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Recon takes an analytical look behind select developments in healthcare

NEJM Highlights December 2015: providing effective healthcare is hard and expensive – but ineffective care can be even more expensive – and defining what expensive means in healthcare is hard

A new focus on the diagnostic reliability of clinicians Two perspectives highlighting the recent report from the National Academy of Medicine (formerly IOM) entitled “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care”.  Diagnostic error has long been the invisible side of poor medicine compared to medication errors, or a towel forgotten inside the patient and the like.  But the growth of health IT is both exposing diagnostic error and bearing the seeds of a solution, initially through rule-based automated checks and reminders, but likely eventually through a much more guideline driven practice of

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Emails substituting for visits: Evidence points to “yes” but providers need to answer a lot of emails to replace a single visit

Earlier this month, researchers released a study of patient-initiated emails to providers with Northern California Kaiser Permanente (KPNC) in 2011/12 in the JAMC . The study focused on patients with one or more chronic condition (CDC data indicates this would be about 50% of an average population) but otherwise sought a mix of conditions, benefit designs and demographics among its participants. Respondents were asked about their use of email in the previous 12 months. The study found substantial patient initiation of email contacts: Of the 71% in the sample with

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Maxwell Health and Agile Healthcare Strategy

Maxwell Health LLC is a rapidly growing company that offers a platform to make it easy and intuitive for employees to manage their employer-sponsored benefits.  It is at the intersection of several major macro trends currently transforming the Healthcare industry: As a marketplace for employee benefits, it is near the center of a shifting US regulatory landscape for individual and small group insurance exchanges As a “Software as a Service” (SaaS) platform it is a poster child for the growing use of clever software to deliver intuitive, efficient and quality

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Ohio’s Mercy-Summa alliance grows contracting teeth

Mercy Health – the largest system in Ohio – has recently formed a Clinically Integrated Network (CIN) with Summa Health called Advanced Health Select. CINs allow separately owned provider systems to jointly contract with payers on a risk basis as well as invest in clinical systems to support consistent practice and joint accountability. The model offers some key advantages of affiliation (joint economics and investment) without the regulatory hurdles, governance challenges and business risks change of control usually entails. Mercy and Summa had two prior business relationships: First, Mercy holds

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NEJM Highlights November 2015: systems biology, RSV progress, a first in diabetes, hypertension goals, the case of Maryland

Systems biology finally gets real: an unexpected use for a diabetes drug Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) has been the poster child first for a disease with a precise genetic cause (the Philadelphia chromosome), and then for targeted drug design (with imatinib – Gleevec). Unfortunately, few patients achieve a complete response to therapy which means that they have to stay on drug indefinitely. This commentary highlights recent research which shows that pioglitazone (Actos), an approved diabetes drug that activates a specific cellular pathway (STAT5) can synergistically enhance treatment with Gleevec to

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NEJM Highlights October 2015: what to do, how to do it, and to whom

What are annual physicals for? Annual physicals are costly (~$10 billion annually) and have never been shown to improve outcomes, but people value them. In this dichotomy lies a lot of the inner tensions of medical care: between delivery of technical care, and nurturing of human relationships, and those are illuminated by two articles in counterpoint.  In the end though both sides come to a point of view that is not altogether dissimilar – that what is needed is not an annual physical, but some sort of preventive care/health review

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Convenience care, telemedicine and breaking down barriers to geographic competition – a speculation

A few problems Geographic barriers to the entry have long protected providers from best-in-class competition.  Provider consolidation – theoretically a logical response to the current operating environment — reinforces these barriers by locking up referrals and making systems too big / too few to fail.  Instead of pushing providers aggressively on value, payers and regulators may end up nursing underperforming systems (e.g. Highmark’s bail-out of the West Penn Allegheny system) and discouraging disruptive entrants for fear of unintended damage to the stability of the local provider infrastructure.  Even if consolidation is

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Working paper: the coming age of algorithmic medicine

Summary In this working paper, we develop the following thesis. In the not so distant future (a decade or two), medicine will be largely governed by algorithms — highly deterministic clinical pathways characterized by a high level of reproducibility of care — that will be developed and improved by providers. These algorithms will include individual patient preference branch-points but not individual provider preference.  As a result, payers and providers will agree on coverage on the basis of a set of algorithms and a process of how they should evolve; providers

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The Ochsner Health Network: has Ochsner gone “a hospital too far”?

Over eight months between October 2014 and June of this year, Ochsner formalized alliances with five major provider systems in Louisiana. The first wave (with St. Tammany Parish, Terrebonne and Slidell) reinforced Ochsner’s stronghold in New Orleans. The second wave (with Lafayette General and CHRISTUS) secured pathways to markets west along I-10 and the coast and northwest along the I-49 corridor to Shreveport. This collection of alliances — dubbed the Ochsner Health Network (OHN) — is effectively statewide with ~30% of the hospital beds and ~30% of the physicians. Key

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NEJM Highlights September 2015: cells, cells, cells

Promise for systemic amyloidosis (and beyond?) Systemic amyloidosis is an uncommon disease in which abnormal cells (typically antibody-producing B cells) produce large amounts of protein that deposit as amyloid fibrils in various organs (heart, kidney, liver). These are the same kind of deposits that create plaque in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.  In systemic amyloidosis, the deposits cause organ damage, failure, and death and treatment options are limited.  GSK is developing a monoclonal antibody directed at serum amyloid P (SAP), a naturally occurring glycoprotein that binds to amyloid fibrils. The

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Can convenience care be a platform for an insurance product?

Summary A Portland-based urgent care operator is launching a health plan from scratch The strategy targets the busy and healthy with the convenience of a retail network providing “store brand care”; a simple, consumer oriented service model at low cost. Carving out this segment can plausibly allow for sustained advantage in admin, medical cost and revenue management. The plan has hit a speed bump with regulators on pricing, so evidence of this model’s market appeal will come slowly. Convenience care has historically played nice with the ecosystem, but Oscar’s explosive

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NEJM Highlights August 2015: cancer and joints

The emergence of a new approach to drug development in cancer Cancers are classified by the organ or tissue from which they arise, but as our molecular understanding increases, another level of categorization is emerging based on the molecular characteristics of the tumor. In a novel but sure to be growing approach, Roche/Genentech tested their drug vemurafenib (Zelboraf, currently approved for melanomas with the BRAF V600 mutation) in a study population that was largely agnostic to tumor provenance as long as it was BRAF V600 positive. 122 patients were enrolled

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So what if PCPs in ACO practices are not paid differently?

In a recent study, Ryan, Shortell, et al analyzed the composition of PCP compensation (broken down into salary, productivity and quality/other components) across practices with ACO contracts vs. those with more traditional business models.   This note will: provide a quick summary of results offer an alternative interpretation of the data describe two methodological points regarding the data set The major finding As of 2012/2013, there are no major systematic differences in how PCPS are paid in ACO practices vs. others.  Whether in an ACO or not, PCPs were paid on

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NEJM Highlights July 2015: a first in class drug for cancer, Sovaldi cures renal failure too (sometimes), convenient primary care

Palbociclib – first to target cyclin dependent kinases – breast cancer As all biology majors know, cyclin dependent kinases are critical elements controlling the machinery of cell proliferation.  They have proved difficult targets due to their ubiquitous activity in both normal and abnormal tissue – until now. In a phase 3 study, about 500 patients with metastatic hormone positive, Her2 negative breast cancer were treated with palbociclib (Ibrance, Pfizer, recently FDA approved) vs. placebo.  The median disease progression time for patients on drug was 5 months longer than for placebo

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NEJM Highlights for June 2015: the flavor of the month is distinctly cardiovascular

Interventionalist treatment for stroke: In the 80s and 90s, treatment of myocardial infraction was greatly advanced by the introduction of systemic clot busting drugs (t-PA and others); further advance occurred in the 90s when it was shown that immediate cardiac catheterization produced even better results. Acute embolic stroke has followed the same path – in the 90s, it was shown that t-PA treatment within 3 hours of onset of symptoms was beneficial, and ever since there has been a move toward treatment modalities where an interventional radiologist acts on the

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NEJM Highlights May 2015: a read on ACO performance, progress in cystic fibrosis treatment, yes developing new drugs is expensive, rethinking industry-medicine relationships, CVS Caremark and smoking cessation

Early results of the ACO experiment: directionally right, but impact is still small In this study, the authors compare metrics for Medicare beneficiaries assigned to the 32 ACOs part of the Pioneer program vs. matched beneficiaries who were not in an ACO.  With respect to costs, they find that compared to contemporaneous trends observed in non-ACO members, the ACO beneficiaries yearly spending was approximately $100 below trend (a 1% savings). In a hint of a reversal of a secular trend in health care, office spending visit expenditure increased more in

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NEJM Highlights April 2015

The rise, fall, and rebirth of the Chinese healthcare system A fascinating account of the evolution of the Chinese healthcare system which almost seems to be an upside-down picture of the rest of the country’s development. Tremendous public health improvements occurred in the 50s, 60s, and 70s but the transition to a free market model of healthcare in the 80s seems to have been a disaster only mitigated by the general increase in wealth of the population. Seeing this as a major threat to social stability, the Chinese government has been

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Comparing the emerging national networks of Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic

The build-out of the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo branded networks continues apace. Most recently, the Virginia Hospital Center joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network in March and Sequoia Hospital (Dignity), Piedmont Healthcare and Valley Health System (NJ) signed up with Cleveland Clinic this past March and early April. Growth of the networks and current snapshot These four deals cap torrid growth in the networks especially in 2013 and 2014. As of the end of the first quarter of 2015, Mayo has affiliations with systems totaling 13.4K beds (and a rough

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NEJM Highlights March 2015: Progress against Crohn’s, PCSK9 inhibitors coming through, comparative effectiveness for diabetic macular edema, Eric Lander encourages the FDA on genomic testing regulation

A promising agent for Crohn’s Disease, a miserable illness Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease that is notoriously unpredictable; flares can affect any part of the digestive tract and lead to grave complications. In this double-blind phase 2 study, patients were dosed with mongersen (licensed by Celgene) an anti-sense oligonucleotide that down-regulates the expression of a protein implicated in the inflammatory cascade. In general these classes of medications have to be given parenterally but in this case the target is the gut so it can be taken orally. At two weeks

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