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Podcast: MMRGlobal’s Bob Lorsch addresses the ‘patent troll’ issue

Two weeks ago, I picked apart a terribly misleading, ideologically steeped Fox News story that wrongly linked the initial failure of the healthcare.gov Affordable Care Act insurance exchange to the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program. Among my many criticisms was the reporter’s apparent confusion between an actual EHR and My Medical Records, the untethered PHR offered by MMRGlobal.

In that post, I said, “I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence that MMRGlobal isn’t much more than a patent troll.”

Bob Lorsch, CEO of that company, posted in the comments that I should put my money where my mouth is and interview him. (I had interviewed Lorsch before, but never wrote a story because of my longstanding policy of not paying attention to untethered PHRs since none that I know of has gained any market traction, despite years of hype.)

As this podcast demonstrates, I took Lorsch up on his offer. It was at times contentious, in part because I challenged many of his statements in the Fox story and to me, and in part because he challenged some of mine.

He asked me a pointed question, whether I still thought he was a patent troll. Based on the fact that MMR actually earned patents on a product it actively markets and didn’t just purchase someone else’s patents for the point of suing others, it’s hard to conclude that he is a patent troll.

Investopedia defines patent troll as:

A derogatory term used to describe people or companies that misuse patents as a business strategy. A patent troll obtains the patents being sold at auctions by bankrupt companies attempting to liquidate their assets, or by doing just enough research to prove they had the idea first. They can then launch lawsuits against infringing companies, or simply hold the patent without planning to practise the idea in an attempt to keep other companies productivity at a standstill.

By that definition, MMR is not. I still don’t think an untethered PHR is a good business model, a belief supported by the fact that publicly traded MMR is a penny stock, currently trading at less than 3 cents per share. I have said that patient engagement, called for on a small scale by Meaningful Use Stage 2 rules, could change the landscape for PHRs—with a better chance in pediatrics than for adult populations—but it certainly will take a few years.

I stand by my original statement that the Fox News story did health IT a huge disservice by latching onto one problem and trying to tie it to an unrelated issue simply because it fits an ideological narrative. As for MMR, well, take a listen and then judge for yourself. It’s a long podcast, but I went through the trouble of breaking it down by discussion point so you can skip around as necessary.

Podcast details: Interview with Bob Lorsch, CEO of MMRGlobal, recorded Oct. 18, 2013. MP3, mono, 128 bps, 49.5 MB, running time 54:07

2:03        About My Medical Records
3:26        Why he believes his product is better than traditional EHRs
5:00        My skepticism of untethered PHRs
6:28        Lorsch’s interview with HIStalk from February
6:40        MMR’s user base
8:00        Why he thinks MMR could facilitate health information exchange
9:40        Health information exchanges vs. health insurance exchanges
10:15     Patient-centered HIE as an alternative to multiple patient portals
12:20     Physician trust of patient-supplied data, and other workflow issues
15:05     Emergency use case
15:50     How MMR is different from other PHRs
16:32     “Last mile” of connectivity
18:17     His assertion in Fox story that patients lose control of health information and privacy under ACA, despite HIPAA
24:15     MMR carries cyber liability insurance
25:00     Scope of MMR’s patents
26:45     “Likely” infringement of patents
27:45     Lawsuits and licensing
29:30     Patent troll?
31:10     Negotiations with WebMD and others
33:00     MMR’s reputation
35:00     “We build and sell what we have intellectual property rights to.”
36:25     Other vendors ignoring patients?
36:50     Standardization in health IT
38:38     MMR’s low stock price
39:20     Patient engagement boosting PHR use?
42:00     Interest from WellPoint
42:48     Payers building trust with PHRs
44:18     Other features of MMR’s PHR
46:45     Segmentation of sensitive parts of medical records
49:08     Putting me on the spot
50:35     His objective in asserting patent rights
51:15     MMR’s issue with Walgreens
52:25     Revenue sharing vs. licensing

October 31, 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.

Google Health and claims data

I’ve suspected for a while that one reason why personal health records haven’t taken off was because the “untethered” kind that are not tied to a specific provider organization’s electronic medical record or portal tend to be built with claims data. That is, an insurer or employer combs through billing codes to piece together records that ostensibly contain clinical records.

There are numerous problems with this, of course. First off is the workflow issue. If the doctor doesn’t have an EMR to import PHR data, then the PHR represents an extra step that the typical physician isn’t willing to take.

Then there is the reputation of managed care. Health insurers often are just slightly above oil companies, politicians and Bernie Madoff on the public’s trustworthiness scale. I imagine they’re even lower from the perspective of doctors who are asked to accept these claims-based records and use them in the practice of medicine. I’m sure there are some payer-sponsored PHRs that are fairly accurate, but they don’t ever get much of a chance because of this perception.

That said, claims-derived PHRs can never be fully accurate representation of health status because the ICD-9 (and soon, ICD-10) billing codes are completely different than CPT diagnosis codes. Don’t believe me? Ask Dave deBronkart, aka E-Patient Dave.

DeBronkart’s story is widely known among health IT types, but he was featured Monday in the Boston Globe. That article tells something I didn’t know, that there was inaccurate data in a Google Health PHR that had suggested cancer had spread to his brain or spine, as well as a few other false alarms.

The Globe quotes many of the usual suspects, notably deBronkart’s personal physician, Danny Sands, as well as Drs. Paul Tang, David Kibbe and John Halamka. While this may not be news for those in health IT, I think this story should be required reading for anyone considering a personal health record.

April 13, 2009 I Written By

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

Just wondering

I had a conversation yesterday with a vice president of a major national health insurer, and this person mentioned that it would be a while before health plans started listing in their provider directories whether physicians and hospitals had electronic health records. Uh, why don’t they just start asking the question now when they update the provider directories?

If payers are serious about consumer-directed health plans, they need to offer as much relevant information as possible for consumers to make informed decisions. This sounds like it should be a fairly simple step, no?

May 11, 2007 I Written By

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