By REBECCA FOGG
Today’s health care providers face the formidable challenge of delivering better, more affordable and more convenient care in the face of spiraling care costs and an epidemic of chronic disease. But the most innovative among them are making encouraging progress by “integrating”—which in this context means working across traditional boundaries between patients and clinicians, health care specialties, care sites and sectors.
The impulse to do so is shrewd, according to our innovation research in sectors from computer manufacturing to education. We’ve found that when a product isn’t yet good enough to address the needs of a particular customer segment, a company must control the entire product design and production process in order to improve it. This is necessary because in a “not-good-enough” product, unpredictable and complex interdependencies exist between components, so each component’s design depends on that of all the others.
Given this, managers responsible for the individual components must collaborate—or integrate—in order to align components’ design and assembly toward optimal performance. IBM employed an integrated strategy to improve performance of its early mainframe computers, and this enabled the firm to dominate the early computer industry when mainframes weren’t yet meeting customers’ needs.
In health care delivery, such integration is analogous to, but something more than, coordinated care. It means assembling and aligning resources and processes to deliver the right care, in the right place, at the right time. This type of integration is a core aspiration of innovative providers leading hot-spotting and aging-in-place programs, capitated primary care practices, initiatives addressing health-related social needs, and other care models that depart from America’s traditional, episodic, acute-care model. How are they tackling it? They’re leveraging very specific tools to facilitate work across boundaries. Here are six of the most common we uncovered in our research:
Electronic health records (EHRs) offer many valuable benefits for patient safety, but it becomes apparent that the effective application of healthcare informatics creates problems and unintended consequences. As many turn their attention to solving the seemingly intractable problems of healthcare IT, one element remains particularly challenging–integration–healthcare’s “killer app.” Painfully missing are low-cost, easy to implement, plug-and-play, nonintrusive integration solutions. But why is this?
First, we must stop confusing application
integration with information
integration. Our goal must be to communicate data (ie, integrate information), not to integrate application functionality via complex and expensive application program interfaces (APIs). Communicating data simply requires a loosely coupled flow of data, as occurs today via email. In contrast, integration is a CIOs nightmare. Integrating applications, when we just wanted a bit of information, is akin to killing a gnat with a brick.
Even worse, like a bad version of Groundhog Day, the healthcare IT industry keeps repeating the same mistakes, and we keep working with these mistakes. Consultants and vendors from whom we request simple data communication solutions offer their sleight of hand, which usually recasts our problem into a profitable application integration project that simply costs us more money. This misdirection takes us down a maze of tightly coupled integrations that are costly, fragile and brittle, and not really based on loosely-coupled data exchanges, a simpler approach that allows the Internet to perform so well.
The key to unlocking the potential of EHRs lies in securely communicating (a.k.a. exchanging) data between EHR silos. If we simply begin by streaming data from EHR systems onto a common backbone, using a common currency like XML (eXtensible Markup Language), we will have solved healthcare integration in a way that works the way much of the Internet works. And this is good. When this happens, we know interoperability will work, robustly.Continue reading…
I am an EMR geek who isn’t so thrilled with the direction of EMR. So what, I have been asked, would make EMR something that is really meaningful? What would be the things that would truly help, and not just make more hoops for me to jump through? A lot of this is not in the hands of the gods of MU, but in the realm of the demons of reimbursement, but I will give it a try anyhow. Here’s my list:
- Require all visits to have a simple summary.
One of the biggest problems I have with EMR is the “data diarrhea” it creates, throwing piles of words into notes that is not useful for anything but assuring compliance with billing codes. I waste a huge amount of time trying to figure out what specialists, colleagues, and even my own assessment and plan was for any given visit. Each note should have an easily accessible visit summary (but not at the bottom of 5 pages of droll historical data I already know because I sent them the patient in the first place!).
- Allow coding gibberish to be hidden.
Related to #1 would be the ability to hide as much “fluff” in notes as possible. I only care about the review of systems and a repetition of past histories 1 out of 100 times. Most of the time I am only interested in the history of the present illness, pertinent physical findings, and the plan generated from any given encounter. The rest of the note (which is about 75% of the words used) should be hidden, accessed only if needed. It is only input into the note for billing purposes.
They are coming in fast under the radar, out of peripheral vision, in the magician’s other hand—and they will change everything. New ideas, surprising networks, stealth business models that may change health care profoundly, are bubbling up in pilot programs, experiments and full-on corporate transformations. There is something here that does not yet have a name, that no one is yet calling a movement, that no one is yet seeing as revolutionary.
While we have been mesmerized by federal health care reform, government intervention on behalf of the uninsured and government attempts to “bend the cost curve” to shave a few percentage points off medical inflation, things have been happening in the private sector for people who are already insured that result in outright medical deflation, drops in costs of 20 percent or more, all while giving people more care, not less.
Help me out here. This picture is just forming, the Ouija board is still in motion, but I think what we may have here is some truly big news about the future.
The Difference Is Integration
First, consider the huge regional differences in health care costs. Think about what it means that it costs twice as much for patients in the last six months of life to be involved with Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, UCLA Medical Center or New York University Medical Center than it does for them to be involved with Mayo Clinic in Minnesota or the Cleveland Clinic; or that Medicare spends half as much per patient per year in Temple, Texas, as in McAllen or Harlingen or Brownsville, Texas; or why Medicare spending per patient per year in the top and bottom quintiles of hospital catchment areas differ by 60 percent.
These are vast differences—and the more expensive areas show no better outcomes than the less expensive ones; in fact, for some conditions they show worse outcomes.Continue reading…