continuing discussion on how to elevate healthcare quality while containing overall spending.  Key takeaways from the report include:

  • A focus on primary care drives down cost and utilization
  • Best results came from sites that used multiple payers
  • It is essential to align payment with performance

The panel that discussed the findings included Marci Nielsen, CEO of PCPCC, Alissa Fox, SVP of the Office of Policy and Representation at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Chris Koller, President of Milbank Memorial Fund, and Len Nichols, Director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University.

The experts stated that PCMH’s have demonstrated the ability to control costs by providing the right care.  Delivery reform and payment reform go hand in hand; one will not succeed without the other.  As the nation works toward a value-based healthcare system it is important to be mindful of the cost of transformation.  Incentives must be right, there will be a need for antitrust exemptions, and the industry will rely on national standards but local relationships.  Currently, fee-for-service does not reimburse services that are key to coordinating patient care.  The PCMH model is not one size fits all, according to the panel, and more research is needed to identify which varying components are demonstrating the most value.  Defining measures and identifying best practices are necessary steps in ensuring successful implementation of the PCMH model.

This discussion on how to improve value within the healthcare system will reach an important juncture later this month when the Healthcare Leadership Council unveils specific policy recommendations – endorsed by virtually all sectors of the healthcare industry in addition to patient advocacy organizations – on how to remove barriers to quality-enhancing, cost-saving health innovations.  Watch this space for more information.