In the midst of the summer holidays, healthcare insurer Zilveren Kruis introduced a unique financing model for hospitals who want to offer telemonitoring at home for their patients. The news is a breakthrough for thousands of citizens that suffer from heart disease. Together with Menzis – who previously introduced unique funding for COPD monitoring – the insurers show that this innovation is not just a whim for them. Now, what does this mean for hospitals and patients?
Financial paradox for eHealth
Despite all the promises, eHealth is not widely available for every patient. A major cause being the current funding system. Though VBHC (Value Based HealthCare) sounds inspirational, nowadays reimbursements for specialist medical care are based on the number of actions that have been carried out. In short; a hospital gets paid when patients visit the doctor or the outpatient clinic, or are admitted. In contradiction, many eHealth solutions – including home measurement – aim to prevent care. And that’s a catch 22; Costs to the hospital increase when introducing home measurement tools, while turnover decreases because fewer interventions or admittances are needed. From an insurer or payer or citizen perspective this is a win (we all pay taxes and fees for insurance). But this does not work for the hospital and the doctor… What now?
The start of new financial models for home monitoring
In 2016, Zilveren Kruis, Cardiology Centers the Netherlands (CCN) and FocusCura entered into a long-term partnership to bring as much hospital care as possible to the homes of patients. They launched the “HeartGuard” concept, watching over patients with heart failure, hypertension and atrial fibrillation. Part of this concept would also include a completely new way of funding, and that was easier said than done…
Over the course of nine months, an innovation team representing all three parties worked on the concept. They shared the vision that care should be delivered tailor-made to the patient’s needs, and while monitored safely at home with technology, a hospital visit would only be necessary in case of urgency. This approach improved the patients’ service-experience tremendously, while at the same time, the cost of care was reduced: Admissions are prevented and outpatient care is partially substituted. The calculation model of the innovation team was tested at CCN, and after testing the ‘Hartwacht fee’, would be made widely available by Zilveren Kruis. And that moment is now.
The concept is based on the principle of ‘bundled payments’. An insurer pays the hospital a bundled price per care pathway. The price being determined upon the historical price of the mix of healthcare products in the concerned care pathway. Though this seems complicated, basically it comes down to the hospital always receiving a guaranteed rate per pathway. Regardless of whether the patients visit the outpatient clinic, are hospitalised or are monitored remotely through home monitoring and videocare. Caregivers can thus determine, without financial consequences, in consultation with their patients, what is best for them. And if they decide to use the home monitoring, there are no additional costs for the patient, since they are paid for in the bundle price.
Does it work for the patients?
From my own experience, I can tell what this means for patients. Kor: “Someone in my immediate family has heart problems. He had to go to the hospital very regularly. Sometimes for a routine check-up, even though he had no complaints. Another time in panic to the emergency room. Fortunately, he has a modern cardiologist who prescribed ‘HeartGuard’”.
Kor received measuring equipment at home and the Vitals app was installed on his phone. During the first ‘setting week’, a personal measurement protocol was set up. Now he sends in his measurements weekly and he no longer has to visit the clinic. “I remember how ‘happily surprised’ he was after being ‘videocalled’ by the HeartGuard Centre, when it appeared that there were strange values in his measurements. His medication was adjusted and altogether this gave him such peace of mind. Not only for him, but also for us, as his direct family”.
More time for cardiologists
And besides, his own cardiologist was extremely satisfied. He now has insight into all home measurement data in the EMR and remains Kor’s regular point of contact for those moments when something is really off. According to a jointly agreed protocol, home measurements are treated in the HeartGuard Centre in Dokkum. The HeartGuard data shows that less than one in ten measurements have to be forwarded to the cardiologist. The rest of the home measurements are handled by the Vitals app itself or the HeartGuard team in Dokkum.
For Kor’s cardiologist, this means that many urgent questions popping up in his busy schedule, now belong in the past, while patients immediately have clarity about their condition and possible risks. He can thus have more patients under his supervision. And his own work is more pleasant, he said, because he can do his job even better by intervening proactively and by using the data for the benefit of his patients.
2019: Extra financial incentive
To make this widely available, Zilveren Kruis goes a step further; they commit to a fixed bundle price for three years. So hospitals will receive the same bundle price over the next three years, regardless of how their operational costs of the outpatient clinic decrease or the number of admissions decreases. Hospitals are allowed to keep the margins themselves and are given the time to adjust to the new way of care. A huge incentive!
Sharing knowledge to better care
It is very cool to be able to contribute to this movement with our team. We are happy to share our knowledge gained through various channels, such as in this blog. Because I hope that other hospitals will now also take the step. Since not only my Kor, but all heart patients, deserve the best care that fits their needs. VBHC then becomes a practice.
Or like my inspiration Florence Nightingale stated:
“Were there none who were discontented with what they had, the world would never reach anything better.”
This blog was published in Dutch on the website of Qruxx about Value Based Healthcare in August 2018.