Hospitals Are Not Getting Safer
Nearly 15 years ago, the Institute of Medicine report “To Err is Human” drew attention to the disturbing number of preventable deaths in hospitals.
According to recent testimony by a panel of patient safety leaders to the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, there has been little progress in addressing this issue in the 15 years since, despite all of the increased regulations. In fact, preventable medical errors in hospitals are now the third leading cause of death in the US, only after heart disease and cancer.
“The problem of patients dying or being harmed because of preventable medical errors in U.S. hospitals remains [a] grave consequence that is not getting enough attention,” according to the Senate subcommittee chairman.
There are five main types of preventable medical errors. The question is, who in our industry is watching out for these errors, and where does responsibility for oversight end and begin?
- Errors of omission: Provider fails to perform an obvious, necessary action, like prescribing a certain medication.
- Errors of commission: A mistaken action harms a patient, like surgery on the wrong body part.
- Errors of communication: Miscommunication or failed communication between providers, or between a provider(s) and patient, such as a failure to warn a patient about the risks of certain activities.
- Errors of context: Provider does not account for the unique constraints in a patient’s life, like not having reasonable access to follow-up care.
- Diagnostic errors: Harm to the patient resulting from delayed, wrong, ineffective, or no treatment.
A recent study by Patient Safety America estimated that the 98,000 preventable error deaths cited in the Institute of Medicine’s original 2000 report may have been severely understated, and the real number could be closer to 440,000 deaths annually.
That is roughly equivalent to 148 September 11th attacks every year.
In fact, preventable medical errors in hospitals are now the third leading cause of death in the US, only after heart disease and cancer.
This is only preventable deaths. It doesn’t include infections and sickness that did not result in death.
Even without human error, the potential for hospital-acquired infections is immense. There are thousands of patients coughing and touching furnishings and other items, which are then touched by relatives and staff. It is almost impossible to prevent the spread of disease and infection in this environment.
And this doesn’t even factor in issues of inappropriate treatment, over-treatment, over-medication, or unnecessary surgeries, which can result in a poor prognosis for individuals who may already be in fragile health.
I am not a big fan of politicizing an issue, but this transcends politics. Hospitals attract the sickest of the sick people. That is what they are there for, but we as an industry need to focus on reducing the potential for preventable deaths in hospitals.
We need to focus on directing people to healthier options — whether non-surgical alternatives, the best providers, or non-hospital based surgeries and treatment.
We may never know when our actions prevent a health complication, or even death, but any time we can lower a patient’s risk, everyone is better off.
Where’s Your Bottle of Painkillers?
Medical care providers inconsistently prescribe powerful – and highly addictive – narcotic painkillers across the country, according to a recent study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and data from Liberty Mutual Insurance.
This variation needlessly endangers patients, drives up workers compensation costs and may not provide a healing benefit to injured workers.
This is largely a problem that shouldn’t exist, since the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) “Guidelines for the Chronic Use of Opioids” provide clear best medical practices for prescribing powerful narcotic painkillers — and advise that they be used only for select patients.
And yet the recent CDC study found tremendous variability in the rates of narcotic prescriptions between states.
For example, in 2012, health care providers in Tennessee wrote 143 pain killer prescriptions per 100 people, while doctors in California issued 57 prescriptions per 100 people.
Shockingly, health care providers across the U.S. wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every adult American to have a bottle, according to the study.
A Liberty Mutual study published in 2009 found similar interstate variation in opioid prescriptions for acute work-related lower back pain. In fact, almost eight times as many opioid prescriptions were written in South Carolina for acute lower back pain than in Massachusetts during the study’s time frame.
The problem is clear. So is the solution.
Here are four steps every risk manager should take to help protect injured employees and the bottom line:
• Get informed — Understand if the states where your company operates have high rates of opioid prescribing, and to what extent the workers compensation systems in those states require treating physicians follow the ACOEM guidelines.
Providers treating injured workers in some states are mandated to follow these guidelines, while they are mere suggestions in other states.
• Get involved — Help your regulators and legislators understand the problems associated with narcotic over prescription, for both individuals and employers.
Work with them to appreciate the value of evidence-based medicine, such as the ACOEM guidelines.
• Use the right medical care provider — Having the injured worker treated by a provider experienced in occupational injuries will usually help the worker recover sooner and make the use of narcotics much less likely.
Even in states where employers cannot direct the care of injured workers, they can help employees understand the potential dangers of powerful narcotic pain killers.
• Spot problems early — Closely monitor claims. Use specialized resources to quickly identify the inappropriate use of narcotics and the early warning signs of potential abuse, such as use of multiple pharmacies or physicians, depression and addictive behaviors.
While not everyone has a bottle of painkillers, some have several. And it may be costing those individuals — and their employers — dearly. Get involved to help end this tremendous human and financial waste.
The Next Wave of Workers’ Comp Medical Cost Savings
Managing medical costs for workers’ compensation claims is like pushing on a balloon. As you effectively manage expenses in one area, there are bound to be bulges in another.
Over the last decade, great strides have been made in managing many aspects of workers’ compensation medical costs. Case management, bill review and pharmacy benefits management are just a few categories that produce significant returns.
And yet, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), medical costs remain the largest percentage of workers’ comp expenses. Worse still, medical costs continue to be the fastest growing expense category.
Many medical services are closely managed through provider negotiations, bill review, utilization review, pharmacy benefits management, to name a few. But a large opportunity for medical cost containment remains largely untouched and therefore represents a significant opportunity for cost savings.
Ancillary medical services is a term used to describe specialty or supplemental health care services such as medical supplies, home health care, durable medical equipment, transportation and physical therapy, etc.
According to Clifford James, Vice President of Strategic Development at Healthesystems in Tampa, Fla., modernizing the process for managing ancillary medical services presents compelling opportunities for cost savings and improved patient care.
Source: 2014 Healthesystems Ancillary Medical Services Survey
“The challenge of managing these types of medical products and services is a cumbersome and extremely disconnected process,” James said. “As a result, it represents a missing link in an overall medical cost management strategy, which means it is costing payers money and patients the most optimal care.”
James singled out three key hurdles:
Lack of transparency
As the adage goes, you can only manage what you can measure.
Yet when it comes to the broad range of products and services that comprise ancillary benefits, comprehensive data and benchmarking metrics by which to gauge success are hard to come by.
The problem begins with an antiquated approach to coding medical services that was developed in the 1970s. The coding system falls short in today’s modern health care environment due to its lack of product and service level detail such as consistent units of measure, quantity and descriptors.
As a result, a meaningful percentage of ancillary benefits spending is coded as “miscellaneous,” which means a payer has little to no visibility into what product or service is being delivered — and no way to determine if the correct price is being applied or if the item is even necessary or appropriate.
Source: 2014 Healthesystems Ancillary Medical Services Survey
“It’s a big challenge. Especially when you consider that for many payers, it’s difficult to determine exactly what they are spending, or identify what the major cost drivers are when it comes to ancillary services,” James said. And when frequently over 20 percent of these types of services are billed as miscellaneous, payers have zero visibility to effectively manage these costs.
Measurement and monitoring
Often, performance that is monitored is given the most attention. Therefore, ancillary programs that are closely monitored and measured against objective benchmarks should be the most successful.
However, benchmarks are hard to determine because multiple vendors are frequently involved using disparate data and processes. There isn’t a consistent focus on continuous quality improvement, because each vendor operates off of their own success criteria.
“Leveraging objective competitive comparisons breeds success in any industry. Yet for ancillary services there is very limited data to clearly measure performance across all vendors,” James said. “And for payers, this is a major area of opportunity to promote service and cost containment excellence.”
Source: 2014 Healthesystems Ancillary Medical Services Survey
If you ask claims executives about their strategies for improving the claims management process, a likely response may be “workload optimization.” The goal for some is to enable claims professionals to handle a maximum case load by minimizing administrative duties so they can leverage their expertise to better manage the outcome of each case.
But the path towards “workload optimization” has many hurdles, especially when you consider what needs to be coordinated and the manual way it frequently is done.
Ancillary benefits are a prime example. For a single case, a claims professional might need to coordinate durable medical equipment, secure translation services, arrange for transportation and confirm the best physical therapy plan. Unfortunately they often don’t have the needed time, or the pertinent information, in order to make quick, yet informed, decisions about the ancillary needs of their claimants.
In addition there is the complexity of managing multiple vendor relationships, juggling various contacts, and accessing multiple platforms and/or making endless phone calls.
“We’ve been called the ‘industry integrator’ by some people, and that’s accurate. We are delivering a proven platform connecting payers with providers and vendors on the ancillary medical benefit front. It’s never been done before.”
– Clifford James, Vice President of Strategic Development, Healthesystems
Modernizing the process
To the benefit of both payers and vendors, Healthesystems offers Ancillary Benefits Management (ABM).
The breakthrough ABM solution consists of three foundational components — a technological platform, proprietary medical coding system and a comprehensive benefits management methodology.
The technological platform integrates payers and vendors with a standardized architecture and processes. Business rules and edits can be easily managed and applied across all contracted vendors. All processes – from referral to billing and payment – are managed on a single platform, empowering the payer with a centralized tool for managing the quality of all ancillary providers.
But when it comes to ancillary products, the critical and unique challenge Healthesystems had to solve is the antiquated coding system. This was completed by developing a highly granular, product-specific coding system including detailed descriptions and units of measure for all products and services. This coding provides payers with the clearest understanding of all products and services delivered including pricing and all the necessary utilization metrics.
“We bring the highest level of transparency and visibility into all ancillary products and services,” James said, adding that the ABM platform uses an extensive preferred product coding system 15 times more detailed than any other existing system or program.
This combination of sophisticated technology, proprietary coding system and benefit management methodology revolutionizes the ancillary category. Some of the benefits include:
- Crystal-clear transparency
- A more detailed and comprehensive view into ancillary products and services
- An automated process that eliminates billing discrepancies or resubmittals
- Integrated and consistent processes
- Strategic program management
Taken together, the system leapfrogs over the existing hurdles while creating entirely new opportunities. It’s a win for vendors and payers, and ultimately for patients, who receive the optimal product or service.
“We’ve been called the ‘industry integrator’ by some people, and that’s accurate,” James said. “We are delivering a proven platform connecting payers with providers and vendors on the ancillary medical benefit front. It’s never been done before.”
To learn more about the Healthesystems Ancillary Benefits Management solution visit: http://www.healthesystems.com/solutions-services/ancillary-benefits