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Some truths about health IT and innovation

This morning at the annual SAS Health Analytics Executive Conference in Cary, N.C., former national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari dubbed Dr. Eric Topol “the high priest of personalized medicine.”

That reminded me of an e-mail I received a couple weeks ago, suggesting that someone should start a blog called, “What’s Eric Saying?” As this correspondent explained it, all you need to do is read Topol’s Twitter stream to know where health IT and the practice of medicine are headed. I checked it out. It’s true.

Some examples:

 

 

 

And that’s just since Monday.

Meanwhile, Mostashari added some truisms himself this morning. “Med speed is slow. Tech speed is fast,” he said, apparently paraphrasing current TEDMED owner Jay Walker. Then, speaking as a physician, Mostashari said, “Most of what determines our outcomes isn’t what happens in our office.” Which is kind of what Topol has been trying to get across for several years.

If only the financial incentives would encourage care outside the office, we might be getting somewhere. It’s starting to happen, but, as it says above, med speed is slow.

May 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.

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.

Podcast: Owen Tripp, CEO of Grand Rounds

Yesterday, Grand Rounds, a San Francisco-based startup that makes an “outcomes management platform” for large employer groups, introduced Office Visits, an online service that helps consumers find “quality” physicians close to home. I’ve long been skeptical of any claims of healthcare quality or any listing of “best” physicians or hospitals, so I invited Grand Rounds co-founder and CEO Owen Tripp on for a podcast to explain what his company is doing.

He told me that a proprietary algorithm helps Grand Rounds “recommend with confidence” the top physicians among the 520,000 medical specialists the company graded nationwide, based on numerous publicly available data sources and some self-reporting. Of those more than half a million specialists, only about 30,000 meet the company’s criteria for recommendation, which shows, at the very least, that Grand Rounds is highly selective.

Based on this interview, I think the product has a lot of potential. It’s nice to see ratings based on outcomes data and not squishy criteria like “he is a great doctor,” as parodied in The Onion this week (“Physician Shoots Off A Few Adderall Prescriptions To Improve Yelp Rating”).

At about 18:30, the conversation reminds me of another recent podcast, with University of Rochester neurologist Dr. Ray Dorsey. It turns out that Dorsey is among the 1,000 or so medical advisors to Grand Rounds.

Podcast details: Interview with Owen Tripp, co-founder and CEO of Grand Rounds. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 23.8 MB, running time 26:04.

1:00 “Safety” vs. good outcomes
2:20 “Downright terrifying” facts about choosing doctors
4:15 Story behind Grand Rounds
5:30 Algorithm for measuring physician quality that he says has shown about a 40 percent lower rate of mortality on common cardiac procedures
7:10 Data sources, including some self-reporting
8:35 Care coordination services Grand Rounds provides for patients
9:50 Why the direct-to-consumer market is so difficult in healthcare
12:00 Care teams
14:00 Availability and scope of service
16:15 When patients should travel for care and when they should not
18:15 Elements of telemedicine
19:35 Importance of asynchronous communication
21:45 Target market and why he sees the $200 fee as a bargain for patients
23:35 Managing patient records and other data
24:35 Company goals

April 9, 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.

Patient safety update

I’m passionate about patient safety. I’m happy to report a couple of things that aren’t exactly breaking news, but still worth bringing to your attention.

First off, there is a fairly new peer-reviewed journal called Diagnosis, and it’s about exactly what the title suggests. The first, quarterly issue, from German academic publisher De Gruyter (North American headquarters are in Boston), came out in January, so the second issue should be published soon. The online version is open access. That means it’s free. (A print subscription is $645 a year.)

A highlight of the premiere issue is a submission from the legendary Dr. Larry Weed and his son, Lincoln Weed, discussing diagnostic failure and how to prevent it. “Diagnostic failure is not a mystery. Its root cause is misplaced dependence on the clinical judgments of expert physicians,” they begin. The answer? Clearly defined standards of care and wider use of clinical decision support tools. It’s not anything new. Larry Weed has been advocating this for a good 50 years and saying that the unaided human mind is fallible for probably 60 years. Yet, medicine still largely relies on physicians’ memory, experience and recall ability at the point of care.

This doesn’t mean evidence-based medicine ,which is based on probabilities. Probabilities are fine when the patient has a common condition. They’re useless for outliers. No, Weed has long said that IT systems should help with diagnosis by “coupling” knowledge to the patient’s particular problem, and this starts with taking a complete history.

Weed, of course, created the SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, plan). I recently talked to a CMIO who is advocating flipping that around a bit  into an “APSO” (assessment, plan, subjective, objective), which he said works better with electronic records. I’ll have more on that in an upcoming article for a paying client, and I’ll probably want to dive into that again in the near future.

For those who still believe American healthcare is safe, effective and efficient, ProPublica worked with PBS Frontline and marketing firm Ocupop last year to produce a video “slideshow” called “Hazardous Hospitals.” It’s worth a view for healthcare industry insiders, and definitely merits sharing with laypeople. I recommend that you share it. Please. Do it. Now. I’m serious. Patient safety is a problem that doesn’t get enough attention. :)

 

March 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.

Video: Farzad Mostashari on patient engagement, ‘physician ACOs’

As I alluded to earlier, I was leaving the press room one afternoon at HIMSS14, and there I see former national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari hanging around Gregg Masters and Dr. Pat Salber of Health Innovation Media. It turns out, Masters and Salber had just pulled Mostashari aside to do an interview on video, but they didn’t have anyone to interview him on camera, so they asked me right there on the spot to be the interviewer. Here is the result.

Mostashari, now a visiting fellow at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institute in Washington, discussed how the years of searching for a business model to coordinate care and engage patients is finally starting to pay off. Always the champion of the little guy in healthcare, Mostashari also brought up the notion of physician-led ACOs, or, as he called it, the “Davids going up against the Goliaths.”

 

I had pretty much no preparation for this interview. It probably shows. I still think it worked out well.

Here’s a link to Salber’s post about the interview because I don’t want to steal page views. :)

March 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.

‘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.

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.

Another incentive to do the wrong thing

I found this in my Twitter stream this morning (and I apologize for the language, which is not mine, not that we aren’t all adults here anyway):

 

What’s apparently going on here is that Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, part of the not-for-profit LifeBridge Health organization, is that nurses are being given a financial incentive, albeit a small one, to make sure that as many patients as possible are discharged by noon each day. Each unit “must be at 20% discharges by noon,” according to this sign, which looks legit, though I can’t say I have been able to verify its authenticity. The sign says nothing about medical necessity. Let’s just keep those beds turning over so we can admit new patients and make more money.

Someone please tell me this is a hoax or that the tweeter has taken things out of context. Our healthcare institutions couldn’t possibly be that misguided, could they? Who am I kidding? Of course they could.

August 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.