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Why are we here?

transparency

Every person and organization eventually asks themselves some form of this question, don’t they? Of course, there’s no way a blog post can tackle the existential version of this, “What’s the purpose of life?”  More apt for this medium is the question, “Why are we right here and why now?” This is a vital question and one every person and organization should be answering.

The team at Connect Healthcare thinks about this a lot. Understanding the answer to this question, however, requires a bit of context for how we answer a bigger question, “How did we as a society end up with the healthcare system we have?”

Healthcare has gotten where it is organically within the context of our country’s culture and the development of modern medicine. While this is an overly simple summary, as summaries all tend to be, the healthcare world is physician centered and pay-for-service incentivized.

Physician centered-ness is understandable because as we began applying science to the art of healing, most of the country was uneducated or undereducated and had little access to information. It made sense to have much more educated providers dole out information in a very patriarchal way.

Since modern, western medicine grew up in the era of the Industrial Revolution, the way we deliver care and incentivize providers of care focuses on efficiency of delivery and pay for output. Sounds a bit like a factory, doesn’t it? The best way to have more output is to make production more efficient for those delivering the goods, i.e. the providers. As the modern healthcare system has developed, our country has intensely focused on production and top-down leadership. Lost in all this is the “human” side of the equation.

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If you’ve ever taken any economics courses, you’ve no doubt noticed the classic approach to economic theory requires a few basic assumptions to be made. Minor things really, such as the assumption that all humans behave rationally and have perfect information. We all know these assumptions are absurd, but for many years we trotted happily along ignoring that fact. Now we’re developing behavioral economics to better explain the real world.

Removing human emotion, unpredictability and personal needs/wants/desires works if you have the environment of the 18th or 19th centuries. When you’re in the 21st century, the old system breaks. Today’s patients have almost unlimited access to information through Google. We have access to expert opinions on social media, experience of others with conditions and providers as well as all the research we could hope for within a few clicks of a mouse. The average level of education has increased dramatically and self-education is something of a national trend. Changes in environment like these mean that we’ve moved up Maslow’s pyramid of needs and are now seeking if not demanding more from our healthcare services. We want personalization, convenience, collaboration and transparency of information. Ultimately, we just want to get back to being healthy and living our lives with as little pain and as much capability as possible.  Healthcare is furiously working on adjusting to these changes. As one podcast guest recently put it, reforming healthcare is like completely gutting and renovating a house while living in it and having people knocking on your door who need you every other minute of the day.

Before you can begin to account for how these “human” dynamics play into the system, you have to get a clear line of sight on where they’re causing issues currently and how they interact with the desired results. Specifically, how you leverage human dynamics to achieve healthier communities, lower costs, profitable organizations and stronger relationships between providers and patients. For many years, organizations have been tracking surveys about subjective aspects like patient experience, objective outcomes like metrics for clinical quality and more recently pricing discrepancies. This is the basis of the well-worn Triple Aim discussion.

When the team here at Connect looks at healthcare, we see an incredible industry full of incredibly smart and mission-driven people. There is an almost unimaginable amount of data being generated by surveys, EMRs, devices, social media sites, government, research, etc. So much data that it seems like a tidal wave which refuses to be tamed.

We see data analysis tools which are amazingly sophisticated, but because of the complexity of many such tools, they are largely unusable by the people who need data-driven insights. Lacking transparency, there is a lowered level of awareness of certain issues as the overwhelming deluge of data creates an environment where focus is nearly impossible. And siloed projects or data insights mean coordination is stunted through lack of communication.

This brings us back to the question of “Why we’re here.” Or, as we’ve stated it, why we are right here right now. Connect Healthcare is right in the intersection of the explosion of data and the fundamental transformation of healthcare because we believe data-driven insights can make things better. But we want to obsess over making those insights easily available to anyone and not just data scientists. Companies who have complex systems generally also use the inaccessible nature of these tools as a pathway to sell you their expert consulting services. We’d rather that power rest directly in your hands.

We believe that much like behavioral economics, a better model for healthcare is one that puts real humans at the center and develops systems around what they are really like. Intense focus on leveraging the data initially gained from patient experience, then adding in employee and provider engagement as well as integrating outcomes data creates a pathway to helping wade through the sea of data and begin understanding what actually deserves focus and action. We expect the data, insights and actions with most impact will shift over time, occasionally circling back to areas that need revisiting. Like monitoring a patient’s vital signs, you keep an eye on many factors and seek to take care of the urgent while simultaneously maintaining a bigger picture view of what will help bring the entire system back into balance and health.

Transparency and reputation analysis tools are just the beginning. While there is a lot of interest in these at the moment and we’re all in on this movement, we still believe there is something deeper to be found. We believe there are better ways to look at these various data points, derive useful insights across them and use those insights to build a better healthcare system. Not just for patients and not just in “hospitality healthcare,” though these are useful goals, but for providers and all of our collective wallets.

Contributed by Noel Coleman, President, Connect Healthcare