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Health Wonk Review, post-HIMSS

While all the health IT reporters like myself were in Florida last week for HIMSS14, plenty of other things were going on in healthcare. David Harlow of HealthBlawg has a roundup of opinions in the latest edition of Health Wonk Review, entitled “In Like a Lion.”

Yes, HIMSS was a big deal, even for non-IT people, as I captured the top mention in a HWR for, I believe, the very first time, with my podcast interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber.

(David, per your note, I only suffered superficial injuries this year, with a couple of scrapes on my face. No stitches needed, and no deaths in my family, though my uncle did lose his mother-in-law the day after I returned. I also broke a wine glass in a restaurant, though it was not my glass, it was empty and I was sober. The moral of this story: I need to avoid HIMSS in Orlando, which will be hard, since it’s on a three-year rotation. But next year, the conference is right here in Chicago, and it will be April 12-16 to avoid the dead of winter. The last time it was here, in 2009, I had bronchitis all week. Good times! The following HIMSS will be in Las Vegas, Feb. 29-March 4, 2016.)

Because it was HIMSS week, Harlow featured other IT posts prominently, including one from Lygeia Ricciardi and Adam Dole of the ONC—new national health IT coordinator Dr. Karen DeSalvo said they’re trying to call it “the ONC” instead of just “ONC” these days—about the recently launched Blue Button Connector. Harlow, an attorney, also referenced one of his own posts about HIPAA compliance audits.

Another section of this HWR examines something that I’ve been saying for a long time, that the mainstream media has been not telling the whole story about the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare. Later, Harlow talks about teamwork and collaboration for the purpose of patient safety. Kudos for highlighting those areas.

Click here to read Harlow’s rundown.

March 3, 2014 I Written By

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

More on Blue Button Plus and MU2

My last post, based on comments from Frost & Sullivan health IT analyst Nancy Fabozzi at last week’s Healthcare Unbound conference, has generated a bit of controversy. Fabozzi said that “Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive,” possibly eliminating the need for some providers to get full-fledged patient portals in order to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 standards.

In the comments under that post, David Smith of HealthInsight.org, a health improvement consortium in three Western states, correctly pointed out that MU2 requires not just that providers give 50 percent of patients electronic access to their records, but also that 5 percent of patients actually view, download and/or transmit information back to their doctors or hospitals. I also got an e-mail from a GE Healthcare executive reminding me that of the view/download requirement as well as the fact that EHR technology had to be certified by an ONC-approved certification and testing body.

The viewing and downloading certainly can be accomplished with Blue Button Plus apps or widgets. In fact, ONC’s Lygeia Ricciardi has said Blue Button Plus could be part of the Stage 3 rules.

Transmitting would seem to necessitate a portal since HIPAA demands — and patients should expect — security when sending protected health information over the Internet. Standard e-mail doesn’t cut it, but e-mail following Direct Project protocols does. MU2 already sanctions Direct Project for health information exchange between healthcare entities. There is no reason why it can’t work for individuals as well, as Dr. Deborah Peel’s Patient Privacy Rights Foundation is trying to facilitate.

This might be a bit unwieldy, asking each patient to set up a Direct e-mail address, but remember, providers only need 5 percent to do so in Stage 2. I see it as perfectly feasible that some small physician practices could bypass the portal and just make do with freely available resources like Blue Button Plus — though Blue Button Plus app developers likely will charge fees — and open-source Direct standards.

UPDATE, July 18, 12:40 a.m. CDT:

HHS itself says Blue Button Plus meets MU2 standards.

From http://www.hhs.gov/digitalstrategy/open-data/introducing-blue-button-plus.html:

Blue Button Plus is a blueprint for the structured and secure transmission of personal health data. It meets and builds on the view, download, and transmit requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2 for certified EHR technology in the following ways —

Structure: The recommended standard for clinical health data is the HL7 Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture or Consolidated CDA. The C-CDA is a XML-based standard that specifies the encoding, structure, and semantics of a clinical document. Blue Button Plus adopts the requirements for sections and fields from Meaningful Use Stage 2.

Transmit: In alignment with Meaningful Use Stage 2 standards, Blue Button Plus uses Direct protocols to securely transport health information from providers to third party applications. Direct uses SMTP, S/MIME, and X.509 certificates to achieve security, privacy, data integrity, and authentication of sender and receiver.

It sounds to me like compliance is just a matter of making sure that a Blue Button Plus app is certified as an EHR module.

July 17, 2013 I Written By

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

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.

The dirty little secret about ‘Blue Button’

Since last summer, various government agencies, notably the Department of Veterans Affairs, have been touting the Blue Button Initiative as an easy way of  sharing electronic data with patients. Just click the blue button in the patient EHR portal and download data into a personal health record or a printout. Sounds simple enough.

Late yesterday, my successor at a publication I was the primary writer of until late last year, cited the importance of the Blue Button, particularly when coupled with Microsoft’s HealthVault PHR platform. (If I turned in my story as late as 4:52 p.m. for that client, I would have been docked at least $150, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The fact that HealthVault and other “untethered” PHRs are non-starters when it comes to the public notwithstanding, Blue Button has a serious, perhaps fatal flaw. It outputs data in unstructured text form that’s not easily readable by an EHR. There’s no Continuity of Care Record, no Continuity of Care Document, no form of Clinical Document Architecture at all.

Just. Plain. Text.

One techie doctor I know calls this data essentially useless.

UPDATE 10 a.m. EST: The techie doctor I mentioned is Dr. Enoch Choi of Palo Alto Medical Foundation, per his comment below. He tweeted about this last month.

February 22, 2011 I Written By

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