A basket of reflections, considerations on CVS-Aetna: Epic, Cerner, the model, and hospitals’ role

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]With the holidays and the end of the year coming in a little over two short weeks, there’s plenty of room for thoughts, reasoned speculation, and some unusual takes on the CVS-Aetna merger. This Editor remains in her belief that among us, there’s a bit of exhaustion and an attitude of ‘wait and see’ around the topic among us. The canaries have a case of the vapors….

Let’s sort through some of the more interesting POVs expressed of late by our fellow pressies, which Readers can consider in between cups of good cheer and bites of All That Food. Bear in mind that this merger has a long road to go on a hard road, with potholes marked DOJ and (in this Editor’s opinion) HHS, before it’s a done deal in 2018.

  • A big win for Epic. Currently the EHR for CVS’ MinuteClinics and most recently the care management programs of CVS Specialty, Epic is bullish on the opportunities in what their VP of population health termed the ‘gray space’ in the patient experience outside of the traditional sites of care. In October, CVS added Epic’s Healthy Planet population health analytics platform to learn more about drug dispensing patterns and medication adherence–this Editor believes in preparation for merger talks. The open question this Editor has after all the glow in this article is how Aetna’s varied systems (e.g. ActiveHealth, Medicity, and others) would integrate into Epic, and the price of poker, because with Epic it’s never free. Ask any hospital. Healthcare IT News.
    • Certainly, their main competitor Cerner is feeling the heat after a slowdown in its VA plans, the single largest EHR implementation ever. Congress has held up initial funding making the contract effective (Washington Technology). It is geometrically more complicated than their simultaneous DoD implementation, with $10 billion estimated over 10 years (FCW). Other wrenches in the works: a fresh CliniComp lawsuit against Cerner based on infringement against their 2003 patent on remote hosting, and their appeal of the no-bid award to Cerner [TTA 23 Aug] against VA. Kansas City Business Journal, Healthcare IT News
  • Is it going to increase cost? It might. And what about info sharing with providers? A Harvard Medical School professor opined to Marketplace that instead of self-treatment at home for a cold, the patient might actually traipse to a MinuteClinic for care, thus driving up healthcare costs. This resembles the RAND logic around telemedicine consult expense we deflated in a series of articles back in the spring. Information sharing with regular providers is a bigger issue which urgent cares, telemedicine, and clinics already are dealing with. The paradox is that integration with a payer, with a retailer’s ability to track ancillary purchases such as OTC meds and DME purchases, might actually help that issue. But will it? Will a combined CVS-Aetna share information or hoard it, further disempowering patients? This Stat article calls on Mark Bertolini to promote shared information, engagement, and accountability to balance the scales.
  • Do we really need hospitals? If they don’t change, we might need a lot less of them except for highly specialized treatment. And this is likely a good thing. The HBR points out that CVS-Aetna is hardly the only threat to the traditional hospital–there’s Johns Hopkins’ Hospital at Home program for older adults, UnitedHealthcare’s growing network of providers under OptumCare, including the recent deal for DaVita dialysis centers, and free-standing, low-cost “neighborhood” hospitals, almost like pop-up stores. The article doesn’t mention ‘consult stations’ like Europe’s H4D, which is proving that the kiosk idea isn’t dead. 

The reality is that we won’t know what this merger entails until it actually happens, if it happens–and its final shape will take years to mold. Related: CVS-Aetna: the canary says that DOJ likely to review mergerAnalysis of the CVS-Aetna merger: a new era, a canary in a mine–or both?CVS’ bid for Aetna–will it happen, and kick off a trend? (what will Amazon and other retailers, including supermarkets, do?)

Telehealth roundups: Cuyahoga County (OH), BMJ systematic review, AAFP Forum

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/stick_figure_push_up_arrow_400_clr.png” thumb_width=”100″ /]Telehealth/telemedicine case studies are many, but those of us in the field are always on the hunt for fresh results. And the results seem to be fairly successful.

Cuyahoga County in Ohio instituted a telehealth program for its 569-person Educational Service Center this past July. In the first 90 days, 45 telemedicine consultations were completed with an average savings of $342 for each visit. Median wait time to the doctor consult was 2 minutes, 23 seconds. This amounted to a 130 percent return on investment, or $48,000. This is over the summer, when many employees were on leave, and does not calculate productivity gains, e.g. less sick time. The ESC goal is 80 percent utilization. This last would boggle the Big Minds over at the RAND Corporation which criticized the 88 percent rise in utilization when CalPERS members used Teladoc. TTA 8 Mar, 25 Mar  The provider of telehealth services is First Stop Health. Healthcare IT News.

BMJ reviewed 44 studies (of over 2,100 studies surveyed in the last five years) to identify factors around telehealth effectiveness and efficiency. “The factors listed most often were improved outcomes (20%), preferred modality (10%), ease of use (9%), low cost 8%), improved communication (8%) and decreased travel time (7%), which in total accounted for 61% of occurrences.” Patient satisfaction was achieved when providers delivered healthcare via videoconference or any other telehealth method. Telehealth and patient satisfaction: a systematic review and narrative analysis (PDF)

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care hosted a Capitol Hill meeting on telehealth in primary care 9 November. The conundrum that PCPs face: telehealth is well-suited to primary care, the CPT codes are there, physician time can be easily recorded, and patients now are comfortable with it–but connectivity, health plans, and expansion of the referral network beyond the local are still not there. Regina Holliday, a well-known patient advocate who will be speaking at MedMo17, spoke about telehealth’s great advantages in mental health, especially to younger patients who want anonymous counseling and those in rural areas where it’s hundreds of miles to a mental health clinic or a psychiatrist. AAFP Forum Report

Weekend Big Read: will telemedicine do to retail healthcare what Amazon did to retail?

Updated. Our past contributor and TelehealthWorks’ Bruce Judson (ATA 2017 coverage) has penned this weekend’s Big Read in the HuffPost. His hypothesis is that telemedicine specifically will disrupt location-based care, followed by other digitally based care–and that executives at health systems and payers are in denial. More and more states are recognizing both parity of treatment and (usually) payment. Telemedicine also appeals to three major needs: care at home or on the go, with a minimal wait; maldistribution of care, especially specialized care; and follow-up/post-acute care. His main points in the article:

  • Healthcare executives are being taken by surprise because present digital capabilities will not be future capabilities, and the shift to virtual will be a gradual process
  • Telemedicine will address doctor shortages and grow into coordinated care platforms embedding expertise (via connected diagnostics, analytics, machine learning, AI) and care teams
  • Telemedicine will eventually go up-market and directly compete with large providers in urban areas, displacing a significant amount of in-person care with virtual care
  • Telemedicine will start to incorporate continuous feedback loops to further optimize their services and move into virtual health coaching and chronic care management
  • Telemedicine platforms are also sub-specializing into stroke response, pediatrics, and neurology
  • Centers of expertise and expert platforms will become larger and fewer–centralizing into repositories of ‘the best’
  • Platforms will be successful if they are trusted through positive patient experiences. This is a consumer satisfaction model.

Mr. Judson draws an analogy of healthcare with internet services, an area where he has decades of expertise: “A general phenomenon associated with Internet services is that they break activities into their component parts, and then reconnect them in a digital chain.” Healthcare will undergo a similar deconstruction and reconstruction with a “new set of competitive dynamics.”

It’s certainly a provocative POV that at least gives a rationale for the sheer messiness and stop-n-start that this Editor has observed in Big Health since the early 2000s. A caution: the internet, communications, and retail do not endure the sheer volume of regulatory force imposed on healthcare, which tends to make the retail analogy inexact. Governments monitor and regulate health outcomes, not search results or video downloads (except when it comes to net neutrality). It’s hard to find an industry so regulated other than financial/banking and utilities. FierceHealthcare also found the premise intriguing, noting the VA’s ‘Anywhere’ programs [TTA 9 Aug] and citing two studies indicating 96 percent of large employers plan to make telemedicine, also with behavioral health services, available, and that 20 percent of employers are seeing over 8 percent employee utilization. (Under 10 percent utilization gave RAND the vapors earlier this year with both this Editor and Mr. Judson stinging RAND’s findings with separate analyses.)