Back in the mid-1990s, I did a lot of web work for traditional media. That often meant figuring out what the client was already doing on the web, and how it was going, so I’d find the techies in the company, and ask them what they were doing, and how it was going. Then I’d tell management what I’d learned. This always struck me as a waste of my time and their money; I was like an overpaid bike messenger, moving information from one part of the firm to another. I didn’t understand the job I was doing until one meeting at a magazine company.
The thing that made this meeting unusual was that one of their programmers had been invited to attend, so management could outline their web strategy to him. After the executives thanked me for explaining what I’d learned from log files given me by their own employees just days before, the programmer leaned forward and said “You know, we have all that information downstairs, but nobody’s ever asked us for it.”
I remember thinking “Oh, finally!” I figured the executives would be relieved this information was in-house, delighted that their own people were on it, maybe even mad at me for charging an exorbitant markup on local knowledge. Then I saw the look on their faces as they considered the programmer’s offer. The look wasn’t delight, or even relief, but contempt. The situation suddenly came clear: I was getting paid to save management from the distasteful act of listening to their own employees.
Continue reading “Healthcare.Gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: Healthcare.gov, HIT, IT, Management, Web Development
Nov 26, 2013
Recently, the President of the United States, the most powerful person on earth, the man whose finger rests on the nuclear button, struck a bold blow for . . . procurement reform?
“There are a whole range of things that we’re going to need to do once we get [the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rollout] fixed—to talk about federal procurement when it comes to IT and how that’s organized,” the president said on November 4, speaking to a group of donors and supporters.
People are clamoring for heads to roll, and the president is talking about what just could be the geekiest, most obscure topic ever to clog a federal bureaucrat’s inbox. Procurement reform? Has he gone off the deep end?
Well, not really. Among the causes of healthcare.gov’s difficulties, the federal process for purchasing goods and services could rank right up there with toxic politics, lack of funding for ACA implementation, and management goofs. Let me explain why, from personal experience.
From 2009 to 2011, I served as National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. My job was to implement the HITECH ACT, which aims to create a nationwide, interoperable, private, and secure electronic health information system. As national coordinator I had to lead a lot of federal contracts.
This is how that went.
Continue reading “A Tale of Two IT Procurements”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: David Blumenthal, Healthcare.gov, HIT, IT procurement, Obama administration
Nov 24, 2013
While there has been much focus lately on the ways in which ObamaCare is chilling the growth of private business, we should not overlook the continuing deleterious effects of the one surviving relic of HillaryCare, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Quietly, September 23 came and went as the compliance effective date for a new rule, expanding the reach of HIPAA, and likely driving many smaller players out of the health care industry.
Spearheaded by then First Lady Clinton, HIPAA was established in 1996 to improve privacy of personal health information, referred to as protected health information, or PHI. It requires health care providers, known as “covered entities,” and their vendors, contractors, and agents with access to PHI, known as “business associates,” to comply with certain privacy standards under its “Privacy Rule,” and with certain security standards under its “Security Rule,” in order to protect sensitive health information that is held or transferred in electronic form.
Over the past decade, equipped with the noble aim of protecting our privacy, HIPAA has successfully demonstrated the power of the law of unintended consequences. Improved protection of PHI has been marginal. However, HIPAA has impeded communication among physicians, reduced physician time devoted to patient care, and deterred medical research. And all at an enormous cost of compliance. While estimates vary widely, the cost of compliance for many providers has been in the millions.
Now, rather than take heed, the government has decided to double down through expansion. Under the Health Information and Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), a corollary of HIPAA, promulgated to create incentives to facilitate the development of healthcare information technology, the government has sought to update the requirements of HIPAA in light of the changing dynamics of technology and health practices, increasing the safeguards and obligations of health care providers and their business associates.
Continue reading “Another Law Raising the Cost of Health Care”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: HHS, HIPAA, HIPAA Omnibus Rule, HIT, HITECH Act, Josh Tenzer, Patient privacy
Nov 21, 2013
I’ve recently written about healthcare.gov and the lesson that going live too soon creates a very unpleasant memory.
As I work with healthcare leaders in Boston, in New England, and throughout the country, I’m seeing signs that well resourced medical centers will struggle with Meaningful Use stage 2 attestation, ICD-10 go live, HIPAA Omnibus Rule readiness, and Accountable Care Act implementation, all of which have 2013-2014 deadlines.
People are working hard. Priority setting is appropriate. Funding is available.
The problem is that the scope is too big and the timeline is too short.
What are the risks?
Continue reading “Fine Tuning the National Health IT Timeline”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: Accountable Care Act, HIPAA Omnibus Rule, HIT, ICD-10, John Halamka, Meaningful Use Stage 2, National Health IT Timeline
Nov 20, 2013
So I was at TechfestNW earlier this fall and I had the opportunity to hear James Keller at WalmartLabs speak about the importance of having a minimum valuable (versus viable) product that is tied into the user experience. It is how the user’s emotional response to the application’s interface, which is so important to have, that gives a product meaning.
And this concept (although I admit I completely stumbled upon it) is at the very heart of what makes NOSH ChartingSystem so different. As I have stated on my blogs before and on my Indiegogo campaign site, I wanted to have an EHR that was both intuitive to use AS WELL AS having an interface that was calming and meaningful at the same time. So as an example from the medical world, having a pain scale is pretty good indicator of how user-friendly your application is.
An analogous concept is the OMG-to-WTF scale (see above).
Where does your EMR stand on the scale?
Continue reading “The OMG to WTF? EMR Pain Scale”
Filed Under: Tech
Tagged: Design, EHR, HIT, Michael Chen, Patients, Physicians
Nov 19, 2013
I’ve written several posts about the frustrating aspects of Meaningful Use Stage 2 Certification. The Clinical Quality Measures (CQMs) are certainly one of problem spots, using standards that are not yet mature, and requiring computing of numerators and denominators that are not based on data collected as part of clinical care workflow.
There is a chasm between quality measurement expectations and EHR workflow realities causing pain to all the stakeholders – providers, government, and payers. Quality measures are often based on data that can only be gathered via manual chart abstraction or prompting clinicians for esoteric data elements by interrupting documentation.
How do we fix CQMs?
1. Realign quality measurement entity expectations by limiting calculations (call it the CQM developers palette) to data which are likely to exist in EHRs. Recently, Yale created a consensus document, identifying data elements that are consistently populated and of sufficient reliability to serve in measure computations. This is a good start.
2. Add data elements to the EHRs over time and ensure that structured data input fields use value sets from the Value Set Authority Center (VSAC) at NLM. The National Library of Medicine keeps a Meaningful Use data element catalog that is likely to expand in future stages of Meaningful Use.
Continue reading “Quality Measurement 2.0″
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: HIT, John Halamka, Meaningful Use, Meaningful Use Stage 2, Quality measurement
Nov 6, 2013
Remember the Ford Pinto and the AMC Pacer, aka the Pregnant Pinto?
Both serve as reminders of an in era in which the American auto industry lost its way and assumed drivers would buy whatever they put on the lot. Foreign competition, primarily from Japan, filled the void created by American apathy for quality and design, and the industry has never been the same.
Admittedly, the comparison of cars and EHRs is less than apt, but health IT also assumes healthcare will buy what we’re selling because the feds are paying them to. And, like the Pinto, what we’re selling inspires something less than awe. In short, we are failing our clinical users.
Why? Because we’re cramming for the exam, not trying to actually learn anything.
Myopic efforts to meet certification and compliance requirements have added functionality and effort tangential to the care of the patient. Clinicians feel like they are working for the system instead of it working for them. The best EHRs are focused on helping physicians take care of patients, with Meaningful Use and ICD-10 derivative of patient care and documentation.
I recently had dinner with a medical school colleague who gave me insight into what it’s like to practice in the new healthcare era. A urologist in a very busy Massachusetts private practice, he is privileged to use what most consider “the best EHR.”
Arriving from his office for a 7 PM dinner, he looked exhausted, explaining that he changed EHRs last year and it’s killing him. His day starts at 7 AM and he’s in surgery till noon. Often double or triple booked, he sees 24 patients in the afternoon, scribbling notes on paper throughout as he has no time for the EHR. After dinner he spends 1.5 to 2 hours going over patient charts, dictating and entering charges. What used to take 1 hour now requires much more with the need to enter Meaningful Use data and ICD coding into the EHR. He says he is “on a treadmill,” that it should be called “Meaningless Use,” and he can’t imagine what it will be like “when ICD-10 hits.”
My friend’s experience is representative, not anecdotal. A recent survey by the American College of Physicians and American EHR Partners provides insight into perceptions of Meaningful Use among clinicians.
According to the survey, between 2010 and 2012, general user satisfaction fell 12 percent and very dissatisfied users increased by 10 percent.
Continue reading “Darwinian Health IT: Only Well-Designed EHRs Will Survive”
Filed Under: Tech
Tagged: Design, Edmund Billings, EHR, HIT, ICD-10, Meaningful Use
Oct 23, 2013
Now that our federal government is back at work and the short term debt ceiling thing is resolved, it should be no surprise that the news cycle is now obsessed with Obamacare and its flawed implementation. Over the weekend I must have seen a dozen articles about this online and in the NY Times, and then I woke up this morning to a bunch of new things about the Healthcare.gov site underlying tech, how screwed up it is, and what / how the Health and Human Services agency is going to do to fix it.
The punch line – a tech surge.
To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering.
Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov. We’re also putting in place tools and processes to aggressively monitor and identify parts of HealthCare.gov where individuals are encountering errors or having difficulty using the site, so we can prioritize and fix them. We are also defining new test processes to prevent new issues from cropping up as we improve the overall service and deploying fixes to the site during off-peak hours on a regular basis.
From my perspective, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Many years ago I read Fredrick Brooks iconic book on software engineering – The Mythical Man-Month. One of his key messages is that adding additional software engineers to an already late project will just delay things more. I like to take a different approach – if a project is late, take people off the project, shrink the scope, and ship it faster.
I think rather than a tech surge, we should have a “tech retreat and reset.” There are four easy steps.
- 1. Shut down everything including taking all the existing sites offline.
- 2. Set a new launch date of July 14, 2014.
- 3. Fire all of the contractors.
- 4. Hire Harper Reed as CTO of Healthcare.gov, give him the ball and 100% of the budget, and let him run with it.
If Harper isn’t available, ask him for three names of people he’d put in charge of this. But put one person – a CTO – in charge. And let them hire a team – using all the budget for individual hires, not government contractors or consulting firms.
Hopefully the government owns all the software even though Healthcare.gov apparently violates open source licenses. Given that, the new CTO and his team can quickly triage what is useful and what isn’t. By taking the whole thing offline for nine months, you aren’t in the hell of trying to fix something while it’s completely broken. It’s still a fire drill, but you are no longer inside the building that is burning to the ground.
It’s 2013. We know a lot more about building complex software than we did in 1980. So we should stop using approaches from the 1980s, admit failure when it happens, and hit reset. Doing a “tech surge” will only end in more tears.
Brad Feld is the managing director at the Foundry Group. This post originally appeared at his site, FeldThoughts.
Filed Under: OP-ED, Tech, THCB
Tagged: Brad Feld, Health Insurance Exchanges, Healthcare.gov, HIT, Tech
Oct 22, 2013
Is this any way to build a railroad?
By now you’ve heard that the “Obamacare exchanges” did not launch on October 1 so much as stumble out into public view, barely able to crawl.
Three weeks later, the federal version — “healthcare.gov,” which is actually the same exchange re-deployed 36 times in 36 states — is still barely able to crawl. By contrast, most of the 15 exchanges operated by individual states and the District of Columbia are working more or less fine, for varying reasons we will explore in a moment.
Why the epic fail for healthcare.gov, estimated to have generated a health insurance enrollment rate of less than one-half of one percent among nearly 10 million visitors? Information technologists have identified lunk-headed flaws in its overall design, while pointing to the way the Federal government rolled it out, all at once, all across the nation — as if it were a campaign commercial and not one of the most complex undertakings in the history of e-commerce.
Which would be for good reason: the federal exchange is a campaign commercial, one the Administration had no choice but to broadcast after its opponents went to war on every front against implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The architects of the ACA expected that states would build their own exchanges. The federal exchange was supposed to be a failsafe — a fallback for a few straggler states unable to build their own in time for the October 1 launch. For the rest, healthcare.gov was supposed to do two things: point people to their state’s exchange; and handle the very complicated task of querying tax and other federal databases to verify people’s eligibility.
Instead, it found itself saddled with the entire e-commerce job for 36 refusenik states.
Continue reading “Healthcare.com Would Have Worked Better”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Health Insurance Exchanges, Healthcare.gov, HIT, J.D. Kleinke, The Affordable Care Act
Oct 20, 2013
Chicago Cubs fans of a certain vintage will never forget broadcaster Harry Carey’s signature line, “Holy cow!” Some have speculated that the exclamation may have originated in Hinduism, one of the world’s major religions, whose adherents worldwide number approximately one billion. Hindus regard cows as maternal, caring figures, symbols of selfless giving in the form of milk, curds, butter, and other important products.
One of the most important figures in the faith, Krishna, is said to have been a cowherd, and one of his names, Govinda, means protector of cows. In short, cows are sacred to Hindus, and their slaughter is banned in virtually all Indian states.
Medicine, too, has its sacred cows, which are well known to physicians, nurses, and patients visited by medical teams on their hospital rounds. In this case, the cow is not an animal but a machine. In particular, it is the computer on wheels, or COW, a contraption that usually consists of a laptop computer mounted on a height-adjustable pole with a rolling base. It is used to enter, store and retrieve medical information, including patients’ diagnoses, vital signs, medications, and laboratory results, as well as to record new orders.
As the team moves from room to room and floor to floor, the COW is pushed right along. The COW is often treated with a degree of deference seemingly bordering on reverence. For one thing, people in hallways and patients’ rooms are constantly making way for the COW. As an expensive and essential piece of equipment, it is handled gingerly. Often only the senior member of the medical team or his or her lieutenant touches the COW.
Others know that they have said something important when they see the chief keyboarding the information into the COW. Sometimes it plays an almost oracular role. When questions arise to which no one knows the answer, such as the date of a patient’s admission or the time course of a fever, they often consult the COW. Just as cows wandering the streets of Indian cities often obstruct traffic, so healthcare’s COWS can and often do get in the way of good medicine. Continue reading “Should We Sacrifice Medicine’s Sacred COW?”
Filed Under: Tech
Tagged: computer on wheels (COW), Data, doctor/ patient relationship, EHR, HIT, Patients, philosophy, practice of medicine, Providers, Richard Gunderman
Oct 14, 2013