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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.

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.

‘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.

Keep wasting your money, Silicon Valley venture capitalists

Silicon Valley is at it again.

Last week, digital health accelerator Rock Health unveiled its new offices, and from the news coverage, it seems as if it’s creating an image as much as incubating startup companies.

According to Xconomy, “a big crowd of investors, executives, and other life science industry insiders took time away from JP Morgan to attend the grand opening of Rock Health’s stylish new headquarters in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco.” And stylish it is.

“Rock Health’s kitchen and community gathering space includes a Cirque-du-Soleil-style swing,” Xconomy reported. Because, you know, incubating companies that will fix a broken $2.8 trillion industry with their “solutions” requires a little avant-garde spectacle à la Québécoise — or perhaps Las Vegas. Having been at the Digital Health Summit at International CES in Sin City myself a week earlier, I was happy to see more focus on substance than style in the meeting room, if not in the exhibit hall.

© Bruce Damonte/Studios Architecture

I bet that swing cost a lot of money. So did the design, since Xconomy saw fit to identify the architecture firm. (For that matter, so did I, but only to give proper credit for the photo.) In an industry where a third or more of spending is wasteful — completely irrelevant to care and probably preventable — according to a 2012 report in Health Affairs, are such frills really necessary? I’m certainly not blaming Rock Health here. It’s the investors who are throwing away their money.

In opening the center, Rock Health reportedly dubbed Mission Bay the ‘United States’ New Digital Health Hub.’” That’s a bold statement. There certainly is a lot of potential there, but, as the person who identified San Diego as “a leader in mobile healthcare” back in January 2010, I still see more substance and tangible results in Southern California than in Northern California. For that matter, the Boston area could make a strong case, as could New York City. Smaller but healthy communities have popped up in places like Madison, Wis. That’s fine, competition is good.

However, I’ve seen more failures in Silicon Valley than anywhere else. But does that stop Silicon Valley’s No. 1 media cheerleader, TechCrunch, from declaring, “VC’s Investing To Heal U.S. Healthcare”? No, it does not.

No flame-out has been as spectacular as that overhyped vaporware known as Google Health. Google is back at it again with its VC arm, but this time the Internet giant seems to have a direction and a clue. Maybe.

As TechCrunch reported, “Google Ventures is addressing the nation’s healthcare dilemma with investments in companies like the physicians’ office and network One Medical Group, which raised a later stage $30 million last March. At the opposite end of the spectrum in December 2013 Google invested in the $3 million seed financing of Doctor on Demand, which sells a service enabling users to video chat with doctors.”

Google appears to be scrapping the torturous direct-to-consumer route in favor of going where the money actually is, from third-party payers and from providers, newly incented under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and private reform efforts to work more efficiently and better coordinate care.

On the other hand, it’s been less than two weeks since Stephen Colbert made fun of Doctor on Demand. (Health 2.0 boss Matthew Holt commented on that post that it was “Kind of unfair that Doctor on Demand get the publicity when American Well and a [scad] of others have been doing this at scale for years.” He was right, but, hey, Google.)

Google Venture General Partner Dr. Krishna Yeshwant told TechCrunch the real motive behind all the VC money flooding into healthcare. “As an entity it is where we’re spending 17 percent to 18 percent of GDP, so any one segment is tens of billions of dollars,” Yeshwant is quoted as saying. “Increasingly you’re seeing IT investors who have a fine sense of disruptive opportunities enter the market.” In other words, it’s all about the Benjamins.

But do they understand that healthcare doesn’t work like any other industry? I’m not so sure. And I haven’t even addressed the bigger questions of privacy, data stewardship, interoperability and workflow.

As you prepare your hate mail for me, check out this site, “What the F*** Is My Wearable Strategy?” (NSFW). Refresh the page for more hilarity, but be forewarned: some of the ideas may hit close to home.

You’re welcome.

January 20, 2014 I Written By

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

Videocast with ATA: Mobile health predictions for 2014

A couple of weeks ago while I was in Washington for the U.S. News & World Report Hospital of Tomorrow conference, I stopped by the headquarters of the American Telemedicine Association to record a videocast with ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous. We discussed some of my predictions for 2014 in the fields of mobile health and telehealth:

  1. Imperative to cut costs will drive demand.
  2. More mental health services will be delivered remotely.
  3. Clarity from the FDA means more diagnostic apps and smartphone add-on devices.
  4. Patient engagement in Stage 2 Meaningful Use might finally make untethered PHRs and consumer-facing apps viable.
  5. Home monitoring and video chats will help prevent hospital readmissions.
  6. State licensing issues persist but some states are looking to adapt their rules to facilitate telemedicine.

I’m going to try to embed the video here. If not, here’s the ATA’s link.

 

November 15, 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.

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.

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.

Health Wonk Review: money talks, but IT helps

The latest edition of Health Wonk Review is hot off the digital presses, with Joe Paduda taking hosting duties on his Managed Care Matters blog. And managed care does matter in this trip around the health blogosphere, with most of the attention on healthcare costs and insurance coverage.

On the quality front, which is my primary interest these days, there is some interesting discussion about  whether the new Medicare hospital readmissions policy truly will produce better care or will prod some into providing the minimum level of service to readmitted patients.

(Frankly, hospitals have been overtreating for years. If a minimal level of service gets the job done for the patient, that’s a good thing. And the policy is supposed to cause hospitals to do the right thing in the first place, knowing that they will lose out later if they don’t. I’m all for that.)

My post on consumer ignorance of telemedicine is in there, as is a good one from Vince Kuraitis and Leslie Kelly Hall about the duty providers have to share information with patients. EHRs and wearable sensors also make this edition of HWR. Not bad from an IT perspective.

May 10, 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.