At Forward Health, Assessing Impact of Payment Changes Is Simple Math
[Corrected 5/5/16, 4:08 pm. See below] As a statistician trained in health economics, Michael Barbouche has over the years studied intricate payment models and other mathematical concepts. Still, when describing Forward Health Group—the Madison, WI-based company he founded and continues to lead—he goes back to basics.
“We are a denominator-centric company,” Barbouche says. “We build good denominators. That’s why our data is better. We take a holistic, algebra-centric approach.”
Forward Health Group’s Web-based software lets hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare industry groups pool patient data from various sources—labs, clinical documentation, and claims sent to insurers, to name a few—in order to make better-informed decisions based on the information. As more data sets enter the system and are combined with others—increasing the “denominator”— it becomes easier to assign particular profiles to patients, based on their symptoms and other attributes, Barbouche says.
“The idea is simple,” he says. “Can you identify patients who you can stop on their progression to chronic disease or worse? Prevention is a far better approach than active acute management.”
The company’s customers include health systems, as well as health insurers and large research organizations such as the American Heart Association. In recent months, Forward Health Group has forged partnerships with data and computing giant Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) and Wayne, PA-based Medecision aimed at enabling better analysis of healthcare data. Even though Medecision and Forward Health Group both develop tools that fit into the category of “population health management,” Barbouche says the two don’t compete head-on. [An earlier version of this paragraph incorrectly stated that Hennepin County Medical Center is a customer of Forward Health Group, when in fact the organization no longer uses Forward Health Group’s software. We regret the error.]
In 2009, Barbouche was part of a team—some of which had worked with him on the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality initiative—that started Forward Health Group. During the intervening years, the healthcare industry has undergone major changes, not only in the amount and sophistication of technology available to help care for patients, but also in the payment and reimbursement models that providers and insurers use. As “value-based care” frameworks proliferate, part of the upshot will be a shifting of risk, some insiders say.
“This is just a pendulum of risk swinging from insurance companies, over the heads of doctors and hospitals, and eventually to all of us as patients,” Barbouche says.
Barbouche says Forward Health Group now has about 40 employees. The company has raised more than $10 million from investors, according to SEC filings. That includes hauling in more than $4 million last fall, Barbouche says, in an investment led by Minneapolis-based TripleTree that was not publicly disclosed until last month.
Forward Health Group is a growing player in the healthtech cluster in the Madison area anchored by Verona, WI-based Epic Systems. Despite being located close to one another and having some of the same clients, there’s no direct connection between Forward Health Group and Epic, Barbouche says.
Barbouche says the electronic health records software developed by Epic and its competitors can be a “rich data source” and “very important transaction machine” for hospitals and clinics. However, he adds that in some cases, data are “rotting in place in some large vats.”
Meanwhile, leading electronic health records software vendors, including Epic and Kansas City, MO-based Cerner (NASDAQ: CERN), are themselves paying more attention to population health and value-based care.
The outlook appears to be positive for Forward Health Group, given the growing emphasis on population health management and the company’s reputation within that field. According to Forward Health Group materials, its PopulationManager software beat out more than 20 other companies’ products in a recent report compiled by Klas, an industry researcher.