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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.

‘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.

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.

‘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.

Guest podcast: Suzanne Leveille from OpenNotes

I now present the latest health IT-related podcast from Sivad Business Solutions, an interview with Suzanne Leveille, research director of OpenNotes, a project to give patients online access to the entirety of their own medical records, including the visit notes from clinicians. Leveille describes a trial at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She reported that not one of the 105 participating physicians asked for the access to be shut off after a year. In some cases, patients even discovered errors and prevented adverse events.


Here is the description from Sivad:

A pleasure to welcome Suzanne Leveille to the program today. Suzanne is a professor of nursing at The University of Massachusetts-Boston, and the research director for OpenNotes.

OpenNotes is an initiative that invites patients to review their visit notes written by their doctors, nurses, or other clinicians.

As a patient, you have the right to read the notes your doctor or clinician writes about you during or after your appointment. Having the chance to read and discuss them with your doctor or family member can help you take better control of your health and health care.

As a healthcare professional, you may build better relationships with your patients and take better care of them when you share your visit notes. Our evidence suggests that opening up visit notes to patients may make care more efficient, improve communication, and most importantly may help patients become more actively involved with their health and health care.

Some highlights from the conversation include: the dramatic improvement between patient and doctor communications; how they overcome potential push back and resistance from physicians; patients became more engaged in their personal health care; OpenNotes has been pleasantly surprised at the patient engagement; how advanced technologies and mobile technology are going to impact the future of this idea; and how they are planning to spread the word and get more patients and doctors improving communications and care with OpenNotes!

 

May 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.

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.

Automation is good. Robocalls are bad.

I just got a robocall from my primary care physician’s office asking first if this was actually me — not that anyone would actually lie — and then if I had received a flu vaccine this season. Well, the practice itself administered the vaccine last month, so they should have known that the answer was yes. I did say yes to the interactive voice-response system and also provided the month, as asked.

I realize it is good to make sure that patients get the  recommended preventive care and that it may be impossible for staff in a small practice to call every last patient, but robocalls are awfully impersonal. If the system had actually been connected to the practice’s EHR, I wouldn’t have needed to get the call in the first place. Or maybe someone forgot to enter the vaccination into the record? In either case, the process is imperfect.

Yes, it’s a small deal, but how many imperfect processes are there in medicine? Little things have a way of adding up.

December 11, 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.