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It pays to be ethical—and lazy

Like so many other healthcare bloggers, I got an invite last September to become a “featured health blogger” on Wellsphere. I politely declined, citing the need to avoid conflicts of interest that might occur if I associated myself with a health IT vendor.

Like so many other healthcare bloggers, I got an invite one week later to make my blog a “Notable Wellsite” on Wellsphere. Again, I politely declined.

I thought about it a bit more, then reconsidered after coming to believe that Wellsphere was more aggregator than vendor. At the health 2.0 conference in San Francisco last October, I met with Wellsphere CMIO Dr. Geoff Rutledge. Shortly thereafter, Rutledge sent me a personalized e-mail inviting me to join. For some reason, I never followed up.

Then on Thursday I heard that Wellsphere had agreed the day before to be purchased by The HealthCentral Network for an undisclosed sum. I didn’t think much of it until I learned today that a lot of bloggers that joined the Wellsphere network feel duped because apparently they handed over the intellectual property rights of their work to Wellsphere and will not receive a dime from the sale.

Dr. Val Jones of “Getting Better With Dr. Val” and former senior medical director at Revolution Health, asked, “Is this the biggest scam ever pulled on health bloggers?” So far, her post has 43 comments, nearly all of them supportive.

Another health blogger, Dmitriy Kruglyak, suggested that blogger outrage may be so pervasive as to threaten the Wellsphere sale itself. Judging by the commenters on Dr. Val’s site—many health bloggers—there are others feeling equally outraged, but I’m too tired and busy to keep reading.

Actually, here’s one more link: a compendium of Twitter “tweets” to and about Wellsphere. Lots of people have asked for their Wellsphere accounts to be deleted, and the company seems to be complying. One tweet called the company “Slave Drivers.”

Looking back now, there was nothing special receiving one of the original solicitations. The first one started: “I was searching online for the best health bloggers when I discovered your blog at http://clinicalit.blogspot.com/. I want to tell you I think your writing is great.”

That’s the kind of language I normally expect to hear from spam commenters. As in, “I was searching online for the best health bloggers when I discovered your blog at http://clinicalit.blogspot.com/. I want to tell you I think your writing is great,” followed by a totally-out-of-context link to a site that sells discount pills or physician mailing lists. (You don’t ever see such comments appear on this site because I moderate all comments to thwart the spammers.)

In this case, it sure seems like someone is stealing content and perhaps trying to profit off the work of others. Could we be looking at the first health 2.0 Ponzi scheme? Even if we’re not, I’m glad I didn’t take the bait.

January 29, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Clancy likely to stay at AHRQ

I’ve just learned that staff at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is operating under the assumption that President Obama will choose to retain Dr. Carolyn Clancy as agency director. As a non-political federal employee, Clancy stayed on past Inauguration day, unlike the heads of many other HHS agencies. Although the new president has a right to bring in his own people, the word I’m hearing is that Obama will not change leadership at AHRQ.

Clancy struck me as one of the first people within the federal government to understand the link between IT and quality, and I think it would be foolish to replace her now.

Incidentally, AHRQ stands to be in line for a pretty big expansion. The entire agency’s current budget estimate for fiscal year 2009 is $327.7 million, down from $334.6 million in 2008. But the economic stimulus legislation that the House passed last night gives $1.1 billion to AHRQ, at least according to the version of the bill introduced Monday. The AHRQ language starts on page 134. (As of this writing, the final text of the bill that passed was not online.)

The Senate companion bill, which is pending, calls for the same $1.1 billion appropriation (page 129).

I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Google denies lobbying to kill privacy provision

Google today denied a claim by a group called Consumer Watchdog that it was lobbying to kill consumer privacy protections in proposed health IT legislation.

From the Google Public Policy Blog:

Consumer Watchdog wrong on medical records claim
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 3:12 PM
Posted by Pablo Chavez, Senior Policy Counsel

Earlier today a group called Consumer Watchdog put out a press release alleging a “rumored lobbying effort” by Google “aimed at allowing the sale of electronic medical records.”

This claim — based on no evidence whatsoever — is 100 percent false and unfounded.

Google does not sell health data. In fact, one of our most steadfast privacy principles is that we don’t sell our users’ personal data, whether it’s stored in Google Health, Gmail, or in any of our products. And from a policy perspective, we oppose the sale of medical information in the health care industry.

We are supportive of strong privacy protections for medical records. Consumers own their electronic medical data and should have the right to easily access their information and control who gets to see it. We also believe in data portability, and we support open standards that enable consumers to control their data and take it wherever they’d like.

We have corresponded with Consumer Watchdog several times over the past few months to hear and address their concerns. It’s unfortunate that they did not contact us before making today’s unfounded statements, because we could have told them that their claims were patently false.

At last year’s HIMSS conference, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that the company would not attempt to monetize its health product, other than by driving people to the company’s regular search engine.

January 27, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

‘Today’ and Redbook notice mobile PHRs

Regular readers know about my skepticism toward personal health records, given the minuscule level of consumer acceptance. Manhattan Research highlighted the low uptake of PHRs in a study released Jan. 15.

“Despite significant interest in this type of service, only 7 million U.S. adults actually use PHRs,” the company said. “Compelling offerings from vendors ranging from Google, WebMD, and Microsoft to multiple insurers and employers have sparked buzz around PHR in the past year. But for average consumers not motivated by a serious illness, significant barriers such as privacy concerns, lack of understanding, and doubts to PHR efficiency hinder adoption”

At least one consumer publication thinks that might change this year. Last Friday on NBC’s “Today Show,” Redbook health editor Camille Chatterjee talked about the magazine’s 10 health trends for 2009.

Amongst such topics as the Wii Fit and, ahem, vaginal fitness, Chaterjee included online and mobile PHRs, specifically mentioning AllOne Mobile and Microsoft’s HealthVault.

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The PHR discussion starts at about 2:00. You can read the accompanying story here. Also, check out the podcast I did with AllOne Mobile’s Frank Avignone last year.

Meanwhile, HIMSS last week released a new book, “Personal Health Records: The Essential Missing Element in 21st Century Healthcare,” by Dr. Holly Miller, Dr. Bill Yasnoff and Howard Burde, all familiar names in health IT circles.

This follows on the heels of CMS launching a PHR pilot for Medicare beneficiaries in Arizona and Utah.

Are all these developments more hype or do they represent real progress?

January 26, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Health Wonk Review rocks the Inaugural


The latest Health Wonk Review is up at the Disease Management Care Blog. Host Jaan Sidorov, M.D. (that’s right, a real physician blogger), waves the flag this time in honor of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. Well, Sidorov actually doesn’t even get to Inauguration Day, preferring to dwell on the spectacle of the We Are One concert last Saturday. It was more fun than watching the Obamas dance to the same song at each of the 10 inaugural balls they attended anyway.

Through SCHIP and MedPAC, Ingenix and the California Supreme Court, even to a little Obama buzzkill on Medicare Advantage, Sidorov rocks out. He leaves health IT to the encore, closing the show with a bulimia-inducing performance by lil’ ol’ me. It ain’t a party till someone pukes!

January 21, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

CMS update

Everybody is looking for information about Charlene Frizzera. You can stop. The bottom line is that CMS will not be making a bio available.

CMS spokesperson Peter Ashkenaz informs me that Frizzera’s role as acting administrator is, just that, purely administrative. Until a permanent CMS administrator is in place, Frizzera, the chief operating officer and a career professional, will essentially be “making sure the trains run on time,” according to Ashkenaz.

As seems to be traditional when the incumbent party loses the White House, one of President Obama’s first acts in office was to halt all pending Bush administration regulations for internal review. That means no federal department or agency will be issuing any new rules or finalizing anything in the works until the Obama administration says so, and that won’t happen in CMS until Obama has his choice in place.

Now who is going to head CMS on a permanent basis? Al Kamen wrote last Friday in the Washington Post that quality guru Don Berwick, Robert Berenson of the Urban Institute and current Medicare Payment Advisory Commission Chairman Glenn Hackbarth are under consideration.

CMS had no comment on that rumor.

I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

That was fast

Barack Obama has been president for just about three hours now, and already the White House Web site has been completely made over. Here’s Obama’s healthcare agenda. Notice that it contains not a word about technology on this page.

However, healthcare is mentioned as part of the technology agenda. This part looks unchanged from the campaign, at least so far: “Use health information technology to lower the cost of health care. Invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records.”

Note, though, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said last week that the economic stimulus plan would include $20 billion for health IT. I’m not entirely clear whether this money would be spent this year or even if it “counts” toward the $50 billion Obama wants over the next five years.

Toast the new president today, but tomorrow will be time to get to work.

What can’t wait for tomorrow is Chilmark Research‘s offer of free downloads of the executive summary of its May 2008 “iPHR Market Report.” Chilmark said yesterday that the document will be free for 24 hours. The post does not say when the clock started ticking, but I’m going to guess and say you’d better get your downloading in before close of business on the east coast, since Chilmark is in Cambridge, Mass.

January 20, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

An inaugural first

Let the record show that new President Barack Obama mentioned health IT in his inaugural address today. It had become a point of pride in health IT circles that President George W. Bush had mentioned the need for technology to improve healthcare in the last four State of the Union addresses, but today marks the first time it’s been the part of a presidential inauguration.

From the text of Obama’s speech as he actually delivered it, according to the AP/Yahoo transcription:

The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

It’s officially an epidemic

From Urban Dictionary:

academic bulemia [sic]

The process of learning or memorizing by rote, subsequently followed by the regurgitation of that knowledge onto an exam answer sheet. Just as with the serious eating disorder, this form of bulemia [sic] results in no real retention of substance.

This term is frequently applied to describe a common practice of young medical students.

I can’t remember anything that I learned last night. It’s like I grabbed the answer sheet, puked out all the answers and forgot everything immediately. I’d say that’s academic bulemia [sic].

As of this writing, the “score” for this definition was 6757 up and 833 down, so I’d say it’s pretty well accepted, even if the spelling of “bulimia” is wrong.

Anyone care to guess now why there are so many medical errors in teaching hospitals that don’t have adequate clinical decision support systems? Anyone? Anyone?

January 16, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Looking for info on Charlene Frizzera?

So am I.

The word from CMS is that the agency will not release a bio of Chief Operating Officer Charlene Frizzera until after she becomes acting administrator upon the inauguration of Barack Obama as president. CMS, like most federal agencies, will be closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Tuesday for Inauguration Day, when Washington is effectively on lockdown, meaning that there won’t be any answers available until Wednesday.

The CMS press office referred me to Frizzera’s office in Baltimore, which then transferred me to the Office of the Administrator in Washington. That office then told me to check with the press office on Wednesday.

Even people from within CMS have been finding this site while searching for information on their new, short-term boss. I wish them luck—and a good long weekend.

I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.