Health care stories

HealthSparq is shedding light on health care costs

The rapid shift of millions of Americans into high-deductible and consumer-directed health plans is helping change the way health care costs are perceived. With more individuals and families footing a larger portion of their medical bills, consumers are demanding new ways to shop for health care services.

Cambia Health Solutions recognized this need and created HealthSparq, a online tool empowering consumers to compare treatment options according to provider quality measures and cost estimates. HealthSparq is one of more than 20 companies in the Cambia family transforming the way people experience healthcare.

To date, HealthSparq has contracted with 60 health plans across the country. A recent study conducted with the largest health plan in the Pacific Northwest showed a potential savings of $49 million based on the use of HealthSparq’s Treatment Cost Estimator tool by members. The same members chose less expensive treatment options for digestive conditions at nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

“Reports indicate that 53 percent of consumers are uninformed about health care costs and are calling for online shopping technology to make health care choices,” says HealthSparq General Manager Torben Nielsen. “Our solutions are just what the health plan and employer markets need.”

Research at Providence focuses on the patient

Providence Health & Services in Oregon focuses its research efforts on improving patient care. Researchers at Providence Cancer Center are helping lead the way in studying how to use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Providence Heart and Vascular Institute is home to many firsts here in the Northwest – including using minimally invasive procedures to repair and replace heart valves and taking part in the trial of a stent-like device that dissolves once it heals the vessel.

And Providence Brain and Spine Institute neurosurgeons are working on a first-of-its-kind trial for a vaccine that treats tumors.

“There are so many questions that remain unanswered about the best way to take care of patients,” says Providence’s Walter Urba, M.D., Ph D., director, Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center in the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute. “Providence recognizes the need to innovate and invest in the future. That allows us to develop new therapies that will help us save lives.”

Increasingly, Providence is seen as a leader, nationally and internationally, in a wide range of research areas. And the patient is always at the center of that work.

OHSU: Creating a cancer curing economy

Dr. Brian Druker changed cancer treatment when he proved that a once-a-day pill could turn a deadly cancer into a manageable disease. Now he’s working to revolutionize the early detection of cancer, so the disease can be found when it is most treatable.

Nike Co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, believe in Dr. Druker and his team at Oregon Health & Science University and have pledged $500 million when OHSU raises another $500 million. The prospects are good. The Oregon Legislature approved $200 million in bond financing for needed laboratory and clinical space. The OHSU Foundation already has raised more than $86 million.

OHSU’s focus is improving health, but its work also contributes $2.4 billion annually in net economic activity to the state. OHSU’s traded-sector impact includes $350 million a year in research grants, as well as income from out-of-state patients and students. The $1 billion investment in the Knight Cancer Institute for early detection will generate $134 million in economic output annually and support 860 jobs, according to ECONorthwest. This is in addition to the $892 million impact and 6,835 jobs (FTE for one year) supported by the two-year construction phase.

Kaiser Permanente focuses on prevention

Diabetes provides one of the clearest examples of how chronic conditions drive up health care expenses in the United States. In a typical business of 500 employees, an average of 42 have diabetes. That translates to nearly $470,000 in direct medical costs and lost productivity every year.

Yet Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable – and Kaiser Permanente’s focus on prevention and its use of technology to understand and improve population health has actually reduced the rate of diabetes among its members.

Kaiser Permanente’s HealthConnect® electronic health record system identifies members at risk for diabetes or pre-diabetes and refers them to the Diabetes One Stop team for help managing their condition. HealthConnect® helps everyone in the health care system (including dentists) know when services such as blood sugar control rechecks or cholesterol checks are needed, so the care team can get the member back on track – by making appointments, scheduling screenings, or enrolling them in health coaching.

Data shows this approach works. A 2013 study in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” showed a 5 percent decrease in emergency department visits for diabetes patients whose care was managed using HealthConnect®, along with a 5 percent decrease in hospitalizations.

Legacy Health’s advancements in rib-plating device

A blind curve, a large truck and 124 feet of skidding before a crash into a guard rail left a 48-year-old Corbett man with 12 broken ribs. The injuries resulted in a life-threatening condition called “flail chest,” where the rib cage detaches from the chest and interferes with breathing.

“It was one of the worst cases of flail chest I’ve seen in 15 years of practice,” says Steven Madey, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon on the trauma team at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. If anything was fortunate that day, it was that the accident victim was taken to Legacy Emanuel and put in the care of Dr. Madey, who happens to be one of the inventors of a medical innovation known as a “rib plating system” that is improving the lives of those who have flail chest.

The rib-plating device holds the rib in place to assist with healing and reduce pain during breathing. Surgeons from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Europe, come to Legacy Research Institute to learn how to use it.

The rib plating system is one of several innovations developed in recent years by doctors at Legacy Emanuel, and researchers and engineers at Legacy Research Institute, one of the country’s largest non-academic medical research centers. Bringing together front-line doctors with their colleagues in research to develop medical devices is a unique combination that can result in broad benefits.

Moda’s passport to health

When the city of Portland recognized that as few as 5 percent of its employees were consuming as much as 50 percent of its health benefit budget, it knew it had to do something.

The problem was not that these employees were such heavy users of health care. The problem was that these employees weren’t seeing much improvement in their health. That’s when the city turned to Moda for help.

The company created Healthy Foundations, a program that provides high-touch, personal care to city employees living with chronic diseases. Because social determinants greatly impact chronic conditions, expert teams -- affectionately dubbed “Modavators” -- visit members in their homes and interact with them in their daily lives, using innovative cognitive behavioral techniques to improve lifestyle and medication adherence, enhance nutrition and fitness, and reduce stress.

To eliminate cost as a barrier to getting this kind of care, employers may offer enhanced benefits, including waived copays and deductibles, to those who enroll in these programs. By customizing benefits, aligning them with plan design and cost-sharing incentives, Moda develops a model that enhances both the health of the employee and the financial well-being of the employer.

The bottom line: better outcomes and lower costs.