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.

Could mHealth Apps Be a Reprise of the EHR? The Need For Clinician Input

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flying cadeuciiWhile your humble correspondent continues to delight in the emerging science of “mHealth” as a newly minted start-up Chief Medical Officer, he ran across this interesting article on risk and patient safety.

Authors Thomas Lewis and Jeremy Wyatt worry that “apps” can lead to patient harm.

They posit that the likelihood of harm is mainly a function of 1) the nature of the mistake itself (miscalculating a body mass index is far less problematic than miscalculating a drug dose) and 2) its severity (overdosing on a cupcake versus a narcotic).  When you include other “inherent and external variables,” including the display, the user interface, network issues, information storage, informational complexity and the number of patients using it, the risks can grow from a simple case of developer embarrassment to catastrophic patient loss of life.

In response, they propose that app developers think about  this “two dimensional app space” that relies on a risk assessment coupled to a staggered regulation model.  That regulation can range from simple clinical self assessment to a more complex and formal approval process.

What Do We Know About Medical Errors Associated With Electronic Medical Records?

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Recently, the Journal of Patient Safety published a powerful and important article on the role of EHRs in patient harm, errors and malpractice claims. The article is open access. Electronic Health Record–Related Events in Medical Malpractice Claims by Mark L. Graber, Dana Siegal, Heather Riah, Doug Johnston, and Kathy Kenyon.  

The article is remarkable for several reasons:

Considerably over 80% of the reported errors involve horrific patient harm: many deaths, strokes, missed and significantly delayed cancer diagnoses, massive hemorrhage, 10-fold overdoses, ignored or lost critical lab results, etc.

Central to this article’ contribution is its data source and an understanding of the direction of causation of the findings: These errors came to light not because a healthcare provider noted an EHR-related problem, but because the patient was harmed, the provider was sued and there was an insurance payment. 

The Black List: Features Which Should Be In Most EMRs/EHRs (But For Some Reason Aren’t)

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flying cadeuciiI have been in the health information technology field since 1990 when I began creating ComChart EMR. It was a labor of love which ultimately evolved into a small business. From 2004 until 2012, ComChart EMR had amongst the highest KLAS rating of all EMRs in the small ambulatory care group. From 2011 until 2015, ComChart EMR was certified by the ONC for Meaningful Use Stage I. Unfortunately, the technical requirements arising from Meaningful Use mandates and changes in market conditions required that I stop selling ComChart EMR in 2015.

As a result of the 2.5 decades I spent creating ComChart EMR, I have learned a lot about which features are useful in the exam room and how to design an EMR so that it facilitates the user ability to provide medical care to their patient. As Judy Faulkner, Founder and CEO of Epic said, “Good software is art.” To this, I would add that it is only possible to create a well designed EMR if a practicing physician is intimately involved in both design and programming of the EMR.

Why Privacy Must Die

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Art Caplan 2I just finished my required training about the protection of patient privacy.  Every employee of New York University Langone Medical Center must take an online course and pass an admittedly not very difficult quiz as to our duties regarding patient privacy.  All other American medical centers have the same requirement.  I passed my quiz.  But, despite my certification, I think the effort to protect privacy in health care is a lost cause.  It is time to admit that privacy in health care is dead.  Confessing that privacy has passed on, while reporting a death is often very sad, has many benefits.  Not only is the continued effort to ensure privacy protection futile, it costs a lot of time and money, undermines trust in the health care system, causes confusion that interferes with family needs and, most importantly, likely gets in the way of giving greater benefit to the sick, soon to be sick and those who are not yet born but who will also become ill.

Much of the required teaching in the United States about privacy involves learning a bit about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  The Federal Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services enforces the law that protects the privacy of health information that could identify a particular patient such as addresses, phone numbers, email address and medical record numbers.  I know from my training that hospitals and health care institutions must report any breach of information going to someone not providing care to a patient or paying for that care. 

Congress Can’t Solve the EHR Interoperability Problem

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Niam YaraghiRep. Mike Burgess (R-Texas) has released a draft bill entitled “ensuring interoperability of qualified electronic health records” in which interoperable (Electronic Health Records) EHRs are defined as those that do not block sending and receiving data to and from other EHRs and provide users with complete access to the captured medical data. The draft bill proposes that detailed methods to assess interoperability be defined by a “Charter Organization.” According to the draft bill, this Charter Organization shall consist of one member from each of the standard development organizations accredited by the American National Standards Institute and representatives that include healthcare providers, EHR vendors, and health insurers. To keep its certification after January 2018, an EHR vendor should comply with the definitions of the Charter Organization, publish API’s to enable data exchange with other EHRs and attest and demonstrate that it has not willfully interrupted data exchange with other EHRs. The draft bill suggests that the Inspector General of HHS shall have the authority to investigate both EHR vendors and medical providers with regards to claims that they have interrupted interoperability.

The proposed Charter Organization will not be successful.

Research Bites Dog

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Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 10.42.56 AMWe live in a headline/hyperlinked world.  A couple of years back, I learned through happenstance that my most popular blog posts all had catchy titles.  I’m pretty confident that people who read this blog do more than scan the titles, but there is so much information coming at us these days, it’s often difficult to get much beyond the headline.  Another phenomenon of information overload is that we naturally apply heuristics or short cuts in our thinking to avoid dealing with a high degree of complexity.  Let’s face it: it’s work to think!

In this context, I thought it would be worth talking about two recent headlines that seem to be set backs for the inexorable forward march of connected health.  These come in the form of peer reviewed studies, so our instinct is to pay close attention.

In fact, one comes from an undisputed leader in the field, Dr. Eric Topol.  His group recently published a paper where they examined the utility of a series of medical/health tracking devices as tools for health improvement in a cohort of folks with chronic illness.  In our parlance, they put a feedback loop into these patients’ lives.  It’s hard to say for sure from the study description, but it sounds like the intervention was mostly about giving patients insights from their own data.  I don’t see much in the paper about coaching, motivation, etc.

If it is true that the interactivity/coaching/motivation component was light, that may explain the lackluster results.  We find that the feedback loops alone are relatively weak motivators.  It is also possible that, because the sample included a mix of chronic illnesses, it would be harder to see a positive effect.  One principle of clinical trial design is to try to minimize all variables between the comparison groups, except the intervention.  Having a group with varying diseases makes it harder to say for sure that any effects (or lack of effects) were due to the intervention itself.

Dr. Topol is an experienced researcher and academician.  When they designed the study, I am confident they had the right intentions in mind.  My guess is they felt like they were studying the effect of mobile health and wearable technology on health (more on that at the end of the post). But you can see that, in retrospect, the likelihood of teasing out a positive effect was relatively low.

Augmented Reality Is Coming To a Patient Near You

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By now most people have heard of the new mobile phone game, Pokemon-Go. Pokemon-Go uses cellphone GPS data to identify when you are in the mobile game and allow Pokémon characters to “magically appear” in areas around you (through your phone screen). As you move around, different types of Pokémon will appear for you to catch. The idea is to encourage players to travel around their geographic location in order to catch Pokémon. This game provides a glimpse into an approaching next wave of personal wellness and patient engagement applications that will likely incorporate augmented reality into the mainstream consciousness and imagination.

Augmented reality games provide a twist on geocaching. I have gone on geocaching trips with my kids and generally enjoyed the pleasure of getting eaten alive by mosquitos while looking under every rock in a quarter mile for a box filled with a couple of dirty action figures. I did this voluntarily as it was one of the many ways to increase physical activity and get my kids engaged.

Augmented reality games, such as Pokémon-go have showed innovation for the virtual world and mobile computing. These type of games have the ability to be a better option for the future of computing over virtual reality.  If instances of augmented reality games utilize gaming to create interest, a game could be created to encourage physical movement to complete tasks. As time progresses we may see a rush to capitalize on augmented reality now that an application has shown how it can be integrated into our daily lives.

Improving MACRA’s Chances of Success

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Many providers view the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2016 (MACRA) with skepticism. MACRA represents the largest implementation of physician pay-for-performance ever attempted in the United States. Starting in 2019, MACRA will integrate and potentially simplify performance measurement by combining a number of measures and programs. It will also increase the magnitude of financial rewards and penalties, which could help motivate practice change for the better.

One of the more controversial aspects of MACRA is its Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) for physicians and practices not participating in alternative payment models. One physician captured the prevalent skepticism when he wrote in the public comments on MACRA: “This rule will wreak havoc with my practice while offering absolutely no evidence that it will do anything to improve patient care.” Partly due to the many public comments, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has made substantial changes to the final rule. However, there is room for further changes during the rollout – and potentially strong interest in doing so from Tom Price, the physician nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

A Little Advice for the Next National Coordinator

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Over the next few months, Jacob Reider will serve as the interim National Coordinator for Healthcare IT while the search continues for Farzad Mostashari’s permanent replacement.

What advice would I give to the next national coordinator?

David Blumenthal led ONC during a period of remarkable regulatory change and expanding budgets. He was the right person for the “regulatory era.”

Farzad Mostashari led ONC during a period of implementation when resources peaked, grants were spent, and the industry ran marathons every day to keep up with the pace of change. He was the right person for the “implementation era”

The next coordinator will preside over the “consolidate our gains” era. Grants largely run out in January 2014. Budgets are likely to shrink because of sequestration and the impact of fiscal pressures (when the Federal government starts operating again). Many regulatory deadlines converge in the next coordinator’s term.

The right person for this next phase must listen to stakeholder challenges, adjust timelines, polish existing regulations, ensure the combined burden of regulations from many agencies in HHS do not break the camel’s back, and keep Congress informed every step of the way. I did not include parting the Red Sea, so maybe there is a mere human who could do this.

What tools does the coordinator have in an era of shrinking budgets?

At present, Meaningful Use Stage 2, ICD-10, the Affordable Care Act, HIPAA Omnibus Rule, and numerous CMS imperatives have overlapping timelines, making it nearly impossible for provider organizations to maintain operations while complying with all the new requirements.

Can resources be expanded?