Insights from The Economist 2013 Healthcare Forum

December 22, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

How do all players in the U.S. healthcare industry – providers, viagra sale suppliers, viagra generic technology companies, employers, payers – manage the challenge of expanding access to care while keeping costs down AND improving outcomes? This was the question The Economist 2013 Healthcare Forum sought to address during a daylong program in Boston last month, featuring presentations by leaders in each of these healthcare business categories.


Transforming Health Care with Information

In this working group, participants explored information technologies that are transforming the way healthcare organizations manage data today, particularly cloud-based solutions that are enabling the industry to “shed the weight of decades-old IT infrastructure.”

  • August Calhoun, vice president of Dell Healthcare & Life Sciences Services, described the current state of healthcare IT today, where most hospitals do not have connected systems or access to data on which to base decisions, noting how staff members are forced to “walk data on USB sticks to computers in different departments” in order to share information.
  • According to Barbara Spurrier, administrative director at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, improving healthcare IT capabilities can help “restore the joy in clinical practice,” eliminating “lots of points and clicks and piles of information,” which is often “overwhelming to caregivers.”
  • John Halamka, chief information officer for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, noted how his organization is taking a cloud-based approach to data sharing, which has enabled it to aggregate data and use it in a meaningful way. But he points out how the industry has a long way to go in terms of technology, explaining how a consumer can order a movie through with one click, but it can take a clinician 47 clicks to order Tylenol for a patient using an electronic medical record (EMR).


Using Big Data: Healthier Performance

Panelists in this session explored how recent investments in technology and access to “Big Data” has the potential to both improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.

  • Charlie Schick, director at IBM, stated, “Today we don’t have a strong attitude that data is important in healthcare. The people who collect it don’t value it.”
  • To overcome this issue, C. Martin Harris, MD, chief information officer for Cleveland Clinic, stated, “Physicians should be knowledge workers in the 21st century. Let’s get the people most connected to data to put it into the system and fundamentally change the paradigm of who does what.”
  • Schick asked provider organizations in the audience, “Do you have a data sharing culture?” He urged them to establish a champion within their organizations who can ensure meaningful data is collected throughout the patient care continuum.


Evidence-Based Medicine: Calculating Risk and Reward

This panel looked at the potential benefits that can be derived industry-wide by the adoption of evidence-based medicine.

  • Elizabeth Teisberg, professor at the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, pointed out the limitations today around measuring only patient satisfaction and noted how through this approach “we just get the increased expense of bigger TV screens in patients’ rooms without the added benefits of improving outcomes.”
  • William H. Crown, chief scientific officer for Optum Labs, discussed how a major challenge to evidence-based medicine is disparate data sets with clinical data, claims data and other critical information residing in separate databases that are not connected with one another. He noted how these data issues have led to a “17-year lag between the generation of evidence that something is effective and actual incorporation of this evidence into clinical practice.”


Payment Reform

This panel explored new payment models, such as bundled payments and accountable care organizations (ACOs), designed to address the challenges of healthcare reform.

  • According to Elliott Fisher, M.D. M.P.H, Director of Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, there are approximately 400 ACOs in the U.S. and while their overall savings is relatively modest – about 1 percent of cost – all have demonstrated remarkable savings for the sickest patients – an average of 5 percent.
  • Ralph de la Torre, M.D., chairman and chief executive for Steward Health Care System, noted that one of the keys to the success of the Steward model is that all players – hospitals, insurers, doctors – have had to concede some of their control and come together for the common good of the organization. He states that it’s a matter of “confronting our demons and doing what’s right.”


Exchanges and Beyond

Panelists examined insurance exchanges and whether patients are ready to “shop” for coverage in this way.

  • David Cordani, chief executive of Cigna, described the current insurance model as “the financing of illness” and stressed the need for employers to aggressively adopt wellness programs for their employees noting how “70-80 percent of medical costs correlate to lifestyles or behaviors.”
  • In a study where individuals configured their own healthcare insurance benefits, Cigna found the resulting benefits were “leaner” than what was offered by their employers, individuals better understood their benefits and were happier with them.


Kara L. Nadeau

Founder and President of KLN Communications, Inc.