Tech

Tech

What Healthcare Could Learn From a Technology Company

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Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 9.43.45 AMHealthcare is very different from most other industries. It is fragmented, conservative, highly regulated, and hierarchical. It doesn’t follow most of the usual business rules around supply and demand or consumerism. An important aspect of my role at Microsoft is helping my colleagues at the company understand the many ways that healthcare is different from other “businesses”.

Having said that, there are a lot of things that healthcare could learn from a company like Microsoft or other technology companies. When someone asks me what it’s like to work at Microsoft, I often say what someone told me when I started at the company 13 years ago. Microsoft is like a global colony of ants, working independently and yet together but always “neurally” connected by enabling technologies. At any given moment, I can be connected to any one of my 100,000 fellow workers or tens of thousands of partners with just a couple of clicks or taps on a screen. I have tools that show me who’s available, what they do, what they know, and where they are. I can engage in synchronous or asynchronous communication and collaboration activities with a single member or multiple members of my team using messaging, email, voice, video or multi-party web conferencing. We can use business analytics tools, exchange information, review documents, co-author presentations, and collaborate with our customers and partners anywhere in the world from anywhere we might be. Our business moves, and changes, at the speed of light. It is the rhythm of the industry.

I sometimes wake up in the morning and think, “If only my clinical colleagues could avail themselves of similar tools and technologies how different could healthcare be?” I’ve been using information communications technologies in my daily work for so long that I almost take for granted that this is the way work is done. But I also know that in the real world of healthcare the journey is still quite different. That hit home again last week when I asked my mother’s family doctor for a copy of a report on an imaging study he had ordered. It took five phone calls to make something happen and my only choice was to receive the report via fax machine. Fax machine, really?

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.

Exponential Health Technology Bringing Personal “Check Engine Lights”

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Daniel Kraft is the Exec. Director of FutureMed and on the scientific Advisory Board for the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE which will be judged and have its award ceremony at the Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference next Wednesday, October 2nd.

It sometimes seems that the world is speeding up, and it’s often hard to remember how quickly things are changing in our everyday lives. The relatively slow, expensive technologies of the 1970s and 80s are now essentially ‘free’ features that have dissolved into our exponentially more powerful devices. GPS with navigation directions, video and still cameras, online encyclopedias and the like would have separately cost over $500K 20-30 years ago. As inventor, futurist and Singularity University co-founder Ray Kurzweil likes to point out, a kid in Africa with a smartphone today has more access to information than the U.S. president did 15 years ago.

I recently found (via Twitter) this delightful and insightful story about a couple, both born in 1986, who have two young children. The couple, inspired by their son’s propensity to play on an iPad instead of outside on a nice day, have chosen to revert their life to 1986 levels of technology. No cell phones, no Google, no email, no tweets, no SMS…. So now they read books, develop rolls of film, and look things up in Encyclopedia Britannica. Watching this family, we might wonder how we got through the day and communicated and coordinated with our friends and family.

A Great Leap Forward (Or Backward) For the National Health IT Agenda?

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At HIMSS, I listened carefully to payers, providers, patients, developers, and researchers. Below is a distillation of what I heard from thousands of stakeholders.

It is not partisan and does not criticize the work of any person in industry, government or academia. It reflects the lessons learned from the past 20 years of healthcare IT implementation and policymaking. Knowing where we are now and where we want to be, here are 10 guiding principles.

1. Stop designing health IT by regulation

Through its certification program, ONC directs the specific features, functionality, and design of electronic health records. As a result, technology developers devote the majority of their development resources to fulfilling government requirements instead of innovating to meet market and clinician demands. The certification program has established a culture of compliance in an industry ready for data-driven innovations. ONC’s role in the health IT industry made sense eight years ago when IT adoption in healthcare lagged considerably behind all other sectors, but today the certification program impedes a functioning market and must be reformed.

An Open Letter to the People Who Brought Us HIPAA

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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.

Could Mobile Health Become Addictive?

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The hype over mobile health is deafening on most days and downright annoying on some.  So it is with some reluctance that I admit that mobile has the potential to be a game-changer in health.  I’ve professed enthusiasm before, but that was largely around the use of wireless sensors to measure physiologic signals and SMS text as a way to deliver messages to patients and consumers.  For several years, the industry has been awash with smartphone apps (by a recent count more than 40,000).  At the Center for Connected Health, we started looking at mobile health as far back as 2008 and could not justify the excitement around smart phones and apps at that time, mostly because our patient population did not demonstrate significant enough adoption of smartphones to justify development in this area.

I felt very unpopular at all of the major conferences.  I talked about our success with text messaging as a tool for engaging pregnant teens in their prenatal care and helping patients battling addiction to stick with their care plan, while others were touting the virtues of their various apps.

It’s worth noting that our primary focus at the Center for Connected Health has been patients with chronic illness.  As such, we are every bit as concerned about the 85 year old with congestive heart failure as we are about the young professional with hypertension.  However, across the population of people with chronic disease, smartphone adoption has lagged.  I felt like our strategy was vindicated when my friend Susannah Fox published research showing that folks with two or more chronic illnesses (independent of other variables such as age and socioeconomic status) use technology in the context of their health less than others.

The world of patient care appears to be catching up to the rest of mobile.  Not that I would ever endorse the irrational exuberance shown for mobile health apps in general, but some recent data points that changed my thinking are worth noting.

Prescription For Patient Safety With Health IT: More Time With the Patient, and Less Distraction

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Recent government incentives have gone a long way toward bringing digitization to healthcare, with  particular benefits seen in the PACS/ digital radiology areas and digitally archiving data for better access.  A 2016 AMA survey (1) has shown that the biggest desires for physicians from digital health are increasing patient safety and improving work efficiency.

I would like to propose that the most important aspects of patient safety are as follows:

  • clinical workers (that is, doctors, nurses and other members of the caregiving team) need to maximize their time ‘at the bedside’
  • clinical workers need to maximize their communication and interaction within the patient care team to optimize patient care
  • clinical workers need to minimize distractions from the two activities above.

Health IT systems need a complete overhaul, guided by these principles, in order to optimize patient safety with its use. One way to look at health IT from a clinical perspective is to break it down into 2 pieces: data aggregation (that is, the ‘anytime, anywhere access’ to digitized health information) and data entry: the time and distraction from patient care that data entry tasks require for clinical workers.  The big wins so far with health IT has been with the former, the big problems with the latter.

One Regulation Could Eliminate a Dozen Others

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President-Elect Trump recently announced: “for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.” Regulatory capture, the topic of a recent THCB post by Nortin Hadler, has enabled many regulations based on HITECH that restrict competition by allowing information blocking. Many other regulations around quality measures, documentation, decision support, contract transparency, and kickback safe harbors are now needed to counteract EHR vendor consolidation through regulatory capture.

One regulation designed to establish a patient-controlled interface (a patient-controlled API) to health records will enable competition for all aspects of the institutional EHR by decentralizing access to the patient information. The impact on health reform, ACA reform, and medical research would be immense.

What I Need

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So, the question has been raised: why am I doing this?  Why re-invent the EMR wheel?  What is so different about what I am doing that makes it necessary to go through such a painful venture?  I ask myself this same question, actually.

Here’s my answer to that question:

What medical records offer:
High focus on capturing billing codes so physicians can be paid maximum for the minimum amount of work.

What I need:
No focus on billing codes, instead a focus on work-flow.

What medical records offer:
Complex documentation to satisfy the E/M coding rules put forth by CMS.This assures physicians are not at risk of fraud allegation should there be an audit.  It results in massive over-documentation and obfuscation of pertinent information.

What I need:
Documentation should only be for the sake of patient care. I need to know what went on and what the patient’s story is at any given time.

What medical records offer:
Focus on acute care and reminders centered around the patient in the office (which is the place where the majority of the care happens, since that is the only place it is reimbursed)

What I need:
Focus on chronic care, communication tools, and patient reminders for all patients, regardless of whether they are in the office or not. My goal is to keep them out of the office because they are healthy.

What medical records offer:
Patient access to information is fully at the physician’s discretion through the use of a “portal,” where patients are given access to limited to what the doctor actively sends them.

Open Sourcing What Works in Health & Wellness

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Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 9.28.09 AMFew argue that we have a fully optimized healthcare system. In fact, many argue the opposite. I have good news for you. All of the components of a high achieving health ecosystem have not only been created — they have been proven with solid evidence backing them up.

The future is here. It is just unevenly distributed. — William Gibson

Mr. Gibson could have been speaking about healthcare when he made this oft-cited quote. Unfortunately, while we have the components to fix health and healthcare, they are scattered all over the country and world. Healthcare, in it’s present state, is a design failure given the money, smarts and compassion that we invest. Put simply, it rewards the wrong activities. We pay for illness and treatment, and we get more illness and treatment. Even if we had a perfectly designed health ecosystem, the emerging convergence of new genomic insights, smartphones and mobile Internet, the Internet of Things, sensors, wearables and changed reimbursement models creates an enormous new challenge.