Along the teeming circuit of health care conferences that Boston enjoys year-round, a special place is occupied by the Connected Health Conference sponsored by Massachusetts giant Partners HealthCare. For 12 years this conference, shepherded by the spirited Joseph Kvedar, has shown Boston and the rest of the world what can be accomplished by the integration of data, technology, and clinical empathy.
But people I talked to at the conference were asking: where’s change visible in the health care field? Why aren’t we seeing these great things adopted throughout the country to support value-based care? The much-vaunted Accountable Care Organization model is failing to thrive, interoperability continues to elude medical sites, and consequently, health care costs are “eating” American’s incomes.
The way forward may have been shown by the two final keynotes of the conference, delivered by executives at Massachusetts General Hospital (one of the central institutions in Partners HealthCare and a destination for patients around the world).
Chief Clinical Officer Gregg Meyer referred to “punctuated evolution” to suggest that the health care field is at an “inflection point” where change is starting to happen fast. What makes this change hard is that two major initiatives separate most health care institutions from the fee-for-value world we want. One initiative focuses on organizational change and payment regimes, whereas the other involves wrenching changes to technology that track, record, and analyze what doctors and patients are doing.
I believe the reason many ACOs and other fee-for-value systems are failing (or at least not showing cost improvements) is that they took on the organizational change before they were ready with the technological parts. According to Meyer, Massachusetts General Hospital took on the technological change first, years before a payment system was offered that reimburses them for it.
Many speakers at the conference pointed to recent payment changes, such as Medicare Advantage, that promote fee-for-value. Programs along those lines in Massachusetts have shown modest headway against costs.
Even so, MGH has made only some early steps in health IT. Some doctors allow virtual visits, but it’s not done strategically and most providers don’t understand that such visits could reduce their workloads in the long run. Chief Health Information Officer O’Neil Britton said that the Epic EHR they installed still can’t accept streaming data. But he vaunted MGH’s growing use of genomics, wearables, video information delivery, and telehealth. The use of video was praised frequently at the conference for bringing information to people when they need it and reducing office visits that are costly and inconvenient for everyone.
The next section of this article will contrast techno-optimists with techno-skeptics and mention some advances reported at the conference.