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HIStalk Interviews Deborah Gage, CEO, Medecision

April 6, 2015 Interviews No Comments

Deborah Gage is president and CEO of Medecision.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I joined Medecision five years ago because of my belief that the convergence of big data and workflow applications were at the core of engaging consumers, hospitals, and physicians and achieving the Triple Aim. What I loved about Medecision is that it was uniquely positioned in the market, with a legacy and a history of serving health plans and doing exactly that. As we watch the shift from volume to value, it’s clear that a series of new capabilities is needed to support that business change. That’s what we do at Medecision.

 

If I’m a patient or health plan member, what do I see firsthand as my provider or my health plan implements population health management?

I’m so glad you asked me that question because it’s the single thing that we at Medecision are focusing on more than ever as we look at how we build capabilities for all of our clients who are bearing risk.

What patients should see changing very soon is transparency of data — the ability to see greater alignment, information, and decision-making between the previously fragmented players in the system, whether it be hospitals, physicians, the extended care team, providers of DME products, etc.

Consumers will soon be seeing mobile applications like one that we’re market testing right now — our InCircle product, in western Massachusetts – that will present their full electronic health records, that will be real time, and that will allow them to take charge and control of their health and the services that they need to maintain their health. It will all be much more seamless, transparent, and effective, but all of those three things being the Triple Aim.

 

Is it an unexpected benefit that consumers are becoming their own health quarterback?

I think there are a number of industry parallels that we could look at, whether it be banking, transportation, or the airline industry. Even in the business world, we’ve all become our own secretary. Yes, it is a natural outgrowth, but I think it’s also important to recognize that it is not easy. The work that we have to do as executives in the healthcare IT and healthcare industries is hard.

There’s an enormous amount of work that needs to be done in big data, analytics, and the engagement applications that take all of those difficult, challenging, and disparate systems and processes in healthcare and drive them to a big app that allows us to take charge of our health, to make decisions, and to share that information with those who we share the responsibility for our health with, whether it be a family member or a whole series of different providers if we have a chronic condition. That is really the Holy Grail — the ability to have information at our fingertips when we need it and be able to share it with everyone who has an important role in helping us maintain and improve our health.

 

Our interoperability goals have been paternalistic, where we expected providers to figure out how to share information without patient involvement. Is there more of an expectation that patients become responsible for their own information sharing rather than having somebody else do it invisibly behind the scenes?

All parties have an obligation for privacy and security. It’s something that we’re seeing in the headlines every day and that we’re all focused on. The challenge now is to push through those challenges and opportunities so that the consumer can become the quarterback of their care. Not only are there important issues to be dealt with from a regulatory, compliance, and privacy perspective, but also technology needs that will enable all of that to occur. That’s what we’re about at Medecision. It’s very rewarding after a 20-odd year career to see the pieces coming together from legislation all the way through consumer engagement.

 

In the old days, a technology vendor sold only to a specific niche, such as ambulatory practices or health plans. Now companies like Medecision have products for hospitals, practices, and health plans. Is is more difficult from a sales, marketing, and product development standpoint to serve all those markets?

It is very difficult. It is our everyday challenge.

When we engage in a dialog with a customer or a prospective customer, the first thing we have to figure out is where they are on the maturity scale from volume to value. How are they thinking about making the journey? That’s our first challenge. We know that we have the tools, the capability, the people, and the clinical components necessary to help our customers, but our challenge is meeting them where they are today and leading them to where they need to be in their business transformation.

It’s an enormous challenge. It’s far more than technical. It involves having consultative skills.

The irony, as has always been the case, is that technology is not the limiting factor. It’s more about how we view the change process, how we finance that, and how we manage it as individuals and as organizations. That’s where we’re focused — helping our customers make that transformation from volume to value and doing it in a way that is not only least disruptive, but provides the greatest return. Not only for them, but for their members and patients — the consumer.

 

What’s your experience in getting the data that you need from other systems, such as provider EHRs?

We have some very good experience. We have probably five use cases today where we are integrating data across multiple systems — EMR systems, claims systems, practice management systems, all of the historically disparate systems — to power population health and consumer engagement.

There are some interoperability barriers that tend to be as much policy oriented. We find that to be the case from time to time. But by and large, we are experiencing significant success in creating broad data sets across multiple sources for use in more effectively managing population health and engaging consumers. The going is much better today than it was three years ago and I expect it to accelerate incrementally almost by the month.

 

Your Aerial platform offers Web services and published APIs. Are you seeing, or hoping to see, other system vendors embrace those technologies as Medecision has?

The organizations that are going to be successful in the future in population health will recognize that transparency and interoperability — whether that be at the technical level such as APIs or at the policy level – are an absolute requirement for success. We’ve embraced it wholeheartedly. I came here five years ago. We started opening our APIs. We’ve gone from a handful of APIs back then to hundreds and we’re going to continue to do that.

That being said, a lot of companies view their capabilities as intellectual property. We view our capabilities as the combination of clinical expertise, technology expertise, and engagement expertise in how to engage providers and consumers in achieving the Triple Aim. It’s how all of those things come together, not whether or not you have them, that will ultimately make the company successful and the industry successful.

 

That seems true in other industries, such as when competing banks agreed to participate in the Visa network and everybody’s markets grew exponentially. Is the healthcare business case not as clear or are participants trying too hard to demand direct benefit for everything they share?

Being an economist, I think it’s fundamentally a problem associated with the economic structures in the industry. So long as we maintain a fee-for-service model as a primary or dominant model in our system, that economic relationship is in part what creates the barriers to free, open information exchange.

Using the banking analogy, there were regulatory things that had to occur. Some of those have occurred in healthcare. I’m sure others will continue to be promulgated to ensure that we have interoperability and transparency in a way that will make a real difference for American consumers. In the end, businesses like Medecision and others will figure out how to succeed, thrive, and prosper as we are subject to those rules.

 

We forced providers to behave as competitive businesses, but then we expect them to not be too cutthroat. Are the competitive lines becoming blurred?

We’re seeing so many different approaches across the industry. It’s just a time of experimentation. We have customers who have shared savings programs with just a small amount of economic risk transferring between the parties to create incentives. We’re seeing fully clinically integrated networks agreeing to share openly all of their information.

The answer to your question is yes. We are seeing a broad range of economic and business models being experimented with across the industry. I’m likening it to the gold rush. Everybody is in a covered wagon. Some people haven’t pulled off of the East Coast yet. We’ve got a few that have made it to California. But nobody’s found gold.

 

It must be tough to develop a company strategy as the industry unrolls in different directions. How do you create a multi-year strategic plan and what does it look like for Medecision?

Thank you for asking that question, because while it’s an obvious question and one that we deal with every day and discuss with our board, the answer is pretty simple. The risk-bearing entities of the future — whether they were originally a health plan, an integrated delivery system, a physician, or some other entity — need three things in order to be successful. Our business strategy is focused on those three core pillars of capability – big data and analytics, clinical decision support, and engagement applications.

While some of our customers may only use one of those three pillars today because of their readiness or their place on the journey to value-based care, we know that ultimately they will need those three capabilities. We will begin where they are and help them along the way on their journey to value-based care.

That’s our strategy. It’s a difficult one to execute on, but it’s one that Medecision has had success with historically. We expect to continue to have success as we help our clients along the journey.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

A very important component of success for all of us in the industry, and particularly for Medecision, is around the ability to innovate. Our focus on innovation at Medecision over the past five years has been a significantly differentiating factor for us. We’re helping our clients win, and winning in the market, because we have innovative new solution capabilities, consulting services, and other components that help our customers transform their business.

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Reader Comments

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