Tech

Tech

The Blocking of Health Information Undermines Interoperability and Delivery Reform

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The secure, appropriate, and efficient sharing of electronic health information is the foundation of an interoperable learning health system—one that uses information and technology to deliver better care, spend health dollars more wisely, and advance the health of everyone.

Today we delivered a new Report to Congress on Health Information Blocking that examines allegations that some health care providers and health IT developers are engaging in “information blocking”—a practice that frustrates this national information sharing goal.

Health information blocking occurs when persons or entities knowingly and unreasonably interfere with the exchange or use of electronic health information. Our report examines the known extent of information blocking, provides criteria for identifying and distinguishing it from other barriers to interoperability, and describes steps the federal government and the private sector can take to deter this conduct.

This report is important and comes at a crucial time in the evolution of our nation’s health IT infrastructure. We recently released the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015 – 2020 and the Draft Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap. These documents describe challenges to achieving an interoperable learning health system and chart a course towards unlocking electronic health information so that it flows where and when it matters most for individual consumers, health care providers, and the public health community.

Why Anthem Was Wrong Not to Encrypt

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Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 7.23.57 AMBeing provocative isn’t always helpful. Such is the case with Fred Trotter’s recent headline ‒ Why Anthem Was Right Not To Encrypt.

His argument that encryption wasn’t to blame for the largest healthcare data breach in U.S. history is technically correct, but lost in that technical argument is the fact that healthcare organizations are notably lax in their overall security profile. I found this out firsthand last year when I logged onto the network of a 300+ bed hospital about 2,000 miles away from my home office in Phoenix. I used a chrome browser and a single malicious IP address that was provided by Norse. I wrote about the details of that here ‒ Just How Secure Are IT Network In Healthcare? Spoiler‒alert, the answer to that question is not very.

I encourage everyone to read Fred’s article, of course, but the gist of his argument is that technically ‒ data encryption isn’t a simple choice and it has the potential to cause data processing delays. That can be a critical decision when the accessibility of patient records are urgently needed. It’s also a valid point to argue that the Anthem breach should not be blamed on data that was unencrypted, but the healine itself is misleading ‒ at best.

EMR Data show: The ACA has Improved Access to Care for Low-Income Patients

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As Barack Obama’s presidency draws to a close, we anticipate growing discussion of his legacy. Much of that discussion will focus on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), his signature legislative accomplishment. The legislation is complex and in some cases ineffective and cumbersome. It can be argued, for example, that the complexity of the ACA favors the same high-cost, legacy health care players that the bill was designed to address.

But one of the major goals of the ACA was to provide more accessible, more dignified, and more effective health care to the poor. And in this respect, we believe that the Affordable Care Act – at least in those states that have elected to expand Medicaid – has been a success.

Our perspective on health care reform comes from ACAView, a joint initiative between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and athenahealth to study the impact of health care reform. We have just released our latest report, The Effects of the Affordable Care Act through 2015, which focuses on the impacts of insurance coverage expansion for patients and providers, with an emphasis on primary care. This report analyzes data from 21,900 health care providers on athenahealth’s network for at least five years. These physicians, who serve communities across the nation, are broadly representative of the country as a whole (please refer to the Appendix of the latest report). This allows us to compare physician practice before and after the coverage expansion provisions went into effect in 2014.

In June 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in “National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) v. Sebelius” that states could choose whether or not to expand Medicaid eligibility. Although the federal government would cover the full cost of coverage expansion through 2016 and gradually decreasing to 90 percent of it thereafter, about half of the states declined to provide expanded Medicaid access to low income people. Since that time, six of those states have changed course and made Medicaid available to more of their residents.

In those states that agreed to loosen Medicaid eligibility requirements, there was no guarantee that the law would improve health care access for low income people. Because Medicaid payment levels are much lower than commercial rates, some observers were concerned that physicians would not open their schedules to see more Medicaid patients. And when patients did come in for care, no one knew whether they would form ongoing relationships with physicians or merely receive one-off care for acute or symptomatic issues.

An Alternative Proposal For Certification

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John HalamkaSome have suggested that my comments over the past few months about the Meaningful Use program, MACRA/MIPS, and Certification imply that we should just give up – throw out the baby with the bath water.

That’s not what I’ve written.

Here’s a clarification.

I believe MACRA/MIPS is the right trajectory – create a set of desirable policy outcomes, then enable clinicians to choose technology, quality measures, and process improvements that are relevant to their practice.

Although the current MACRA formula is overly complex, it’s the right idea and I’m confident that CMS will revise the notice of proposed rulemaking appropriately.   My metric for MACRA’s success is simple – can a clinician keep three goals in mind while seeing a patient and be rewarded if successful i.e.:

1. Ensure care is delivered in the most appropriate location in the community (urgent care, home care, rural hospital)

2. Focus on wellness/prevention

3. Avoid redundant and unnecessary testing, medications, and procedures

My issue is that MACRA currently “inherits” the flawed 2015 Certification Rule that is a kitchen sink of immature standards and a black hole for developers.   Overly zealous regulatory ambition resulted in a Rule that has basically stopped industry innovation for 24-36 months since it has listed every use case for every purpose including those unrelated to Meaningful Use and MACRA.

The HIT Emperor Has Never Had Any Clothes

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Over the last several months, I have worked to make the following the official policy of the Massachusetts Medical Society:

That the MMS will advocate to our State and Federal Representatives to end all legal constraints and financial inducements arising from the use or non-use of Office of National Coordinator (ONC) Certified EHR Technology.

That the MMS will encourage our Massachusetts Federal Legislators to introduce legislation to end the ONC’s EHR certification program, and will ask the President of the United States to immediately request that such legislation be introduced.

While the MMS’s Committee on Information Technology voted unanimously to support the above proposal, the MMS rejected the above and choose instead to make the following official MMS policy:

That the MMS will work with appropriate government entities to foster EHR innovation, affordability, and functionality by modifying the certification process for EHRs to improve patient care.

Without a doubt, ONC’s EHR certification program has stifled innovation in EHRs in particular and in health information technology (HIT) in general. In addition, the data accumulated to date has shown these ONC’s Certified EHRs have failed to have a meaningful impact on either the cost or quality of healthcare.

The 6 December 2016 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine has an article which shows that for every hour a physician is involved with direct patient care results in an additional 2 hours of EHR work (in the office/clinic) and then more EHR work from home. No wonder MDs are so dissatisfied with the practice of medicine. The accompanying editorial (Ann Intern Med. 2016;165:818-819) concludes “Now is the time to go beyond complaining about EHRs and other practice hassles and to make needed changes to the health care system ”

Is eClinicalWorks the Next Volkswagen?

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Since the Department of Justice announced the ground-breaking $155 MM settlement with eClinicalWorks (ECW) on Wednesday, industry response has been dizzying.  Let’s collect the facts and review what it means.  I reviewed it all in greater detail yesterday here.

A short summary:  EHR developer eClinicalWorks settled a legal dispute with the Department of Justice that commits them to pay $155 Million, provide free services to customers, and undergo oversight for five years.  The government found that ECW faked certification testing: the EHR software was certified as having capabilities that it didn’t have. Tens of thousands of care providers collected millions of dollars when they attested to the meaningful use of a certified EHR. DOJ therefore states that “ECW caused the submission of false claims for federal incentive payments based on the use of ECW’s software.”

Through social media and (gastp!) real-life conversations, we’ve heard:

  1. Too hot: This is evidence that ONC’s certification program isn’t working and should be rolled back
  2. Too cold:  This is evidence that ONC’s certification program is too easy and should be enhanced
  3. Just right:  This is evidence that ONC’s certification program is appropriate, and expects participants to have integrity

And we’ve heard the analogies:

  1. ECW is the health IT version of Volkswagen:  they faked a test, got caught, and have to pay the price.  Shame on them.
  2. ECW is the health IT version of Uber:  they developed shady software, used it to make millions of dollars, got caught, and have to pay the price.  Shame on them.
  3. ECW is Ray Stoller the car salesman, who sold cars that weren’t safe to unsuspecting purchasers and refused to make good on their commitments.  Shame on them.

Is this an indictment of the certification program?  Not at all.  While the program may not yet be “just right,” without certification, there would be no basis for any legal complaint against ECW, and this would all have remained hidden.  Despite the persistent calls for ONC to roll back the program, this case makes it clear that such a move would be a direct threat to public safety, and would invite more of these shenanigans.  ECW is indeed the VW/Ray Stoller of health IT (I don’t think the Uber metaphor sticks) but just as there are more car manufacturers than just VW who cheated on diesel emissions, there are more health IT developers who cheated too.  Perhaps not so boldly or carelessly as ECW, but I am 100% certain that there are other companies who have done this, and I’m confident that the government is investigating these others.

What Does Real Meaningful Use of an EHR Look Like?

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I drank the kool-aid early.  We installed our first EHR in 1996 with me doing the lion’s share of pushing and pulling.  While I’d ultimately turn my back on this passion, I had a number of notable accomplishments before walking down my Damascus road.

  • Within a year of implementation, our practice became one of the top installations for our vendor.
  • Within 2 years I was elected to the board of our user group.
  • Within 4 years I was president.
  • In 2003, our practice was recognized by HIMSS as one of the top primary care installations of Electronic Records.
  • In subsequent years I lectured around the country (for HIMSS) extolling the benefits of EHR for both quality and efficiency of care.
  • As opposed to the experience of other physicians, our practice was not only successful in our implementation, we were in the top 10% in income for our specialty.
  • Our quality metrics were also routinely far above national norms.
  • In 2012, I was the physician representative for CDC public health grand rounds, discussing the upcoming EHR incentive program: Meaningful Use.
  • By 2013, we easily qualified for stage 1 of Meaningful Use, and I happily accepted the financial fruit of my labors.

But the final years were not, as I expected, a triumph. I became increasingly frustrated with the worsening of our EHR by the “features” needed to qualify us for MU1. I also chafed at the way most physicians were meeting this criteria: by abandoning patient-centered care and adopting a data-centered care model.  Patients were given useless handouts to summarize “care,” and the data requirement was satisfied.  Patient portals gave limited access to information were touted as “patient centered” care, while the product was left unused by most patients, but the data requirement was satisfied.

Re-imagining the Doctor’s Appointment

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Jo JoThink about your experience in going to a standard doctor’s appointment. You fight traffic or parking hassles to get to the doctor’s office. You often wait past your appointment time in the lobby, and once you actually get into the exam room, you wait again for the doctor to actually arrive. While it may be a few minutes, it can sometimes feel excruciatingly long. The doctor arrives, and despite all the paperwork and information you shared with the receptionist or the nurse, you repeat much of this information. Once you finish your exam and discussion with the doctor – during which you sometimes take notes, sometimes not – you walk out and have that awkward moment at the front desk, wondering if you can leave freely or if you owe large sums of cash.

Sound familiar? Perhaps. Sound like many other consumer experiences these days? Not really. The simple truth is that tech-enabled consumer experiences – from booking restaurants and flights to ride requests and mobile commerce – have changed our expectations as a society. We expect
to have more control over when and where we have these experiences. We don’t wait, or if we do, we know exactly how long we will have to wait. In comparison to other consumer experiences, the doctor appointment experience — from self-diagnosis to follow-up — fails to meet today’s new standards for convenience, information and speed.

Think about the typical journey. 70 percent of people are researching symptoms and ailments online before going to the doctor, but more than half (54%) don’t write down or capture this information and other medical information before going to the doctor. We live in a world of online reservations and booking, but 88% of doctor’s appointments are still scheduled by phone, subject to wait times and potential back-and-forth. Another potential breakdown in the patient journey is communicating the purpose for the doctor visit and checking in to the appointment. Because so many are booking appointments via phone, 70 percent of people explain the purpose of their visit to the receptionist over the phone, hoping that the information is accurately captured and communicated to the doctor.

And when you arrive, the litany of forms begins.

Competing for the Best New Ideas in Depression Care

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JP Morgan Week: Lessons For Investors From the Theranos Story

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Theranos raised $900 million from investors and achieved a market capitalization of nearly $9 billion. Today, its investors may have lost most of their money and the company is pursuing a new strategy. It’s a familiar story to lenders and investors and likely to be hallway chatter today as the 35th Annual J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference convenes in San Francisco.

Theranos targeted the lucrative blood testing market offering a new technology that allowed labs to do 30 blood tests almost instantly with a single drop of blood. The company began its operations in 2003 with a $5.8 million investment from Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson and other venture funds. By 2010, it had raised $83.4 million more in three follow-on rounds and then scored a reported $633 million investment in 2014 increasing its market value to $9 billion. In those 11 years, the company operated in relative secrecy: its 60-plus patent filings gave clues about its activities while its CEO, Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes, shunned the spotlight.