Dr. Perlin traced the path being shaped by these challenges and opportunities, explaining that the economics of healthcare are creating pressure on the environment and disrupting the status quo. “Costs are increasing rapidly,” he stated. “It’s pretty clear that we’ve already hit some statutory alarms in the Medicare trust fund. Estimates now indicate that the trust fund will be bankrupt by 2018; we can either limit what we do or we can find better value in delivery of care.”
Response to economic pressure by Medicare and private insurers, said Dr. Perlin, provides a construct for change.
“The private sector, the government, and employers are all saying that we’re not going to buy units of healthcare services any more, we’re going to buy outcomes,” stressed Dr. Perlin. “The result is that performance becomes a gate function for even doing business in the new world.”
Toying with modest incentives in current pay-for-performance models will soon be trumped. “Medicare is changing from an incentive for simply reporting [with the current “Reporting Hospital Quality Data for Annual Payment Update” program] to value-based purchasing,” Dr. Perlin pointed out. Similarly, private insurers are differentiating performance levels and using lower co-pays to direct patients to better performers and high co-pays to redirect patients away from lower performers.
To participate in this new world of value-based purchasing and what Dr. Perlin termed “tiering and steering,” the healthcare industry must reorganize ways that it has traditionally provided care. Pen and paper are replaced by electronic health records. A locus of care is replaced by an interoperable, coordinated cooperative information network.
“The patient is the point of care in the new system, whether supported by glucometers that feed data into a central system,” said Dr. Perlin, “or a heart failure patient is tracked after discharge with a digital scale … or whether it is a hospitalist who reaches into the traditional healthcare setting with remote monitoring to provide round-the-clock support to a critically ill patient.”
In addition to providing enhanced safety, quality, continuity, and efficiency, new systems like these will provide central information sources, powerful in providing real-time, clinical decision-support, as well as generating new knowledge about disease, treatment and service delivery. The tremendous data available will reveal previously unnoticed patterns and provide more support for evidence-based care.
“Medicare and private insurers are focusing more on evidence-based care and are increasingly ambivalent about decisions not supported by evidence,” observed Dr. Perlin.
His view of the near future of healthcare was followed later that day with another plenary session that mulled how hospital medicine might look a decade from now.
Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye …
Dr. Wachter traditionally closes each Annual Meeting with a review of how far the young field of hospital medicine has come.
But at the 10th Annual Meeting, Dr. Wachter chose not to look back but to peer into his crystal ball. His presentation, “The Hospitalist Movement Two Decades Later: A Letter from the Future,” took the form of a letter from his future self, written in 2017, to SHM CEO Larry Wellikson, MD, as each man settles into a long-term care facility.
Dr. Wachter outlined the major forces starting to affect hospital medicine and imagined where they would lead us. And he couldn’t resist one glimpse back in time: “Think about the change we’ve seen already,” he marveled. “There’s no field in modern medical history that’s grown this quickly. We’re both leading the way and riding the waves.”
Dr. Wachter admitted his initial estimates for phenomenal growth of the field are already surpassed. “We originally projected that there would be 20,000 or 30,000 hospitalists,” he said. “Well, we’re already over 20,000. Now I’m thinking the final number will be around 50,000 or 60,000.”