NEW @ THCB PRESS: Surviving Workplace Wellness. Spring 2014. Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. e-book edition. # LIGHTHOUSE Healthcare. Illuminated.

Meaningful Use

We continue to see progress in improving the nation’s health care system, and a key tool to helping achieve that goal is the increased use of electronic health records by the nation’s doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers. These electronic tools serve as the infrastructure to implementing reforms that improve care – many of which are part of the Affordable Care Act.

Doctors and hospitals are using these tools to reduce mistakes and hospital readmissions, provide patients with more information that enable them to stay healthy, and allow for rewarding health care providers for delivering quality, not quantity, of care.

The adoption of those tools is reflected today in a release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics which provides a view of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program and indicates the program is healthy and growing steadily.

The 2013 data from the annual National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey are encouraging:

  • Nearly 80% of office-based physicians used some type of electronic health record system, an increase of 60 percentage points since 2001 and nearly double the percent in 2008 (42%), the year before the Health Information Technology and Economic and Clinical Health Act passed as part of the Recovery Act in 2009.
  • About half of office-based physicians surveyed said they use a system that qualifies as a “basic system,” up from just 11% in 2006.
  • Almost 70% of office-based physicians noted their intent to participate in the EHR incentive program.

Figure 1. Percentage of office-based physicians with EHR systems: United States, 2001-2013

The report also noted that 13% of physicians who responded said they both intended to participate in the incentive program and had a system that could support 14 of the Meaningful Use Stage 2 “core set of objectives,” ahead of target dates. This survey was performed in early 2013 – before 2014 certified products were even available.

Continue reading “Survey Says: EHR Incentive Program Is on Track”

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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″

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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”

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Now that Labor Day has come and gone,  I’ve thought about the months ahead and the major challenges I’ll face.

1.  Mergers and Acquisitions

Healthcare in the US is not a system of care, it’s a disconnected collection of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, labs, and imaging centers.  As the Affordable Care Act rolls out, many accountable care organizations are realizing that the only way to survive is to create “systemness” through mergers, acquisitions, and affiliations. The workflow to support systemness may require different IT approaches than we’ve used in the past. We’ve been successful  to date by leaving existing applications in place and building bidirectional clinical sharing interfaces via  ”magic button” viewing and state HIE summary exchange. Interfacing is great for many purposes.  Integration is better for others, such as enterprise appointment scheduling and care management. Requirements for systemness have not yet been defined, but there could be significant future work ahead to replace existing systems with a single integrated application.

2.  Regulatory uncertainty

Will ICD10 proceed on the October 1, 2014 timeline?  All indications in Washington are that deadlines will not be changed. Yet, I’m concerned that payers, providers and government will not be ready to support the workflow changes required for successful ICD10 implementation.    Will all aspects of the new HIPAA Omnibus rule be enforced including the “self pay” provision which restricts information flow to payers?  Hospitals nationwide are not sure how to comply with the new requirements.   Will Meaningful Use Stage 2 proceed on the current aggressive timeline?  Products to support MU2 are still being certified yet hospitals are expected to begin attestation reporting periods as early as October 1.   With Farzad Mostashari’s departure from ONC, the new national coordinator will have to address these challenging implementation questions against a backdrop of a Congress which wants to see the national HIT program move faster.

3.  Meaningful Use Stage 2 challenges

Although attestation criteria are very clear (and achievable), certification is quite complex, especially for a small self development shop like mine.   One of my colleagues at a healthcare institution in another state noted that 50 developers and 4 full analysts are hard at work at certification for their self built systems.   I have 25 developers and a part time analyst available for the task.   I’ve read every script and there are numerous areas in certification which go beyond the functionality needed for attestation.    Many EHR vendors have described their certification burden to me. I am hopeful that ONC re-examines the certification process and does two things – removes those sections that add unnecessary complexity and makes certification clinically relevant by using scenarios that demonstrate a real world workflow supporting the functionality needed for attestation.

Continue reading “What Keeps Me Up At Night – 2013 Edition”

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In the wake of the National Coordinator’s announcement that he is departing, there has been a flurry of tweets, blog posts, impromptu online polls, and conjecture about the most likely successor.  To date, none of these conversations has resulted in a thoughtful assessment of the set of characteristics that would represent the ideal candidate, nor has there been any thorough review of the most likely candidates in the context of these attributes.  The need for a rapid transition to a successor is well understood by all – yet there has been no indication that the Obama administration is in a hurry.  Let’s hope that we can evolve them toward a greater sense of urgency. The fragility of ONC – and the importance of its health – can’t be overlooked.

Let’s consider some history:

The first two National Coordinators, David Brailer and Rob Kolodner, were appointed before ARRA.  The agency was small, focused largely on certification (through CCHIT), standards (through HITSP) and policy.  When ARRA arrived, David Blumenthal, a thoughtful, deliberate, policy-savvy internal medicine physician from Boston was brought in to lead the rapid expansion of health IT that was facilitated by the HITECH Act.

ONC expanded under Blumenthal from a team of ~ 30 people to a team of >100 in the two years that he was at the helm, and the agency published the 2011 certification criteria regulations, and collaborated with CMS to publish the regulations that defined stage 1 of the Meaningful Use incentive program.  The policy foundation was that the three-stage program – to be implemented over six years – would evolve the nation’s care delivery system by causing adoption of EHR technology (stage 1) and then exchange of clinical information electronically (stage 2) and finally improved clinical outcomes (stage 3).

Farzad Mostashari, who joined Blumenthal as the Deputy National Coordinator early in Dr Blumenthal’s tenure, was quickly named as Blumenthal’s successor when Blumenthal announced his resignation in the Spring of 2011.  Both Mostashari and Blumenthal pushed hard for Mostashari’s appointment – so that the consistency, focus and forward momentum of the organization could be maintained.

And so it was.  Under ARRA, adoption of EHRs has skyrocketed.  The CMS MU Stage 2 regulations and the ONC 2014 certification regulations were published, and the size of the agency has doubled to over 150 people.  Recognizing the need for experienced partners to assist him in leading a larger agency – and growing national reliance on health IT and an essential component of the care delivery ecosystem – Mostashari hired David Muntz as the “Principal Deputy” (essentially the COO of the agency), Jacob Reider as Chief Medical Officer (leading a team of clinicians focused on quality and safety) and Judy Murphy as the Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy (adding internal coordination support for ONC programs).

Continue reading “Replacing Farzad”

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It has been nearly 6 months since I started my new practice, since I took the jump (or, more accurately, was pushed off the ledge) into a brave new world.  It seems very distant, like I should get Shirley MacLaine or Gwyneth Paltrow to help me channel my old sad self.  It is tempting.

I have a vague recollection, a memory shrouded in mist, where I pondered what seemed like a radical question: What would a health record look like if my only concern was patient care? This was a radical question because in my previous life I was an electronic health record aficionado.  I was good at EMR, which meant that I was really good at finding work-arounds:

  • How can I work around the requirements for bloated documents and produce records that are actually useful?  The goal of records in that previous life was to justify billing, not for patient care.
  • How can I work around the financial necessity to keep my schedule unreasonably full and keep my visits unreasonably short and still give good care?
  • How can I work around the fact that I am paid better when people are sick and still try to keep them healthy?
  • How can I work around the increased amount of my time devoted to qualifying for “meaningful use” and still give care that is meaningful?

Computers were all about automating the drudgery, organizing the chaos, and carving out a sliver of time so I could spend the extra minutes needed to give the care I wanted to give.  I was using them to give good care despite the real nature of the medical record: a vehicle for billing.

But that was my past life. Now I no longer have to worry about a Medicare audit (and the looming threat of an accusation of “fraud” for simply not obeying the impossible documentation rules).  I no longer have to keep my office full and my patients sick enough to pay the bills.  I am actually rewarded for handing problems early, for communicating well, and for keeping patients healthy and happy, as it keeps them paying the monthly subscription fee.

Ironically, in asking the question, what would a health record look like  if my only concern was patient care,  I was really asking the question: What does “meaningful use” of the record really look like?

Now this question is no longer a hypothetical; it is real.
Continue reading “Really Meaningful Use”

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One of the computer applications that has received the most attention in healthcare is Watson, the IBM system that achieved fame by beating humans at the television game show, Jeopardy!. Sometimes it seems there is such hype around Watson that people do not realize what the system actually does. Watson is a type of computer application known as a “question-answering system.” It works similarly to a search engine, but instead of retrieving “documents” (e.g., articles, Web pages, images, etc.), it outputs “answers” (or at least short snippets of text that are likely to contain answers to questions posed to it).

As one who has done research in information retrieval (IR, also sometimes called “search”) for over two decades, I am interested in how Watson works and how well it performs on the tasks for which it is used. As someone also interested in IR applied to health and biomedicine, I am even more curious about its healthcare applications. Since winning at Jeopardy!, Watson has “graduated medical school” and “started its medical career”. The latter reference touts Watson as an alternative to the “meaningful use” program providing incentives for electronic health record (EHR) adoption, but I see Watson as a very different application, and one potentially benefitting from the growing quantity of clinical data, especially the standards-based data we will hopefully see in Stage 2 of the program. (I also have skepticism for some of these proposed uses of Watson, such as its “crunching” through EHR data to “learn” medicine. Those advocating Watson performing this task need to understand the limits to observational studies in medicine.)

One concern I have had about Watson is that the publicity around it has been mostly news articles and press releases. As an evidence-based informatician, I would like to see more scientific analysis, i.e., what does Watson do to improve healthcare and how successful is it at doing so? I was therefore pleased to come across a journal article evaluating Watson [1]. In this first evaluation in the medical domain, Watson was trained using several resources from internal medicine, such as ACP MedicinePIERMerck Manual, and MKSAP. Watson was applied, and further trained with 5000 questions, in Doctor’s Dilemma, a competition somewhat like Jeopardy! that is run by American College of Physicians and in which medical trainees participate each year. A sample question from the paper is, Familial adenomatous polyposis is caused by mutations of this gene, with the answer being, APC Gene. (Googling the text of the question gives the correct answer at the top of its ranking to this and the two other sample questions provided in the paper).

Watson was evaluated on an additional 188 unseen questions [1]. The primary outcome measure was recall (number of correct answers) at 10 results shown, and performance varied from 0.49 for the baseline system to 0.77 for the fully adapted and trained system. In other words, looking at the top ten answers for these 188 questions, 77% of those Watson provided were correct.

Continue reading “Chapter Nine: In Which Dr. Watson Discovers Med School Is Slightly Tougher Than He Had Been Led to Believe”

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Uwe Reinhardt said it perfectly in a Tuesday plenary but I can only paraphrase his point: “health information is a public good that brings more wealth the more people use it.” Or, as Doc Searls puts it: personal data is worth more the more it is used. Datapalooza is certainly the largest meeting of the year focused on health data, and our Health and Human Services data liberation army was in full regalia. My assessment is: so far, so good but, as always, each data liberation maneuver also reveals the next fortified position just ahead. This post will highlight reciprocity as a new challenge to the data economy.

The economic value of health data is immense. Without our data it’s simply impossible to independently measure quality, get independent second opinions or control family health expenses. The US is wasting $750 Billion per year on health care which boils down to $3,000 per year that each man, woman and child is flushing down the drain.

Data liberation is a battle in the cloud and on the ground. In the cloud, we have waves of data releases from massive federal data arsenals. These are the essential roadmap or graph to guide our health policy decisions. I will say no more about this because I expect Fred Trotter (who is doing an amazing job of leading in this space) will cover the anonymous and statistical aspects of the data economy. Data in the cloud provides the basis for clinical decision support.
Continue reading “Datapalooza Report on Data Economics and a Call for Reciprocity”

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It’s a busy time in Washington, DC. June 3 marks the Datapalooza and begins a week of cheering and reflection on the success of federal initiatives designed to improve health while reducing cost. This year, the big claim is “information following patients” – a combination of federal Stage 2 Meaningful Use regulations, federal Health Information Exchange guidelines and federal open pricing data policies. We’re surely beyond 1,000 pages of federal initiatives around health data and the policy fog seems to be getting thicker every day. The Independent Purchase Decision Support Test is my beacon for whether we’re headed in the right direction.

Here’s a quote from the Meaningful Use Implementation Guidelines to Assure Security and Interoperability just released by ONC:

“In effect, HISPs are creating “islands of automation using a common standard.” This will hamper information following patients where they seek care―including across organizational and vendor boundaries―to support care coordination and Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements.”

How will “information following patients” improve health while reducing cost?

It all depends on where the patient goes to get what. Not surprisingly, federal Accountable Care Organizations and related accountable quality contracts with private payers are exactly about where the patient goes too. The difference between these health reform innovations and the old managed care approach is supposed to be the patient’s ability to choose where to go for a healthcare service. Will Stage 2 and the new federal health information exchange implementation guidelines actually lead to effective patient engagement or is it time to “reboot” the HITECH incentives as some have suggested?

The Independent Purchase Decision Support Test cuts through the techno-jargon and paternalistic framing and goes straight to the heart of the policies that influence the physician-patient decisions to drive health care quality and cost. This the essence of patient engagement and the place where the money in healthcare is actually spent.

Continue reading “The Independent Purchase Decision Support Test”

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“No aspect of health IT entails as much uncertainty as the magnitude of its potential benefits.”

A few years into the Meaningful Use program, it seems this quote from a 2008 Congressional Budget Office report entitled “Evidence on the Costs and Benefits of Health Information Technology” may have been written with the assistance of a crystal ball.

Fast forward to 2013.

“Just from reading a week’s worth of news, it’s obvious that we don’t really know whether healthcare IT is better or worse off than before [Meaningful Use incentives],” popular blogger and health IT observer Mr. HIStalk wrote earlier this year.

So, perhaps RAND was hypnotized by Cerner funding when they created their rosy prognosis (hearken back, if you will, to 2005 and the projected $81 billion in annual healthcare savings). Maybe they were just plain wrong and the most recent RAND report stands as a tacit mea culpa.

Either way, we’re left with hypotheses that, while not incontrovertible, are gaining traction:

  1. Health IT benefits will manifest gradually over an extended timeframe.
  2. Those benefits will not quickly morph into reduced costs, if they ever do.
  3. Because of 1 and 2, investing in a hugely expensive electronic health record system is potentially risky.

How risky? Without question, massive health IT expense and the predominant proprietary IT model are threats to a hospital or health system’s financial viability, to its solvency.

We’re seeing some examples even now.

Continue reading “For Hospitals On the Edge, HIT Is the Tipping Point”

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