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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.

HIMSS gossip

ORLANDO, Fla.—Two days of HIMSS14 have come and gone, and I’m not bouncing off the walls just yet. But I did bounce off the pavement Monday night when I tripped exiting a shuttle bus, and have some facial scrapes to show for it. You will see the evidence whenever Health Innovation Media gets around to posting a video interview I conducted Tuesday afternoon.

Health Innovation Media’s Gregg Masters and Dr. Pat Salber have been camped out near the HIMSS press room since Sunday with their video equipment, querying various newsmakers on various health IT topics, and occasionally having guest interviewers. As I walked out of the press room on my way to the exhibit hall, I said hello to former national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari, who looked like he was just hanging around, but was actually waiting to be interviewed. Masters and Salber asked me if I’d be interested in interviewing Mostashari right there on the spot with no preparation, and with just 15 minutes to get down to the show floor.

If you recall, I did a live interview—yes, streamed live on the Web—last year with Athenahealth honcho Jonathan Bush, beers in hand, for the Health Innovation Broadcast Consortium that Masters and Salber were involved in. (I don’t know the status of that project, as there’s nothing new on that site since last July.) So of course I said yes, and I think it went pretty well. Well, there were a couple of hiccups, as in me thinking we needed to wrap up earlier than we actually had to. And then there’s this:

 

Followed by this:

 

Yes, the Twitterverse catches everything.

Now about that facial injury. I think I just need to avoid Orlando. In 2011, the last time HIMSS met here, I needed six stitches above my right eye after I banged my face against the edge of the bathtub in my hotel room. As I arrived for the 2008 conference here, I turned on my phone after landing and got the message that my grandfather had passed away. Just for good measure, I passed through Orlando on my way back from Europe in 2009. As the flight pulled to the gate, the skies opened up with a violent summer thunderstorm, prompting the airport to close the ramp, preventing the ground crew from unloading bags for nearly an hour. I was stuck in the no-man’s land of U.S. Customs for that whole time, where cell phones are prohibited. It was not until I cleared security, took the airport tram to a different terminal, then hustled to the gate that I knew I would make my connecting flight. So yeah, it’s become a pattern.

Anyway, speaking of Jonathan Bush, he is not at HIMSS14 because he is on sabbatical to write a book and who knows what else? Well, here’s a clue. He was spotted at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, last week with his more famous brother, Billy, host of “Access Hollywood.” (Hat tip to HIStalk for showing this video at HIStalkapalooza Monday night.)

I also heard that Bush is considering a run for political office of some kind, perhaps because it’s, you know, the family business. Anyone care to confirm this?

I do know for a fact that at least one HIMSS attendee is actually seeking office. That would be Dr. Steven Daviss, CMIO of startup M3 Information, maker of a mental health screening app called My M3. Daviss is running for Democratic Central Committee in Baltimore this year. If he wins, he plans on seeking a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2018, in part because he says there is only one other physician among the state legislature.

Daviss himself is on sabbatical from his job as chairman of psychiatry at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, Md.

February 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.

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.

Great news from Health eVillages

As a board member of Health eVillages, I’m proud to share this video from rural Lwala, Kenya, where clinicians and other health workers are harnessing the power of mobile technology to deliver better care and, for some people, the first real healthcare they have ever had. This video, from from when Health eVillages Co-Founder Donato Trumato and Program Manager Matt Linder trekked to Lwala in October, shows how mobile health is helping local women deliver healthy babies.

Subsequent to this trip, the Lwala Community Alliance highlighted the work of Health eVillages here. Then, at a Health eVillages board meeting in December, Trumato issued a challenge to raise $150,000 to construct a dedicated maternity ward at the hospital in Lwala by year’s end. Physicians Interactive, of which Trumato is CEO, pledged half that total, and then others far wealthier than I stepped up and helped Trumato met the goal by Dec. 26. Operating funds are still necessary, and Health eVillages (or “Heal the Villages,” as one partner has pointed out) wants to help more people, including some at a site in rural Louisiana.

Since 2012, Health eVillages has helped the Lwala Community Alliance cut early infant mortality in half (from 60 per 1,000 births to 31 per 1,000). However, the Lwala still area happens to have the highest HIV/AIDS rate in all of Kenya, so education, care and prevention are critical. Here’s an overview on the Health eVillages-Lwala Community Alliance partnership (.pdf). To donate, visit http://lwalacommunityalliance.org/donate/.

Thanks, and stay tuned for more updates.

January 26, 2014 I Written By

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

Happy New Year! Lots of hard work ahead

Here’s a light way to end the year, with a Dilbert cartoon that’s actually more than 7 months old, but one that seems apt.

Dilbert, May 26, 2013
©2013 Scott Adams

No, healthcare technology is never easy. Neither is healthcare improvement, not that a diagnostic robot would necessarily be an improvement. There’s a lot of work to do in 2014. For now, enjoy the evening, and have a happy new year! Don’t drink and drive. Here’s a map of regions where AAA is providing free tows home for drunken revelers. Lots of local taxi companies are offering free rides tonight. Here in Chicago, the CTA is letting riders board buses and trains for a penny. There’s no excuse. Stay safe, and I’ll see you soon.

December 31, 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.

Patient engagement: Check me out in ‘US News’

I’ve just had my first story published in a major national magazine, or at least the online version of one, namely US News and World Report. It’s about patient engagement strategies for hospitals and medical practices in the context of EHRs, for the magazine’s “Hospital of Tomorrow” feature, and I’m getting good feedback so far. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. Check it out here.

Also, I’ll be presenting on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. EDT at the American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum in the non-American (but very North American) city of Toronto. It’s there because this year’s ATA president is Dr. Ed Brown, president of the Ontario Telemedicine Network, right there in the T.O.  Steve Dean of Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System’s Inova Telemedicine Program and I will be counting down a top 10 of mobile apps we deem to be prominent, successful or highly useful. (The description in the online program is wrong as of this writing.)

September 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.

Things change pretty fast in health IT, don’t they?

Yes, things do change pretty fast in health IT. I realized this over the past couple of weeks when I updated my database of contacts by scanning and categorizing about 300 business cards I’ve collected over the past 2½ years. (I really let things pile up this time. Now that my desk is reasonably clean, I hope I never do that again. I can claim extraordinary circumstances in 2012, but that only accounts for one year.)

What really struck me, in addition to the amount of time I let this slide, is the number of new categories I had to create in the database and the number I had to modify. My contacts go back to when I started covering healthcare in October 2000, and I’ve had a card scanner for at least 10 years. I had “PDA” and “ASP” as two of the choices until I changed them to “smartphone” and “SaaS” within the last couple of years.

Here are a few terms that are new in my database since I last did a thorough update, probably early in 2011:

  • accountable care
  • analytics (as opposed to data mining)
  • business incubator
  • remote monitoring

I also can’t believe I didn’t have CIO as a category until this month.

Some of the changes reflect a shift in what I’ve covered, but some terms are pretty new. Did you know what accountable care was prior to 2010? Were there many business incubators or accelerators in healthcare before Rock Health started up in 2011? I don’t know of any.

By the same token, when was the last time anyone talked about a PDA, an ASP or RHIO? Perhaps it’s just been a change in semantics, but the real change has been in the technology and the focus of healthcare executives. (Come to think of it, some of the tags on this blog are a bit out of date. I’ve been blogging since 2004. You get the picture.)

On another note, thanks to Healthcare Scene guru John Lynn, who hosts this blog for me, for, without my prompting, promoting the fact that I’m cycling 100 miles in an event called the Wrigley Field Road Tour on Sunday, Aug. 25, for the third year in a row. The ride supports an organization called World Bicycle Relief, which provides specially made bikes to remote villages in Africa so people who are otherwise without transportation can get to school and jobs. It also benefits Chicago Cubs Charities, which funds a number of youth programs in the Chicago area. (The ride’s co-founders are World Bicycle Relief founder F.K. Day, whose family owns bike component maker Sram, and Todd Ricketts, whose family controls the Cubs.)

Within the last two weeks, I suddenly got a surge of donations from people within the health IT community, and I couldn’t figure out why. Now I know. If you’d like to help, here’s my fundraising page.

One unexpected donor was Todd Stein of healthcare PR firm Amendola Communications. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that he is fundraising to help offset medical expenses of a colleague whose 3-year-old son faces surgery for a brain tumor. From that page:

Kathy C., a friend and colleague (who has always been the first to help but the last to ask for help and so wants to remain anonymous) is a single mother of three children all under the age of 7. Her 3-year-old son “James” was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

The surgery will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, Kathy has a $10,000 deductible on her health insurance plan and stands to pay out of pocket costs that are estimated at three times that amount. James is going in for the first of a series of surgeries this week and paying tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses is a hardship for anyone, especially a hard working single mother of three young children.

Please keep Kathy and James in your prayers and give whatever you can to support their urgent need. Just giving up a daily coffee for one week and giving that amount would make a world of difference.

And now, it’s just about 5 o’clock here in Chicago, so please enjoy your weekend.

 

 

August 16, 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.

Condolences to some well-known people in health IT

It’s been a sad couple of weeks for at least four people I know in and around health IT, and I want to send personal condolences to them and their families.

On March 26, Dr. Mark Frisse, the Accenture Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University, lost his wife of 35 years, Catherine Loretta Walsh Frisse, who, according to an announcement posted on Dr. Frisse’s personal website, lost her battle with breast cancer after putting up a strong fight for two decades. Mrs. Frisse was a teacher, volunteer and philanthropist in the St. Louis area, as her husband and daughter both attended Washington University School of Medicine and the family still lived near St. Louis, despite Dr. Frisse’s Vanderbilt job. (I am a Wash U. alumnus myself, though that was for an undergrad degree, not at the prestigious med school.)

On March 29, Dr. Bill Hersh, chair of the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University, lost his father-in-law, retired Chicago Tribune sports editor Cooper Rollow.

Also, Sheila Teasdale, retired editor of the journal Informatics in Primary Care and a former chair of the International Medical Informatics Association’s Primary Care Working Group, is mourning the loss of her father. J.D. Kleinke, who helped found Healthgrades and Solucient and now is a healthcare business strategist, economist, author and columnist, is doing the same for his mother.

Please join me in expressing sympathy for their recent losses.

April 5, 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.

My first portal experience

Yes, after all these years of writing about EMRs, EHRs, PHRs, patient portals and the like, I have had my first real personal experience with a patient portal, courtesy of my internist.

He still has a small practice, with four other physicians, including one fresh out of residency. Those small practices are a dying breed, but this doctor is changing with the times, too. He recently offered a concierge option for a few hundred patients. I declined because I don’t need to reach him that urgently.

The portal has been in place for a couple of years, and I may have logged in once or twice before to set up an account, but didn’t really do anything other than look around. This time, prompted by an e-mail informing me of a new URL, I logged in and checked my medication list. I remembered that another doctor had changed the dosage of one of my medications a while back, so I fired off a secure message informing this practice of the change. (It was a new URL presumably because the EHR vendor formerly known as Sage Healthcare adopted the Vitera Healthcare Solutions name a year ago and was switching its customers to a common, white-labeled portal.)

I also looked at some of my test results from a year and a half ago just to confirm that everything was more or less OK then, though I did see one abnormality with my HDL cholesterol. I last went for a physical in March 2011, about a month after I ungracefully cut my face open on a bathtub in Orlando during HIMSS11, so I was probably due. This practice lets patients request appointments — not actually choose open slots — online, so I sent my request. Tonight, about 24 hours later, I got my confirmation, and I’ll be seeing the doc in a couple of weeks.

It’s not a perfect system, but it was convenient enough for a night owl like myself who might not remember to call during business hours to make an appointment or simply not want to wait on hold or press a bunch of buttons to navigate a telephone menu. I did not see the Blue Button option to download my record that the federal government is pushing private vendors to adopt, but I’m sure that will be there by the time the practice is ready for “meaningful use” Stage 2 in a year or two. I don’t have a PHR anyway, so I wouldn’t be able to do anything with the data other than print it.

I suppose I should set up an emergency PHR at some point, even though I doubt any hospital or specialist I might get referred to would take the time to download my data from a USB drive or log into someone else’s portal. Untethered PHRs simply don’t fit physician workflow. That might change in MU Stage 2 when providers will have to send electronic discharge statements and patient summaries during transitions of care, but I’m still not convinced a patient-controlled PHR will be the right vehicle for these data transfers.

 

October 31, 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.