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Most Hospitals Offer Patients Online Access To Medical Records

Posted on July 27, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

New research from the American Hospital Association suggests that nearly all hospitals now offer individual patients online access to their medical records, and most offer them the ability to perform related tasks as well.

According to AHA research, 92% of hospitals gave patients access to their medical records in 2015, up from 43% in 2013. Also, 84% allowed them to download information from the record, 78% let them request changes to their record and 70% made it possible for them to send a referral summary. (The latter has seen the biggest change since 2013, as only 13% could send such a summary at that time.)

In addition, hospitals have begun giving patients the ability to schedule appointments, order prescription refills and pay bills. As the AHA notes, progress on this front isn’t universal, as organizations need to integrate data from revenue cycle, pharmacy and scheduling systems to make it happen. But as hospitals invest in integration engines they will have a greater ability to roll out these options.

As of 2015, 74% of hospitals let patients pay bills online, up from 56% in 2013. However, progress on other consumer-friendly functions has been slower. Only 45% of hospitals let patients schedule appointments online, a modest increase from 31% in 2013, and just 44% let patients refill prescriptions, up from 30% in 2013.

Meanwhile, hospitals are slowly but surely expanding tools letting patients communicate with physicians. The AHA found that 63% let patients securely message care providers, up from 55% in 2014, and 37% let patients submit self-generated data, a big jump from the 14% who did so in 2013.

All of this suggests that rollouts of patient portal tools are likely to continue well after Meaningful Use has landed in the dustbin. After all, research suggests that dollars spent on these technologies will pay off, especially under at-risk value-based care models.

For example, an eye-opening study appearing in Health Affairs found that use of patient-physician email at Kaiser Permanente is associated with a 2% to 6.5% improvement in HEDIS performance measures like HbA1c levels, cholesterol and blood press screening and control. The same study noted that users of its My Health Manager were 2.6 times more likely to remain KP members than non-users, a phenomenon which may well apply to providers.

On the other hand, hospitals need to evaluate any potential portal solutions carefully. According to a study by research firm Peer60, many solutions have serious limitations that could lead providers to violate state laws or limit parent and minor engagement. Also, some organizations might not be ready to support patients who have issues adequately. Concerns like these might explain why 28% of the 200 healthcare execs surveyed by Peer60 said they weren’t looking at portal technology at the moment.

Another Look At Easing EMR Adoption Problems

Posted on July 22, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Though EMRs are no longer a brand-new thing, rolling them out is still a difficult challenge for hospitals. After all, even the best platforms can require significant changes in staffers’ day-to-day work, which isn’t easy for anyone. And some less technology-savvy workers may struggle to pick up new routines. Plus, we’re still seeing a lot of EMR implementations as hospitals switch EHR vendors, EHR vendors get sunset, and hospitals get acquired by larger hospitals with different EHR.

So I was interested to read yet another take on how hospitals can survive this tumultuous period. This one comes from Next Services, an Ann Arbor, MI-based health IT software and consulting firm. Here’s some of the more interesting steps Next Services offers to help smooth out the adoption process:

  • Have managers create a 3×3 matrix sorting key players by skill and resistance. Along the top, divide the rows into high, medium and low skill sets, then along the left side, label three columns for high, medium and low resistance levels. Sorting workers into categories such as high skill/low resistance, high skill/high resistance, low skill/high resistance and so on can help managers predict what issues will arise for individual workers.
  • Roll out EMR in modules rather than phases, and don’t go to the next set of modules until you and your team are hundred percent confident that everyone can use them. Also, start with core modules that help document the basic chart, then expand outward to modules with greater functional depth.
  • Prepare staff for crises. Think through all of the ways that the rollout could go wrong during live patient care use, and make sure staffers are prepared to react appropriately when such an event happens.
  • Think of the rollout as a game. To encourage staffers, offer points for important factors such as knowledge, helpfulness and speed. Then put a chart presenting the results on a big monitor for everyone to review at the end of the day.
  • Celebrate your successes. Celebrating small wins with the staff during the rollout can help keep the atmosphere positive. Celebrations can be anything from an ice cream social to a simple group cheer.

While I find these suggestions to be interesting and useful, I’d love to see a companion list providing suggestions on how hospitals and health systems can help staffers cope with a second or third EMR rollout. My guess is that such a transition poses different management challenges than pulling the switch the very first time.

As I see it, such implementations could range from toxic (staff was exhausted by the first rollout and doesn’t want to play this time) to comparatively easy (staffers learned a lot the first time, and find additional changes to be less upsetting than they did the initial go-live). And obviously, much will depend upon how the next implementation is managed, how training is presented and how the previous rollout went.

Still, there must be ways to ease the blow regardless. What suggestions would you have for health IT leaders who are navigating their second or more EMR rollout?

E-Patient Update: Hospitals Need Virtual Clinicians

Posted on July 20, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Hospitals have a lot to lose if patients are readmitted not long after discharge. But in most cases, their follow-up care coordination efforts post-discharge are perfunctory at best.

My husband’s experience seems to be typical: a few weeks after his discharge, a nurse called and asked perhaps five or six very broad questions about his status. I doubt such as superficial intervention has ever done much prevent a patient from deteriorating. But this dynamic can be changed. As an active, involved e-patient, I think it’s time to bring artificial intelligence technology into the mix.

In recent times, AI platforms have emerged that may offer a big improvement on the, well, largely nothing hospitals do to prevent patients from deteriorating after they leave the facility. In fact, artificial intelligence technology has evolved to the point where it’s possible to provide a “virtual clinician” which serves as a resource for patients.

One example of this emerging technology comes from AI startup Sense.ly, which has developed a virtual nurse named Molly. According to the company, Molly is designed to offer customized patient monitoring and follow-up care, particularly for patients with chronic diseases. Its customers include the UK’s National Health Service, Kaiser Permanente, San Mateo Medical Center, University of California San Francisco, Microsoft and Allscripts.

Molly, an avatar-based system which was designed to mimic the bedside manner patients crave, can access data to assist with real-time care decisions. It also monitors vital signs – though I imagine this works better with a remote connected device — and tracks patient compliance with meds. Molly even creates custom questionnaires on the fly to assess patients, analyzes those responses for risk, and connects patients directly to real- life clinicians if need be.

While this is admittedly a groundbreaking approach, some independent research already exists to suggest that it works. Back in 2011, Northeastern University researchers found that patients who interacted with virtual nurse Elizabeth were more likely to know their diagnoses and make follow-up appointments with their doctor, ZDNet reports.

And if you’re afraid that using such a tool exposes your facility to big legal risks, well, that’s not necessarily the case, according to veteran healthcare attorney David Harlow.

“The issue is always in the terms of use, and if you frame that properly – and build the logic properly – you should be OK,” Harlow told me. He concedes that if hospitals can be sued for patient care problems generated by EMR failures — which happens now and then — a cause of action could arise from use of virtual clinician. But my sense from talking with him was that there’s nothing inherently more dangerous about deploying an AI nurse than using any other technology as part of care.

Speaking for myself, I can’t wait until hospitals and medical practices deploy a tool like Molly, particularly if the alternative is no support at all. Like those who tested Elizabeth at Northeastern University, I’d find it much easier to exchange information with an infinitely patient, focused and nonjudgmental software entity than a rushed nurse with dozens or hundreds of other patients on their mind.

I realize that I’m probably ahead of the market in my comfort with AI technology. (My mother would have a stroke if you asked her to interact with a virtual human.) But I’d argue that patients like me are in the vanguard, and you want to keep us happy. Besides, you might be pleasantly surprised by the clinical impact such interventions can have. Seems like a win-win.

Hospitals Struggle To Use EHRs To Report eCQMs

Posted on July 18, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

A new study by CMS has found that hospitals are struggling to use their EHRs to report electronic clinical quality measures. The agency found that while EHRs helped contractors collect data remotely using hospital staffers, EHR platforms “had not yet matured” enough to meet the specs required, according to Managed Care magazine.

The CMS findings came from a validation pilot study of eCQMs. The goal of the pilot study was to evaluate approaches for validating eCQMs for the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting program.

The program, which was mandated by the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, authorized CMS to pay hospitals a higher annual update to their payment rates if they successfully reported designated quality measures. Later legislation mandated that Medicare hospitals that don’t successfully report would be hit with a 2.0% reduction in the annual rate of inflation used to calculate payment.

One might guess that putting EHRs in place would help hospitals comply. But it appears that this is not been the case in many instances. In fact, hospital IT leaders are facing some significant challenges in linking EHR data to the required reporting format.

To accurately report eCQMs, hospitals must create complete and accurate Quality Reporting Data Architecture (QRDA)-I files based on 2014 eCQM specifications. But hospitals reported that they were having a hard time mapping the information in the EHR systems to the QRDA-I specifications, particularly given the use of unstructured data fields and multiple source of information for various events, Managed Care reported. Measures match rates, in turn, were rather low, ranging from 12% to 49%.

The hospitals involved in the pilot also said that data mapping and workflow issues were major problems. For example, as it turned out much of the information they needed was locked up in free text, notes or scanned documents rather than discrete data fields. That made it impossible for those hospitals to extract the data and mapping to the elements found in the QRDA-I files.

To solve these problems, pilot hospital reported, CMS should consider addressing three key areas: boost communication, outreach and education to raise hospital and vendor understanding of eCQMs; cut down the burden imposed by eCQM adoption; and offer tools and guidance to help hospitals with eCQM implementation.

As CMS learns, the help hospitals want should be forthcoming. In the report, CMS said that it plans to conduct additional validation pilots in the future. The agency said its goal will be able to help hospitals and vendors transition to eCQM reporting, and over time to increase the accuracy of the data that gets reported.

EMR Lawsuit – A Taste Of Things To Come

Posted on July 13, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

A central Pennsylvania health system is embroiled in a court fight with Cerner amid allegations that its EMR technology has created serious patient care problems that could have led to serious harm.

PinnacleHealth, a three-hospital system based in Harrisburg, PA, is blaming series of patient care problems on its Siemens health IT technology, which was acquired by Cerner in February 2015. Apparently, PinnacleHealth had used Siemens as a vendor for 20 years, but when it grew dissatisfied with the platform, cut back its relationship with Siemens and signed a contract with Epic.

Last year, Cerner responded to PinnacleHealth’s actions with a breach of contract lawsuit, asserting that the health system hadn’t paid for services since February 2015. The suit claims that Pinnacle now owes Cerner more than $20 million.

PinnacleHealth, in turn, filed a counterclaim earlier this year in Pennsylvania state court, which seeks damages for Cerner’s alleged fraud and breach of contract. In the counterclaim, it cited several instances of problems it contends were caused by the EMR, including a case in which one patient’s blood pressure dropped dramatically after he was allegedly discharged the wrong medications. It also cites an instance in which a doctor was unable to place a pharmacy order for a newborn to receive vitamin K, a standard step taken to protect babies from serious bleeding.

While some experts are positioning this as the first of a growing number of EMR-related safety disputes, I’d argue that there’s other big issues in play which are more important to consider.

First, though it’s possible the Siemens EMR had problems, it’s impossible to know whether that had more to do with the customer’s unique IT set-up or whether there was an actual tech failure.

That being said, it’s also possible that Cerner missed something during its buyout of Siemens, a risk every vendor who acquires a technology company takes. And EMR vendor consolidation is continuing. If the acquiring vendors move too quickly, or have trouble integrating the new technology into their existing fold, will a growing number of clear-cut cases of EMR failure occur?

Also, it’s important to note that PinnacleHealth is currently battling the FTC for permission to merge with Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Clearly, it needs to have technology in place which can scale and isn’t burdened by 20 years of legacy adoption if the merger goes forward. Admittedly, Penn State Hershey is a Cerner shop, not Epic, but who knows what Penn State Hershey has in mind for HIT if it does get to close the deal?

Yes, there will be some product liability litigation over alleged EMR failures. And in some cases, particularly given the ongoing M&A activity among vendors, someone will drop the ball and bad things will probably happen.

But the most important thing I see happening here is the death knell for older systems in the wake of industry consolidation. I’d keep an eye on mergers between health systems and acquisitions by EMR vendors. Those are the forces that will dictate what happens in the HIT world going forward.

McKesson Merges Division With Change Healthcare

Posted on July 11, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

McKesson Corp. has announced plans to roll the majority of its Technology Solutions business into an independent organization, combining the assets with those of Change Healthcare. McKesson will co-own the new company with Change. Once the deal is complete, execs plan to take the new company public, probably sometime next year.

According to McKesson CEO John Hammergren, the two companies came together to offer a better range of options to providers. “The new company will establish a more efficient suite of end-to-end payment and claims solutions, as well as clinical capabilities,” Hammergren said in a company announcement.

The new entity, which combines most of the Technology Solutions assets with the bulk of the former Emdeon, will have combined total annual revenues of $3.4 billion. When the deal is done, McKesson will own about 70% of the new company, with the remainder held by Change Healthcare stockholders.

McKesson will still hold on to RelayHealth Pharmacy and its Enterprise Information Solutions division for now, but is looking at “strategic alternatives” for the EIS division. Change Healthcare, for its part, is keeping its pharmacy switch and prescription routing businesses, which will continue to be held by the current Change stockholders.

The deal could wring new profits out of a McKesson division which has seen better days, observers say.

The last few years have been tough for McKesson which, as HIStalk notes, has seen a growing number of customers going is technology aside in favor of Epic and Cerner solutions. Four years ago, the vendor began shifting resources away from its Horizon Clinicals product line in favor of its Paragon suite. Horizon had been serving several hundred large facilities of 300 beds and up. Since then, McKesson has struggled to convert Horizon customers to Paragon, as gossip heated up that the Atlanta vendor was dialing down Horizon support to force customers onto Paragon.

Now, execs hope the combined company will offer the resources, scalability and integration hospital customers are after. The question is whether even such a large player can challenge Epic and Cerner’s stranglehold on the hospital market. If nothing else, it will have to battle perceptions that it can’t offer the best tool for the larger hospital systems, HIStalk points out.

Still, even if it doesn’t win Epic or Cerner shops, leaders of the news spun-off entity expect to cast a wider net. Execs hope combined set of financial and payment solutions the attractive to help plan as well as providers.

Data Sharing Largely Isn’t Informing Hospital Clinical Decisions

Posted on July 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Some new data released by ONC suggests that while healthcare data is being shared far more frequently between hospitals than in the past, few hospital clinicians use such data regularly as part of providing patient care.

The ONC report, which is based on a supplement to the 2015 edition of an annual survey by the American Hospital Association, concluded that 96% of hospitals had an EHR in place which was federally tested and certified for the Meaningful Use program. That’s an enormous leap from 2009, the year federal economic stimulus law creating the program was signed, when only 12.2% of hospitals had even a basic EHR in place.

Also, hospitals have improved dramatically in their ability to share data with other facilities outside their system, according to an AHA article from February. While just 22% of hospitals shared data with peer facilities in 2011, that number had shot up to 57% in 2014. Also, the share of hospitals exchanging data with ambulatory care providers outside the system climbed from 37% to 60% during the same period.

On the other hand, hospitals are not meeting federal goals for data use, particularly the use of data not created within their institution. While 82% of hospitals shared lab results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries or medication lists with hospitals or ambulatory care centers outside of their orbit — up from 45% in 2009 — the date isn’t having as much of an impact as it could.

Only 18% of those surveyed by the AHA said that hospital clinicians often used patient information gathered electronically from outside sources. Another 35% reported that clinicians used such information “sometimes,” 20% used it “rarely” and 16% “never” used such data. (The remaining 11% said that they didn’t know how such data was used.)

So what’s holding hospital clinicians back? More than half of AHA respondents (53%) said that the biggest barrier to using interoperable data integrating that data into physician routines. They noted that since shared information usually wasn’t available to clinicians in their EHRs, they had to go out of the regular workflows to review the data.

Another major barrier, cited by 45% of survey respondents, was difficulty integrating exchange information into their EHR. According to the AHA survey, only 4 in 10 hospitals had the ability to integrate data into their EHRs without manual data entry.

Other problems with clinician use of shared data concluded that information was not always available when needed (40%), that it wasn’t presented in a useful format (29%) and that clinicians did not trust the accuracy of the information (11%). Also, 31% of survey respondents said that many recipients of care summaries felt that the data itself was not useful, up from 26% in 2014.

What’s more, some technical problems in sharing data between EHRs seem to have gotten slightly worse between the 2014 and 2015 surveys. For example, 24% of respondents the 2014 survey said that matching or identifying patients was a concern in data exchange. That number jumped to 33% in the 2015 results.

By the way, you might want to check out this related chart, which suggests that paper-based data exchange remains wildly popular. Given the challenges that still exist in sharing such data digitally, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

Hospital Accused Of Firing Nurse For EMR Safety Complaints

Posted on June 29, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

The former chief nursing officer of a California hospital is suing her former employer, alleging she was “forced out” of her position after questioning the safety of a little-known EMR donated by a major financial backer of the facility.

The suit filed by nurse Autumn AndRa also names Dan Smith, whose company donated the Harmoni software now used by Sebastopol, CA-based Sonoma West Medical Center. AndRa is claiming that Smith, who has contributed millions in donations and loans to the hospital, has used the hospital as a test bed for his company’s defective system. Smith is president of the medical center’s board of directors.

In an interview with a local newspaper, AndRa said that the Harmoni system has had major problems since the day it went live. Among other issues, the EMR was doing a poor job tracking and updating medications and was “intermingling” medical information between patients, her suit contends. According to AndRa, she went to hospital CEO Ray Hino a week before her dismissal and told him that the system was not safe. (Hino told the newspaper that Harmoni was fine and that no patients had been harmed by the system.)

E-Health Records International Inc., which makes the cloud-based system, primarily serves hospitals outside the U.S., including facilities in the Congo, Jamaica, India and the Philippines. Smith, whose first software development success came when he sold a construction management system to Intuit, serves as the company’s CEO, as well as chairman of telemedicine firm Offsite Care Resources.

Other than that, he seems to have little documented experience as an HIT developer. His other major business venture seems to have been operating a French restaurant with his wife, which he closed after being unable to get back $5.8 million he loaned the hospital.

Regardless of whether AndRa prevails in her suit, I think it’s safe to say that she came out on the wrong end of some questionable political maneuvering by hospital leaders, perhaps including Smith himself. When a hospital is forgiven a large loan, and then fires an executive who raises safety questions about the EMR developed by the lender, eyebrows should be raised.

Population Health Tech Will Lag Until Standards Emerge

Posted on June 22, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

There’s little doubt that healthcare organizations will continue to partner up with peers and acquire physician practices. The forces that drive healthcare network development are only intensifying as time goes by, particularly as the drive toward value-based payment moves ahead. But there’s a lot more to making such deals work than a handshake and a check. To make these deals work, it’s critical that networks become experts at population health management — and unfortunately, that’s going to be tough.

While merging health systems into ACOs or acquiring referring physicians has merit, this strategy won’t grow the steadily dropping pace of hospital admissions, notes William Faber, M.D., senior vice president of the GE Healthcare Camden Group. “Though clinically integrated networks do enlarge the patient base, one of their aims is also to reduce the percentage of admissions from that base,” making it unlikely that the networks will grow admissions, he points out.

To make a clinically integrated network successful, it certainly helps to take the initiative – to get to market more quickly than competitors – and to do a better job of controlling costs of care and demonstrating higher quality and service. Where things get stickier, however, is in managing that care across a large group. “The creation of a clinically integrated network must not be just a marketing or physician alignment strategy – it must truly enable effective population health management,” he writes.

And this, I’d argue, is where things get very tricky. Well, judge for yourself, but I’d argue that the HIT industry is ill-equipped to support these goals. Despite many years of paper-chart experimentation with population health, and several with population health technology, my sense is that the tech is far behind what it needs to be. Health IT vendors won’t get far until providers do a better job of defining what they need.

A different mindset

The truth is, this generation of EMRs is designed to track individual patients across an experience of care. While CIOs can add a layer of analytics technology to the mix, that is a far cry from creating tools that natively track population health trends. Looking at populations is simply a different mindset.

Admittedly, vendors will tell you that they’ve got the problem licked, but if they were completely candid many would have to admit that their products aren’t mature yet. Until someone creates an EMR or other basic tool which is designed, at its core, to track group health trends, I foresee more half-baked hacks than results.

What’s more, I doubt the health IT business will be able to help until it has at least an informal standard to which such products must adhere. Should such tools measure costs of care by diagnosis code? Compare such costs to national standards? Highlight patients in outpatient settings whose tests or exams suggest a crisis is about to happen? If so, which settings, and what cutoffs should be tracked for test scores? Does such a system need natural language processing to scour physician notes for trigger words, and if so which ones?

Without a doubt, medical and business executives leading integrated networks will come together and develop more answers to these questions. But until they do, health IT vendors won’t be able to help much with the population health challenge.

E-Patient Update: If Hospitals Were Like Airports

Posted on June 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Almost everyone reading this blog has spent some time in an airport. And though not much of it is visible on the surface, airlines do an amazing job of managing people and things seamlessly while you sit reading the New York Times and drinking your latte. People are ushered on and off of flights, baggage is dispatched around the world and airplanes maintained and fueled at a miraculous pace. Although, you probably forget about that when it’s your flight that has delays or issues.

The hospitals many of us work for also do an amazing job of managing people and things, typically in a way that patients never need notice. While the carefully orchestrated dance of care plays out, patients simply eat their meals, sleep, visit with their friends and family and provide whatever bodily fluids are necessary to diagnose them. Meanwhile, multi-million dollar IT systems help see to it that the process works.

In some ways, however, the two industries are quite different in how they work with the people they serve. And in my opinion, the healthcare system would work better if it borrowed from the airlines when it comes to using IT to simplify the customer experience.

Status updates

One thing airlines do well is keep passengers informed about the status of their flight, or the flights of those for whom they might be waiting. Airlines began posting real-time schedules and allowing passengers to preregister for flights from early in the emergence of the commercial Internet.

In more recent times, the airlines have added a mobile dimension to their customer experience, offering small but valuable services like reminder texts and mobile-only information. While being able to check on your flight from your home desktop is great, it’s even better to know what’s up as you head for the airport, and mobile apps make this possible.

Traffic information

Unlike hospitals, airlines post scrolling information on key progress indicators — i.e. arrivals and departures. While you, as a consumer, typically only need to know the status of your own flight, having a comprehensive information source sometimes allows you to better understand delays, orient yourself to time and place and even make a mental note as to which destinations your chosen airline travels.

Such displays don’t disclose any personal information about passengers, but they still offer some value to individuals, if for no other reason than that having this information available helps to put airline staff and consumers on the same page.

Kiosks

These days, many airlines allow passengers to check in for their flights and print tickets without ever speaking to a human clerk. The process not only saves time, but also personal aggravation, as waiting in long airline ticketing queues can be quite tiring.

Checking in at a kiosk also offers passengers additional reassurance that they are indeed booked on the fight of their choice, allows them to confirm their seating choice and in some cases, even add additional flight options.

Transparency is key

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. By exposing what might otherwise have been internal systems to consumers, airlines have substantially improved aspects of their customers’ experience. And they’ve done so without exposing individualized data or subjecting themselves to increased risk of hacking episodes. On the other hand, while health systems and hospitals have dabbled in these areas — for example, by posting ED waiting times on the web — it’s still something of a rarity for them to share live patient information.

Admittedly, hospitals may be leery of giving the patient too much visibility into the process they undergo. After all, their interaction with consumers is a good deal more complex than that of the airline industry, and they don’t have time to explain what they’re doing and why beyond a certain degree.

Still, as a patient who wants to know what the heck is going on with my care, a little transparency would go a long way. If you want patients to be prepared to care for themselves, treat them like adults and include them in what you’re doing.