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Health Wonk Review talks turkey

I’ve been a bit remiss the last few days, in that the latest Health Wonk Review came out Thursday, and I’m  just getting around to sharing it now.( Blog carnivals work best when contributors link back to the compilation.) But, better late than never, right?

In that spirit, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I invite you to check out Health Wonk Review: The Turkey Edition, hosted by David Harlow on his HealthBlawg. The big stories this time around are all about insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare, but there is also an interesting posts about “wrist slaps” given to pharmaceutical executives for allegedly violating drug-marketing laws.

My post at Forbes.com about the American Medical Association belatedly but predictably fighting the impending Medicare penalties for not meeting Meaningful Use makes the cut. I’m particularly proud of the line, “Ruthlessly Defending the Status Quo Since 1847. :)

Check it out, and for those of us here in the United States, have a happy Thanksgiving. I’ll see you after the long weekend.

November 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.

CMS extends 2014 MU hospital attestation until end of year

Just days before the clock was to run out on hospitals, including Critical Access Hospitals, hoping to attest to Meaningful Use of EHRs for 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has pushed back the attestation deadline by a month, until Dec. 31.

In an announcement posted yesterday on the CMS Meaningful Use registration and attestation login page, CMS said: “CMS is extending the deadline for Eligible Hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to attest to meaningful use for the Medicare Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program 2014 reporting year from 11:59 pm EST on November 30, 2014 to 11:59 pm EST on December 31, 2014.”

Just don’t expect to do so online during a short period in a couple of weeks, as CMS says the site will be down for maintenance from Friday, Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. EST to Saturday, Dec. 13 at 12:30 p.m. EST. CMS also says people “may experience intermittent connectivity” Nov. 30 between 12:01 and 5 a.m. EST.

This extension “will allow more time for hospitals to submit their meaningful use data and receive an incentive payment for the 2014 program year, as well as avoid the 2016 Medicare payment adjustment,” CMS says.

 

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: Scot Silverstein talks health IT safety risks

In a sidebar to the September cover story I did for Healthcare IT News, I reviewed some of the work of Scot Silverstein, M.D., who has long been chronicling problems with EHRs and other health IT systems. Unfortunately, he wasn’t available for an interview in time for that report, but he was last week, so I got him for a new podcast.

Silverstein, a professor of health informatics at Drexel University in Philadelphia, considers EHRs to be experimental and, sometimes, less safe than paper records and would like to see health IT subjected to the same kind of quality controls as aerospace software or medical devices. “Suboptimal system design could lead even careful users to make mistakes,” Silverstein said in this interview.

During this podcast, we refer to a couple of pages that I promise links to, so here they are. Silverstein writes regularly for the Health Care Renewal blog, a site founded by Roy Poses, M.D., a Brown University internist who runs the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine. His definitions of good health IT and bad health IT appear on his Drexel Web page.

Podcast details: Scot Silverstein, M.D., on health IT safety risks. MP3, mono, 128 kbps, 33.8 MB. running time 36:59.

1:10 How this interest came about
3:05 His blogging
3:45 His 11 points demonstrating why he believes the FDA should be concerned about health IT risks
5:00 IOM, FDA and ECRI Institute statements on health IT safety
5:50 Comparing EHRs to medical devices and pharmaceuticals
8:35 Lack of safety testing in health IT
9:25 Issues with EHR certification
10:00 Safety validation of software
10:35 EHR’s role in Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s initial discharge of Ebola patient
11:50 EHR failure causing medical harm to a close relative
13:10 Poor design vs. poor implementation
14:35 Who should regulate?
15:55 Billions already spent on EHRs
16:45 Threat of litigation
17:40 “Postmarket surveillance” of “medical meta-devices”
18:50 EHRs now more like “command and control” systems
19:30 Movement to slow down Meaningful Use
20:17 Safety issues with interoperability
21:40 Importance of usability
22:30 His role at Drexel
24:18 “Critical thinking always, or your patient’s dead”
25:05 Lack of health/medical experience among “disruptors”
29:30 Training informatics professionals and leaders
31:15 Concept vs. reality of “experimental” technology
32:50 Advice for evaluating health IT
33:55 Guardians of the status quo
35:10 Health IT “bubble”
36:10 Good health IT vs. bad health IT

 

October 20, 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: Greenway Health CEO Tee Green on interoperability, consumerism and more

Health IT vendor Greenway Health recently finished its rollout of a cloud-based EHR to all 8,200 Walgreens stores in the U.S. When I was offered the chance to interview CEO Wyche T. “Tee” Green III about this, I decided to take it a step further.

In all my years of covering health IT, I’ve never met nor even spoken to Green, so I figured a podcast was in order. After all, I had written a piece for Health Data Management earlier this year about how pharmacies are reshaping themselves as true healthcare companies. (This interview also comes in the wake of CVS Caremark ending its sale of tobacco products and changing its name to CVS Health.)

I also had a lot of questions about interoperability issues in health IT and the many criticisms that lately have been heaped on both EHR vendors for perceived usability problems and the federal Meaningful Use EHR incentive program. The timing couldn’t have been better.

Podcast details: Interview with Greenway Health CEO Tee Green, recorded Sept. 8, 2014. MP3, mono, 128 kbps, 25.5 MB. Running time 27:51

1:00 Walgreens rollout and EHRs for “retail health”
3:20 Future expansion to Walgreens Healthcare Clinic locations
4:15 My own experience with lack of interoperability at a CVS MinuteClinic
5:30 Achieving EHR interoperability
7:30 Frustration with slow progress on Meaningful Use
10:30 Data liquidity
12:30 Update on CommonWell Health Alliance
14:25 Addressing criticisms that vendors are hindering interoperability
16:30 EHR usability
18:10 Greenway Marketplace app store
22:15 Patient engagement and slow start to Stage 2 Meaningful Use
24:10 Dealing with the rise of consumerism in healthcare

I’ve been kicking around in my mind the idea of hosting a regular podcast, perhaps as frequently as weekly. If so, what day of the week would you prefer to hear a new episode?

September 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.

EHRs and patient safety

If you wonder where I’ve been, I’ve, for one thing, been blogging a bit for (very little) pay over at Forbes.com and writing a lengthy cover story for the September issue of Healthcare IT News.

The Healthcare IT News piece actually breaks down into a fairly short lead story and several sidebars, which aren’t all that evident from the traditional Web version. (The digital edition has everything.) For the sake of convenience, here are links to all elements of the cover package:

Main story: “Patient safety in the balance: Questions mount about EHRs and a wide range of patient safety concerns”

Sidebars:

The issue also contains a reprint of my May 2012 blog post, written just a week after my father’s death: “Medical errors hit home.”

Happy reading, and happy Labor Day weekend.

August 29, 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.

Cerner to buy Siemens health IT business for $1.3B

The next round of health IT consolidation is on. Today, Cerner confirmed the rumor that had been swirling for a couple of weeks, that it will acquire Siemens Health Services, the health IT business of Siemens AG, for $1.3 billion in cash.

Cerner and Siemens also announced a strategic alliance to, according to the press release, ” jointly invest in innovative projects that integrate health IT with medical technologies for the purpose of enhancing workflows and improving clinical outcomes.” Each company will commit as much as $50 million to the alliance over the next three years, with an initial focus on integrating images and medical devices with EHR data in cardiology, Cerner says.

The device integration should come as no surprise. In healthcare, Siemens has always been, first and foremost, a medical device company. Health IT came later, by virtue of Siemens’ acquisition of Shared Medical Systems in 2000 for 2.1 billion. (Adjusting for inflation, that deal would cost $2.9 billion today, meaning that either Siemens overpaid in 2000 or the health IT assets lost more than half their value in the past 14 years.) Cerner has been selling medical devices for integration with its EHR products for several years, but nobody has confused Cerner for a device company. The two companies should complement each other well in this regard.

It’s no surprise that Siemens wanted out of the health IT business, either. Cerner and Epic have been dominating the enterprise EHR market in recent years, winning all kinds of replacement and upgrade business from health systems that previously had used Siemens, GE Healthcare, Meditech and Eclipsys technology.

Eclipsys, of course, merged with Allscripts in 2010, in a deal also worth $1.3 billion, and the combined company struggled to the point that the board forced out several top executives two years later. That was the last major acquisition in enterprise health IT until today. I don’t expect it to be the last, though I won’t predict anything other than that Epic will continue its strategy of growing organically and that many companies, particularly ambulatory vendors, will drop out rather than pursuing federal certification to the 2014 standards.

The market has been shaping up to be a battle between Cerner and Epic for a while, though the formation of the CommonWell Health Alliance a year and a half ago — now including Cerner, Allscripts, Athenahealth, Greenway Health, McKesson, Sunquest and CPSI — shows that Epic is everybody else’s No. 1 competitor.

Cerner and Siemens say the deal should close early next year.

 

August 5, 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.

Adelphi U ad spreads health reform fallacy

The following ad has popped up several times on my mobile Facebook app recently:

Adelphi Facebook ad
That’s from Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and the first sentence of that ad is absolutely false, not to mention poorly written. There is no government mandate for any healthcare facility to go paperless at all, much less by 2015.

As people in health IT and in healthcare management probably know, the federal Meaningful Use EHR incentive program calls for Medicare penalties starting next year for any provider that hasn’t achieved at least Stage 1 of Meaningful Use. But that’s not a mandate; hospitals and other providers still have the option of participating. Those who don’t see Medicare patients don’t face penalties anyway.

Even those that are able to meet all the Meaningful Use requirements still don’t have to be paperless, at least not according to the Stage 1 and Stage 2 rules. Nor have I seen any evidence that Stage 3 would contain such language, and even if it does, that phase does not start until 2017.

There are plenty of reasons why those who start work on a master’s in health informatics this year will be very much in demand next year. Why does Adelphi need to mislead people in an apparent attempt to create demand for its program?

June 29, 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.

Docs, stop whining, start e-prescribing

The whining is getting old.

Per Surescripts, in 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available, about 69 percent of physicians nationwide used e-prescribing technology in one way or another, and 44 percent of all prescriptions written nationwide were routed electronically. (That report came out in early May 2013, so expect some new numbers soon.) Both are up substantially from the previous year, probably due in no small part to the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program, which does require a minimal level of e-prescribing.

But what about the holdouts? A recent article in the journal Perspectives in Health Information Management found that cost remains the No. 1 reason why physicians still haven’t ditched the paper prescription pad in favor of electronic prescribing.

“While e-prescribing offers many benefits, not all providers have been excited about implementing e-prescribing systems. A major barrier, reported by more than 80 percent of primary care physicians, has been lack of financial support. New technology requires training and information technology support for installation and upkeep. A practice must take these costs into account when deciding whether to implement an e-prescribing system and also when choosing a stand-alone system or one that is integrated into an EHR system. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, in a 2007 study the total cost of implementing an e-prescribing system was found to be $42,332, with annual costs after implementation of about $14,725 per year, for a practice of 10 full-time equivalent psychiatrists,” the authors reported.

Yes, but the paper also says this: “E-prescribing improves the efficiency of the prescribing process. Though the actual entering of a new prescription takes about 20 seconds longer per patient than writing a prescription, this time is offset by the time saved because of the fact that less clarification is needed for electronic prescriptions. Prescribers spent more time on the computer, on average an extra 6 minutes per prescriber per day or an increase of 20 seconds per patient when seeing 20 patients per day. If implemented correctly, e-prescribing should cause little disruption in the workflow of ambulatory care settings.”

In other words, those resisting the switch are being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Besides, e-prescribing systems don’t have to cost that much. In fact, they don’t have to cost anything. Allscripts offers a free, standalone e-prescribing system online, while PracticeFusion, DrChrono and Kareo have e-prescribing modules in their free EHRs. A startup named ScriptPad has an e-prescribing app for Apple iOS that’s free to prescribers; transaction fees get billed to pharmacies. I can’t vouch for the efficacy of any of this software, but cost doesn’t have to be an issue.

I think the real problem here is intransigence. Some doctors simply don’t want to get with the times, and the only losers are patients.

April 24, 2014 I Written By

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

Despite scandal, TMIT is still operating

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

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

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

 


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

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

April 18, 2014 I Written By

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

About those Obamacare numbers and the ICD-10 delay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

April 2, 2014 I Written By

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