Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Modernizing Health Care

I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a panel discussion on modernizing health care this morning that was sponsored by the Washington Business Journal and UnitedHealthcare. Dr. Reed Tuckson delivered the keynote address. He's a compelling speaker and I want to share some of what I took away.

From The Economist May 3, 2011
Dr. Tuckson shared a graph similar to this. I've seen it before, but always find it shocking. We spend more per capita than any other country on health care yet it doesn't correspond to an increase in life expectancy. Even more shocking, he shared that the U.S. is ranked 43rd in the world in children surviving their first year of life.

Tobacco is still our number one killer. He said 17.3% of people still smoke. 90% of all smokers are hooked by the time they're 18 years old. I didn't find that shocking, but then he told us a little about how the tobacco industry markets to teens -- pink cigarettes, nicotine strips that dissolve on your tongue like Listerine breath freshener, packs designed to look like a bottle of perfume. (I think this deserves a post of its' own in the near future.)

Some other interesting statistics that he shared:
  • 27.5% of Americans are obese. If the current trend continues, 43% of the U.S. populations will be obese by 2018. 
  • 55% of adults report getting no vigorous activity. 32% get no activity at all. 
  • 50% of high cost claimants used lest than $5,000 in care the year before. 

He talked a bit about sensor based data -- digital smart band aids and apps with devices to monitor and track blood pressure. And, he showed us some of the apps UHC has developed. 

He placed a lot of emphasis on evidence based medicine. Another scary statistic, 50% of the time health care is not consistent with science. He shared that there is no correlation between the quality of care and the cost of care. UHC is putting a lot of effort into identifying quality care and steering their insureds to quality providers. He mentioned that UHC is seeing a trend toward businesses requesting smaller, high quality networks. 

Dr. Tuckson talked about how they're working to integrate data and use it to help people make personally appropriate medical decisions. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about data integration lately. Right now UHC has all of our claims and RX data. Lifework Strategies has a lot of biometric data on our staff. But, none of it is in a form I can use. I described what I want to be able to do in response to one of the questions posed to the panel. I want to be able to have one of our partners send a letter to all of our plan participants taking a proton pump inhibitor. In that letter, I want to explain that proton pump inhibitors can effect the absorption of calcium and lead to osteoporosis. Then, I'd like to invite people to a bone density screening we are hosting in the office. There, we can provide additional information to participants and maybe even partner with a supplier like The Vitamin Shoppe to give people coupons for supplements. This is one way I can imagine delivering actionable health care information to help our staff become more health-conscious consumers. (This is one of our goals.)

At one point in his presentation, Dr. Tuckson said, "Trust is key." This couldn't be more true. If I do what I'd like, I expect a small number of folks to be put off, but I believe the majority would be glad to receive the information. We've built our wellness program slowly over many years and I think most staff know we truly care about their health and well-being. 

Dr. Tuckson recommended a number of books to the audience. As a bookworm, I decided this deserved a post of its' own. So, stay tuned. 

I'm grateful to have been included in today's discussion. I enjoyed meeting the other panelists -- Janet Stypula from Orbital Sciences Corporation and John Miller from the MidAtlantic Business Group on Health. Alex Orfinger, the Publisher of the Washington Business Journal, did a nice job of moderating the panel.

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