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My first portal experience

Yes, after all these years of writing about EMRs, EHRs, PHRs, patient portals and the like, I have had my first real personal experience with a patient portal, courtesy of my internist.

He still has a small practice, with four other physicians, including one fresh out of residency. Those small practices are a dying breed, but this doctor is changing with the times, too. He recently offered a concierge option for a few hundred patients. I declined because I don’t need to reach him that urgently.

The portal has been in place for a couple of years, and I may have logged in once or twice before to set up an account, but didn’t really do anything other than look around. This time, prompted by an e-mail informing me of a new URL, I logged in and checked my medication list. I remembered that another doctor had changed the dosage of one of my medications a while back, so I fired off a secure message informing this practice of the change. (It was a new URL presumably because the EHR vendor formerly known as Sage Healthcare adopted the Vitera Healthcare Solutions name a year ago and was switching its customers to a common, white-labeled portal.)

I also looked at some of my test results from a year and a half ago just to confirm that everything was more or less OK then, though I did see one abnormality with my HDL cholesterol. I last went for a physical in March 2011, about a month after I ungracefully cut my face open on a bathtub in Orlando during HIMSS11, so I was probably due. This practice lets patients request appointments — not actually choose open slots — online, so I sent my request. Tonight, about 24 hours later, I got my confirmation, and I’ll be seeing the doc in a couple of weeks.

It’s not a perfect system, but it was convenient enough for a night owl like myself who might not remember to call during business hours to make an appointment or simply not want to wait on hold or press a bunch of buttons to navigate a telephone menu. I did not see the Blue Button option to download my record that the federal government is pushing private vendors to adopt, but I’m sure that will be there by the time the practice is ready for “meaningful use” Stage 2 in a year or two. I don’t have a PHR anyway, so I wouldn’t be able to do anything with the data other than print it.

I suppose I should set up an emergency PHR at some point, even though I doubt any hospital or specialist I might get referred to would take the time to download my data from a USB drive or log into someone else’s portal. Untethered PHRs simply don’t fit physician workflow. That might change in MU Stage 2 when providers will have to send electronic discharge statements and patient summaries during transitions of care, but I’m still not convinced a patient-controlled PHR will be the right vehicle for these data transfers.

 

October 31, 2012 I Written By

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

When you talk health reform, don’t forget quality and IT, in that order

In my previous post, I was perhaps a bit too critical of Maggie Mahar in her hosting of last week’s Health Wonk Review. I noted that there was not a word about health IT in that rundown, but that’s not her fault. A host can only include what’s submitted, and apparently nobody, myself included, who contributed to HWR bothered to submit a blog post about health IT this time around.

But I continue to be troubled by this fixation so many journalists, pundits, commentators, politicians and average citizens have on health insurance coverage, not actual care. I blame most of the former for the confusion among the populace. People within healthcare know that you can’t talk about reform without including the serious problems of quality and patient safety, and people within reform know that IT must be part of the discussion even if they don’t always say so.

I would like to draw your attention to a story of mine that appeared on InformationWeek Healthcare this morning, about a report on care integration from the esteemed Lucian Leape Institute. The report itself did not say a lot about IT, but the luminaries on the committee that produced the paper are aware of the importance.

I was lucky enough to interview retired Kaiser Permanente CEO David M. Lawrence, M.D., who told me there has been “little attention” paid to the importance of a solid IT infrastructure in improving care coordination and integration. “What you now have is too much data for the typical doctor to sift through,” Lawrence told me.

That’s exactly the message Lawrence L. Weed, M.D., has been trying to spread for half a century, as I’ve mentioned before. And that’s pretty much how longtime patient safety advocate Donald M. Berwick, M.D. — also a member of the Lucian Leape Institute committee that wrote the report — feels. Berwick hasn’t always advocated in favor of health IT in his writings and speeches, but he has told me in interviews that the recommended interventions in his 100,000 Lives Campaign and 5 Million Lives Campaign are more or less unsustainable in a paper world.

Isn’t about time more people understand that widespread health reform is impossible without attention to quality and that widespread quality and process improvements are impossible without properly implemented IT?

 

 

October 29, 2012 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 gets hung up on insurance

The last edition of Health Wonk Review prior to the Nov. 6 presidential election falls into the familiar big-media trap of portraying the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, as being only about health insurance and of effectively equating health insurance to healthcare. Let me repeat: insurance is not the same thing as care, and having “good” insurance does not guarantee good care.

This installment of HWR is awfully heavy on the insurance aspects of the ACA in the context of politics the election, which is not surprising, though host Maggie Mahar of the HealthBeat blog does at least consider comparative-effectiveness research, thanks to a contribution on the esteemed Health Affairs Blog.

My post, which includes the infographic from the movie “Escape Fire” showing how medical harm essentially is the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., is almost an afterthought, but at least Mahar also includes an entry from Dr. Roy Poses about medical harm in clinical trials.

There’s nary a word on health IT, which really is a shame in the context of the election, especially given that several Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-Okla.), have publicly questioned whether “meaningful use” so far has led to higher utilization of diagnostic testing and thus higher Medicare expenses.

By the way, Healthcare IT News is currently running a poll that asks: “With four GOP senators calling on HHS to suspend MU payments, would health IT remain bipartisan if Romney became president?” The poll is on the home page, but even after voting, I couldn’t find the results. In any case, I personally believe health IT has enough bipartisan support for MU to continue.

I also believe that no matter who wins the presidency, Congress probably will remain divided for the next two years, with Democrats holding onto the Senate and the GOP retaining control of the House, so I don’t expect any controversial legislation to pass. A Romney administration possibly could put a hold on future MU payments or revise the Stage 2 rules, but never underestimate the power of the hospital  and physician lobby.

 

October 28, 2012 I Written By

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

ICD-10 explained in a minute and a half

It’s Sunday, so it’s time for something light.

University of Utah Health Care put together this handy little video that explains ICD-10 to physicians as well as their role in making the transition. There is one footnote I’d like to add: the compliance deadline has been delayed to October 2014 since this video was made.

 

Thanks to the HIMSS social media team for pointing this out to me, via their Facebook page.

October 21, 2012 I Written By

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

Medical harm explained, in graphics and Farzad style

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—Still think the United States has the “best healthcare in the world?” You clearly haven’t been paying attention.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal ran this excellent commentary from Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Marty Makary about how the broken culture of medicine is harming people. An excerpt:

I encountered the disturbing closed-door culture of American medicine on my very first day as a student at one of Harvard Medical School’s prestigious affiliated teaching hospitals. Wearing a new white medical coat that was still creased from its packaging, I walked the halls marveling at the portraits of doctors past and present. On rounds that day, members of my resident team repeatedly referred to one well-known surgeon as “Dr. Hodad.” I hadn’t heard of a surgeon by that name. Finally, I inquired. “Hodad,” it turned out, was a nickname. A fellow student whispered: “It stands for Hands of Death and Destruction.”

Makary went into a discussion of checklists, à la Gawande, and reporting of adverse events. “Nothing makes hospitals shape up more quickly than this kind of public reporting,” he said. Yep, a little shaming can be good for consumers. And shocking.

Now playing in a fairly small number of theaters and available on DVD, on demand and through iTunes is a new movie called “Escape Fire,” which takes its title from the Don Berwick book of the same name. I have not been to see it yet — soon — but the trailer is compelling. So is this graphic, which the movie’s producers are circulating on social media:

 

Still think we don’t have a problem with patient safety in this country? Not only haven’t you been paying attention, you also haven’t heard Dr. Farzad Mostashari tell the heart-wrenching story of accompanying his mother to an emergency department shortly after he joined the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in 2009.

He couldn’t get answers about his mother’s condition from anywhere in the department, and not because the doctors and nurses didn’t want to do the right thing. “The systems are failing them,” Mostashari said Wednesday at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) CIO Forum, where I am now.

Even as a physician, he felt like he would be imposing on the doctors and nurses on duty if he requested to look at his mother’s paper medical record to see what might be wrong. “There was something rude about trying to save my mom’s life by asking to see the chart. That’s messed up,” Mostashari said.

Yes, yes it is. And Mostashari later told me he shared that story for me, because I had told him right before he went on stage about the suffering my dad needlessly suffered in a poorly managed hospital in my dad’s last month of life. Journalists don’t often say this, but thank you, Farzad.

As it turns out, the CIO of the health system that owns the hospital that mistreated my dad is here. I introduced myself and gave a brief synopsis of what happened, in a non-confrontational way. I intend to follow up. The hurt of losing my dad is still fresh, but I feel inspired by the media soapbox I have.

I want to honor my dad’s legacy in a positive way. I want to help this hospital fix its terrible processes and toxic culture so others won’t have to suffer the way he did.

October 18, 2012 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: October Surprise edition

The newest installment of Health Wonk Review is up, courtesy of David Williams at the Health Business Blog, and my recent post about politicians perpetuating the myth that the U.S. has the “best healthcare in the world” is featured prominently. If you’re looking for anything else even vaguely related to health IT in this edition of HWR, you might be disappointed, but Williams offers a nice sampling of opinions on other topics that arose during the first presidential debate last week as well as a few ideas that could be considered part of overall health reform.

Speaking of health reform and politics, this morning I received a plea to donate money to the Romney campaign from the nutbars over at Docs4PatientCare. As a rule, I do not give money to any political candidates or to PACs because I want to maintain as much objectivity as possible for someone who occasionally calls people “nutbars.” Why do I say this about D4PC? A year and a half ago, I wrote this:

D4PC contacted me last fall with links to a series of videos, including one from group representative Scott Barbour, M.D. According to the original pitch to me, “Utilizing quotes from Dr. Berwick, Dr. Barbour exposed that, ‘He is not interested in better health care. He is only concerned about implementing his socialist agenda.’”

In another video, Docs4PatientCare Vice President Fred Shessel, M.D., said of Berwick, “This is a man who has made a career out of socializing medicine and rationing care for the very young, the very old and the very sick. It is a backdoor power grab. It is dragging our country down the road to socialism and we should resist it.”

I responded to this pitch with a short question: “Berwick isn’t interested in better care? Do you know anything about his work at IHI?” I never got a response. Docs4PatientCare seemingly was trying to hoodwink media that don’t know any better and/or care more about politics than facts.

Today’s pitch, from Michael Koriwchak, M.D., who calls himself the HIT expert of the group, said, “ObamaCare came along with its promise to destroy our health care system.” I would love to know who made that promise, and why anyone thinks we have such a great “system” now. (Prominent Republican Mike Leavitt, HHS secretary in the Bush administration, has often said we do not have a healthcare “system,” but rather a poorly run, inefficient, dangerous healthcare “sector.”)

“Every dollar you give brings us a step closer to victory in November and the opportunity to replace ObamaCare with doctor-driven improvements to our health care system,” Koriwchak adds. Do we really want “doctor-driven” improvements when physicians won’t admit that they make far more mistakes than any advanced nation should tolerate? I want data-driven improvements.

“The voices of physicians who care for patients every day are now heard in Washington. This may be the last opportunity for you to take back control of your health care. Do you want your health care decisions to be made by you and your doctor, or by an indifferent bureaucrat in Washington?” Koriwchak concludes.

With all due respect, that argument has been beaten to death for years. No bureaucrat in Washington is going to be making care decisions any more than a bean counter at a private insurer does. And patients can’t “take back” control of their care because they don’t have much control now as long as defenders of the status quo in the medical establishment won’t let patients see their own health records and act like physicians are infallible.

Koriwchak kills the little credibility he has left by saying he has “participated in conversations” with several members of Congress and includes the nutty Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who famously formed her views against the HPV vaccine based on what some random woman told her after a debate last year during the GOP primary season.

“She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn’t know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions,” Bachmann said, without offering a shred of scientific evidence. But if you repeat a lie often enough, people start to believe it. Right, Dr. Koriwchak?

October 12, 2012 I Written By

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

Urgent news from Health 2.0

SAN FRANCISCO — The Health 2.0 Conference stopped in its tracks late Monday with this stunning news: fictional EHR vendor Extormity has agreed to acquire every one of the hot, buzzworthy, break-the-mold, think-outside-the-box, too-cool-for-school (and smarter than you because they live in Silicon Valley, went to MIT and/or once knew a guy who worked at Google) app developers showcasing their “solutions”* and explaining why a killer UX in a 99-cent app is the key to all that ails the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry.

From the horse’s mouth:

Extormity announces plans to acquire every application developer at Health 2.0

The Health 2.0 conference currently under way in San Francisco features hundreds of developers, health IT firms and device companies demonstrating innovative applications designed to improve clinical outcomes, reduce medical costs and revolutionize healthcare delivery.

“It would take a dedicated team of talented professionals months to sift through all these disruptive innovators to determine who has the next killer app capable of interrupting the significant revenues we realize from maintaining the status quo,” said Extormity CEO Brantley Whittington from his yacht moored in the San Francisco Bay. “It’s more expedient for us to simply acquire every start-up, playing the role of angel investor sent to answer the capital formation prayers of each young entrepreneur wearing premium denim and a sport coat.”

“Acquired organizations become part of our strategic portfolio and are assigned to our innovations business unit, the division where new ideas fester,” added Whittington. “Developers from digested companies are housed in a bullpen where they engage in a never-ending code-a-thon that breeds fierce competition, resentment and angst – as you might imagine, turnover is epidemic.”

“Meanwhile, the principals who come on board join the Extormity think tank where they are paid handsomely as they wait for their options to vest.”

Extormity personnel will be stationed in each breakout session room with agreements and checks.

 

About Extormity

Extormity is an electronic health records mega-corporation dedicated to offering highly proprietary, difficult to customize and prohibitively expensive healthcare IT solutions. Our flagship product, the Extormity EMR Software Suite, was recently voted “Most Complex” by readers of a leading healthcare industry publication. Learn more at www.extormity.com

 

Enjoy your new-found wealth!

* Marketingspeak for “vaporware.”

October 9, 2012 I Written By

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

Most ‘sentinel events’ caused by poor communication

LOS ANGELES—I’m on the west coast now, first for the  USC Body Computing Conference here Friday, and then for the annual Health 2.0 conference up in San Francisco Monday and Tuesday.

Friday there was a lot of talk of healthcare reform. One interesting — and plausible — idea I heard for the first time is that the new Medicare policy of denying reimbursements for preventable readmissions within 30 days of discharge for patients with heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia might have an unintended consequence: We’ll start seeing a lot of readmissions on or after Day 31.

The new policy is one of the many aspects of true reform in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act beyond the controversial insurance expansion. And there seems to be a loophole that you can be sure  a lot of hospitals will seek to exploit. Even if they don’t, it is hard to change patient behavior, so it’s likely many will come back to the hospital for the same condition, even if it’s not within 30 days.

More importantly, I heard some statistics presented by Stanford dermatology resident Michelle Longmire, M.D., about medical errors: 7o percent of all sentinel events in U.S. healthcare facilities — and there were 8,859 such events voluntarily reported to the Joint Commission between 1995 and the first quarter of 2012, meaning that many times more probably occurred —result from breakdowns in communication. Half occur during patient handoffs such as shift changes, specialist consultations and transfers to other wards or facilities, Longmire said.

I am convinced all the buffoonery that took place while my dad was hospitalized prior to his death was due to communication problems, poorly designed work processes and a culture of covering one’s posterior in an error-prone organization.

This happens far too often, yet some politicians who want to repeal “Obamacare” keep trying to convince the ignorant masses that American healthcare is just in need of a few tweaks.

At the Republican National Convention in August, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the following: “”Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world’s greatest healthcare system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor.” PolitiFact.com generously rated this as “half true.” However, PolitFact itself noted that the World Health Organization rated U.S. healthcare as 37th of 191 countries in terms of “overall performance.” The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says we spend more on healthcare as a share of gross domestic product than any of the other 33 OECD countries. If that’s the “world’s greatest,” I’d sure hate to be worst.

Last week, during the first presidential debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the very same Gov. Romney who championed near-universal health insurance coverage with an individual mandate in his home state — a plan first hatched by the conservative Heritage Foundation as an alternative to the Clinton healthcare reform proposal in 1993 — said this:

Look, the right course for — for America’s government — we were talking about the role of government — is not to become the economic player picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the healthcare system that — that has existed in this country for — for a long, long time and has produced the best health records in the world.

Without getting into what the role of government should or should not do, our health records suck, Our record on producing healthier people is not so wonderful, either. So no matter what Romney meant by “best health records in the world,” he was lying.

I couldn’t help thinking he was playing to this crowd:

 

Now, this cartoon makes it seem like Obamacare is so wonderful. It’s not. As I’ve said before, having insurance does not mean you will get good care. Having “good” insurance that requires very little out-of-pocket for the patient doesn’t guarantee good care, either, nor does being a VIP. Recall the case of James Tyree, who died from a medical error at a prestigious teaching hospital he was on the board of. The late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) suffered a similar fate despite having “Cadillac” insurance coverage.

I’m going to repeat what is fast becoming my mantra: It’s quality, stupid.

UPDATE, Oct.8: Here’s a summary of what actually is in the Affordable Care Act, and when each provision takes effect, courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

October 7, 2012 I Written By

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

‘Meaningful use’ Stage 2 visualized

This may have made the rounds a month ago, but I just starting to dig myself out of a major work hole I’ve been in for a good six months, thanks to the terminal illness and subsequent death of my father that caused me to put off working on a major project for a long time. I’ve finally finished my part and it’s in the hands of the editors, so I spent most of my flight from Chicago to LA Thursday reading hundreds of e-mails, including this one I received Sept. 6.

HealthPoint, the health IT Regional Extension Center for South Dakota, based at Dakota State University, produced this infographic explaining the major differences between Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the “meaningful use” EHR incentive program. As far as I can tell, it’s accurate.

Feedback is welcome. Read more..

October 5, 2012 I Written By

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

Attending Health 2.0? Donate your old smartphone

If you’re planning on attending the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco next Monday and Tuesday, Health eVillages, a program of the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, will be collecting used Apple iOS and Android mobile devices. Health eVillages, of which I am a member of the advisory board, will refurbish your device and load it with medical reference materials, clinical decision support tools, drug dosage calculators and other mobile health tools and deploy it to a clinician working in a developing country, helping to bring higher-quality care to that community.

Current Health eVillages sites are in Haiti, China, Kenya, Uganda, with more to come.

If you have a used iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android phone or and tablet (sorry, no BlackBerrys, which is what I happen to have), drop it off at the Health 2.0 registration desk or at the Physicians Interactive booth (No. 37) in the exhibit hall.

If you want to learn more about Health eVillages, founder Donato Trumato, CEO and vice chairman of Physicians Interactive, will be speaking for about 5 minutes on the main stage the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 9, and then will lead a lunchtime presentation at 12:50 p.m. PDT in the Imperial B ballroom at the Hilton San Francisco.

I will be there, too, participating the “3 CEOs” session Tuesday at 8:10 a.m. I will be interviewing Phytel CEO Steve Schelhammer live on stage. Am I nervous? Only about having to get up that early.

 

October 2, 2012 I Written By

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