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What is Your Competition?

October 19, 2015

This post marks a bit of a renaissance for the cHealth Blog. I took a record sabbatical from blogging from mid June to early October because I was focusing my energies on writing a new book, due out at the time of our Connected Health Symposium, October 28-30. I hope to see you at the event and please stay tuned for more details about the book in the coming weeks.

I was privileged to be invited to an interesting meeting earlier this week, participating in an advisory board for some work done by a prominent policy institute. The topic of the project and the meeting was focused on bundling of care model innovations. The room was filled with notable, experienced individuals, all who have had experience disseminating care delivery innovations.

iStock_000005340466_MediumWe met for a full day and I am sorry to say the amount of time allocated to connected health was only about five minutes. We discussed innovations that send care providers to the home, innovations that moved the hospital into the home, innovations in palliative care in the home and innovations involving the restructuring of the medical practice. All were chosen because there was high quality scientific literature demonstrating that these strategies could lower costs. I can’t say the innovations we discussed didn’t involve connected health, but my favorite type of care model innovation was, at best, a footnote in the discussion.

I meet with a lot of early stage entrepreneurs. Among the questions I always ask is, “Who is your competition?” How they answer tells me a lot about how they are viewing the market. Some say, “We really don’t have any competition.” That tells me that they either have an innovation that the market really doesn’t appreciate the need for yet (like the original iPad) or more likely, they are focused on what they perceive to be different about their product or technology, not the problem they are trying to solve. One rule of thumb I always remind entrepreneurs is that, when disseminating a new innovation, if people perceive a problem and pay for products to solve it, that is what forms a market. So, rather than focus on what makes an innovation unique, it is more productive to focus on what problem the innovation is solving and how others are solving it presently. This can be very helpful in crafting a communications and marketing strategy.

But getting back to the care model innovations meeting, I was struck by how ingrained the use of human interaction is in solving healthcare challenges. To whit, at Partners Connected Health, we recently queried a group of hospital presidents about increasing their use of telemonitoring for congestive heart failure (CHF). We knew each hospital’s CMS readmission penalty and devised our sales pitch around how telemonitoring is an efficient tool enabling a one-to-many care model, leveraging each nurse across 100 patients (or thereabouts) and predictably lowering readmissions, as well as achieving an overall decrease in total medical expenses. These audience members had a significant interest in efficient care, as their payment is at risk depending on outcomes and efficiency for this CHF patient pool. We perceived our logic to be air tight and expected everyone to sign on to adopt more telemonitoring.

Perhaps you won’t be as surprised as I was about the relative lack of enthusiasm. We heard a number of different reasons why to not invest in telemedicine further. Among the most salient (from the perspective of this post) was the comment by one executive that her hospital has a robust cardiac management program that bringing patients into the clinic for follow up. Another cited the use of care managers visiting the home to do medication reconciliation.

I expect the picture I’m trying to paint is coming into focus for you now. In healthcare, our biggest sunken costs are in facilities and labor, so we build financial models around making use of those resources. For instance, if you’re a bit overstaffed in nursing, it may make sense to deploy nurses to patients’ homes. Likewise, bringing patients in to your facility helps offset the cost of depreciation on that asset.

We started the journey of connected heath adoption 20 years ago. The first barrier we had to overcome was skepticism about quality. Then came the cry of “How do we get paid?” (This is why there has been an uptick of interest directly proportional to the adoption of value-based reimbursement and overutilization penalties.) Then providers implored, “But it needs to be part of my workflow.” Today, almost all EMR vendors have integrated telehealth or a roadmap to offer those integrations.

happy pharmacy

So, the next phase of our journey will be integrating connected health into the deconstruction of facility-based care as we know it. Consumers now have many options for receiving their care, including at the local pharmacy or via a virtual video visit. Providers will come on board with these new care delivery models. And, it is imperative that those of us who advocate for connected health be at all of the meetings and involved in the key decisions so that connected health is presented as a viable option to solving today’s healthcare challenges.

Our competition, at this point, is the business-as-usual approach: “the way we’ve always done it, by one-to-one human interaction.” Overcoming inertia is harder that presenting an airtight sales pitch.

This explains the lineup of care bundle innovations from the advisory board meeting I referred to above. They are innovative in that they move the locus of care, in most cases, to the home. Perhaps that’s the state of progress at this time. We take the one-to-one interaction and move it out of the facility and into the home. That only disrupts one of our major fixed costs.

I expect you can tell I’m puzzled. I’d love your thoughts on the matter.

Telemedicine Is Vital to Reforming Health Care Delivery

October 9, 2015

Telemedicine Is Vital to Reforming Health Care Delivery

By Joseph C. Kvedar, MD

October 7, 2015

Harvard Business Review



Health care remains one of the few services that require people to have a face-to-face interaction to obtain access. But more and more consumers are questioning that reality, and change is on the way. In January 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a new provider reimbursement code for non–face-to-face health care services for patients who have chronic medical conditions. A new CMS code may seem like a tiny matter, but this one emblemizes a larger shift toward delivering health services independently of time and place, enabled by technologies such as smartphones, sensors, and wireless health-monitoring devices — what we in the field call telemedicine.

The concept of telemedicine is not new (its roots go back to the late 1950s). In the 21st century, the widely held goal of improving health care outcomes while lowering costs is accelerating the shift from a one-to-one to a one-to-many model of care delivery, which telemedicine makes possible. Understanding telemedicine has now become crucial for decision makers in the health care industry, and I aim to help in that effort. Let me start by exploring some industry fundamentals.

The rising prevalence of chronic illnesses in an aging population puts pressure on the supply side of health care. Clinicians are not being trained fast enough to keep pace with the rate of service demand. In addition, given the rising cost of care, new models for reimbursing hospitals and other providers have begun to emphasize quality and efficiency rather than units of delivered services. And consumers are increasingly shopping on open markets for health insurance policies that require significant deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. These trends underpin the need for a one-to-many model of care delivery that offers flexibility and transparency.

Telemedicine is well positioned in this environment, particularly given patients’ growing comfort with technology in their consumer endeavors. The core technologies of telemedicine include those that collect data (such as wearable and ingestible sensors, and vital-sign and health-status monitoring) and those that enable communication (videoconferencing, text-messaging, mobile apps, and voice calls). These types of virtualized services will become an integral part of care delivery. Indeed, several commercial payers are now reimbursing providers for video-based visits, not to mention the CMS’s new telemedicine-friendly reimbursement code.

How does telemedicine work in practice? Here are some common examples:

  1. When patients with congestive heart failure use a home-based weight scale and a blood pressure cuff, and then check in routinely by phone with a nurse, their survival rates improve, and costs decline. A nurse can care for hundreds of patients at a time in this way, keeping them healthy and happy in their homes and away from costly emergency rooms and hospital beds.
  2. For patients with mental illness, video follow-up visits with a mental health provider have been shown to improve quality and efficiency of care. The provider can more easily assess environmental influences on the patient’s condition, and patients more accurately reveal their daily state of being because they don’t always have to endure the stress of traveling to an office and the social anxiety of sitting in a waiting room with other patients.
  3. Text-messaging interventions can aid in smoking-cessation efforts. My institution is collaborating on a texting intervention for smokers who try “practice quits” (quitting for a short period, such as an hour or a week). Timed text messages help the smoker cope with cravings, encourage longer practice-quit commitments, and applaud successes. The smoker can also text in the word “crave” and receive text-based coaching on the spot. Relatively automated systems like this one have great potential for improving public health.
  4. Both Walgreens and CVS offer virtual video care as an extension of their retail clinics. Many health plans, led by UnitedHealth Group, are doing the same. These offerings will push hesitant providers to offer these services as well.

Despite those examples, most telemedicine efforts are still in early, small-scale phases of implementation. Countervailing forces, like these, stand in the way:

  • Although most young doctors are digitally savvy, they represent a much smaller group than the physicians who were trained in an era when a face-to-face interaction with a patient was the only option.
  • Fee-for service reimbursement, still the dominant payment model in the U.S., is fundamentally at odds with a one-to-many model of care delivery.
  • Some doctors worry that virtual care will mean greater liability, even though most malpractice insurance carriers are telemedicine-friendly and the case law on virtual care is almost nil.
  • State physician-licensure laws in the U.S. create false geographic barriers that have impeded some forms of telemedicine. For example, some laws require that a physician be licensed in the state where his or her patient is located.
  • Many health insurers fear that telemedicine will lead to overutilization — such as a doctor looking at an image of a patient’s mole, submitting a bill for the virtual service, and then saying he needs to see the patient in person to be sure.
  • Frequent users of health care services are typically disproportionately less tech-savvy and place great value on their social interactions with their clinicians.
  • Privacy concerns about remotely delivering care persist.

Even if all of these obstacles are overcome, face-to-face care visits will not become obsolete, given the complexity of some patients’ clinical profiles and illnesses, especially when a doctor needs to arrive at an initial diagnosis. And some highly sensitive communications (such as news of a newly diagnosed cancer) are obviously best conveyed in person. But for health care interactions that are algorithmic in nature (think: blood pressure checks and acne follow-up visits) or that have a low emotional impact, virtual encounters can be ideal for both parties.

Pressure to lower costs also bodes well for innovation in telemedicine’s one-to-many model of care delivery. Early results suggest that new payment models that reward providers for higher quality and efficiency (including virtual care) are working.

I am excited about the possibility of automating certain care-delivery processes and using technology to enable patients to obtain better care. The advertising industry now has a model for collecting and analyzing consumers’ digital fingerprints so that ads can be personalized. In a somewhat similar vein, people can now have their walking steps counted, purchasing behavior tracked, and mood and other health indicators monitored to create a highly personalized messaging program that motivates them to improve their health.

If we do telemedicine right — with the direct and enthusiastic consent of the patient — I believe that most people will make the privacy tradeoffs. Realizing the potential of telemedicine will indeed require those tradeoffs if we want to improve the current system of health care delivery.

Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, is the vice president of Connected Health at Partners HealthCare, which will publish his forthcoming book The Internet of Healthy Things.

Reposted with permission from Harvard Business Review (

The Tower of Babel and Consumer Confusion

June 18, 2015

I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the recent AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) conference in Nashville. This is an annual gathering of health insurers and it was my first time attending. My experience there, and a few recent news items, got me thinking about about how health care is evolving and whether we once again will ignore Santayana’s admonition, “Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

As we continue our journey to change provider reimbursement to a “Pay for Value” system, the lines between health insurers and health care providers are blurring. Physician/hospital systems, like Partners HealthCare, where I work, are taking on risk for populations of patients through contracts with the Federal government and local payers. According to Secretary of Health & Human Services, Sylvia Burwell, this trend is going to continue. She stated recently that HHS set a goal of tying 85% of all traditional Medicare payments to quality or value by 2016 and 90% by 2018. Since the whole insurance industry is based on risk, we inevitably have to start thinking more like insurers if we’re going to be taking on risk.

So I cleared my calendar and attended as many content sessions as I could at the AHIP conference, in hopes that I’d soak up knowledge on how these companies approach their craft.

Sadly, I didn’t learn much. Not because I didn’t listen and not because the speakers were less than talented. I walked away feeling like I hadn’t learned anything because I felt I had gone to a foreign land and was listening to talks in a foreign tongue. I simply couldn’t decipher the health plan lingo.

This worries me because it’s time for these two sectors of the industry to collaborate more. If we can’t understand one another though, it will indeed feel like the Tower of Babel.

Tower of Babel


At the highest level, it seems like we should be natural collaborators, as we bring very complimentary skills to the shared goal of building a health care system. As providers, we excel at understanding physiology, pathophysiology diagnosis and therapy. In most cases, we have strong relationships with the end users of the services offered, our patients, which often includes a high degree of trust. When someone’s doctor recommends a course of action, most people at least take it seriously and many often follow that path.

Payers, on the other hand, have always been challenged connecting with their members (you see, we are all a member, a consumer and a patient – all in different contexts – an example of the babbling). Payers excel at understanding risk and setting premium costs, something we as providers have no feel for. But if we’re going to take on risk, we’ll have to learn. Can these former negotiating foes come together to help improve your health? The current landscape does not lead to enthusiasm.

I’ll use some telehealth implementations as examples. Several national payers are adopting virtual visits as a tool for their members. For me, this is a dream come true! BUT, most payers are doing so in collaboration with one of the major vendors in the space and creating shadow physician networks to offer the service to their MEMBERS. When that member’s primary care doctor eventually sees them in the office, she will be puzzled that her PATIENT had an encounter via their health plan that she did not know about.

Walgreens just rolled out a virtual visit program as well. This could create even more confusion, as it brings in a new entrant — the pharmacy — into the battleground for that relationship. Will EMR interoperability solve this confusion? It certainly helps, but I’m also concerned about mixed messaging to the consumer/patient/member. It seems like we’re all fighting for your attention, which may lead to conflicting messages.

This reminds me of a time, about 25 years ago, when this new thing called disease management sprung up. Payers were frustrated by the cost of managing patients (members) with chronic illness. They got no help from providers, so they took matters into their own hands, hiring call centers staffed with nurses to contact patients/members with tips on how to manage their illness, and often sent generic brochures about high blood pressure and other conditions. Payers may have influenced the care of some patients/members, but no one was ever able to prove that this was an effective strategy.

There were numerous stories about patients receiving conflicting advice from these ‘disease managers’ compared to their own doctor’s advice, leaving patients confused. Doctors would get faxes from these same disease management companies and (perhaps arrogantly) throw them in the waste basket without reading them. As a result, the disease management industry collapsed in the middle to latter half of the last decade.

In the meantime, we now have workplace wellness programs, virtual visits offered by your health plan, retail clinics, virtual visits offered by pharmacies and — dare we forget — advice your doctor gives you, which should be more in tune with prevention now that providers are taking on risk.

See what I mean by a Tower of Babel? How do we fix it?

Different Chronic Illnesses Demand Different Connected Health Strategies

May 18, 2015

In the seven or so years I’ve been blogging, I’ve only written a few posts that prompted controversy in the comments section. Looking back, I notice that these posts have involved chronic illness management, motivation, adherence and/or engagement. In fact, a commentator recently felt my writing was that of an old-fashioned doctor who believes that paternalistic messaging is key to engaging patients in an effort to improve their health. I’m paraphrasing but you can read the post and commentary here for more context. This spirit prompted me to reflect on my writing and intent. I believe sincerely that our work at Partners Connected Health is patient-centered in every way, so why the disconnect?

One possibility is that when I write about chronic illness, I am largely focusing on those conditions that are silent in nature (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity). We made a decision some years ago to build the case for connected health around the management of these illnesses because:

  1. They are costly. By some estimates these chronic diseases account for 70% of U.S. health care costs.
  2. They have a significant lifestyle component. This backdrop seems an ideal canvas for connected health interventions because they involve motivational psychology, self-tracking and engagement with health messages. These chronic illnesses pose a unique challenge in that the lifestyle choices that accelerate them are for the most part pleasurable (another piece of cheese cake? spending Sunday afternoon on the couch watching football, smoking more cigarettes and drinking more beer.) In contrast, the reward for healthy behavior is abstract and distant (a few more minutes of life sometime down the road or an avoided heart attack or stroke). This combination of lack of symptoms and the uphill battle around lifestyle improvement makes these illnesses uniquely challenging.
  3. They are mostly amenable to tracking some objective bit of information about you (e.g. your blood pressure, blood glucose or activity level) in order to make you more aware and, hopefully improve your lifestyle in order to improve your health.

20100811 - Wednesday, August 11, 2010, Fairhaven, MA, USA – LIGHTCHASER PHOTOGRAPHY – Images of a Mass General Hospital diabetes patient in his own home using an advanced home monitoring system for the Partners HealthCare Center for Connected Health's 2010 Progress Report, Forward Currents.   ( lightchaser photography 2010 © image by j. kiely jr. )

Focused on these illnesses and the attendant challenges, we developed programs for home blood pressure monitoring, home glucose monitoring and various activity challenges (nothing on cholesterol just yet). By iteration, trial and error, we’ve become comfortable with the psychology around these illnesses and how it affects both our ability to manage patients and the patient’s ability to improve these conditions.

Because these conditions are silent and because most people would rather not be reminded that they have an illness, we found that a strong engagement platform is needed to get people’s attention. We also found that we need to create tools that nudge people to adopt and sustain a healthy lifestyle rather than ignore our natural tendencies to ignore these silent conditions and engage in unhealthy behaviors.

Blood pressure Remote Monitoring_Kvedar_Partners Connected Health

Over the years, this has led me to make some (apparently) controversial statements, such as: “We can’t just give people what they want.” This bold statement was made in the context of this conundrum of the tendency to ignore silent illness and engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices. I was also putting this in the context of mobile app development, where people seem to conflate the success of apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat with the potential success of mobile health apps. Once a commentator called me out on this. I see how it appears arrogant taken out of that context. The challenge remains however, that with our libertarian culture in the U.S. and minimal individual accountability for either health care costs or preventative health, we need some sort of tools to get folks to engage in healthier lifestyle choices. It’s a societal imperative if we’re going to tackle these chronic illnesses that account for 70% of health care costs.

If we don’t intervene, I think we all agree that the incidence of diabetes and other chronic, expensive illnesses will bankrupt our country in the coming years.

Interestingly, many of the commentators who have challenged me on this language have been folks with chronic illnesses but of a different type – the type that are debilitating because of symptoms. Whether it be chronic migraine, fibromyalgia, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or any other debilitating illness, they pose a very different set of challenges:

  1. The associated symptoms make sufferers aware of their condition, all day every day. No tracking required at least as a tool to raise awareness.
  2. Lifestyle alterations usually have minimal effect on improving these illnesses.
  3. The individual’s motivation to get better is usually not in question.

With that context, it’s easy to conclude that these illnesses are quite different and that connected health tools to help address them require a different set of design principles.

I can also see where sufferers of this set of illnesses might have been offended at some of my comments in past blogs. For this misunderstanding, I apologize.Cancer_Pain_Management_Center_for_Connected_Health

But here’s the good news. Our research team recently built and tested, in collaboration with the palliative care group at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an app to help patients manage chronic pain associated with cancer. We are just crunching the numbers now, so I don’t have much concrete detail to share, but I can say that the study enrollees found it engaging and helpful and their need for interaction with their doctor’s staff went down precipitously.

We’re on our way to thinking about how to support folks with debilitating, symptomatic chronic illness. Here’s hoping we can help. As much of a challenge it is to steer folks with silent ‘killers’ to improved lifestyle choices, it may be a bigger challenge to help those with chronic symptomatic debilitating illnesses to feel better.

Pay Me or Charge Me? How Best to Engage Me?

April 24, 2015

A couple of years ago, my clinical practice (Dermatology Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital) began sending patients a bill when they did not show up for an appointment.  Dentists do this with some frequency, but it’s unusual for a physician practice to do it.  Our reasoning was that we have many folks who insist they need to be seen right away and, despite a large, busy practice (we see more than 1,000 patients each week), we still have a long wait time for appointments.  Our practice used to overbook slightly (like the airlines) and count on a few no-shows.  Every now and then, everyone would show up for their scheduled appointments and we’d have to deal with understandable patient frustration at the long wait times in the office.

Since implementing the ‘bill for no-show’ policy, our no-show rate has decreased.  This is an illustration of the well-studied psychological concept that if you give something away it has no value.  People, it seems, were routinely making appointments with dermatologists all over town and taking the one where they got in quickest, not bothering to cancel the rest. Since we began informing patients of the consequence of not showing up, we’ve had more engagement around keeping appointments versus canceling.

In contrast, there is a famous project from the city of Ashville, NC, where a large, self-insured employer made history by implementing a system that waived co-pays for medications for certain chronic diseases. The poster child for success was type II diabetes.  So, it seems we have a case here of giving something for free and improving engagement.

Finally there are a few studies (among them research done at Partners Connected Health) showing that compensating patients with a small financial incentive can improve adherence.

All this makes my head spin.  The conventional wisdom seems to vary from asking people to pay to keep them engaged (‘skin in the game’), to giving something away to remove a barrier, to paying people for achieving a behavioral goal…. Is one of these based on better evidence than the rest?

Calendar: Medical Exam Reminder/ Doctor Appointment

Maybe there are other variables.  In the first example, the patient was motivated enough to call an office to make an appointment.  Presumably there was some anxiety or physical symptom of concern.  In this case, the patient already has skin in the game in that she wants to get a question answered or a problem solved.  This is important, especially as we deal with chronic illness. So much of early stage chronic illness is asymptomatic. In fact, the habits that lead to chronic illness (smoking, excess calorie intake, etc.) all have reward systems of their own.   When you are already motivated to achieve an outcome, we can probably expect that you would be willing to make a financial commitment as well (copay, missed appointment fee, etc.).

cHealth Blog_Kvedar_copay

The Asheville project was multifaceted and the biggest part of that intervention featured high-touch pharmacist involvement with patients. Maybe we could say that, in the case where you have a recurring, engaging interaction with a provider, the idea of waiving co-pays makes sense.  Our research shows that interaction with a care provider is a powerful stimulus to improve adherence. In that context, it may make sense to give medication away because the pharmacist is ever-present to remind the patient to take it.   In this case, the waived co-pay may indeed be perceived as a gift and a motivator rather than a communication that the medication has no value.

cHealth Blog_Kvedar_reward

The last example is most vexing to me.  I believe the preponderance of behavioral research shows that financial incentives are weak long-term motivators.  They get your attention early on, but over time they become expected and if taken away can have a significant negative ‘boomerang’ effect.

All of these are important to think through.  As health care providers take on risk for population health, we’re actively considering these matters.

One of the earliest forms of physician payments for achieving desired financial or clinical outcomes is ‘pay for performance.’  In this setting, the physician receives a bonus payment if you reach certain quality or efficiency targets.  Some of my more savvy colleagues have asked, wryly, over the years, “Why don’t we have pay for performance for our patients?”  What they are pointing out, of course, is the irony of being held accountable for health outcomes — many lifestyle related — for a population of individuals where you have no control over their lifestyle.

As we move in the direction of taking more risk, we are seriously considering how to incentivize patients to adhere to their care plans. This is a topic area where I have some instincts, but confess to not having the evidence to make a case for any of these tactics:

Charge patients to insure skin in the game?

Give them medicine and services for free?

Pay them to be adherent?

I’ll bet many of you know the obvious answer. Let us know.

Patient Engagement: Overused Sound Bite or Transformative Opportunity?

March 31, 2015

Criteria for Stage 3 of meaningful use of EHRs were released recently and there is lots of controversy, as would have been predicted. One set of recommendations that is raising eyebrows is around patient engagement.

The recommendations include three measures of engagement, and providers would have to report on all three of them, but successfully meet thresholds on two.

  1. Following on the Stage 2 measure of getting patients to view, download, and transmit their personal health data, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) has proposed an increase from five to 25 percent.
  2. The second measure requires that more than 35 percent of all patients seen by the provider or discharged from the hospital receive a secure message using the electronic health record’s (EHR) electronic messaging function or in response to a secure message sent by the patient (or the patient’s authorized representative).
  3. The third measure calls for more than 15 percent of patients to contribute patient-generated health data or data from a non-clinical setting, to the EHR.

This is all a mouthful, and it’s striking and a bit misguided from two perspectives. First, this requires health care providers to present material to or interact with patients electronically in the name of patient engagement. But it is really mostly about shoveling uninspiring material at our patients that is redolent of highly technical jargon with minimal context, with the belief that it is somehow good for patients to be engaged in this way. The intent is admirable, but the execution flawed. In addition, it is not surprising that many providers have had challenges meeting the Stage 2 requirement that five percent of patients download their medical records. It seems akin to saying that this week’s book club selection is the text for advanced graduate study of quantum mechanics — and then wondering why no one shows up for the meeting.

Some define engagement in terms of how many times consumers or patients interact with informational websites or portals. Both insurers and providers do this. Once again, there is puzzlement over why consumers would choose to spend more time on sites such as BuzzFeed, Facebook and Yahoo, rather than intently study their health benefits or review their lab tests.

At Partners HealthCare Connected Health, our first generation interest in engagement came when we saw, reproducibly, that people who interact with connected health programs have consistently better health outcomes.

cHealth Blog_patient engagement_mobilePartners HealthCare Center for Connected Health's 2010 Progress Report, Forward Currents

This brings up two salient points: The first is how finely we can measure engagement using connected health. If it’s a glucose monitoring program, the system knows how often you measure your glucose, how often you upload your data, how often you interact with the website and how long you are there each time. If it’s one of our mobile apps, we know whether you respond to messages, open the app, which screens you visit, etc. Each time we’ve studied it, we have shown that the more people engage, the better their health outcomes. This is a pretty good argument for the power of engagement.

The second point is how we can segment people according to their level of engagement and then offer them different solutions. Not everyone likes a stern coaching voice. Some people respond to a monetary incentive, some a competition, etc. If you are not engaging with what we offer you, we can sense it and should offer you something else.

Which leads me to some recent, exciting news. I’ve written before about our site Wellocracy, which is designed to educate consumers about the value of self tracking.

cHealth Blog_patient engagement_Wellocracy

Based on our research related to engagement noted above, we know that if we can hook you on self tracking, your health will improve. Wellocracy was our entry to helping consumers understand and embrace self tracking, and it has been successful. We even have a quiz that helps identify personality types and then offers consumers advice on matching trackers and apps to their individual goals and motivational characteristics.

But what if we could get to know you more and more each time you came to the Wellocracy website. Our vision is that when you come back you’ll feel like you’re visiting with an old friend that can anticipate your wishes, mood and preferences.

This is what we proposed to our friends at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and I’m pleased to say they saw eye to eye with us, funding our vision to build an “engagement engine” to support the sustained use of health and activity trackers to help improve health outcomes. This engagement engine will leverage machine learning and other big data analytic tools to convert insights from users into targeted feedback. We’ll develop and test an algorithm, and then test it in a clinical study.

Of course, there are models out there for this. Netflix recommends TV shows and movies for you. Amazon recommends books. Google populates the side panels of your browser with ads it feels are relevant to your interests based on your search habits.

Our engagement engine will work something like that, but it will have to be much more sophisticated. If Google presents an ad I don’t like, I can ignore it. Likewise, when Netflix recommends the Kardashians because that’s what my daughter watches on my account, I can laugh it off. But if we’re going to get to know you well enough to recommend health behaviors or health-related strategies, we can’t get it wrong. If we’re off one time, that could be offensive and you’d never come back.

We’re optimistic that we can employ the latest techniques in “deep learning” to learn enough about you so that we’ll be able to message you in such a personal, relevant way you’ll feel excited to engage with us.

And we know that improved health outcomes correlate with engagement.

How does this all benefit Partners HealthCare? We are a provider organization that is taking on more and more insurance risk. The way we will win in today’s performance-based reimbursement environment is to more efficiently deploy our human resources over larger and larger populations of patients while maintaining the highest levels of patient care. That can’t be accomplished by one-on-one, face-to-face interactions. We have to employ technology to create effective, meaningful, one-to-many relationships. That is our mission at Partners Connected Health.

As an industry, we have to do better than measuring successful engagement based on whether a patient downloads a copy of their medical record. Our engagement engine represents a fundamental building block to get us there.

More Sign Posts on the Road To Connected Health Adoption

March 23, 2015

Just three weeks ago, I wrote about sign posts on the road to connected health adoption. That post was meant to help readers appreciate the subtleties of a changing environment. A turn of phrase by a senior executive or thought leader can easily be missed if you’re not listening carefully. In this case, a senior executive I work with signaled a change in thinking from ‘healthy skeptic’ to ‘fear of missing out (FOMO)’, by making the statement, “We know [connected health] is going to be a big part of care delivery so we had better start our plans to scale it.”

The healthy skeptic demands data incessantly, to the point where you suspect the ‘more data’ requests are really a polite way to say no. When convincing the healthy skeptic, you bring reams of data. You build logical arguments. When approaching the FOMO attitude, it’s more about enabling experience, assuming that the concept is valid and that eventually we’ll get the economics right. Let’s plan more pilots. Let’s learn by doing.

This is such a liberating signal for any innovator — and I’ve been hearing it a lot lately. I got this same signal from a homecare executive recently. In another example, the CEO of a company I advise intimated to me that his potential customers are no longer asking for clinical proof points as part of their due diligence on his product.

As William Gibson said, “The future is here, but it’s not evenly distributed.” As a bit of a reality check, I also received an email from a colleague who oversees innovation at one of the larger health plans. His query to me: “How do you get doctors to adopt remote patient monitoring?” and adding, “We’re not making much progress with this.”

I in no way mean to declare victory and announced my retirement, but this change in the conversation is worth paying attention to.

What might be driving this change? Many factors, I’m sure.

More signposts_Mobile Tech_Kvedar

There is the ubiquity of mobile technology in general. When all decision makers see the power of the tool in their hand every day (not to mention the addictive nature of the technology), it is much harder to be skeptical.

More signposts_Payment Models_Kvedar

There has also been a lot in the news lately about both connected health and new payment models, the latter being a driver for adoption of the former.

The Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) is on record saying that by 2018, 50% of Medicare payments would be risk-based. Just a few weeks later, she announced a new ACO model that will become available in 2016. The details are sparse, but notably, there will be the opportunity to take more risk, but reap more reward. Also, there will be more opportunities to encourage the use of telehealth. Health leaders know that 2018 is not far away, so we had better get planning now!

The other announcement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) that will drive telehealth adoption was the new chronic care management code that came out in January 2015. This code allows physicians to bill for 20 minutes per month of non-face-to-face time spent on chronic care management. This is an ideal set up for encouraging population health and remote patient monitoring.

More signposts_Wearables_Kvedar

Yet another recent announcement contributing to FOMO was last week’s flurry of activity from Apple. By now, most folks believe that the Apple Watch will probably not have immediate ‘care of illness’ implications, as it seems more targeted to fitness and health. However, wearables is now a hot concept. This paves the way for thinking around monitoring of vital signs in the home, as well as mobile communication with patients.

More signposts_ResearchKit_Kvedar

And then there is the highly touted Apple ResearchKit. I’m not sure how this will shake out. My colleague Kamal Jethwani astutely noted that the lack of rigor around which individuals can sign up for which studies may significantly add to the burden of data analysis. Another bright commentator noted that patient self-reported data is subject to all kinds of bias. So it’s too early to tell.

But, think for a minute like an executive. You have information coming at you in an avalanche. You are used to reading headlines and instinctively sensing trends. If you read the headlines about ResearchKit (not to mention the brand-name institutions that have already signed on to use it) and didn’t think too hard about it, you’d have to conclude, “This is a big deal. We’d better get on the stick.” Next thing you know, that organization is scrambling to quickly develop a strategy for mobile health and patient engagement.

Suddenly, we are buzzing past all of that skepticism and the endless requests for data, and instead are focusing on how we’d better get moving – faster.

Perhaps these recent events are more than sign posts, but are putting us on the fast track on the road to adoption!


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