Tech

Karen DeSalvo, MD, the national coordinator for health information technology for HHS, is leaving her post to to address public health issues, including becoming a part of the Department’s team responding to Ebola. She took over as the ONC head in January, 2014.

The ONC’s COO Lisa Lewis will serve as the agency’s acting national coordinator.

HHS spokesman Peter Ashkenaz told THCB:

“HHS Secretary Burwell asked National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo to serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, effective immediately. In this role she will work with the Secretary on pressing public health issues, including becoming a part of the Department’s team responding to Ebola. Dr. DeSalvo has deep roots and a belief in public health and its critical value in assuring the health of everyone, not only in crisis, but every day.

Lisa Lewis, ONC’s chief operating officer, will serve as the Acting National Coordinator. However, Dr. DeSalvo will continue to support the work of ONC while she is at OASH.”

The transition comes at a time when critics are asking tough questions about the government’s Meaningful Use program and providers’ lackluster progress qualifying for Stage 2.

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Given what is now known about how the case of Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian was handled, the attempt to blame the hospital’s electronic health record for the missed diagnosis sounds pretty lame.

But people are still doing it:

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Critics of electronic medical records have found a case they will be talking about for years.

Consider this argument from Ross Koppel and Suzanne Gordon:

While it is too early to determine what precisely happened in this case, it is not too early to consider the critical issues it highlights. One is our health care system’s reliance on computerized technology that is too often unfriendly to clinicians, especially those who work in stressful situations like a crowded emergency room. Then there are physicians’ long-standing failure to pay attention to nurses’ notes. Finally, there is the fact that hospitals often discourage nurses from assertively challenging physicians.

Long promised as the panacea for patient safety errors, electronic health records, in fact, have fragmented information, too often making critical data difficult to find. Often, doctors or nurses must log out of the system they are on and log into another system just to access data needed to treat their patients (with, of course, additional passwords required). Worse, data is frequently labeled in odd ways. For example, the results of a potassium test might be found under “potassium,” “serum potassium level,” “blood tests” or “lab reports.” Frequently, nurses and doctors will see different screen presentations of similar data, making it difficult to collaborate.

Continue reading “Throwing the EHR Under the Bus …”

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Lygeia RiccardiMaking Sense of Blue Button, Meaningful Use, and What’s Going on in Washington  …

At the recent Health 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, co-chair Matt Holt expressed frustration about the difficulty of getting copies of his young daughter’s medical records. His experience catalyzed a heated discussion about individuals’ electronic access to their own health information. Many people are confused about or unaware of their legal rights, the policies that support those rights, and the potential implications of digital access to health data by individuals. The Health 2.0 conference crowd included 2000 entrepreneurs, consumer technology companies, patient advocates, and other potentially “disruptive” forces in healthcare, in addition to more traditional health system players.

Why is this topic so important? Until now, most people haven’t accessed their own health records, whether electronically or in paper, and I believe that making it easier to do so will help tip the scales toward more meaningful consumer/patient engagement in healthcare and in health. Access by individuals and their families to their own health records can empower them to coordinate care among multiple healthcare providers, find and address dangerous factual errors, and take advantage of a growing ecosystem of apps and tools for improving health-related behaviors, saving money on health services, and getting more convenient, personalized care.

A shorthand phrase for this kind of personal empowerment through access to digital health data is “Blue Button,” which is also the name of a public-private initiative in which hundreds of leading healthcare organizations across the US participate. The Blue Button Initiative is bolstered by the electronic access to health information requirements for patients in the “Meaningful Use” EHR Incentive Program, which is administered by CMS (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) with companion standards and certification requirements set by ONC (the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology). Continue reading “Getting Your Own Health Records Online: The Good and the Not So Good”

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The essence of controlling Ebola is surveillance. To accept surveillance, the population must trust the system responsible for surveillance. That simple fact is as true in Liberia as it is in the US. The problem is that health care surveillance has been privatized and interoperability is at the mercy of commerce.

Today I listened to the JASON Task Force meeting. The two hours were dedicated to a review of their report to be presented next week at a joint HIT Committee Meeting.

The draft report is well worth reading. Today’s discussion was almost exclusively on Recommendations 1 and 6. I can paraphrase the main theme of the discussion as “Interoperability moves at the speed of commerce and the commercial interests are not in any particular hurry – what can we do about it?”

Health information technology in the US is all about commerce. In a market that is wasting $1 Trillion per year in unwarranted and overpriced services, interoperability and transparency are a risk. Public health does not pay the bills for EHR vendors or their hospital customers.

Continue reading “Ebola Offers a Teachable Moment For Health Information Technology”

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ACOs

One of the big questions since the inception of the Medicare Shared Savings Program has been whether the model would only work in regions with extremely high baseline costs.  Farzad’s state-level analysis of earlier MSSP results suggested that ACOs in higher-cost areas were more likely to receive shared savings. It’s one of the questions that Bob Kocher and Farzad received in the wake of the op-ed on Rio Grande Valley Health Providers last week.

So we decided to dig into the data.

We’re still waiting for CMS to make baseline costs for ACOs – and the local areas they serve – public. But in the meantime, we linked each ACO to a Hospital Referral Region using the main ACO address provided by CMS – and took a look at the region’s per capita Medicare costs as a predictor of ACO success.

Continue reading “Why ACO Savings Aren’t About Location.”

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The Dallas hospital at the center of the Texas Ebola outbreak has changed its story.

Last Thursday, the hospital blamed a poorly designed electronic medical record for the failure to diagnose Duncan when he arrived at the hospital’s emergency room with symptoms consistent with Ebola, including a fever, stomach cramps and headache. According to the initial story, a badly designed electronic health record workflow made it difficult for doctors to see details of Duncan’s West African travel.  Duncan was sent home.  Very bad things happened as a result, as we all know by now.

On Friday, the hospital reversed itself without explanation.

The new statement:

Clarification: We would like to clarify a point made in the statement released earlier in the week. As a standard part of the nursing process, the patient’s travel history was documented and available to the full care team in the electronic health record (EHR), including within the physician’s workflow. There was no flaw in the EHR in the way the physician and nursing portions interacted related to this event. [ Full text ]

In other words: The EMR didn’t do it.

When the EMR story came out Thursday, critics jumped all over it. It did sort of make sense to some people, especially people who aren’t  fans of electronic medical records. The idea that a piece of key information could get lost in the maze of screens and pop ups and clicks in a complex medical record sounded plausible.

A lot of other people weren’t buying it:

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The swiftness of the hasty retreat led some critics to speculate that Texas Health’s statement Thursday provoked the wrath of EPIC, the hospital’s EMR vendor.  Industry critics pointed out that many major EMR vendors, EPIC among them, often include strongly worded clauses in contracts that forbids customers from talking publicly about their products.

After this story was posted, EPIC contacted THCB with a response via email. Company spokesman Shawn Kieseau wrote:

We have no gag clauses in our contracts.  We had no legal input or participation in our root cause analysis discussions with Texas Health staff on this issue.  Texas Health’s correction is appropriate given the facts in this situation.

Continue reading “Hospital at Center of Ebola Outbreak Reverses Its Story”

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Art PapierThirteen years ago, in the midst of widespread publicity about anthrax-laden letters poisoning people, emergency room physicians sent a postal worker home with a diagnosis of the flu. He later died from anthrax inhalation.

Fast forward to 2014, with the Ebola outbreak in Liberia dominating healthcare coverage, a man who had just returned from the stricken nation visited an emergency room with symptoms but was not tested for Ebola. He was sent home with antibiotics.

Two days later, he was diagnosed with Ebola. In the intervening days, he potentially exposed family members and many more to the deadly virus. At the hospital where the misdiagnosis occurred, officials acknowledged the doctors had the information about the patient’s recent travel in Liberia but didn’t act on it..

How can this continue to happen? In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) examined the threat of bioterrorism and infectious disease outbreaks and said the most “crucial step in disease detection is the first one – recognizing that an ill patient has a potentially unusual disease…” But it recognized the potential for misdiagnoses of diseases physicians rarely see – such as Ebola and anthrax poisoning – especially in busy emergency departments where information can get lost or overlooked.

The IOM recommended the use of clinical decision support tools to ensure doctors quickly and accurately detect and diagnose unusual diseases. Four years later, some hospitals have these tools and use them. But most do not, even though they’re readily available, affordable and proven effective.

Continue reading “Would Clinical Decision Support Have Helped Prevent the Ebola Misdiagnosis?”

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Medicine and public health have had a long history and strong roots in experimentation and solving problems through iteration. As healthcare now begins to intersect with tech like never before, the health focused hackathon offers an unprecedented opportunity for us to embrace this past while giving a home to the tinkering, experimentation, and solution-building that is needed now more than ever in our industry.

The first recorded use of the word “hack” occurred 900 years ago, but the more common and positive use of “hack”—to write a computer program for enjoyment—originated in the hallowed halls of MIT in the 1950s. The “hackathon, a portmanteau of ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’,” was first born out of a challenge posed to programmers at a conference in Silicon Valley by John Gage of Sun Microsystems in 1999.

Borrowing from what became a tech sector institution, one of the first health focused hackathons was launched at a national scale over a decade later in 2010 as a part of a public-private partnership between the US Government and Health 2.0 (co-launched by Aman Bhandari and Indu Subaiya as the Health2.0 Developer Challenge).

Since that time, the practice has expanded rapidly: we have found and analyzed over 100 health-focused hackathons (the full living database is available for download, analysis and editing on the MIT Hacking Medicine website here:

Continue reading “3 Reasons Why Healthcare Needs Hackathons”

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Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, the Dallas hospital at the center of the Ebola scare, is pointing the finger at its  electronic health record, claiming that a badly designed interface made it easy for members of the patient’s care team to miss his recent travel to Africa.

“In the interests of transparency, and because we want other U.S. hospitals and providers to learn from our experience we want to make this information public,” the hospital said in a statement yesterday.

The patient was sent home after an ED visit on September 24th, despite recent travel to Africa and symptoms of Ebola including a high fever, stomach pain and  a headache.  Health officials say that more than 100 people were potentially exposed to Ebola in the two days before the patient returned to the hospital on September 26th.

The Dallas case only came to light when a relative decided to call the CDC himself to report the possible case and was told to return to the hospital immediately.

How reasonable is the EHR usability claim?  From the official statement:

Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurses. However, we have identified a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records (EHR) interacted in this specific case.  In our electronic health records, there are separate physician and nursing workflows.

The documentation of the travel history was located in the nursing workflow portion of the EHR, and was designed to provide a high reliability nursing process to allow for the administration of influenza vaccine under a physician-delegated standing order. As designed, the travel history would not automatically appear in the physician’s standard workflow.

As result of this discovery, Texas Health Dallas has relocated the travel history documentation to a portion of the EHR that is part of both workflows. It also has been modified to specifically reference Ebola-endemic regions in Africa. We have made this change to increase the visibility and documentation of the travel question in order to alert all providers. We feel that this change will improve the early identification of patients who may be at risk for communicable diseases, including Ebola.

Bloggers quickly worked out that the EHR system involved seems to be Epic, according to past interviews with hospital IT officials.

The finger pointing was to be expected. But how fair is it to blame technology for what appears to have been a breakdown in basic communication?

Not very, said some:

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The Dallas Morning News reports today that wait times at the Texas Health Presbyterian emergency room have remained at about twice the national average in recent years and that the hospital has consistently had the worst readmission rates among area hospitals.

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Such a good question from my friend David Shaywitz, MD, PhD, (and co-author with me of the book Tech Tonics).  David has spoken and written about this this theme frequently, and most recently at the Health 2.0 conference held last week in Santa Clara, CA. He and I and 2000 of our closest friends were there to talk healthcare technology. Isn’t it ironic that it takes that level of human interaction to talk about the ways healthcare can disintermediate humans from healthcare?

What struck me so loudly at the conference was how easy it is for us all to forget how human the healthcare experience really is. I moderated and attended numerous sessions at the conference, each a twist on the theme of how technology can make healthcare delivery more accurate, more efficient, more effective than anything we have going today.

David participated in a session withMatthew HoltVinod Khosla and Dr. Jordan Shlain, who could not be farther part from each other on the topic of doctor vs. machine (David played the role of moderate guy in the middle), Mr. Khosla backed away or at least clarified his earlier statements about how 80% of doctors will be unnecessary in the coming new age of healthcare technology. His revision was that 80% of alldiagnosis will, in the future, be done by computers, not doctors, because computers are far better at seeing a holistic view of a patient and taking in all of the relevant data. He talked about how certain digital technologies can know everything about you, including when you are sleeping and when you are awake. It made me think that Santa Claus must be worried about being replaced by an app.

Continue reading “Wait, Maybe Technology Won’t Replace Doctors After All!”

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