The Key to Clinical and Financial Success? Atrius Health President Gives Out His Recipe | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Key to Clinical and Financial Success? Atrius Health President Gives Out His Recipe

November 8, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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“We have a different history, based on our DNA,” says the organization’s president and CEO

Atrius Health, the Newton, Mass.-based health system that has long been a pioneer in the value-based care movement, recently reported a strong financial performance for 2017, as it finished the year with a $24.4 million operating surplus—representing a turnaround of approximately $56 million from 2016.

Officials noted that a critical success factor for the health system, inclusive of more than 30 clinical locations in the state, was innovating in an array of different ways, including: increasing the use of predictive analytics to support population health management, moving care to lower acuity sites (ambulatory, home, and virtual), and working to improve access to care for high-risk behavioral health patients.

The patient care organization’s president and CEO, Steven Strongwater, M.D., recently discussed with Healthcare Informatics some of these initiatives, as well as other factors that have led to Atrius Health’s strong clinical and financial performances of late. Below are excerpts from that interview.

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Looking at the revenue success Atrius has been able to achieve recently, what are some of the primary factors you would give credit to?

We have managed our expenses pretty aggressively, and there are three [sub]-areas within that: in the first category we have managed our operational costs aggressively; in the second bucket, we have managed our medical expense trends aggressively; and then targeted growth is the third bucket. And the underpinning of managing our expenses has been in the analytics space.

For example, we historically might review every one of our patients [via] a case manager. We [now] can develop analytical algorithms that would mainly identify our sickest patients, so rather than have to review everyone, we could review the top 1 percent, or 5 percent, of our sickest patients. And then we have interventions and plans, which helps us with medical expense management. We could then re-engineer the case management department, because we wouldn’t need as many nurse case managers since we would be doing less work. So the management of the medical expenses and our operating costs have to a large extent been built on the back of using analytics. 

The transition to value-based care has been difficult for all health systems, but Atrius has certainly been at the forefront of some key initiatives, such as your ACO (accountable care organization) models. What have been the core experiences and takeaways for you, in this shift to value?

We have a little bit of a different history [than most], based on our DNA. We started as a staff model HMO, so we have been doing population health before it was described as population health. We have organized all of our care and systems around individual patients, and then populations of patients, meaning we have developed disease registries, and identified those people who sit in the high-risk categories—either the top 1 percent, 5 percent, or the rising risk categories. Then have planned tailored interventions, including trying to manage and prevent [disease] for the general population. We have built most of this work around our Epic EHR [electronic health record], so there are a series of tools—be it order sets or reminders—that complements the analytics. And we have built the analytics into the EHR so it’s now analytics that are much more actionable.

One example is something we have built for an adult population, a model called CRISPI, our clinical risk predictor, which is based on about 60 variables [to predict a patient’s risk of hospitalization]. If you are a CRISPI patient and you call in, there is a purple flag across the top of the record, and anyone who sees the purple flag is told to [tell the patient to come right in], or if you are over 65-years-old, we send someone to your home if you feel that you can’t come in.

That action has helped us reduce our ED utilization to the lowest in the state. We have built a comparable CRISPI model for pediatrics, called “CRISPI Junior,” and that has allowed us to deploy a pediatric care facilitator to help us manage down our costs and improve patient outcomes.

The lessons learned are that you need: an EHR; a data repository that you can use to do analytics on; and the algorithms to layer in that will then feather back into the workflow, so at the point of care you can manage patients, and/or you can triage the work to case managers, population health managers, and healthcare facilitators.

We also have a large visiting nurse association, called VNA Care, and we coordinate with them. We register our sickest patients, our CRISPI patients, in something called the Care in Place program—a nursing outreach program, so in the event someone gets sick, we deploy a nurse or nurse practitioner to his or her home. That has helped tremendously in reducing ED visits. So we identify those CRISPI patients, get them registered in these programs, and then try to manage down total medical expenses by changing the way we provide care and also the location of care.

We have set up a hospitalization-at-home program as well, called Medically Home, in which we have essentially set up a hospital by virtue of putting a patch on a patient capable of doing the biometrics, and then [installing] an iPad and a phone with direct access to mission control. The idea here is to basically manage patients in their homes, with our VNA Care [providers] caring for these patients.

From an innovation standpoint, what other health IT products or services have been most important and beneficial for your organization?

Working with Johns Hopkins, we have identified indicators of frailty from free-text clinical notes. So this is for people at risk for falls, isolation, and things of that sort. We have also been using NLP [natural language processing] to find and then close care gaps, so if you have an underlying clinical condition such as heart failure, it is best practice to do a certain number of things and be on certain medications. We have used NLP to identify patients who are not getting those medications or treatments, and then we can intervene.

We have also been working with IBM Watson to develop a new product, which allows for reduced foraging in the medical record. It works by compiling a lot of clinical content for a given condition into a single screen, and then it allows you to compare to a similar cohort of patients, like your patient, to then enable you to pick the best treatment option—principally, which medications work best and the like.

NLP is exceedingly important and will be going forward. We have been using NLP to try to reduce unnecessary messages in the inbox, as we are looking to reduce physician burnout. A lot of burnout is due to piling on work through the EHR, so we have focused on the inbox in particular to reduce those unnecessary messages.

Another thing in pilot mode is that we are working with healthfinch to do automated medication refills. To a large extent, that will use a bot inside the EHR to do the things that would otherwise be done manually—checking for labs, for drug interactions, for the occurrence of your last visits, and making sure your dosages are correct, for example—and then making it possible in one review to click “refill” once the patient gives you the pharmacy to send it to. And that will reduce inbox messages by about 15 percent when we are at scale.

Reducing physician burnout is a major theme in healthcare these days. How can addressing this issue help change the organizational culture?

Reducing burnout, or what we call returning meaning and joy to the practice of medicine, is one of our top strategic priorities. And it’s a top priority because unless you have a happy and activated workforce, your patient care suffers. There is a reasonable amount of literature that suggests if your doctors are burnt out, the quality of care suffers and the risk of an adverse event goes up. There is a cost to burnout, in early retirements and turnover, which is quite significant.

We have created a whole department to focus on this; we have a three-part plan, following the framework of the Stanford University professional fulfillment model, which addresses the practice’s efficiency, the organization’s commitment to wellness, and then personal resilience. We have a body of work going on in all those buckets, with the biggest emphasis on improving practice efficiency.

There has been a re-training of our staff to have them work at the top of their license so the physician doesn’t have to do everything. The EHR has changed the workflow, so everything goes directly to the doctor now, as opposed to it going to many team members, which it did historically. We are trying to get back to team-based care and have the record triage messages so that only the work that needs to get to the physician gets there.  

It’s a complicated manner and it has to do with staff training, technology, and workflow. Getting to “joy perfection” is a long road. We have been on this path for three years, and I think we have done more than most, but we have not solved the problem. We have probably reduced 60 million clicks, but it’s still not enough. There is too much of an administrative need currently, and we are trying to work with regulators to reduce that demand, but it’s a heavy lift.

What are a few core pieces of advice you can offer CIOs, CMIOs and other clinical informatics leaders as they continue to forge ahead into this new world?

You need to have a great data repository, and you may need to assess the skillset of the people working in the organization. Data scientists become important and helpful. You need to be able to create disease registries and identify people, so you can plan interventions to improve outcomes and lower costs. It cannot be a “hint-and-hope” strategy; it has to be a structured approach.

A lot of this is built on an important data foundation, so you need to have the infrastructure that is the data repository, the tools to extract the data, and the mechanism to push it out to a group of people who can take action on it.

 


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Kaiser Creating Evidence-Based Complex Care Models

January 17, 2019
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Work aligns with recently published ‘Blueprint for Complex Care’

The National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs recently published a “Blueprint for Complex Care” to develop a collective strategy for promoting evidence-based complex care models. Recognizing that many patient issues have root causes that go beyond the medical, the Blueprint seeks to identify best practices for breaking down silos between the social care delivery system and healthcare.

Perhaps no health system has devoted as many resources to complex care as Kaiser Permanente. Its Care Management Institute, a joint endeavor between the Permanente Medical Groups and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, has established Complex Needs as one of its national quality initiatives. It has named regional complex care leaders, created common quality measures across regions and established a complex need research arm called CORAL. (Kaiser Permanente has eight Permanente Medical Groups and regions, more than 12.2 million members, more than 22,000 physicians and 216,000 employees.)

In a Jan. 16 webinar presentation, Wendolyn Gozansky, M.D., vice president and chief quality officer, Colorado Permanente Medical Group and national leader for complex needs at the Care Management Institute, described Kaiser Permanente’s efforts and used some personal anecdotes to explain their goals.

She said Kaiser Permanenteis working on the concept of developing core competencies and tools to support a longitiudinal plan of care for patients with complex needs. “These are the folks for whom the usual care is not meeting their needs,” she said. “How do you recognize them and make sure their needs are being met?”

Gozansky gave an example from a patient she had just seen the previous wekend. This women had fallen and broken her hip. She had several chronic conditions, including significant asthma, yet she was not on an inhaled steroid.

“One concept I love from the Blueprint is that this field is about doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of the person in front of you,” she said. In speaking to the woman, she came to understand that singing in a church choir was the most important thing in her life, and the inhaler medication was making her hoarse and unable to sing.  She was fairly isolated socially except for church. “My goal was to get her rehabbed and leverage the patient-defined family that is supportive. Her goals are to sing, so we need to do what is possible to get her back to that. We have to capture that information, put it into a long-term plan of care. The goal is not to get her out of rehab but to get her singing in choir.”

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The health system has to work on care that is preference-aligned. The woman is not on a steroid inhaler but her care is preference-aligned. How does the health system assure that everyone knows they are doing the right thing?

Gozansky said the beauty of Permanente Medicine is that its setup involves an employed medical group focused on value, not volume. They can interact with health plan partners in delivery of new systems of care. “It is a virtuous cycle about value and person-centered care. This is what our complex needs team is trying to understand.”

She described the journey so far: In 2015 there were pockets of work being done across the eight Kaiser Permanente regions. In 2016 they established complex care as a national qualitiy iniative. “We knew we were not meeting these patients’ needs. We had to figure out the right way to do that.” They also realized that most of the previous research on the topic involved examples that were not in integrated systems such as Kaiser Permanente. “We had to figure it out in an integrated system,” she said.

 In 2017 they started working on cross-regional learning — for instance, taking a program from Colorado and trying it in Southern California. Then they sought to align quality measures. In 2018 they got funding to create CORAL, the complex needs research arm.  

The Care Management Institute has created a “community of practice” on complex care to break down silos within the organization and bring together research, operational and administrative executives. They also want to work with external stakeholders to make sure what they are developing is scalable, Gozansky said.

Mark Humowiecki, senior director of the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs, also spoke during the webinar. He said one of the goals of the Blueprint was to get a clearer definition. Some people get confused about terms such as “hotspotting” and complex care, he said. He said there is a recognition that these patients’ needs are crossing traditional silos, so “there is a need to connect care for the individual but also at the system level.”

The goal, he added, is to create a complex care ecosystem by developing in each community system-level connections between social care delivery and healthcare, which in the past have operated too independently.  The five principles are that complex care is person-centered, equitable, team-based, cross-sector and data-driven. One of the Blueprint’s recommendations is to enhance and promote integrated cross-sector data infrastructures.

 

 


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NIH’s All of Us Program Teams with Fitbit for Data Collection

January 16, 2019
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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The All of Us Research Program, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has launched the Fitbit Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) project. Now, in addition to providing health information through surveys, electronic health records, and bio-samples, participants can choose to share data from their Fitbit accounts to help researchers make discoveries.

According to All of Us research program officials, the project is a key step for the program in integrating digital health technologies for data collection.

The All of Us Research Program, established by the White House in 2015, aims to advance precision medicine by studying the health data of 1 million diverse Americans over the next five years. One aim of the project is to include groups that have been historically underrepresented in research. As of September 2018, more than 110,000 people have registered with the program to begin the participant journey, and more than 60,000 have completed all elements of the core protocol.

The participants are sharing different types of information, including through surveys, access to their electronic health records and blood and urine samples. These data, stripped of obvious identifiers, will be accessible to researchers, whose findings may lead to more tailored treatments and prevention strategies in the future, according to program officials.

Digital health technologies, like mobile apps and wearable devices, can gather data outside of a hospital or clinic. This data includes information about physical activity, sleep, weight, heart rate, nutrition, and water intake, which can give researchers a more complete picture of participants’ health.” The All of Us Research Program is now gathering this data in addition to surveys, electronic health record information, physical measurements, and blood and urine samples, working to make the All of Us resource one of the largest and most diverse data sets of its kind for health research,” NIH officials said.

“Collecting real-world, real-time data through digital technologies will become a fundamental part of the program,” Eric Dishman, director of the All of Us Research Program, said in a statement. “This information, in combination with many other data types, will give us an unprecedented ability to better understand the impact of lifestyle and environment on health outcomes and, ultimately, develop better strategies for keeping people healthy in a very precise, individualized way.”

All of Us participants with any Fitbit device who wish to share Fitbit data with the program may log on to the All of Us participant portal at https://participant.joinallofus.org and visit the Sync Apps & Devices tab. Participants without Fitbit devices may also take part if they choose, by creating a free Fitbit account online and manually adding information to share with the program.

All of Us is developing additional plans to incorporate digital health technologies. A second project with Fitbit is expected to launch later in the year, NIH officials said, and this project will include providing devices to a limited number of All of Us participants who will be randomly invited to take part, to enable them to share wearable data with the program.

The All of Us research program plans to add connections to other devices and apps in the future to further expand data collection efforts and engage participants in new ways.

Related Insights For: Population Health

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NorthShore to Lead “Largest Primary Care-Based Genomics Program in U.S.”

January 14, 2019
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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The Chicago-based NorthShore University HealthSystem and genomics technology company Color are partnering on a new initiative that will aim to deliver the power of genomics to routine primary care at population scale.

Known as "DNA10K," the initiative will engage more than 10,000 patients and will be the largest known primary care-based genomics program in the U.S., according to officials who made an announcement last week.

The approach will build on NorthShore's years of experience in genomics and actionable electronic medical records (EMR) information, while providing access to Color's clinical-grade genetic testing and whole genome sequencing to inform patients about their risk for certain hereditary conditions, according to company executives.

“The knowledge will help patients learn about their genetic makeup, including risk factors for certain disease types such as common hereditary cancers and heart diseases. This insight will help NorthShore personalize care for each patient to support improved outcomes, prevention and overall health,” officials noted.

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent pilot between NorthShore and Color that looked to unlock the benefits of genetic information in routine care.

As officials explained, in less than two months, more than 1,000 patients signed up for the Color population health program as a part of their primary care visit, an adoption rate of more than 40 percent of those eligible and significantly beating expectations of the pilot program. “This is a strong indicator of patients' interest in understanding genetic factors that can influence health and the opportunity to work with NorthShore care providers to make more informed treatment or prevention decisions,” they attested.

Overall, the DNA10K initiative supports NorthShore's efforts to improve patients' health outcomes at a population level, with genomics as a foundation for informing individualized healthcare.

Patients who take advantage of the "DNA10K" offering will provide a blood sample, which is then analyzed in Color's CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited lab, and results are returned to healthcare providers and their patients. In addition to their NorthShore primary care provider, patients will also have access to board-certified genetic counselors and clinical pharmacists from Color and NorthShore, officials explained.

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