Wellness Market: Too Many Chasing Too Little

CrowdHaving taken a hiatus from last year’s Health 2.0 event, was looking forward to this year’s event to see what may be new and upcoming among those looking to disrupt the status quo. Unfortunately, surprisingly little.

Health 2.0 a couple of weeks back had your usually cheery crowd of those who are looking to transform healthcare. As with past Health 2.0 events we have attended, hype was far out in front of market reality but that does not seem to deter the cheerleaders, which were again present with abundance among the some 1,700+ attendees.

Show Me Your Big Data – That’s what I thought, not so big after all
There was plenty (i.e., too much) talk about Big Data when in reality, presentations focused on relatively small datasets with little thematic similarity in any one session. For example, the Risk Assessment & Big Data session had Dell talking about genomics, Sutter Health talking predictive analytics for CHF, another about mashing up claims and clinical data and the last looking at risk assessment. At the conclusion of this session, nary a question was asked – audience confused. Another session on Big Data tools for Population Health Management (PHM) was cut short, thankfully, when the power died. Hard to say if it is the industry drinking the hype, this particular event (though experienced similar at HIMSS’13), or what but this silliness has to stop – we really need clarity, not smoke n’mirrors =- and don’t even get me started on PHM…

Track Me – Track You and no, I probably don’t want your data, at least not yet
In addition to riding the Big Data hype, the event also jumped on the hype surrounding the rapid proliferation of self-tracking, biometric devices now entering the market and all the great things that will come as a result of consumer adoption and use of such devices to monitor health. Not all are jumping on this band-wagon and for good reasons. There is no doubt that in time, such devices will be used by clinicians and patients together which will be the focus of a forthcoming Insight Report from Chilmark but our early research points to a number of challenges in the adoption and use of such devices in the context healthcare delivery.

There was again a plethora of solutions for price transparency. Some odd partnerships that are more opportunistic, for the partners, than providing value for the end users, e.g., the Dr Chrono-Box.net demo was so laborious I can’t imagine any clinician actually doing it. On the patient engagement front, plenty of new solutions on display and was particularly impressed with what Mana Health had build for the NYeHC patient portal contest. Simple, clean, straight-forward and intuitive to use refreshing.

Of course no Health 2.0 event would be complete without one of the large commercial payers taking the stage to announce their latest and greatest member outreach initiative. Two years ago it was Aetna with CarePass. This year it looked like it would be Humana until they were a no show – but Cigna was there with GO YOU Hub. First impressions of GO YOU: a fairly shallow pool in the health & wellness domain with lots of catchy phrases and colors – something your pre-pubescent daughter may like – but this adult quickly lost interest after four clicks

Health & Wellness Redux, Redux, Redux
And again, no Health 2.0 event would be complete without a gaggle of health & wellness solutions, the majority of which won’t be around by 2016.

There are now far more health and wellness solutions in the market than what the market can absorb. This situation is not likely to get better anytime soon as the numerous incubator/start-up accelerators continue to spew more of these solutions into the market every year. The only thing I can think of is that the barriers to entry must be exceedingly low, yet few of these companies realize that the barriers to adoption are exceedingly high and the market is on the verge of contraction.

The Big Squeeze
We are now projecting a significant level of contraction in the health and wellness arena as the broader market comes to grips with a shift in risk from payers to providers with providers ill prepared to accept that responsibility and the migration of many employees off of their employer plans and onto Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX).

This will create two challenges:

Providers are not accustomed to providing such solutions to their patients. While risk may shift to providers, provider adoption and use of such solutions to manage their patient populations is limited. When one adds in self-tracking devices, well…

…providers are struggling with the data dumps from their recently install EHR. The last thing they are seeking is another data source. Healthrageous is one example. A self-tracking wellness solution that was developed by provider Partners Healthcare, adopted in pilots by some big providers, failed to gain traction and was quietly sold to Humana. Not a pleasant outcome. If a provider organization can’t make a go of it through a spin-out, to the multitude of these health & wellness solutions think they can?

Second, we are at the very beginning of a massive shift of employers directing employees to HIX. Despite a fitful start, the use of HIX will grow overtime as a wide range of employers, but especially those in the retail and hospitality industries, direct their employees to these exchanges. Shifting employees to HIX reduces employer exposure (risk shifting) and will lead to decreasing interest and adoption of health and wellness solutions by employers.

Yet despite these challenges, the cheerleading at all Health 2.0 events and a questionable future, one thing that comes through every year is that there are a significant number of people that truly want to do something good, something meaningful to improve the sorry state that is our dysfunctional healthcare system, which we all struggle with at times. These are the people that attend Health 2.0, the ones willing to talk about the “Unmentionables”, the ones to project a vision of a better future for us all, the ones willing to take a risk. For that they should be applauded. But be wary as most will not be around three years hence.

But next time, can we actually have some front line providers in greater abundance to give us their take on all of this. Unfortunately, this event was sorely lacking in such, though it did have its fair share of various healthcare representatives – they just weren’t the ones from the front lines which is who we all need to be hearing from today.

Special thanks to Graham Watson for the image. Graham is easily the best cycling photographer in the world today.

And an extra special thanks to Cora who was there with me and provided a few tidbits of her own to this post.

 

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Crashes, Bugs, and Major Usability Issues at Covered California

I have spent the past few days struggling to apply for insurance on California’s HIX, CoveredCA. Early on in the application process I tried to withhold judgment, but have since learned that coveredca.com has a price tag of $360M, awarded to Accenture. And so I am feeling decidedly less generous and have penned this short note. I hope that details of my experience can be of benefit to CoveredCA, Accenture, and anyone in the state considering applying for insurance.

System Slows to a Halt (Oct 9th)
I started out by checking a few news and twitter sources, which reported that the initial kinks with CoveredCA had been worked out. However when I began the application process the system was unbearably slow. I waited easily 30 seconds for every form submit. Eventually, I was presented with a cryptic error message when the system finally crashed: Oracle Access Manager Operation Error”.

The (very nice) woman I spoke with at the CoveredCA call center confirmed that the site was down. However, this news was absolutely under-reported. There were a few tweets that noted the system failure, but that was it. Notably, @CoveredCA remained silent on the issue.

I gave up staring at the Oracle error message, and the next morning (Oct 10), logged back in at 5am thinking I would beat peak web traffic. At 5am the site was still down, this time for “scheduled maintenance”.

I eventually completed my application later in the day… overcoming several usability hurdles and bugs along the way… as detailed below:

Major Usability Issues Encountered

  • Lack of login link. Why is their no login link on the landing page? It is completely non-intuitive to click “start” when I really want to just login and continue my application.
  • Security questions gone wild. These were so bizarre. There were 5 different security questions with 5+ question dropdowns each. One example: “What is your funniest friend’s last name?”
  • Children…are not adults. If a person has been identified as a child why am I still bombarded with adult-centric questions about that child, e.g. “has this person submitted a tax return.” Why should I ever be given the option to assign a child to be the parent of another child?
  • Family relationships. There has to be a better way to identify family relationships than the all-permutations-approach used. I’m sure this problem has been long solved — what does TurboTax do here? CoveredCA and its partner Accenture seems to have completely ignored industry best practices.
  • Going back and forward through application. It is absolutely unclear how to go “back and forth” in the application workflow easily.
  • Family member health status. Absolutely weird UI for specifying how many family members have high healthcare/high medication needs — need to click plus (+) and minus (–) boxes.
  • How do I verify my income? At one point in the application workflow, it was specified that I had to verify my income before I could fully qualify for health insurance. I still do not how I am supposed to do this — no instructions given and no email follow up.

Major Bugs Encountered

  • Bug #1: editing previously entered data. After I was nearly done with the application process, I tried to edit some of my husband’s citizenship details.  When I clicked the ‘edit’ button next to his name I was taken back to the wrong family member’s form. I could find no other way to edit my husband’s contact information.
  • Bug #2: going “back” in application. After I was unsuccessful at editing my husband’s information, I was taken back several screens in the application and had to click “continue, continue, continue,… ” many times to get back to where I was.  At this point I became resolute to never try to “go back” in the application process ever again.
  • Bug #3: health plans search. When shopping for health plans I tried to search for health plans by both physician and hospital. I typed in “Kaiser”… and… no results found! Pretty shocking considering that Kaiser-Permanente is the largest, fully integrated insurer-provider in the country with headquarters in California. How could they miss this is beyond my imagination.

I am not one who wants to see CoveredCA fail, and I appreciated @CoveredCA responding to my tweets — albeit giving general assurances that the web team is “working on” the problems. I hope these problems can be resolved quickly (but doubt it).

Unfortunately, by spending $360 million of taxpayer dollars for Accenture consulting services and producing this kind of product, CoveredCA is giving plenty fodder to those that want HIX, and general healthcare reform, to fail. One really has to wonder, were those dollars well spent, and if there is any clause in the contract to hold Accenture’s feet to the fire until they get this fixed. Lastly, If anyone can tell me how I am supposed to verify my income then I would be much obliged.

 

 

 

 

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Moving to HIE 2.0

This week I had the pleasure to be the keynote speaker at Orion Health’s HIE User Conference in the beautiful state of my youth, Colorado. In preparing for this conference I was struck again by just how quickly this market continues to evolve and just how messy evolution can be. By the time my slide deck was completed, I came to the conclusion that the health information exchange (HIE) industry is moving from HIE 1.0 to HIE 2.0. While no trend happens over night, certainly the release of Stage 2 meaningful use  (MU) requirements had a significant impact.

HIE 1.0: All About the Message
Within the realm of HIE 1.0 the primary focus is on fairly simple, message-based, transactional processes. Large healthcare organizations (HCOs) adopted HIEs to facilitate orders and referrals with the hope that by making it easier for an ambulatory provider to place an order and receive timely access to lab results, that the provider would be more inclined to push business to that HCO, rather than a competing HCO in the community. It was all about physician alignment. Countless HCOs installed such HIEs, which are typically based on a lightweight, federated model. It was simple, inexpensive and relatively quick to deploy.

In the public sector, most HIE’s were meant to serve public health reporting functions and facilitate physician access to records to minimize duplicate tests and deliver better care. The objectives of public HIEs are far harder to reach, the value far harder to articulate and have contributed to a lack of sustainability and ultimately failure of may a public HIE. In a somewhat bizarre twist, last summer Health and Human Services (HHS) sent forth new mandates to all statewide HIEs to focus first and foremost on Direct Secure Messaging (DSM). DSM is little more than secure email, thus the original grand plans of public HIEs have been whittled down to much more modest goals.

With the release of Stage 2 meaningful use, which will require EHR vendors to embed DSM functionality within their EHR to become certified, messaging solutions provided by HIE vendors have now become commoditized. Messaging in the context of HIE is now passe.

HIE 2.0: All About Delivering Care
It has always been Chilmark Research’s opinion that the enterprise market will lead the public market in adoption and use of new, innovative HIE technology. With the move towards value-based contracting and associated reimbursement models, accountable delivery systems (ADS) (note: we don’t like to use the term ACO unless we are specifically talking about CMS), of all sizes are now looking to adopt an HIE platform and those that adopted a messaging-based HIE are looking to replace it. This will result in a high level of turnover in the HIE market, which we began seeing during middle half of last year.

The move to an ADS model requires a HCO to manage a given patient across all care settings. To meet these objectives, HIE 2.0 solutions will have such common attributes as data normalization services, patient disease registries, care management tools (care plans, templates and workflow) and some form of patient engagement capabilities. In adopting and deploying an HIE that goes beyond simple federated messaging, the HCO hopes to insure that appropriate care is delivered to a patient across all care settings and that all individuals (patient, loved one, case manager, nurse, doctor, etc.) that are a part of a given care team have the most current and relevant information associated with that patient, at their finger tips.

This is the goal of an HIE 2.0 but we are still quite a ways from getting there. Our latest end user research finds a market that is full of frustration. Despite all those Stage 1 certified EHRs that have been deployed, very few of them can actually create and/or parse a CCD. We are still in the land of simplistic and cumbersome HL 7 messaging. Some pretty big steps forward were made by the feds in Stage 2 to rectify this now well-known, but also fairly well-kept secret that HIEs today simply cannot readily support care management processes across care settings in a heterogeneous EHR environment. This week’s announcement to further push the envelop, via certification of HIE/EHR in conjunction with efforts that are being led by NYeHC are also a welcomed sign.

Ultimately, though, it will be market need that presses this issue forward, not the efforts of HHS, NYeHC and others. As HCOs continue their acquisition spree to build a robust ADS to serve their communities, these organizations will begin to have the marketing clout to force vendors to change their ways. For example, while Stage 2 may have had some impact on Epic’s decision to finally admit Care Elsewhere would forever be vaporware and have them strike a partnership with Surescripts, it is our belief that Epic’s customers were the ones that really forced Epic’s hand. Now if we could only apply similar clout to those ambulatory EHR vendors who hold their clients hostage with exorbitant interface fees – maybe this is where the feds can play their greatest role and Stage 2 is a strong step in the right direction.

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Limits and Lags in Healthcare Productivity

In a recent Health Affairs blog, Alex Goldsmith does a back-of-the-envelope analysis of the peculiar economics of healthcare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in healthcare increased by 1.149 million people from 2007-2011. He contrasts this increase in employment (read increased cost) with declining hospital admissions, low single-digit growth in hospital outpatient volumes and declining physician office visit volume (read declining economic output). A New England Journal of Medicine article published in Oct. 2011 also showed a net percentage decrease in productivity growth (see figure below).

Over this same time period there has been steadily increasing investment in IT for hospitals and doctor’s offices much of it as a result of the HITECH Act that was passed in 2009. Compared to ten years ago, more healthcare workers are doing less healthcare with more information technology. And little over a week ago a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Stephen Soumerai and Ross Koppel pulled no punches, calling the savings to be gained from IT in healthcare “chimerical.” We have known for a long time that providers themselves insist that productivity drops after installing an EHR and there is little evidence to refute such claims and plenty of evidence to support them.

The absence of productivity improvements or cost savings after big IT investments is neither new nor unique to healthcare. Way back in 1987, Nobel laureate and MIT professor Robert Solow famously said, “We see computers everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”  For the next ten years, economists leveled forests (this was a pre-internet time after all) trying to explain away the Solow productivity paradox. While the dotcom boom rendered productivity paradoxes as interesting as bell-bottom pants, few would now contest that increased use of IT drives productivity improvements. It is just a long journey to get there with some successfully surviving the journey and others not. There are plenty of examples in other industry sectors of companies that did not effectively adopt and use IT, ultimately contributing to their downfall.

The EHR Incentive Program and all of the other IT-related ONC and CMS programs have a host of now familiar policy objectives. The fact that IT is at their center says loudly that CMS is trying to coax incremental productivity improvements from a reluctant system.

So where are the productivity improvements in healthcare? While we are only one year into the meaningful use (MU) saga, we would argue that we are seeing three things: 1) the limits to IT as a productivity-boosting panacea, 2) a lag between the investment in IT and a productivity payoff and 3) an existing reimbursement model that does not effectively support IT adoption that is in alignment with meaningful use objectives.

Providers that invest: Most of the current incentives for IT adoption are aimed at the point of the healthcare spear: CMS is willing to pay most frontline clinicians in private practices, clinics and hospitals to adopt IT. These same frontline clinicians, however, are increasingly frustrated and burned-out by the fee-for-service treadmill. Simply getting a primary care physician (PCP) to meaningfully use an EHR will not allow her to suddenly double her patient load. If anything, it will likely decrease office productivity for at least a year as all staff members become familiar with and effective in using an EHR.

Measures like the Stage 2 MU objectives build on that basic EHR to let that same PCP leverage work done in other parts of the healthcare system to deliver more coordinated care. The PCP still can’t double her workload but she might be able to accomplish more in each encounter. In this instance, we see the lag between the investment in a basic EHR and the enhanced productivity of a more interoperable EHR, a time lag measured in years.

Providers that do not invest or under-invest: These incentives are not available to some segments of the provider community (e.g. skilled nursing facilities, behavioral health facilities). The limit is that non-incented providers presumably will invest modestly or not at all in EHRs, interoperable or otherwise. In this instance, the lag may well be a very long time.

Further, incentives are voluntary. Eligible providers can IT-up and take the money — or not. Nearly half of eligible hospitals have collected something under the EHR Incentive Program. The ranks of qualifying EPs, while still low, continue to grow and we will likely see a majority of EPs sign-on to this program.

The Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that ONC and providers are captives of the healthcare IT vendors.  The authors suggest that vendors, presumably in an effort to protect their markets, blocked efforts to make EHRs more interoperable, effectively blunting cost or productivity improvements. This is a fair criticism, probably true, and a clear limit to what we could expect from Stage 1 MU.

However, providers in a pure fee-for-service world have rarely found sufficient value in adoption of EHRs to justify the investment, thus the need for incentives. As the market slowly shifts reimbursement to value-based metrics, the justification to invest in an EHR begins to look more attractive to a PCP. Coupling this with future, MU Stage 2, certified EHR solutions that will better support care coordination across a heterogenous EHR landscape in a given community, the potential for true improvements in productivity appear promising. There is even a potential silver lining for providers that do not invest or under-invest as even the left-behinds have at least have a fax machine and a browser and may begin to enjoy some of the productivity gains of a reformed, networked system.

The network effect that kicks-in over time may like a rising tide, lift all boats. But this is a very slow tide that will rise over many years. Now the question is: How many of those boats have holes in them and will forever rest on the ocean’s bottom or does the tide simply rise too slow and others just pull their boats out of the water?

Note: This post has been authored by our newest analyst, Brian Murphy a former employee of Eclipsys, IBM and others as well as a former analyst for Yankee Group. Find out more about Brian on our About page.

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Benchmarking Payers Adoption of Consumer Tech

Awhile back, a large health insurer (payer) commissioned Chilmark Research to do a market scan on how payers across the country were using emerging consumer technologies to engage their members. We found this project to be quite interesting and rather than have much of that research sit on the shelves forevermore, we decided to build upon it.

Today we are releasing the results of that effort.

Our latest report: Benchmark Report: Payer Adoption of Emerging Consumer Technologies takes a close look at over 40 payer (health insurers) initiatives that are using a wide variety of consumer technologies (apps, social media, games, etc.) for member engagement. Here’s the PR announcing the report’s release.

Now it is well-known that payers have had a very mixed record in engaging their members. Part of the problem has been trust as members are justified in taking a cautious approach when sharing their health information with payers for fear of future denials. Secondly, many payer initiatives have been half-baked wherein payers have not been fully engaged themselves in the concept of member engagement.

But as we pointed out in a post earlier this summer, this is all beginning to change. Numerous market forces are now pressing down upon payers and payers are increasingly coming to the realization that they need to deploy member engagement solutions that work. Payers are now going to where consumers already are seeking to engage their members via a variety of consumer-based technologies. This report is our initial effort to gain a greater understanding of what payers are doing today and provide some guidance as to how their efforts will evolve overtime.

One thing we have learned in the course of our research is that despite all the talk, the majority of these efforts are in their infancy and that the vast majority of payers have not even begun to venture down this path. Therefore, we intend to update this report on a periodic basis to benchmark payer adoption of consumer tech in support of member engagement and gain an even deeper understanding of what works and just as importantly, what does not.

Thanks to the many that we have interviewed over the course of the last several months to compile this report as your inputs have been invaluable.

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Why We Won’t See EHR Consolidation Anytime Soon

All too frequently I get the question:

When will we see the EHR market consolidate?

Not an unreasonable question considering just how many EHRs there are in the market today (north of 300) and all the buzz regarding growth in health IT adoption. There was even a recent post postulating that major EHR consolidation was “on the verge.” Even I have wondered at times why we have not seen any significant consolidation to date as there truly are far more vendors than this market can reasonably support.

But when we talk about EHR consolidation, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. In the acute care market, significant consolidation has already occurred. Those companies that did not participate in consolidating this market (Cerner, Epic & Meditech) seem to have faired well. Those that pursued a roll-up, acquisition strategy (Allscripts, GE, McKesson) have had more mixed results.

It is the ambulatory sector where one finds a multitude of vendors all vying for a piece of the market and it is this market that has not seen any significant consolidation to date and likely will not see such for several years to come for two dominant reasons.

First, you need to be half crazy to do an acquisition. As nearly two-thirds of all acquisitions fail, the odds are stacked against you. Therefore, you need to be darn sure that this acquisition makes sound business sense before pulling the trigger.

Second, the ambulatory EHR market is simply not ripe for consolidation. The reason is simple. To remain viable in the market, EHR vendors must ensure that their products meet Meaningful Use (MU) requirements and meeting those requirements requires hefty investments.

Virtually all EHR vendors invested resources to get over the Stage One hurdle. In fact, the federal largesse of the HITECH Act attracted a number of new EHR entrants to market and likely kept a many EHR vendors afloat who would have otherwise gone under.

Stage Two’s certification hurdle has yet to be released but will assuredly require a continued and potentially significant investment in development resources by EHR vendors to comply. Same holds true for future Stage Three certification requirements.

At this juncture, it would be foolhardy to try and execute an EHR acquisition roll-up strategy. The technology has yet to stabilize, significant development investments are still required and most vendors do not have sufficient market penetration. Better to wait until the dust settles and clearer stratification of the market (who will remain viable, who will not) becomes apparent.

An Example from Manufacturing:
In my many years as an IT analyst I’ve seen few instances where acquisitions have actually worked out well for all parties concerned. When I led the manufacturing enterprise analyst group at a former employer I watched as two separate companies (Infor & SSA) executed roll-up acquisition strategies in the mature Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market.

Much like the ambulatory EHR market, these two companies targeted the low-end of the ERP market (small manufacturers). ERP companies acquired had two defining characteristics: stable platforms and reasonable penetration in their target markets.

Infor and SSA executed their strategies skillfully acquiring multiple companies; promising customers never to sunset a product; and meeting their investors’ goals by lowering operating costs (reduce duplicative administrative costs across acquired companies.

Post acquisition, Infor and SSA did not invest heavily in development, simply doing the minimum necessary to meet customers’ core requirements. Ultimately, Infor acquired SSA and Infor remains one of the dominant ERP companies in the market today.

A similar scenario will play-out in the ambulatory EHR market, it just will not be this year or next or even the one after that. Look to a couple of years post-Stage Three, for the long-awaited consolidation that so many have predicted to finally occur.

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