Free Healthcare IT Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Get all the latest Health IT updates from Neil Versel for FREE!

Follow-up from ATA Fall Forum

Last week, I joined Steve Dean of Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System’s Inova Telemedicine Program on stage at the American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum in Toronto for what turned out to be a very well-received session on mobile apps and devices finding their way into clinical workflows. It was either a Letterman-style top 10, or, as Dean described it, a Siskel and Ebert-style discussion and review of 10 popular and/or interesting apps.

In one example, Dean noted that Aetna’s iTriage consumer app had been downloaded more than 9.5 million times. One audience member questioned the relevance of that number, suggesting that many people download an app, try it once and decide not to use it again. She asked if we had any actual usership statistics. I said I would contact Aetna and find out, then post the answer here on this blog.

An Aetna spokeswoman didn’t have data on the number of iTriage users, but told me that iTriage has nearly 60 million user sessions per year. (For what it’s worth, the app also passed 10 million downloads last week, she added.)

Here are our slides from that presentation. We alternated, with Dean presenting AirStrip OB, AliveCor, Asthmapolis (which changed its name last week to Propeller Health), iTriage and Welldoc. I opened discussion on DrawMD, mym3, Walgreens, Fitbit and various apps from the VA and CMS. Download ATA Fall 2013 v3.pdf

I realize context might be missing from just looking at these slides, but the ATA tells me video will soon be available online through the ATA Learning Center. (For now, access is restricted to ATA members, but the site promises non-member access “soon.”)

 

September 18, 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.

Patient engagement: Check me out in ‘US News’

I’ve just had my first story published in a major national magazine, or at least the online version of one, namely US News and World Report. It’s about patient engagement strategies for hospitals and medical practices in the context of EHRs, for the magazine’s “Hospital of Tomorrow” feature, and I’m getting good feedback so far. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. Check it out here.

Also, I’ll be presenting on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. EDT at the American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum in the non-American (but very North American) city of Toronto. It’s there because this year’s ATA president is Dr. Ed Brown, president of the Ontario Telemedicine Network, right there in the T.O.  Steve Dean of Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System’s Inova Telemedicine Program and I will be counting down a top 10 of mobile apps we deem to be prominent, successful or highly useful. (The description in the online program is wrong as of this writing.)

September 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.

More on Blue Button Plus and MU2

My last post, based on comments from Frost & Sullivan health IT analyst Nancy Fabozzi at last week’s Healthcare Unbound conference, has generated a bit of controversy. Fabozzi said that “Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive,” possibly eliminating the need for some providers to get full-fledged patient portals in order to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 standards.

In the comments under that post, David Smith of HealthInsight.org, a health improvement consortium in three Western states, correctly pointed out that MU2 requires not just that providers give 50 percent of patients electronic access to their records, but also that 5 percent of patients actually view, download and/or transmit information back to their doctors or hospitals. I also got an e-mail from a GE Healthcare executive reminding me that of the view/download requirement as well as the fact that EHR technology had to be certified by an ONC-approved certification and testing body.

The viewing and downloading certainly can be accomplished with Blue Button Plus apps or widgets. In fact, ONC’s Lygeia Ricciardi has said Blue Button Plus could be part of the Stage 3 rules.

Transmitting would seem to necessitate a portal since HIPAA demands — and patients should expect — security when sending protected health information over the Internet. Standard e-mail doesn’t cut it, but e-mail following Direct Project protocols does. MU2 already sanctions Direct Project for health information exchange between healthcare entities. There is no reason why it can’t work for individuals as well, as Dr. Deborah Peel’s Patient Privacy Rights Foundation is trying to facilitate.

This might be a bit unwieldy, asking each patient to set up a Direct e-mail address, but remember, providers only need 5 percent to do so in Stage 2. I see it as perfectly feasible that some small physician practices could bypass the portal and just make do with freely available resources like Blue Button Plus — though Blue Button Plus app developers likely will charge fees — and open-source Direct standards.

UPDATE, July 18, 12:40 a.m. CDT:

HHS itself says Blue Button Plus meets MU2 standards.

From http://www.hhs.gov/digitalstrategy/open-data/introducing-blue-button-plus.html:

Blue Button Plus is a blueprint for the structured and secure transmission of personal health data. It meets and builds on the view, download, and transmit requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2 for certified EHR technology in the following ways —

Structure: The recommended standard for clinical health data is the HL7 Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture or Consolidated CDA. The C-CDA is a XML-based standard that specifies the encoding, structure, and semantics of a clinical document. Blue Button Plus adopts the requirements for sections and fields from Meaningful Use Stage 2.

Transmit: In alignment with Meaningful Use Stage 2 standards, Blue Button Plus uses Direct protocols to securely transport health information from providers to third party applications. Direct uses SMTP, S/MIME, and X.509 certificates to achieve security, privacy, data integrity, and authentication of sender and receiver.

It sounds to me like compliance is just a matter of making sure that a Blue Button Plus app is certified as an EHR module.

July 17, 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.

‘Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive’

AURORA, Colo.—”Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive,” Frost & Sullivan health IT analyst Nancy Fabozzi just told me at the Healthcare Unbound conference. Why? Because the enhanced Blue Button Plus format can eliminate the need for healthcare providers to invest in patient portals in order to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2.

I tend to agree. The Stage 2 rules don’t require a portal, just the ability to transmit records securely from provider to patient. Providers, whether they be hospitals, clinics or even small physician practices, can just put a Blue Button widget on their Web site and give patients easy access to their medical records, transferred securely by the Direct protocol, itself a disruptive force for health information exchange.

Longtime readers might recall that I had dissed Blue Button in the past. More than once, in fact. That’s because the original Blue Button format was plain, unstructured text when it was an experiment at the VA. My opinion changed this week, when I realized that Blue Button Plus adds structure such as the Continuity of Care Document, and third-party vendors like Humetrix, make of the iBlueButton mobile app, provide additional context.

I don’t think this will kill the portal business because portals provide additional services such as secure messaging, appointment scheduling, refill requests and online bill payment. But it will make a lot of providers think twice about springing for an advanced portal when Blue Button Plus will fill the Meaningful Use need so easily.

July 12, 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.

Counting the health IT accelerators

Have you noticed all the digital health “accelerators” and “incubators” out there? I count the following, in alphabetical order:

In addition, the USC Center for Body Computing has announced plans for its own incubator/accelerator in Los Angeles, but we continue to await details.

That’s a lot. Is it too many? We have seen plenty of failures in digital health entrepreneurship over the years, in no small part because too many companies don’t understand the unique economics of healthcare, particularly in the U.S. With the possible exception of fitness products, direct-to-consumer simply does not work in healthcare because most of the expenses are paid for by third parties. (I’d argue that wellness and fitness are distinct from traditional healthcare anyway because healthcare really does focus on sick care.)

At least one report from the California HealthCare Foundation backs up my belief that the DTC focus is a recipe for failure, one reason why health accelerators probably have it harder than their counterparts in other industries.

June 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.

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.

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.

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.

CNN highlights health apps, clinical intelligence

CNN hasn’t exactly shined of late with its coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath, but the embattled news network got my attention by airing a segment on cutting-edge health IT over the weekend. (Actually, credit goes to Scott Anzel, CEO and co-founder of MDconnectME, one of the three companies featured in the short video.)

MDconnectME makes an app intended to keep people up to date with short, secure messages when their loved ones are in surgery. I actually wrote about Philadelphia-based MDconnectME for MobiHealthNews last fall, after clinicians at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York found that the app worked well for keeping frazzled family members up to date on patients transferred there when other Manhattan hospitals closed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Also included in this report are Flatiron Health, a clinical intelligence platform for cancer care that’s backed by Google Ventures and LabCorp., and Mango Health, an app supported by Rock Health to encourage medication compliance through a rewards program.

Watch the video here:

You also can see

April 22, 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.