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Book Review: Social Media In Clinical Practice

I finally had some time to read Dr. Bertalan Mesko’s book called Social Media in Clinical Practice.  I’m a big fan of his blog and a lot of the information he puts out.   I was intrigued to see what he thought was important for clinicians and then to compare that to what I know as someone active in the space. 

Overall, I thought it was a good, quick read for someone who knows very little about social media and all the options out there.  He quickly hits a lot of information:

  • Search engines
  • RSS
  • Facebook
  • E-Patients
  • Blogging
  • Twitter
  • Collaboration
  • Wikipedia
  • Second Life
  • Mobile
  • Videos and podcasts
  • E-mail

He provided some reinforcing references and laid out some key reasons for physicians to get involved such as:

  1. Keeping up to date
  2. Sharing and collaborating with other physicians
  3. Improving patient care

I was glad that he brought up the concept of “Information Therapy” which is a term I use a lot, and I think is really important for how providers can direct patients to quality content. 

While he spent a lot of time on Facebook and Google+, I personally would have expected more on Sermo or other physician specific networks. 

I thought the section on e-patients was really important for physicians to understand how to engage and work with them and creating a difference between a “Googler” and an e-patient. 

I knew it was possible, but it was good to see him provide the proper way of citing medical blogs and tweets in medical papers.

I was surprised to see a whole chapter on Second Life.  I never hear anyone talk about that anymore.  At the same time, there wasn’t any focus on LinkedIn or talk about tools like SlideShare.  I think there’s also a need for much more on mobile applications and use of SMS with patients along with a discussion on connected devices ranging from FitBit to more sophisticated tools with feedback and integration into the clinical systems. 

He did have some good suggestions on presentations such as looking at the Lessing Method, PechaKucha, and Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule. 

My overall summary would be that:

  1. If you’re new to the space, it’s a good quick read.
  2. If you’re in the space, you’ll learn a few things, but it’s probably not for you.

Of course, with technology and social media, things change really fast so it’s going to need to be come a more interactive version to keep up with the changes. 

Lessons Learned And MVPs

 I’m a big believer in trying to capture and learn from everything you do.  When you work in the start-up and turnaround space, not everything will be a clear success

After looking back on my time at my last turnaround, there are several clear takeaways:

  1. Demonstrate Incremental Benefits…All The Time.
    1. Taking on long-term projects is dangerous.  Sponsors change.  Markets change.  New technology comes out.  If you’re working on a multi-year transformation, you need to demonstrate incremental wins and have clear milestones.  You should assume you don’t have the next round of funding and build for success at each point.   I could say this is using an Agile approach, but it’s more than that. 
  2. FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS. 
    1. This one probably seems so obvious from the outside looking in, but it’s easy to get carried away with trying to take on too much.  In this particular case, we thought we had a 3-year timeframe to build and deliver on the vision.  We created a vision of care coordination that was really innovative, but we knew that no one had pulled it off before.  We then tried to coordinate care coordination and cost management which also hadn’t been done.  It would have been better to deliver one thing at a time and make ourselves incredibly sticky in that area.
  3. Know Your Customer…Really Well.
    1. When coming into a business, it’s so important to know the customer base and what they feel about the business.  Do they love it?  Do they engage regularly?  Is it just a commodity?  And why.  In this case, clients seemed to love the business, but it was because it was a massively customized business doing all the wrong things.  As we brought the business into compliance and created re-usable processes, it changed the relationship with the customers.  The relationships weren’t sticky, and we didn’t have clear alignment of goals.
  4. Partner Well.
    1. When you’re in the early stages of growth, it’s tempting to try to partner with people bigger and leverage their brand.  While that can help, it’s often a big distraction.  Some times, you commit to something that you can’t achieve putting pressure on a key relationship.  And, other times, you put so much at risk tied to the big company that when you realize that you’re not important to them then you have real challenges.  This gets back to the traditional understanding of buy, build, or partner and understanding your core competencies.
  5. Have A Clear Value Proposition.
    1. You’ll always find early adopters especially when you have a compelling vision, good sales people, and good management.  But, they won’t make your business for you if you can’t clearly demonstrate value.  You have to have access to data.  You have to be able to report on what you do and demonstrate how you’re creating a ROI.  In today’s competitive market, companies without a clear value proposition don’t last long.
  6. Be Different.
    1. This is a tough one.  We all watch the competition and see a path towards success, but as a younger company, trying to compete on price is a sure path to disaster.  Like the Blue Ocean Strategy, you want to compete in a different area.  Find your niche and do it better than anyone else in a way that is really different.  Trying to build something to just catch up always puts you behind. 
  7. Hire Slow and Fire Fast.
    1. This is something many people say, but they don’t always do.  It’s important to get the right team.  It’s important to hire in a logical sequence.  For example, getting a great sales team before your solution is built is great for the pipeline but frustrating to everyone in between.  On the flipside, in a smaller company, a toxic personality or someone that doesn’t fit can kill you.  You need to realize that quickly and let them go.  No one likes to do it, but you do a disservice to everyone else if you keep them. 

The past few years have been really interesting as I learned more about case management, disease management, utilization management, oncology, kidney care, and many other parts of our healthcare system.  The key is leveraging all of this as I move forward in my new role

I think another related topic to think about here is some of the lessons around MVPs (minimum viable products)

I always use the Apple 1 as my case study for an MVP.  

Apple Minimum Viable Product

Is There A Future For Community Oncology?

Cancer costs are expected to reach $174B in the US by 2020.  Right now, it’s about 10-11% of total healthcare spend which makes it a big area of focus within the healthcare industry.

The question is how to manage this spend:

  • Is it about site-of-care and where the care is provided?  (community oncology; Centers of Excellence; outpatient clinics; inpatient)
  • Is it about specialty drugs and how they are managed and charged?  (Buy-and-bill; white-bagging; brown-bagging; on-site pharmacy; 340B)
  • Is it about evidence-based care and following NCCN guidelines or clinical pathways?
  • Is it about palliative care and managing spend in the last 3-6 months of life?
  • Is it about personalized medicine?

One of the challenges is the survival of the community oncology practice (see ASCO report) that is an issue that physicians have struggled with in other specialties.  Over the past few years, we’ve seen continued consolidation of practices with many of them being acquired by hospitals and hospital systems.

In some cases, oncologists have seen a reduction in their income tied to a reduction in buy-and-bill and are looking to be employed in order to continue to maintain their incomes.  They are one of the few medical professions that have seen a reduction in income recently.  At the same time, this trend is also driven by hospitals taking advantage of the 340B pricing which allows them to generate approximately $1M in profit for every oncologist they employ.  And, the complexity of oncology treatment also is prompting the need for a more comprehensive care model which requires a broad set of services which is sometimes difficult for a small practice to provide.

Of course, this shift in care from community oncology to hospitals is driving up costs without a demonstrated improvement in outcomes.  This is driving a lot of payer focus and driving discussions of payment reform whether that’s in the form of ACOs, PCMHs, or bundled payments.  United Healthcare recently released some data from one of their pilots.

This seems like another classic example of misalignment across the industry.  Hospitals clearly see an opportunity to buy up more oncology practices while payers and others are going to push for reform around 340B and payment differences.  Oncologists are struggling to continue providing care but replace the income they were making of buy-and-bill of specialty medications.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this struggle.  It doesn’t seem clear whether community oncologists are destined for extinction or will payers will find a way to enable them to survive.  The other question is how things like teleoncology, tumor boards, big data, and the focus on prevention and survivorship will ultimately change the care delivery approach to oncology which may impact the role of the community oncologist in the future.

Gilead’s Sovaldi Is The $5.7B Canary In The Coal Mine For Specialty Medications

In case you haven’t been tracking specialty drug costs for the past decade, the recent news with Gilead’s Sovaldi ($GILD) is finally making this topic a front page issue for everyone to be aware of.  I think Dr. Brennan and Dr. Shrank’s viewpoint in JAMA this week did a good job of pointing that issue out.  They make several points:

  • Is this really an issue with Sovaldi or is this an issue with specialty drug prices?
  • Would this really be an issue if it weren’t for the large patient population?
  • Will this profit really continue or are they simply enjoying a small period of profitability before other products come to market?
  • Based on QALY (quality adjusted life years) is this really quick comparable cost to other therapies?

If you haven’t paid attention, here’s a few articles on Sovaldi which did $5.7B in sales in the first half of 2014 and which Gilead claims has CURED 9,000 Hep C patients.

But, don’t think of this as an isolated incident.  Vertex has Kalydeco which is a $300,000 drug for a subset of Cystic Fibrosis patients.  In general, I think this is where many people expected the large drug costs to be which is in orphan conditions or massively personalized drugs where there was a companion diagnostic or some other genetic marker to be used in prescribing the drug.

The rising costs of specialty medications has been a focus but has become the focus in the PBM and pharmacy world over the past few years.  This has led to groups like the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing.  Here’s a few articles on the topic:

Of course, the one voice lost in all of this is that of the patient and the value of a cure to them.  Many people don’t know they have Hepatitis C (HCV), but it can progress and lead to a liver transplant or even ESRD (end state renal disease) which are expensive.  15,000 people die each year in the US due to Hep C (see top reasons for death in the US).  So, drugs like this can be literally and figuratively life savers.  These can change the course of their life by actually curing a lifetime condition.

This topic of specialty drug pricing isn’t going away.

At the end of the day, I’m still left with several questions:

  1. What is the average weighted cost of a patient with chronic Hep C?  Discounted to today’s dollars?  Hard dollars and soft dollars?  How does that compare to the cost of a cure?
  2. What’s the expected window of opportunity for Gilead?  If they have to pay for the full cost of this drug in one year, that explains a lot.  If they’re going to have a corner on the market for 10-years, that’s a different perspective.  (Hard to know prospectively)
  3. For any condition, what’s the value of a cure?  How is that value determined?  (This is generally a new question for the industry.)

And, a few questions that won’t get answered soon, but that this issue highlights are:

  1. What is a reasonable ROI for pharma to keep investing in R&D?
  2. What can be done using technology to lower the costs of bringing a drug to market?
  3. For a life-saving treatment, are we ready to put a value on life and how will we do that?
  4. What percentage of R&D costs (and therefore relative costs per pill) should the US pay versus other countries?

Curing Camden: Book Review

Curing Camden is a quick read on how different groups collaborated to change the healthcare cost curve in Camden, NJ.  Here’s the official language from the Amazon site, but after reading it, I thought I’d highlight a few things that caught my attention.

As the federal health reform debate played out in the national media spotlight, author Christina Hernandez Sherwood was reporting on the American medical system from the street level. From 2010 to 2012, she wrote a half-dozen stories for thePhiladelphia Inquirer that focused on an innovative healthcare nonprofit: the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers. These stories centered on the nonprofit’s role in combating falls, violence, diabetes, and other issues in Camden, New Jersey, a city known nationally as one of the country’s poorest and most violent, but that is now making a name for itself as an innovation leader in the public health sector.

In Curing Camden, all of Sherwood’s articles have been collected into a single book, including the unpublished final installment profiling the nonprofit’s founder. This book takes readers from the living rooms of Camden residents to the halls of the New Jersey State House in Trenton and beyond. Sherwood highlights how Camden could be the first US city to bend the cost curve by lowering healthcare costs while improving care. The ideas revealed in this book could be translated into practice across the country, and Camden could become a national model of 21st century medicine and public health.

The book goes through several core chapters.  The first one is on creating a citywide health record by working with the 3 primary health systems in the city.  The core part of the success here is that they used the framework of opt-out not opt-in which would drive more participation at the consumer level.  This behavioral economics framework called “active choice” has been used by several companies that I’ve worked with in the healthcare space to shift behavior patterns.  This obviously has the opportunity to reduce duplicate testing and improve care coordination.

The second chapter is about create an ACO for Camden with a 3-year Medicare demonstration project.  It’s an interesting discussion about how Dr. Jeffrey Brenner began using data to learn things about the Camden population.  For example he found out that most of the population will vista a hospital at least once in a 2-year period (which is 2x the national rate).  He also found that most of the top reasons for going to the emergency room were all primary care issues.  He makes a great point in the book that while people think that complicated patients simply like going to emergency rooms the reality is that they don’t have better choices.

The third chapter was about protecting against the risk of falling.  From 2002-2009, Camden residents made more than 17,000 trips to the hospital (the number one cause of hospital visits in Camden).  This isn’t a localized issue either.  Falls affect 1 in 3 seniors every year and drive $19B in costs according to the CDC.  In the book, they make an interesting point about the “vicious cycle” of falling which leads to less activity which leads to weaker patients increasing the likelihood of another fall.

The fourth and fifth chapters are about diabetes.  In Camden, almost 13% of adults have diabetes.  These patients can be high utilizers which is something they talk about along with their focus on the 13% of patients that drive more than 80% of the costs in Camden with one patient having over $5M in charges over 5 years.  Of course, people in dangerous communities are at higher risk of obesity due to lack of access to food and safe places to exercise which contributes to the diabetes issues.

The sixth chapter is about violence and helping victims.  Camden’s 77,000 residents experience more than 13 aggravated assaults per 1,000 residents (which is 5x the national rate).  This lead to 9,361 trips to the hospital from 2002-2009.

It’s an interesting read.  They had a lot of grant money, but at the end of the day, it was about several things:

  • Coordination and collaboration across the different systems
  • Localized care – being in the apartment building with a clinic or going into people’s homes
  • Using data to target the areas where they could make a difference
  • Caring to make a change

$83,000 In Savings On 3 Procedures – The Driver Of Transparency & Reference-Based Pricing

At the front of the HealthLeaders Magazine, they have a FactFile every month with data from Truven Health.  The one from March 2014 focused on price variation and transparency.  I thought I’d share a few of the charts.

This first chart shows their projections about the impact of a price transparency tool on cost savings over three years.  (BTW – If you’re looking for information on price transparency tools, I would go to Jane Sarasohn-Kahn‘s blog HealthPopuli and look at her posts on transparency – Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V).  Their projection was $6,786,000 in year 3 for an employer with 20,000 employees (or about 46,000 total covered lives if you assume a ratio of 2.3).

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The other topic in the FactFile is about price variation and potential savings.  They looked at three procedures and the variation in pricing for them.  They then estimated the savings from those three procedures for an Chicago based employers.

As you can see, the variation is dramatic.  What this will eventually lead to is called “reference-based pricing” where payers will agree to pay a fixed amount (or reference price) for a procedure and consumers will have to use transparency tools to figure out which providers will meet that price or pay out of pocket to go elsewhere.  The hope is that this will drive down prices, make consumers aware of differences, and finally help people understand that price and quality are NOT correlated in healthcare.

Here’s a few articles to read on price transparency:

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Top 25 Wikipedia Health Topics

The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics published a report in January called “Engaging Patients Through Social Media“.

One of the things it highlighted is the incredible use of Wikipedia for healthcare information.  People are typically going to Google and looking for a disease.  Based on Wikipedia’s page rankings, this often leads them there.

Image

 

Now, what makes this more interesting is the article in the BBC News which says that 90% of wikipedia articles on health contain errors.

Of course, the trick in reading the article closely is that it says they found that “90% of the entries made statements that contradicted latest medical research”.  What’s the difference?  Well, we know that it takes years for evidence-based medicine to become adopted within healthcare.  So, how long does it take the latest medical research to get updated on all the sites?  What I would love to see is a comparison of Wikipedia to WebMD, Ebix, and Healthwise.  That would be telling.

Reconciling Legal Marijuana With Drug Prevention

As the parent of kids, I’m obviously concerned about what they do as they grow up.  On the one hand you want them to learn to make decisions.  On the other hand, you don’t want to endanger them.  That requires helping them to understand right from wrong.  That requires helping them to make smart decisions and understand the long-term implications of them.

This is where I struggle with the modern attitude towards the legalization of marijuana.  While it may not be a “gateway drug” according to science, it is certainly highly correlated with future drug use, and it has a negative impact on health.  Additionally, it’s addictive for about 10% of people and more addictive when you’re younger.

As someone who has watched people throw away their life on drugs and the son of someone who worked in drug and gang rehabilitation centers, I personally see it as a slippery path.  I agree that alcohol may be the gateway “drug” when not used appropriately and can be very dangerous for kids and for many adults who can’t control themselves.  You can find lots of research on alcohol related deaths due to increased disease burden or simply drunk driving.

So, like many health related topics, the information out there is very confusing for our kids.  On the one hand, we point out what your brain looks like on drugs (if you remember the PSA from the 80s and 90s).

brain-on-drugs

On the other hand, we talk about medical marijuana, and we have states where it’s now legal to buy marijuana like Colorado.  But, the idea of walking down the street and seeing cannabis stores is crazy to me.

recreational-marijuana-in-colorado.9434820.87-thumb-250x219

Perhaps a sad sign of this issue is the spike in travel to Colorado especially around Spring Break.  They’ve also seen an enormous jump in applications to go to college in Colorado.  (I think I’ll bet on causality not just correlation here.)

At the end of the day, I think we want to keep our kids safe and help them avoid anything addictive – tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.  (And, yes…you could take this further to look at caffeine or sugars or other things that impact their health.)  At a minimum, we want to help them understand the facts and make sure they know the risks and determine if they fit the addictive profile or not.  They already have a hard time navigating childhood and adolescence…let’s be careful not to make it too easy for them to fall off track.   Unfortunately, decisions like this  have broader implications on our next generation even if they don’t actually use marijuana.

Of course years ago, we used opium, cocaine, and herion as medicine also…but we outgrew that phase of “modern healthcare” so maybe this too will pass.

Is Your PBM Really Different?

Every time I talk to a PBM, they want to convince me that they are unique.  And, that is important to me (and should be to you).  If they are simply driving generics, getting network discounts, and filling mail and specialty scripts, they’re clearly in a commodity space.  It’s a race to the bottom, and they’re fighting very large companies – Express Scripts, CVS Caremark, and CatamaranRx.  And, none of those companies are standing still.  Of course, the other PBMs that are part of United Healthcare, Humana, and Kaiser are all looking at how they leverage the care assets and broader solution which they can bring to the client.  (And, I’d put Prime Therapeutics somewhere in the middle based on their ownership by the Blues.)

But, as I’ve seen, value isn’t just about cost. That maybe one leg of the stool, but you need to improve outcomes and the consumer experience (i.e., The Triple Aim).  With that in mind, I created a checklist of what I want to know to see if a PBM is really different.

  1. Engagement – What channels do you use to engage the consumer? How do you integrate those channels? What percentage of members engage with you when you outreach to them?  What is your A-B testing strategy?  What consumer insights can you share with me?  How do you measure engagement (e.g., PAM score)?  What is your segmentation approach?  Do you have someone in charge of the consumer experience?  Can you show me your customer journey maps?
  2. Digital – What is your digital strategy? What percentage of your members have downloaded your app? How often do they use it? Why do they use it? How long do they keep it on their phone? What value do they get from it?  How are you using other channels?  Are you using social media with a purpose or just trying everything (see new whitepaper on digital transformation)?  Where do you members congregate online?  How does this vary by age, gender, condition, number of Rxs, etc.?  Does your involvement make a difference in engagement, outcomes, adherence?
  3. Innovation – What’s your biggest innovation?  Are you making money off it?  How does it help you sell?  How does it help your customers to differentiate themselves?  Do you have a budget?  Resources?  Is it just an ivory tower exercise?  How do you sustain it?  How are you using crowdsourcing?  Are you working with any VC firms or incubators to develop new ideas?  What percentage of ideas come from your clients?  From your employees?  What’s your innovation funnel look like?  How many ideas die after a pilot?  Are you able to scale pilots that are successful?
  4. Big Data – What types of data do you get – medical, lab, EMR, patient reported, device? Do you buy data? How do you integrate this data? Do you have predictive models? How are they used? Do you have published studies on the results?  What insights have you gained from the data?  How have you integrated the data into your solutions?  How do you move things from data to insights to action?
  5. Integration – What type of integration do you have – with POS systems and retailers, with physicians and practice management systems, with providers and EMRs, with mobile solutions, with remote monitoring companies?  How do you create a simplified consumer experience across the care continuum?  Are you working with wellness and disease management companies?  Are you coordinating care for complex patients?  Do you provide support for cancer survivors?  How do you work with pallative care companies?  How do you support the family or the caregivers?
  6. Partnerships – Who are your partners?  How does 1+1=3?  What’s unique about the relationship?  How do customers benefit by your relationship?  How do consumers benefit?  How do providers and pharmacies benefit?
  7. Physician Strategy – How do you work with physicians?  What data do you give them about their patients?  What insights do you give them?  Do they just see you as a block or have you found a positive way to collaborate?  What do you do to influence physician’s prescribing habits?  How are you working with physicians to address adherence?  How are you using your data and predictive models to integrate them into providers evidence-based medicine algorithms?
  8. Outcomes – What programs do you offer to clients and consumers that are focused on an outcome that may reduce Rx utilization?  How do you work with dieticians or social workers?  What percentage of your members have a PDC of greater than 80%?  How do you track lab values and clinical values versus just an Rx count?  What are you doing to reduce readmissions?  How are you impacting all of the STARS measures (not just the pharmacy ones)?
  9. Pharma – How are you working with pharma?  Are you helping them to extend “beyond the pill”?  How early do you get involved in their pipeline?  For complex conditions, are you helping them to demonstrate outcomes?  Are you looking at how to collaborate with key medications – e.g., oncology?  Have you looked at how to blend care with prior auth with Rx for conditions like obesity?
  10. Payment – What’s your approach to transparency?  Is it just pass-through pricing?  Do you do risk based pricing?  How?  How do you contract with pharma?  Have you worked directly with any ACOs?  Have you taken risk?

This isn’t new…I’ve been talking about this for years.  Here’s my whitepaper on this from 3 years ago.

And, here’s a presentation that I’ve given on this topic at several conferences.

2013 CatamaranRx Drug Trend Report

I just finished reading the 2013 CatamaranRx Drug Trend Report (2014 Informed Trends: Moments of Opportunity) and wanted to share some of the things that caught my eye. (BTW – CatamaranRx was formed by the merger of SXC and CatalystRx.)

One of the early comments in the document caught my eye. While simple, it is still so true in healthcare.

“Bringing consistency through a national perspective on best practices, a “local” understanding of how health care is practiced and deep insights at the individual level, to promote the very best outcomes.”

CatamaranRx Trend

  • They did a good job of tackling the impact of healthcare reform on the PBM marketplace and why this creates more opportunities.

“The looming pharmacy demand is also driving the healthcare market toward expanded cost containment and coordinated care measures. Industry estimates are projecting more than 30 million new PBM customers as a result of the ACA. This influx of new customers will stimulate creative cost management paradigms and entice new entrants into the PBM sector.”

  • 50% of the new drugs approved by the FDA in 2013 were specialty drugs.  (reiterating the fact that specialty is really the focus of the PBM today in terms of opportunity to influence trend)
  • 30% of the new drugs approved were oncology drugs.  (similar to years past)
  • Orphan drugs without competition were 2.6x more expensive than orphan drugs with competition.  (not too surprising)
  • They point out that no true biosimilar has been approved in the US (which I didn’t realize).  They also point out that international experience is that biosimilars will save 10-15% not the 40% projected by the CBO.
  • They have nice clean charts around price inflation (deflation) for brand and generic drugs.

2013 CatamaranRx Brand Rxs

2013 CatamaranRx Generic Rxs

  • The average cost of a specialty drug rose to $2,860 in their book-of-business.
  • The top 10 specialty drug classes represent 86% of specialty drug spend.

2013 CatamaranRx Top Specialty Classes

  • The report talks about medication adherence using PDC (proportion of days covered).  They show some good adherence rates in key classes (which always brings up questions about methodology).

o   Over what time period?

o   Is this all members prescribed an Rx?

o   Is this all members with one Rx?

o   What is the percentage of members with over 80% PDC (versus the average PDC)?

o   (Note: These are the same questions for every PBM that shows you adherence numbers.)

  • Here’s their forecast for the next few years in terms of trend.

2013 CatamaranRx Trend Forecast

  • They are projecting a generic fill rate of as high as 90% by the end of 2016!
  • I like that they break out their highly managed clients to show they got an overall trend of -0.1% even though they had higher specialty trend driven by oncology.  They shared a list of key things that those clients were doing:

o   Member risk scoring and personalized interventions.

o   Tailored clinical programs, including step therapy, quantity limits and prior authorization.

o   Aggressive management of controlled drugs to reduce misuse and abuse.

o   Formulary management tailored to address client-specific, high-cost medication classes.

o   Exclusive specialty through BriovaRx, a high-touch, patient-centric model.

o   Plan designs with copay differentials that promote cost-effective choices.

o   Multi-channel communications that engage members in their healthcare.

  • I was excited to see them dedicate a whole section talking about engagement.

o   The need for the right message.

o   The need for targeting algorithms.

o   The need to vary channel based on preference.

  • They share some details on their hospital discharge program which sounds right from a PBM perspective – focused on medication reconciliation and adherence.  My key question would be understanding if they address the other risks of re-admission while they have the patient on the phone (i.e., treating the patient not the Rx and not the disease).
  • I haven’t heard as much about MTM lately so it was nice to see them talk about it and see some results which seem really good.

2013 CatamaranRx MTM

Two miscellaneous comments here:

  1. This seems to be a much improved document than the one I reviewed years ago from SXC.
  2. My only challenge with the format was that it prints the two pages on one page in the PDF (but that could be user error).

International Differences In Wellness Programs

I was looking for a statistic today on wellness programs when I came across this 2010 survey on global wellness from Buck Consultants.  I found the geographic differences really interesting, and I thought I’d share a few of the charts here.

Intl Drivers of Wellness strategy Buck

Top wellness programs by region buck

Wellness Program Objectives - Buck

If you want to see their 2012 report on what’s next for wellness, you can go here.

Fail Fast To Succeed Sooner – The Big Company Challenge

I was reading an article this morning about asking the question “are you afraid to fail?”  It’s an article about innovation which reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from David Kelley at IDEO.

Fail Faster

It also reminded me of another article from 2006 in Business Week about How Failure Breeds Success which was when I left Express Scripts to pursue several entrepreneurial opportunities.

Stefan H. Thomke, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of Experimentation Matters, says that when he talks to business groups, “I try to be provocative and say: ‘Failure is not a bad thing.’ I always have lots of people staring at me, [thinking] ‘Have you lost your mind?’ That’s O.K. It gets their attention. [Failure] is so important to the experimental process.”

BW Failure Cover

It also got me thinking about success rates in companies.  We all hear so much about the success of entrepreneurs and these 20 year old billionaires.  Is that reality?  Here’s a few stats from an article in the WSJ and a study by the Census Bureau.

  • 80% of companies make it to year one
  • 60% of companies make it to year three
  • 50% of companies make it to year five
  • 35% of companies make it to year ten

Sounds pretty depressing.  What about the fact that according to the WSJ article, only 5% of them achieve the projected ROI and 30-40% of them liquidate all their assets returning nothing.

“People are embarrassed to talk about their failures, but the truth is that if you don’t have a lot of failures, then you’re just not doing it right, because that means that you’re not investing in risky ventures.  I believe failure is an option for entrepreneurs and if you don’t believe that, then you can bang your head against the wall trying to make it work.” (David Cowan – Bessemer Venture Partners in WSJ article)

Just watch the show Shark Tank sometime.  There are amazing entrepreneurs with interesting ideas who have sacrificed so much to try to make it work.  I always try to tell people that it’s not just about passion and hard work otherwise people would succeed all the time.  Some things you do learn from Shark Tank along with the book The Art of the Start is how to frame and present your ideas.

So, why is this so important?  We’re on the the verge of huge transformation in the healthcare industry.  I think Oliver Wyman did a good job of discussing this in a whitepaper last year.  You can read article after article about mHealth, telemedicine, and remote monitoring.  (I’ll point you to Rock Health or The Center For Connected Health as two starting points.)

Of course innovation has been the buzz for several years now.  I think Jim Collins does a good job of teeing up this issue in discussing churn in the Fortune 500 list.  With the technology and VC crowd, the more recent term for business model innovation is “pivot“.  I think you’ve seen a lot more Chief Innovation Officers and innovation labs in healthcare companies these days.

I came across an interesting blend of technology consulting, investing, and innovation last night in the BCG Digital Ventures group.  In watching part of a YouTube video by their CEO, I think he does a great job summarizing how consulting maps to the investment paradigm.

  • Innovation is like seed capital
  • Product development is like venture capital
  • Commercialization is like growth capital

Interestingly, I probably get 1-2 calls a week from people in big companies that really want to get out of the big company and come work in the exciting start-up space.  I always tell them that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence so be careful.  It can be great, but it can be really tough.  It’s just a different type of risk and not everyone can take the emotional and potentially financial risk.  On the flipside, I also get people that look at the different entrepreneurial things I’ve done and say “why?”  They want to know why I didn’t just stay in a F500 company.  Sometimes, I think of this 8 years as a boomerang where I’ll end up back in a F500 company, but I’ll be a much more valuable product development, strategy, and innovation executive.  [This idea of boomeranging was one that Gensler introduced me to years ago in architecture where they encouraged people to work at different companies and come back if relevant.]

Depending on the day, I also think about what I’ve learned since I’ve never had one of those huge exits that everyone talks about.  I’m not cashing in on all my options to make money.  I’ve summarized many of those learnings on the blog, but here’s a few that I’ll call out.

  1. Firepond was my first venture into this space.  It was a 20-year company that General Atlantic had invested in to turn around as a product configurator in the CRM space.
    • Learned about CRM (customer relationship management) technology.
    • Learned about how to develop, structure, and manage alliances.
    • Learned the importance and how to structure offshore deals.
    • Learned about global sales and embedding technology into different solutions.
    • Learned about evaluating and buying companies.
  2. CentralScript was my second venture I started it from an idea I tried to sell at Express Scripts (and later was suggested to them by Clayton Christensen).
    • Learned about writing a business plan and financial modeling and projections.
    • Learned about the legal structure of businesses.
    • Learned about raising money and how to work with and evaluate angels and VCs.
    • Learned about building a team and structuring contracts with them.
    • Learned about selling and evaluating partners.
  3. Talisen Technologies was my third venture which was another turnaround where I worked with a friend of mine who had raise some private equity to do a technology services consulting roll-up.
    • Learned about Business Process Management technology.
    • Learned about how to build support companies around a technology platform.  (The opposite of Firepond where I was the technology company.)
    • Learned about the difficulties of transforming an existing company and evaluating new companies.
    • Learned about how to use blogging and create exposure using social media.
  4. Silverlink was my fourth venture (and most successful experience) and first real start-up where it wasn’t trying to turnaround an existing asset but building off what the founders had built.
    • Learned about how to present to and work with the Board of Directors.
    • Learned about managing a sales force.
    • Learned about product development, training, documentation, and product lifecycle.
    • Learned about sales and marketing and being responsible for growth and a team.
    • Learned about account management.
    • Learned the value of using thought leadership, social media, and the press to drive awareness and pipeline.
    • Learned how to develop competitive analysis and differentiation.
    • Leraned about pricing and analytics.
  5. inVentiv Medical Management is my current venture which is part of a broader entity, but it’s still the same concept which is a 20-year old company that we’re transforming into a new platform and new business model.
    • Still in-progress so more to come…

So, I wrote all this to make the point that innovation is difficult.  You have to take some risks.  Like the article said upfront, you have to believe you can fail.  You have to have a plan for what to do if you do fail.  Big companies should provide a safety net to people to fail fast.  I think I’ve learned a ton that I wouldn’t have learned staying in the big company.  At the right time, that will be a huge asset as I look to help drive the transformation and pivoting of a larger entity!

Healthcare Gamification

If you believe all the hype about digital health, you might think gamification was a natural solution.  Of course, if you’ve never heard of gamification, let me provide a basic definition from Wikipedia.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.

Here’s several articles for more information:

  1. Four Factors Driving Gamification in Healthcare
  2. From FitBit to Fitocracy
  3. The Wellness Game
  4. Gamification: Drugmakers And Health Campaigners Turn To Games To Promote Health

I think this quote from the Perficient white paper on this topic is a good one.

Gabe Zichermann, the author of Game-Based Marketing, speaks of balancing the fun and frivolity of gamification with the task of making life easier for cancer patients. He says, “I don’t presume to think that we can make having cancer into a purely fun experience. But, we have data to show that when we give cancer patients gamified experiences to help them manage their drug
prescriptions and manage chemotherapy, they improve their emotional state and also their adherence to their protocol.”

You can also look at a post by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (one of my favorite bloggers) on this topic where she highlights several trends from a recent paper on gamification in healthcare.

Now, why should you care?

  1. Gamification should improve engagement which is critical to changing behavior.
  2. Gamification creates opportunities to make healthcare fun which can be difficult.
  3. People are different and respond to different “incentives”.  Competition and leader boards are concepts that excite lots of people to take action.

The forecasts for the gamification market are huge.  They show a nice hockey stick which gets every investor excited.

1

Of course, the important question is who uses games.  Is it just teenage boys?  It’s not.  Here’s a good report which shows you breakdown by age, gender, and many other stats.

Gaming

Another quick article about gamification is from TEDMED.  The video is below, but it reminds me of some of my personal perspectives.  The sites also lists out several vendors and solutions in the obesity gamification space.

While one “easy” opportunity in my mind is to use gamification to address the rising number of kids with chronic diseases and to help address childhood obesity, there are many other opportunities like adherence.  A few examples of games out there include:

Companies like Ayogo, Mango Health, and Akili are ones that I’ve heard about, but I know there are a lot more out there.

One example I think of from watching my kids play games is from Webkinz which was a blend of real stuffed animals with online digital personas.  The animals could get sick if you didn’t nurture them and visit them.  It made me think of how an avatar could get fatter or slower based on their pedometer or eating habits.

A Few Corporate Wellness Tips

While Al Lewis has become the industry antagonist (in a good way), he makes a lot of great points that anyone working in the industry should understand and consider.

If you haven’t read some of Al’s articles, let me point you to a few:

His writing reminds me of some of the things my former boss pointed out several years ago about the disease management industry.

In one of his posts, he makes several points that I wanted to discuss here:

  1. You should use a source like the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) as the evidence-based reference for appropriate screenings – frequency, age, gender.  Of course, I agree with this.  We need some common source that we all can use that’s based on best practices and evidence.
  2. He argues that you should stop weighing people.  I’d argue that knowing your numbers is important.  As a country and a world, we’re seeing massive growth rates in obesity which is linked to numerous diseases.  We need people to be more conscious of this risk factor especially in our sedentary work environments – see sitting disease infographic.
  3. His third point is about targeting and nudging the right population versus over-sampling everyone.  I couldn’t agree more.  This should be what the Big Data push in healthcare gets us.  How to build predictive algorithms to identify people with multiple risk factors.  How to identify people with gaps-in-care.  How to figure out what someone needs to take an action.  I always say there are 3 factors to consider:
    • Is there value in the intervention?
    • What channel / method is going to get the consumer’s attention?
    • What information is going to get the consumer to take an action?

To follow-up on my points above, here’s some information on obesity and it’s link to other diseases.

The CDC says that obesity is linked to:

  • Coronary heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Cancers, such as endometrial, breast, and colon cancer.
  • High total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides.
  • Liver and gallbladder disease.
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems.
  • Degeneration of cartilage and underlying bone within a joint (osteoarthritis).
  • Reproductive health complications such as infertility.
  • Mental health conditions.

And, for a fun video by Mayo Clinic on Knowing Your Numbers watch this:

Dossia: Not Just a Personal Health Record Anymore

Image

I had a chance to see a product demo of Dossia the other day.  I was really impressed which I don’t easily say.  I was expecting to hear a pitch on Personal Health Records (PHRs) and why they were different.  Instead, I got to see a robust patient engagement portal which did some really interesting things. (see image above from the Health 2.0 demo they gave)

From their website, here’s the “about” description which lists some very influential players…

Dossia is an organization dedicated to improving health and healthcare in America by empowering individuals to make good health decisions and become more discerning healthcare consumers. Backed by some of the largest, most respected brands in the world – Applied Materials, AT&T, BP, Cardinal Health, Intel, Pitney Bowes, Vanguard Health Systems, NantWorks and Walmart – Dossia’s founding member companies have united under the common vision of changing healthcare.

Having these companies involved over the past 6 years has been really important for them to accomplish what they’ve done.  As someone that’s worked on a lot of the same population health challenges, they’ve accomplished things that not even Google Health could do.

So what were the features and functions that really impressed me:

  1. They’ve built integration to health plans, PBMs, pharmacies, lab companies, and even EMR companies.  This creates a data rich longitudinal view of the patient for the patient.  (I like the expression on their website where they say “Dossia is the connective tissue that powers healthy change.”)
  2. They’ve incorporated health content which by itself isn’t impressive, but the content is tailored to the individual based on their medical data.  Not hard, but not something that many people do well.
  3. They’ve built out a series of partnerships and integrations with over 50 apps where you can navigate that turn them on as widgets within the portal.  This is very similar to some of the cool things that CarePass is doing.
  4. They’ve built the system out using open APIs (application programming interfaces) which allows other companies to easily integrate with them.
  5. And, probably one of the cooler things from my consumer engagement lens was their ability to do WYSIWYG rules creation to trigger outbound communications based on clinical data.  The idea of a rules engine isn’t difficult, but the ease of their solution with the integrated data makes it very powerful.

And, they’ve expanded their reporting.  They’ve pulled in ways to manage those family members for which you’re a caregiver.  They’re doing lots of interesting things.  They are definitely worth talking to if you haven’t seen them in a few years.

8 Risks Drive 15 Conditions And 80% Of Healthcare Costs

This is one of my favorite images that I use all the time to talk about how our decisions drive our healthcare costs.  This is from the AON Hewitt 2012 Health Care Survey and based on the World Economic Forum’s data.

8 risks - 15 conditions - 80 costs - AON

Pharmacy Satisfaction – Retail Beats Mail

With the new JD Powers survey, the gap between retail pharmacy satisfaction and mail order has widened. The average mail order satisfaction score was 797 for mail versus 837 (out of 1,000) for retail.

I think one key comment from Scott Hawkins, director of the healthcare practice at JD powers was:

“One of the key things we’ve seen in the data is that if someone is feels compelled to use a mail-order [pharmacy] their satisfaction score is going to be lower than someone who chooses to use it on their own.” (From Nov 2013 Employee Benefits News article by Andrea Davis)

If I was still at a PBM, I’d push to see the results broken out both ways so I could compare apples to apples the then say the drag was from clients choosing mandatory mail.

The rankings for mail order were:

Kaiser – 868
Humana – 845
Walgreens Mail – 812
OptumRx – 798
Prime Therapeutics – 794
Express Scripts – 783
Aetna – 778
Cigna – 771
Caremark – 760

The two I find the most interesting are Prime Therapeutics and OptumRx as both of them have moved their mail order services in house in the past few years and seem to be doing well with it. Aetna has outsourced their solution to Caremark and Cigna just recently outsourced their mail order to Catamaran which wasn’t on the list (but may be in the survey).

If E-Prescribing Doesn’t Have All The Data…Is It Helpful?

This is an interesting dilemma.  At this point, I think everyone is pro e-prescribing even if it’s simply for the benefit of reducing errors.  But, I think the original intent of the solutions were to do a lot more than reduce errors.

The hope was to improve adherence (which I think may have been too lofty).  The idea was that e-prescribing would reduce the abandonment rate at the pharmacy.  I’m not sure picking up a prescription is the same as taking a prescription.  And, taking a prescription once isn’t the same as staying adherent over time.

Another hope was that the use of e-prescribing would drive formulary compliance and increase generic utilization.  The idea was that putting this information in the hands of the prescriber would allow them to make more real-time decisions that were aligned with the consumer’s interests (i.e., lower out-of-pocket spend).  The latest report doesn’t seem to support this at all.  It also echos my prior posts about whether e-prescribing was aligned with pharma at all.

Fewer than half (47.5%) of the 200 PCPs polled said they have access to formulary information when e-prescribing, and fewer than a third said they have access to prior authorization (31.0%) or co-pay (29.5%) information. Among physicians with formulary information access, that information was available 61.1% of the time and was said to be accurate 68.6% of the time.

Physicians with an EMR (54.1%) were more likely to have access to formulary information than physicians without an EMR (29.6%). And differences were seen depending on the EHR vendor: Allscripts physicians (32.2%) were less likely to have access to this information than “All Other” software suppliers (60.5%), Epic physicians (62.5%) and eClinicalWorks (68.8%). 

Another big effort that e-prescribing and integration with EMR was going to have was to push utilization management (UM) to the POP (point of prescribing) rather than having the pharmacy and the PBM dealing with it.  I never really thought this would work.  If the information isn’t there or they don’t trust the information, the prescriber isn’t going to want to deal with this.  It’s already work that they let their staff handle and isn’t something they want to deal with during the patient encounter.

While e-prescribing is definitely here to stay and becoming the norm, the question is whether it’s creating simply a typed “clean” Rx to transmit electronically or whether it’s actually an intelligent process which will enable better care.

Given multiple studies and surveys recently about transparency in healthcare billing and the general push with Health Reform to drive to outcomes, I’m not sure the “dumb” system process can be a sustainable value proposition.

Express Scripts Excludes 48 Drugs On 2014 Formulary

Is anyone really surprised here?  We saw CVS Caremark make some changes a few years ago that caught everyone’s attention.  (You can see a good list of 2013 and 2014 removals and options here for CVS Caremark.)  This year, it’s Express Scripts (ESRX) who’s caught the attention of the press.

Why do this?  I think Dr. Steve Miller did a great job of explaining it in a recent interview.  The most interesting thing to come out of this was the possible link to copay cards.

Pharmalot: Where to from here?

Miller: We obviously have a long-term strategy. This has sent a loud message to the marketplace that we have got to preserve the benefit for patients and plan sponsors and do things to rein in costs. As there are more products in the marketplace that are interchangeable, we’ll do more to seek the best value for our members. This is just the beginning of a multi-step process over the next several years.

Will there be more to come?  Of course.  The PBMs have to make a significant show of lowering the number of formulary drugs especially in the oral solid (traditional Rx) space to make the point to the pharmaceutical manufacturers that they control market access.  This is critical for them to create more opportunities in the specialty Rx space around rebates.  (Here’s the 2014 Express Scripts exclusion list)

Additionally, this is a low risk strategy for several reasons:

  • The disruption is minimal.  While 780,000 people sounds like a lot, it’s still just 2.6% of the population covered by these formularies.  The savings the employer will generate per disrupted member will pay for the extra customer service needed.  (Harsh reality to some people…I know)
  • As I’ve discussed before, the margins are in specialty pharmacy and mail order generics not in branded drugs which represent less than 20% of all drugs.  Therefore, this is a good place to make a stand.
    • From an old JP Morgan analysis from 2011, Lisa Gill estimated the PBM profits to be (all in 30-day equivalents):
      • $1.69 retail brand drug
      • $2.03 mail brand drug
      • $3.00 retail generic drug
      • $13.00 mail generic drug
  • This is based on a clinical review by an independent P&T committee.  Therefore, this is aligned with the health reform focus on outcomes and value.

New/Old Accusations About PBMs And Their Margins

PBMs (or Pharmacy Benefit Managers) are big business.  Just look at a few of the names and their place on the Fortune 500 list:

Not surprisingly, none of those are non-profits.  There is real money being made here.  It’s all part of the mark-up game in healthcare.  The question of course is does the money being made justify the profits.  For example, I’m happy to pay my banker lots of money as long as he’s earning me more than he’s making (and significantly more).

This is a complicated question.  (see past posts on What’s Next, Why People Don’t Save With Mail, and Growing Mail Order)  I’ve also presented on this topic several times in the past pointing out that the model needs to change, and re-iterating the fact that PBMs made a mistake by putting all their profits in the generic space.  I’ve always said that disintermediation would happen by focusing on generics at mail which is where all the money was at Express Script (8 years ago).  [People remind me that some of this has changed and is different across PBMs.]

The new Fortune article by Katherine Eban called “Painful Prescription” certains shows a dark story.  It focuses exactly on one of these scenarios which is the gap between acquisition cost and client cost.  The article talks about paying $26.91 for a drug but selling it to the client at $92.53.  I’m always reminded of the fact that at one time we used to buy fluoxetine (generic Prozac) for about $0.015 per pill.  On the flipside, we had brand drugs that we bought for more than we got reimbursed and lost money.  It was strange model.

So, here’s my questions:

  1. Do you want transparency?  If so, there are lots of “transparent PBMs” and many larger PBMs will do transparent deals.  You can also follow the Caterpillar model.  (Don’t forget that pharmacy represents less than 20% of your total healthcare spend so you can find yourself down the rabbit hole here trying to shave 2% of spend on 20% or 0.4% of your costs with a lot of effort.)
  2. Are you focused on anamolies like this one or average profits per Rx?
  3. Do you have the right plan design in place?
  4. Do you have a MAC (maximum allowable cost) list both at retail and mail order for generics?
  5. Are you getting the rebates and any admin fees from pharma for your claims passed through to you at the PBM?
  6. If you pay the PBM on a per Rx basis (i.e., no spread allowed), what are they doing to keep your drug costs down year over year (i.e., they have no more incentive to push down on suppliers)?
  7. Are you benchmarking your pricing?  Look at reports from places like PBMI.  For many smaller clients, I often wonder if the savings they find you is worth the costs.

I’m sure there’s more since I’ve been out of the industry for a few years, but while I don’t intend to be the defender of the industry, I do like to bring some balance to the conversation.

Should Physicians Be Taught To Stop Trying?

With several recent articles about $100,000 plus cancer drugs, I was reminded of a conversation I’ve had with several oncologists. We were discussing how to use advanced illness counseling from companies like Vital Decisions to help people and their families manage through a terminal diagnosis.

On the one hand, that seems like a conversation that a physician could / should have, but I’ve highlighted some research on this before. On the other hand, in a FFS (fee for service) world, there is an incentive to keep doing everything possible regardless of costs and how long it extends life. Will this change in a value based payment model? I’d like to believe it will. There is so much money spent on care in the last few months of life with limited extension of life and questionable impact on quality of life that this may become more relevant.

But, what struck me in my discussions is that the oncologists said that no one ever taught them how to “give up” on the patient. They see success in curing the patient or getting the cancer in remission. Is that success? Is it giving up to stop pumping them full of drugs with minimal value? Is there a rationale price for each day of extended life?

We typical think of healthcare as an endless bowl of funds, but what if it was limited? What if we couldn’t just keep printing money and raising the debt ceiling? Should that $200,000 be spent to get two weeks of life for a 90-year old patient in pain or should it go to feed a family and provide them with medical care for several years?

I’m not sure who wants to make those decisions but I think there will be a day when we need to think differently about some of the healthcare choices we make.

Aetna’s Metabolic Syndrome Innovation Program

I’ve been closely following Aetna’s innovation for the past few years (see post on CarePass and Healthagen).  I had the chance last week to speak with Adam Scott who is the Managing Director of the Aetna Innovation Labs.

Here’s Adam’s bio:

Adam Scott is a Managing Director within Aetna’s Innovation Labs, a group developing novel clinical, platform, and engagement solutions for the next generation of healthcare.  Mr. Scott specializes in clinical innovation, with a focus on oncology, genetics, and metabolic syndrome, as well as “big data” analysis.  His work is aimed at conceptualizing and developing products and services that better predict illness, enable evidence-based care and lengthen healthy lives.  Prior to joining Aetna, Mr. Scott’s 15-year healthcare career has included management roles in consulting, hospital administration, and most recently health information technology.  Mr. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  Mr. Scott resides with his family in Needham, MA, where he actively serves as a director on community boards.

This is one of my favorite topics – Metabolic Syndrome (although yes…I still hate the term).

Definition of Metabolic Syndrome from the NIH:

Metabolic (met-ah-BOL-ik) syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetesand stroke.

The term “metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. Risk factors are traits, conditions, or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease.

The Aetna Innovation Labs are focused on bringing concepts to scale and staying 2-3 years ahead of the market.  They are looking to rapidly pilot ideas with a focus on collecting evidence.  In general, Adam described their work as focused on clinical, platform, and engagement ideas.  They are trying to collaborate with cutting edge companies that they think they can help to scale quickly.  It’s pretty exciting!

As stated in their press release about this new effort:

“During the course of the last year, Aetna Innovation Labs has successfully piloted an analysis of Metabolic Syndrome and the creation of predictive models for Metabolic Syndrome. This prior work showed significantly increased risk of both diabetes and heart disease for those living with Metabolic Syndrome,” said Michael Palmer, vice president of Innovation at Aetna. “With this new pilot program with Newtopia, we are aiming to help members address Metabolic Syndrome through specific actions, before more serious chronic conditions arise, like diabetes and heart disease.”

Aetna selected Newtopia for this effort for their unique approach toward achieving a healthy weight with an integrative and personalized focus on nutrition, exercise, and behavioral well-being. Newtopia’s program begins with a “genetic reveal,” leveraging a saliva-based genetic test to stratify participants with respect to three genes associated with obesity, appetite, and behavior. Based on the results of this test and an online assessment, Newtopia matches each participant to a plan and coach trained to focus on the member’s specific genetic, personality and motivation profile. Through online coaching sessions, Newtopia will help members achieve results related to maintaining a healthy weight and Metabolic Syndrome risk-reduction, which will be measured by changes from a pre- and post-program biometric screening.

“Newtopia’s mission is to inspire individuals to make the lifestyle choices that can help them build healthy lives,” said Jeffrey Ruby, Founder and CEO of Newtopia.

If you’ve been following the story, this builds upon their project with GNS to develop a predictive algorithm to identify people at risk for Metabolic Syndrome.  As you may or may not know, there are 5 first factors for Metabolic Syndrome (text from NIH):

The five conditions described below are metabolic risk factors. You can have any one of these risk factors by itself, but they tend to occur together. You must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

  • A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Excess fat in the stomach area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than excess fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.

  • A high triglyceride level (or you’re on medicine to treat high triglycerides). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.

  • A low HDL cholesterol level (or you’re on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol). HDL sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.

  • High blood pressure (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.

  • High fasting blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

So, what exactly are they doing now.  That was the focus of my discussion with Adam.

  1. They are running data through the GNS predictive model.
  2. They are inviting people to participate in the program.  (initially focusing on 500 Aetna employees for the pilot)
  3. The employees that choose to participate then get a 3 SNP (snip) test done focused on the genes that are associated with body fat, appetite, and eating behavior.  (Maybe they should get a few of us bloggers into the pilot – hint.)  This is done through Newtopia, and the program is GINA compliant since the genetic data is never received by Aetna or the employer.
  4. The genetic analysis puts the consumer into one of eight categories.
  5. Based on the category, the consumer is matched with a personal coach who is going to help them with a care plan, an exercise plan, and a nutrition plan.  The coaching also includes a lifestyle assessment to identify the best ways to engage them and is supported by mobile and web technology.
    newtopia
  6. The Newtopia coaches are then using the Pebble technology to track activity and upload that into a portal and into their system.

We then talked about several of the other activities that are important for this to be successful:

  • Use of Motivational Interviewing or other evidence-based approaches for engagement.  In this case, Newtopia is providing the coaching using a proprietary approach based on the genetic data.
  • Providing offline support.  In this case, Aetna has partnered with Duke to provide the Metabolic Health in Small Bytes program which he described as a virtual coaching program.

Metabolic Health in Small Bytes uses a virtual classroom technology, where participants can interact with each other and the instructor. All of the program instructors have completed a program outlined by lead program developer Ruth Wolever, PhD from Duke Diet and Fitness Center and Duke Integrative Medicine. Using mindfulness techniques from the program, participants learn practices they can use to combat the root causes of obesity. The program’s goal is to help participants better understand their emotional state, enhance their knowledge of how to improve exercise and nutrition, and access internal motivation to do so. (source)

We also talked about employer feedback and willingness to adopt solutions like this.  From my conversations, I think employers are hesitant to go down this path.  Metabolic Syndrome affects about 23.7% of the population.  That is a large group of consumers to engage, and pending final ROI analysis will likely scare some employers off.

Adam told me that they’ve talked with 30 of their large clients, consultants, and mid-market clients.  While we didn’t get into specifics, we talked about all the reasons they should do this:

  • People with Metabolic Syndrome are 1.6x more expensive
  • People with Metabolic Syndrome are 5x more likely to get diabetes
  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism

This ties well with my argument that wellness programs aren’t just about ROI.

Obviously, one of the next steps will be figuring out how this integrates into their other existing programs to address the overall consumer experience so that it’s not just another cool (but disconnected) program.  And, of course, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program to get clients and consumers to participate.

Two quotes I’ll leave you with on why this is difficult (but yet exciting to try to solve):

“The harsh reality is that scientists know as much about curing obesity as they do about curing the common cold: not much. But at least they admit their limitations in treating the cold. Many doctors seem to think the cure for obesity exists, but obese patients just don’t comply. Doctors often have less respect for obese patients, believing if they would just diet and exercise they’d be slim and healthy.” (source)

Thirty percent of those in the “overweight” class believed they were actually normal size, while 70% of those classified as obese felt they were simply overweight. Among the heaviest group, the morbidly obese, almost 60% pegged themselves as obese, while another 39% considered themselves merely overweight. (source)

10 Healthcare Projects I’d Like To Solve

I always tend to see the glass half full so when I see a problem then I often want to rush in and try to fix it. With that said, here are 10 things that I’ve thought about that I’d like to fix or see as big opportunities:

1. The healthcare experience. While this is the third leg of the Triple Aim, it often seems like the one that is so hard for healthcare companies to get. The system is so fragmented that the patient often is forgotten.

2. Device integration. While devices are better and integration is possible, there is still a huge lift to integrate my data into the typical clinical workflow. This is only going to get much worse with ubiquitous use of sensors and will be the limiting factor in the growth of the Quantified Self movement. (See my post on FitBit)

3. Intelligent phones. This is something that people carry everywhere. They often live life through the phone sometimes missing out on reality. The phone has tons of data as I’ve described before. We have to figure out how to tap into this in a less disruptive way.

4. Consumer preferences. I’m a big believer in preference-based marketing. But the question is how do I disclose my preferences, to whom, and are my preferences really the best way to get me to engage. What would be ideal is if we could find a way to scale down fMRI technology and allow us to disclose this information to key companies so they could get us to take actions that were in our best interest. (see old post on Buyology)

5. Benefits selection. I’ve picked the wrong benefits a few times. This drives me crazy. As I mentioned the other day, the technology to help with this exists and all the data which sits in EMRs and PHRs should allow us to fix this problem.

6. The role of retail pharmacy. This is one of my favorite topics. With more retail pharmacies than McDonalds and a huge problem of access, pharmacies could be the key turning point in influencing change in this country.

7. Caregiver empowerment. Anyone who cares for an adult and/or child knows how hard it is to be a caregiver and take care of their own needs. This becomes even harder with the people being geographically apart. With all the sensors and remote technology out there, I see this being a hot space in the next decade.

8. The smart house. As an architect, I’ve always dreamed of helping create the intelligent house where it knows what food you have. It manages your heat and light. It tracks your movements and could call for help if you fall. I see this being an opportunity to empower seniors to live at home longer.

9. Helping the disenfranchised. For years, we’ve all seen data showing that income can affect health. The question is how will we fix this. Coverage for all is certainly a critical step but that won’t fix it. We have a huge health literacy issue also. Ultimately, public health needs a program like we had to get people to wear seat belts. We need yo own our fate and change it before we end up like the humans in the movie Wall-e.

10. A Hispanic healthcare company in the US. With 16% of the US that speak Spanish, I’m shocked that I haven’t seen someone come out with a health and wellness company that is Hispanic centric in terms of the approach to improving care, engaging consumers, and providing support.

So, what would you like to solve?

The Healthcare Mark-up Game – Driving Up Healthcare Costs

The idea of healthcare costs and the need for healthcare transparency has become a front page issue. With the shift to consumer driven healthcare and high deductible plans, the average consumer is increasingly aware of what things cost. And companies like Change Healthcare provide tools to help consumers navigate this maze.

But, what I don’t hear many people discuss is the issue of middlemen and how this adds cost to the system. I’ve worked for several middlemen so I think I understand the model well. Of course, these companies make good (and true) arguments which is that they lower costs due to scale based efficiencies. But, healthcare is big business so everyone has to get paid somehow. Some of the “non-profits” make the most money.

Let’s look at prescription drugs:
– This begins with the manufacturer who adds the marketing and sales costs to the actual ingredient and packaging and shipping costs.
– The drug is then shipped to a wholesaler who stocks the drugs and ships them to pharmacies.
– The drugs are then sold by the pharmacy to the consumer and the pharmacy bills the payer.
– Assuming the payer isn’t the actual employer, the payer will then bill the employer.

So who all gets paid in this process:
– The manufacturer of the drug
– The advertising companies (they name the drug, they create the packaging, they create the ads)
– The marketing companies (they set up the websites, they create the mobile apps)
– The law firms (trademarks, patents)
– The sales companies (they hire and manage the pharma reps)
– The data company (the manage the Rx data to help target the reps)
– The shipping companies (transportation)
– The wholesaler
– The pharmacy
– The marketing and communication companies (refill programs, on the bag messaging)
– The technology companies (switch company, adjudication company)
– The recruiters (hiring, staffing)
– The PBM (contracting, rebating, customer service)
– The payer (adjudication, customer service, risk management)
– The broker (commission)

Still wonder why healthcare is expensive?

I wish I had an easy answer. A lot of these services are needed and it would cost more if the employers all had to do this themselves. There would be no scale. There would be no efficiencies.

This is certainly one argument for the efficiencies of a single payer system but I don’t think that’s very efficient IMHO.

Why Wall Street Would Love An Rx Report Card By Company

I think this is true for both Wall Street along with prospective employees. I think both would love to have a report card on the prevalence of prescription drug use within a company?

– Is there an abnormally high use of anti-depressants?

– Is there an abnormally high use of sleep medications?

– Is there an abnormally high use of anti-virals associated with STDs?

All of these might indicate cultural problems which would be early indicators of turnover or other issues.

On the flipside, there might be other health data points that provide additional data.

– What is the average step count for the population?

– What percentage of the population play sports?

– How many people have metabolic syndrome?

– How many hours do people sleep?

– Are there treadmill desks and other tools to support good health?

– What percentage of people eat lunch by themselves or at their desk or in a meeting?

– What percentage of people call the EAP line?

What other health data points would you want?

The 15 Year Old Technology Missing From Healthcare.gov

I talked about my experience trying to use the site day one. I honestly hoped it was an anomaly but it doesn’t seem to be.

But, as I think about Healthcare.gov and the general benefits selection process, I see two huge gaps.

Back in 1999, I was working with a company called Firepond. The had what was called a product configurator. At the time, I was at E&Y and Empire BCBS and several other Blues hired them to build a tool for brokers. The tool sat behind a really slick web interface which allowed the broker to ask a consumer less than 10 questions. They would move a sliding bar across the screen and it would dynamically rank their plan options to tell them what was the best option for them to buy. It seems like that wold be great for Medicare.gov and Healthcare.gov.

What we were missing then which Big Data might actually help us solve now is individual claims data. This is what drives me crazy when you have to pick your benefits at work. Why can’t I upload my benefits information and have a tool actually tell me what to buy? If I had my claims history plus a predictive model, I could make smarter decisions about how to select my benefits.

Retail Pharmacies As The Distribution Point For Information

It’s always exciting to be “right” in a prediction.  When I spoke at the CBI conference a few weeks ago, one of the key points I made was that today’s healthcare consumer is overwhelmed with information.  They get conflicting data.  They don’t have enough time with their physicians.  They are increasingly responsible for decisions and even with transparency, they don’t always know what to do.  With that in mind, one of my suggestions was that retail pharmacies had a great opportunity to step in and be this information management source for consumers.  (aka – The retailers can serve as the physical resource for the retailing of healthcare.)

With that in mind, I find the announcements by Walgreens and CVS very interesting.

From the CVS press release:

“Humana’s partnership with CVS/pharmacy reflects our proven and ongoing commitment to educate individuals and their families at the places they go when they have questions about their health,” said Roy A. Beveridge, MD, Humana’s Chief Medical Officer. “We’re working to ensure people develop a better understanding of how their health coverage can help them make better, and healthier, decisions.”

“Providing information about new health insurance coverage opportunities is in keeping with our purpose of helping people on their path to better health,” said Helena Foulkes, Executive Vice President and Chief Health Care Strategy and Marketing Officer for CVS Caremark. “We are pleased to combine our innovative suite of services and our new and existing relationships with organizations such as Humana to help patients understand and have access to information about insurance options in their community.

From the Walgreen’s press release:

Walgreens store personnel are directing individual customers who inquire to the GoHealth Marketplace, a resource where they can shop and compare health insurance plans, enroll and find other important tools and information. Consumers can access the GoHealth Marketplace online from www.walgreens.com/healthcarereform or via phone at 855-487-6969. Walgreens also is providing informational brochures and other materials in stores.

“As an accessible, community health care provider serving more than 6 million people each day, Walgreens can help connect those customers who may be considering new health insurance options with resources and information,” said Brad Fluegel, Walgreens senior vice president and chief strategy officer. “Our goal is to help ensure people fully understand the marketplace, and working with GoHealth, to provide personalized consultation from experts who can help them make informed decisions.”

In both cases, they may have addressed one of my questions about this strategy from my presentation which was how would they monetize this.  I think it’s the right role, but I wasn’t sure how it would lead to revenue other than general revenue related to store traffic.  I assume both of these have some “commission” or “referral fee” for traffic generated.

I Thought I Got To Keep My Doctor In Health Reform

We all remember when President Obama pointed out that you wouldn’t have to change your doctor with health reform.  That’s probably true in the most expensive plans, but you can’t always eat your cake and keep it too.

We know healthcare prices vary from semi-rational to outrageous.  It would be hard to get any concessions if every physician had to be in the network.  So, like we’ve seen in pharmacy with some initial screaming but general acceptance, plans are going to reduce the size of their networks in return for some price concessions.

Should this be a surprise?  No…unless you actually believe politicians.

Will this lead to a different set of issues around monitoring out of network use?  Yes.  This is something plans historically don’t do very well.

Extreme Weather Isn’t Good For Our Health

After moving to Charlotte, it’s been raining and flooding here all summer.  It reminds me of 1993 when I moved to St. Louis, and they had their 100-year flood.

100yearflood-basic-1

All I ever hear from everyone is that this isn’t normal weather for Charlotte.  It begs the question of whether any weather is normal.  [I’ll avoid going down the global warming path here.]

So, I found it interesting that there was a recent article says that this will essentially be part of a new normal which will be more weather extremes.  Drought.  Flooding.  Hurricanes.  Extreme Heat.

So, what does this have to do with health?  A lot.

When these extreme weather scenarios come up, people are less likely to leave the house.  Kids don’t go outside and play.  And, as you can see on the CDC website, they’re focused on analyzing these trends to understand the impact.  On the NC HHS site, here’s what it says about this weather change.

“Some of the health impacts of climate change may include illness, injuries or deaths due to heat, air pollution, extreme weather, and water-borne pathogens.”

Weather has an impact.  Just look at SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Or, just think about childhood obesity.  Our kids are supposed to get 60 minutes of activity a day.  While we assume that happens with sports, it doesn’t always as I blogged about before.  With many of them over-scheduled to begin with and schools dropping recess, weather may be the last straw.  As recent research shows, a structured recess program is important for academic success.

Some days, I think our kids work harder then us parents.  Let’s look at a kid playing a serious sport.

  • 7:50-2:55 school for 5 days a week
  • 1-2 hours of homework per day
  • 2 hours of sports practice 5 days a week
  • Homework on the weekend
  • Games / tournaments on the weekend

Now, add a second sport which many kids do.  Or a part-time job as they get older.  (I know I’m getting off on a tangent, but it’s been so long since I’ve had time to blog…I need to get back into a pattern.)

Only 15% Of Workers Leave The Office Every Day

Have you noticed that you eat lunch more at your desk every day?  I certainly have.

With 7 hours of meetings (at least) every day plus 300+ emails every day, we’re busy.  I’d argue that most companies these days are busier than they were historically.  At the same time, everyone is focused on wellness and healthier choices.  When sleep, diet, exercise, and stress are all related to health, it’s hard to separate those from the workplace.

That being said, I wasn’t too surprised by this recent poll I saw which highlights this.

Exercise at work

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