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Health Information Technology: Sorry, There’s No Turning Back!

flying cadeuciiThe American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), sometimes called the Stimulus Actwas an $831 billion economic stimulus package enacted by the 111th Congress in February 2009 and signed into law on February 17, 2009 by the President.

It included $22 billion as incentives to encourage adoption of certified electronic medical records in hospitals and medical practices. The rationale behind the policy directive was clear: system-wide implementation of electronic medical records enables improvement in diagnostics and treatment coordination, fewer errors, and better coordination of patient care by teams of providers.

Almost immediately, the medical community cried foul.

Their primary beef: the cost to implement these new systems would not be recovered by the incentives.

Similarly, physicians pushed back on the conversion of the U.S. coding system from ICD-9 to ICD-10. They did not question the need for the upgrade: the increase from 19,000 to 68,000 codes is necessary to more accurately capture all relevant clinical aspects of a patient’s condition and align our data gathering with 20 other developed systems of the world where ICD-10 is already used.

That health insurers, medical groups, hospitals and others must use the same coding system that reflects advances in how we diagnose and treat seems a no brainer. But some physicians pushed back due to costs and disruption in their practices.

Last week, physicians won a battle: the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced it was delaying the deadline for implementation of ICD-10 for a year, to October 1, 2015.

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An Example of Bad Design: This App’s Interface for Entering Blood Pressure

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 7.24.01 PM

Here’s a design approach that I really, really dislike: the scrolling wheel that is often used for number entry in iOS apps:

I find that the scrolling wheel makes it very tiresome to enter numbers, and much prefer apps that offer a number pad, or another way to touch the number you need. (Or at least decrease the number at hand in sensible increments.)

You may think I’m being too picky, but I really think our ability to leverage technology will hinge in part on these apps and devices being very usable.

And that usability has to be considered for everyone involved: patients, caregivers, and clinicians.

Why am I looking at an app to enter blood pressure?

Let me start by saying that ideally nobody should be entering vitals data manually. (Not me, not the patient, not the caregivers, not the assisted-living facility staff.)

Instead, we should all be surrounded by BP machines that easily send their data to some computerized system, and said system should then be able to display and share the data without too much hassle.

But, we don’t yet live in this world, to my frequent mild sorrow. This means that it’s still a major hassle to have regular people track what is probably the number one most useful data for us in internal medicine and geriatrics: blood pressure (BP) & pulse.

Why is BP and pulse data so useful, so often?

To begin with, we need this data when people are feeling unwell, as it helps us assess how serious things might be.

And of course, even when people aren’t acutely ill, we often need this data. That’s because most of our patients are either:

  • Taking medication that affects BP and pulse (like cardiovascular meds, but many others affect as well)
  • Living with a chronic condition that can affect BP and pulse (such as a-fib)
  • All the above

As we know, the occasional office-based measurement is a lousy way to ascertain usual BP (which is relevant for chronic meds), and may not capture episodic disturbances.

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Cracking the Code on Health Information Exchange. Is It Time to Wipe the Slate Clean and Start Anew?

Three related columns in HealthcareITNews caught my attention recently.

The headlines pretty much say it all:

1. Satisfaction with HIE solutions drops.

2.  Vendors missing boat on HIE needs.

3.  CommonWell names 3 biggest HIE hurdles.

Over the years, I’ve written more than a few HealthBlog posts on the topic of health information exchange (HIE) and why I feel so strongly that most of the initiatives currently underway are missing their mark.

As I’ve stated before, during my worldwide travels I haven’t yet come across a country that has accomplished a truly national, interoperable, bi-directional, fully functional HIE.

Those few countries that come close are more like a large American city or small state in size, perhaps mirroring some of the moderately successful regional or state-wide exchanges currently operating in America. Over the years I’ve also watched implosions of national HIE attempts in several countries that have failed miserably despite billions of dollars being spent on the efforts.

Reading each of the articles referenced above, I once again reach the conclusion that what I have been evangelizing as a better model for HIEs still rings true.

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Commentology: Actually, High-Tech Imaging Can Be High-Value Medicine

Our comments regarding this interesting blog,  and the comments to the blog, may seem tangential to the author’s points.

The blog and comments point, we think, to a confusing set of principles being considered, perhaps, out of context?

Those comments range from: ACOs will lead to better figuring out what is best (impossible) –  to mismatched information regarding a specific clinical case (reasonable).  What is striking is that we have medical students worrying about costs of care.

Instead, shouldn’t we be teaching them to understand the value of information for decision-making? Shouldn’t we be teaching them the concepts of co-dependent testing leading to all tests being less useful than we think?

Shouldn’t we be teaching students the concepts of decision-analysis, and thresholds, and patient’s being involved in the decisions? Shouldn’t we be teaching that it is better to know than to think we know? Shouldn’t we be doing studies rather than scratching at the “tragedy of the commons” (so many physicians feasting on the grassy fields of a sick patient)?

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How Mayo Clinic Is Using iPads to Empower Patients

Throughout the world, companies are embracing mobile devices to set customer expectations, enlist them in satisfying their own needs, and get workers to adhere to best practices. An effort under way at the Mayo Clinic shows how such technology can be used to improve outcomes and lower costs in health care.

Defining the care a patient can expect to receive and what the road to recovery will look like is crucial. When care expectations are not well defined or communicated, the process of care may drift, leading to unwarranted variation, reduced predictability, longer hospital stays, higher costs, poorer outcomes, and patient and provider dissatisfaction.

With all this in mind, a group at the Mayo Clinic led by the four of us developed and implemented a standardized practice model over a three-year period (2010-2012) that significantly reduced variation and improved predictability of care in adult cardiac surgery.

One of the developments that germinated in that effort was the interactive Mayo myCare program, which uses an iPad to provide patients with detailed descriptions of their treatment plans and clinical milestones, educational materials, and a daily “To Do” list, and to report their progress and identify problems to their providers.

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Uber for Health Care?? Not So Much.

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way:

We love Uber.

As physicians with roots in the Bay Area, we use Uber all the time. The service is convenient, (usually) swift and consistently pleasant. With a few taps of a smartphone, we know where and when we’ll be picked up — and we can see the Uber driver coming to get us in real time.

When the vagaries of San Francisco public transit don’t accommodate our varying schedules, it’s Uber that’s the most reliable form of transportation. (It might be that we like having some immediate gratification.)

So when we caught wind of the news that Uber’s founding architect, Oscar Salazar, has taken on the challenge of applying the “Uber way” to health care delivery, there was quite a bit to immediately like. From our collective vantage point, Uber’s appeal is obvious. When you’re feeling sick, you want convenience and immediacy in your care — two things Uber has perfected.

And who wouldn’t be excited by the idea of keeping patients out of overcrowded emergency rooms and urgent care waiting rooms? The concept of returning those patients to their homes (where they can then be evaluated and receive basic care) seems so simple that it’s brilliant.

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Google Glass: A Paradigm Shift in Assessing Procedure Competency?

I recently had the privilege of becoming a Google Glass Explorer.  Basically, this means I walk around with a funky pair of glass frames and look strange – even for an urban hospital setting.

The Glass has a built in camera, and a small display that you can see with numerous apps ranging from GPS navigation to searching the Web.  As cool as this the technology is – is there any utility in the healthcare setting?

There is the capability of video chat, where a consulting physician can see what I would be seeing in the operating room, and tell me what I may be looking at and what to do next. Pristine Eyesight, based in Austin Texas, is trialing this use of  Glass in University of California, Irvine. Applications for nursing are being developed as well.  Yet will this truly impact quality? I am not sure.

Yet one thing that intrigues me about the Glass is the perspective given when using the video function.  I recorded some small surgical procedures and reviewed the video afterwards. I watched where I placed my hands, how I held the needle driver, where I took my bites, and in general – what I looked at during the case.

I felt like an NFL Coach reviewing game tape.  For the first time in my surgical career, I was able to really see what I did, a perspective that I had never before experienced. This lightweight device with built in eye protection was far more comfortable than any helmet-cam I had used, and the line of sight was right in tune with my visual field. So I began thinking – is there a way this tool can improve outcomes in healthcare?

According to the American College of Surgeons, almost 5,000,000 central venous catheters are placed annually in this country.  Complications including placement failure, arterial puncture and pneumothorax range from 15-33% in numerous studies.  So how is this common procedure taught?

The classic “watch one, do one, teach one” methodology has been modified over the years.  Now, after watching a few lines placed, house staff must perform a certain number of central line placements (usually 5) under the supervision of a senior resident, fellow or attending.  Once the appropriate number is reached, the trainee is “competent” to perform the procedure on his or her own.   Yet are they truly competent? Perhaps the high complication rates result from a flaw in this classic teaching methodology?

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Caveat User: Understanding the Health Risks of Mobile Devices

Tis the season to, well, buy stuff. Increasingly, the stuff we buy is electronic. In fact, not only that, but increasingly the stuff we buy with is electronic, too. We are using gizmos to shop for gadgets, or possibly gadgets to shop for gizmos.

In any event, we are ever more frequently in the company of the energy fields our electronic devices, and in particular our smart phones, generate. This deserves more attention than most of us accord it.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not suggesting we return to the pre-cell phone days when we lived in dark caves. We are fully ensconced in the electronics era, and there appears to be no going back. I am as fully dependent on electronic devices as anyone, and maybe more than most, living much of my life these days online. Like so many, I am both beneficiary and victim of the attendant efficiencies. On the one hand, I can’t recall how we ever got anything done in the days before instantaneous communication and push-of-a-button document transmission.

On the other, I do long for the freedom of the time before an unending stream of emails became my manacles. I did sleep better in the days before bedtime meant checking one last time to see who in the world needed what, and/or finding out that someone in cyberspace thinks I’m a moron. Oh, well.

Some of the risks related particularly to mobile phone use are well known. The dangers of distracted driving are common knowledge, with cell phone use now implicated in at least 25 percent of all car crashes. There is some evidence that ambient levels of empathy — our ability to understand and connect to one another’s emotional state — are declining, and possibly due to the frequency with which technology comes between us. A recent study among college students finds that more frequent use of cell phones correlates with impairment of academic performance, and increased anxiety — although the study could not prove cause and effect.

But the greatest and most insidious risk of cell phone use pertains to the electromagnetic fields of non-ionizing radiation they produce. What makes this risk insidious is our potential to dismiss it altogether, in part because it is convenient to do so, and in part because it’s hard to take seriously a potential menace that is totally invisible. I suspect we are all at least somewhat prone to a “what I can’t see, feel, taste, smell or hear can’t hurt me” mentality.

But of course, that’s clearly wrong, as we all have cause to know. Anyone who has ever had an X-ray has experienced first hand the power of an invisible force, in this case ionizing radiation, to penetrate deeply into our bodies. Anyone who has had a MRI has experienced the capacity of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields to do the same. What we can’t see or feel can, in fact, reach to our innermost nooks and crannies, both to produce vivid images of our anatomy — and exert other effects.

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Through Google Glass, Maybe

Everybody is hopping on the wearables bandwagon. Since the publication of my HBR article on wearables, I’ve been asked a number of follow-up questions from executives, tech analysts, and most especially from entrepreneurs.
Though the questions vary, they generally fall into three buckets.

“Aren’t Head-up Displays (HUDs) like Google Glass where the market is going?”

No. Not necessarily. Pricey (and for now, socially awkward-looking) HUDs will likely be a sliver of the nearly half-billion units that will ship by 2018. By comparison, most other types of wearables will be relatively cheap, and as socially unobtrusive as a ring or wristband.

No doubt, there will be well-defined segments of HUD wearers. For instance, emergency first responders and many disabled people will immediately benefit from additional contextual information the tools display that enhance safety and the ability to navigate tricky situations. The more you consider real data and use-cases, the more you see wearables’ potential to support humanistic aspirations.

However, as I suggest in my HBR piece, we should vigorously question the ethics and effectiveness of any “asymmetrical” uses of HUDs. The presumption that a Google Glass wearer has a right to ascertain information from others who haven’t opted in isn’t necessarily socially acceptable. (HBR editor Scott Berinato calls Glass wearers who point their devices at others who haven’t opted in “glassholes”). It may not even be legal. In the work place, any use absolutely must be accompanied by clearly stated benefits to the employee (not just the employer) and ensure her data privacy. Otherwise, it’s Orwellian.

Aren’t wearables basically just a hands-free PC or smartphone?

Some wearables are indeed the next stage in the evolution from PCs to smartphones to tablets. Samsung’s watch, for example, tethers to its phone and lets you take and receive calls and texts. But many others tools and applications, such as the one I describe below, are discontinuous. They support radically new ways to improve work and society. The opportunity in the discontinuous space is probably bigger, and certainly some of the killer apps for wearables haven’t even been conjured yet. Something will take us by surprise.

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Making Health Addictive

I first posed the question, “Could Mobile Health Become Addictive?” on August 20th.  Since then I’ve done more thinking and I’m warming to the concept.

To start with, addiction is a word laden with negative meaning.  When we hear the word, we think of opiates, street drugs, cigarettes, or possibly gambling.  In fact, Wikipedia defines addiction as, “the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences.”  So, with that definition as backdrop, is there any way health can really be addictive?  Probably not.

What I’m really talking about is the juxtaposition of motivational health messaging with some other addictive behavior, specifically checking your smartphone.

New evidence shows that people are in love with these devices, checking them more than 100 times per day!  I’ve heard people are tapping in 110, even 150 times a day. Of course this varies, but let’s face it, we check our smartphones a lot and it’s hard to stop.  A somewhat disturbing video makes the case well.  It’s easy to build a case that smartphones are addictive.

Recent research shows that checking your phone results in a small release of the neurochemical dopamine.  Dopamine release has long been associated with ingestion of addictive substances such as heroin and tobacco.  In fact, once the pattern of ingestion and dopamine release is established, even thinking about the ingestion triggers the dopamine release, the biochemical explanation for cravings.

For this post and a series to follow, I choose not to question whether this compulsive relationship with smartphones is good or bad, but simply to acknowledge that it is common, almost universal among smartphone users and to ask if we can exploit it as tool to improve your health.

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