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HIStalk Interviews Nancy Ham and Nancy Brown, MedVentive

August 31, 2010 Interviews 3 Comments

Nancy Ham is president and CEO of MedVentive of Waltham, MA.

Nancy Brown, formerly senior vice president of business development and government affairs for athenahealth until July 1 of this year, has been named chief growth officer of MedVentive, where she will head up the company’s sales, marketing, and business development efforts.

Tell me what MedVentive does.

Nancy Ham: MedVentive provides a physician performance management solution for whoever is clinically at risk. Traditionally in our industry, health plans have been at risk, but there’s a huge trend towards providers taking risk and becoming more directly responsible and accountable for both the quality and cost of care.

One thing that we think is interesting about our company is that we support providers and health plans, and in fact are trying to bring them together into a more collaborative environment around managing populations and managing the cost on top of those populations.

Our passion around this springs from our history. In the mid-90s, here in Boston, we started as a mega at-risk provider organization affiliated with CareGroup, which is an integrated health system with eight hospitals and 3,500 physicians. At the time, it was the leading marketplace around providers assuming risk. We were bearing full global capitated risk for about half a million patients, managing about a billion dollars.

Everything that we have today, that we believe today, was really forged in that real-world environment managing our own patients, managing our own data, engaging our own physicians, and trying to learn how to do that successfully in a provider-oriented environment. The challenge was that model was really prevalent only here in Massachusetts and in California.

What’s so exciting about today for us is that we see the whole market opening up and moving away from payer-side risk, fee-for-service risk — which hasn’t served our industry well — and into these new risk models. We’re here with 15 years of experience and a very mature product to bring to that problem.

It seems like that whole assumption of risk idea has come and gone for practices. Do you think this time they’re ready, both organizationally and technologically?

Nancy Brown: No, not generally. There have been a number of organizations who have grown up in this model. The one that Nancy Ham has just described. I grew up professionally at a staff model HMO called Harvard Community Health Plan, which is very similar to Kaiser, where we were totally at risk for a population of patients and everything about our work, our DNA, was all around thinking about populations — how to keep them well and how to deal with their illnesses in the most efficient and effective way.

The vast majority of organizations are not incented that way, are not aligned that way, and don’t have that DNA naturally. This is a major shift, meaning a shift in the industry, where more and more risk is being pushed back down to providers.

I would say the answer to your question is no, they are not generally prepared for this. Just imagine doing work the way you do it every single day being more and more oriented towards seeing the patient who’s sitting in front of you, getting paid for each encounter, and then going to a model that is really completely different. That is exactly why tools and services need to be brought out to these provider organizations to ensure that they won’t hurt themselves in the process of converting over.

Nancy Brown, let’s talk about the announcement that you are joining MedVentive. What discussion did you have with Nancy Ham about her long-term plans for the company and your contribution to them?

Nancy Brown: It’s been a really exciting couple of months, to say the least. I’ll answer that question directly, but let me start by saying that what really motivated me to go back out into the market and to leave athena was this trend towards what has really been established by all the work being done through Obamacare or the Healthcare Reform Act, which is to really think about how healthcare is delivered and to really think about how to change incentives in order to get people to think about cost and quality.

Having grown up, as I said, in a staff model HMO, it was a little bit counterintuitive to me that the management of patients was being carved out and handed to payers and third-party organizations when in fact, there’s no one better than the physicians who are in front of the patients, who really know what care should be delivered, to be the ones that think about the approach to patient care and to think about quality and cost.

I am absolutely thrilled that the country is moving away from fee-for-service and moving back towards accountable care or sharing risk and putting risk and quality back into physician hands.

I was approached by a number of people who knew my background who wanted me to either join large companies who are thinking about establishing toolsets to serve this market, or venture capitalists who were thinking about starting brand new companies that would serve this market. Honestly, the entire time I was going through that process, I thought, well, there is actually an absolutely fantastic company that has been around for over a decade that not only has come up with tools, but has lived and walked in the shoes of at-risk providers, and who has been through many, many cycles of the product. We all know, those of us in healthcare IT, that products all need to go through at least three or four life cycles before you get it right.

The conversation I had with Nancy and with Dr. Jonathan Niloff, the founder, was perfectly aligned with what I thought the market needed. I thought, here’s a company that has existed, that has had terrific tools. The market has not been huge, quite honestly. They’ve taken care of probably a lot of West Coast and East Coast clients, and now they’re perfectly positioned to fully take advantage and really educate clients as to what the needs are to take on risk.

What lessons would you say you learned from your time at athena that will be useful to you at MedVentive?

Nancy Brown: I was at athena for six years and it was a wonderful experience. I consider them to be the closest of friends. I learned about a service model. I think a lot of what we talked about in my conversations with Nancy Ham and others is that you cannot just hand a toolset to an organization — in this case, an analytics toolset — and expect them to do everything that they need to do perfectly.

What I hope to bring to MedVentive that I’ve learned — and actually, it’s really part of my DNA now, based on my time at athena — is two things. One is that we’re going to have to get even more involved with our clients to really help them through these significant transitions.

A specific example of what I mean is when you give them dashboards and toolsets, which MedVentive does now, and you point them in the direction of where they are in terms of a red zone around a particular business problem, I think we hope in the future to be able to actually be in there with them, almost as a virtual chief medical officer, to be able to get them through the ongoing change or the overall change; and then the day-to-day work that they need to get done.

Nancy Ham: Nancy’s experience — her whole career — is of incredible relevance and resonance, as you’ve been hearing. We’re very excited about the service model coming into greater use among our customers because we are very focused about real results in the real world.

We don’t build software for theoretical purposes. We’re not an IT company who’s just building something because we want to sell it for revenue. We’re a healthcare company that forged everything we do in the crucible of the real world. That meant moving the needle on cost and quality. Whether it’s pretty dashboards or beautiful analytics was really irrelevant unless we accomplished the business goals.

We have a very strong ROI story for our customers today. Along the way, for example, we were profiled by the US Department of Health and Human Services as one of the five best national practices in pharmacy cost control. Last year, we were honored to win the Microsoft Healthcare User Group Award with a lovely customer of ours, Northeast PHO, for driving breakthrough levels of quality while reducing costs.

So to Nancy’s point, we have customers today who are independently very capable-mature in their ability to take risk and to execute on risk. But as that model broadens across the country, marrying that proven experience in that ability to drive an ROI with more supportive service capabilities, I think, is going to be key.

Nancy Brown mentioned that venture capital wants to get into this and other companies want to start something up. Who would you say is the competition now and what are the barriers to entry going to be for someone who wants to be in the position you’re in?

Nancy Ham: The barrier to entry is the relevant domain expertise. Not from reading about it, not from going to conferences about it, but from living it. There is no substitute for the fact that for ten years, we were the customer. We were in the real world bearing risk for almost half a million patients and driving positive changes against our budget and our risk and our quality and our population.

There is just no substitute for that. So in one sense, unless you’ve come from that environment, it’s really hard to say you have the same relevant experience and DNA that we bring to the opportunity.

That’s what differentiates us with our customers. They come and they see and they listen to it and say, “You guys really get it. You understand what we need to do, and we take comfort in the fact, frankly, that you’ve traveled this path ahead of us and you can share with us the lessons learned — good and bad. And you can share with us how you engaged your physicians in a way that they found appropriate and relevant and caused them to change behavior in a positive direction.”

Nancy Brown: I would just add to that what I observed is this practical-tactical way of thinking about how to deliver information to physicians. But this is all about helping physicians understand what’s going on with their population and guiding them toward the right decision. That’s not easy to do. A lot of the information that comes out of these analytic tools, generally, can create a lot of noise that they tune out.

I’ve been very impressed in the exposure I’ve had from MedVentive to see what Jonathan Niloff and the team here have done to really make sure that they’re getting the most important information to the physicians and making sure that the feedback loop is staying intact. And, that it’s a practical tool that can be used versus just one of these things that the administration has bought, but that in no way, shape, or form will ever be useful at the point of service.

When you talk about the business model as a service, is there any contemplation of selling service as a percentage as athena does?

Nancy Ham: I think it’s a great question. Historically, we have been focused on wrapping services inside of our software subscription fee. Lately, we’ve been really dialing up our capabilities around clinical consulting. We just hired a new senior director to lead our practice. In there, we are starting to go at risk for the actual results that we’re able to drive.

How that evolves towards a different model or towards the athena model, I think, is something that Nancy Brown and I will be working on and thinking about over the upcoming months and quarters.

Everybody wants to talk about Accountable Care Organizations. What technologies do organizations that want to go in that direction need?

Nancy Ham: To start on the journey of taking risk, organizations need a lot of things. They need a culture of quality. They need a transformational ability. They need to think through physician alignment and reimbursement. There’s a lot they need to think through from a services and strategy perspective.

When it comes to technology, there’s really two ways that an organization can begin to assume risk. One is if they’re already financially integrated, they can jump into becoming an Accountable Care Organization. There you need a suite of tools to manage for cost and utilization and quality from a whole new perspective because it’s not about fee-for-service now, it’s around episodes of care. This was a heart attack, not a series of disconnected claims. This is a population of diabetics and I need to be able to look at them as a population — cost utilization, quality, and engagement — because I’m going to be reimbursed on it as a bundle.

If you’re going into true global capitation, you need to be able to look across the entire spectrum of care no matter where delivered, no matter whether it’s in your network or out of your network, ambulatory or inpatient, and budget it and predict it and price it and manage it very differently than what you’re doing today.

If you’re not already financially integrated, then you actually have a step before that, which is to become clinically integrated, which gives you a safe harbor, if you will, from the Federal Trade Commission. There, you really need an intelligent, patient-centered disease registry that can be distributed across the community to promulgate your quality program and to engage physicians in an interconnected network focused on driving guideline-compliant care.

We’re fortunate at MedVentive that we offer them a spectrum of solutions no matter where you are on your journey to risk. We have a technology and a capability that matches up to where you are and what you need to do next to move forward.

Who helps organizations are assess their capabilities to enter into these agreements? Are they going to become standalone at some point, or are they always going to need some sort of support — technology or otherwise — to have ongoing success in being part of an ACO?

Nancy Brown: What I’ve observed in my journey over the last few months in looking at a lot of organizations focused on this market — there’s an equal number of consulting firms that are spitting up new practices to focus on all of the human capital issues. So if you parse apart everything Nancy Ham just said, underlying it is that technology is important. MedVentive has done fabulous things, but I’m sure if Jonathan Niloff was sitting here, he would tell you that it was the people side of it. Once you get the information in front of you, it’s really getting the teams built and the mindset in place to do the right thing.

So to answer your question, I think hand-in-hand with the technology will be folks who come in — and I already see it happening — that will work a lot on everything from organizational design to organizational behavior and the creation of probably all-new incentive plans beyond the medical incentives. I think it will be ongoing, absolutely.

I also think, as I talked a lot about during my days at athena, that there will be an ongoing evolution of these reimbursement plans over time. This is yet another set of ideas that people have, from Medical Homes to P4P to accountable care. Somewhere in all of this there will be a model that begins to effect really positive change. What I mean by that is it will incent providers to actually go in and make changes to workflows and to their approach, which is what Jonathan Niloff probably observed at CareGroup and I observed at Harvard Community Health Plan.

That it is an ongoing journey of give me the data, let me observe. Then, what’s going wrong? Let me improve my processes. Give me the data, let me observe what’s wrong … it’s an ongoing effort that never ends.

The HITECH Act has stolen everybody’s attention, so everybody’s focusing on EMRs or HIEs or whatever it is. How do you expect the vendor landscape and organizational strategic priorities to change as we get past that first total focus on just EMRs?

Nancy Brown: You couldn’t have asked me a better question. I won’t get on my soapbox for too long, but I often said in Washington and other places that I felt like the HITECH Act was a little bit of a distraction. While people were busy looking at it and going out after their $44,000 and had their backs turned, they’re going to get hit by a train and the train was going to be changes in reimbursement, as well as other major changes to how people are dealing with the administrative side, such as ICD-10.

It’s very interesting because it’s very hard right now to quantify how much business is shifting from fee-for-service to these quality contracts. What I say to anyone who will listen is don’t worry so much about the percentages because right now it’s definitely a very, very high percentage still in fee-for-service.

But let’s look at the reality. You can’t bring all of these uninsured into that coverage to have insurance coverage, and then also — simultaneous to bringing this new population of patients in that will now have insurance coverage — mandate that the insurance companies cannot increase premiums and then not expect that the costs are going to go somewhere. Those are going to be really put onto the backs of the providers. The insurance companies really don’t have any other way to get the money other than to assert change reimbursement.

The accountable care concept is owned by Medicare, but I think we’re already seeing a rapid acceleration of a risk shifting by commercial payers. As that risk shifts, people are going to have to be prepared. Compared to taking on an EMR, that’s child’s play in my opinion. This is very, very serious. Meaning you have to have a lot of information, a lot of guidance, and a lot of change in behaviors to be successful.

The other thing I’ll add about the EMR side, which was a big focus at athena, is that the EMRs need to be prepared to take the information that comes out of systems like MedVentive. These are things, to be specific, like gaps in care, for instance. When they tell you that Nancy Brown has not had a particular test or is at risk for a particular disease state, that information needs to be showing up at the point of service, ideally.

Many of the systems, most I would say, the majority of them do not have the capability to take that in and haven’t even reformed themselves in a way to think about population.

I think it’s going to be a very exciting time for those EMR vendors who really step up and think about themselves as being in a continuum that starts with taking risks, managing populations, and then intervening at the point of service.

You’re right, it’s an EMR-centric world out there, and those vendors typically don’t like to acknowledge that there may be contributions from other systems or other vendors. How do you intend to work around that, from the MedVentive standpoint, to convince them that it’s in their own best interest to collaborate?

Nancy Ham: We see, in our current client base, a very interesting spectrum of organizations. We have clients today who are 95% deployed on single EMR, so they’ve already climbed that mountain. But what they have found, to Nancy Brown’s point, is that the EMR does not provide them this horizontal capability to look across their population, to manage populations in an episodic or disease-centric way. It does not allow them to look at their cost in a capitated fashion; to look in-network and out-of-network to control all the levers they need to control to be financially successful.

We have in-the-middle organizations, those who are building broad-based networks in which their physicians are on many EMRs. So there, you have a bit of a Tower of Babel approach where there’s no source of truth, no central view, no view that goes across the continuum of care and across the community.

And then we have customers who have said that $44,000, frankly, is not compelling. We’re looking for tools that we can acquire and implement rapidly to allow us to step into risk because what we hear is forward-thinking organizations know fee-for-service is dying. So whether it dies tomorrow or dies two years from now or four years from now doesn’t matter.

They know now they need to get control of their data. They need to start measuring themselves. They need to get ready so that whatever form risk takes in their market — it could be heavy pay-for-performance, it could be episodic or population, it could be true global cap — that they can’t be ready overnight to spring into that environment.

They have an urgency about that to get started now, and that’s very exciting for us as a company because as we said, we started — Nancy and her path, and MedVentive in ours — in provider risk organizations more than a decade ago. It’s exciting to us to see that model, which we know works in improving quality and reducing costs, spread across the country. We couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities in front of us to help organizations learn how to do that and to be successful.

What are the long-term plans for the company?

Nancy Ham: With Nancy coming on board as chief growth officer, our plan is clearly to execute on our growth strategy and to leverage the fact that we think we have a very unusual capability born on the provider side, but ambidextrous, if you will, because we can serve whoever’s at risk — the self-insured employer, the health plan, the provider — and bring them together on a collaboration platform, a much-overused term that rarely exists in the real world. We think it’s the right model, which is we need to be sharing and looking at the same data with a focus on changing what is a societal ill at this point.

Our collective failure to create a universal model that reduces the healthcare costs in this country is impinging our growth as a society. Really, the ability to bring that all together, we think, is unbounded in terms of size. Our focus is just on getting the word out about what we’re able to do and to do it for more people. And with Nancy Brown on board, I’m sure that that’s what we’re going to be able to do.

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. I like the candor of this wonderful interview.

    Doctors, bend over. Large expenses, corporative dictates controlling your decisions, distractions from care of the patient. I feel for you docs. You let your profession cease to be a profession.

    As for the patients, if you are sick, you will be allowed to die. The government can not afford too many nonagenarians in hospitals or nursing homes. Kervorkian lives in the new rules guiding medical care.

  2. Nancy Ham: With Nancy coming on board as chief growth officer, our plan is clearly to execute on our growth strategy and to leverage the fact that we think we have a very unusual capability born on the provider side, but ambidextrous, if you will, because we can serve whoever’s at risk — the self-insured employer, the health plan, the provider — and bring them together on a collaboration platform, a much-overused term that rarely exists in the real world.

    Corporate mumbo-jumbo buzzword highlights above are mine.

    Mumbo jumbo usually substitutes for substance.Execut

    And, another “C” acronym – CGO – wow.

  3. Wow! This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. I don’t know if I agree with “not tired of suzy rn” or not. I’ll hold off on my assessment for now.

    The fact is, we have to do SOMETHING to manage individual and populations of patients and their episodes of care. I soooo wish we could get all parties (payers, providers, employers, patients, etc.) to work together, instead of staying in their separate corners. We simply DON’T have unlimited dollars. Most of US patients really do need help, staying healthy and managing our chronic conditions. The cost of poorly managed care does affect us all. And we cannot improve what we cannot measure.
    Anyway you look at it, it will INDEED be an interesting future.

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