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E-Patient Update:  Registration Can Add Value To Care 

Posted on August 15, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

For those of you who end up seeking care in hospital emergency departments now and again, the following will probably be familiar. You’re spending the precious few minutes you get with the ED doc discussing your situation, having a test done or asking a nurse some rather personal questions, and a hapless man or woman shows up and inserts themselves into the moment. Why? Because they want to collect registration information.

While these clerks are typically pleasant enough, and their errand relatively brief, their interruption has consequences. In my case, their entry into the room has sometimes caused a nurse or doctor to lose their train of thought, or an explanation in progress was never finished. As if that weren’t irritating enough, the registration clerk – at least at my local community hospital – typically asks questions I’ve already answered previously, or asks me to sign forms I could easily have reviewed at an earlier stage in the process.

Not only that, there have been at least a couple of situations in which a nurse or doctor was so distracted by the clerk’s arrival that some reasonably important issues didn’t get handled. Don’t get me wrong, the skilled team at this facility recovered and addressed these issues before they could escalate, but there’s no guarantee that this will always happen, particularly if the patient isn’t used to keeping track of their care process.

Also, given that alarm fatigue is already leading to patient care mistakes and near-misses, it seems odd that this hospital would squeeze yet another distraction into its ED routine. At least the alarms are intended to serve as clinical decision support and avoid needless errors. Collecting my street address a second time doesn’t rise to that level of importance.

Of course, hospitals need the information the clerk collects, for a variety of legal and operational reasons. I have no problem signing a form giving it permission to bill my insurer, affirming that I don’t need disability accommodations or agreeing to a facility’s “no smoking on campus” policy. And I certainly want any provider that treats me to have full and accurate insurance information, as I obviously don’t want to be billed for the care myself!  But is it really necessary to interrupt a vital care process to accomplish this?

As I see it, verifying registration information could be done much more effectively if it took place at a different point in the sequence of care – at the moment when physicians decide whether to discharge or admit that patient.  After all, if the patient is well enough to answer questions and sign forms while lying in an ED bed, they’re likely to remain so through the admissions process, and verify their financial and personal information once they’re settled (or even while they’re waiting to be transported to their bed). Meanwhile, if the patient is being discharged, they could just as easily provide signatures and personal data as they prepare to leave.

But the above would simply make registration less intrusive. What about adding real value to the process, for both the hospital and the patient? Instead of having a clerk gather this information, why not provide the patient with a tablet which presents the needed information, allowing patients to enter or edit their personal details at leisure.

Then, as they digitally sign off on registration, it would be a great time to ask the patient a few details which help the facility understand the patient’s need for support and care coordination. Why not find out, before the patient is discharged, whether they have a primary care doctor or relevant specialist, whether they can afford their medications, whether they can get to post-discharge visits and the like? This improves results for the patient and ties in with a value-based focus on continuity of care.

These days, it’s not enough just to eliminate pointless workflow disruptions. Let’s leverage the amazing consumer IT platforms we have to make things better!

The Health Insurance Demand Problem

Posted on July 11, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is CoFounder and CEO of Pristine, a VC backed company based in Austin, TX that builds software for Google Glass for healthcare, life sciences, and industrial environments. Pristine has over 30 healthcare customers. Kyle blogs regularly about business, entrepreneurship, technology, and healthcare at

A family friend was recently admitted to the hospital after a traumatic motorcycle accident in Colorado. He’s not in great condition, but he’s hanging in there. In light of having just written this post about the cost of highly acute care, I couldn’t stop pondering about his health insurance.

Health insurance is a bizarre creature. Unlike other forms of insurance, people actually want to consume what they’re insured against, defying the very premise of the insurance model!

Confused? Let’s dive in.

No one wants to consume traditional insurance

People never file claims for traditional forms of insurance unless something bad has happened, like car or home accidents, natural disasters, or death (covered by life insurance). In some of these cases (like minor fender benders), the insured customer often elects not to file a claim in order to avoid a premium increase. When people do file traditional insurance claims, that means something sufficiently bad has happened, and the insurance system kicks in place to recoup the damages.

People do want to consume healthcare insurance

Healthcare insurance is a wildly different animal. Only a small percentage of total hospital admissions are highly acute, catastrophic cases. A large majority of the care delivery system services non-catastrophic cases, from preventive care to counseling, scheduled (and elective) surgeries, and skin rashes, for example. Patients want as much (non-catastrophic) healthcare as reasonably possible, and they want their insurance companies to pay for it.

This is a classic principal-agency problem. The person making financial decisions isn’t bearing the cost of those decisions; in fact, the person making financial decisions is empowered to blindly spend without thinking. To make matters worse, many healthcare providers encourage patients to consume costly diagnostics and procedures with little regard for value, knowing that insurance companies will pick up the tab.

Realigning incentives

As it currently stands, this system breaks most of the basic assumptions of capitalism: the principal-agency problem, pricing information, and ability to compare producers/providers.

Reducing demand and utilization of healthcare resources is impossible. Since patients are currently incentivized to demand unlimited care without caring about cost, supply will always find a way to satisfy demand. So, how can we realign the incentives to fix the system?

The only way to reduce demand is to make patients accountable for their own healthcare expenses. With the insurance customer suddenly conscious of the cost and value of their subacute healthcare consumption, providers will be incentivized to compete and offer lower costs.

Thus, insurance companies should provide patients “catastrophe-only” plans. These plans would fully and generously cover highly acute care needs, like trauma, cancer, or stroke care. However, like a vehicle insurance plan without comprehensive coverage, the cost of treating the medical equivalent of a keyed car (e.g. a purely speculative blood test) would fall to the individual.

As CEO of a company in the healthcare space, it pains me to know that I’m contributing to the healthcare incentive problem by providing employees with a traditional healthcare plan. But until healthcare insurers offer catastrophe-only plans, patients will continue to blindly consume. In fact, even the Affordable Care Act failed in this light; the national and state-based exchanges don’t offer a single catastrophe-only insurance plan. They are all bundled and are ripe for unbundling.

Health Insurance Exchange Q&A with John Kelly from Edifecs

Posted on September 27, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is an interview about Health Insurance Exchanges with John Kelly, Principal Business Advisor, Edifecs.
John Kelly
1. Where are we at with Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX)? What are the timelines for their implementation?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates creation of a retail market for health insurance, where individuals can shop, compare and buy healthcare coverage much the same way as they would a car. The goal is to provide greater access to healthcare coverage and eventually lower costs. While the ACA initiated the health insurance exchanges (HIXs) as the first step in creating a new retail market for healthcare, it specifically did not stipulate the Federal and State exchanges as the stated goal of the legislation. The stated goal was to reform the way Americans purchased their healthcare. Before the October 1st deadline has even arrived, the HIX model is already evolving beyond the federally funded exchanges. Private exchanges are already up and running and private websites (eHealth Insurance, et al.) have begun to integrate with public infrastructure. Much of the country has focused on the open enrollment date, but the real challenges come afterward, as the industry deals with the operational realities of participating on HIXs over the long term.

The public exchanges are due to launch next week, and open enrollment runs through March 31, 2014. Starting January 1, 2014 all health plans purchased through the insurance exchanges will go into effect, meaning those who bought their health insurance on an exchange will be covered.

2. This is implemented on a state-by-state basis, right? Are all 50 states ready?

There are numerous exchanges. Each state had the option to establish its own state-operated HIX or participate in the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM). Thirty-three states chose the FFM, 15 states plus the District of Columbia are running their own marketplaces, and two states are partnering with the federal government to run their exchange.

In addition to the state-run marketplaces, another major component is the Data Services Hub, which is a tool developed by The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to interact with all 51 exchanges, verify applicant information and determine eligibility for enrollment in select health plans and subsidy programs.

Some states are more prepared than others, having made investments in customer service hotlines, technology testing, and consumer education campaigns. Generally, these states made early decisions to participate, so their implementations are more mature, though I doubt any would say they are all set to go. As enrollment gets underway, all of the exchanges will engage in constant improvements (much like any large technology project) to iron out bugs and improve functionality. For the states that didn’t make those investments, it will be a more difficult process.

3. What do health insurance exchanges mean for the health plans? What’s their reaction to the health insurance exchanges?

HIXs are creating a disruptive force for insurers and purchasers, a force that will change the way they conduct business. For insurers, it will change everything from attracting consumers to their end-to-end administrative processes (member enrollment, system integration, payment transactions, etc.).

It hasn’t been easy, particularly because of the compressed timeline between the federal government releasing detailed guidelines and the go-live date of October 1, 2013. Insurers are trying to balance caution with the prospect of 30 million enrollees and $200 billion in revenue within the next decade.

Many health insurers have realized they already participate in Medicare and Medicaid, a form of retail healthcare purchasing, so why not exploit the opportunity of these new exchanges? The reward potential is compelling, especially for regional plans that can now compete with national plans for employers who may choose to migrate to “defined contribution” plans. This is likely to be the largest open enrollment period in history nationwide. While it is not an ideal situation to increase enrollment under such a tight timeline, many realize the potential opportunities and are committed to making it work.

Perhaps the biggest change for plans is that they will have to learn to compete for members and customers, rather than employer groups and brokers. The shift away from competing for members began in the early 1990’s with “sole source” health plan marketing. Plans will need to re-learn some old skills. Plans will need to compete much more consciously on value as opposed to just cost. This was the primary and clear intent of the ACA.

4. What do the health insurance exchanges mean for an employer?

Up until recently, the consensus in the industry was that most employers would stick with the conventional employer-sponsored benefits system, rather than switch to a defined contribution plan. But as this recent Wall Street Journal article explains, many employers are now moving toward providing employees a sum of money to go buy their own coverage. This trend indicates that many companies are looking at HIXs as a way to control the increase in their healthcare benefit costs, while perhaps more importantly, providing their employees with greater choice. This is a huge sea change. While employers have known they need to continue offering healthcare coverage to attract the most talented workforce, they have been struggling with the spiraling costs. Many now see HIXs as an ideal solution.

5. What do the health insurance exchanges mean for patients?

These exchanges are part of a greater trend toward patients playing a larger, more active role in their own healthcare. For selecting a healthcare plan, HIXs are shifting decision-making from employers to their employees; in essence returning healthcare to a direct-to-consumer sales model that will redefine consumer expectations, customer service and healthcare consumer marketing. The overall success of this shift will be based upon the ability of consumers to be better purchasers. There is certainly more risk and effort involved, but the upside is a significant increase in choice and a strong incentive for the plans to compete aggressively on value for dollar.

6. What broader goals do you see the health insurance exchanges bringing to healthcare?

As I mentioned above, one mandate in the ACA is to establish a retail marketplace for healthcare as a means to improving access to healthcare and inevitably lowering costs. HIXs are the current manifestation of that goal, and it’s a positive disruption in the market. As we’ve seen with other such market force change, we may be able to predict the disruption, but we can only guess at the form it will take after the first wave of innovation and market reaction.

7. What are the biggest challenges for health insurance exchanges?

There are a lot of moving pieces, and as with any large technology project, there are always going to be bugs to be fixed and improvements to be made. There is no reason to believe each state’s marketplace won’t go live on October 1 or soon after; however, many won’t be perfect. This launch is similar to the “soft launch” of a retail store opening, and it may take a few months to get everything working. It will probably take a couple of open enrollment cycles to achieve a steady state. The long-term challenge is the same as any insurance product; will the actuarial base support the financial health of the system over time? As this is a market rooted in Federal Law, similar to the experience seen in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Connector (“Romney Care”), I suspect the system will demonstrate remarkable inertia and will roll slowly toward equilibrium.

These Exchanges have no choice but to continuously improve. By March 2014, I expect the industry will be thinking, “It could have been a lot worse, but we made it,” and they’ll be moving forward to make the next open enrollment much smoother.