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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.

Podcast: Owen Tripp, CEO of Grand Rounds

Yesterday, Grand Rounds, a San Francisco-based startup that makes an “outcomes management platform” for large employer groups, introduced Office Visits, an online service that helps consumers find “quality” physicians close to home. I’ve long been skeptical of any claims of healthcare quality or any listing of “best” physicians or hospitals, so I invited Grand Rounds co-founder and CEO Owen Tripp on for a podcast to explain what his company is doing.

He told me that a proprietary algorithm helps Grand Rounds “recommend with confidence” the top physicians among the 520,000 medical specialists the company graded nationwide, based on numerous publicly available data sources and some self-reporting. Of those more than half a million specialists, only about 30,000 meet the company’s criteria for recommendation, which shows, at the very least, that Grand Rounds is highly selective.

Based on this interview, I think the product has a lot of potential. It’s nice to see ratings based on outcomes data and not squishy criteria like “he is a great doctor,” as parodied in The Onion this week (“Physician Shoots Off A Few Adderall Prescriptions To Improve Yelp Rating”).

At about 18:30, the conversation reminds me of another recent podcast, with University of Rochester neurologist Dr. Ray Dorsey. It turns out that Dorsey is among the 1,000 or so medical advisors to Grand Rounds.

Podcast details: Interview with Owen Tripp, co-founder and CEO of Grand Rounds. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 23.8 MB, running time 26:04.

1:00 “Safety” vs. good outcomes
2:20 “Downright terrifying” facts about choosing doctors
4:15 Story behind Grand Rounds
5:30 Algorithm for measuring physician quality that he says has shown about a 40 percent lower rate of mortality on common cardiac procedures
7:10 Data sources, including some self-reporting
8:35 Care coordination services Grand Rounds provides for patients
9:50 Why the direct-to-consumer market is so difficult in healthcare
12:00 Care teams
14:00 Availability and scope of service
16:15 When patients should travel for care and when they should not
18:15 Elements of telemedicine
19:35 Importance of asynchronous communication
21:45 Target market and why he sees the $200 fee as a bargain for patients
23:35 Managing patient records and other data
24:35 Company goals

April 9, 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.

Digital health at the Mid-America Healthcare Venture Forum

In case you haven’t seen the official announcements or caught my tweets, later this month I will be moderating a panel at the Mid-America Healthcare Venture Forum, an event being put on by MedCity News, April 22-23 at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Chicago.

The panel is called “Opportunities (and Challenges) in Digital Health. Per the official description: “Digital health — and its business models — are coming of age. Promising young companies are integrating into healthcare and, in some cases, beginning to find exit partners. But that’s also meant new scrutiny from everyone from investors to the FDA. Learn about the challenges, opportunities and promising new markets in digital health.”

Panelists include: Amy Len, director of Chicago-based accelerator Healthbox; Julie Kling, director of mobile health at Verizon Wireless; and Jack Young, who heads the Qualcomm Life Fund for Qualcomm Ventures. I’ll just be there to keep order, and, of course, to cast my usual, skeptical eye on the field and continue to wonder why investors are throwing so much money at me-too fitness trackers and countless direct-to-consumer products that don’t stand a chance in an industry where nearly everything is paid for by third parties. Or at least that’s my thought at the moment, until we have our conference call next week. :)

The session is scheduled for Wednesday, April 23, at 8:55 a.m. CDT. The hotel is located at 151 W. Adams St. in the heart of the Financial District. Years ago, I worked about two blocks west of there, so I know it’s about 40-45 minutes away from me by public transit, and I’m not a morning person. This could get  interesting. (If any MedCity people are reading this, I’m kidding. I’ll be there on time. Hopefully.)

Our session follows a keynote from James Rogers, chairman of Mayo Clinic Ventures. After the panel is a break, then breakout sessions featuring presentations to investors from startups in digital health, medical devices and pharma/biotech. I hope I don’t prematurely burst anyone’s bubble with too much of a reality check. But, in honor of this week being the 25th anniversary of the release of the great Gen X satire, “Heathers,” I offer this quote from the movie: “Heather told me she teaches people ‘real life.’ She said, real life sucks losers dry.”

Wait, was that too cynical?Let me just say that the panel just got another thing to talk about today, as the FDA, FCC and ONC just released their proposed health IT regulatory strategy, as called for by the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA). To nobody’s surprise, they recommend a “risk-based framework” to regulation of health IT and digital health. Now to figure out if there are any details people should be concerned about…

In the meantime, you can register for the conference here.

April 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.

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.

eHealth Initiative ’2020 Roadmap’ panel needs consumers

This press release showed up my inbox on Tuesday:

eHealth Initiative Launches 2020 Roadmap Process

Framework to Change the Future of Nation’s Healthcare System

March 25, 2014, Washington, D.C. – The eHealth Initiative (eHI) announced the launch of the eHealth Initiative 2020 Roadmap, a public-private collaboration that will help guide the  transformation of the nation’s healthcare system by 2020. With the help and support of a  wide array of leading healthcare associations, organizations, and federal agencies, 2020 Roadmap will propose key policy recommendations to implement at a federal level and actions for the private sector to help transform healthcare.

“Health reform calls for transformation to a value-based interoperable system, but there is no direction on how to transition from our current work processes and systems. Clinicians, payers and providers are in dire need of leadership to help transform delivery systems and control cost,” said Jennifer Covich Bordenick, Chief Executive Officer of the eHealth Initiative. “The goal of our new initiative is to craft a multi-stakeholder solution that coordinates the efforts of both the public and private sector so that we can make this transition successfully.”

The 2020 Roadmap will be developed over the next six months through a series of surveys, webinars, executive roundtables, and events with key constituencies; the outcome will be a consensus on how to shape the future of our healthcare system.  Individuals are welcome to complete surveys, participate in upcoming events, and provide general feedback. A new survey is currently being fielded to gather information from the industry.

The 2020 Roadmap will focus on recommendations that:

•        Identify a sustainable glide path for meaningful use;

•        Promote interoperable systems;

•        Transform care delivery; and

•        Balance innovation and privacy.

Several advisors representing different stakeholders are leading the 2020 Roadmap activities, including:

·         John Glaser, PhD, Chief Executive Officer, Health Services, Siemens (representing vendors)

·         Sam Ho, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare, Chair eHI Board of Directors, (representing payers)

·         Christopher Ross, MD, Chief Information Officer, Mayo Clinic (representing providers)

·         Susan Turney, MD, Chief Executive Officer, Medical Group Management Association (representing clinicians)

·         Micky Tripathi, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (representing information exchanges)

·         Joseph Touey, Senior Vice President, North American Pharmaceuticals, Information Technology, GlaxoSmithKline (representing pharmaceutical manufacturers)

“The impressive caliber of individuals leading our effort reflects the importance of the 2020 Roadmap,” said Jennifer Covich Bordenick. “We invite all organizations to participate in this important process and bring the best thinking to the table.”

Visit the 2020 Roadmap webpage for more information at http://www.ehidc.org/2020-roadmapMore information about the eHealth Initiative is available online at www.ehidc.org.

###

About the eHealth Initiative: The eHealth Initiative (eHI) is a Washington D.C.-based, independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to drive improvements in the quality, safety, and efficiency of healthcare through information and information technology. eHI is the only national organization that represents all of the stakeholders in the healthcare industry. Working with its membership, eHI advocates for the use of health IT that is practical, sustainable and addresses stakeholder needs, particularly those of patients. www.ehidc.org .

What immediately jumped out at me was the list of advisors. I’m familiar with most of the names, and I am sure all are qualified to provide valuable input on how to promote interoperability and improve our nation’s broken healthcare infrastructure. But the notes on representation raise an important question: How come nobody is representing consumers?

It’s after hours as I read the press release and I post this commentary, but I’ve e-mailed the press contact to see if the eHealth Initiative has a good answer. I will report back as soon as I hear anything. In the meantime, consumer and patient advocacy groups should take Bordenick up on her offer to participate.

UPDATE, March 27, 11 am CDT: I’ve just received this response directly from Bordenick:

Please know that the news release just highlighted just a few of the individuals and groups that will be involved.  We absolutely welcome the representation and involvement of patient and advocacy groups, and any stakeholder groups who want to participate— that is one of the reasons we put the announcement out, and asked people to fill in contact info in the survey. We are at the very start of this process, so now is definitely the time to get engaged. We currently work with National Partnership for Women and Families, Center Democracy & Technology, American Cancer Society, and have just started work with Smart Patients, and many others. We expect all of these groups to continue working with us, and many others to join in the process.

So there you have it. As I said in the original post, consumers and patient advocacy groups should take Bordenick up on the offer. It sounds like she would appreciate it.

March 26, 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.

Another PHR venture (yawn) brings in some big names

I normally shy away from stories about the crowded and, to this point, spectacularly unsuccessful field of untethered personal health records, but one got my attention this week because of the names it’s just attracted.

Box, a cloud-storage company that offers something similar to Dropbox or Google Drive, has hired former White House CTO Aneesh Chopra and former Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman to, according to VentureBeat, “help the company push into the notoriously tricky health care vertical.” That’s an understatement. (Full disclosure: I serve on the advisory board of Health eVillages with Tullman, but I’m not in regular contact.)

Those hires bring instant credibility, though not necessarily success, and shows, as I’ve said before, that untethered PHRs might stand a chance once providers start addressing the patient-engagement requirements of Meaningful Use Stage 2. Emphasis on “might.” To date, nobody has found a way to get more than a small handful of patients to control their own medical data via PHRs.

Chopra — who once was managing director of the Advisory Board Co. and led open-data  efforts as secretary of technology in Virginia prior to joining the Obama administration — and Tullman know the health IT business better than most, but I still cast a skeptical eye on any PHR company until they prove to me they can capture a market. None ever has.

Good luck, gentlemen. You will need it.

 

March 19, 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.