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Back from CES, and ready to, um, laugh about digital health

I got home from the Digital Health Summit at International CES in Las Vegas late Thursday night, and have spend most of the time since them just catching up on things. Among important news I missed was that Stephen Colbert took on health apps on Wednesday, specifically Doctor on Demand. Colbert joked that the app is going to “revolutionize medicine.” (“Why waste time getting an exam when you can just shoot your doctor an emoji of your shattered femur?”)

Ah, yes, revolutionary health apps. It has to be a joke, right?

“Clearly, app-based healthcare is the future of medicine,” Colbert continued, before introducing one of his own, from “sponsor” Prescott Pharmaceuticals.

The Doctor on Demand part starts around 3:30, but the earlier part is pretty funny, too. Some might be offended by this segment.

I will have more on the Digital Health Summit on MobiHealthNews and right here on this blog later this week.

January 12, 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.

Patients raise their voices at CES

I’m about to escape the frigid winter blast in Chicago, a.k.a., Chiberia, for the relative warmth of Las Vegas (it will be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, so it’s not exactly tropical there either) and the Digital Health Summit at International CES. On Wednesday afternoon at 4:10 p.m. PST, I will be moderating a panel called “Loudmouth Patients: Making Noise and Making Change.” Panelists will include: well-known empowered patient — and pain in Medtronic’s behindHugo Campos; Donna Cryer, CEO of the Global Liver Institute (and a liver transplant recipient herself); and Greg Matthews, group director of  interactive and social media at WCG.

I’m giving just a short intro since the session is only 30 minutes long, though I do intend to give a condensed version of the story of how I had to raise my voice in support of my dad, who was rendered unable to speak by a rare disease as he was dying — and being badly mistreated — in an ill-equipped and poorly run hospital less than two years ago.

Hopefully soon we can all speak up to our healthcare providers without being blacklisted like Seinfeld’s Elaine back in the 1990s (h/t Brian Ahier).

Speaking of patients getting a look at their medical records, I’m also working on a story for U.S, News & World Report about the pros and cons of the OpenNotes project. Stay tuned for that one hopefully later this month.

January 6, 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.

Videocast with ATA: Mobile health predictions for 2014

A couple of weeks ago while I was in Washington for the U.S. News & World Report Hospital of Tomorrow conference, I stopped by the headquarters of the American Telemedicine Association to record a videocast with ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous. We discussed some of my predictions for 2014 in the fields of mobile health and telehealth:

  1. Imperative to cut costs will drive demand.
  2. More mental health services will be delivered remotely.
  3. Clarity from the FDA means more diagnostic apps and smartphone add-on devices.
  4. Patient engagement in Stage 2 Meaningful Use might finally make untethered PHRs and consumer-facing apps viable.
  5. Home monitoring and video chats will help prevent hospital readmissions.
  6. State licensing issues persist but some states are looking to adapt their rules to facilitate telemedicine.

I’m going to try to embed the video here. If not, here’s the ATA’s link.

 

November 15, 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.

The ‘Hospital of Tomorrow’

WASHINGTON—I’ve just finished 2 1/2 days of helping US News and World Report cover its inaugural Hospital of Tomorrow conference. My assignment was to sit in on four of the breakout sessions, take notes, then write up a summary as quickly as possible, ostensibly for the benefit of attendees who had to pick from four options during each time slot and might have missed something they were interested in. Of course, it’s posted on a public site, so you didn’t have to be there to read the stories.

Here’s what I cranked out from Tuesday and Wednesday:

Session 202: A Close-Up Look at EHRs — ‘Taking a Close Look at Electronic Health Records”

Session 303: The Future of Academic Medical Centers — “Academic Medical Centers ‘Must Become More Nimble’”

Session 305: Preventing and Coping With Infections — “How Hospitals Can Better Prevent and Cope With Infections”

Session 401: Provider and Patient Engagement — “Hospitals Grapple With Patient Engagement”

The one on infection control was particularly interesting, in large part due to the panel, which included HCA Chief Medical Officer and former head of the Veterans Health Administration Jonathan Perlin, M.D., Johns Hopkins quality guru Peter Pronovost, M.D., and Denise Murphy, R.N., vice president for quality and patient safety at Main Line Health in suburban Philadelphia.

The session on patient engagement was kind of a follow-on to my first US News feature in September.

If you want to read more about the whole conference, including US News’ live blog, visit usnews.com/hospitaloftomorrow

November 7, 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.

Podcast: A quick chat with Farzad Mostashari

Friday is the last day on the job for departing national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari, who is stepping down after four years with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, including the last two years as head of ONC.

I was in Washington two weeks ago and stopped by the HHS headquarters for ONC’s Consumer Health IT Summit, the opening event of National Health IT Week, and got a few minutes with Mostashari. (I suppose that was good timing, because I imagine the government shutdown that took effect this week would have canceled the summit and even prevented me from entering the Humphrey Building.) I had the recorder rolling for a brief chat, which lasted less than 15 minutes before Mostashari’s handlers ushered him out to his next appointment. But I did get something.

The interview actually goes on a bit longer than what’s on this track, moving on to a discussion about Food and Drug Administration guidance on mobile medical apps. (You can read about that in this story I wrote for MobiHealthNews.) As it turned out, the FDA issued its final recommendations Sept. 23, which also happened to be the same day new HIPAA regulations—modifications called for in the HITECH Act—took effect.

I might get another chance to talk to Mostashari at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives Fall CIO Forum at the end of next week, after he officially leaves government service and is allowed to discuss his future plans and perhaps be more candid about his tenure; CHIME has confirmed to me that he will keep his speaking slot. For now, enjoy this short interview.

Podcast details: Interview with outgoing national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari, Sept. 16, 2013. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 7.1 MB. Running time 7:44.
0:00 Why he’s leaving
1:20 Different “tribes” of health IT
2:25 Balancing competing interests and the pace of change
4:30 Difficulty of culture change
5:35 Patient control of data and confusion about HIPAA

 

October 2, 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.

Follow-up from ATA Fall Forum

Last week, I joined Steve Dean of Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System’s Inova Telemedicine Program on stage at the American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum in Toronto for what turned out to be a very well-received session on mobile apps and devices finding their way into clinical workflows. It was either a Letterman-style top 10, or, as Dean described it, a Siskel and Ebert-style discussion and review of 10 popular and/or interesting apps.

In one example, Dean noted that Aetna’s iTriage consumer app had been downloaded more than 9.5 million times. One audience member questioned the relevance of that number, suggesting that many people download an app, try it once and decide not to use it again. She asked if we had any actual usership statistics. I said I would contact Aetna and find out, then post the answer here on this blog.

An Aetna spokeswoman didn’t have data on the number of iTriage users, but told me that iTriage has nearly 60 million user sessions per year. (For what it’s worth, the app also passed 10 million downloads last week, she added.)

Here are our slides from that presentation. We alternated, with Dean presenting AirStrip OB, AliveCor, Asthmapolis (which changed its name last week to Propeller Health), iTriage and Welldoc. I opened discussion on DrawMD, mym3, Walgreens, Fitbit and various apps from the VA and CMS. Download ATA Fall 2013 v3.pdf

I realize context might be missing from just looking at these slides, but the ATA tells me video will soon be available online through the ATA Learning Center. (For now, access is restricted to ATA members, but the site promises non-member access “soon.”)

 

September 18, 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.

Patient engagement: Check me out in ‘US News’

I’ve just had my first story published in a major national magazine, or at least the online version of one, namely US News and World Report. It’s about patient engagement strategies for hospitals and medical practices in the context of EHRs, for the magazine’s “Hospital of Tomorrow” feature, and I’m getting good feedback so far. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. Check it out here.

Also, I’ll be presenting on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. EDT at the American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum in the non-American (but very North American) city of Toronto. It’s there because this year’s ATA president is Dr. Ed Brown, president of the Ontario Telemedicine Network, right there in the T.O.  Steve Dean of Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System’s Inova Telemedicine Program and I will be counting down a top 10 of mobile apps we deem to be prominent, successful or highly useful. (The description in the online program is wrong as of this writing.)

September 7, 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.

‘Bitter Pill’ only tells half the story

I finally got around to finishing “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” the 24,000-word special report about healthcare costs that took up the entire feature section of the Feb. 20 edition of Time magazine. I was expecting to agree with most if not all of Steven Brill’s supposedly epic investigative piece. Instead, I was underwhelmed and quite disappointed that Brill, the founder of CourtTV (R.I.P., reincarnated as TruTV in Turner Broadcasting’s quest for more “reality” programming) and of American Lawyer magazine,  only told half the story about all that ails the U.S. healthcare industry. Brill also editorializes far more than he should.

Granted, the story is about the high cost of care, but you can’t discuss cutting costs without also delving into the subject of improving outcomes. As has been stated in many other places, we have more of a sick-care system than a healthcare system. The incentives favor treating illness, not preventing it.

I have to say I learned a lot about how the racket known as the chargemaster works to keep the true costs of care opaque to patients. I suspect that, with the exception of uninsured people who are the only ones expected to pay full price, the public was unaware of the chargemaster system that hospitals guard like a state secret. Brill is right when he says, “Unless you have Medicare, the health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot.” But he’s not telling the full story. Medicare’s payment list is public, sure, but do Medicare beneficiaries really care what the federal government pays their hospitals and doctors? No, they, like everyone else with insurance coverage, only pay attention to their out-of-pocket cost.

Sure, Brill spends a lot of time discussing the perverse incentives in healthcare, particularly those that encourage expensive testing, and even touches on some of the reforms in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that seem to have been left out of the debate over insurance coverage. Think the Medicare policy of not reimbursing hospitals for certain preventable readmissions.

But he completely neglects accountable care. Nor is there a mention of electronic health records and how interoperability can help reduce duplicate testing and unnecessary care. And he never addresses the elephant in the room, the shamefully high rate of medical errors that makes American healthcare far from the best in the world.

July 23, 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.

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.

‘Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive’

AURORA, Colo.—”Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive,” Frost & Sullivan health IT analyst Nancy Fabozzi just told me at the Healthcare Unbound conference. Why? Because the enhanced Blue Button Plus format can eliminate the need for healthcare providers to invest in patient portals in order to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2.

I tend to agree. The Stage 2 rules don’t require a portal, just the ability to transmit records securely from provider to patient. Providers, whether they be hospitals, clinics or even small physician practices, can just put a Blue Button widget on their Web site and give patients easy access to their medical records, transferred securely by the Direct protocol, itself a disruptive force for health information exchange.

Longtime readers might recall that I had dissed Blue Button in the past. More than once, in fact. That’s because the original Blue Button format was plain, unstructured text when it was an experiment at the VA. My opinion changed this week, when I realized that Blue Button Plus adds structure such as the Continuity of Care Document, and third-party vendors like Humetrix, make of the iBlueButton mobile app, provide additional context.

I don’t think this will kill the portal business because portals provide additional services such as secure messaging, appointment scheduling, refill requests and online bill payment. But it will make a lot of providers think twice about springing for an advanced portal when Blue Button Plus will fill the Meaningful Use need so easily.

July 12, 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.