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Some truths about health IT and innovation

This morning at the annual SAS Health Analytics Executive Conference in Cary, N.C., former national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari dubbed Dr. Eric Topol “the high priest of personalized medicine.”

That reminded me of an e-mail I received a couple weeks ago, suggesting that someone should start a blog called, “What’s Eric Saying?” As this correspondent explained it, all you need to do is read Topol’s Twitter stream to know where health IT and the practice of medicine are headed. I checked it out. It’s true.

Some examples:

 

 

 

And that’s just since Monday.

Meanwhile, Mostashari added some truisms himself this morning. “Med speed is slow. Tech speed is fast,” he said, apparently paraphrasing current TEDMED owner Jay Walker. Then, speaking as a physician, Mostashari said, “Most of what determines our outcomes isn’t what happens in our office.” Which is kind of what Topol has been trying to get across for several years.

If only the financial incentives would encourage care outside the office, we might be getting somewhere. It’s starting to happen, but, as it says above, med speed is slow.

May 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.

Still no consensus on digital/mobile/connected health

A while back — three months, to be exact — I asked readers if they had a preferred term to describe “the application of new, personalized technologies to healthcare.” I gave you the choice of digital health, connected health, wireless health, mobile health and telehealth, and surmised that the results would not be conclusive. On that part, I was right:

digital health poll resultsHowever, I was surprised that connected health, a relatively underutilized term, did so well and that telehealth got but one vote. Wireless health certainly has kind of become passé, but I was surprised nobody picked it at all.

In any case, these results, however unscientific they may be, are representative of the fact that it is so hard to reach consensus on anything in health IT. They also are symbolic of the silos that still exist in newer technologies.

May 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.

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.

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.

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.

Happy birthday, HITECH, and pre-HIMSS humor

Today is the fifth anniversary of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act being signed into law, which also means today is the fifth anniversary of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was rolled into the $831 billion stimulus bill. HITECH introduced “meaningful use” into the lexicon, and for that, it has had a lasting effect.

Through the end of 2013, the program had paid out more than $19 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentives for EHR usage, and healthcare is still a mess. However, all of that money is for Stage 1, and the goal for the first stage was mostly to get technology in place. Stage 2, which is just getting started, is about interoperability and data capture, while Stage 3, which will not start before 2017, will be focused on actually improving outcomes. It is not until the third stage where we are supposed to see real gains in healthcare quality, though we should start seeing some efficiency improvements in Stage 2.

Penalties for not achieving Meaningful Use kick in next year, though that could change. According to Medscape, the new bill to repeal the much-reviled Medicare sustainable growth rate calls for bringing Meaningful Use, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and Medicare’s value-based payment modifier under a proposed new program called the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). This program would eliminate Meaningful Use penalties after 2017, but would base incentives and penalties on more factors than just EHR usage.

On a lighter note, MMRGlobal, the controversial PHR vendor that has been aggressive in defending its many patents but that also has, like every other vendor of untethered PHRs, had trouble landing many customers, has signed on actress and cancer survivor Fran Drescher as a spokesperson. There’s a video on the company’s Facebook page, with a teaser to “Watch For MMRGlobal on TV!” Draw your own conclusions.

On an even lighter note, digital media producer Gregg Masters has started the #HIMSSPickupLines hashtag on Twitter. A few samples:

 


 

Have fun.

February 17, 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.

My HIMSS agenda

After a couple of weeks of uncertainty, I now know I will be covering HIMSS for MedCity News. A lot of vendors and PR firms have of course pitched me for meetings, and the reality is, I’ve not always found vendor meetings all that interesting. In fact, the absolute worst thing about the annual HIMSS conference—and I’ve covered every one since 2002—is the few weeks beforehand, when I’m trying to juggle my schedule.

I have occasionally double-booked or simply forgotten to enter appointments into my calendar, but these things do happen when you are juggling dozens if not hundreds of e-mails, you don’t have a secretary and, oh, by the way, have regular work to do a the same time. Sometimes I’ve scrambled to change appointments up to the moment I get on the plane. It’s just a mess most of the time because of the sheer volume of requests and the need to fit it into my normal routine. (Interestingly, and scarily, it’s similar to how healthcare often operates, and mistakes made in healthcare can be deadly.)

The bottom line is, there are more than 1,200 vendors at HIMSS these days, and there is one of me. I can maybe meet with 10-12 of them over the five days of HIMSS, counting Sunday and Thursday, and most of the vendors have gone home by Wednesday evening. One thing a I’ve found is that lot of vendors don’t understand that there are also more than 300 educational sessions to choose from; HIMSS doesn’t just happen in the zoo known as the exhibit hall. I tend to find a lot of great stories from those sessions, so I make them a priority.

Anyway, I have about 10 stories to do for MedCity News during and immediately after HIMSS, and some have fairly specific requirements. (I also have to find time to, you know, write the stories. Sometimes, it’s a trade-off between covering a session/meeting with a vendor and doing my work. Doing the work necessarily wins. Two years ago in Las Vegas, I had to cancel two or three vendor meetings after CMS and ONC dropped the proposed Meaningful Use Stage 2 rules during a town hall-style session. If you recall, the thousands of people trying to download the proposal all but crashed the public Wi-Fi network at the Venetian.)

Two stories are about companies I discover at the new Startup Showcase. If you’re among the startups on display there, let me know. I’ve got one story to do on the Intelligent Hospital Pavilion and another on the Interoperability Showcase. I’ll probably just spend an hour or so walking through and asking questions, but if you’re there and think you have a compelling angle for me, I’m listening.

That’s four stories right there. Three more are from coverage of specific sessions, so those are already booked. I’ve also got three opinion/analysis pieces to write in the week after the fact, and I’m pretty flexible on those. I’m just going to see what I discover and what jumps out at me. A theme usually emerges by the second day.

Away from the madness, I will be at the fifth annual New Media Meetup on Tuesday evening, Feb. 25, hosted by the one and only John Lynn, who also hosts this very blog as part of the Healthcare Scene network. It’s free, but there is limited space, so you do need to preregister.

I will see you in Orlando in a little more than a week.

 

February 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.

Kill your fax machine (redux) and watch out for HIPAA violations

Today, noted medical informatics professor and professional Dr. Bill Hersh had this exchange on Twitter with his daughter, a new medical student.

 

Later today, I stopped to pick up my mail in this multi-unit building and saw this sticking out of someone else’s mailbox.

A HIPAA violation waiting to happen

A HIPAA violation waiting to happen

That’s right, it’s a “personal and confidential” letter from Quest Diagnostics, presumably either medical test results or a bill. Either way, it’s a HIPAA violation waiting to happen. In fact, it’s probably already a HIPAA violation because people now know what lab this person used. The envelope is hanging out of this mailbox because it was misdelivered and whoever got it by accident placed it there for the intended recipient. But who’s to say it does wind up in the right hands before someone opens it?

Anyone who thinks paper is still a safeguard against privacy and security breaches, raise your hand. (Crickets.) Sure, electronic transmissions can be intercepted and databases hacked, but if you take the time to encrypt them, you lessen the risk. And should there be a breach, the audit trail that HIPAA requires can help investigators pinpoint the culprit and create a disincentive for employees to leak data.

As for the fax, it’s sadly ironic that a twentysomething is encountering a fax machine for the first time when she enters a healthcare environment. Kill your fax machine! It’s 2014. Why are we still using 1980s technology to transfer health information?

January 13, 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.

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.

Top 10 things wrong with Fox News smear job on EHRs

Today, FoxNews.com published a hit job on health IT and EHRs in the guise of another hit job on Obamacare. I found out about it courtesy of this tweet:

First off, it’s clear that Mostashari feels unshackled from having to watch his words now that he’s no longer national health IT coordinator. Secondly, he’s right. This story contains so many errors and misleading statements that it’s almost funny. Let’s count down the top 10.

10. “Under a George W. Bush-era executive order, all Americans should have access to their medical records by the end of 2014, part of a concept referred to as e-health. President Obama then made electronic medical records (EMRs) central to the success of the Affordable Care Act”

When Bush issued the executive order in 2004 that created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, he set as a goal interoperable EMRs for “most” Americans. The “all” part came after Barack Obama took office in 2009.

9. Though Obama did reiterate the 2014 goal and up the stakes by saying “all Americans,” nobody realistically thought it could happen. After all, the HITECH Act, which created Meaningful Use, didn’t pass until March 2009 and Meaningful Use didn’t even start until 2011. Before the HITECH Act, ONC barely had any funding anyway. For five years, Congress failed to pass much in the way of health IT legislation, even though a federal EHR incentive program had bipartisan support, symbolized by an unlikely alliance between Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton.

8. “Doctors, practitioners and hospitals, though, have been enriching themselves with the incentives to install electronic medical records systems that are either not inter-operable or highly limited in their crossover with other providers.”

Meaningful Use was never intended for enrichment, or even to cover the full cost of an EHR system.

7. While systems mostly are not interoperable yet, that wasn’t the intent of Stage 1 of Meaningful Use. Stage 1 was meant to get systems installed. Stage 2, which has barely started for the early adopters among hospitals and won’t start for 2 1/2 months for physicians, is about interoperability. That’s where the savings and efficiencies are supposed to come from.

6. We’re years away from knowing whether Meaningful Use program did its job, though I don’t fault members of Congress such as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) for putting pressure on the administration to demand more for the big taxpayer outlay.

5. “‘The electronic medical records system has been funded to hospitals at more than $1 billion per month. Apparently little or none of that money went to the enrollment process which is where the bottle neck for signing up to ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges appears to be,’ Robert Lorsch, a Los Angeles-based IT entrepreneur and chief executive of online medical records provider MMRGlobal, told Fox News.”

The money wasn’t supposed to go to the insurance enrollment process. The Meaningful Use incentive program was from the HITECH Act, part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, came a year later. Again, someone is confusing insurance and care. They are not the same thing.

4. “Lorsch, at MMRGlobal, offered the U.S. government what it describes as a user-friendly personal health record system for one dollar per month per family – a fraction of what it has cost the taxpayer so far.”

MMRGlobal’s product is an untethered personal health record. No untethered PHR anywhere is “user-friendly,” which is why adoption has been anemic. Without data from organizational EHRs, PHRs are worthless. Besides, the direct-to-consumer approach in healthcare has failed over and over, since people are used to having someone else — usually an insurance company — pick up the tab.

3. For that matter, MMRGlobal is a bad example to use as an alternative to EHRs. (The Fox story is correct in saying that other vendors do have close ties to the Obama administration, though the former Cerner executive’s name is Nancy-Ann DeParle, not “Nance.”) I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence that MMRGlobal isn’t much more than a patent troll.

2. “But this process could have been easier if a nine-year, government-backed effort to set up a system of electronic medical records had gotten off the ground. Instead of setting up their medical ID for the first time, would-be customers would have their records already on file.”

Actually, as I wrote in a story just published in Healthcare IT News, we could have had national patient identifiers 15 years ago, as called for by the 1996 HIPAA statute. But Congress voted in 1998 not to fund implementation of a national patient ID and President Bill Clinton signed that into law. Since then, interoperability and patient matching have been mighty struggles.

1. “‘Plus, unlike under ObamaCare, the patient would be in control of their health information and, most importantly, their privacy,’ Lorsch said.”

Where in Obamacare does the patient lose control of health information? Less than a month ago, I was in Washington listening to HHS Office for Civil Rights Director Leon Rodriguez say, ““There is a clear right [in the HIPAA privacy rule] not only of patient access, but patient control over everything in their records.” This may come as news to some people, but patients own and control the information. They might not know it, but the language is pretty clear.

Already, the Fox story has been reposted in a number of blogs shared all over the Internet, so it’s being accepted as fact in some quarters. If you want the truth, you sometimes have to do the work yourself.

October 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.