AGA Tech Summit

The future of GI: A choice between ‘care assembly’ or skilled risk management



BOSTON – Gastroenterology is becoming a game of risk: It’s either learn to leverage risk through the creation of advanced alternative payment methods (APM) under Medicare’s new Quality Payment Program or risk losing money through the commoditization of the field, according to an expert.

“Our culture right now is one where we get paid for making widgets,” said Lawrence Kosinski, MD, a practice councilor on the American Gastroenterological Association Governing Board and former chairman of its Practice Management and Economics Committee. He made his remarks in an interview in advance of his presentation at the 2017 AGA Tech Summit sponsored by the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology. “The more colonoscopies we do, the more money we make. The more we can charge for those colonoscopies and get collected, the better things are for us.”

Dr. Lawrence Kosinski, gastroenterology, Illinois Eli Zimmerman/Frontline Medical News

Dr. Lawrence Kosinski

However, since the goal of value-based care is to drive down the cost of services – such as by replacing colonoscopies with less expensive alternatives – under the new rules of reimbursement, the gastroenterologist’s competitive advantage is increasingly in the knowledge of how to manage complex chronic diseases.

“Over 80% of the cost of health care is for the management of chronic disease. We happen to have a very expensive set of chronic diseases that we take care of in GI, very complicated illnesses. We need to leverage the management of those patients, but we need to be able to show how our work decreases the overall cost of care so that we can get a piece of that risk premium,” he said.

In his own practice, Dr. Kosinski and his colleagues have created an APM – the first novel APM to be recommended to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for approval by the Physician-Focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee – that is based on better patient risk assessment, combined with earlier patient engagement.

After discovering in 2013 that one of his payers was spending $24,000 annually on patients with inflammatory bowel disease and that two-thirds of patients with inflammatory bowel disease who are admitted to the hospital had not had a CPT code issued in the 30 days before admission, Dr. Kosinski and his colleagues wanted to see if they could offer the insurer value by decreasing that hospitalization rate.

Using proprietary algorithms rooted in thorough patient risk assessment according to published guidelines for the management of patients with Crohn’s disease, they created a patient platform – coined ProjectSonar – that alerts their Crohn’s patients on their smart phones, engages them in a short survey, and provides them with instant feedback on their disease status and care needs based on their responses. Survey results are sent to the Web and to nurse case managers at the practice, who follow up with the patient accordingly.

A year-long pilot program of the patient portal with 50 people in the study population showed more than a 600% return on the cost of investment in the proprietary software, with an average of $6,000 in medical savings for test subjects who responded to texts, compared with controls who did not receive smart phone texts, for a total savings of more than half a million dollars. “All of the savings come from the patients who respond,” Dr. Kosinski said, noting that, in his practice, they now have a sustained patient response rate of more than 80% and that it helps to have the physician emphasize use of the platform to the patient.

“Patients love it. It is almost like chronic disease concierge medicine they don’t have to pay for,” Dr. Kosinski said during his presentation at the meeting, adding that the insurer likes it because it cuts costs, and physicians like it because they don’t have to take less reimbursement to help the insurer realize gains.

“We risk assess every patient, something the majority of doctors don’t do but [that] insurance companies do all the time,” Dr. Kosinski said in an interview after his presentation. “Then we apply the appropriate treatment using the scientific methods in the published guidelines. Then we analyze the data, which helps us refine our assessments and predict our costs of care in this population.”

Knowing the base cost of care for specific patient populations helps define the margin of financial risk he and his colleagues can tolerate. A gastroenterology practice that operates as a risk-bearing entity could theoretically offer to contract with affordable care organizations to manage IBD or other GI-type conditions, he said.

By learning to assess, measure, and leverage risk, gastroenterologists can become sought after for the value they provide rather than for the care they “assemble,” something Dr. Kosinski said is of rising concern as the Affordable Care Act has driven a lot of consolidation, with hospital systems buying up primary care physicians and specialists.

Otherwise, he said, “We’re just going to be commoditized proceduralists.”

Dr. Kosinski is president of SonarMDTM.

On Twitter @whitneymcknight

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