Tech

Ceci ConnollyIn Washington, sometimes the most significant developments quietly creep up on you. No epic debate or triumphant bill-signing ceremony, but rather a collection of seemingly small events begin to tip the scales.

That’s what is happening today with telehealth. Almost under the radar, federal and state officials have been giving a much-needed push in support of virtual care. Though the technology has long existed, until recently the money had not followed. And sadly in our current fee-for-service healthcare system, little gets done without a payment code, even if it makes eminent medical and economic sense.

Consider some of the recent action. In November, the Department of Agriculture released more than $8.5 million in health-related grants to 31 recipients in rural communities. Many are using the money to purchase telehealth equipment such as high-quality cameras and broadband Internet.

The previous month the federal government issued rules expanding Medicare payment for a range of telehealth services. Caregivers can earn about $42 per month for chronic care management under the new regulations. Seven new procedure codes were also added, covering such services as annual wellness visits and psychotherapy.

And the end-of-year spending bill approved by Congress designates more than $26 million for telemedicine programs largely in rural communities and through the Veteran’s Administration. Continue reading “Tele Taking Off”

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Don’t get lost amongst the 1,200+ exhibitors that will be fighting for the attention of 38,000 or so health IT professionals at next spring’s HIMSS conference. Make sure your brand is top-of-mind before the attendees descend on Chicago April 12-16.

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For details contact Michelle Noteboom for details on available options and to reserve your spot.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.33.17 PMOf the many hidden gems in the Affordable Care Act, one of my favorites is Physician Compare.  This website could end up being a game changer—holding doctors accountable for their care and giving consumers a new way to compare and choose doctors.  Or it could end up a dud.

The outcome depends on how brave and resolute the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is over the next few years.  That’s because the physician lobby has been less than thrilled with Physician Compare, and, for that matter, with every other effort to publically report measures of physician performance and quality.

I’d give CMS a C+ to date.   Not bad considering it’s the tough task.  The agency has been cautious and deliberate.  But after the many problems with Hospital Compare, Nursing Home Compare, Home Health Compare, and Dialysis Facility Compare—not to mention the shadow of healthcare.gov’s initial rollout—that’s understandable.  They want, I hope, to get this one right from the get-go.  And competition from the private sector looms.

Continue reading “What’s Next For Physician Compare?”

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Jacob RiderI started my blog over 15 years ago.  Yes – it’s been less active in recent years, and as I reflect on why I’ve been less active – only part of the reason is that I was working for a publicly traded company from 2008-2011 .. and a federal agency from 2011 – 2014.  Both of these organizations have reasons to control the messages of their employees.  I needed to be cautious about what I blogged.  So I didn’t blog publicly very much. 

But since November, I’ve had no excuse.  And yet nothing much flowed from these fingertips.  

It should have.  Back in the day – THCB and Docnotes – and a handful of other sites offered bookmarks and observations on health care delivery, the convergence of health care and IT, and random observations.  These days – there is a tidal wave of these things on the Internet. I sometimes question whether MY contributions are of any value now that there is so much out there.  I remember when Dave Winer toyed with killing his blog.  He didn’t.  Nor should I.  This post celebrates the not-killing of my new blog, and the beginning of the NEXT 15 years of my public observations.

Here goes ..

Continue reading “My World in 2015″

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AppleHealth

We are still in the dark ages when it comes to health and fitness data. It reminds me of the early 1990s when I had a paper day planner for a calendar, a business card holder for contacts, and a map.

Then along came the Microsoft Outlook and LotusNotes platform. These two platforms slugged it out like Uber verses Lyft. Then Microsoft integrated MS Office with MS Outlook and it was “game over.” I finally had one place to find everything I needed to do 90% of my job.

I’m waiting for that moment to come to the realm of my fitness data. It’s extremely difficult for me to access my medical and fitness data as it is, and yet the recent CES conference presented hundreds of new ways to collect more of my data. There will be wearables, scales, patches, contact lenses, smartphones, watches, etc. Maybe even a drone to fly overhead and watch what I eat for lunch. It is overwhelming. How overwhelming, you ask?

Let’s start with AppleHealth (HealthKit).

There is a reason Apple gave this app out for free on iOS 8.0. I recall getting the Brickbreaker game for free on my Blackberry in 2004. I played it once on a long flight and never used it again.

Continue reading “My Health Data Is Killing Me”

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flying cadeuciiOver the last five years, the United States has undergone more significant changes to its health care system perhaps since Medicare and Medicaid were introduced in the 1960s. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 have paved the way for tremendous changes to our system’s information backbone and aim to provide more Americans access to health care.

But one often-overlooked segment of our health care system has been letting us down. Patients’ access to their own medical information remains limited. The HIPAA Privacy Rule grants individuals the right to copies of their own medical records, but it comes at a noteworthy cost—health care providers are allowed to charge patients a fee for each record request. As explained on the Department of Health and Human Services’ website, “the Privacy Rule permits the covered entity to impose reasonable, cost-based fees.”

HIPAA is a federal regulation, so the states have each imposed guidelines outlining their own interpretations of “reasonable.” Ideally, the price of a record request would remain relatively constant—after all, the cost of producing these records does not differ significantly from state to state. But in reality, the cost of requesting one’s medical record is not only unreasonably expensive; it is also inconsistent, costing dramatically different amounts based on local regulation. Continue reading “An Open Letter to the People Who Brought Us HIPAA”

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Medical Imaging India

What would medical care be like in a genuine free market?

Nobel laureates in economics have opposing views. But does India have the answer? There, healthcare has a strong private sector: patients usually pay directly and the insurance industry is just emerging.

Milton Friedman believed that markets would work just fine in healthcare. Kenneth Arrow was not so optimistic. In his much cited opus, Arrow singled uncertainty as the key factor which distinguishes medical care from other goods and services. Uncertainty means that one doesn’t know when and how much healthcare one is going to need. Not quite the same as shopping for cereal in Waitrose.

George Akerlof felt that asymmetric information, i.e. when one side knows far more about the product, could be problematic for quality.

In Akerlof’s hypothetical market, “Market for Lemons,” which takes the example of used cars, there are “peaches” (good cars) and “lemons” (low quality cars). Buyers can’t distinguish between peaches and lemons, but know lemons exist and so offer a price that’s too low for peaches. Sellers who, of course, know their peaches and lemons, remove good cars and retain bad cars. Process continues, and there’s a downward spiral, with market progressively enriched with lemons.

Asymmetric information in a free market could lead to fall in quality and market failure. There’s asymmetric information in healthcare when buying insurance; people are more inclined to purchase when sick. Also, when the physician knows more about quality of product and its need than the patient. Continue reading “The Sunnier Side of India’s Free Market Medical Imaging”

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flying cadeuciiI’m not as scared of dying as I am of growing old, Ben Harper, Glory and Consequence

Whether we admit it or not, most of us are afraid of growing old.  There is a sense of loss, of youth and vigor, coupled with the burden of managing your health in relative isolation.  Although as a country we would like to think that we are each responsible for our own care, most of us as individuals would prefer for someone to be there, helping us through our time of need.  Years ago when I was advising one of the Presidential hopefuls regarding a healthcare platform,  I suggested that the campaign should be propose that individual was responsible for their own health, but as a country we would partner to provide the tools for the individual to succeed.  Now, almost a decade later, we are not much closer to this goal.

Personal Health Records (PHR) were thought to be the answer.  These records differ from more traditional EMR in that they are owned by the patient and aggregate information from multiple sources to give a complete picture of the patient.  For example, they might include clinic visits from multiple providers, hospitalizations and updates on an exercise program.  Literally billions were spent on PHRs by the likes of Microsoft (HealthVault) and Google.  Both efforts were failures with thousands (in the single digits) rather than the expected millions of enrollees.  As noted by David Shaywitz, healthcare is a negative good, something viewed more with resentment than in anyway positive.  And that extends to things that keep us healthy.  To interact with your health means you are imperfect, you are mortality.

Continue reading “Why Can’t someone Give Me the Perfect Managed Personal Health Record (mPHR)?”

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Atul Gawande is the preeminent physician-writer of this generation. His new book, Being Mortal, is a runaway bestseller, as have been his three prior books, Complications, Better, and The Checklist Manifesto.

One of the joys of my recent sabbatical in Boston was the opportunity to spend some time with Atul, getting to see what an inspirational leader and superb mentor he is, along with being a warm and menschy human being. In my continued series of interviews I conducted for The Digital Doctor, my forthcoming book on health IT, here are excerpts from my conversation with Atul Gawande on July 28, 2014 in Boston.

I began by asking him about his innovation incubator, Ariadne Labs, and how he decides which issues to focus on.

Gawande: Yeah, I’m in the innovation space, but in a funny way. Our goal is to create the most basic systems required for people to get marked improvements in the results of care. We’re working in surgery, childbirth, and end-of-life care.

The very first place we’ve gone is to non-technology innovations. Such as, what are the 19 critical things that have to happen when the patient comes in an operating room and goes under anesthesia? When the incision is made? Before the incision is made? Before the patient leaves the room? It’s like that early phase of the aviation world, when it was just a basic set of checklists.

In all of the cases, the most fundamental, most valuable, most critical innovations have nothing to do with technology. They have to do with asking some very simple, very basic questions that we never ask. Asking people who are near the end of life what their goals are. Or making sure that clinicians wash their hands. Continue reading “Computers Replacing Doctors, Innovation and the Quantified Self: An Interview with Atul Gawande”

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John Halamka-Google Glass

Of the nearly 100 people I interviewed for my upcoming book, John Halmaka was one of the most fascinating. Halamka is CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a national leader in health IT policy. He also runs a family farm, on which he raises ducks, alpacas and llamas. His penchant for black mock turtlenecks, along with his brilliance and quirkiness, raise inevitable comparisons to Steve Jobs. I interviewed him in Boston on August 12, 2014.

Our conversation was very wide ranging, but I was particularly struck by what Halamka had to say about federal privacy regulations and HIPAA, and their impact on his job as CIO. Let’s start with that.

Halamka: Not long ago, one of our physicians went into an Apple store and bought a laptop. He returned to his office, plugged it in, and synched his e-mail. He then left for a meeting. When he came back, the laptop was gone. We looked at the video footage and saw that a known felon had entered the building, grabbed the laptop, and fled. We found him, and he was arrested.

Now, what is the likelihood that this drug fiend stole the device because he had identity theft in mind? That would be zero. But the case has now exceeded $500,000 in legal fees, forensic work, and investigations. We are close to signing a settlement agreement where we basically say, “It wasn’t our fault but here’s a set of actions Beth Israel will put in place so that no doctor is ever allowed again to bring a device into our environment and download patient data to it.”

Continue reading “Black Turtlenecks, Data Fiends and Code. An Interview with John Halamka”

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