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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/19/17

January 19, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments

CMS announced today that over 359,000 providers are confirmed for four CMS Alternative Payment Models in 2017. This includes over 2,800 primary care practices participating in the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus initiative.

Although CMS is celebrating this as a victory for improved quality and reduced costs, there are a couple of things to note about the numbers. First, CPC+ was originally opened for up to 5,000 practices and CMS recently expanded that to 5,500. The cohort is barely over half full, which could mean a couple of things.

First, it could mean that practices aren’t exactly clamoring to participate in these models, which require more documentation and increased compliance requirements in exchange for higher payments. Practices might be nervous that they can’t recover the increased outlay needed to participate. Second, it could mean that practices applied but weren’t qualified to move forward, which would be a sad commentary on the state of value-based care transformation. One would expect that at this stage in the game they’d be able to do better than half capacity.

The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program attestation website is open for business. Participants have until the end of the day February 28 to attest to Medicare 2016 program requirements. State deadlines for Medicaid programs vary. There are plenty of resources out there and a handy dandy Attestation User Guide that I wish more of my prospective clients would read before they call me. It outlines the process in gory detail with lots of screenshots and answers a good number of the questions I frequently receive.

Lots of chatter around the physician lounge about Atul Gawande’s recent piece. His premise, that the US health system rewards “heroic” care at the expense “incremental” care is an issue that I’ve written about in the past. We’re always looking for the newest, most high-tech interventions, but we neglect to really advocate for (or fully fund) things like public health, disease prevention, cancer screening, and more. It’s not glamorous to sit in an exam room and have the same discussions over and over with patients about weight loss, smoking cessation, moderation in diet, and increased activity.

Gawande lays it out like it is: “As an American surgeon, I have a battalion of people and millions of dollars of equipment on hand when I arrive in my operating room. Incrementalists are lucky if they can hire a nurse.” That’s the unfortunate reality for many primary care and non-procedural specialists in our healthcare system. Technology and incentive programs are supposed to help us better manage patients and level the playing field, but for some physicians, it’s too little, too late. Two more of my favorite physicians retired at the end of the year and I think we’re going to continue to see attrition in the generalist ranks.

The biggest chatter, though, has of course been about the upcoming inauguration and the pending repeal of the Affordable Care Act. One rumor making the rounds is that MACRA will also be repealed, which is an entirely different situation. It doesn’t help that plenty of people don’t understand the difference between the two, which adds to the confusion. Patients are also extremely worried about the potential loss of insurance coverage and increased premiums, regardless of whether their coverage is through employers or individual purchase.

The HIMSS17 invitations have started rolling in, but I happened across the Salesforce Trailblazer Party at BB King’s Blues Club on Tuesday night. I’m guessing I might be out of touch with some pop culture phenomenon, but I’m not following what is going on with the character in scrubs with mittens and an animal suit. There are also plenty of one-off marketing emails coming in. Pro tip: please make liberal use of spell check and grammar check. The plural of customer is “customers” not “customer’s.” Don’t just say you’re revolutionary – tell me why and what you do.

An informatics colleague handed me an article about the new Forward clinic in San Francisco. They’re advertising “AI and doctors working together to better manage your health.” Billing it as a “Health membership” they charge $1,800 a year, which they cleverly market as “$149/month billed annually.” Although they say they have a world-class medical staff, I didn’t see any names listed on the website. They do have a body scanner to give a “rapid picture of overall health.” One article about the practice has some interesting premises. It talks about the ability to re-engineer the user experience at the physician office. One example is a “hidden alcove for urine samples in the bathroom, and no need for an embarrassing walk down the hall.” Many physician offices (especially those that perform a lot of urine testing) already had those, so not revolutionary.

It also mentions the body scanner: “a machine that takes a few cents of electricity to run replaces the traditional 20-minute examination for blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs.” I hate to tell the Silicon Valley folks, but if 20 minutes was their baseline, that’s terrible. Very few primary care physicians (at least those of us working on the hamster wheel) would tolerate a staffer that took 20 minutes to perform basic patient intake. The efficiency nut has already been cracked by vital signs monitors that integrate to the EHR and smart beds that perform weight when the patient sits down. The article does include a comment from a physician and former venture capitalist who notes that the complexity of the healthcare market is often underestimated and I would tend to agree.

Another article mentions that “people with longer term issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, or skin problems will go home with sensors that can transmit data back to Forward.” I get the obesity and blood pressure hook, but skin problems? What are they sensing? And is it evidence-based? Has it been peer reviewed or approved by the FDA? Or is it digital snake oil? Health policy expert Paul Ginsberg is cited in the piece and notes the risk of unnecessary tests being triggered by use of sensors: “The notion of scanning people who don’t have a problem has been very solidly dismissed by the medical profession for a while.”

What do you think of Forward? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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