Engaging patients: Health care’s new ‘holy grail’

BY Jim Frederick

It has been called “the blockbuster drug of the century,” the holy grail of health care and the next great frontier in the search for a more responsive and cost-effective healthcare system. But is it a truly achievable goal, and will it really transform the way health care is delivered in the United States?

We’re talking about the health system’s vast, but still halting, movement to engage and empower patients. The ability and willingness of patients to engage more fully in their own health care and disease prevention is the lynchpin of the health system’s gradual but inexorable embrace of patient-centered care, and advocates say it will transform the relationship between patients and their clinicians — and, along with it, the way health care is delivered in America.

“Patient engagement is at the forefront of today’s health reform debate to the extent that it has even been called the next blockbuster drug,” said Wendy Everett, president of NEHI, the nonprofit health policy and advocacy group formerly known as the New England Health Initiative. “And as the system begins to focus on improving value and controlling costs — and as providers are increasingly held accountable for patient outcomes — how patients are engaged, empowered and activated will all play a critical role.”

Kristin Carman, a VP at the American Institutes for Research, describes the engagement process as “patients, families, their representatives and health professionals working in active partnership at various levels across the healthcare system to improve health and health care.”

Writing for Medical Home News, Sara Guastello, a director with the influential health consultancy organization Planetree, defines patient-centered care as “care delivered in a way that incorporates the patient’s perspective, is organized around his or her experiences and values, and is responsive to needs that may change over time.”

“For the vast potential of patient-centered care as a crucial lynchpin for healthcare quality to be realized, we must invite patients in to be a part of the discussion … and to be a part of developing the solutions for achieving that aim,” Guastello said.

“Patients with the skills and confidence to be actively engaged in their health care,” Guastello said in a conference earlier this year, are less likely to require an emergency room visit or hospital stay; “more likely to adhere to treatment plans;” more likely to adopt healthy behaviors and achieve better health outcomes; and less costly to insurers and health plan payers. That makes patient-centered care and a full regard by health providers for the patient experience “nothing less than a quality and business imperative,” according to Planetree.
How much progress has the nation’s health provider community made in adopting the new, more patient-centric and patient-engaged model of care? Not nearly enough, say many providers.

Among them is physician Robert Mandel, CEO of Health Dialog, a provider of health management services. “I don’t think we’re very far along on rewiring [the healthcare system],” he noted. “Traditionally, the health system has taken [patients’ sense of] control away. It’s been a very lopsided relationship that’s created this sense of helplessness among patients.”

The healthcare industry, Mandel noted at an Oct. 3 conference on patient engagement hosted by NEHI in Boston, “needs to think of itself in a much broader way. It’s really about individual well-being and how we as clinicians contribute to people’s well-being in the most effective way possible.”

“This is a continuous dialogue for your entire life, about how you optimize your well-being based on a whole host of things — your environment, your genetics, your behaviors,” Mandel added. “It’s not just about self-management of a condition. It’s about how you manage your health throughout your life, and how we [as clinicians] support that.”

In one respect, the demand by patients to share more completely in their own healthcare decisions could be seen as just the latest stage on which the Baby Boom, Gen X and Gen Y generations are acting out their lifelong determination to exert their influence and individuality. But the rise of the engaged and more informed patient is also gaining traction among health providers at all levels. Among the reasons:

  1. It works. According to studies, patients who are encouraged to participate fully in their own treatment plans by empathetic doctors, nurses and pharmacists show demonstrable improvements in outcomes;
  2. Patients who become true partners in their own health — including adopting healthier behaviors and researching their own conditions and treatments — can help ease the practice loads on time-pressured, overbooked primary-care physicians; and
  3. Patients effectively enlisted in their own care are more likely to adhere to their medication andtreatment regimens.

Fueling the drive to engage patients as partners is the urgent need to curb the nation’s runaway health costs. Citing federal statistics, Planetree’s Guastello reports that 24.7% of Medicare patients are readmitted to hospitals within 30 days of discharge, costing taxpayers an extra $17 billion annually. And with health reform gradually shifting hospital reimbursements to penalize those with excessive readmission rates and reward providers for measurable improvements in patient outcomes, the need for a paradigm change in health delivery has only increased.

Indeed, increasing transparency about the true cost of care will help drive patients to become more engaged in their treatment, experts say. “At the very least, it stops the conversation and focuses on how important is this test, and what are we going to do with the results?” Diane Gilworth, a geriatric nurse practitioner and director of clinical care at Dovetail Health, said.

“It’s going to engage a new kind of conversation when we begin to infuse costs,” she added. Health practitioners, she said, have “always been worried about having that conversation, because we don’t want to be in a situation where cost influences our choices. But the reality is we have to … begin to have that conversation.”

“We’re not going to solve health care’s problems unless we fundamentally restructure the way we see patients,” Gilworth said. “We need more time to have trusting, vulnerable, trust-based relationships so things don’t fall through the cracks, and that’s going to take an entire change in the way we pay for health care.”

According to the National eHealth Collaborative, the overarching goal is to develop “more efficient and effective models of care that treat patients as partners instead of just customers.” To that end, the collaborative devoted nearly a year to developing a Patient Engagement  Framework — based on input from more than 150 experts in health care, technology and human behavior — “to guide healthcare organizations in developing and strengthening their patient engagement strategies through the use of e-health tools and resources.”

“It provides a basic framework” for patients and providers, beginning with “informing, navigating the system, finding a provider, etc.,” said Kate Berry, CEO of the National e-Health Collaborative. The framework addresses the whole continuum of care between clinicians and empowered, informed patients, including such issues as developing a wellness plan, shared decision-making, care experience surveys, electronic health records and integration of patient records with clinical trials and insurance claims data.

“This is not how the system works today. So it’s a huge cultural change, both for … patients, and for providers as well,” Berry said at NEHI’s Oct. 3 conference. She added, “you can’t do any of that without health information technology as an enabler.”

Addressing the NEHI gathering, Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, recalled the nature of the doctor-patient relationship a half-century ago. The “authoritarian physician,” he noted, was “direct, certain, unwilling to compromise and uninterested in others’ opinions.”

“We’ve all encountered these physicians,” he said. “But … if you are truly patient-centered in your relations to the patients’ needs, it’s not about you deciding and choosing. It’s about understanding and learning from each patient, at each stage of illness, exactly what that patient needs at that moment, and being prepared to … meet the patient where the patient needs to be met.”

That involves learning new ways to communicate on the part of both patients and providers. And it means clinicians and other caregivers must understand that “for the vast majority of people out there, their lives do not revolve around their health,” noted Alexandra Drane, founder and chairperson of health consultancy Eliza Corp. “They’re not sitting around waiting to get lectured.”

Feinberg said the Institute of Medicine is working to shift the paradigm toward empowered patients. “Like NEHI, we have tried to increase the focus on patient engagement and what it really means to be patient-centered. Figuring out what it means to realize patient-centeredness in care has been a continuing task over [the] last dozen years,” he said.

Increasingly, pharmacy leaders also are focusing on patient empowerment. “This is an area … on state pharmacy associations’ radar,” said Rebecca Snead, EVP and CEO of the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations.

Peggy Funk, interim executive director of the Maryland Pharmacists Association, said: “MPhA has been working closely with the Script Your Future Coalition that is focused on this issue. We’ve already hosted a few events … with the goal of strengthening a patient’s own motivation and commitment to change.”

Among the goals, Funk said, are helping pharmacists and nurses improve medication adherence, empathy and patient communications through motivational interviewing education.

Also working in collaboration with other health advocates to boost patient-centered approaches is the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, which co-sponsored a conference in September, titled: “Better Health: Everyone’s Responsibility.” Association EVP Margherita Giuliano said, “we are part of a coalition called CT Partners for Better Health. The coalition will be continuing this focus going forward.”

“It’s very important,” said Laura Cranston, executive director of the Pharmacy Quality Alliance. “Patient-centered care is about meeting the patient where they are at a given point in time. It’s not treating every patient exactly the same.”

“What our system is being challenged to do across every segment of pharmacy, and of health care, is to say, ‘Where is the voice of the patient in the work that you’re doing, and how can you make the voice of the patient relevant so they understand what we’re trying to measure and why?’” she said.

To that end, Cranston told DSN Collaborative Care, “the healthcare system as a whole is asking, ‘What is the patient’s experience with their pharmacy provider, their dental provider, their primary-care provider?’ And they’re all saying they need to be able to measure the patient’s experience. So as we head into 2014, one of our challenges is … [that] the healthcare system needs more patient-reported outcomes measures.”

What’s more, “low health literacy impacts a patient’s ability to engage in the healthcare system,” noted Thomas Buckley, assistant clinical professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy. Addressing the CPhA conference in September, Buckley cited a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that 33% of Americans were unable to read basic healthcare materials, 26% were unable to understand information on an appointment slip, and 60% did not understand standard informed consent.
Overcoming that gap is one of many steps that can lead to a new, more fruitful partnership between patients and their physicians, pharmacists and nurses, said Christine Bechtel, planning chair of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

“It’s essential that the culture of the system change, and that starts with more communication,” she said. “We need to start talking with patients, instead of to them or about them.”

Patients need to be part of that culture shift from the outset, said Susan Sheridan, director of patient engagement for the recently established Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute created as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “To get good care, we need good information and good policies, and that can come from good research that’s patient-centered, with patients helping design more relevant research and information,” she said.

To that end, PCORI will launch a new training program in the fall to design guidelines for researching patient-centered outcomes. The group is inviting scientists, patients, clinicians and other stakeholders “to really understand what that research science is,” Sheridan said.



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The push for pharmacist provider status

BY Ann Latner

Pharmacists traditionally have been one of the most underutilized members of the healthcare team, possibly because they hadn’t been officially recognized as part of that team. That, however, is about to change.

This past October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s pharmacist provider status bill into law, expanding the scope of pharmacists’ practice and recognizing them as healthcare providers. The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014, looks to be an important first step in expanding the practice scope of pharmacists, particularly in the community setting.

What is provider status, and why is it important?
Pharmacists were not included in important sections of the Social Security Act that determine eligibility for healthcare programs, including Medicare Part B. Because of this, Medicare beneficiaries have limited access to pharmacists’ services on an outpatient basis. Due to the omission from Medicare, state and private plans also have failed to include pharmacists as providers, or to compensate them for their services.

Numerous studies and demonstration projects have shown the importance of pharmacists in patient care, particularly in managing chronic disease and in controlling inappropriate medication use. Study after study has proven that when pharmacists are included as part of the healthcare team, healthcare costs are reduced, patient outcomes are improved and patient satisfaction is increased. Yet, without provider-status recognition and a compensation model, pharmacists are not being used to fill the increasing gap between the number of patients in the country and the number of healthcare providers.

What does California’s new law do?
While the California bill does not mention compensation or reimbursement for services, it does expand pharmacists’ roles. The bill declares pharmacists to be healthcare providers and authorizes them to administer drugs, including by injection; provide consultation, training and education about medications, disease management and disease prevention; participate in multidisciplinary patient reviews; order and interpret tests to manage and monitor drug therapy; and via state protocol, to independently provide hormonal contraceptives, travel medications and nicotine-replacement products.

The bill also creates Advanced Practice Pharmacist, or APP, recognition. Once a pharmacist is certified as an APP, he or she may perform patient assessments; order and interpret tests; initiate, adjust and discontinue drug therapy pursuant to an order by the patient’s prescriber; and evaluate and manage disease and health conditions in collaboration with other healthcare providers. In other words, activities that are similar to those that pharmacists who work under collaborative practice agreements perform.

The future
Support for provider status for pharmacists has been unanimous among pharmacist groups and associations. Starting in mid-January 2013, a coalition of 14 organizations — including the American Pharmacists Association, or APhA; the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, or AMCP; the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, or ASHP; the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, or NACDS; and the National Community Pharmacists Association, or NCPA — have been working on a set of principles to guide the provider status campaign at the federal level. The coalition gathered important feedback at a national provider status stakeholder meeting last March, and continues to hone “Principles for Improving Patient Health: The Pharmacist’s Role.” The focus is to create provider status principles that are “patient-centered, focus on team-based care and are grounded in the triple-aim of access, quality and cost,” according to APhA’s However, on the federal level, an act of Congress ultimately will be required to recognize pharmacists as healthcare providers.

The timing is optimal. With the country poised on an impending shortage of primary-care providers, adding pharmacists to the healthcare team can improve access to care, expand coverage of care and increase optimal utilization of medications. The author of a recent article in Health Affairs, titled “Primary Care: Proposed Solution to the Physician Shortage without Training More Physicians,” speculated that up to 24% of primary-care physician time “could be saved by sharing the care among a primary-care team. The registered nurse and pharmacist workforces are sufficient to add primary-care capacity.”

The time for pharmacist provider recognition is now.

Ann W. Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.



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Nov-28-2013 10:46 am

This is a great for CA. This will increase acess to care, decrease cost, improve quality and improve safety for millions. Hopefully the rest of the states will see the light and add full presription authority for pharmacists. Steps like this can easily solve access to providers. The next step is to get the FDA to move more quickly on changing RX to OTC status, clear import of drugs from Canada and Mexico and push 90 day supply for maintenance drugs. Many of our challenges can be fixed with the pens of governors, thoughtful administrators and the push of the people. Rlt



Which area of the industry do you think Amazon's entry would shake up the most?

Actavis to pare down sales staff of branded-drugs division

BY Alaric DeArment

DUBLIN — Actavis will lay off more than 30% of the sales staff from its branded-drugs division as part of its acquisition of Warner Chilcott, the drug maker said.

The company said that Actavis Specialty Brands would have about 750 employees, compared with the 1,100 it had when it finished acquiring Warner Chilcott last month. The company said the smaller sales organization would have "equal or better" coverage than the legacy Warner Chilcott organization in all therapeutic areas, including women’s health, urology, gastroenterology and dermatology. The complete structure of the organization will be outlined at the company’s investor day, in January.

"Beginning at close, we initiated an extensive assessment and review process to determine the appropriate structure for our U.S. specialty brands sales organization, recognizing that the two companies had significant overlap in key areas," Actavis specialty brands president Fred Wilkinson said. "I am confident that this organization will be an industry leader in providing support to healthcare professionals within the women’s health, urology, dermatology and GI therapeutic categories."



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Which area of the industry do you think Amazon's entry would shake up the most?