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Health Cost Reform – Whose Ox Gets Gored?

Healthcare costs

There has been much ado in the news about health care reform, health coverage reform, health payment reform and clinical practice reform. All are tangential references to the real elephant in the room — health cost reform.

Why has the elephant grown so large? Is there a combination of diet and exercise that can help our elephant become slim and trim?

Your perspective on the reasons and solutions depends on the part of the elephant closest to you. If near the poor, unhealthy, uninsured patient part of the elephant, mandatory affordable health insurance for all is the ticket. If near the insurer part of the elephant, your focus is reducing the discretionary price-gouging, cost-shifting and wasteful choices of consumers and providers. If near the employer and plan sponsor part, you may wonder whether replacing employees with robots may be the better way to avoid health costs. Those near the care and treatment part fuss about the onerous rules, processes and habits that interfere with engaging patients in achieving and maintaining better health. Those near the social and mental health part of the elephant see a need for allocating more resources to prevention and education than to rescue.

Everybody sees that the big elephant is crowding out other important things desired for the room, such as wage increases, job protection, life choices, equitable access and security.

All parts of the elephant need to shrink to a more normal size. The March 2013 Time Magazine article by Steven Brill - Bitter Pill, Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us describes many wasteful practices that perhaps could be curtailed. But where do we start? Whose ox gets gored?

We Americans tend to prefer "nudges" to affect sustained change rather than voting for more government mandates typical in other lower-cost countries. Therefore, perhaps we should leverage all available resources to favorably influence the choices of health care users and providers to affordably improve our health.

We need to seek first to understand and prioritize what is most important.

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Auditor, Audit Thyself

MW Blog 7 14 2017 Sandia Crest The Needle sm

Numbers. Numbers can tell us many things, including how good or bad something is. When the numbers are low in my bank account, that’s bad. When the numbers are high, that’s good. As a member of the External Quality Review (EQR) team, numbers are part of my daily routine. As a nurse and an auditor, I’m trained to interpret different numbers. In quality review, numbers tell us about the effectiveness of an organization's objectives. In our personal lives, numbers tell us if we are meeting our own objectives or if we’re headed in the wrong direction.

 

Last year, when our staff underwent biometric screening, I had my blood drawn, just like many of my co-workers. Unlike many others, my numbers were bad. As a nurse, I know about lab results and what patients should do when the results are bad. When I saw how high my hemoglobin A1C was, I paid attention. I knew what this number meant – if I didn’t do something soon, I would soon be diabetic and need insulin, just like my parents. I needed to figure out how to do the improvement.

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Behavior Change and Duct Tape – the Stickier, the Better!

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Adopting a new behavior, even one that is good for us, can be difficult. I belong to a gym, and I've come to observe each January with interest. That's when the resolutionists, as I affectionately call them, flood the gym for the first several weeks of the new year after making some sort of fitness resolution. The parking lot becomes crowded and exercise machines are busier than ever. (They really like the treadmills for some reason). While I hope a few new faces will stick with it and become familiar over the coming months, most of the crowd has dispersed by the early part of February and continues to taper over the following months until we're largely back to our usual routine. As I looked around the gym recently, I wondered – what would it take to retain a greater percentage of the resolutionists?

We know that individual behaviors are substantial contributors to our health outcomes, representing about 30-50 percent according to a Health Affairs Policy Brief. But how can we effectively take charge of our own health by implementing and retaining more healthy behaviors?

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As Payment Moves to Value, the Circle of Root Causes Expands

Group in conference room

Over the past 20 years at HealthInsight, I've had the opportunity to work with health care providers and organizations on root cause analysis to learn from sentinel events, patient harms and other negative, unwanted and unexpected events. Seeking to prevent future harms, we've learned that the most important answers to the question "why did this happen?" – the root causes – are often far removed in time and space from the events that occasioned the review.

Cause and effect analysis is a technique employed in root cause analysis that pushes you to consider all possible causes of a problem, rather than just the ones that are proximal and obvious. Forms of cause and effect analysis include the "5 Whys" and causal tree analysis. Analyses using these techniques produce cause-effect chains, with each identified cause itself becoming the effect of preceding causes. When learning and applying either of these analysis techniques, it's not always clear when the analysis stops, because one can always propose a preceding cause – even if you have to go back to the "big bang."

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Toward a Multistakeholder Approach to Payment Reform

Doctors

MACRA. QPP. MIPS. Value-based payment. If you feel lost in the sea of acronyms, reporting requirements and systems-level change, you aren't alone. Years of ongoing effort to transform the health care delivery system are now aligning with Medicare's commitment to paying for high-value care, and the change process seems dizzying at times.

Almost everyone agrees that the cost of health care is unsustainable and we must change the way we pay for care. Yet providers, health plans and other stakeholders face significant barriers as they strive to implement and sustain new payment models. System changes come with innumerable intricacies and nuances, including concerns about who wins and who loses. A major challenge is how to obtain and share reliable data to inform and test new models, and to reassure providers who are asked to accept accountability for improving quality while reducing cost. In the midst of these swirling changes, practices have to keep working hard to ensure high-quality care that satisfies their patients.

As I've worked in system change initiatives with multiple stakeholder groups over the years, I've noted all too often that stakeholders tend to work on addressing challenges within their individual spheres—be it a clinical practice, an organization or a network—even though adjustments in one part of the system have an impact on all others. Sustainable change depends on making all adjustments mesh effectively for all stakeholders.

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