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Video: My interview with Hands On Telehealth

I recently was a guest on a vodcast with Nirav Desai, founder and CEO of telehealth consulting firm Hands On Telehealth, whom I met because I moderated a panel he was on at the American Telemedicine Association‘s annual conference in May. In a Skype interview that went up late Friday, we chatted for 45 minutes about telehealth, the broader  health IT landscape and how it all fits into U.S. healthcare reform.

I’m unable to embed the video on this page, so please visit the Hands On Telehealth page to watch the interview. (That’s a screen grab below.) The page contains a detailed description of the interview, much as I like to have for my own podcasts. Perhaps next time I’ll spend more time looking directly at the camera. :)

Hands On Telehealth screen grab

July 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.

About that Friedman editorial

Did you happen to catch Thomas Friedman’s commentary in Sunday’s New York Times entitled, “Obamacare’s Other Surprise”?

On first read, I gave it a big “Duh!” for the explanation that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (that’s how the law is officially known, Mr. Friedman) creates a “new industry” of innovation by encouraging the federal government to release of terabytes of health data — information already legally in the public domain — and then allowing the private sector to figure out how to structure, interpret and use the data. As you probably are, I’m well aware of digital health, Health Datapalooza, federal CTO Todd Park and some of the companies Friedman mentions. (Health Datapalooza IV is less than a week away.)

But on second read, I realized Friedman needed to write that column because America needs a lot of education about the Affordable Care Act, education that the Obama administration and its supporters don’t seem all that willing to provide. The public still thinks of Obamacare largely in terms of health insurance coverage. It’s much more than that, including, as Friedman points out, an attempt “to flip this fee-for-services system (which some insurance companies are emulating) to one where the government pays doctors and hospitals to keep Medicare patients healthy and the services they do render are reimbursed more for their value than volume.”

Coupled with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which created the $27 billion EHR incentive program for “meaningful use” of electronic health records, the ACA takes some steps toward actual reform of actual care, not just insurance coverage. Friedman does not discuss Accountable Care Organizations, an experiment in realigning incentives around care coordination, nor does he mention the Medicare policy, dictated by the ACA, of not reimbursing for preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of initial discharge for certain specific conditions, currently heart attack, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. Likewise, he fails to bring up outcomes research, another component of Obamacare. But at least he gets something out there that’s not about insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, many of the online comments posted in response to Friedman’s commentary predictably focus on insurance coverage or government control, but some actually discuss EHRs, population health, healthy behaviors and payment incentives. That’s good. Still, those are just people who read Friedman and the Times. Hyperpartisan conservatives — probably even some hyperpartisan liberals, even though the ACA is more centrist than a lot of folks wish to admit — and the less-educated won’t read the column and won’t comment on the Times site. Those are the people who misunderstand this imperfect but occasionally reform-minded law the most.

 

May 27, 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.

Video: Live from HIMSS with Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush

NEW ORLEANS—I made my debut for the new Health Innovation Broadcast Consortium last night with a live webcast interview with Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush. As usual, I didn’t need to prepare much for the interview because Bush almost interviews himself, so I just decided to wing it. Also as usual, we kept it light, as each of us had a beer in our hand, since we were at the House of Blues in the French Quarter, where Athenahealth had its annual HIMSS party. (This year featured a jazz funeral marking the “death of software.”) But we did discuss some topics actually relevant to health IT, including meaningful use and Athenahealth’s recent acquisition of Epocrates. Enjoy.

Watch live streaming video from hibc at livestream.com
March 4, 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.

Health Wonk Review gets hung up on insurance

The last edition of Health Wonk Review prior to the Nov. 6 presidential election falls into the familiar big-media trap of portraying the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, as being only about health insurance and of effectively equating health insurance to healthcare. Let me repeat: insurance is not the same thing as care, and having “good” insurance does not guarantee good care.

This installment of HWR is awfully heavy on the insurance aspects of the ACA in the context of politics the election, which is not surprising, though host Maggie Mahar of the HealthBeat blog does at least consider comparative-effectiveness research, thanks to a contribution on the esteemed Health Affairs Blog.

My post, which includes the infographic from the movie “Escape Fire” showing how medical harm essentially is the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., is almost an afterthought, but at least Mahar also includes an entry from Dr. Roy Poses about medical harm in clinical trials.

There’s nary a word on health IT, which really is a shame in the context of the election, especially given that several Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-Okla.), have publicly questioned whether “meaningful use” so far has led to higher utilization of diagnostic testing and thus higher Medicare expenses.

By the way, Healthcare IT News is currently running a poll that asks: “With four GOP senators calling on HHS to suspend MU payments, would health IT remain bipartisan if Romney became president?” The poll is on the home page, but even after voting, I couldn’t find the results. In any case, I personally believe health IT has enough bipartisan support for MU to continue.

I also believe that no matter who wins the presidency, Congress probably will remain divided for the next two years, with Democrats holding onto the Senate and the GOP retaining control of the House, so I don’t expect any controversial legislation to pass. A Romney administration possibly could put a hold on future MU payments or revise the Stage 2 rules, but never underestimate the power of the hospital  and physician lobby.

 

October 28, 2012 I Written By

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

Health Wonk Review: October Surprise edition

The newest installment of Health Wonk Review is up, courtesy of David Williams at the Health Business Blog, and my recent post about politicians perpetuating the myth that the U.S. has the “best healthcare in the world” is featured prominently. If you’re looking for anything else even vaguely related to health IT in this edition of HWR, you might be disappointed, but Williams offers a nice sampling of opinions on other topics that arose during the first presidential debate last week as well as a few ideas that could be considered part of overall health reform.

Speaking of health reform and politics, this morning I received a plea to donate money to the Romney campaign from the nutbars over at Docs4PatientCare. As a rule, I do not give money to any political candidates or to PACs because I want to maintain as much objectivity as possible for someone who occasionally calls people “nutbars.” Why do I say this about D4PC? A year and a half ago, I wrote this:

D4PC contacted me last fall with links to a series of videos, including one from group representative Scott Barbour, M.D. According to the original pitch to me, “Utilizing quotes from Dr. Berwick, Dr. Barbour exposed that, ‘He is not interested in better health care. He is only concerned about implementing his socialist agenda.’”

In another video, Docs4PatientCare Vice President Fred Shessel, M.D., said of Berwick, “This is a man who has made a career out of socializing medicine and rationing care for the very young, the very old and the very sick. It is a backdoor power grab. It is dragging our country down the road to socialism and we should resist it.”

I responded to this pitch with a short question: “Berwick isn’t interested in better care? Do you know anything about his work at IHI?” I never got a response. Docs4PatientCare seemingly was trying to hoodwink media that don’t know any better and/or care more about politics than facts.

Today’s pitch, from Michael Koriwchak, M.D., who calls himself the HIT expert of the group, said, “ObamaCare came along with its promise to destroy our health care system.” I would love to know who made that promise, and why anyone thinks we have such a great “system” now. (Prominent Republican Mike Leavitt, HHS secretary in the Bush administration, has often said we do not have a healthcare “system,” but rather a poorly run, inefficient, dangerous healthcare “sector.”)

“Every dollar you give brings us a step closer to victory in November and the opportunity to replace ObamaCare with doctor-driven improvements to our health care system,” Koriwchak adds. Do we really want “doctor-driven” improvements when physicians won’t admit that they make far more mistakes than any advanced nation should tolerate? I want data-driven improvements.

“The voices of physicians who care for patients every day are now heard in Washington. This may be the last opportunity for you to take back control of your health care. Do you want your health care decisions to be made by you and your doctor, or by an indifferent bureaucrat in Washington?” Koriwchak concludes.

With all due respect, that argument has been beaten to death for years. No bureaucrat in Washington is going to be making care decisions any more than a bean counter at a private insurer does. And patients can’t “take back” control of their care because they don’t have much control now as long as defenders of the status quo in the medical establishment won’t let patients see their own health records and act like physicians are infallible.

Koriwchak kills the little credibility he has left by saying he has “participated in conversations” with several members of Congress and includes the nutty Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who famously formed her views against the HPV vaccine based on what some random woman told her after a debate last year during the GOP primary season.

“She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn’t know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions,” Bachmann said, without offering a shred of scientific evidence. But if you repeat a lie often enough, people start to believe it. Right, Dr. Koriwchak?

October 12, 2012 I Written By

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

Most ‘sentinel events’ caused by poor communication

LOS ANGELES—I’m on the west coast now, first for the  USC Body Computing Conference here Friday, and then for the annual Health 2.0 conference up in San Francisco Monday and Tuesday.

Friday there was a lot of talk of healthcare reform. One interesting — and plausible — idea I heard for the first time is that the new Medicare policy of denying reimbursements for preventable readmissions within 30 days of discharge for patients with heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia might have an unintended consequence: We’ll start seeing a lot of readmissions on or after Day 31.

The new policy is one of the many aspects of true reform in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act beyond the controversial insurance expansion. And there seems to be a loophole that you can be sure  a lot of hospitals will seek to exploit. Even if they don’t, it is hard to change patient behavior, so it’s likely many will come back to the hospital for the same condition, even if it’s not within 30 days.

More importantly, I heard some statistics presented by Stanford dermatology resident Michelle Longmire, M.D., about medical errors: 7o percent of all sentinel events in U.S. healthcare facilities — and there were 8,859 such events voluntarily reported to the Joint Commission between 1995 and the first quarter of 2012, meaning that many times more probably occurred —result from breakdowns in communication. Half occur during patient handoffs such as shift changes, specialist consultations and transfers to other wards or facilities, Longmire said.

I am convinced all the buffoonery that took place while my dad was hospitalized prior to his death was due to communication problems, poorly designed work processes and a culture of covering one’s posterior in an error-prone organization.

This happens far too often, yet some politicians who want to repeal “Obamacare” keep trying to convince the ignorant masses that American healthcare is just in need of a few tweaks.

At the Republican National Convention in August, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the following: “”Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world’s greatest healthcare system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor.” PolitiFact.com generously rated this as “half true.” However, PolitFact itself noted that the World Health Organization rated U.S. healthcare as 37th of 191 countries in terms of “overall performance.” The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says we spend more on healthcare as a share of gross domestic product than any of the other 33 OECD countries. If that’s the “world’s greatest,” I’d sure hate to be worst.

Last week, during the first presidential debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the very same Gov. Romney who championed near-universal health insurance coverage with an individual mandate in his home state — a plan first hatched by the conservative Heritage Foundation as an alternative to the Clinton healthcare reform proposal in 1993 — said this:

Look, the right course for — for America’s government — we were talking about the role of government — is not to become the economic player picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the healthcare system that — that has existed in this country for — for a long, long time and has produced the best health records in the world.

Without getting into what the role of government should or should not do, our health records suck, Our record on producing healthier people is not so wonderful, either. So no matter what Romney meant by “best health records in the world,” he was lying.

I couldn’t help thinking he was playing to this crowd:

 

Now, this cartoon makes it seem like Obamacare is so wonderful. It’s not. As I’ve said before, having insurance does not mean you will get good care. Having “good” insurance that requires very little out-of-pocket for the patient doesn’t guarantee good care, either, nor does being a VIP. Recall the case of James Tyree, who died from a medical error at a prestigious teaching hospital he was on the board of. The late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) suffered a similar fate despite having “Cadillac” insurance coverage.

I’m going to repeat what is fast becoming my mantra: It’s quality, stupid.

UPDATE, Oct.8: Here’s a summary of what actually is in the Affordable Care Act, and when each provision takes effect, courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

October 7, 2012 I Written By

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

Podcast: This time, I’m the interviewee

In a rare turn of events, I’m the one being asked the questions on a podcast by Sivad Business Solutions, which hosts regular audio discussions on a variety of business topics. I give kind of a high-level view of health IT and offer my very strong opinions on patient safety and healthcare reform. There’s an interesting discussion about EHRs being designed to maximize reimbursements rather than assure safety.

Interestingly, we recorded this via Skype. I like the audio quality, if not the nasal quality of my own voice, more than usual that day.

Hopefully the embedded audio works. If not, click here.

September 18, 2012 I Written By

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

Health Wonk Review: Special SCOTUS edition

To the surprise of nobody, the healthcare blogosphere was busy last week in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Because of this, Joe Paduda at Managed Care Matters put together a special edition of Health Wonk Review. In fact, he did a two-parter, and did it in just a couple of days. My post from Friday just barely made the cut, as the second-to-last entry mentioned in Part 2. Paduda had a lot of fun with Part 1, which he put up late Thursday night in the immediate aftermath of the decision.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also link back to the most recent regular edition of Health Wonk Review, also hosted by Paduda. It’s been up since June 22, but I forgot to mention it before. He included my post about the difficult task of informing the public that they have the right to access and correct their own medical records. Sorry  for the oversight, but better late than never. There’s a lot of other good stuff in there about the future of healthcare reform beyond the ACA, so please check it out.

July 5, 2012 I Written By

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

ACA decision is a beginning, not an end, to health reform

I’ve spent a lot of time on social media since Thursday morning debating the meaning of the Supreme Court’s rather stunning decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was stunning in that Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with the four liberal-minded justices, but also stunning in that the court went against conventional wisdom by upholding the individual mandate on the grounds that it was a legal exercise of Congress’ constitutional right to levy taxes.

I had to remind a lot of people that this decision neither solves the crisis, as supporters have claimed, or turns us into the Soviet Union, as some on the lunatic fringe have suggested. Expanding insurance only throws more money at the same problem. This was my first tweet after I learned of the decision:

Breaking news: American #healthcare still sucks. It's quality, stupid. #ACA #hcr #SCOTUS #Obamacare
@nversel
Neil Versel

The cynic in me likes to point out that the individual mandate was an idea first conceived by the conservative Heritage Foundation and championed in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. Both somehow now oppose the idea. The law that ultimately passed Congress was written by Liz Fowler, a top legal counsel to Max Baucus’ Senate Finance Committee who previously was a lobbyist for WellPoint. Her reward for doing the bidding of the insurance industry was for Obama to appoint her deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at HHS. This was insider dealing at its finest, as much a gift to insurers as the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act was a gift to Big Pharma.

Of course, I initially was misinformed about the Supreme Court ruling because CNN jumped the gun (as did Fox News) and erroneously reported that the court had struck down the individual mandate on the grounds that it violated the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution. But so were millions of others.

I suppose that was fitting, since the national media have for more than two years been misinforming the public about what is really in the law. There are small but real elements of actual care reform — not just an insurance expansion — in there, but very few have been reported. The actual reform has been drowned out by ideologues on both sides. Here’s a handy explanation of most of what’s really there (it’s a good list but not exhaustive). The insurance expansion, the only thing people are talking about, really is just throwing more money at the problem. There is a lot more work to be done to fix our broken system.

What I consider real reform in the ACA includes accountable care organizations and the creation of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Along with the innovation center, CMS also gets the power to expand pilot programs that are successful at saving money or producing better outcomes. In the past, successful “demonstrations” would need specific authorization from Congress, which could take years.

Notice that there isn’t a whole lot specific to IT. That’s because the “meaningful use” incentive program for EHRs was authorized by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Another key element of real reform that also is not part of the ACA is Medicare’s new policy of not reimbursing for certain preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge.

We need more attention to quality of care. Many have argued that tort reform needs to be part of the equation, too, because defensive medicine leads to duplicative and often unnecessary care. Perhaps, but lawsuits are a small issue compared to the problem of medical errors. Cut down on mistakes and you cut down on malpractice suits. Properly implemented EHRs and health information exchange — and I do mean properly implemented — will help by improving communication between providers so everybody involved with a patient’s care knows exactly what’s going on at all times.

All of these facts lead me to conclude that true healthcare reform hasn’t really happened yet. Look at this Supreme Court ruling as a beginning, not an end, to reform.

 

June 29, 2012 I Written By

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