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Health Wonk Review talks turkey

I’ve been a bit remiss the last few days, in that the latest Health Wonk Review came out Thursday, and I’m  just getting around to sharing it now.( Blog carnivals work best when contributors link back to the compilation.) But, better late than never, right?

In that spirit, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I invite you to check out Health Wonk Review: The Turkey Edition, hosted by David Harlow on his HealthBlawg. The big stories this time around are all about insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare, but there is also an interesting posts about “wrist slaps” given to pharmaceutical executives for allegedly violating drug-marketing laws.

My post at Forbes.com about the American Medical Association belatedly but predictably fighting the impending Medicare penalties for not meeting Meaningful Use makes the cut. I’m particularly proud of the line, “Ruthlessly Defending the Status Quo Since 1847. :)

Check it out, and for those of us here in the United States, have a happy Thanksgiving. I’ll see you after the long weekend.

November 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.

CMS extends 2014 MU hospital attestation until end of year

Just days before the clock was to run out on hospitals, including Critical Access Hospitals, hoping to attest to Meaningful Use of EHRs for 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has pushed back the attestation deadline by a month, until Dec. 31.

In an announcement posted yesterday on the CMS Meaningful Use registration and attestation login page, CMS said: “CMS is extending the deadline for Eligible Hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to attest to meaningful use for the Medicare Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program 2014 reporting year from 11:59 pm EST on November 30, 2014 to 11:59 pm EST on December 31, 2014.”

Just don’t expect to do so online during a short period in a couple of weeks, as CMS says the site will be down for maintenance from Friday, Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. EST to Saturday, Dec. 13 at 12:30 p.m. EST. CMS also says people “may experience intermittent connectivity” Nov. 30 between 12:01 and 5 a.m. EST.

This extension “will allow more time for hospitals to submit their meaningful use data and receive an incentive payment for the 2014 program year, as well as avoid the 2016 Medicare payment adjustment,” CMS says.

 

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.

Happy birthday, HITECH, and pre-HIMSS humor

Today is the fifth anniversary of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act being signed into law, which also means today is the fifth anniversary of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was rolled into the $831 billion stimulus bill. HITECH introduced “meaningful use” into the lexicon, and for that, it has had a lasting effect.

Through the end of 2013, the program had paid out more than $19 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentives for EHR usage, and healthcare is still a mess. However, all of that money is for Stage 1, and the goal for the first stage was mostly to get technology in place. Stage 2, which is just getting started, is about interoperability and data capture, while Stage 3, which will not start before 2017, will be focused on actually improving outcomes. It is not until the third stage where we are supposed to see real gains in healthcare quality, though we should start seeing some efficiency improvements in Stage 2.

Penalties for not achieving Meaningful Use kick in next year, though that could change. According to Medscape, the new bill to repeal the much-reviled Medicare sustainable growth rate calls for bringing Meaningful Use, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and Medicare’s value-based payment modifier under a proposed new program called the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). This program would eliminate Meaningful Use penalties after 2017, but would base incentives and penalties on more factors than just EHR usage.

On a lighter note, MMRGlobal, the controversial PHR vendor that has been aggressive in defending its many patents but that also has, like every other vendor of untethered PHRs, had trouble landing many customers, has signed on actress and cancer survivor Fran Drescher as a spokesperson. There’s a video on the company’s Facebook page, with a teaser to “Watch For MMRGlobal on TV!” Draw your own conclusions.

On an even lighter note, digital media producer Gregg Masters has started the #HIMSSPickupLines hashtag on Twitter. A few samples:

 


 

Have fun.

February 17, 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.

‘Bitter Pill’ only tells half the story

I finally got around to finishing “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” the 24,000-word special report about healthcare costs that took up the entire feature section of the Feb. 20 edition of Time magazine. I was expecting to agree with most if not all of Steven Brill’s supposedly epic investigative piece. Instead, I was underwhelmed and quite disappointed that Brill, the founder of CourtTV (R.I.P., reincarnated as TruTV in Turner Broadcasting’s quest for more “reality” programming) and of American Lawyer magazine,  only told half the story about all that ails the U.S. healthcare industry. Brill also editorializes far more than he should.

Granted, the story is about the high cost of care, but you can’t discuss cutting costs without also delving into the subject of improving outcomes. As has been stated in many other places, we have more of a sick-care system than a healthcare system. The incentives favor treating illness, not preventing it.

I have to say I learned a lot about how the racket known as the chargemaster works to keep the true costs of care opaque to patients. I suspect that, with the exception of uninsured people who are the only ones expected to pay full price, the public was unaware of the chargemaster system that hospitals guard like a state secret. Brill is right when he says, “Unless you have Medicare, the health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot.” But he’s not telling the full story. Medicare’s payment list is public, sure, but do Medicare beneficiaries really care what the federal government pays their hospitals and doctors? No, they, like everyone else with insurance coverage, only pay attention to their out-of-pocket cost.

Sure, Brill spends a lot of time discussing the perverse incentives in healthcare, particularly those that encourage expensive testing, and even touches on some of the reforms in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that seem to have been left out of the debate over insurance coverage. Think the Medicare policy of not reimbursing hospitals for certain preventable readmissions.

But he completely neglects accountable care. Nor is there a mention of electronic health records and how interoperability can help reduce duplicate testing and unnecessary care. And he never addresses the elephant in the room, the shamefully high rate of medical errors that makes American healthcare far from the best in the world.

July 23, 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.

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.