Friday, August 08, 2014

Small Independent Practices - Big Transformative Potential

A post by Dr. John Brady titled My oasis of care is being threatened examined the dilemma small practices (the "little guys") are now facing. Should they become extinct, being consumed by large organizations (the "big guys")? Or does the little guy have an important place in the healthcare? How can the little guys autonomy have the power to transform our healthcare system in very positive ways, especially when centralized control by the big guys is so prevalent these days? Here's what I wrote ...

As a clinician and health IT software architect working in several Federal (ONC) workgroups over the past three years, I can confirm that government focus has been on the “big guys,” i.e., large provider organizations and EHR vendors participating in health information exchanges (HIEs). I’ve been fighting to have the focus extended to supporting the needs of small practices and EHR vendors (the “little guys”).

Having had a solo practice in NY for twenty years (as a clinical psychologist), I empathize with Dr. Brady’s sentiments about the importance of autonomy and independent practices in terms of clinicians’ quality of life and the well-being of their patients. This extends to primary care practices and specialists of all disciplines.

While I contend that care coordination and next-generation decision support are important to increasing healthcare value to patient, it is unwise to ignore or destroy the little guys in the process.

A case can be made for the government’s centralized, top-down, tightly-coupled network (TCN) model that it benefits larger organizations. Primary benefits of the TCN are control and consistency because this model limits participation to people within the same discipline, department, region, organization, etc.; who have access to the same information sources, share similar experiences; who do things in similar ways; and who are under the control of central authority.

An equally valid though opposite model can be made for decentralized bottom-up loosely-coupled network (LCN) of independent collaborators that benefit small practices and organizations. In addition to the professional autonomy benefit, the LCN’s other benefits include creativity, innovation, and attention to differing needs and circumstances of different parties. This is because collaboration among people with wide diversities of knowledge, ideas and points of view provides a larger collection of resource intellectual pools, and offers access to a greater variety of non-redundant information and more content on which to base decisions. As such, the LCNs provide the greatest opportunities for stimulating multifaceted discussions, out-of-the box thinking, and creative clinical and economic solutions.

An example of an LCN is the communities of referral that form patient centered medical homes/neighborhoods in which a primary care physician and specific specialists and facilities collaborate in the care of a specific patient. These LCNs can interconnect with each other on a nation-wide and even world-wide basis, as well as connect with TCNs. Given the political will and adequate business incentives, this global interconnectivity can be achieved rather quickly, easily and inexpensively. It can be done using a software architecture in which pub/sub nodes exchange information via simple encrypted e-mail (such as the ONC Direct Project).

Realization of this vision would enable independent-minded individuals to maintain their autonomy, while at the same time enabling them to collaborate in regional and international LCNs for the purpose of improving clinical decision support to increase value to healthcare consumers and reward providers who do so.