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Improving Patient Care by Applying Lessons Learned from a Pandemic

May 19, 2021
4:57 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic and its social distancing requirements have necessitated changes in the delivery of healthcare over the past 14 months.  As we begin to transition back to normalcy, policymakers and health system leaders are assessing the lessons learned during this period to determine what kind of short-term changes should become permanent healthcare reforms.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing this week dedicated to this topic, executives from two Healthcare Leadership Council member companies discussed steps that need to be taken to enable individuals to continue receiving quality care in their own homes.

Linda DeCherrie, M.D., clinical director of Mount Sinai at Home, a program developed by New York’s Mount Sinai health system, discussed the benefits found through an innovative care delivery model that provides treatment to patients in home settings.  According to Dr. DeCherrie, the Hospital at Home model reduced the average hospital stay from 5.5 days to 3.2 days while also cutting the percentage of patients who require readmissions nearly in half.

Dr. DeCherrie said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved waivers to allow healthcare providers to offer these services to Medicare beneficiaries, but that some health systems are reluctant to establish Hospital at Home programs unless they are assured those waivers will be made permanent or at least extended.

Similar regulatory action is needed to strengthen telehealth access, according to Narayana Murali, M.D., executive vice president of care delivery and chief strategy officer for Marshfield Clinic Health System in Wisconsin.  She told senators that telehealth has increased access to care for vulnerable communities. Marshfield, she said, performed 240,000 telehealth encounters in 2020 compared to 12,500 in 2019.

Dr. Murali said, though, that access to telehealth services remains limited by existing regulatory barriers determining where telehealth can be offered.  She also said telehealth won’t reach its full potential until greater investments are made in broadband access.

I want to give credit to the Senate Finance Committee for scheduling this hearing.  We can’t undo the tragic devastation created by COVID-19, but we can utilize the lessons learned from the pandemic to provide better healthcare to the American people.

 

 

Time to Discuss a “Health Equity Moonshot”

March 31, 2021
5:41 pm

This month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the health inequities witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The topics discussed in that hearing warrant our sustained attention.

I’m particularly focused on the testimony of Eugene Woods, the president and CEO of Atrium Health (a Healthcare Leadership Council member), a North Carolina-based health system. Out of the tragedies we have witnessed during COVID-19, which have disproportionately affected racial and ethnic populations as well as areas with high rates of poverty and comparably limited healthcare access, Mr. Woods sees an opportunity to do something significant and transformative.

As he put it, “The COVID-19 pandemic has come at a great cost to the world. We should view this reality as an investment that allows us to emerge stronger.  Through unity and collaboration, government and industry are capable of great things. This has been, and still is, a core tenet of American exceptionalism.”

In his testimony, Mr. Woods offered the notion of a private-public collaboration not unlike the efforts that put astronauts on the moon or the Cancer Moonshot Initiative of a few years ago.  In fact, he referred to it as a “health equity moonshot” and suggested four priorities to address the equity gaps that have existed for too long but were made glaringly obvious during the pandemic.  They are:

  • Extending health coverage access beyond the current Public Health Emergency by utilizing innovative private models and government-based structures.
  • Creating worldwide standards for data collection and full data interoperability to enable real-time analytics.
  • Making broadband available to every rural and urban community in the country.
  • Using technology to support sustained well-being, particularly in underserved communities.

If we truly believe in the goal of accessible, high-quality healthcare for every American, then this is an idea that should receive extensive attention and discussion.  To quote Mr. Woods again, “While COVID-19 and the public health emergency we have faced may fade over time, the health inequities the pandemic uncovered will persist if we don’t take this moment to come together around an ambitious goal.”

An Innovative Approach in Minnesota to Close the Gap Between Mental Health Needs and Treatment

February 25, 2021
8:15 am

It has always been important to improve access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.  Now it’s imperative.

Even before the arrival of COVID-19, national numbers raised serious concerns.  Twenty percent of Americans reported experiencing depression or an anxiety disorder while also having substance abuse issues. Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990, and almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction with only one of every 10 receiving treatment for the condition.  The pandemic has worsened our society’s struggles. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in August of 2020, 53 percent of adults reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted as a result of the changes wrought by COVID-19. This, in turn, has caused the number of people with substance use disorders to rise.

Now, more than ever, investments must be made to ensure access to treatment and innovative ideas must be pursued to address these mental health challenges.  One such innovation is taking place in Minnesota.

One clear obstacle patients face is the lag time between the initial request for care and the availability of specialists and treatment programs. While this wait time is occurring, there is a heightened risk of suicide, drug overdose, or a change of heart about pursuing treatment. Recognizing this dilemma, M Health Fairview initiated a new program to bridge this gap. The program is designed to provide same-day access to either in-person care or virtual care with trained providers.  Additionally, the health system has included a mobile unit that proactively brings the support directly into the community. Emergency Medicine Physician and Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Levine emphasized that this program does not replace any type of care, but rather simply provides the stability patients need in their transition from initial treatment to longer-term care.

These are difficult times for so many Americans. Health providers like M Health Fairview are demonstrating innovation and leadership in meeting the urgent needs of those with mental health or substance use disorders.

On the Precipice of a Major Stride in Healthcare Progress

August 13, 2020
4:49 pm

It actually seems elementary when you think about it.  To deliver the best possible and most cost-efficient care to patients, particularly those with complex chronic conditions, it is essential for all aspects of the healthcare system – primary care physicians, specialists, hospitals, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, pharmacies, and others – to work together to coordinate patient care and deliver comprehensive treatment.

Currently, however, our federal laws and regulations prevent that type of patient-centered collaboration.  Measures known as the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute were created in the era of fee-for-service medicine to prevent bad actors from acting in ways adverse to a patient’s interests in order to gain some sort of financial benefit.  In our current transition to holistic value-based care, though, these fraud and abuse safeguards are serving as daunting legal barriers to the kind of working relationships that deliver optimal health outcomes.

We are hopeful this is on the verge of changing.  The Department of Health and Human Services has developed, with extensive public input, new rules to modernize these outdated laws and regulations and create opportunities for healthcare professionals and organizations to collaborate without fear of legal reprisal.  There will still be more than adequate protections against fraud and abuse, but the obstacles to patient-centered, value-based care will be significantly alleviated.

These new rules were submitted by HHS to the Office of Management and Budget for final review and approval last month. The Healthcare Leadership Council is one of more than 120 healthcare companies, associations, and patient advocacy groups that has asked President Trump to intervene and bring this critical work across the regulatory finish line.

As the letter to the president puts it, with the finalization of these rules “victory can be claimed in the name of helping get better coordinated care and reducing overall healthcare costs.”  We don’t see any reason to wait to begin reaping these benefits.

The Meaning of Personalized Healthcare

July 10, 2020
10:47 am

Personalized medicine is one of the very popular buzzphrases in healthcare, but not everyone has a complete understanding of what personalized healthcare means for patients, the healthcare system and the future of medicine.  HLC member Genentech has provided an important service by describing this branch of medical science and its potential in recently-published sponsored content in Politico.

In the Politico piece, Dr. Mark Lee, Global Head of Personalized Health Care, Product Development for Roche and Genentech describes personalized medicine succinctly, “Scientific and technological advancements are allowing us to leverage the vast amounts of data that we can access to help patients receive the right treatment at the right time.  Not every patient responds the same way, and it is incredibly challenging to predict who’s going to benefit from which medicine and how.  But there is now more data per patient than ever before, allowing us to hone in on the subtle differences that make each of us unique to deliver more personalized treatments that can yield better outcomes.”

As Dr. Lee points out, in addition to improving care at the patient level, having this detailed information about patients of different ages, ethnicities, genetic backgrounds and health conditions will transform and strengthen clinical trials and drug development in years to come.

I highly recommend this content in Politico to gain a greater understanding of how personalized medicine will change care delivery in the foreseeable future.