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Athenahealth-EHRA news significant only that it shakes up the status quo

By now, you’ve likely heard the news that Athenahealth has decided to quit the HIMSS EHR Association. As Athenahealth’s Dan Haley put it in a blog post: “At the end of the day, athenahealth left the EHRA because we never really belonged there in the first place. The EHRA was founded in 2004 by a group of EHR software vendors. Today, a decade into the age of cloud technology, the EHRA is still dominated and governed by a group of EHR software vendors.”

Athenahealth long has billed itself as a services company, not a software vendor, going so far as to hold a jazz funeral for the “death of software” at HIMSS13 in New Orleans. Athenahealth didn’t join the EHRA until 2011 anyway. It sounded like a bad fit.

I contacted Athenahealth, and was told that the company remains “fully committed” to the CommonWell Health Alliance, a coalition of health IT companies — also including Allscripts, Cerner, CPSI, Greenway Health, McKesson and Sunquest Information Systems — that came together for the stated purpose of “developing, deploying and promoting interoperability for the common good.” (There’s also the unstated purpose of fighting the dominance of Epic Systems.)

Athenahealth is staying on the interoperability path, but as is befitting the corporate culture, is going rogue when it comes to EHRs. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last time, because it’s not like most of the other vendors/service providers, if for no other reason than CEO Jonathan Bush doesn’t fit the buttoned-down model of an executive. For that matter, neither did his co-founder, Todd Park, whom I often called an “anti-bureaucrat” during his time with the federal government. Park’s brother, Ed, is COO of Athenahealth, and also has unconventional tendencies.

I can relate to this mentality in a way. I quit the Association of Health Care Journalists years ago because it didn’t feel like a good fit for me. That group tried to include health IT in its programming, but it really was an organization for consumer and scientific reporters, not those of us in the business and trade press. Eight years later, I still don’t think the national media are doing such a great job covering health policy or explaining the nuances of this complicated industry. And, as I’ve said many times before about healthcare, the status quo is unacceptable.

 

April 23, 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.

Despite scandal, TMIT is still operating

You’ve no doubt hear about the kickback scandal involving CareFusion and Charles R. Denham, MD, founder of the Texas Medical Institute of Technology (TMIT). I wrote a piece about it in the context of Meaningful Use for Healthcare IT News this month, since Denham co-chaired the steering committee of the National Quality Forum’s Safe Practices for Better Healthcare program during the time CareFusion allegedly paid Denham $11.6 million to promote its products.

CMS, of course, has, to date, based Meaningful Use quality measures on NQF recommendations.

Denham has become a pariah of sorts in patient-safety circles since the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $40.1 million settlement with CareFusion in January. Yet, believe it or not, TMIT is still in business. The organization’s Web site is functional; in fact, the “about” page prominently features a video with Denham. And the TMIT Twitter account is activem, promoting a webinar as recently as yesterday.

 


Perry Bechtle, D.O., is a neuroanesthesiologist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and a former U.S. Navy flight surgeon. I want to believe that his credentials are impeccable, but it’s hard to take TMIT seriously these days in the absence of a major house-cleaning. Interestingly, the last academic article Denham wrote before the scandal broke was in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Patient Safety. It’s entitled, “Safe Use of Electronic Health Records and Health Information Technology Systems: Trust But Verify,” and co-authors include heavyweights such as David Classen, M.D., and David Bates, M.D.

How are we supposed to trust an organization that itself was wrapped up in such a serious breach of trust?

April 18, 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.

About those Obamacare numbers and the ICD-10 delay

While I’ve been busy writing a couple of stories on different topics, you’ve probably heard two pieces of news that will affect healthcare providers nationwide: the close of the first open enrollment period for Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges and the Congressional “fix” (read “Band-Aid”) to the Medicare sustainable growth rate that statutorily delays the ICD-10 compliance deadline for another year, until October 2015.

The White House yesterday reported that 7.1 million people had signed up for health insurance through healthcare.gov or state-run exchanges, barely exceeding the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of 7 million. Independent tracking site ACAsignups.net says it’s more like 7.08 million, but still just above the goal. That site also tallies the following sign-ups as a result of the ACA:

  • 6.37 million – 12.45 million in private “qualified health plans” (plans that meet ACA standards) via private exchanges, insurance agents or direct purchases from insurers, including deductions for the estimated 3.7 million whose “noncompliant” policies were canceled;
  • 4.71 million – 6.49 million through Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program expansions;
  • 2.5 million – 3.1 million “sub-26ers,” young adults whom the ACA allows to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26; and
  • 1.8 million “woodworkers,” those who came out of the woodwork because they did not know before the Obamacare enrollment push that they were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

ACAsignups.net places the total range at 14.6 million – 22.1 million as of March 31, not counting the healthcare.gov numbers, though my math puts it at 15.38 million – 22.06 million. Add in the healthcare.gov sign-ups and you get about 22.5 million to nearly 29 million newly insured people. However — and this is a big however — we do not know how many of the beneficiaries are newly insured and how many were replacing previous coverage.

Personally, I bought a high-deductible, ACA-qualified health plan through an independent agent to replace a rather restrictive high-deductible plan that was grandfathered in, and should save about $70-$80 a month on premiums starting in May. The new insurer rejected me several years ago due to a pre-existing condition; the ACA assures that I can’t be denied for that reason anymore. I imagine there are millions in the same boat as I am.

The U.S. Census Bureau placed the number of uninsured for 2012 at about 48 million, or 15.7 percent of the population. (The same year, 198.8 million had private insurance.) Until we see new figures for uninsured Americans, we will still just have “gross” statistics, not a net figure to show if the insurance part of the ACA is working.

By the way, the ACA is about much more than insurance coverage, despite what the national media have focused on. I encourage you to read up on this before you say Obamacare is saving or ruining our country.

Now, as for the temporary SGR fix, the ICD-10 delay kind of came out of nowhere last week when it got slipped into the House version of the legislation, but the Senate adopted the same language — reportedly without debating ICD-10 at all — and President Obama today signed it into law. I’ve said before that ICD-10 and other transactional elements of healthcare stopped mattering to me as I watched my dad being mistreated in a hospital due to broken clinical processes in his last month of life. I still think this way. However, this sneaky move shows that the AMA, AHA and other groups more intent of protecting the status quo than fixing healthcare still have enormous sway in Washington.

It makes me wonder whether lobbyists haven’t already started pushing hard for Congress to delay the Medicare penalties for not achieving Meaningful Use that are due to kick in next year. Actually, I don’t wonder. I’m sure it’s happening.

All delaying real reform of a broken industry does is prolong the agony, and ensure that millions more people will be affected by errors and neglect in institutions that are supposed to “do no harm.” The status quo is not acceptable.

 

April 2, 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.

Patient safety update

I’m passionate about patient safety. I’m happy to report a couple of things that aren’t exactly breaking news, but still worth bringing to your attention.

First off, there is a fairly new peer-reviewed journal called Diagnosis, and it’s about exactly what the title suggests. The first, quarterly issue, from German academic publisher De Gruyter (North American headquarters are in Boston), came out in January, so the second issue should be published soon. The online version is open access. That means it’s free. (A print subscription is $645 a year.)

A highlight of the premiere issue is a submission from the legendary Dr. Larry Weed and his son, Lincoln Weed, discussing diagnostic failure and how to prevent it. “Diagnostic failure is not a mystery. Its root cause is misplaced dependence on the clinical judgments of expert physicians,” they begin. The answer? Clearly defined standards of care and wider use of clinical decision support tools. It’s not anything new. Larry Weed has been advocating this for a good 50 years and saying that the unaided human mind is fallible for probably 60 years. Yet, medicine still largely relies on physicians’ memory, experience and recall ability at the point of care.

This doesn’t mean evidence-based medicine ,which is based on probabilities. Probabilities are fine when the patient has a common condition. They’re useless for outliers. No, Weed has long said that IT systems should help with diagnosis by “coupling” knowledge to the patient’s particular problem, and this starts with taking a complete history.

Weed, of course, created the SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, plan). I recently talked to a CMIO who is advocating flipping that around a bit  into an “APSO” (assessment, plan, subjective, objective), which he said works better with electronic records. I’ll have more on that in an upcoming article for a paying client, and I’ll probably want to dive into that again in the near future.

For those who still believe American healthcare is safe, effective and efficient, ProPublica worked with PBS Frontline and marketing firm Ocupop last year to produce a video “slideshow” called “Hazardous Hospitals.” It’s worth a view for healthcare industry insiders, and definitely merits sharing with laypeople. I recommend that you share it. Please. Do it. Now. I’m serious. Patient safety is a problem that doesn’t get enough attention. :)

 

March 25, 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.

Video: Farzad Mostashari on patient engagement, ‘physician ACOs’

As I alluded to earlier, I was leaving the press room one afternoon at HIMSS14, and there I see former national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari hanging around Gregg Masters and Dr. Pat Salber of Health Innovation Media. It turns out, Masters and Salber had just pulled Mostashari aside to do an interview on video, but they didn’t have anyone to interview him on camera, so they asked me right there on the spot to be the interviewer. Here is the result.

Mostashari, now a visiting fellow at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institute in Washington, discussed how the years of searching for a business model to coordinate care and engage patients is finally starting to pay off. Always the champion of the little guy in healthcare, Mostashari also brought up the notion of physician-led ACOs, or, as he called it, the “Davids going up against the Goliaths.”

 

I had pretty much no preparation for this interview. It probably shows. I still think it worked out well.

Here’s a link to Salber’s post about the interview because I don’t want to steal page views. :)

March 14, 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.

All my HIMSS coverage in one place

The last of my 10 MedCity News stories from HIMSS14 has been posted. It’s a nice mix of news, features, analysis and commentary. Here are links to all of them, in chronological order.
NantHealth launches Clinical Operating System – biggest of big data startups – with $1B (Feb. 25)

Body + biology + behavior: Intel exec explains how technology is making N=1 care possible (Feb. 26)

Tavenner: 2014 is your last chance for a hardship exemption for Meaningful Use 2 (Feb. 27)

HIMSS crowd skeptical of promise for flexibility on MU2 hardship requests (Feb. 27)

Google Glass startup expecting third healthcare client in less than 6 months (Feb. 27)

DeSalvo: True EHR interoperability – and a national HIE – is possible by 2017 (Feb. 28)

DeSalvo meets and greets – briefly – while Tavenner keeps her distance at HIMSS (March 3)

HIMSS Intelligent Hospital tracks patients, pills and clinicians in completely connected loop (March 5)

Interoperability Showcase uses car crash to show how connected data really can improve patient care (March 5)

Athenahealth’s first inpatient product isn’t quite an EHR, but a ‘Trojan horse’ into hospitals (March 10)

 

March 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.

CMS clarifies MU2 hardship exemptions

As I reported for MedCity News at HIMSS14 nearly two weeks ago, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced plans to provide unspecified flexibility in claims for Meaningful Use Stage 2 hardship exemptions this year. Tavenner then left without speaking to the media.

The news left a lot of people scratching their heads and waiting for some details. Today, CMS issued some clarification, confirming that there would be exemptions for healthcare providers unable to have EHRs certified to 2014 standards in place for the 2014 reporting year. This is particularly important now because Medicare penalties for not achieving Meaningful Use take effect next year, but they are based on the 2014 reporting year (Oct. 1, 2013-Sept. 30, 2014 for hospitals, the 2014 calendar year for physicians and other individual “eligible providers.”)

The guidance confirms that CMS is aware of the problems caused by the slow pace of certification to the new, 2014 standards that Stage 2 requires. As of today, according to the ONC Certified Health IT Products List (CHPL), there are 3,736 ambulatory and 1,200 EHRs and EHR modules certified to 2011 standards, but just 899 total that meet 2014 certification.

Here’s the one-page CMS guidance for hospitals/critical access hospitals and the one for eligible providers.

March 11, 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.

HIMSS gossip

ORLANDO, Fla.—Two days of HIMSS14 have come and gone, and I’m not bouncing off the walls just yet. But I did bounce off the pavement Monday night when I tripped exiting a shuttle bus, and have some facial scrapes to show for it. You will see the evidence whenever Health Innovation Media gets around to posting a video interview I conducted Tuesday afternoon.

Health Innovation Media’s Gregg Masters and Dr. Pat Salber have been camped out near the HIMSS press room since Sunday with their video equipment, querying various newsmakers on various health IT topics, and occasionally having guest interviewers. As I walked out of the press room on my way to the exhibit hall, I said hello to former national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari, who looked like he was just hanging around, but was actually waiting to be interviewed. Masters and Salber asked me if I’d be interested in interviewing Mostashari right there on the spot with no preparation, and with just 15 minutes to get down to the show floor.

If you recall, I did a live interview—yes, streamed live on the Web—last year with Athenahealth honcho Jonathan Bush, beers in hand, for the Health Innovation Broadcast Consortium that Masters and Salber were involved in. (I don’t know the status of that project, as there’s nothing new on that site since last July.) So of course I said yes, and I think it went pretty well. Well, there were a couple of hiccups, as in me thinking we needed to wrap up earlier than we actually had to. And then there’s this:

 

Followed by this:

 

Yes, the Twitterverse catches everything.

Now about that facial injury. I think I just need to avoid Orlando. In 2011, the last time HIMSS met here, I needed six stitches above my right eye after I banged my face against the edge of the bathtub in my hotel room. As I arrived for the 2008 conference here, I turned on my phone after landing and got the message that my grandfather had passed away. Just for good measure, I passed through Orlando on my way back from Europe in 2009. As the flight pulled to the gate, the skies opened up with a violent summer thunderstorm, prompting the airport to close the ramp, preventing the ground crew from unloading bags for nearly an hour. I was stuck in the no-man’s land of U.S. Customs for that whole time, where cell phones are prohibited. It was not until I cleared security, took the airport tram to a different terminal, then hustled to the gate that I knew I would make my connecting flight. So yeah, it’s become a pattern.

Anyway, speaking of Jonathan Bush, he is not at HIMSS14 because he is on sabbatical to write a book and who knows what else? Well, here’s a clue. He was spotted at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, last week with his more famous brother, Billy, host of “Access Hollywood.” (Hat tip to HIStalk for showing this video at HIStalkapalooza Monday night.)

I also heard that Bush is considering a run for political office of some kind, perhaps because it’s, you know, the family business. Anyone care to confirm this?

I do know for a fact that at least one HIMSS attendee is actually seeking office. That would be Dr. Steven Daviss, CMIO of startup M3 Information, maker of a mental health screening app called My M3. Daviss is running for Democratic Central Committee in Baltimore this year. If he wins, he plans on seeking a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2018, in part because he says there is only one other physician among the state legislature.

Daviss himself is on sabbatical from his job as chairman of psychiatry at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, Md.

February 25, 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.

HIMSS, Continua launch Personal Connected Health Alliance

ORLANDO, Fla.—As HIMSS President and CEO hinted at yesterday in his podcast with me, HIMSS today announced the formation of the Personal Connected Health Alliance, in conjunction with the Continua Health Alliance and the HIMSS-owned mHealth Summit.

This short video from HIMSS explains:

Also, Lieber mentioned that HIMSS has not signed on to a letter from 48 organizations—led by CHIME—to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, calling for more time and flexibility in meeting Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements., Lieber said HIMSS declined to sign because the requests were, in his opinion, “very vague.”

Today, the letter, dated Feb. 21, was made public:

February 21, 2014
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

The undersigned organizations write to express immediate concerns confronting our respective members’ ability to comply with the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program. We recognize the vital role your department has taken in advancing the adoption of health information technology in the United States and appreciate your willingness to be flexible in extending the start of Stage 3 to 2017. We fear the success of the program is in jeopardy, however, if steps are not taken now to address our shared concerns.

Over the next seven months, more than 5,000 hospitals and 550,000 eligible professionals must adopt the 2014 Edition of Certified Electronic Health Record Technology (CEHRT) and meet a higher threshold of Meaningful Use criteria. Failure to do so will not only result in a loss of incentive payments, but also the imposition of significant penalties. With only a fraction of 2011 Edition products currently certified to 2014 Edition standards, it is clear the pace and scope of change have outstripped the ability of vendors to support providers. This inhibits the ability of providers to manage the transition to the 2014 Edition CEHRT and Stage 2 in a safe and orderly manner.

We are concerned this dynamic will cause providers to either abandon the possibility of meeting Meaningful Use criteria in 2014 or be forced to implement a system much more rapidly than would otherwise be the case. The first choice limits the success of the program to achieve widespread adoption of EHR, while the second is highly disruptive to healthcare operations and could jeopardize patient safety. As you know, our members’ number one priority must be to provide safe and high quality care to patients.

Providers need adequate time to learn how to use the newly deployed technology, including examining staff assignments, workflows, and practice processes. If providers move forward, as dictated by the current policy, our concerns regarding rushed implementations are heightened. Furthermore, we believe the “all or nothing” approach – where missing a single objective by even a small amount results in failure for the program year – compounds our concerns.

For these reasons, our organizations strongly recommend that HHS:
1. Extend the timelines providers have to implement 2014 Edition Certified EHR software and meet the Program requirements (Stages 1 and 2) through 2015;
2. Add flexibility in Meaningful Use requirements to permit as many providers as possible to achieve success in the program.

Given that we are well into 2014, immediate attention to these concerns is warranted. This additional time and new flexibility are vitally important to ensure that hospitals and physicians continue moving forward with technology to improve patient care. By making such changes, HHS would be demonstrating needed flexibility to maximize program success, without compromising momentum towards interoperability and care coordination supported by health IT.

We remain committed to the success of the program and look forward to hearing from you on this important matter. Please contact Jeffery Smith, Senior Director of Federal Affairs, CHIME, (jsmith@cio-chime.org) should you have any questions. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

AMDA-Dedicated to Long Term Care Medicine
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
American Academy of Dermatology Association
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Home Care Medicine
American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
American Academy of Neurology
American Academy of Ophthalmology
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Association of Neurological Surgeons / Congress of Neurological Surgeons
American College of Cardiology
American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians
American College of Osteopathic Internists
American College of Osteopathic Surgeons
American College of Physicians
American College of Radiology
American College of Rheumatology
American College of Surgeons
American Health Information Management Association
American Hospital Association
American Medical Association
American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopedics
American Osteopathic Association
American Psychiatric Association
American Society for Clinical Pathology
American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
American Society for Radiation Oncology
American Society of Anesthesiologists
American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery
American Society of Hematology
American Urological Association
America’s Essential Hospitals
Association of American Medical Colleges
Catholic Health Association of the United States
Children’s Hospital Association
College of Healthcare Information Management Executives
Federation of American Hospitals
Heart Rhythm Society
Infectious Diseases Society of America
Medical Group Management Association
National Rural Health Association
North American Spine Society
Premier healthcare alliance
Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions
Society of Thoracic Surgeons
The Endocrine Society
VHA Inc.

Yes, that is kind of vague, but that’s what you get when you involve four dozen organizations. Will it be effective? As I mentioned yesterday, ONC Chief Medical Officer Jacob Reider, M.D., hinted that there will be news about Stage 2 flexibility, likely Thursday morning at a joint ONC-CMS town hall. Reider made that statement at the CIO Forum, hosted by CHIME.

 

 

February 24, 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.

Podcast: HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber, 2014 edition

It’s time for my annual podcast interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, this time from the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., on the day before the official opening of the 2014 HIMSS Conference, rather than in his Chicago office a week or so in advance.

Lieber reiterated HIMSS’ position that the federal government should extend the attestation period for Meaningful Use Stage 2 by one year. I wasn’t there, but today at the CIO Forum, one of the preconference educational symposia, ONC Chief Medical Officer Jacob Reider, M.D., hinted that there will be an announcement on Stage 2 flexibility, possibly Thursday morning at a joint ONC-CMS town hall. That session will feature CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and new national health IT coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D. I’ve never heard either of them speak, and now I’m excited to be covering that session.

We also discussed other aspects of healthcare reform, trends in health IT and expectations for HIMSS14. Of note, on Monday morning, HIMSS and two other organizations will announce a new initiative on “personal connected health.”

Near the end, I reference the podcast I did last week with Dr. Ray Dorsey about remote care for Parkinson’s patients. For easy reference, here’s the link.

This is, I believe, the seventh consecutive year I have done a podcast with Lieber at or just before the annual HIMSS conference. Another interview that has become somewhat of a tradition won’t happen this time, as Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush is not making the trip to Orlando this year.

 

Podcast details: Interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, Feb. 23, 2014, at HIMSS14 in Orlando, Fla. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 36.2 MB. Running time 39:35.

0:40 “It’s time to execute.”
1:40 Challenges for small hospitals and small practices
3:10 New ONC EHR certification proposal and continued questions about Meaningful Use Stage 2
5:00 Prioritizing with multiple healthcare reform initiatives underway, including proposed SGR repeal
6:30 Surviving ICD-10 transition
7:35 HIMSS’ position on MU2 timelines
9:05 Remember “macro objective” of Meaningful Use
10:00 Letter to HHS from organizations not including HIMSS calling for what he says are “very vague” changes to MU2 criteria
11:40 Things in MU2 causing providers fits
13:05 Fewer EHR vendors certified for 2014, but more HIMSS exhibitors
15:00 What this means for providers who bought products certified to 2011 standards
17:20 Progress on Meaningful Use so far
21:00 Looking toward Stage 3
22:42 What healthcare.gov struggles might mean for health IT
25:35 Other aspects of the Affordable Care Act being lost in the public debate
27:10 Political considerations related to health IT
29:40 Patient engagement and new HIMSS exhibitors
32:20 Why healthcare spending and provider shortage forecasts don’t account for efficiency gains made from technology and innovation
35:10 Demographic challenges for healthcare
35:45 Shift from hospitals to ambulatory and home care and consolidation of provider organizations

February 23, 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.