If it’s summer, it must be conference season. Researchers from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions headed to New Orleans and Boston for the AcademyHealth Annual Meeting (June 25-28) and the International Health Economics Association Biannual Congress (July 8-11). Nearly 3,000 attendees across both conferences – including researchers, policymakers, health care professionals, and academic leaders from the US and across the globe – convened to discuss cutting-edge research and the biggest trends and issues in the industry.
While the conferences covered a variety of topics, two major themes emerged from both including:
- The need to enhance the value that customers receive, including improvements in patient experience and care quality
- The importance of collaboration between providers and plans to improve performance, staff engagement, and care quality
Sessions also explored some of the factors that can influence value to consumers and industry stakeholders, such as policy and regulatory changes, technological developments, market and provider structural and organizational characteristics, and consumer preferences.
Here is a deeper dive into some of the key themes and related Center research from our presentations:
- Patient engagement. Engaging patients in quality improvement activities and meeting patient needs has the potential to not only improve patient experience, but also to drive customer loyalty, improve patient adherence, and reduce fraud and medical error. Our research, presented during an AcademyHealth session on the value of patient experience, has found that hospitals with higher experience scores have better profitability and higher process of care quality. This suggests that hospitals might want to consider investing in patient-facing technologies, such as electronic health record (EHR)-tethered patient portals, mobile health applications, and behavior-monitoring tools. However, challenges remain. As discussed in an AcademyHealth session, studies tracking the effects of innovations – such as connected pill bottles that measure medication adherence, a web-based app to support breast cancer management, and patient portals as potential substitutes for in-person care – have been somewhat mixed. Providing a better understanding of the factors affecting hospitals’ adoption and successful implementation of innovative patient-engagement technologies is likely critical for meeting patient needs.
- Health-related social needs. Many payers and health systems increasingly seek to improve the quality and cost of care through payment and delivery reforms such as bundled payments and pay for performance. Demonstrations happening through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, and the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) are helping more hospitals and health systems move away from fee-for-service to value-based care models. This growing focus on quality and value has often been accompanied by increased recognition (and evidence) that factors outside the health care system – social needs, or social determinants of health – can influence an individual’s health and well-being. As a result, many hospitals and health systems are working with health plans to navigate the challenges of effectively linking community and clinical services to help improve health outcomes in the long term. In recent research, we found that hospitals that are moving more toward value-based care models –such as accountable care organizations and bundled or capitated payments – are reporting the highest level of investments and most activity around addressing social needs.
- Emergency Room (ER) utilization under the ACA, and access to alternative sites of care. ER utilization can be one of the barometers to track progress toward achieving certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) goals: With better access to alternative care settings, such as doctor’s offices and urgent care centers, ER use should likely drop as consumers no longer inappropriately use the ER for non-emergency conditions or delay care until they have more serious symptoms. Sessions at AcademyHealth and IHEA discussed the results of various studies on the impact of the ACA on ER usage rates, costs, and wait times. Our own research on the topic, presented at both AcademyHealth and IHEA, shows that ER utilization for non-emergent reasons, and access to alternative sites of care, have improved under the ACA. Urgent care centers might emerge as a potential alternative to ERs. Health plans and health systems could consider stepping up their efforts to increase access to preventive services such as screenings and to steer their populations to more appropriate care settings.
While health care reform efforts seem to dominate headlines for the industry these days, it’s clear that providers and plans likely need to continue to focus on the long term. Conference sessions urged these groups to develop strategies to further the customer experience, increase quality of care, and reduce costs by considering outside-the-box investments (like social needs); and strengthen collaborations to help increase access to alternative sites of care for non-emergent conditions. Industry stakeholders could benefit from continuing to think through long-term strategies and goals, despite challenges on Capitol Hill, as demonstrated by the urgency of these topics at recent conferences.