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Jonathan Bush @HIMSS11

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We caught up with always outspoken athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush backstage in Orlando.



OCR Imposes $4.3M Penalty for Violation of HIPAA/HITECH Privacy Rule

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UNTIL TODAY, many health care providers questioned whether HHS and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) would ever issue any significant penalties for violations of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. However, will OCR ever be able to collect the penalties.

Today, HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced a civil money penalty (CMP) of $4.3 million against Cignet Health of Prince George’s County, MD for violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This is the first ever civil money penalty issued by OCR for a violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. It is significant not only because it is the first – but also because of the size of the penalty and the basis for the violation.

OCR issued a Notice of Final Determination on February 4, 2011, outlining the procedure for payment of the $4.3 million civil money penalty. The Notice of Final Determination also indicates that Cignet failed to request a hearing on the matter or reach settlement with OCR. Prior to the issuance of the final notice, OCR had issued a Notice of Proposed Determination on October 20, 2010, which details the basis for the penalty, details the findings of fact, grounds for violation of HIPAA, and calculation of the penalty amount.

Two Kidneys and 100,000 Lives

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This story about a kidney transplant mix-up in California is bound to get lots of coverage. It is these extraordinary cases that get public attention. I am sure it will lead to a whole new set of national rules designed to keep such a thing from happening.

Of course, such rules already exist, and it was likely a lapse in them that led to this result.

Nonetheless, we will “bolt on” a new set of requirements that, in themselves, will likely create the possibility for yet a new form of error to occur.

This kind of coverage and response is a spin-off from the “rule of rescue” that dominates decisions about medical treatment. We find the one-off, extreme case and devote excessive energy to solving it. In the meantime, we let go untreated the fact that tens of thousands of people are killed and maimed in hospitals every year.

Those numbers are constantly disputed by the profession. To this day, many doctors do not believe the Institute of Medicine’s studies that documented the number of unnecessary deaths per year.

And you never hear anyone talking about this 2010 report by the Office of the Inspector General, which concluded:

An estimated 1.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries experienced an event that contributed to their deaths, which projects to 15,000 patients in a single month.

As the IOM notes, “Between the health care we have and the care we could have lies not just a gap, but a chasm.”

There is an underlying belief on the part of policy makers and public and private payers that the focus on quality is best addressed through payment reform. Let me state as clearly as I possibly can: That is wrong. It is a classic example of the old expression: “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Changes in payment rate structures, penalties for “never events,” and the like can cause some changes to occur. Their main political advantage is that they give the impression of action, and their major financial advantage is a shift in risk from government and private payers to health care providers.

HIMSS11 Update from the Chairman

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As the Chairman of the board of HIMSS, the Health Information Management Systems Society, which is the largest information technology organization in the world, I’ve been very busy at our annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

As I move through this enormous venue, talking to as many of our 30,000 attending members as possible, I can’t help but think about how much work we all have to do in the coming years.

As healthcare and IT professionals, we are privileged to live at a moment in history when the work we do, the product of our shared passion, the professional discipline to which we devote so much of ourselves, is taking its place as the central catalyst of a transformation in healthcare that is in many ways, unprecedented.

Whereas previous breakthroughs in medical technology, such as the invention of the X-ray or the discovery of antibiotics, have obviously been profound, and powerful; I can think of none that ever impacted the entire medical practice model.

And that is exactly what the technology-driven transformation of healthcare is poised to deliver.

Let’s Face(book) the Hard Truth About Healthcare

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‘In the time when new media.

Was the big idea.’

These two lines at the end of the album track  ‘Kite’ earned U2 a place in a recent list of suspect popular song lyrics. Some Health 2.0 vendors are also struggling to get ‘social media’ to rhyme with  ‘healthcare’ but will no doubt carrying on trying to do so. With Goldman Sachs throwing $1.5 billion in Facebook’s direction it makes sense for anyone in the online health business to position themselves as close to the social media company as possible, on the off chance that they will be able to pan a few nuggets out of the fast flowing stream of cash.

While no doubt some of the funds the bank is putting together will be used for healthcare related applications it is not immediately obvious what Facebook can do that Google and Microsoft have not already tried. Both these companies are trying to sell to healthcare providers whose business models if they do exist are confused and, in some cases failing. One way to gain a better understanding of the healthcare market is to view it as a mathematical equations that can be solved by eliminating one variable at a time.

So What If The UK’s National Health Service Did Not Exist?

You log on to NHS.uk and are greeted with a message saying “Sorry, this service has been discontinued. The UK government can no longer afford to provide you with healthcare.” And that is it, apart one last piece on advice. “Please take care.” This presumably aimed at Darwin Award candidates who were hoping to break the land speed record using fireworks and a skateboard and fully expect the local hospital to fix any resulting damage. Also perhaps directed at anyone with a grumbling appendix thinking of entering a baked bean-eating contest. (More about these people later.)

So what difference would it make if there were no healthcare provider? For a start everyone in the UK, apart from the 1.3-million ex-NHS workers, would be £1600 a year better off. A young person leaving school would have saved enough to pay for their university education. A young couple in their mid twenties would have saved enough to put a down payment on their first house. OK average life expectancy would fall and the last couple of years (or most likely months) of a person’s life would probably be more unpleasant, but the proceeding sixty five or so years would be a lot better. There, two of the government’s major economic headaches eliminated in a stroke – an unfortunate turn of phrase in this case. With an extra £100 billion per annum sloshing around in the economy most of the 1.3 million former NHS employees would be able to find new jobs.

Computers in 2020

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It is 2020.   Computer evaluation of patients before they visit their doctors has come a long way.

Medical records containing  demographic  data,   personal histories,  medication use,  allergies, laboratory results,  radiologic images,  electrocardiograms, rhythm strips, and even the chief complaint and symptoms of the patient ‘s  present illness, as spoken and digitized by the patient,  are available prior to the visit.

These records, synthesized, summarized,  algorithmized,  and otherwise massaged by massive computer banks,  give doctors everything they want to know before seeing ore examining the patient.

  • the differential diagnosis,
  • the most likely cause of the visit,
  • optimal treatment options,
  • a review of recent medical literature in the last 24 hours on the subject,
  • the best current medical practices,
  • the best value for the dollars in the immediate region and at national centers,
  • the best, most cost-effective and results-effective,  specialists  and medical centers  where  to go should further evaluation be needed.
  • the tests and procedures to be done before the patient leaves the office.

This barrage of information is available to consumers and physicians alike before and immediately after the visit.   Furthermore,  with advances in speech recognition,  patients and doctors will be able to talk to the computer in each other’s presence, ask questions, and settle any lingering doubt.

What Venture Capital Can Learn from Emerging Markets

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Venture capitalists are increasingly interested in emerging markets, and in working with local funds based in those markets (despite the fact that reverse innovation in venture capital seems counterintuitive). The reason for the interest in in part because the industry has suffered from poor returns on investment over the last decade; indeed, some sectors, including biotechnology, report negative aggregate returns. China and India, in particular, offer attractive liquidity and investment opportunities VCs haven’t seen for a while.

The interesting part of this shift is that VCs are taking a more holistic or “systems” approach to investing than they typically do in developed markets. Traditionally, VCs evaluate each investment as a discrete entity; the firms in their portfolio rarely interact with one another. In contrast, emerging-market VCs such as Nadathur Holdings (established in 2000 by N.S. Raghavan, one of Infosys’ co-founders) create intentional links between firms. Nadathur’s portfolio includes firms operating in drug discovery research, companion diagnostics, pharmaceutical analytics, reimbursement claims processing, patient relationship management, and specialty healthcare delivery for running clinical trials — and they all work together. In effect, the VCs at Nadathur Holdings serve as the executive team for a miniature healthcare innovation ecosystem.

Why do VCs in emerging markets take a systems approach? Because of three significant challenges innovators face in emerging markets:

  1. Innovation ecosystems are not well-developed. The supporting industries that an early-stage tech start-up needs simply don’t exist locally. VCs encourage upstream and downstream, often service-based, investments. These can be exited at lower multiples, with the trade-off of higher success rates for the R&D-intensive high-multiple investments.
  2. Technology-intensive firms are expected to generate revenues before they make an exit; local investors are reluctant to put money into start-ups centered on intellectual property. Portfolio firms upstream or downstream can help establish commercial proof, generate retained earnings and make it easier to get additional customers.
  3. Few local financial intermediaries (including VCs) exist. A portfolio that contains an entire ecosystem helps to decrease risk by allowing inferior business models to be refined or killed faster.

Employers as Doctors

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Unless you spend a lot of time around health policy wonks, you’ve probably never heard of the term “value-based health insurance benefits.”  In fact, you may not even know that it’s the hottest new fad in the field.

Here is my layman’s summary: If you are like most people, you are not a very good consumer of health care. Odds are, you will fall for the latest fad advertised on TV or follow the advice you get at the bridge club instead of buying the care that has been scientifically shown to be better for you.

So as a corrective, a lot of employers are finding ways to “nudge” you into better decisions through financial incentives. Say you have a chronic condition and need to take certain medications. Your employer might drop your deductible down to zero (or may even pay your to take them) to encourage your compliance. But for services where there appears to be wasteful overuse (such as MRI scans), the employer might impose a hefty $500 deductible.

This idea intrigued me, so I turned to a rather lengthy article in the Washington Post, which informed that value-based insurance benefits are incorporated into the new health reform law, “including the requirement that new insurance provide free recommended preventive services such as mammograms and colon cancer screenings.”

In the world of big business, this idea is all the rage. One in every five employers employing at least 500 people is already doing it. Four in five employers who employ at least 10,000 workers say they are interested.

So if big business is for it; the government is mandating it; and health policy wonks like it; how could anyone possibly obj-……..

Getting an Estimate

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A couple of years ago my primary care physician suggested that I have a colonoscopy at the age of 47. My father died from Hodgkin’s disease at 34 and my mom survived breast cancer in her 40’s. I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome so she suggested that I have my colon checked out just in case. She recommended a very experienced gastroenterologist at a major Boston hospital.

My insurance would not cover the procedure because I am younger than 50, so I called the hospital to investigate how much it would cost me to have the procedure. Their first answer was that they did not know because no one had ever called in with that question before. This is a hospital which probably does more than one thousand of these every year.

I was transferred to someone else who was more helpful. She said it would depend quite a bit on what they discovered while I was undergoing the colonoscopy, but gave me a range of $2,000 to $4,500. I asked if there would be other charges and she said that the physician screening could cost $770 or more.

Watson: A Computer So Smart, It Can Say, “Yes, Doctor”

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Game Show Watson wants to be a doctor. Well, almost.

Fresh off a commanding victory on Jeopardy, IBM will try to demonstrate that the combination of advanced natural language processing and sophisticated algorithmic decision-making capabilities involved in its extraordinary Watson computer can help humankind, not merely humiliate human competitors.

As I wrote on a previous blog, IBM began eying the medical marketplace more than 45 years ago. IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson, Jr. – son of the IBM CEO for whom this computer was named – put it this way in 1965: “The widespread use [of computers]…in hospitals and physicians’ offices will instantaneously give a doctor or a nurse a patient’s entire medical history, eliminating both guesswork and bad recollection, and sometimes making a difference between life and death.”

Now, IBM is ready to turn that vision into reality. At heart, Watson is the world’s most sophisticated question-answering machine. The company is collaborating with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. IBM will also work with Nuance Communications, Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, “possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.” For Nuance, it could be a major business line, and promises to carry over in the not too distant future to the mobile phone market, such as Apple’s iPhone, where Nuance is a major presence.