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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.

Medical harm explained, in graphics and Farzad style

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—Still think the United States has the “best healthcare in the world?” You clearly haven’t been paying attention.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal ran this excellent commentary from Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Marty Makary about how the broken culture of medicine is harming people. An excerpt:

I encountered the disturbing closed-door culture of American medicine on my very first day as a student at one of Harvard Medical School’s prestigious affiliated teaching hospitals. Wearing a new white medical coat that was still creased from its packaging, I walked the halls marveling at the portraits of doctors past and present. On rounds that day, members of my resident team repeatedly referred to one well-known surgeon as “Dr. Hodad.” I hadn’t heard of a surgeon by that name. Finally, I inquired. “Hodad,” it turned out, was a nickname. A fellow student whispered: “It stands for Hands of Death and Destruction.”

Makary went into a discussion of checklists, à la Gawande, and reporting of adverse events. “Nothing makes hospitals shape up more quickly than this kind of public reporting,” he said. Yep, a little shaming can be good for consumers. And shocking.

Now playing in a fairly small number of theaters and available on DVD, on demand and through iTunes is a new movie called “Escape Fire,” which takes its title from the Don Berwick book of the same name. I have not been to see it yet — soon — but the trailer is compelling. So is this graphic, which the movie’s producers are circulating on social media:

 

Still think we don’t have a problem with patient safety in this country? Not only haven’t you been paying attention, you also haven’t heard Dr. Farzad Mostashari tell the heart-wrenching story of accompanying his mother to an emergency department shortly after he joined the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in 2009.

He couldn’t get answers about his mother’s condition from anywhere in the department, and not because the doctors and nurses didn’t want to do the right thing. “The systems are failing them,” Mostashari said Wednesday at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) CIO Forum, where I am now.

Even as a physician, he felt like he would be imposing on the doctors and nurses on duty if he requested to look at his mother’s paper medical record to see what might be wrong. “There was something rude about trying to save my mom’s life by asking to see the chart. That’s messed up,” Mostashari said.

Yes, yes it is. And Mostashari later told me he shared that story for me, because I had told him right before he went on stage about the suffering my dad needlessly suffered in a poorly managed hospital in my dad’s last month of life. Journalists don’t often say this, but thank you, Farzad.

As it turns out, the CIO of the health system that owns the hospital that mistreated my dad is here. I introduced myself and gave a brief synopsis of what happened, in a non-confrontational way. I intend to follow up. The hurt of losing my dad is still fresh, but I feel inspired by the media soapbox I have.

I want to honor my dad’s legacy in a positive way. I want to help this hospital fix its terrible processes and toxic culture so others won’t have to suffer the way he did.

October 18, 2012 I Written By

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

HIMSS12 notes

I’ve just returned home from HIMSS12. As usual, it was a grueling week, made more grueling by the fact that I arrived a day earlier than usual. But I do have to say that this was the least stressful HIMSS I have been to in years.

Maybe it’s because the conference layout within the massive Venetian-Palazzo-Sands Expo complex was surprisingly compact for my purposes, and I didn’t have to do as much walking as normal. Maybe it was because I only set foot on the show floor once, thanks, in part, to the announcement of the Stage 2 “meaningful use” proposed rules on Wednesday, which caused me to cancel one vendor meeting (in the exhibit hall) and cut another one (in the media interview room) short so I could knock out my story for InformationWeek. Or maybe it’s because I spent too much time in the casinos. Let’s go with the first two, OK?

HIMSS12 broke all kinds of records, drawing 37,032 attendees, beating last year’s former record of 31,500 by nearly 18 percent. The final exhibitor count was 1,123, also the most ever. After I tweeted the attendance figure, at least one person thought this rapid growth was an indication that the conference was “jumping the shark”:

jumping the shark? RT @: #HIMSS12 draws record 37,032 attendees, crushing last year's mark of 31,500. http://t.co/Mw1TDYSA #HealthIT
@apearson
Aaron Pearson

I have thought in recent years than HIMSS may be becoming too big for its own good. This time around, I heard mixed reviews.

Personally, like I said, it was less stressful than normal. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, particularly my media colleagues. This year, I also met up with a couple of friends from back home who happen to work for vendors. We kept the fun going all the way back to Chicago, since at least three other health IT reporters and a few others I know were on the same flight as me.

I also have to say I had a wonderful time on a “Meet the Bloggers” panel on Wednesday afternoon, where I joined Healthcare Scene capo John Lynn, fellow Healthcare Scene contributor Jennifer Dennard, Carissa Caramanis O’Brien of Aetna and moderator Brian Ahier for some lively dialogue about social media in health IT. I know that at least one audience member took some video, and I’ll link to that once it’s posted.

Later that evening, I saw nearly every one of the same people at Dell’s Healthcare Think Tank dinner, where I participated in a roundtable discussion about health IT with a bunch of supposed experts. It was streamed live, and I believe the video will be archived. Many of the participants, including myself, tweeted about it, using the hashtag #DoMoreHIT. I really am adamant about the public needing to be explained the difference between health insurance and healthcare.

Speaking about misunderstandings, I am in 100 percent agreement with something Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a.k.a. Seattle Mama Doc, said during an engaging presentation Monday at the HIMSS/CHIME CIO Forum. She made the astute observation that there needs to be better distinction between expertise and merely experience when it comes to celebrities being held up as “experts” in healthcare and medicine. Let’s just say that Swanson, as a pediatrician, is no fan of some of the things Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Mehmet Oz have told wide audiences.

There definitely were some people among the 37,000 who were not enamored with the cheerleading at HIMSS. There was talk around the press room that HHS really dropped the ball by not having the meaningful use Stage 2 proposal out a week earlier, before the conference started. In reality, blame the delay on the White House. Every federal rule-making has to be vetted by the bean counters and political operatives in the Office of Management and Budget, and it’s hard to tell how long the OMB review will take once an administrative agency, in this case, HHS, sends the text over.

I admit, I was wrong in expecting the plan to be out earlier, too. Instead, we got the news Wednesday morning and saw the text Thursday morning, forcing thousands of people to scramble to scour the proposed rules.

I know HIMSS had a team at the ready, who dropped everything to read the proposal and get a preliminary analysis out by the end of the day Thursday. Lots of consulting firms did the same. I’ll save some of the commentary I received for another post.

The wireless Internet in the Venetian’s meeting areas was truly terrible. Either that, or I need to replace my aging laptop. I’m thinking both.

I had no trouble getting my e-mail over the Wi-Fi network, but I really couldn’t do anything on the Web unless I was hard-wired to one of the limited number of Ethernet cords in the press room, and those workstations filled up fast. Bandwidth was particularly poor on Thursday, when I presume thousands of people were downloading the Stage 2 PDF. CMS officials said the Federal Register site crashed from the heavy demand, and I’m sure a lot of it came from inside the Venetian and the Sands Expo.

There didn’t seem to be enough attention paid to safety of EHRs, at least according to Dr. Scot Silverstein of the Health Care Renewal blog, who wrote this scathing critique of the sideshow the exhibit hall has become, making Las Vegas perhaps “fitting for people who gamble with people’s lives to make a buck.”

Personally, I thought ONC and CMS took the recent Institute of Medicine report on EHR-related adverse events pretty seriously. Plus, one of the IOM report authors, Dr. David Classen, presented about the study findings at the physician symposium on Monday and again during the main conference.

Mobile may also have gotten a bit of a short shrift, despite the recent launch of mHIMSS and last’s week’s news that HIMSS had taken over the mHealth Summit from the NIH Foundation. The mobile pavilion was relegated to the lower level of the Sands, the area with low ceilings and support pillars every 30 feet or so. (I called that hall “the dungeon.”) I have a feeling you will like Brian Dolan’s commentary in MobiHealthNews next week. I’m still figuring out what I will write for that publication, but I have to say I did hear some positive things about mobile health this week.

I still don’t know what GE and Microsoft are doing with Caradigm, their joint venture in healthcare connectivity and health information exchange that didn’t have a name until a couple of weeks ago. The name and the introductory reception they held Tuesday evening at HIMSS seemed a bit rushed, IMHO. The Web address the venture reserved, www.caradigm.com, currently redirects to a GE page. Other than the fact that Microsoft is shifting its Amalga assets to Caradigm, I’m at a loss.

Popular topics this year were the expected meaningful use and ICD-10, plus the buzzwords of the moment, business analytics and big data. I’d be happy I never hear the word “solution” as a synonym for “product” or “service” again. To me, that represents lazy marketing. Get yourself a thesaurus.

 

February 24, 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.