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Wearables Data May Prevent Health Plan Denials

Posted on August 27, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

This story begins, as many do, with a real-world experience. Our health plan just refused to pay for a sleep study for my husband, who suffers from severe sleep apnea, despite his being quite symptomatic. We’re following up with the Virginia Department of Insurance and fully expect to win the day, though we remain baffled as to how they could make such a decision. While beginning the complaint process, a thought occurred to me.

What if wearables were able to detect wakefulness and sleepiness, and my husband was being tracked 24 hours a day?  If so, assuming he was wearing one, wouldn’t it be harder for a health plan to deny him the test he needed? After all, it wouldn’t be the word of one doctor versus the word of another, it would be a raft of data plus his sleep doctor’s opinion going up against the health plan’s physician reviewer.

Now, I realize this is a big leap in several ways.

For one thing, today doctors are very skeptical about the value generated by patient-controlled smartphone apps and wearables. According to a recent survey by market research firm MedPanel, in fact, only 15% of doctors surveyed see wearables of health apps as tools patients can use to get better. Until more physicians get on board, it seems unlikely that device makers will take this market seriously and nudge it into full clinical respectability.

Also, data generated by apps and wearables is seldom organized in a form that can be accessed easily by clinicians, much less uploaded to EMRs or shared with health insurers. Tools like Apple HealthKit, which can move such data into EMRs, should address this issue over time, but at present a lack of wearable/app data interoperability is a major stumbling block to leveraging that data.

And then there’s the tech issues. In the world I’m envisioning, wearables and health apps would merge with remote monitoring technologies, with the data they generate becoming as important to doctors as it is to patients. But neither smartphone apps nor wearables are equipped for this task as things stand.

And finally, even if you have what passes for proof, sometimes health plans don’t care how right you are. (That, of course, is a story for another day!)

Ultimately, though, new data generates new ways of doing business. I believe that when doctors fully adapt to using wearable and app data in clinical practice, it will change the dynamics of their relationship with health plans. While sleep tracking may not be available in the near future, other types of sophisticated sensor-based monitoring are just about to emerge, and their impact could be explosive.

True, there’s no guarantee that health insurers will change their ways. But my guess is that if doctors have more data to back up their requests, health plans won’t be able to tune it out completely, even if their tactics issuing denials aren’t transformed. Moreover, as wearables and apps get FDA approval, they’ll have an even harder time ignoring the data they generate.

With any luck, a greater use of up-to-the-minute patient monitoring data will benefit every stakeholder in the healthcare system, including insurers. After all, not to be cliched about it, but knowledge is power. I choose to believe that if wearables and apps data are put into play, that power will be put to good use.

Health Plans And EMRs: Do They Mix?

Posted on April 9, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke 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.

Even if the best hopes of EMR supporters come true, the truth is that widespread adoption won’t touch one of the key contributors to healthcare waste and inefficiency.  As long as the health insurance companies continue to stand to one side and stay aloof from the EMR adoption process, they’ll effectively undermine providers’ best intentions.

OK, maybe this is a bit confusing.  Let me be a bit clearer. As long as EMRs are designed to control and even improve healthcare quality — but not necessarily to address other health plan priorities — there will be a difficult and (to my mind) embarassing clash of wills involved.

But wait, you say, isn’t the Accountable Care Organization supposed to bring everyone together into a single happy group of cheerleaders?  You know, health plans dole out money in manageable flat bundles, doctors and hospitals work together to create streamlined programs of care and EMRs document that the whole arrangement is working out?

Well, that’s the idealized picture. But let’s face it, for the foreseeable future, only a small percentage of well-funded, well-organized providers will create successful ACOs.

And that leaves the rest of providers on the tiresome modified fee-for-service track, one which forces them in to Dances With Insurance which could eat away at or even cancel out any productivity gains an organization makes from their EMR investment.

Let’s face it:  in reality, health plans aren’t just interested in clinical care, they’re interested in cheap care.  It’s hard to integrate their methods for saving money — such as the ever-so-popular need to pre-authorize expensive procedures — with the efficiencies one would hope for in an EMR-based organization.

I hope insurance companies find ways to work towards quality that draw on EMRs’ capabilities, such as population management, better care for chronically-ill patients and data sharing.  At the moment, however, I don’t think they’ve come nearly far enough in that direction. When will the health plan business find a way to make money in a way that actually takes advantage of EMRs’ strengths?

Why Aren’t Pharmas, Health Plans Paying for EMRs?

Posted on April 4, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke 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.

The following questions have been bothering me, and I don’t have answers. Maybe readers will be able to fill me in.

As far as I know, pharmaceutical companies haven’t been subsidizing or providing EMR software to medical practices, though I can’t imagine a better opportunity to a) form even closer ties with medical practices and b) get their message in front of physicians every day.

Attorneys, if you’re reading these, feel free to chime in and let me know if I’m not up to date; I realize laws governing donations to physicians are a moving target. But assuming it’s  still legal, I can’t see why pharmas haven’t jumped all over this idea.

I don’t know enough about pharma marketing costs to hazard a guess on what this strategy would generate financially, but I can only imagine it would be a winner.

Another stumper: why aren’t health plans investing in EMRs for their physicians on a large scale?

Not only would EMRs potentially improve efficiency and lower costs, they’d also give the plans an opportunity to build in real-time claims processing. That’s a huge win for both doctors and plans. From what I’ve read, health plans could save billions in paper transaction costs alone if they could use EMRs as a platform to connect processing directly.

As I see it, both of these industries have even better reasons to push EMR adoption than hospitals. Sure, hospitals need to connect with doctors, build loyalty and coordinate care, but the financial upside seems much larger — and more measurable — for pharmas and health plans.

So, this one’s on you, readers.  Why aren’t these other stakeholders getting into the game?  Hell, why aren’t employers taking a stand? (PHR efforts like Dossia don’t count in my view.)  Am I missing something here?