Dr. Mark Smith’s Five Tasks for the Healthcare Sector

Nov. 5, 2018
In his keynote address at the PCORI annual meeting, Mark Smith, M.D., M.B.A. founding president and CEO of the California Health Care Foundation, laid out five tasks for the healthcare sector.

A good keynote address gets us to challenge our assumptions and consider some new possibilities in our field, often bringing in ideas from other disciplines or markets. That is what Mark Smith, M.D., M.B.A. founding president and CEO of the California Health Care Foundation, did last week at the annual meeting of the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Smith is a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. As a clinician, served on the front line of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. From 1996 to 2013, he led the California Health Care Foundation, where he helped build the organization into a leader in delivery system innovation, public reporting of care quality, and applications of new technology in healthcare. In his PCORI talk he laid out five tasks for the field, which I will paraphrase here:

1. Continue to work with providers and patients to develop robust clinically specific measures of quality.

2. Accelerate the integration and automation of quality measures into the work flow of care delivery as opposed to separate flow of funds, personnel and work.

3. Develop instruments to measure and improve self-care capability and work with industry on enabling technology that would allow laypeople to do tasks now done by professionals.

4. Think about non-creepy ways to use social media, search, shopping and other non-health data to inform care of patients.

5. Develop, promote and deploy nimble, adaptive research methodologies.

I want to touch on a few of these in detail because I think he made interesting points, some of which are counter-intuitive or go against the grain of current thinking. For instance, Task No. 1 involves quality measures, and Smith acknowledged that there are legitimate complaints from clinicians about the terrible burden in our current system of measurement. “But the answer to that is not a search for five magic measures” useful in all settings, he said. Smith added that the call for fewer measures is a false path.

The current measures are imprecise and often not compelling to patients and professionals, he stressed. The key is to develop measures that are relevant to patients and clinically significant. “We have all sorts of things important to hospitals, doctors and CFOs and CMOs,” he said. “We are just now learning how to create robust measures that are important to patients. I believe those will only be compelling to patients and their doctors if they are clinically specific. When I hear people say we need fewer, better measures, I say no, we need more better measures.”

Smith went into a few reasons why measurement is so challenging in healthcare. “Our IT systems are so primitive that the burden of collection, analysis, and reporting is substantial,” he said. “The answer is more clinically specific measures with greater integration into workflow.” In no other sector of the economy, he pointed out, are the systems for monitoring the quality of the process different from the established and funded system to do the process itself. “We have to Integrate the process of measuring quality and collecting information from patients with the view toward the ergonomic and economic integration into the work flow,” he said.

Smith turned to the concept of patient engagement, noting that everyone has a different definition. “In the early part of 21st century, patients should be engaged in the co-production of healthcare services. It is an extreme notion, but I have been known for being extreme sometimes,” he said.

In fact, Smith focused a good deal of his talk on the idea of co-production. He pointed to the fact that other industries have taken advantage of technology to allow customers to co-produce a service. For instance, people book their own travel now instead of using a travel agent; they use an ATM or bank online instead of getting money from a teller. “Those industries have economic incentive to involve us in the transaction that used to be one way from the professional to us,” he said.

Smith stressed healthcare could do more of that, citing examples such as patients in Great Britain taking their own blood pressure and managing hypertension with medications based on the results. Or patients being trained to test coagulation. Some patient cohorts are doing self-dialysis.

“We have a system that does not take advantage of modern IT,” he added, “because our payment system is based on early 20th century notion of healthcare and how it should be delivered. The only way the practitioner gets paid is if you go somewhere to get information.”

Health systems are starting to move toward involving patients in scheduling decision making, and reporting outcomes. The Open Notes movement is a big improvement in the co-production of information about patient health, but clearly Smith is envisioning more revolutionary changes.

Perhaps the most controversial topic he touched on was No. 4, finding non-creepy ways to use social media, search, shopping and other non-health data to inform care of patients. He asked the audience to imagine clinicians having access to what Google Amazon, and Facebook know about you. “I know that is creepy,” he stressed. “I get there are privacy concerns. We need to think of non-creepy ways to do it. Social media is like nuclear energy,” he added. “It can be used for good or ill. We need to try to integrate that profound deep knowledge about you into the management of your care.”

How you respond to that suggestion may reflect in part which generation you come from. Personally, I recoil from the idea of my primary care doctor reviewing my social media streams or my shopping bill from Whole Foods. But Smith said the search is for a non-creepy way to do that, so I will withhold judgement until I hear an idea that doesn’t sound creepy or Big Brother-ish to me.

But overall, Smith left the PCORI audience with a lot of ideas to consider, and he applauded PCORI researchers for “trying to figure out what is important to patients and get the right instruments to measure it.”

PCORI, he said, “is on the cutting edge of the most important thing we can do: spend time and effort and money on things that are important to patients rather than to professionals. We are just at the beginning of that process.”

Sponsored Recommendations

Bridging the Health Plan/Provider Gap: Data-Driven Collaboration for a Value-Based Future

Download the findings report to understand the current perspective of provider and health plan leaders’ shift to value-based care—with a focus on the gaps holding them back and...

Exploring the future of healthcare with Advanced Practice Providers

Discover how Advanced Practice Providers are transforming healthcare: boosting efficiency, cutting wait times and enhancing patient care through strategic integration and digital...

Unlock Staff Capacity, Increase Safety and Reduce Operational Spend - Realizing ROI from AI enabled RTLS

Unlock staff capacity and enhance safety with AI-enabled RTLS! Join us on June 25th to learn how these systems can reduce operational spending and complexity, improving efficiency...

New Research: The State of Healthcare Cloud Security and Compliance Posture

Compliance & Security Debt Awareness Could Have Prevented Change Healthcare & Ascension Healthcare Breaches