My Group Health and “Killer Apps”

Here at the Center for Information Therapy’s Ix Conference,
transparency is the name of the game. Transparency in information transfer, information therapy, also literal transparency – we’re surrounded by tons of
glass and steel here, late-morning light is streaming in, and attendees zone out to a sweet view of the Washington Monument.

James Hereford, executive VP of Strategic Services
and Quality for Group Health Cooperative (Seattle), has the smooth
charm that tells you he has a sales background. He’s taking us on a tour of Group Health’s portal – My Group Health.

His pitch – "My Group Health" is a combo of killer apps, including:

1. EMRs

Secure messaging (between doc and patient)…Group Health has
received/sent these from all over the world, every continent, including

Automated results sharing (lab results)

4. After visit summary

5. Integrated health profile

Hereford’s thesis on the main difficulty of HIT adoption – it’s "completely
psychological." Providers (1k in the Group Health network) didn’t believe the patient should
have ANY information before they did. There’s a shocker.

But as James points out – "You don’t have to be a brain
surgeon to look at your lab results and figure out if they’re outside the
normal range."

Health skips over all those pesky "who owns medical information" questions and slaps the information up in the EMR for both patient and provider to see – EMRs are populated with lab results in real time, available
to patient and provider (via login) for review simultaneously.

way Group Health gets it right (I’ve harped on this at Health
Management Rx before) – they invite actual patients to join execs at the strategic planning level. There are actual patients! On their Board! GH’s Board of Trustees is composed of consumers.

Hereford is also very good at giving the press meaty little soundbites. A few:

  • "Adoption of technology in healthcare has nothing to do with technology."
  • "More to do with the economics of our screwed up industry than it has to do with our technology."
  • Who’s doing the heavy lifting behind this integrated platform? Healthwise is content vendor; Epic. Per James, it "took ‘bludgeoning’ to bring those 2 parties together."

As I watch James walk us through the program, I’m happy to see someone paying attention to both "empathy" (the patient connection and having power over our own personal health narrative) and "efficiency" (sharing quantitative data on how well this stuff is working).

After seeing more of Myca and Jay Parkinson’s baby Hello Health at HIMSS earlier this week, and perusing the Group Health system, I feel incredibly privileged to have seen probably the two best PHRs on the market (sorry Google, HealthVault, just one blogger’s view). I’d use Hello Health in a hot second, with Group Health running a close second, but to be fair, My Group Health is the most-proven model.

One feeling that’s reinforced here, but hopefully will be dispelled by
upcoming demos panel (moderated by Matthew Holt, who is suffering the
indignity of ranging around without a nametag):

Far too many HIT
programs are like dead, bloated fish you see washed up on the beach –
way past their expiration dates. A while ago, they would have been
tasty, but now they just smell.

Hereford breaks my mental
railing against text-heavy, clunky EHRs by saying that at first, Group
Health had to overcome significant physician aversion to being ‘always
on call’ for patients…"Every physician on our staff believed patients
have no lives, and
they’re just standing around that portal waiting to sends message after

In the process of combining information in a format accessible to both patients and providers, Group Health is also breaking down barriers between docs and patients. Consumer centric care, ho!

Fortunately, Group Health has some quantitative data
that makes a fears related to consumer involvement seem like total the total bollocks they
are…"We’ve had 2 people who’ve abused this over 8

People aren’t sitting there waiting to storm their providers
with trivial data – e-patients in particular are aware of the time
crunch for docs. According to Hereford, a physician’s time is "the most precious resource in the system."

Also, for those who say people don’t want to ‘consume’ healthcare IT and personal health data…swallow these stats:

  • For the week of June 2, 2008, almost half of adult
    enrollees are using the integrated EMR – 48.2%.
  • Last WEEK alone Group Health sent 6,304 secure messages
    (threads between physicians and patients) that’s 6,304 potential
    visits, figure 20 minutes each, for a potential time savings of ….126080 minutes.
  • 45,769
    labs were viewed on the system. Again, patients can see results in REAL
    TIME at the same moment physicians are first granted access.

According to James, this investment in HIT is paying off. In addition to time saved, headaches avoided, reduced nurse abuse, and other side benefits, Group Health enjoys incredibly
high customer satisfaction rates- above 94.5%.

In one survey, post-implementation, Group Health asked patients "What would you have done if you
didn’t have secure messaging?" Reply: "I would have phoned the health clinic." The cost savings here too are astronomical. Secure messaging cost (per use) is 3$, telephone call is 16$, this is quite the cost savings.

Not only do patients like "the online stuff," they like "everything else a little better because of the online stuff."

Amen to that James, amen to that.

4 replies »

  1. “transparency is the name of the game.”
    Would that include “PRICE” transparency? Ok so the doc doesn’t have to call me back with my lab results – I can like that, but where is the cost saving for the patient/system, or is this just another profit motive for providers?