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Top Ten Tech Trends 2018: A Social Determinants of Health Technology Market is Slowly Emerging

September 4, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Editor’s Note: Throughout the next week, in our annual Top Ten Tech Trends package, we will share with you, our readers, stories on how we gauge the U.S. healthcare system’s forward evolution into the future.

"Social determinants of health” may be the latest popular buzz term in healthcare, yet there are leading hospitals, medical groups, and health systems, as well as accountable care organizations (ACOs) and health insurers, moving forward with efforts to identify the upstream factors that influence patients’ health. In fact, according to a recent survey by Change Healthcare and the HealthCare Executive Group (HCEG), more than 80 percent of payers are integrating social determinants of health into their member programs.

“There are a million examples every day about the importance of social determinants of health,” says Robert Fields, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer for population health at the New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System. “If you’re seeing a patient with diabetes, you can write a thousand prescriptions for insulin, but if they don’t have stable housing or electricity in their house, or if they have transportation issues, it’s unlikely they will be able to fill the insulin prescription, store it appropriately, or administer it appropriately.”

Healthcare leaders engaged in these efforts have found that technology is foundational to this work in the collection of social determinants data as well as for data exchange across the care continuum, workflow integration and analytics to risk stratify the highest-need individuals. From a technology solutions perspective, this remains a nascent field, many industry leaders say, and many organizations are taking a homegrown approach using their electronic health record (EHR) systems and bolt-on applications to collect and use social determinants data in various pilot projects.

“The vendors are trying to do more, but they have been slow,” Fields says. “For most organizations, they are having to piecemeal it; some of it is homegrown, but then there is actually a booming industry of vendors that fall into different categories.” At Mount Sinai, Fields is involved in efforts to address social determinants for the 400,000 covered lives in the health system’s ACO, Mount Sinai Health Partners. Previously, he had led similar efforts at Asheville, North Carolina-based Mission Health Partners, a Medicare ACO affiliated with the Mission Health healthcare system.

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According to Fields, the technology solutions that are most beneficial for social determinants of health work include predictive analytics, network registries of community-based organizations, and referral platforms as part of care management solutions.

According to a report from Patchwise Labs, one particular area where vendors are playing an integral role is the technical work to enable bi-directional integrations between platforms and native EHR systems, which is critical to make otherwise siloed clinical data available to community organizations. These platforms also help to incorporate non-clinical components of patient care plans and social needs into a centralized clinical record and enable healthcare leaders to begin leveraging non-clinical data and metadata for advanced analytics work.

Healthcare organizations that are moving forward in this area are leveraging technology platforms such as NowPow, which connects both sides of the referral process—providers and community organizations—to more efficiently connect patients to social services, as well as Aunt Bertha, a social services search tool that can be used by healthcare providers and social workers. The Aunt Bertha platform is now integrated into Epic’s App Orchard via FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources). Another vendor in this space is San Antonio, Texas-based TavHealth, which offers a cloud-based collaboration platform to connect healthcare providers, payers and community organizations.

There are also care coordination solutions, such as Eccovia Solutions, that help to bridge the gap between primary care and community services by sharing patient information. Eccovia, based in Salt Lake City, focuses on “whole person care” by incorporating social determinants data and is used by state Medicaid agencies, ACOs and Medicaid Waiver programs. Some hospitals and health plans also leverage Pieces Technologies’ case management platform that aggregates patients’ clinical and social history.

Looking at the social determinants of health technology solutions market, Bradley Hunter, research director at Orem, Utah-based KLAS Research, says population health vendors are working to add social determinants functionalities as well. “Most vendors have providers who are talking about including social determinants of health in their data set, and that goes from the EHR vendors, the Epics, Cerners and athenahealths of the world, to the best-of-breed vendors, such as Arcadia and Health Catalyst. There’s definitely a lot of interest in it, but I don’t hear a lot about it in practice. As far as organizations actually bringing in all that data right now, I think it’s very sparse at this point.”

Bradley Hunter

Currently, few healthcare organizations are investing in social determinants of health technology, according to a recent Patchwise Labs report. Market adoption of commercial tools for screening and referrals is currently under 4 percent, representing an estimated investment of $88 to $92 million.

However, as the shift to value-based care requires health systems to address the factors impacting health outcomes, this technology market is expected to grow quickly, with adoption of social innovation technology for healthcare poised to triple over the next five years, according to the report.

By 2023, 12 to 15 percent of health systems and managed care organizations (MCOs) will have invested in these tools, the report states. Adoption is expected to triple in five years’ time, driven by a growing business case for standardization around data capture, communication, and analytics, as well as key policy and market trends specific to social determinants of health, says Naveen Rao, founder and managing partner of Patchwise Labs.

Providers Making Early Progress with SDoH Screening Tools

Many leading health systems and hospitals are pushing forward with efforts with a focus on either building or investing in tools for social needs screening and referrals. Screening tools are often the first step to help identify social needs such as food insecurity, housing, transportation, education, exposure to crime, literacy, socioeconomic conditions, social support and access to medical services.

One of the many challenges, however, is that there are no standardized tools for collecting social determinants data and each organization has its own unique approach.

The Boston-based Partners Healthcare is one organization on the forefront of these efforts. As a participant in the Mass Health (Medicaid) ACO, Partners Healthcare is required to screen Medicaid ACO patients for social determinants factors and has integrated that process into its primary care practices. Once patients complete the questionnaires, the data is uploaded into the patient’s medical record and positive screens are flagged for the physician, who can then put in a referral to the appropriate community resource specialist or community health worker, Rose Kakoza, M.D., assistant medical director for Medicaid for the Center of Population Health at Partners Healthcare, explains.

Rose Kakoza, M.D.

“As far as IT, there was a lot of work to build this platform in Epic, and, for patients that screen positive, we’re able to link the positive screens with codes in Epic for that encounter. We partnered with Epic to figure out how to map the screening results to the appropriate ICD-10 codes,” she says. “This IT platform is allowing us to set up the infrastructure that we need to better capture what the needs are and the complexity of the needs and then better resource our practices to best meet those needs on the ground.”

At the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center in Little Rock, clinicians in primary care offices and clinics are prompted by their EHR to ask patients questions about their personal life regarding their housing situation, eating habits and social isolation. Stephen Mette, M.D., the medical center’s chief clinical officer, says clinical and IT leaders began an effort about two years ago to embed these questions in the EHR. “We are now rolling this out to all providers, including the specialists,” Mette says.

The Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System has taken an innovative approach with an IT- and data analytics-driven Fresh Food Farmacy initiative to address food insecurity and to improve patients’ diabetes management. The program leverages the health system’s EHR functionalities and data analytics dashboards to track patients’ progress. Project leaders have seen significant improvements in clinical outcomes for patients enrolled in the Food Farmacy program, to date.

Mount Sinai Health Partners has partnered with Lumeris, a St. Louis-based health plan and managed services vendor, to use its analytics platform to identify patients’ social needs and then risk stratify patients.

“Lumeris leverages publicly available data, such as census data, and also purchases social determinants data, like credit agency data, and then combines that with claims data, and the platform takes tens of thousands of factors and runs it through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to come up with predictive modeling” for patients at risk of hospital admission, Fields says.

Many healthcare leaders say better data and more robust local partnerships will enable scalability and accountability in social determinants of health programs. Moving forward, providers also will need robust technology solutions that focus on workflow integration, bi-directional data exchange and analytics, as well as tools that can help digitally close the loop on community resource referrals.


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VCU Health Motto: ‘In God We Trust; Everyone Else Must Bring Data’

October 19, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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CMIO Colin Banas, M.D., talks about winning 2018 HIMSS Davies Enterprise Award

VCU Health System in Virginia was recently named a 2018 HIMSS Davies Enterprise Award recipient for leveraging health IT to improve outcomes. Colin Banas, M.D., the health system’s chief medical information officer, said the organization prides itself on using data to improve patient outcomes. “I am reminded of a quote from one of our senior leaders,” he said. “She even puts it at the bottom of her meeting minutes. It says, ‘In God we trust. Everyone else must bring data.’”

HIMSS cited three use cases that demonstrate VCU Health’s commitment to using data and technology to improve outcomes. The first is an Enhanced Recovery after Surgery (ERAS) protocol that improved colorectal surgery outcomes.

As VCU redesigns processes such as this, technology is always one of the last steps.   “When you sit in on these meetings, they are not going to talk about tech solutions for the first two months,” Banas said. “We stress the mantra of people, process and then technology. In a 7-stage flow chart, you don’t see technology until stage six and seven.” Once a team is identified and a standard of care is spelled out, then they turn back to IT and figure out how to hard-wire the changes into the electronic health record.

Because the VCU mascot is a ram, Banas said, the “ninja swat team” that works on process improvement projects is called the RAM Care team. RAM stands for reliable, appropriate and measurable. “We try to remind people that the RAM Care team is not just implementing order sets,” he said. There are five stages of people and processes first and then technology, including decision support and dashboards. “The way to drive variation out of a lot of these care processes is to be data-driven and consensus-driven,” he said. “That is what RAM Care really does – it is all about reducing variation.”

The other efforts HIMSS highlighted involved new tools that streamlined the patient discharge process and automated documentation tools that reduced catheter-associated urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Banas says it is an exciting time to be a CMIO. “We are getting out of the doldrums of regulatory reform and meaningful use, and ICD-10 sucking up all the oxygen, and we are starting to get better tools and better interoperability platforms to start doing innovative things,” he said.  He pointed to SMART on FHIR and open APIs as allowing users to do new things.

VCU Health is a client of Cerner, which has an Ignite API engine. “We have one SMART on FHIR app, Visual DX, and we have just signed the paper to allow the Apple health record beta for VCU Health, so our patients will be able to link their portal data to the native Apple experience,” he said. Cerner is creating its own app store. “Some are free and others have a cost, but it is exciting,” Banas said. “A lot of these people are solving things that have really bugged us and Cerner for quite some time, and they have done it way better. Kudos to Cerner for opening up and allowing other people in this space. They openly acknowledge that some of the things people are developing are in direct competition to core functionality they try to sell to their clients. Competition is good.”

 

 


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How a Data-Driven Approach Can Bolster the Fight Against Opioid Abuse

October 12, 2018
by Steve Bennett, Ph.D., Industry Voice
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I want to tell you about Andy. Andy’s mom, Pam, is a colleague of mine. Growing up an only child, Andy was a happy kid. He was a straight-A student, loved to play the violin, and spent a year as an exchange student in Europe. Andy had two loving parents. But Andy suffered an injury in college, and needed to have some minor surgery performed to repair his sinuses. Following that surgery, his doctor prescribed opioid pain medication for him, to which he became addicted. Despite several years of effort, Andy was unable to shake the addiction, and tragically lost his life to a heroin overdose two years after his surgery. This was a normal kid with a normal family, like mine, and like yours.

Andy’s story is an important story. The opioid epidemic has led to the deadliest drug overdose crisis in the history of the United States, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016 alone – the last year numbers were available. This is a true national epidemic, and one that continues to get worse. For the first time in nearly 60 years, life expectancy for Americans has dropped for two years in a row due to the opioid epidemic.

The opioid crisis has been so difficult to curtail, in part, because of the inability to integrate data from various stakeholders and systems. With so many players and data sources, today’s information is partial, fragmented, and often not actionable.

While this disconnect applies directly to the opioid epidemic it is a systematic problem that affects the healthcare community at large. Better data and analytics can help develop better treatment protocols for a wide array of medical and public health challenges that affect the general public. For opioids, that could be to develop better pain management programs or for better, more-targeted remediation and rehabilitation for those that become dependent on drugs.

A Data-Driven Healthcare Approach: Making Information Real

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Ample data has been collected on the opioid epidemic, but disparate sources are not communicating with one another. Addressing this disconnect and lack of communication is something that can provide researchers, lawmakers and the public with improved insights.

Data-driven healthcare can help provide this guidance by using available data and analytics to help create programs that can make a tangible difference on population areas that need the most help. By looking at the data, lawmakers, hospital administrators and doctors can begin to make impactful changes throughout the system.

While much can be learned from this data, most of it is not being analyzed in a way that brings true benefits. It has been put in a silo and/or it is not organized in a way that is interoperable with other data systems.

The 21st Century Cures Act, which established the Health Information Technology Advisory Committee, shows the commitment of national leaders to improving healthcare information sharing. Analytics can take this data and turn it into something real. Subsequent visualization of this analyzed data presents the information in a way that can truly tell a story, making sense of data that analysts sometimes miss. Analytics can arrange and organize data in different ways and pick up previously undetected trends or anomalies. This information can be turned into real programs that produce real outcomes for those affected.

The data management and integration process can also help us understand where our knowledge gaps are, revealing flaws in data quality and availability. Organizations may learn that they lack sufficient data in a certain area where they want to learn more, but are currently limited. They can then make changes to data collection efforts or seek out different sources to fill these larger gaps. They can resolve data quality issues across systems and arrive at a consistent, reliable version of the truth.

As organizations get better at assembling and managing the data, automating processes to generate standard reports and file exchanges can ease the burden on analysts. Streamlining the user interfaces for prescription drug monitoring programs and other systems allows analysts and medical informatics staff to spend less time working on the data itself and more time enabling and encouraging the use of predictive modeling and “what-if” scenario capabilities.

Helping to Solve a Problem

The national opioid epidemic is a terrible and complex issue. It is not something that can be solved with just one action, approach or program. It is a layered issue that will require systematic changes to how patients are treated and how the healthcare system operates. Some of the nation’s best continue to work on providing operational solutions to these problems, but as the statistics show, they need more help.

A data-driven approach can be that help. Using data analytics to find better and deeper insights into the root problems of this epidemic can help decision-makers make real change. While opioids are the focus now, there will come a day when a new problem emerges. Having data and analytic solutions in place can prepare these organizations to tackle these future challenges as well.

64,000 people died in 2016 as a result of opioid abuse. But 64,000 is more than a large number – it’s also Andy and his family. With analytics and a data-driven approach, government and healthcare leaders can make better decisions that can help people in need.

Steve Bennett, Ph.D., is the director of SAS' global government practice. He is the former director of the National Biosurveillance Integration Center within the Department of Homeland Security


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DOJ Approves CVS-Aetna $69B Merger, On Condition Aetna Divest Part D Business

October 10, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) has approved a $69 billion merger between mega-pharmacy retailer CVS Health and health insurer Aetna, after Aetna entered into an agreement with the DOJ to divest is Medicare Part D prescription drug plan business.

According to a statement released by the DOJ on Wednesday, the settlement, in which Aetna will sell off its Part D business, was a condition of the merger’s approval and resolves the DOJ’s “competition concerns.”

The deal is the latest in a wave of combinations among healthcare companies, including many pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and insurer integrations. Last month, the Justice Department approved Cigna’s $67 billion takeover of Express Scripts.

CVS Health announced in early December 2017 its intention to acquire Aetna in a $69 billion-dollar merger, marking the largest ever in the health insurance industry. Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS operates the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chain, owns a large pharmacy benefit manager called Caremark, and is the nation’s second-largest provider of individual prescription drug plans, with approximately 4.8 million members. CVS earned revenues of approximately $185 billion in 2017. Aetna, headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, is the nation’s third-largest health-insurance company and fourth-largest individual prescription drug plan insurer, with over two million prescription drug plan members. Aetna earned revenues of approximately $60 billion in 2017.

Following news of the deal back in December, there was speculation that antitrust regulators might not approve the deal. Back in January 2017, a federal judge blocked a merger that would have resulted in Aetna acquiring Louisville, Ky.-based insurer Humana, which at the time was the largest acquisition of its type in the history of health insurance in the U.S., reported at $37 billion. At the time, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington said that proposed deal would “violate antitrust laws by reducing competition among insurers.” Similarly, a proposed combination of two other health insurers, Anthem and Cigna, was also shot down last year.

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According to the DOJ’s statement issued today on the CVS-Aetna deal, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division had significant concerns about the anticompetitive effects of the merger with regards to the Medicare Part D businesses. CVS and Aetna are significant competitors in the sale of Medicare Part D prescription drug plans to individuals, together serving 6.8 million members nationwide, according to the DOJ.

In a press release issued today, CVS Health said, “DOJ clearance is a key milestone toward finalizing the transaction, which is also subject to state regulatory approvals, many of which have been granted.” CVS Health's acquisition of Aetna remains on track to close in the early part of Q4 2018, the company said.

“DOJ clearance is an important step toward bringing together the strengths and capabilities of our two companies to improve the consumer health care experience,” CVS Health president and CEO Larry J. Merlo, said in a statement. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the DOJ that maintains the strategic benefits and value creation potential of our combination with Aetna. We are now working to complete the remaining state reviews.”

Merlo also said, “CVS Health and Aetna have the opportunity to combine capabilities in technology, data and analytics to develop new ways to engage patients in their total health and wellness. Our focus will be at the local and community level, taking advantage of our thousands of locations and touchpoints throughout the country to intervene with consumers to help predict and prevent potential health problems before they occur. Together, we will help address the challenges our health care system is facing, and we'll be able to offer better care and convenience at a lower cost for patients and payors.”

Following the close of the transaction, Aetna will operate as a standalone business within the CVS Health enterprise and will be led by members of its current management team.

The American Medical Association (AMA), an industry group that has been opposed to the merger, issued a statement saying the agreement that Aetna divest its Part D business doesn't go far enough to protect patients.

"While the AMA welcomes the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requiring Aetna to divest its Medicare Part D drug plan business, we are disappointed that the DOJ did not go further by blocking the CVS-Aetna merger," Barbara L. McAneny, M.D., president, American Medical Association, said in a statement. "The AMA worked tirelessly to oppose this merger and presented a wealth of expert empirical evidence to convince regulators that the merger would harm patients. We now urge the DOJ and state antitrust enforcers to monitor the post-merger effects of the Aetna acquisition by CVS Health on highly concentrated markets in pharmaceutical benefit management services, health insurance, retail pharmacy, and specialty pharmacy."

Agreement with DOJ Resolves “Competition Concerns”

Late last month, Aetna agreed to sell its Part D business to WellCare. According to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing from WellCare Health Plans last month, WellCare entered into an asset purchase agreement with Aetna to acquire the company’s entire standalone Medicare Part D prescription drug plan business, which has 2.2 million members. According to the agreement, Aetna will provide administrative services to and retain the financial risk of the Part D business through 2019. In that filing, it states that Aetna is divesting its Part D business as part of CVS Health’s proposed acquisition of Aetna.

“Today’s settlement resolves competition concerns posed by this transaction and preserves competition in the sale of Medicare Part D prescription drug plans for individuals,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement. “The divestitures required here allow for the creation of an integrated pharmacy and health benefits company that has the potential to generate benefits by improving the quality and lowering the costs of the healthcare services that American consumers can obtain.”

In its statement, the DOJ referred to WellCare as “an experienced health insurer focused on government-sponsored health plans, including Medicare Part D individual prescription drug plans.”

The Department’s Antitrust Division, along with the offices of five state attorneys general, today filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to enjoin the proposed transaction, along with a proposed settlement that, if approved by the court, would fully resolve the Department’s competitive concerns. The participating state attorneys general offices represent California, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Washington.

In a complaint filed to the U.S. District Court, DOJ attorneys argued that without the divestiture, the combination of CVS, which markets its Medicare Part D individual prescription drug plans under the “SilverScript” brand, and Aetna would cause “anticompetitive effects, including increased prices, inferior customer service, and decreased innovation in sixteen Medicare Part D regions covering twenty-two states.” DOJ attorneys also argued that the loss of competition between CVS and Aetna would result in “lower-quality services and increased costs for consumers, the federal government, and ultimately, taxpayers.”

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Aetna must divest its individual prescription drug plan business to WellCare and allow WellCare the opportunity to hire key employees who currently operate the business.  Aetna must also assist WellCare in operating the business during the transition and in transferring the affected customers through a process regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

 


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