Janice McCallum, Managing Director of Health Content Advisors, is a leading blogger and contributor to healthcare IT conversations on social media. Last night, Janice graciously spent time with us after Hillary Clinton’s HIMSS14 keynote address to discuss what surprised her in 2013, her thoughts about the progress of health insurances exchanges (HIX) to date, the most interesting start-ups she’s seen in the past few months, and what applications she expects to have the biggest influence on healthcare in 2014.
(1) What event/nonevent or trend surprised you the most last year?
I’ve lived through several periods of rapid change where digital technology radically improved access to information and transformed how we purchase goods and services. So, it’s not easy to surprise me; I’ve seen a lot!
But, to answer your question, I’d have to single out the problems with the Massachusetts Health Connector as it transitioned to an ACA-compliant health exchange last fall as the biggest surprise. The HealthCare.gov problems didn’t surprise me as much, since I had an inkling of how complex the set of data extraction and matching algorithms had to be. However, within Massachusetts (my home state), where we had ample experience with an existing insurance marketplace that we call the “Connector,” it took me by surprise that the transition to the ACA HIX was—and still is—such a disaster. Perhaps it was due to overconfidence, or more likely, it was due to the fact that Mass chose the same IT contractor as the federal government used for the launch of Healthcare.gov: CGI Federal. I don’t place the entire blame for early problems with the Healthcare.gov site on CGI’s shoulders, but it does appear that they had insufficient resources to complete either job on time. Overall, I’d say there’s plenty of blame to go around, but for now the focus has to be on moving forward and fixing the problems.
(2) Uncertainty and painful reality around health insurance exchanges (HIX) are keeping payers, providers, and patients up at night—and demanding a lot of problem-solving during the day. What advice would you give to health plan CIOs as they strategize to leverage technology to insulate their companies from the reality of HIX versus the model?
I can only offer high-level strategic advice, since I’m not an expert in the technology underpinnings of the exchanges. My advice is to learn from the successes and failures on HealthCare.gov and the state exchanges, adopt best practices from the successes, and avoid duplicating the mistakes made by others.
(3) You are quite active in the world of innovation. What are some of the most interesting start-ups you’ve seen in your travels over the past few months?
I see a lot of well-intentioned start-ups that aim to help patients/consumers manage their health—whether their audience consists of consumers managing chronic diseases, trying to maintain wellness, or fitness enthusiasts who want to analyze data to gain a competitive edge – or just a better understanding of the effects of exercise. However, I think it will be a couple of years before these consumer apps really take off, because it will require more connectivity between consumers, researchers, providers, and payers. More important, business models that offer benefits to consumers are needed. I’m concerned that the business model that is gaining momentum involves sending data to providers and payers who will use the data to dictate to patients/consumers what they must do to stay compliant with their health plan. Personally, I want to see a more inclusive model where motivated patients have full access to the data and their observations and analyses are taken seriously by payers and providers. At present, we don’t have an evidence base that is solid enough to jump to a model where health plans make decisions based on device data without involving the consumers, whose observations about the data could reveal insights about interactions or other factors that affect the interpretation of data.
Apart from devices and sensor data start-ups, I’d point to investments by Google Ventures for early-stage companies that merit watching. Their investments include One Medical Group, Foundation Medicine (which recently went public), InformedDNA, and About.me. On February 20, 2014, Google Ventures announced investments in two enterprise/mobile security companies—Ionic Security and ThreatStream. These applications certainly play a big role in healthcare enterprises. Also, I think Rock Health does a very good job of tracking and categorizing healthcare start-ups.
(4) What application do you expect to have the biggest influence on healthcare in 2014?
Apps that help consumers track healthcare expenses and aid in price transparency will be in demand in 2014 as high-deductible and health savings account (HAS) plans expand. Castlight Health is a player in the price transparency space and is a darling of the investment community, but it is targeted to the employer, not consumer, segment. I am more interested in tools that help consumers understand what an encounter with a provider or an episode of healthcare will cost. To really make an impact, apps will have to provide information to consumers before they make a decision to visit their general practitioner, urgent care center, a specialist, or choose some other path.
Apple’s planned Healthbook platform may be a game-changer in this space if they can go beyond consolidating data from apps and patient health records (PHRs) and connect that data with information from a consumer’s health plan. I think Intuit had planned to focus on the financial tracking aspect when they acquired Medfusion in 2010 to grow the Quicken Health Expense Tracker. But, that goal was short-lived when Intuit’s corporate strategy shifted away from the consumer market, and they sold Medfusion back to its founder.
To succeed in achieving the price transparency and out-of-pocket expense tracking objectives, these consumer application developers—Apple, HealthVault, and others—will have to collaborate with health plans in order to have access to the cost-sharing structures of each health plan. Policymakers and health plan executives keep emphasizing how important it is for consumers to make wise healthcare decisions. In 2014, I’d really like to see significant movement toward giving consumers access to information that helps them make better decisions about their health and their utilization of healthcare services.