Today late afternoon PST Google flipped the switch on an important change/add to Google Health.
Recently they’ve been adding more and more little features, such as printing & graphing, and in the last month getting CVS retail pharmacies on the network (to join Walgreens), and sucking up device data. But this new one may be the most interesting, as Google Health has added the ability for users to invite others to see their records.
Anyone who’s used Google Docs (and that includes all of us working at Health 2.0) immediately gets addicted to sharing those spreadsheets and text documents with a wider team. It’s so easy, you just invite them to it, and then one day you wake up and you’re sharing hundreds of documents with everyone you work with and cannot imagine how you did it before.
Frances Dare from Cisco is a buddy of mine who has more and more been their student of what's going on in Washington. Given that we just saw the biggest piece of health care IT legislation ever pass, I thought I'd check in with her. Frances, has really done her homework about exactly what's in that $19.2 billion pot and more (yes there's more than that) and how it's going to be spent.
This is a long(ish) and detailed interview, but if you care about IT in health care, I highly suggest you listen!
Last Thursday I gave a talk to a very high powered group, the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics. My old colleague Matt Quinn is now working for the soon to be very rich Agency for Health Research and Quality (another HHS agency), and he lined up a series of talks for the committee on non-traditional data sources. Non-traditional, by the way, means about anything that isn’t from one of the huge Federal government household surveys (like MEPS) that’s used by HHS to analyze health care spending and consumption. John Halamka, CIO of BIDMC and Chair of HITSP, gave an excellent summary talk about data sources that are being collated and integrated in Massachusetts. It’s available on his blog here. Bear in mind that a LOT of work has already gone into putting various patient data sets together in that part of the country. The most encouraging thing was how relatively easy it was for BIDMC to interface with Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault, and how problem free those interfaces have been.
My talk was about Health 2.0, and given that it was less familiar to the committee I both introduced the concept of social networking and consumer tools, and discussed how it might be integrated into a national data capture strategy to improve quality reporting and hopefully spur improvements in medical care processes. Both talks are available here. You need to go to 4.48.00 or so to catch where I start. John’s talk is after the discussion
There’s been a lot of blather from one commenter (who may or may not be a front for a group of malcontents) on the WSJ Health Blog and lots of other blogs about CCHIT and whether it was doing business without a license in Chicago, and/or was a front organization for HIMSS or EHRA. All summarized on Neil Versel’s blog. Indeed I did get a call from one well known blogger telling me that HIMSS’ lawyers had asked for him to take those comments down—not too bright a piece of PR on HIMSS’ part IMHO.
MrHISTalk thankfully did what I certainly could not be bothered to and actually looked into the “CCHIT is not a licensed corporation” situation and figured out that it’s basically being run legitimately. I myself cracked the joke privately that if CCHIT/HIMSS/EHVRA/Leavitt et al had only managed to get $2m (or $7m for that matter) out of the Bush Administration, they needed to go to the Haliburton school of “how to stick it to the taxpayer properly.”
The other wisecrack I’ve heard is that the way to determine the list of functions an EMR needs to have to get CCHIT certified was to copy the feature set of Allscripts TouchWorks. (Of course you can insert the name of any of the other big EMR vendors here too).
OK, so we’re kidding around here, but underneath this discussion are some serious points. And those serious points have got little to do with what has indeed been a pretty close relationship between the powers that be at HIMSS,EH(V)RA, CCHIT & HITSP.
In any case I assure you that the back room dealings and conflicts of interest are nothing compared to how the rest of the Federal government has colluded with industries it regulates for the last 8 years. The money given from ONC to CCHIT wouldn’t even be a rounding error on what’s been completely lost in Iraq in cash in suitcases. let alone what Blackwater, Halliburton et al have stolen, And there’s no evidence that the Feds didn’t get what they/we paid for from CCHIT, which is a certification process.
So if this is a non-story, what are the actual issues?
1) Part of the justification for a certification process is that there is a great deal of fear and trepidation among physicians who have heard the horror stories about EMR implementations, and are now being bribed (and later to be threatened) by the Federal government into installing EMRs. Given the plethora of vendors out there, and the fact that these providers are more or less Federal contractors who tend not to understand IT, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the Federal government (or someone) gives authoritative guidance as to what’s a robust system that has the right features and functions. Remember that the nation’s biggest and richest integrated provider organization trashed not one, but two national investments in EMRs before getting it right at try three. Having recalled that it becomes reasonable to agree that most providers need some help. And of course there is some slight protection for the taxpayer if the providers who are about to get their $40K have to do more than just claim that they bought an EMR from Sonny on the corner.
2) Of course once you say that the Federal government will pay out only to those purchasing certified products you then run into two other problems. First, the certification process is going to get somewhat politicized. Despite all the yakking about “volunteers” on all these committees, what we’re talking about is the people with a deep interest in EMRs et al being those “volunteers” and of course they are mostly from the vendor side or users who know the vendors well. I don’t see a way around that unless we really want to develop a civil service that has expertise in health care IT and also is prepared to stay in the job for 30 years like they do in Japan. Second, by its very nature the certification process is likely to run behind the development of technology, which means that vendors building for the certification process are like teachers prepping students for tests, not creating innovations. Again that may not be a terrible thing, but it’s not how innovation works in most other industries. (John Moors at Chilmark has a rather blunter, bleaker assessment of how this might work out)
3) And of course, the reason that you don’t see Federal certification of, say, MP3 players or automobiles is that there’s a somewhat effective market there that means that innovation and user experience gets rewarded. Make a confusing MP3 player, you don’t move the needle much. Figure out how to make it easy and elegant and you’re called Steve Jobs and you sell a gazillion iPods a year. Health care doesn’t have such a market, or even rationally managed incentives from its Federal paymaster.
So I don’t have the answer, but I do have the question. And it’s the same one being posed by the Dogs, in response to the Cats. Can we realistically expect CMS and the rest of the big payers to start rewarding providers for producing the correct outcomes. If we paid for outcomes, providers would change their organizational structure, and their processes, and the technology they use. The ones that worked would succeed and the others would go away. That’s how a market works. And that would create lots of interesting technological innovation of the type that is already happening in the consumer health arena in Health 2.0.
But (beware: run-on sentence coming up so take a deep breath) if we realistically can’t get to some massively enhanced version of pay for performance very soon, and instead are going to insist that providers use EMRs or something like them and the Feds will pay them for it, and we are happy to declare that that solution is as good as we’re going to get while we work on wider health system reform later, then I don’t think that we can complain about the CCHIT process too much. We have to accept that the Feds are going to put a stake in the ground somewhere as to what is an acceptable technology to reward. And those rewards are not going to be market or outcomes-based yet.
So the ultimate question, is what’s the time-scale for junking our stupid current health care incentives and finance system? And the answer is, not in the next 2–3 years.
Which means that if we’re paying directly for technology (which we are as the law is now passed), a certification process is a necessary evil to help providers and to make sure that the tax payer isn’t being defrauded (see we’re back to Iraq again!).
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the certifiers shouldn’t be made to appear to be (as we;; as actually be) completely above board and be watched like hawks to make sure that they’re not putting too many restrictions on smaller companies or discriminating against them. And maybe that kind of oversight demands that we see greater separation between the HIMSS/EHRA/CCHIT/HITSP/ AHIMA players, which would fit in with Obama’s “no lobbyists in the Administration” line.
But I can’t see that this is an issue for anyone to go to the barricades about. And in the end if CCHIT helps providers get better tools than they have now, it’s probably a net positive—even if it may prevent greater innovation happening faster.
Not content with being the catalyst for the unleashing of a torrent of vitriol in the direction of those Milquetoast individuals who are in favor of better information systems in health care, in the mild expectation that it might improve care delivery, Betsy McCracker is back at it again. This time the NY Times prints her letter. And in it she says:
These changes will affect all of us, at the least by requiring that our treatments be recorded in a federally mandated electronic database and guiding the choices our doctors make. Yet no hearings were held, no expert witnesses called, no opinions gathered from patient advocates, doctors’ groups, the elderly or other stakeholders.
Apart from the fact that there’s no evidence of one “electronic database”, she’s missed a couple of things.
First, hearings, witnesses, etc, etc, have been held for on this topic for years, and witnesses were called in the weeks before the stimulus bill—Microsoft’s Peter Neupert among them. Peter may not be an expert in Betsy’s eyes, but I think most of us would concede that he knows something about the topic (even though much of his advice was ignored).
Secondly, Betsy McCracker seems to be missing a minor point. The Obama campaign was not shy about telling anyone who listened that they were going to spend up to $50 billion on health IT in the next five years. It was on their website, and talked about by their health care advisers non-stop, as the WaPo noticed in early December.
Why are we supposed to be surprised that they did what they said they were going to do? Isn’t that the point of democracy? So Betsy, who won the election?
I’ve been following Phreesia since it was two guys in an apartment trying to figure out how to make the patient check-in at the doctors office a better and more useful experience. Today they announced an $11m series C round with new investor BCBS Ventures, a new-ish fund backed by 11 Blues plans. (FD: Phreesia has presented and exhibited at Health 2.0, and I think they’re a great example of using light-weight web technology to solve a messy process problem.) I spoke to Chaim Indig, CEO & President of Phreesia, and new investor Paul Brown, Managing Director of BCBS Ventures Inc this morning. Here’s the interview.
Is Web-based and networkable, therefore highly scalable and inexpensive to purchase and use;
Provides a ‘unified view’ of a patient from multiple sources of data and information;
Is designed to be used interactively – by providers and patients alike – to coordinate care and create continuity;
Offers evidence-based guidance and coaching, personalized by access to a person’s health data as it changes;
Collects, for analysis and reporting, quality and performance measures as the routine by-product of its normal daily use;
Aims to provide patients and their providers with a collaborative workflow platform for decision support; and
Creates a care plan for each individual and then monitors the progress of each patient and provider in meeting the goals of that plan?
I call this Clinical Groupware. The term captures the basic notion that the primary purpose for using these IT systems is to improve clinical care through communications and coordination involving a team of people, the patient included. And in a manner that fosters accountability in terms of quality and cost.
From time to time we check in with my pal Frances Dare who is Cisco’s optimist about the impact that IT will have on health care (FD I’ve worked for Cisco in the past). Here’s an interview I did with her on HC IT policy last year.
Her handlers sent me this piece of video where she was interviewed about the role Cisco’s version of connected health could play in improving hospital efficiency. (Warning—you need to log in and give Cisco your email to see the video and once you get there I recommend skipping the first 3 minutes of corporate-marketing speak and wind straight onto Frances)
Meanwhile, I went on a tour last week of the Kaiser Garfield Center (which was very cool even though I haven't gotten around to writing about it yet!) and on it I was reminded about the role connectivity has to play in hospital design. As well as reaching out to the home.
Today’s economic crisis has highlighted our need for breakthrough improvements in the quality, safety and efficiency of health care. The nation’s business competitiveness is threatened by growing health care costs, while at the same time our citizens risk losing access to care because of unemployment and the decreasing affordability of coverage. Meanwhile, the quality variations and safety shortfalls in our care system have been well documented.
Health IT is not a panacea for all of these challenges, but it is a critical first step toward addressing many of them. Before we can restructure payment systems to reward quality, we need reliable, near real time data on outcomes. Before we can reward teamwork and collaboration that re-integrates care, we need applications that let clinicians communicate patient information instantly and securely. And in order to reverse the growing burden of chronic diseases, we need online connections that engage individuals in their care and motivate them to make healthier lifestyle choices.
“The requested data does not serve any (freedom-of-information-related) public interest in disclosure. Accordingly, we need not balance the nonexistent public interest against every physician's substantial privacy interest in the Medicare payments he receives.”
But in a strongly worded dissent, Judge Judith Rogers, the third member of the ruling panel, found that the request by the consumer group, Consumer Checkbook, represented “a commanding and important public interest in disclosure of the data.”