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Posts Tagged ‘WellPoint’

Awhile back, a large health insurer (payer) commissioned Chilmark Research to do a market scan on how payers across the country were using emerging consumer technologies to engage their members. We found this project to be quite interesting and rather than have much of that research sit on the shelves forevermore, we decided to build upon it.

Today we are releasing the results of that effort.

Our latest report: Benchmark Report: Payer Adoption of Emerging Consumer Technologies takes a close look at over 40 payer (health insurers) initiatives that are using a wide variety of consumer technologies (apps, social media, games, etc.) for member engagement. Here’s the PR announcing the report’s release.

Now it is well-known that payers have had a very mixed record in engaging their members. Part of the problem has been trust as members are justified in taking a cautious approach when sharing their health information with payers for fear of future denials. Secondly, many payer initiatives have been half-baked wherein payers have not been fully engaged themselves in the concept of member engagement.

But as we pointed out in a post earlier this summer, this is all beginning to change. Numerous market forces are now pressing down upon payers and payers are increasingly coming to the realization that they need to deploy member engagement solutions that work. Payers are now going to where consumers already are seeking to engage their members via a variety of consumer-based technologies. This report is our initial effort to gain a greater understanding of what payers are doing today and provide some guidance as to how their efforts will evolve overtime.

One thing we have learned in the course of our research is that despite all the talk, the majority of these efforts are in their infancy and that the vast majority of payers have not even begun to venture down this path. Therefore, we intend to update this report on a periodic basis to benchmark payer adoption of consumer tech in support of member engagement and gain an even deeper understanding of what works and just as importantly, what does not.

Thanks to the many that we have interviewed over the course of the last several months to compile this report as your inputs have been invaluable.

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Little over a month ago, IBM and WellPoint announced an agreement wherein WellPoint will deploy IBM’s latest and greatest super computer and artificial intelligence mega-mind Watson. Watson’s claim to fame was its ability to beat the human Jeopardy champions much like Big Blue beat reigning chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. Since that Jeopardy match, IBM has been quite vocal about its desire to apply Watson in the medical arena, we’ve been buried in press releases and briefings, but the WellPoint announcement is the first one of any real consequence. Having interviewed both IBM and WellPoint, following is our review and assessment.

Background:
Watson is a relatively new form of artificial intelligence, based to some extent on neural networks. What is unique about Watson is that it has been developed (trained) to understand the nuances of language. It is a question & answer system that uses among other techniques, natural language processing, to extract meaning out of unstructured data. In developing Watson for the Jeopardy challenge, one of the key design parameters was for Watson to answer a question in under three seconds – plenty fast enough in a diagnosis/treatment decision scenario. This is a key reason why Watson may have enormous utility in the healthcare sector where so much data is unstructured, the pace of change is so high and the ability to chose the optimum treatment patient plan for a given diagnosis is less than ideal today.

WellPoint is the largest payer in the US with some 34.2M members and 14 Blues across the country. Despite this impressive size (or maybe because of it), WellPoint has been far less aggressive than others in the HIT realm, especially for those systems used by providers. In signing this deal with IBM, WellPoint is signaling to the market, and likely those on Wall Street, that they intend not to be left behind. In asking WellPoint about their HIT strategy, WellPoint CIO Andrew J. Lang told Chilmark that WellPoint’s intent is not to create a new line of business (as is the case with UHG and Aetna) but to improve the quality of health delivered to their members by providing physicians the best tools possible. Certainly a noble goal, but only time will tell as to how closely they adhere to such a goal.

What it is:
While IBM is pursuing a number of potential vertical markets for Watson, including financial services, this is the first actual “Win” for IBM’s Watson. Money is changing hands with WellPoint paying an undisclosed amount to deploy Watson.

Watson will be deployed as a “cloud-based” service. Actual pricing for accessing this service has yet to be determined but as WellPoint put it to us, they do not want to create barriers to physician use. Thus, don’t be too surprised if it is offered virtually free to in-network providers, clinics and hospitals.

The Watson intelligence service will focus first on three oncology domains (breast, lung and colon cancer) that WellPoint’s internal clinical staff have determined most promising. These three were chosen for they are areas where WellPoint’s claims data shows high variability in treatment; there are significant, on-going advances in research and treatment; and a high likelihood for demonstrating the utility of a system such as Watson.

WellPoint does not intend to displace physician decision making, but augment it. WellPoint states that physicians will still be able to ultimately make their own decision as to the best course of action (treatment) for a given patient. As CIO Lang stated:

Watson is intended to be a doctor’s assistant, the doctor is still in the driver’s seat.

Watson is currently undergoing “training” with reams of data (research, claims data, etc.) in the three oncology domains being fed into it, questions being posed, answers evaluated against real clinical evidence to bring Watson up to a significant “confidence level.” The Watson service will be released in the first quarter of 2012.

Implications:
Among the multitude of announcements that pass across our computer screen on a daily basis, this is one that really piques our interest. Like any exceedingly powerful technology, Watson has the potential for good and likewise the potential for harm. If WellPoint follows its stated intent of deploying Watson as a service, as an assistant to the practicing physician, facilitating the care process with more rapid and accurate first time diagnosis and suggesting a treatment plan that is most relevant to that specific patient, then Wow, this could be truly game changing and far in excess of what other payers have done to date in the HIT realm. If, however, WellPoint’s deployment of Watson becomes prescriptive wherein physicians are no longer in the driver’s seat, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Having personally seen what can happen when someone is misdiagnosed, when appropriate treatment is delayed, particularly for an aggressive form of cancer, the anguish and subsequent anger is nearly unfathomable. If Watson can indeed short-circuit the diagnosis and guide physicians to the most appropriate treatment in an expeditious manner, well then hat’s off to IBM for developing Watson and WellPoint for taking the risk to be the first to deploy Watson in the healthcare sector.

Dr. Watson, do you accept house calls?

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top-ten-goldOne of the nice things about all the writing done over the past year is that one can go back, apply some analytics and see exactly what topics/posts were popular over the past year.

So, drumroll please…

Following are the Top Ten Posts at Chilmark Research for 2008 with brief commentary:

10) Zagat Physician Rating Goes LiveThere are now a plethora of physician rating services with this being but one example.  Unfortunately, this service is restricted to Wellpoint members.  Based on what we’ve seen from most payers in their seeming inability to truly engage consumers/members, doubt this Zagats service is getting much traction.

9) Wal-Mart EMR Mandate Implications: Wal-Mart is a massive presence in any of the markets it enters.  Their decision to chose a single EMR solution for all of their retail clinics reverberated throughout the market.  Now that Wal-Mart is rolling out the Personal Health Platform Dossia among its employees, one can expect eClinicalWorks to be closely tied to Dossia as well.

8 ) Oracle+Cerner=Opportunity: Rumors come, rumors go and some seem to take on a life of their own, resurfacing on a firly regular basis.  The rumor that Oracle will acquire Cerner does have some logic to it, but with the current financial mess, this won’t happen anytime soon.

7) Defining a Functional Model for PHRs or How Many Cooks Does it Take: This post took a critical look at the three functional models: one by HL7, another from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Project Health Design and the third from the payer organization AHIP.  We’re not too keen on any of these models as it is the market that will define a functional model that delivers value, not academics which predominate the first two groups or one from the payers, which have selfish self-interests at heart.

6) Google Health Goes Live: Post went up the day that Google formally released Google Health to the market.  A belated launch, some eight months after Microsoft released a pre-mature HealthVault.  Google Health will slightly more mature than HealthVault coming out of the gates, as seemingly stalled. See post in the Number 5 spot.

5) HealthVault Surges, Google Health Flounders: After all the anticipation for Google Health and the pending battle royale for mind-share between Microsoft and Google for the hearts and minds of health concious consumers, the battle is turning out to be boring. Google is following its common laissez faire approach to developing its service (very thin on resources being deployed) while Microsoft is investing significantly, and it shows.

4) Mobile Health on the iPhone: Since the launch of the 3G iPhone earlier this year we have seen an incredible number of health & wellness apps showing up on the AppStore, which number well over 400 today.  Recently, Apple redesigned the site to make it easier to see which apps are most popular.  Loads of opportunity remains for those that are creative as most apps are pretty simplistic.

3) eClinicalWorks Tight-lipped on the Wal-Mart Deal: This post followed on the heels of Number 9 above.  eClinicalWorks is one of the EMR darlings for smaller practices which remains a relatively untapped market.

2) Walgreen’s Ups Ante in Retail Health: In March, Walgreen’s made the dual move of acquiring both I-trax and Whole Health Management, two providers of corporate campus health clinics.  What seemed like a good move then, may now be one that they are regretting as employers continue to downsize and trim costs.  If Walgreens would have waited (and they could get the $$$ in this tight credit market) they would have been able to pick up these companies for a song today. Alas, hindsight is always 20-20.

and the Top Post in 2008 was…

1) Google’s Schmidt Outlines Health Platform: We all knew Google was going to release some form of PHR in 2008.  We even saw some early screenshots back in August of 2007 when a few presentation slides slipped into the public domain.  But after those slides, we heard nothing, saw nothing, but knew it was coming.  Thus, when Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt took the stage as a keynote speaker at HIMSS, we waited in anticipation and Schmidt did not disappoint.

And that dear readers is what YOU, found most interesting at Chilmark Research, that is if we not include the post where we announced te release of our iPHR Market Report Executive Summary.  We were absolutely thrilled with how popular that post was (it far exceeded the number 1 post on Google above) and even more thrilled at all the people who have downloaded this Ex. Summary (nearly 400 downloads for all corners of the globe, at least all continents, withthe exception of Antactica, we’re still waiting for that one to come in.

Thank you all for visiting, reading and commenting. We value your input and hope in return, we have provided some valuable analysis on the market.

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freeSlowly getting the hang of Twitter and while cruising around the TwitterSphere yesterday looking for updates from the WHIT’08 conference in DC came across a guy providing live tweets from the event.  Looking more closely at his profile, it turns out he works in a “skunk-like” innovations group at Humana, called Humana Innovations.

Like a dog on the scent of something interesting followed the trail to their idea factory, CrumpleItUp.  Very nicely done and gives one a sense of what may be possible, from a Web presentation stand point, if you start thinking beyond columns of text and smatterings of graphics.  Honestly, one of the best sites I’ve come across in sometime.

But I really fell in love with this little group and what they are trying to do when I learned that they are the brainchild behind Freewheel!n.  Freewheel!n is all about providing bicycles to consumers to encourage them to get around via bikes, thus contributing to health (big objective for Humana), goodwill (another Humana win – great PR), eco-friendly, (we all win) and the list goes on.

Freewheel!n made its grand intro at the Republican and Democratic conventions.  Following are some stats off of the Freewheel!n site (stats were cumulative over the 8 days of these conventions).
• 7,523 bike rides
• 41,724 miles ridden
• 1,293,429 calories burned
• 14.6 metric tons of carbon footprint reduction
What’s not to like?

Maybe that Freewheel!n is not in Boston yet, that is still in prototype mode, that we will have to wait to see it arrive in our own fair cities and towns.

Plenty has been written here and elsewhere about various initiatives of payers to encourage healthy behaviors.  Sorry Aetna, CIGNA, United Health, WellPoint, all of the BCBS plans, none of your initiatives have captured my imagination like CrumpleItUp. Humana has broken the mold in reaching out to consumers.

Take a look and learn.

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CIGNA has appeared asleep at the wheel for sometime now as competitors Wellpoint and the more aggressive Aetna look to engage the end consumer.

Not any more.

Today’s Washington Post had a brief article on CIGNA’s introduction of the new website, itstimetofeelbetter. Along with the new website, which has a wide ranging and somewhat confusing mix of material, CIGNA is also leveraging social media, ala facebook, and the ubiquitous iPod via podcasts at “CIGNA University” on iTunes.

Checked out the site and it is worth a drive-by just to see how CIGNA perceives the market and what it seeks to offer the consumer.

What I liked:

  • The interactive tools (most provided by Healthwise) are fun, though tough to read. Did a quick one on calories burned during my 2hr bike ride this morning (plenty, I get a big desert tonight – did I tell you I ride to eat?). Did another on heart health – looking good.
  • Some informative, albeit common content, that one would find just about anywhere via Google search. Nicely presented.
  • A “game” to test one’s health knowledge. Taking the test results in CIGNA contributing clean water to children in India.

What I was less impressed with:

  • The content/information provided was all over the map. Sure, much of it was consumer facing, but if this is truly a site to educate the consumer, why have a white paper targeting employers?
  • If one is going to do something on iTunes, why not get creative and develop a couple of innovative apps for the iPhone/iTouch. A podcast is just so 2002ish.
  • Where is the information on PHRs? Absolutely nothing on the subject and a real missed opportunity to educate the consumer.
  • How about quality and transparency in healthcare – nothing! How can CIGNA be promoting CDHP to employers while at the same time not educating the consumer on healthcare buying decisions is beyond me.

Bottomline:

Happy to see health plans get out there and try to educate the consumer and in time sites such as this should improve. Question is, will they actually dedicate the resources to do it?

Encourage CIGNA and others to rip a page out of the Google play-book and consider such activities as this as a continual work in progress – iterate, iterate, iterate – it will always be in Beta.

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WHCC 2008 just wrapped up with a final keynote from Secretary Leavitt. Leavitt’s keynote was a progress report on the four cornerstones that have driven HHS under his leadership.

Cornerstone One: Standard Quality Measures

There has been a lot of quality metrics established, but agreement on the standards by which these will be measured is still a big challenge. Leavitt believes we are moving too slow. Currently, HHS is doing an inventory of the quality measurements they are currently using throughout HHS. They have identified 100 of them and will be going public with these measures this year.

Cornerstone Two: Standards for Cost of Care

Leavitt came down hard on healthcare costs and billing structure stating:

Our billing system in healthcare is insane.

He went on to draw an analogy between a consumer buying a car and a consumer buying knee replacement surgery going on to say we need to challenge the assumption that buying healthcare services is any different from other industries. Leavitt believes that current efforts striving for the perfect solution will never move us forward – he again stated we are moving to slow. We need to strive for good, not perfection. CMS is currently aggregating its cost for common procedures data and will make that publicly available to push the cost transparency issue forward. Getting back to that knee/car analogy, CMS covered the costs for 250.000 knee surgeries in 2007, the costs for those procedures will be made public this year.

Cornerstone Three: Interoperable EMR

Sees HHS steadily marching forward on interoperability. Quite proud of the establishment of CCHIT and the certification process used to insure EMR software is in compliance to interoperability standards. HHS, via it National Health Information Network (NHIN), will test flow of data among several systems by end of this year. Next year, he foresees this moving beyond test data to the flow of real data and scale-up.

While Leavitt recognizes the challenge of a broader NHIN and interoperability with fewer than 10% of small practices having an EMR system, he gave little concrete guidance on how to overcome this issue. They are looking to change the economic equation to promote adoption. What that equation will be remains to be seen, but I’d look to CMS as the prime leverage point.

One of his chief objectives this year is to see further adoption of eRx practices, which he will promote strongly. Currently looking to attach eRx requirements with physician reimbursement payment rule of he CMS bill before Congress.

Cornerstone Four: Incentives to Seek Value

He saved the fuzziest statements for this last cornerstone. Again, Leavitt promoted the need to establish standards for value metrics and incentives. Also emphasized the need for trust among all stakeholders to get this to work. The biggest challenge that HHS has uncovered here is that value and incentives are driven locally. Therefore, HHS’s role will be to establish the standards, and let the local community drive incentives. Chartered Value Exchanges, of which 14 have been awarded/funded to date, will be the mechanism to drive value and incentives at the local level. Goal is to have 50 opertational by 2010.

Leavitt closed his presentation by stating he sees the unbridled rise in healthcare costs as the biggest threat to our nation’s national economic security. Solving the healthcare puzzle is this generation’s challenge.

Analysis:

Yes, movement on Cornerstones One and Two has been glacial. Too many vested interests have very strong financial reasons to stall any progress on cost and quality transparency. While it appears that HHS will look to further leverage the clout of CMS, seems too little too late, unless of course the next administration picks up where Leavitt left off and pushes even harder to make this happen. In full agreement with Leavitt that we should strive for good enough and not perfection. Advocates for perfection are the ones truly stalling the process.

For Cornerstone Three, do believe that for all the complaining I have heard, all-in-all, CCHIT is moving the interoperability ball forward and EMR companies are structuring their solutions to comply. Now we just need to educate the physician. Here, HHS has fallen far short of the mark. For all the talk about wanting to drive adoption among physicians, adoption is still horribly low. Coupled with strong incentives to encourage adoption (CMS payment structure?) HHS could do more in educating physicians on what’s in it for them. The EMR market is still surprisingly fragmented, and even for me, an HIT analyst who covers this market for a living has a difficult time keeping up with all of them. Maybe CCHIT can provide some guidance here as well.

Corenerstone Four is my least favorite and was where Leavitt made the least clear statements. Defining value and structuring incentives around value is an extremely hard thing to do. The Chartered Value Exchange sounds like a re-branding of the failed RHIO concept and I don’t give these new exchanges any more chance of surviving than its predecessor. Secretary Leavitt, with all due respect, throw this one in the can and go with a three legged stool, afterall, a three legged stool is more stable anyway.

CIGNA & WellPoint to Make PHRs Portable in 2008

You heard it here first folks, CIGNA and WellPoint will make member data portable by end of 2008, following the lead of Aetna and UnitedHealth.

Sat in on the session, Critical Health IT, which had representatives of WellPoint and CIGNA talk about their consumer and broader health IT initiatives. During Q&A got a chance to ask both why have they not come forward with a public statement that they support the portability of a member’s PHR. (Note, during their own prepared remarks they gave somewhat dismal views of PHRs stating adoption has been a challenge). Both stated that they have every intent of making a member’s data portable. WellPoint and CIGNA are currently deploying the CCR standard internally to insure that the data will be portable and enable a member to populate a PHR of their choosing outside of their health plan. They also went on to state that this will be completed in 2008.

Towards the end of our exchange on this question, the WellPoint representative went on to state that they still have issues regarding privacy and releasing such data to a non-covered entity. GIGNA nodded in agreement. What a load of bull, particularly after WellPoint has had a few privacy/security breaches of their own.

Hey WellPoint, its my data, let me choose whether or not I wish to take the risk and stop being so damn paternal. Or is it, you just don’t want anyone between you and me? Watch out, you are about to be dis-intermediated.

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I’ll be attending the World Health Care Congress (WHCC) here in Washington DC getting my fill of all things healthcare and most likely an overdose on policy – after all, this is Washington.

The people who put on the WHCC have put together quite an impressive agenda with so many different and what look to be interesting tracks, the biggest challenge for me was just deciding which ones to attend.  In the end have chosen to focus on those tracks focused on consumer health including transparency, successful models for engagement, empowerment and the like.  Over the course of the next couple of days, I’ll provide a couple posts outlining some of the most critical issues raised and lessons learned from the various presenters and participants.  So stay tuned.

As an aside, had two interesting experiences yesterday, here in DC hainvg arrived a day early.  The first was meeting a man on the DC Metro who had flown in to attend a training session.  We got to talking and he asked me what I did for a living.  Told him healthcare and he immediately opened up with: “Healthcare costs and gas prices are going to drive us into the ground.”  As we continued talking he related his own, most recent experiences with the healthcare system.

He receives good coverage from his employer, though complained about his share of costs continuing to rise.  He has had a heart condition ever since he was a child.  Recently, he changed primary care physicians.  Despite a long record of a heart condition, his new doctor ordered a battery of tests that he estimates cost between $30-40,000.  Though he readily admitted that his costs were a few hundred dollars, he knew that in the end, we all will be paying higher prices to support such practices, that for him seemed at a sham.  He also found the multiple Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) forms that he received from the insurer during this whole process as to appear as though they were written in Greek – simply incomprehensible.

Now, I am not a doctor and certainly not one to judge whether or not these tests were unnecessary.  What this story does point out though are two important points:

  1. Might this consumer, if he had control of his records that were safe-guarded in one of the online data repositories like HealthVault, or Google Health, or even Dossia (if his employer was a member), be able to provide a complete longitudinal health record, maybe the physician would have decided not to order these tests.
  2. With all the talk from insurers about transparency, consumer empowerment and all the wonderful online tools that they want to provide to enable such, from this story it looks like they are getting a little ahead of themselves.  Rather than looking to the Internet and IT as the magic elixir to make all this happen, maybe insurers might want to start with something as simple and basic as making EOBs understandable.   Granted, not novel, nor sexy, but it may deliver better results.

The second little musing is that while heading over to the Hirshhorn Museum (my favorite here in DC, great sculpture garden and fabulous modern art) coming out of the Metro and what should I see plastered on the walls – at least 8 small billboard posters with that big smiling face of Magic Johnson saying something to the affect of “Together we will better manage our health.”

These are part of Aetna’s consumer advertising campaign to encourage greater consumer involvement in managing their health.  Really like this advertising campaign (seen full page ads in the WSJ as well).  As far as I can tell, they are the only major insurer being proactive on educating the consumer.  Now if we could just get the other big insurers (are you listening WellPoint, Cigna, UnitedHealth, etc.) to ramp-up their own consumer advertising to focus on a similar message, we may indeed begin to see consumers take a more proactive role.

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