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Health Wonk Review, post-HIMSS

While all the health IT reporters like myself were in Florida last week for HIMSS14, plenty of other things were going on in healthcare. David Harlow of HealthBlawg has a roundup of opinions in the latest edition of Health Wonk Review, entitled “In Like a Lion.”

Yes, HIMSS was a big deal, even for non-IT people, as I captured the top mention in a HWR for, I believe, the very first time, with my podcast interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber.

(David, per your note, I only suffered superficial injuries this year, with a couple of scrapes on my face. No stitches needed, and no deaths in my family, though my uncle did lose his mother-in-law the day after I returned. I also broke a wine glass in a restaurant, though it was not my glass, it was empty and I was sober. The moral of this story: I need to avoid HIMSS in Orlando, which will be hard, since it’s on a three-year rotation. But next year, the conference is right here in Chicago, and it will be April 12-16 to avoid the dead of winter. The last time it was here, in 2009, I had bronchitis all week. Good times! The following HIMSS will be in Las Vegas, Feb. 29-March 4, 2016.)

Because it was HIMSS week, Harlow featured other IT posts prominently, including one from Lygeia Ricciardi and Adam Dole of the ONC—new national health IT coordinator Dr. Karen DeSalvo said they’re trying to call it “the ONC” instead of just “ONC” these days—about the recently launched Blue Button Connector. Harlow, an attorney, also referenced one of his own posts about HIPAA compliance audits.

Another section of this HWR examines something that I’ve been saying for a long time, that the mainstream media has been not telling the whole story about the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare. Later, Harlow talks about teamwork and collaboration for the purpose of patient safety. Kudos for highlighting those areas.

Click here to read Harlow’s rundown.

March 3, 2014 I Written By

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

On a personal note: Celebrity chef joins MSA cause

This is not related to health IT, so if that’s all you’re looking for, I won’t be offended if you skip this post—unless you’re involved in wearable sensors, in which case, there’s something near the end that may be of interest.

No, this post is about multiple system atrophy, the rare, progressive, always-fatal neurodegenerative disorder that killed my father in 2012. While my dad was fighting this evil disease, more than a few physicians he saw had either never heard of MSA or had never seen a case of it. One marked it down in the medical record as “MS,” as in multiple sclerosis, a completely different condition.

Recently, MSA awareness got a shot in the arm in the form of some bittersweet news: Las Vegas-based celebrity chef Kerry Simon, who has been called the “rock n’ roll chef” by Rolling Stone magazine and probably is best known nationally for beating Cat Cora on “Iron Chef America” in 2005, told the world he had this illness. He went public in December in an interview with his friend Robin Leach — yes, that Robin Leach.

Rather than go into seclusion as his body starts to wither away, Simon has chosen to become the public face of the disease. He just started a new organization called Fight MSA, and has a high-profile fundraisers planned Thursday in Las Vegas. Simon is friends with a lot of rock stars, and these are big-dollar events with big names, including entertainment from Sammy Hagar, Slash, Alice Cooper and Vince Neil of Motley Crue, and food by a long roster of famous chefs from around the country. If you can make it, tickets are still available.

The same night, his restaurant in his home town of Chicago, Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen, is holding a smaller benefit. It just so happens that I’m returning from the HIMSS conference in Orlando, Fla., that evening, flying into Midway Airport. Chuck’s is at 224 N. Michigan Ave., in the Hard Rock Hotel, which is right on the way home for me from Midway. If all goes well, I plan on being there around 8 pm, and I invite you to join me. Unlike the $500/$1,000 Vegas event, the Chicago fundraiser will only set you back the cost of a hamburger or a cocktail.

(If you happen to find yourself at one of Simon’s restaurants in Las Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, N.J., or Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, please put in a good word about his fight against MSA.)

I’ve been trying to sell this story to national and local mainstream and foodie media, so far, to no avail, so I’m posting it here. If you have any leads for me, please let me know.

Also on the MSA front, perhaps the foremost researcher of this disease in the world, Dr. Gregor Wenning of the Medical University of Innbruck, Austria, last year published the first medical textbook dedicated to understanding MSA. Wenning just flew 18 hours each way to meet with Simon. If you’re a neurologist or other physician treating MSA patients, you can buy a copy here.

Just last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug called Northera (droxidopa) for treatment of neurogenic orthostatic hypotension (NOH), a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing up that occasionally is a symptom of MSA, Parkinson’s disease, pure autonomic failure and even diabetic neuropathy. My dad had at least a couple of fainting spells due to NOH.

This summer, I am planning a huge undertaking to raise awareness this summer, a bike tour from Chicago to Washington, D.C. My dad lived in the area, and there just happens to be an MSA-related conference there in July that I may use as my finish line. That’s 800 miles, for those of you keeping score at home, and I think I can do it in less than two weeks. There may be an opportunity to ride a segment or two with me as well, particularly the final leg through Maryland. I expect to have some details to announce during March, which happens to be MSA Awareness Month.

I will be putting up a separate blog soon to share details of my tour and, hopefully, updates en route. (You know, quantified self folks, I might be able to make use of some of your technology if I’m going to be on a bike for 6-8 hours a day for 10-14 days. Just saying.)

For more information about the disease and the research underway, I’ll refer you to the Multiple System Atrophy Coalition in the U.S. and Canada, and the Multiple System Atrophy Trust in the U.K. There are support groups in other countries, and I’m happy to help you track them down if you ask.

February 21, 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: Telehealth for Parkinson’s care

Two months ago, I interviewed neurologist Ray Dorsey, M.D., co-director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Rochester, for a story I wrote based on a study he led. He had a lot of interesting things to say and, unlike so many other physicians, was aware of multiple system atrophy, the disease that killed my dad in 2012, so I decided to have him on for a podcast to describe how he is using off-the-shelf telehealth technology to expand access to care, improve patient satisfaction and reduce costs.

The study focused on Parkinson’s disease, as does a new study Dorsey is leading through http://connect.parkinson.org, but Dorsey sees this technology as promising for treating autism and Alzheimer’s disease as well.

We, of course, discussed cross-state licensure holding back wider use of remote care, a subject that is very much in the news right now. In fact, Health Data Management just published a story I wrote about, in part, the launch of the Alliance for Connected Care. This group, headed by three former senators and including CVS Caremark, Walgreens, Verizon Communications, WellPoint, Welch Allyn, Cardinal Health and telehealth companies HealthSpot, Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, MDLive and GE-Intel Care Innovations, is advocating for regulatory changes to expand remote care.


Podcast details: Interview with University of Rochester neurologist Ray Dorsey, M.D. MP3, mono, 128 kbps, 16.3 MB. Running time 17:54.

1:30         Telehealth to expand access to care for people with chronic diseases

2:00         Shocking numbers about Medicare beneficiaries with Parkinson’s who don’t have a regular neurologist

2:45         Lack of reimbursement for telehealth even though it costs substantially less than in-person visits

3:38         Incentives to provide care in “high-cost, relatively unsafe environments”

3:58         Insurers “are never going to lead the way” in terms of innovation

4:40         Previous study funded by PatientsLikeMe, the Verizon Foundation and Medtronic funded his study

5:40         Findings of that study, and advantages of remote care

6:25         Telehealth to increase access to care, improve patient satisfaction and reduce costs

6:50         New study on “virtual house calls” about to launch in collaboration with Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)

7:37         Low-cost, off-the-shelf technology

9:45         Registering for PCORI study

10:40       Cross-state licensure issues, including new Alliance for Connected Care

12:10       Parameters and goals for new Connect.Parkinson study

13:35       How technology is creating care opportunities for “anyone, anywhere”

14:10       Dealing with the newly insured and with special-needs patients

15:50       Savings from preventing falls and other dangerous conditions

16:10       Enrollment for Connect.Parkinson

16:42       About the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics

 

February 19, 2014 I Written By

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

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.

Loudmouth patients, in their own words

The video from the Digital Health Summit session, “Loudmouth Patients: Making Noise and Making Change,” that I moderated in January has been posted. It was a lively, fascinating discussion involving: empowered patient Hugo Campos; Donna Cryer, CEO of the Global Liver Institute (and a liver transplant recipient herself); and Greg Matthews, group director of  interactive and social media at WCG.

Unfortunately, one long-winded questioner from the audience took up all the Q&A time (and I initially mistook her for Bettina Experton of Humetrix), so some things went unanswered. If you have any questions for the participants, post them in the comments below and I will attempt to get the panelists to answer.

This discussion took place Jan. 8 at the Digital Health Summit at International CES in Las Vegas.

In case you missed it, here are some post-session interviews with Campos, Matthews and myself.

February 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.

OpenNotes, changing roles in health IT and a Friday, um, funny

I’ve just had two new stories published on the US News & World Report Hospital of Tomorrow site: “OpenNotes Helps Keep Patients Informed and Engaged” and “The Evolution of Health IT Continues.” The latter is subtitled, “New roles signal new realities and priorities as hospital information technology changes,” and goes in depth and the changes underway in hospital HIS and HIM departments in response to various healthcare reform imperatives. I’d appreciate your feedback here, on the U.S. News pages and on Twitter.

Since it’s Friday, I’ll share something offbeat. I’ll let you decide if it’s a good idea or a gimmick. Nestlé Fitness has created the “Tweeting Bra,” with a Bluetooth-enabled sensor that sends a tweet every time the wearer unhooks the undergarment, reminding women daily of the importance of breast self-exams. Here’s a video, in Greek with English subtitles.

 

If you want more information, here’s a short interview with the keeper of the Tweeting Bra, Maria Bakodimus, a Greek celebrity. It’s only in Greek, without subtitles, but it does show the sensors in more detail.

If you want to get one, well, sorry.

 


It was a one-off prototype created for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

February 7, 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.

‘Escape Fire’ leaves out IT, ultimately disappoints

I finally got the opportunity to catch the documentary film “Escape Fire,” a good 15 months after it went into limited theatrical release and became available in digital formats. I thought it would be an eye-opening exposé of all that ills the American healthcare industry, particularly for those who somehow believe we have the greatest care in the world. I excitingly ran this graphic when I first mentioned the movie on this blog back in October 2012:

The well-paced, 99-minute film interviews some notable figures in the fight to improve American healthcare — safety guru and former CMS head Dr. Don Berwick, journalist Shannon Brownlee, integrative medicine advocates Dr. Andrew Weill and Dr. Dean Ornish — as well as some lesser-known people trying to make a difference. It goes through a laundry list of all the culprits in the overpriced, underperforming mess of a healthcare system we have now, and examines approaches that seem to be producing better care for lower cost.

I expected the movie to have a liberal slant, but it really stayed away from the political battles that have poisoned healthcare “reform” the last couple of years. About the only presence of specific politicians were clips of both President Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell both praising a highly incentivized employee wellness program at grocery chain Safeway that reportedly kept the company’s health expenses flat from 2005 through 2009, a remarkable achievement in an era of escalating costs.

However, filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke did discuss all the lobbyists’ money presumably buying off enough votes in Washington and at the state level that has helped entrench the status quo. They even scored an interview with Wendell Potter, the former top media spokesman for Cigna, who became a public voice against abuses by health insurers because his conscience got the better of him. As Brownlee noted in the film’s opening, the industry “doesn’t want to stop making money.”

Other reasons given for why healthcare is so expensive, ineffective and, yes, dangerous include:

  • direct-to-consumer drug advertising leading to overmedication;
  • public companies needing to keep profits up;
  • fee-for-service reimbursement;
  • the uninsured using emergency departments as their safety net;
  • lack of preventive care and education about lifestyle changes;
  • a shortage of primary care physicians;
  • cheap junk food that encourages people to eat poorly; and
  • severe suffering among the wounded military ranks.

The filmmakers also kind of imply that there isn’t much in the way of disease management or continuity of care. Brownlee described a “disease care” system that doesn’t want people to die, nor does it want them to get well. It just wants people getting ongoing treatment for the same chronic conditions.

One physician depicted in the movie, Dr. Erin Martin, left a safety-net clinic in The Dalles, Ore., because the work had become “demoralizing.” The same people kept coming back over and over, but few got better because Martin had to rush them out the door without consulting on lifestyle choices, since she was so overscheduled. “I’m not interested in getting my productivity up,” an exasperated Martin said. “I’m interested in helping patients.”

Another patient in rural Ohio had received at least seven stents and had cardiac catheterization more than two dozen times, but never saw any improvement in her symptoms for heart disease or diabetes until she went to the Cleveland Clinic, where physicians are all on salary and the incentives are more aligned than they were in her home town. As Berwick importantly noted, “We create a public expectation that more is better.” In this patient’s case, she was over-catheterized and over-stented to address an acute condition, but not treated for the underlying chronic problems.

The film also examined how the U.S. military turned to acupuncture as an alternative to narcotics because so many wounded soldiers have become hooked on pain pills. One soldier, a self-described “hillbilly” from Louisiana, got off the dozens of meds he had become addicted to and took up yoga, meditation and acupuncture to recover from an explosion in Afghanistan that left him partially paralyzed and with a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The only laugh I had in the movie was when he told the acupuncturist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, “Let’s open up some chi.”

I kept waiting and waiting for some evidence of information technology making healthcare better, but I never got it. After leaving the Oregon clinic, Martin took a job at a small practice in Washington state where she was seen toting a laptop between exam rooms, but, for the most part, I saw paper charts, paper medication lists and verbal communication between clinicians.

What really bothered me, however, is the fact that there was no discussion of EHRs, health information exchange or clinical decision support, no mention of the problem of misdiagnosis, no explicit discussion of patient handoffs, continuity of care, medication reconciliation and so many other points where the system breaks down. You can’t truly fix healthcare until you address those areas.

 

January 21, 2014 I Written By

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

Digital Health Summit videos: Loudmouth patients

As I noted last week, I moderated a panel at the Digital Health Summit at International CES on “loudmouth patients.” Aside from a slight technical glitch in which the “Seinfeld” clip I shared here didn’t play during the presentation and me misidentifying an audience questioner, it was, IMHO, one of the best sessions of the two-day conference. As the moderator, I owe that to my panelists.

Hugo Campos and Donna Cryer told their compelling stories, while Greg Matthews discussed some new research he did, looking for patterns in online physician-patient interactions.

Afterward, video producer Tim Reha pulled each of us aside to chat on camera for “Digital Health Summit Live” interviews. I talked, possibly awkwardly, about what the other panelists said during the session, then they told their own stories in far more detail and precision than I could offer. I have to say I deftly positioned myself as an empowered, loudmouth patient myself. My physicians, consider yourself warned.

 

Here’s Campos discussing his compelling story:

 

And Matthews explains his research:

If any video of Cryer surfaces, I will be sure to add it.

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.

Patients raise their voices at CES

I’m about to escape the frigid winter blast in Chicago, a.k.a., Chiberia, for the relative warmth of Las Vegas (it will be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, so it’s not exactly tropical there either) and the Digital Health Summit at International CES. On Wednesday afternoon at 4:10 p.m. PST, I will be moderating a panel called “Loudmouth Patients: Making Noise and Making Change.” Panelists will include: well-known empowered patient — and pain in Medtronic’s behindHugo Campos; Donna Cryer, CEO of the Global Liver Institute (and a liver transplant recipient herself); and Greg Matthews, group director of  interactive and social media at WCG.

I’m giving just a short intro since the session is only 30 minutes long, though I do intend to give a condensed version of the story of how I had to raise my voice in support of my dad, who was rendered unable to speak by a rare disease as he was dying — and being badly mistreated — in an ill-equipped and poorly run hospital less than two years ago.

Hopefully soon we can all speak up to our healthcare providers without being blacklisted like Seinfeld’s Elaine back in the 1990s (h/t Brian Ahier).

Speaking of patients getting a look at their medical records, I’m also working on a story for U.S, News & World Report about the pros and cons of the OpenNotes project. Stay tuned for that one hopefully later this month.

January 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.

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.