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DoD-VA integration failure is no laughing matter, even to Stewart

Last week, I had a clip from “The Colbert Report” because Dr. Eric Topol appeared on the show to discuss digital health in a lively segment with Stephen Colbert. (I reported on it for InformationWeek Healthcare. The editors told me to have fun, so I did.) This time around, I’m going to give Jon Stewart equal time, not because I feel like having more fun with “fake news,” but because the host of “The Daily Show” had some insightful comments about the failure of the Military Health System and the Veterans Health Administration to get their EHRs to interoperate.

Though his job is to make people laugh—and ostensibly to upset conservatives—Stewart has been an outspoken advocate for America’s veterans, and when he heard the Obama administration has created a massive backlog for disabled veterans to receive VA health benefits, he went off. As far as I can tell, he got everything right, too.

April 1, 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: HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber: 2013 edition

Once again, as has become custom, I sat down with HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber at the organization’s Chicago headquarters the week before the annual HIMSS conference to discuss the conference as well as important trends and issues in the health IT industry. I did the interview Monday.

Here it is late Friday and I’m finally getting around to posting the interview, but it’s still in plenty of time for you to listen before you get on your flight to New Orleans for HIMSS13, which starts Monday but which really gets going with pre-conference activities on Sunday. At the very least, you have time to download the podcast and listen on the plane or even in the car on the way to the airport. As a bonus, the audio quality is better than usual.

Podcast details: Interview with HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber about HIMSS13 and the state of health IT. Recorded Feb. 25, 2013, at HIMSS HQ in Chicago. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 46.0 MB. Running time: 50:17.

1:00        Industry growth and industry consolidation
2:50        mHIMSS
3:45        Why Dr. Eric Topol is keynoting
6:00        New Orleans as a HIMSS venue
6:50        Changes at HIMSS13, including integration of HIT X.0 into the main conference
8:55        Focus on the patient experience
9:35        Global Health Forum and other “conferences within a conference”
13:00     Criticisms of meaningful use, EHRs and health IT in general
17:00     Progress in the last five years
20:45     Healthcare reform, including payment reform
22:30     Why private payers haven’t demanded EHR usage since meaningful use came along
23:50     Payers and data
26:28     Potential for delay of 2015 penalties for not meeting meaningful use
29:15     Benefits of EHRs
30:40     Progress on interoperability between EHRs and medical devices
32:52     Efficiency gains from health IT
35:27     Home-based monitoring in the framework of accountable care
36:55     Consumerism in healthcare
39:40     Accelerating pace of change
41:10     Entrepreneurs, free markets and the economics of healthcare
43:25     Informed, empowered patients and consumer outreach
46:30     Fundamental change in care delivery

March 1, 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 HIMSS will be all about quality and patient safety

As regular readers might already know, 2012 was a transformative year in my life, and mostly not in a good way. I ended the year on a high note, taking a character-building six-day, 400-mile bike tour through the mountains, desert and coastline of Southern California that brought rain, mud, cold, more climbing than my poor legs could ever hope to endure in the Midwest, some harrowing descents and even a hail storm. But the final leg from Oceanside to San Diego felt triumphant, like I was cruising down the Champs-Élysées during the last stage of the Tour de France, save the stop at the original Rubio’s fish taco stand about five miles from the finish.

But the months before that were difficult. My grandmother passed away at the end of November at the ripe old age of 93, but at least she lived a long, full life and got to see all of her grandchildren grow up. The worst part of 2012 was in April and May, when my father endured needless suffering in a poorly run hospital during his last month of life as he lost his courageous but futile battle with an insidious neurodegenerative disorder called multiple system atrophy, or MSA. (On a personal note, March is MSA Awareness Month, and I am raising funds for the newly renamed Multiple System Atrophy Coalition.)

That ordeal changed my whole perspective, as you may have noticed in my writing since then. No longer do I care about the financial machinations of healthcare such as electronic transactions, revenue-cycle management, the new HIPAA omnibus rule or reasons why healthcare facilities aren’t ready to switch to ICD-10 coding. Nor am I much interested in those who believe it’s more worthwhile to take the Medicare penalties starting in 2015 for not achieving “meaningful use” than to put the time and money into adopting electronic health records. I’m not interested in lists of “best hospitals” or “best doctors” based solely on reputation. I am sick of the excuses for why healthcare can’t fix its broken processes.

And don’t get me started on those opposed to reform because they somehow believe that the U.S. has the “best healthcare in the world.” We don’t. We simply have the most expensive, least efficient healthcare in the world, and it’s really dangerous in many cases.

No, I am dedicated to bringing news about efforts to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors. Yes, we need to bring costs down and increase access to care, too, but we can make a big dent on those fronts by creating incentives to do the right thing instead of doing the easy thing. Accountable care and bundled payments seem like they’re steps in the right direction, though the jury remains out. All the recent questioning about whether meaningful use has had its intended effect and even whether current EHR systems are safe also makes me optimistic that people are starting to care about quality.

Keep that in mind as you pitch me for the upcoming HIMSS conference. Also keep in mind that I have two distinct audiences: CIOs read InformationWeek Healthcare, while a broad mix of innovators, consultants and healthcare and IT professionals keep up with my work at MobiHealthNews. For the latter, I’m interested in mobile tools for doctors and on the consumerization of health IT.

I’m not doing a whole lot of feature writing at the moment, so I’d like to see and hear things I can relate in a 500-word story. Contract wins don’t really interest me since there are far too many of them to report on. Mergers and acquisitions as well as venture investments matter to MobiHealthNews but not so much to InformationWeek. And remember, I see through the hype. I want substance. Policy insights are good. Case studies are better, as long as we’re talking about quality and safety. Think care coordination and health information exchange for example, but not necessarily the technical workings behind the scenes.

And, as always, I tend to find a lot more interesting things happening in the educational sessions than in that zoo known as the exhibit hall. I’m there for the conference, not the “show.”

Many of you already have sent your pitches. I expect to get to them no later than this weekend, and I’ll respond in the order I’ve received them. Thank you kindly for your patience.

February 13, 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.

Faxing should be malpractice

As you undoubtedly know by now, I am now officially all about patient safety. (Thanks, by the way, for all the support in the wake of my father’s untimely death.) That’s why I was so upset to read a friend’s recent Facebook status update: “So I discovered the real reason why I was in the hospital last week (and not generally feeling well for the past 4.5 months). My doctor’s office faxed a prescription to my mail order pharmacy that was 2x the dose I was expecting.”

In case anyone has forgotten, fax is technology from the late 1980s and early ’90s. It is now 2012. I cannot remember the last time someone asked me if I had a fax number. Yet, inexplicably, this obsolete means of transmitting low-res images—images, not computable data—remains perfectly acceptable in healthcare.

Here’s a radical proposal: medical societies and state medical pharmacy boards should prohibit the use of faxes. Medical errors related to faxed documents should be considered malpractice. Period.

May 20, 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.

HIMSS12 notes

I’ve just returned home from HIMSS12. As usual, it was a grueling week, made more grueling by the fact that I arrived a day earlier than usual. But I do have to say that this was the least stressful HIMSS I have been to in years.

Maybe it’s because the conference layout within the massive Venetian-Palazzo-Sands Expo complex was surprisingly compact for my purposes, and I didn’t have to do as much walking as normal. Maybe it was because I only set foot on the show floor once, thanks, in part, to the announcement of the Stage 2 “meaningful use” proposed rules on Wednesday, which caused me to cancel one vendor meeting (in the exhibit hall) and cut another one (in the media interview room) short so I could knock out my story for InformationWeek. Or maybe it’s because I spent too much time in the casinos. Let’s go with the first two, OK?

HIMSS12 broke all kinds of records, drawing 37,032 attendees, beating last year’s former record of 31,500 by nearly 18 percent. The final exhibitor count was 1,123, also the most ever. After I tweeted the attendance figure, at least one person thought this rapid growth was an indication that the conference was “jumping the shark”:

jumping the shark? RT @: #HIMSS12 draws record 37,032 attendees, crushing last year's mark of 31,500. http://t.co/Mw1TDYSA #HealthIT
@apearson
Aaron Pearson

I have thought in recent years than HIMSS may be becoming too big for its own good. This time around, I heard mixed reviews.

Personally, like I said, it was less stressful than normal. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, particularly my media colleagues. This year, I also met up with a couple of friends from back home who happen to work for vendors. We kept the fun going all the way back to Chicago, since at least three other health IT reporters and a few others I know were on the same flight as me.

I also have to say I had a wonderful time on a “Meet the Bloggers” panel on Wednesday afternoon, where I joined Healthcare Scene capo John Lynn, fellow Healthcare Scene contributor Jennifer Dennard, Carissa Caramanis O’Brien of Aetna and moderator Brian Ahier for some lively dialogue about social media in health IT. I know that at least one audience member took some video, and I’ll link to that once it’s posted.

Later that evening, I saw nearly every one of the same people at Dell’s Healthcare Think Tank dinner, where I participated in a roundtable discussion about health IT with a bunch of supposed experts. It was streamed live, and I believe the video will be archived. Many of the participants, including myself, tweeted about it, using the hashtag #DoMoreHIT. I really am adamant about the public needing to be explained the difference between health insurance and healthcare.

Speaking about misunderstandings, I am in 100 percent agreement with something Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a.k.a. Seattle Mama Doc, said during an engaging presentation Monday at the HIMSS/CHIME CIO Forum. She made the astute observation that there needs to be better distinction between expertise and merely experience when it comes to celebrities being held up as “experts” in healthcare and medicine. Let’s just say that Swanson, as a pediatrician, is no fan of some of the things Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Mehmet Oz have told wide audiences.

There definitely were some people among the 37,000 who were not enamored with the cheerleading at HIMSS. There was talk around the press room that HHS really dropped the ball by not having the meaningful use Stage 2 proposal out a week earlier, before the conference started. In reality, blame the delay on the White House. Every federal rule-making has to be vetted by the bean counters and political operatives in the Office of Management and Budget, and it’s hard to tell how long the OMB review will take once an administrative agency, in this case, HHS, sends the text over.

I admit, I was wrong in expecting the plan to be out earlier, too. Instead, we got the news Wednesday morning and saw the text Thursday morning, forcing thousands of people to scramble to scour the proposed rules.

I know HIMSS had a team at the ready, who dropped everything to read the proposal and get a preliminary analysis out by the end of the day Thursday. Lots of consulting firms did the same. I’ll save some of the commentary I received for another post.

The wireless Internet in the Venetian’s meeting areas was truly terrible. Either that, or I need to replace my aging laptop. I’m thinking both.

I had no trouble getting my e-mail over the Wi-Fi network, but I really couldn’t do anything on the Web unless I was hard-wired to one of the limited number of Ethernet cords in the press room, and those workstations filled up fast. Bandwidth was particularly poor on Thursday, when I presume thousands of people were downloading the Stage 2 PDF. CMS officials said the Federal Register site crashed from the heavy demand, and I’m sure a lot of it came from inside the Venetian and the Sands Expo.

There didn’t seem to be enough attention paid to safety of EHRs, at least according to Dr. Scot Silverstein of the Health Care Renewal blog, who wrote this scathing critique of the sideshow the exhibit hall has become, making Las Vegas perhaps “fitting for people who gamble with people’s lives to make a buck.”

Personally, I thought ONC and CMS took the recent Institute of Medicine report on EHR-related adverse events pretty seriously. Plus, one of the IOM report authors, Dr. David Classen, presented about the study findings at the physician symposium on Monday and again during the main conference.

Mobile may also have gotten a bit of a short shrift, despite the recent launch of mHIMSS and last’s week’s news that HIMSS had taken over the mHealth Summit from the NIH Foundation. The mobile pavilion was relegated to the lower level of the Sands, the area with low ceilings and support pillars every 30 feet or so. (I called that hall “the dungeon.”) I have a feeling you will like Brian Dolan’s commentary in MobiHealthNews next week. I’m still figuring out what I will write for that publication, but I have to say I did hear some positive things about mobile health this week.

I still don’t know what GE and Microsoft are doing with Caradigm, their joint venture in healthcare connectivity and health information exchange that didn’t have a name until a couple of weeks ago. The name and the introductory reception they held Tuesday evening at HIMSS seemed a bit rushed, IMHO. The Web address the venture reserved, www.caradigm.com, currently redirects to a GE page. Other than the fact that Microsoft is shifting its Amalga assets to Caradigm, I’m at a loss.

Popular topics this year were the expected meaningful use and ICD-10, plus the buzzwords of the moment, business analytics and big data. I’d be happy I never hear the word “solution” as a synonym for “product” or “service” again. To me, that represents lazy marketing. Get yourself a thesaurus.

 

February 24, 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.

Podcast: UPMC informatics leader Shrestha talks accountable care, business intelligence

Did you happen to catch my InformationWeek Healthcare story about how UPMC believes it has the roadmap in place to achieve true accountable care? Well, here’s the rest of the story.

Last week, Nuance Communications invited me to Pittsburgh for a tour of the Center for Connected Medicine, an impressive, high-tech showcase on the 60th floor of the U.S. Steel Tower. There, I interviewed, among others, Rasu Shrestha, M.D., UPMC’s vice president for medical information technology, medical director of interoperability & imaging informatics and division chief of radiology informatics. Here is that interview.

Podcast details: Interview with Rasu Shrestha, M.D., UPMC vice president for medical information technology, Feb. 7, 2012, at the Center for Connected Medicine, Pittsburgh. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 15.6 MB, running time 17:08.

1:10 “Clinical language understanding” and “bringing data to life”
3:05 Analytics beyond patient care
3:55 Computer-assisted coding
6:35 Business intelligence in the context of ACOs
7:45 UPMC striving to be an ACO
8:35 Aggregating data from payer and provider sides of the organization
10:30 Keeping medication lists up to date
11:45 Health information exchange among multiple vendor systems
13:00 What to watch for in the near future from UPMC
14:10 Overcoming cultural barriers to change

 

 

 

February 14, 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.

Gingrich on EHRs in the 2009 stimulus

I don’t like to get political on this blog, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how the Newt Gingrich we’ve seen on the campaign trail of late is quite different from the Newt Gingrich who was a tireless advocate for health IT and EHRs from about 2004 to 2009.

Lately, Gingrich has, as primary candidates are wont to do, been pandering toward the more ideologically pure elements of his party, not addressing the center, as will be necessary during a general election. Notably, Gingrich has jumped on the “repeal Obamacare” bandwagon, essentially making the ridiculous argument that America does not need healthcare reform. That’s interesting, because Gingrich, after he left Congress, founded the Center for Health Transformation to push for technology-enabled health system improvement.

Back in 2004, Gingrich joined with strange bedfellow Hillary Clinton to advocate for a national, government-funded strategy to support adoption of health IT. That idea eventually morphed into the HITECH Act section of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus legislation. Gingrich, like most Republicans, opposed the bulk of the stimulus, but he was an ardent supporter of HITECH. Here’s the proof: Read more..

January 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.

Podcast: IBM’s Lorraine Fernandes talks HIE, public health, health reform

From the Department of Procrastination comes part one of a two-part podcast series from last month’s IBM Exchange 2011, an event the vendor put on to display its wares in health information exchange. The two-day conference took place in Chicago, home of the former Initiate Systems, which IBM acquired in early 2010. Here, I talk with Lorraine Fernandes, global healthcare ambassador for IBM (yes, that’s really her title), about how HIE enables healthcare reform and improved public and population health. (In part two, which I’ll post later this week, I discuss Watson with IBM’s Scott Schumacher.)

As usual, I had a minor technical glitch. Since it was a local event, I schlepped my bag downtown and set up a mixing board with two mics. I didn’t notice until the very end that I had my mic set way too low. I tried to fix that during editing, but raising the level just introduces more background noise. Ah, at least Lorraine’s words are clear.

Podcast details: Interview with IBM Global Healthcare Ambassador Lorraine Fernandes, recorded Sept. 14, 2011, in Chicago. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 22.0 MB. Running time 23:50.

1:00 Global problem of public health
1:45 Renewed focus on population health
3:00 Early successes and a search for better models
4:00 Private HIE in competitive U.S. markets
5:00 “Lowest common denominator” of EHR
6:30 Barriers to HIE
7:00 Building trust with consumers
11:30 Engaging people in the healthcare system
12:30 HIE for care coordination
13:30 Planning and executing ACO plans
15:15 Experiments in healthcare reform
16:00 Explaining healthcare innovations to the general public
18:05 Home monitoring for preventing hospital readmissions
19:45 IBM analytics, including Watson
21:10 Addressing continued physician resistance
22:30 Healthcare and American competitiveness

October 16, 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.

Anthelio to hire thousands in Michigan

Editor’s note: This was written for a national publication, but rejected because it was too localized. I have permission to post it here. Don’t get used to me writing a lot of news stories for this blog.

Healthcare business process services firm Anthelio Healthcare Solutions will open a “center of excellence” in or near Detroit, a move that could bring thousands of IT-related jobs to an economically depressed area. The Dallas-based company, formerly known as PHNS, also announced that it is working with community colleges across Michigan to develop and hire in-state talent.

“This is mostly about private industry stepping up,” Anthelio Chairman and CEO Richard S. Garnick said. “These are not part-time or short-term jobs,” Garnick said. He added that the company did not receive any government assistance or subsidies for this expansion.

“We want to create jobs for Americans and leverage our existing capabilities,” Garnick said.

The 50,000-square-foot center of excellence will serve as a “physical location that clusters skills and expertise,” Garnick explained. Anthelio has not chosen the actual site yet, but Garnick said the company has narrowed its options to two, one in Detroit proper and one in an unspecified suburb.

There will be some consolidation of services from Anthelio offices in Detroit and Flint, Mich., but most of the people working at the center of excellence will be new hires, Garnick said, and the company would keep the existing locations open. The two current Michigan offices help Anthelio support major clients McLaren Health Care Corp. in Flint, and Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanguard Health Systems, owner of Detroit Medical Center.

Garnick did not indicate exactly how many employees Anthelio was looking for, but said it was in the thousands. “We are hiring people as we speak,” Garnick said. He added that Anthelio will support tuition reimbursement for new employees who are completing health IT training in programs of three to six months at community colleges. Current Anthelio employees also are eligible for tuition assistance.

The company is looking for expertise in health information management, computer-assisted coding, business process improvement, and other back-end healthcare functions, according to the CEO. “We have a broad set of needs, he said.

Last week, Anthelio announced a partnership with speech recognition technology vendor MedQuist Holdings to improve clinical documentation for healthcare providers and promote computer-assisted coding. The Michigan center for excellence will handle some of this work, according to Garnick, as well as analytics-related activities with another Anthelio partner, OptumInsight, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group that was formerly known as Ingenix.

Much of the ramp-up is intended to prepare clients for the October 2013 transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 coding. Garnick likened the change to the scope of preparations IT departments made for Y2K more than a decade ago, with one major difference. “It doesn’t end on Jan. 1, 2000,” Garnick noted. “This will be the new platform for reimbursement for healthcare.

October 14, 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.