Niam Yarhagi’s THCB piece, Congress Can’t Solve the EHR Interoperability Problem (March 21, 2015) raises excellent points with which I mainly agree. So why write a responding blog? Because I don’t agree with his solution.
To review: Dr. Yarhagi discusses a draft congressional bill that calls for the creation of a “Charter Organization” that “shall consist of one member from each of the standard development organizations accredited by the American National Standards Institute and representatives that include healthcare providers, EHR vendors, and health insurers.”
Four agreements: I agree with Dr. Yarhagi’s conclusion that the proposed charter organization will not succeed; I agree with his prediction that it won’t be able to develop useful interoperability measures (hint: these are the same vendors that have refused to cooperate for the past 30 years); I agree that the ONC or CMS will not decertify an EHR vendor that has over 50% of all American patients and providers; and I agree that there are some medical providers who intentionally refuse to share patient information (because they think it gives them a competitive advantage over their local rivals).
One disagreement: But I disagree strongly with Dr. Yarhagi’s faith in the market to ensure that healthcare information technology (HIT) vendors will be obliged to “develop sustainable revenue stream through reasonable exchange fees negotiated with the medical providers.” That is, he asserts that if there were a real market without federal subsidies and requirements that all healthcare providers buy the HIT, then providers and the HIT vendors would agree on reasonable fees for exchanging patient records.Continue reading…
The essence of controlling Ebola is surveillance. To accept surveillance, the population must trust the system responsible for surveillance. That simple fact is as true in Liberia as it is in the US. The problem is that health care surveillance has been privatized and interoperability is at the mercy of commerce.
Today I listened to the JASON Task Force meeting. The two hours were dedicated to a review of their report to be presented next week at a joint HIT Committee Meeting.
The draft report is well worth reading. Today’s discussion was almost exclusively on Recommendations 1 and 6. I can paraphrase the main theme of the discussion as “Interoperability moves at the speed of commerce and the commercial interests are not in any particular hurry – what can we do about it?”
Health information technology in the US is all about commerce. In a market that is wasting $1 Trillion per year in unwarranted and overpriced services, interoperability and transparency are a risk. Public health does not pay the bills for EHR vendors or their hospital customers.
As healthcare shifts from fee-for-service to fee-for-value, hospitals and physicians are increasingly being held accountable for outcomes by the government, payers and patients. Historically, provider organizations only had to meet performance criteria to earn a pay-for-performance bonuses or hospital certification, but with the arrival of Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), Meaningful Use and other programs, payment is now based on to quality of care rather than quantity of services.
Health information technology (HIT) systems are able to track physician actions and measure outcomes down to the individual patient level and allow organizations to closely monitor the quality levels of a given physician. These same tools should be able to monitor the performance of the vendors who are there to support these clinicians. With patient engagement solutions, for example, vendors claim they can help improve HCAHPS scores, treatment adherence, patient outcomes, and reduce costs, but have no evidence to back it up.
Vendors should be willing to commit to their patient engagement promises, present proof showing improved outcomes and face some financial risk for failing to deliver.
Since patient engagement was included in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Solutions’ Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records program, it has become a popular buzzword. Every HIT vendor claims to offer tools to assist providers with this important clinical quality issue, but no one is holding anyone accountable.
If one were writing about the improvement of gastronomy in America, one would probably not celebrate “over 300 billion hamburgers served.” But that’s very much the type of success Dr. Ashish Jha is celebrating in last week’s piece on recent US healthcare IT sales. Unfortunately, the proliferation of Big Macs does not reflect superior cuisine, and healthcare IT (HIT) sales do not equate with better healthcare or with better health. Quantity does not equal quality of care.
To be sure, Dr. Jha acknowledges the challenges of rolling out HIT throughout US hospitals. And he should be strongly commended for his admission that HIT doesn’t capture care by many specialists and doesn’t save money. In addition, Dr. Jha points to the general inability of hospitals, outpatient physicians and laboratories to transfer data among themselves as a reason for HIT’s meager results.
But this is a circular argument and not an excuse. It is the vendors’ insistence on isolated proprietary systems (and the government’s acquiescence to the vendors) that created this lack of communication (non-interoperability) which so limits one of HIT’s most valuable benefits.
In our opinion, the major concern is that the blog post fails to answer the question we ask our PhD students:
So what? What is the outcome?
This entire effort is fueled by $29 billion in government subsidies and incentives, and by trillions of dollars spent and to be spent by hospitals, doctors and others .
So where is the evidence to back up the government’s and industry’s promises of lower mortality, improved health and lower health care costs?
Single studies tell us little. Sadly, as many as 90% of health IT studies fail the minimal criteria of the respected international literature syntheses conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration.
In other words, studies with weak methodology or sweetheart evaluation arrangements just don’t count as evidence.
Suppose one day you sit in front of your work computer, click on a link supplied by your employer, and set about the task of answering a hundred or more highly intrusive health questions. Setting aside the issue of financial penalties or rewards for doing the survey, you would trust that the instrument itself, called a health risk appraisal (HRA), would actually have a sound scientific basis, especially since its ultimate goal is to give you purportedly accurate health guidance.
Unfortunately, your trust in the validity of the tool would be quite misplaced.
HRAs are an essential screening tool in workplace wellness programs despite the fact that no body of evidence clearly demonstrates either their fiscal or clinical value and that no health services research has determined which HRA is the optimal tool. Indeed, a recent review of HRAs concluded that they increase spending, not reduce it, and that no one has any idea whatsoever whether taking an HRA has anything to do with the delivery of health value.
By masking essential methodological truths about HRAs, wellness vendors have essentially hustled their employer clients into believing that HRAs, which frequently ask clinical questions best left to primary care clinicians or restate platitudes (gosh, I didn’t know it’s safer to drive while not under the influence), are both probative and predictive of a person’s health future. This is just simply wrong.
We’re all aware of the past criticisms of “disease management.” According to the critics, these for-profit vendors were in collusion with commercial insurers, relying robo-calls to blanket unsuspecting patients with dubious advice. Their claims of “outcomes” were based on flawed research that was never intended to be science; it was really intended to market their wares.
But suppose this correspondent alerted you to:
1. A company that had developed a patient registry to identify at-risk patients who had not received an evidence-based care recommendation? Software created mailings to those patients that not only informed them of the recommendation but offered them a toll-free number to call if there were questions. Patients who remained non-compliant were then called by coordinators, who made three attempts to contact the patient and assist in any scheduling needs. If necessary, a nurse was available to telephonically engage patients and develop alternative care options.
If you think that sounds like typical vendor-driven telephonic disease management, you’d be right. You’d also be describing an approach to care that was studied by Group Health Cooperative using their electronic record, medical assistants and nurses. When it was applied to colon cancer screening, a randomized study revealed each additional level of support progressively resulted in statistically significant screening rates.
Tomorrow the Presidential election process comes to an end and the advertising will finally stop. We’ll all be relieved. I especially look forward to a quiet dinner at home without robotic election-related calls.
What about healthcare IT? Will differences in the Obama and Romney platforms impact the momentum of Meaningful Use?
Here’s what I believe.
The Obama Healthcare IT platform builds on what we’ve created over the past few years. It will continue to leverage the federal advisory committees (Policy and Standards) to engage a wide array of stakeholders. It will persist the progression to Meaningful Use Stage 3 and possibly future stages. It will embrace certification now the temporary certification process has been replaced with a permanent one. It will support the initiatives of the Standards and Interoperability framework (S&I), although the end of stimulus funds from ARRA means that ONC will move some of the S&I initiatives to private/public partnerships. It will support the current leadership at ONC – Farzad and his delegates such as Steve Posnack, Doug Fridsma, and Judy Murphy.
The Romney Healthcare IT platform notes that Healthcare IT is an issue which has broad bipartisan support. No one argues that a foundation of healthcare IT implemented properly is essential for accountable care organizations. Quality, safety, and efficiency all benefit from the process enhancement afforded by healthcare IT. Michael Leavitt, former Secretary of HHS and chair of the American Health Information Community (AHIC) will lead the Romney transition team and Leavitt has years of experience with healthcare IT issues from the early days of ONC. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported the early EHR rollout efforts of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative.
Research and Observation
Here we are going to talk about the second stage of shopping for an EHR. We are going to assume that you did your homework, defined your goals and constraints and prepared a comprehensive list of requirements for an EHR (if you have not done so already, go back and read Part I). To continue our car shopping analogy, we are now ready to go kick some tires, and we start by calling on each of the three to six EHR vendors on your list. To your folder of lists, add a blank page for each vendor, to log your interactions with the various representatives you will begin encountering shortly. If the sales person is unresponsive and if it takes weeks to have someone call you back, most likely the situation will only deteriorate after they get a hold of your money, so keep good notes.
Calling an EHR Vendor
Whether you start by filling out a form on a website or by sending an email, eventually you will be on the phone with a sales rep. You should be the one directing the conversation. Inform the sales person of your specialty and practice size and explain that you are conducting an EHR search and his company is one of your candidates. Do not disclose the remainder of your list unless you are interested in a “confidential” long lecture on how horrible the competition really is. Your goal here is to obtain contact information (phone and email) of the regional sales executive, inform him/her that you will be sending out a Request for Information (see below) and set a date for your first clinical demonstration of the product. You can listen patiently, if you wish, to the details of this month’s “special offer”, but stick to your agenda and commit to nothing other than a demo. Remember to log your impression from this call, including the vendor’s willingness to accommodate your schedule and the expediency of setting up a demo date.Continue reading…