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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.

‘Bitter Pill’ only tells half the story

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

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

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

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

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

July 23, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

More on Blue Button Plus and MU2

My last post, based on comments from Frost & Sullivan health IT analyst Nancy Fabozzi at last week’s Healthcare Unbound conference, has generated a bit of controversy. Fabozzi said that “Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive,” possibly eliminating the need for some providers to get full-fledged patient portals in order to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 standards.

In the comments under that post, David Smith of HealthInsight.org, a health improvement consortium in three Western states, correctly pointed out that MU2 requires not just that providers give 50 percent of patients electronic access to their records, but also that 5 percent of patients actually view, download and/or transmit information back to their doctors or hospitals. I also got an e-mail from a GE Healthcare executive reminding me that of the view/download requirement as well as the fact that EHR technology had to be certified by an ONC-approved certification and testing body.

The viewing and downloading certainly can be accomplished with Blue Button Plus apps or widgets. In fact, ONC’s Lygeia Ricciardi has said Blue Button Plus could be part of the Stage 3 rules.

Transmitting would seem to necessitate a portal since HIPAA demands — and patients should expect — security when sending protected health information over the Internet. Standard e-mail doesn’t cut it, but e-mail following Direct Project protocols does. MU2 already sanctions Direct Project for health information exchange between healthcare entities. There is no reason why it can’t work for individuals as well, as Dr. Deborah Peel’s Patient Privacy Rights Foundation is trying to facilitate.

This might be a bit unwieldy, asking each patient to set up a Direct e-mail address, but remember, providers only need 5 percent to do so in Stage 2. I see it as perfectly feasible that some small physician practices could bypass the portal and just make do with freely available resources like Blue Button Plus — though Blue Button Plus app developers likely will charge fees — and open-source Direct standards.

UPDATE, July 18, 12:40 a.m. CDT:

HHS itself says Blue Button Plus meets MU2 standards.

From http://www.hhs.gov/digitalstrategy/open-data/introducing-blue-button-plus.html:

Blue Button Plus is a blueprint for the structured and secure transmission of personal health data. It meets and builds on the view, download, and transmit requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2 for certified EHR technology in the following ways —

Structure: The recommended standard for clinical health data is the HL7 Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture or Consolidated CDA. The C-CDA is a XML-based standard that specifies the encoding, structure, and semantics of a clinical document. Blue Button Plus adopts the requirements for sections and fields from Meaningful Use Stage 2.

Transmit: In alignment with Meaningful Use Stage 2 standards, Blue Button Plus uses Direct protocols to securely transport health information from providers to third party applications. Direct uses SMTP, S/MIME, and X.509 certificates to achieve security, privacy, data integrity, and authentication of sender and receiver.

It sounds to me like compliance is just a matter of making sure that a Blue Button Plus app is certified as an EHR module.

July 17, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

‘Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive’

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

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

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

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

July 12, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Comprehensive coverage of WTN Media’s Digital Health Conference

As you may know from at least one of my earlier posts, I was in Madison, Wis., last month for a great little health IT event called the Digital Health Conference, a production of the Wisconsin Technology Network and the affiliated WTN Media. In fact, WTN Media hired me to cover the conference for them, so I did, pretty comprehensively. In fact, I wrote eight stories over the last couple of weeks, seven of which have been published:

I still have an overview story that should go up this week.

Why do I say it’s a great little conference? The list of speakers was impressive for a meeting of its size, with about 200 attendees for the two-day main conference and 150 for a pre-conference day about startups and entrepreneurship.

Since it is practically in the backyard of Epic Systems, CEO Judy Faulkner is a fixture at this annual event, and this time she also sent the company’s vendor liaison. Informatics and process improvement guru Dr. Barry Chaiken came in from Boston to chair the conference and native Wisconsinite Judy Murphy, now deputy national coordinator for programs and policy at ONC, returned from Washington. Kaiser Permanente was represented, as was Gulfport (Miss.) Memorial Hospital. IBM’s chief medical scientist for care delivery systems, Dr. Marty Kohn, flew in from the West Coast, while Patient Privacy Rights Foundation founder Dr. Deborah Peel, made the trip from another great college town, Austin, Texas. (Too bad Peel and Faulkner weren’t part of the same session to discuss data control. That alone would be worth the price of admission.)

July 2, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Is this Cisco commercial reflective of the real world?

Cisco Systems is running this commercial about the “Internet of everything,” with a focus on connected healthcare.

 

It all sounds great, but how much of this is grounded in the real world today and how much is wishful thinking? I mean, connected medical records? It sounds so idealistic.

May 19, 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.

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.