Friday, September 15, 2006

A Package Deal...

It is my habit to pop home about noon or so, to get some lunch and let the dog out. One day late last month, I did so, and found a package waiting for me. The return address was enigmatic: HealthcareFacts, PO Box so-and-so, Minnesota, featuring an eye-catching, stylized cereal box. More interesting, perhaps, was that it was addressed to me, c/o InsureBlog.
Since I wasn't expecting any packages, I was intrigued, and proceeded to open it up. Inside, I found a cover letter attached to a glossy marketing folder, inside of which was information on a new type of transparency program. There was also a small cereal box, containing a granola bar and some more marketing info (well done, too).
Turns out, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BX) of Minnesota has designed, and now implemented, a different kind of consumer empowerment program, and they wanted me to know about it. I suppose, too, that they hoped that I’d help promote it. Indeed, I was invited to call and interview the woman who had designed it. Very heady stuff, and intriguing, as well.
So, pick up a box of cereal, a package of pasta, or a can of peas, and you’ll find a handy little chart on the side. This is the Nutrition Facts label, which tells us how many calories, which vitamins, how much salt is in that product (among other things).
What if we could get comparable information about that upcoming knee surgery?
That’s the premise behind “HealthcareFacts,” a fairly new, definitely unique effort from the folks at the aforementioned BX.
In the past, I’ve touted the “McDonald’s” metaphor when discussing health care transparency. That is, positing that prices for services be available, in advance, so that consumers know upfront what a given service will cost.
HealthcareFacts goes one (or three) better, by disclosing not just prices, but quality of care, outcomes, and more.
As long-time IB readers know, health care transparency has been sort of my "pet cause" for a long time, and I've interviewed a number of industry folks regarding it. This promised to be interesting as well, and so I began to read through the material. My goal was to formulate the questions which IB readers would like answered, in preparation for the interview. In this regard, I’d like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of long-time IB reader John Fembup, who graciously took weekend time to help me with those. Thanks, John!
MaryAnn Stump, RN, is the Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. In deciding how I wanted the interview to go, it occurred to me that IB readers would be more interested in how the whole process of rolling out a new service would go - “what were they thinking?” - as opposed to just product information.
So I asked MaryAnn to tell me how she became interested in this concept we call “transparency,” and how she came to the conclusion that bloggers could help get the message out. Her first response surprised me: she likes blogs. And she was well aware of ours in particular, because of our interest in, and frequent articles on, transparency. So it seemed to her kind of a natural avenue to explore. She asked “how else could we be heard, with authentic information and perspective” other than through the blogosphere? One of her primary goals with this program is to “demystify the data;” that is, make the raw information meaningful to the consumer.
This perspective intrigued me. I asked her to tell us a little about herself, and how she came to be the Chief Innovation Officer of a large insurer. Turns out, she started her career as a critical care cardiac nurse and, in fact, continues to work as a “health professional who happens to also be a health provider.” One of her major issues is that of competency: she tries to bring the same skillset that helped her with the “predictable unpredictability of cardiac care" to the field of insurance. She’s been with BX for 16 years, and took over as CIO a couple years ago.
In Part 2 (now posted),we look at how HealthcareFacts is looking to change the way we look at our own care, how it’s funded, and our own role as consumers.
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