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The More Hospital IT Changes, The More It Remains The Same

Posted on June 23, 2017 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.

Once every year or two, some technical development leads the HIT buzzword list, and at least at first it’s very hard to tell whether that will stick. But over time, the technologies that actually work well are subsumed into the industry as it exists, lose their buzzworthy quality and just do their job.

Once in a while, the hot new thing sparks real change — such as the use of mobile health applications — but more often the ideas are mined for whatever value they offer and discarded.  That’s because in many cases, the “new thing” isn’t actually novel, but rather a slightly different take on existing technology.

I’d argue that this is particularly true when it comes to hospital IT, given the exceptionally high cost of making large shifts and the industry’s conservative bent. In fact, other than the (admittedly huge) changes fostered by the adoption of EMRs, hospital technology deployments are much the same as they were ten years ago.

Of course, I’d be undercutting my thesis dramatically if I didn’t stipulate that EMR adoption has been a very big deal. Things have certainly changed dramatically since 2007, when an American Hospital Association study reported that 32% percent of hospitals had no EMR in place and 57% had only partially implemented their EMR, with only the remaining 11% having implemented the platform fully.

Today, as we know, virtually every hospital has implemented an EMR integrated it with ancillary systems (some more integrated and some less).  Not only that, some hospitals with more mature deployments in place have used EMRs and connected tools to make major changes in how they deliver care.

That being said, the industry is still struggling with many of the same problems it did in a decade ago.

The most obvious example of this is the extent to which health data interoperability efforts have stagnated. While hospitals within a health system typically share data with their sister facilities, I’d argue that efforts to share data with outside organizations have made little material progress.

Another major stagnation point is data analytics. Even organizations that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their EMR are still struggling to squeeze the full value of this data out of their systems. I’m not suggesting that we’ve made no progress on this issue (certainly, many of the best-funded, most innovative systems are getting there), but such successes are still far from common.

Over the longer-term, I suspect the shifts in consciousness fostered by EMRs and digital health will gradually reshape the industry. But don’t expect those technology lightning bolts to speed up the evolution of hospital IT. It’s going take some time for that giant ship to turn.

We Can’t Afford To Be Vague About Population Health Challenges

Posted on June 19, 2017 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.

Today, I looked over a recent press release from Black Book Research touting its conclusions on the role of EMR vendors in the population health technology market. Buried in the release were some observations by Alan Hutchison, vice president of Connect & Population Health at Epic.

As part of the text, the release observes that “the shift from quantity-based healthcare to quality-based patient-centric care is clearly the impetus” for population health technology demand. This sets up some thoughts from Hutchison.

The Epic exec’s quote rambles a bit, but in summary, he argues that existing systems are geared to tracking units of care under fee-for-service reimbursement schemes, which makes them dinosaurs.

And what’s the solution to this problem? Why, health systems need to invest in new (Epic) technology geared to tracking patients across their path of care. “Single-solution systems and systems built through acquisition [are] less able to effectively understand the total cost of care and where the greatest opportunities are to reduce variation, improve outcomes and lower costs,” Hutchison says.

Yes, I know that press releases generally summarize things in broad terms, but these words are particularly self-serving and empty, mashing together hot air and jargon into an unappetizing patty. Not only that, I see a little bit too much of stating as fact things which are clearly up for grabs.

Let’s break some of these issues down, shall we?

  • First, I call shenanigans on the notion that the shift to “value-based care” means that providers will deliver quality care over quantity. If nothing else, the shifts in our system can’t be described so easily. Yeah, I know, don’t expect much from a press release, but words matter.
  • Second, though I’m not surprised Hutchison made the argument, I challenge the notion that you must invest in entirely new systems to manage population health.
  • Also, nobody is mentioning that while buying a new system to manage pop health data may be cleaner in some respects, it could make it more difficult to integrate existing data. Having to do that undercuts the value of the new system, and may even overshadow those benefits.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of reading low-calorie vendor quotes about the misty future of population health technology, particularly when a vendor rep claims to have The Answer.  And I’m done with seeing clichéd generalizations about value-based care pass for insight.

Actually, I get a lot more out of analyses that break down what we *don’t* know about the future of population health management.

I want to know what hasn’t worked in transitioning to value-based reimbursement. I hope to see stories describing how health systems identified their care management weaknesses. And I definitely want to find out what worries senior executives about supporting necessary changes to their care delivery models.

It’s time to admit that we don’t yet know how this population health management thing is going to work and abandon the use of terminally vague generalizations. After all, once we do, we can focus on the answering our toughest questions — and that’s when we’ll begin to make real progress.

VA (Veteran’s Administration) Chooses Cerner EHR

Posted on June 5, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Some really big news just dropped from the VA Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, that the VA has selected Cerner as their EHR replacement to VistA. You can see the full press release at the bottom of this email which outlines the VA Secretary’s reasoning for going with Cerner and the expedited process.

Without getting too much into the details of government procurement, the VA secretary has decided to use a “Determination and Findings” or “D&F” that allows him to avoid the government requirement for a full and open EHR selection and instead be able to solicit the EHR from Cerner directly. I’m pretty sure this will have many of the VistA and even the Epic people up in arms. We may even see some lawsuits out of it, but I don’t expect they’ll go anywhere. Of course, I think most of the VistA people knew this was coming ever since the VA secretary said they’d be pursuing a commercial EHR.

I think most people in the industry thought that the VA would and should go with Cerner for their EHR once the DoD chose Cerner and has since started implementing the Cerner Millennium EHR in what is now known as MHS GENESIS. The only naysayers suggested that the VA might choose Epic over Cerner just because they wanted to be different. That always seemed like a bit of a stretch to me, but it is government and so you can never know what to expect.

You can read the full press release below, but the reasons for choosing Cerner are pretty clear. The release does say that the VA will have its own instance of Cerner. So, they’ll still have to build interoperability between the DoD implementation of Cerner and the VA implementation of Cerner. This isn’t really a surprise when you think about their unique needs and the size of their implementations. Watch for the Cerner interoperability chart to go through the roof once they start sharing records between the DoD and VA.

I also found it interesting to note that the VA has a lot of community partners who are on other EHR platforms. We’ll see how interoperability goes for them. I expect they’ll likely use the standard interoperability options that are out there today.

The VA Secretary did note the concern of many VistA users when he said that “In many ways VA is well ahead of DoD in clinical IT innovations and we will not discard our past work. And our work will help DoD in turn.” I know many VistA fans who suggested that Cerner and Epic were way behing VistA in many areas and so moving to either commercial EHR would be a frustrating thing for many VA VistA users. We’ll see how well the VA Secretary can incorporate their current IT innovation into Cerner. I expect this will be an extremely hard challenge.

Not being an expert on government procurement, I’m interested to know how the VA will handle the rest of the procurement process. If you remember, the DoD’s massive EHR contract was really led by Leidos and not Cerner. Of the $9 billion contract, there were estimates that Cerner would only see $50-100 million per year of the $9 billion. The VA announcement only talks about a contract with Cerner for their EHR. Will they have to do an open bid process for all the services that Leidos and their rainbow of other partners are providing the Cerner DoD implementation?

Those are some initial high level views on this big announcement. What do you think of the announcement? Any other details I missed? Any other questions you have about it?

VA Press Release on Selection of Cerner EHR:

Today U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin announced his decision on the next-generation Electronic Health Record (EHR) system for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at a news briefing at VA headquarters in Washington.

Secretary Shulkin’s full statement is below.

I am here today to announce my decision on the future of the VA’s Electronic Health Record system, otherwise known as EHR.

I wanted to say at the outset that from the day he selected me for this position, the President made clear that we’re going to do things differently for our Veterans, to include in the area of EHR.

I had said previously that I would be making a decision on our EHR by July 1st, and I am honoring that commitment today.

The health and safety of our Veterans is one of our highest national priorities.

Having a Veteran’s complete and accurate health record in a single common EHR system is critical to that care, and to improving patient safety.

Let me say at the outset that I am extremely proud of VA’s longstanding history in IT innovation and in leading the country in advancing the use of EHRs.

  • It was a group of courageous VA clinicians that began this groundbreaking work in the basements of VA’s in the 1970’s that led to the system that we have today, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA.
  • It has been this system that led to the incredible achievements made by VA clinicians and researchers and resulted in VA’s ability to perform as well or better than the private sector in patient safety and quality of care.

That said, our current VistA system is in need of major modernization to keep pace with the improvements in health information technology and cybersecurity, and software development is not a core competency of VA.

I said recently to Congress that I was committed to getting VA out of the software business, that I didn’t see remaining in that business as benefitting Veterans.  And, because of that, we’re making a decision to move towards a commercial off-the-shelf product.

I have not come to this decision on EHR lightly.

I have reviewed numerous studies, reports and commissions, on this topic, including the recent commission on care report.

  • I’ve spent time talking with clinicians, and I use our legacy VistA system myself as a current practicing VA physician.
  • We have consulted with Chief Information Officers from around the country, and I’ve met personally with CEO’s from leading health systems to get their own thoughts on the best next-generation EHR for VA.
  • We’ve studied reports from management consulting companies and from the GAO and the IG on VA’s IT systems.
  • I can count no fewer than 7 Blue Ribbon Commissions, and a large number of congressional hearings that have called for VA to modernize its approach to IT.

At VA, we know where almost all of our Veteran patients is going to come from — from the DoD, and for this reason, Congress has been urging the VA and DoD for at least 17 years — from all the way back in 2000 — to work more closely on EHR issues.

To date, VA and DoD have not adopted the same EHR system. Instead, VA and DoD have worked together for many years to advance EHR interoperability between their many separate applications — at the cost of several hundred millions of dollars — in an attempt to create a consistent and accurate view of individual medical record information.

While we have established interoperability between VA and DOD for key aspects of the health record, seamless care is fundamentally constrained by ever-changing information sharing standards, separate chains of command, complex governance, separate implementation schedules that must be coordinated to accommodate those changes from separate program offices that have separate funding appropriations, and a host of related complexities requiring constant lifecycle maintenance.

And the bottom line is we still don’t have the ability to trade information seamlessly for our Veteran patients and seamlessly execute a share plan of acre with smooth handoffs.

Without improved and consistently implemented national interoperability standards, VA and DoD will continue to face significant challenges if the Departments remain on two different systems.

For these reasons, I have decided that VA will adopt the same EHR system as DoD, now known as MHS GENESIS, which at its core consists of Cerner Millennium.

VA’s adoption of the same EHR system as DoD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system and enable seamless care between the Departments without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data between two separate systems.

It’s time to move forward, and as Secretary I was not willing to put this decision off any longer.  When DoD went through this acquisition process in 2014 it took far too long.  The entire EHR acquisition process, starting from requirements generation until contract award, took approximately 26 months.

We simply can’t afford to wait that long when it comes to the health of our Veterans.

Because of the urgency and the critical nature of this decision, I have decided that there is a public interest exception to the requirement for full and open competition in this technology acquisition.

Accordingly, under my authority as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, I have signed what is known as a “Determination and Findings,” or D&F, that is a special form of written approval by an authorized official that is required by statute or regulation as a prerequisite to taking certain contract actions.

The D&F notes that there is a public interest exception to the requirement for full and open competition, and determines that the VA may issue a solicitation directly to Cerner Corporation for the acquisition of the EHR system currently being deployed by DoD, for deployment and transition across the VA enterprise in a manner that meets VA needs, and which will enable seamless healthcare to Veterans and qualified beneficiaries.

Additionally we have looked at the need for VA to adopt significant cybersecurity enhancements, and we intend to leverage the architecture, tools and processes that have already been put in place to protect DoD data, to include both physical and virtual separation from commercial clients.

This D&F action is only done in particular circumstances when the public interest demands it, and that’s clearly the case here.  Once again, for the reasons of the health and protection of our Veterans, I have decided that we can’t wait years, as DoD did in its EHR acquisition process, to get our next generation EHR in place.

Let me say what lies ahead, as this is just the beginning of the process.

  • VA has unique needs and many of those are different from the DoD.
  • For this reason, VA will not simply be adopting the identical EHR that DoD uses, but we intend to be on a similar Cerner platform.
  • VA clinicians will be very involved in how this process moves forward and in the implementation of the system.
  • In many ways VA is well ahead of DoD in clinical IT innovations and we will not discard our past work.  And our work will help DoD in turn.
  • Furthermore VA must obtain interoperability with DoD but also with our academic affiliates and community partners, many of whom are on different IT platforms.
  • Therefore we are embarking on creating something that has not been done before — that is an integrated product that, while utilizing the DoD platform, will require a meaningful integration with other vendors to create a system that serves Veterans in the best possible way.
  • This is going to take the cooperation and involvement of many companies and thought leaders, and can serve as a model for the federal government and all of healthcare.

Once again, I want to thank the President for his incredible commitment to helping our Veterans and his support for our team here at the VA as we undertake this important work.

This is an exciting new phase for VA, DOD, and for the country.  Our mission is too important not to get this right and we will.

Epic EHR Switching Video from Mary Washington Healthcare (MWHC)

Posted on May 26, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We’re back with another Fun Friday video (and a bonus story) to prepare you for the weekend. This week’s Fun Friday video comes from Mary Washington Healthcare (MWHC) doing a parody of a Hamilton song, “Right Hand Man,” as part of their switch to Epic. The production quality is really quite amazing and I love the choice of Hamilton. Check it out:

Now for a fun little story. I showed one of these EHR go-live videos to the Healthcare IT and EHR course I taught in Dubai. The majority of attendees were from Saudia Arabia with a few from Kuwait and UAE.

Well, the attendees loved the video. I asked them how well creating a video like this would go over in their hospitals. They all laughed and shook their heads. Certainly, the cultures are quite different. However, I did find it interesting that just as many people in the middle east were taking selfies as the US. Maybe the human desire isn’t all that different.

I don’t expect any of my students in the workshop to do anything like the above video. However, the concept of bringing your team together in an effort like what it takes to create this video is a powerful idea that could be applied regardless of culture.

Measuring Population Health ROI Is Still Tricky

Posted on May 24, 2017 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.

Over the past few years, health systems have made massive investments in population health management technology. Given the forces driving the investments are still present – or even closer at hand – there’s every reason to believe that they will continue.

That being said, health leaders are beginning to ask more questions about what they’re getting in return.  While systems may have subjected the initial investments to less scrutiny than usual, having accepted that they were critically necessary, many of these organizations are now trying to figure out what kind of return on investment they can expect to realize. In the process, some are finding out that even deciding what to measure is still somewhat tricky.

Many healthcare organizations started out with a sense that while investment returns on pop health management tech would take a while, they were in the knowable future. For example, according to a KPMG survey conducted in early 2015, 20 percent of respondents believed that returns on their investment in population health IT would materialize in one to two years, 36 percent expected to see ROI in three to four years and 29 percent were looking at a five+ year horizon.

At the time, though, many of the execs answering the survey questions were just getting started with pop health. Thirty-eight percent said their population health management capabilities were elementary-stage, 23 percent said they were in their infancy and 15 percent said such capabilities were non-existent, KPMG reported.

Since then, health systems and hospitals have found that measuring – much less realizing – returns generated by these investments can be complicated and uncertain. According to Dennis Weaver, MD, a senior consultant with the Advisory Board, one mistake many organizations make is evaluating ROI based solely on whether they’re doing well in their managed care contracts.

“They are trying to pay for all of the investment – the technology, care managers, operational changes, medical homes—all with the accountable payment bucket,” said Weaver, who spoke with Healthcare Informatics.

Other factors to consider

Dr. Weaver argues that healthcare organizations should take at least two other factors into account when evaluating pop health ROI, specifically reduction of leakage and unwarranted care variation. For example, cutting down on leakage – having patients go out of network – offers a 7 to 10 times greater revenue opportunity than meeting accountable care goals. Meanwhile, by reducing unwarranted variations in care and improving outcomes, organizations can see a 5 percent to 10 percent margin improvement, Weaver told the publication.

Of course, no one approach will hold true for every organization.  Bobbie Brown, senior vice president with HealthCatalyst, suggests taking a big-picture approach and drilling down into how specific technologies net out financially.

She recommends that health organizations start the investment analysis with broad strategic questions like “Does this investment help us grow?” and “Are we balancing risk and reward?” She also proposes that health leaders create a matrix which compares the cost/benefit ratio for individual components of the planned pop health program, such as remote monitoring and care management. Sometimes, putting things into a matrix makes it clear which approaches are likely to pay off, she notes.

Over time, it seems likely that healthcare leaders will probably come to a consensus on what elements to measure when sizing up their pop health investments, as with virtually every other major HIT expense. But in the interim, it seems that figuring out where to look for ROI is going to take more work.

Predicting Readmissions, Longitudinal Record, and Physicians’ Time

Posted on May 12, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Here’s a quick look around the Twittersphere and a few topics that stood out to me that I think might be of interest to you.


I’ve been following algorithms like this for a while and they’re really starting to come into their own. This type of predictive technology or predictive analytics if you prefer is going to really change how we manage patients in a hospital. If done right, it can help us become proactive instead of reactive. This will require us to change a lot of processes though.


Is a longitudinal health record possible in any format? I’m beginning to think that it’s a pipe dream that will never happen. At least not with our current documentation requirements.

I find time studies like these very interesting. However, the thing I hate about them is that we don’t have a time study from before implementing EHR software so we could compare how a physician used their time before EHR and after. No doubt over 50% of their time being spent on documentation and not face-to-face with the patient feels bad. However, how far off was this from where we were in the paper world?

Looking at the chart, prescription refills can be faster in an EHR. Secure messages can be faster with an EHR since you’re not playing phone tag which was the process before secure messages. Telephone encounters were likely the same. That leaves just the progress notes as the one thing that could be more time consuming in an EHR than the paper chart. How much more is the real question. Paper chart progress notes weren’t all that fast either. That’s why stacks of paper charts that weren’t completed were always sitting on physicians’ desks.

I guess the core question I would ask is, “Are EHRs the reason doctors hate medicine, or are the ongoing regulations and requirements that have been heaped on doctors the real problem?” My guess is that all this documentation overheard that’s being required of doctors was a problem in the paper world, but has been exacerbated in the EHR world. What do you think?

2 Core Healthcare IT Principles

Posted on May 10, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of my favorite bloggers I found when I first starting blogging about Healthcare IT was a hospital CIO named Will Weider who blogged on a site he called Candid CIO. At the time he was CIO of Ministry Health Care and he always offered exceptional insights from his perspective as a hospital CIO. A little over a month ago, Will decided to move on as CIO after 22 years. That was great news for me since it meant he’d probably have more time to blog. The good news is that he has been posting more.

In a recent post, Will offered two guiding principles that I thought were very applicable to any company working to take part in the hospital health IT space:

1. Embed everything in the EHR
2. Don’t hijack the physician workflow

Go and read Will’s post to get his insights, but I agree with both of these principles.

I would add one clarification to his first point. I think there is a space for an outside provider to work outside of the EHR. Think of someone like a care manager. EHR software doesn’t do care management well and so I think there’s a space for a third party care management platform. However, if you want the doctor to access it, then it has to be embedded in the EHR. It’s amazing how much of a barrier a second system is for a doctor.

Ironically, we’ve seen the opposite is also true for people like radiologists. If it’s not in their PACS interface, then it takes a nearly herculean effort for them to leave their PACS system to look something up in the EHR. That’s why I was excited to see some PACS interfaces at RSNA last year which had the EHR data integrated into the radiologists’ interface. The same is true for doctors working in an EHR.

Will’s second point is a really strong one. In his description of this principle, he even suggests that alerts should all but be done away within an EHR except for “the most critical safety situations. He’s right that alert blindness is real and I haven’t seen anyone nail the alerts so well that doctors aren’t happy to see the alerts. That’s the bar we should place on alerts that hijack the physician workflow. Will the doctor be happy you hijacked their workflow and gave them the alert? If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t send it.

Welcome back to the blogosphere Will! I look forward to many more posts from you in the future.

Google’s DeepMind Rolling Out Bitcoin-Like Health Record Tracking To Hospitals

Posted on May 8, 2017 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.

Blockchain technology is gradually becoming part of how we think about healthcare data. Even government entities like the ONC and FDA – typically not early adopters – are throwing their hat into the blockchain ring.

In fact, according to recent research by Deloitte, healthcare and life sciences companies are planning the most aggressive blockchain deployments of any industry. Thirty-five percent of Deloitte’s respondents told the consulting firm that they expected to put blockchain into production this year.

Many companies are tackling the practical uses of blockchain tech in healthcare. But to me, few are more interesting than Google’s DeepMind, a hot new AI firm based in the UK acquired by Google a few years ago.

DeepMind has already signed an agreement with a branch of Britain’s National Health Trust, under which it will access patient data in the development healthcare app named Streams. Now, it’s launching a new project in partnership with the NHS, in which it will use a new technology based on bitcoin to let hospitals, the NHS and over time, patients track what happens to personal health data.

The new technology, known as “Verifiable Data Audit,” will create a specialized digital ledger which automatically records every time someone touches patient data, according to British newspaper The Guardian.

In a blog entry, DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman notes that the system will track not only that the data was used, but also why. In addition, the ledger supporting the audit will be set to append-only, so once the system records an activity, that record can’t be erased.

The technology differs from existing blockchain models in some important ways, however. For one thing, unlike in other blockchain models, Verifiable Data Audit won’t rely on decentralized ledger verification of a broad set of participants. The developers have assumed that trusted institutions like hospitals can be relied on to verify ledger records.

Another way in which the new technology is different is that it doesn’t use a chain infrastructure. Instead, it’s using a mathematical function known as a Merkle tree. Every time the system adds an entry to the ledger, it generates a cryptographic hash summarizing not only that latest ledger entry, but also the previous ledger values.

DeepMind is also providing a dedicated online interface which participating hospitals can use to review the audit trail compiled by the system, in real-time. In the future, the company hopes to make automated queries which would “sound the alarm” if data appeared to be compromised.

Though DeepMind does expect to give patients direct oversight over how, where and why their data has been used, they don’t expect that to happen for some time, as it’s not yet clear how to secure such access. In the mean time, participating hospitals are getting a taste of the future, one in which patients will ultimate control access to their health data assets.

E-Patient Update: Before You Call Me A “Frequent Flier,” Check Your EMR

Posted on April 28, 2017 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.

While there’s some debate about what constitutes an emergency, there’s no doubt I’ve had a bunch of ambiguous, potentially symptoms lately that needed to be addressed promptly. Unfortunately, that’s exposed me to providers brainwashed to believe that anyone who comes to the emergency department regularly is a problem.

Not only is that irritating, and sometimes intimidating, it’s easy to fix. If medical providers were to just dig a bit further into my existing records – or ideally, do a sophisticated analysis of my health history – they’d understand my behavior, and perhaps even provide more effective care.

If they looked at the context their big ‘ol EMR could provide, they wouldn’t waste time wondering whether I’m overreacting or wasting their time.

As I see it, slapping the “frequent flier” label on patients is particularly inappropriate when they have enough data on hand to know better. (Actually, the American College of Emergency Physicians notes that a very small number of frequent ED visitors are actually homeless, drug seekers or mentally ill, all of which is in play when you show up a bit often. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Taking no chances

The truth is, I’ve only been hitting the ED of late because I’ve been responding to issues that are truly concerning, or doing what my primary doctor or HMO nurse line suggests.

For example, my primary care doctor routed me straight to the local emergency department for a Doppler when my calves swelled abruptly, as I had a DVT episode and subsequent pulmonary embolism just six months ago.

More recently, when I had a sudden right-sided facial droop, I wasn’t going to wait around and see if it was caused by a stroke. It turns out that I probably had an atypical onset of Bell’s Palsy, but there was no way I was going to try and sort that out on my own.

And given that I have a very strong history of family members dropping dead of MI, I wasn’t going to fool around when I felt breathless, my heart was racing and I my chest ached. Panic attack, you’re thinking? No, as it turned out that like my mother, I had aFib. Once again, I don’t have a lab or imaging equipment in my apartment – and my PCP doesn’t either – so I think I did the right thing.

The truth is, in each case I’d probably have been OK, but I erred on the side of caution. You know what? I don’t want to die needlessly or sustain major injuries to prove I’m no wimp.

The whole picture

Nonetheless, having been to the ED pretty regularly of late, I still encounter clinicians that wonder if I’m a malingerer, an attention seeker or a hypochondriac. I pick up just a hint of condescension, a sense of being delicately patronized from both clinicians and staffer who think I’m nuts. It’s subtle, but I know it’s there.

Now, if these folks kept up with their industry, they might have read the following, from Health Affairs. The article in question notes that “the overwhelming majority of frequent [ED} users have only episodic periods of high ED use, instead of consistent use over multiple years.” Yup, that’s me.

If they weren’t so prone to judging me and my choices – OK, not everyone but certainly some – it might occur to them to leverage my data. Hey, if I’m being screened but in no deep distress, why not ask what my wearable or health app data has told me of late? More importantly, why haven’t the IT folks at this otherwise excellent hospital equipped providers with even basic filters the ED treatment team can use to spot larger patterns? (Yeah, bringing big data analytics into today’s mix might be a stretch, but still, where are they?)

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that it’s hard to break long-established patterns, change attitudes and integrate any form of analytics into the extremely complex ED workflow. But as I see it, there’s no excuse to just ignore these problems. Soon, the day will come when on-the-spot analytics is the minimum professional requirement for treating ED patients, so confront the problem now.

Oh, and by the way, treat me with more respect, OK?

UCHealth Adds Claims Data To Population Health Dataset

Posted on April 24, 2017 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 Colorado-based health system is implementing a new big data strategy which incorporates not only data from clinics, hospitals and pharmacies, but also a broad base of payer claim data.

UCHealth, which is based in Aurora, includes a network of seven hospitals and more than 100 clinics, caring collectively for more than 1.2 million unique patients in 2016. Its facilities include the University of Colorado Hospital, the principal teaching hospital for the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Leaders at UCHealth are working to improve their population health efforts by integrating data from seven state insurers, including Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna, Colorado Access, Colorado Choice Health Plans, Colorado Medicaid, Rocky Mountain Health Plans and United Healthcare.

The health system already has an Epic EMR in place across the system which, as readers might expect, offers a comprehensive view of all patient treatment taking place at the system’s clinics and hospitals.

That being said, the Epic database suffers from the same limitations as any other locally-based EMR. As UCHealth notes, its existing EMR data doesn’t track whether a patient changes insurers, ages into Medicare, changes doctors or moves out of the region.

To close the gaps in its EMR data, UCHealth is using technology from software vendor Stratus, which offers a healthcare data intelligence application. According to the vendor, UCHealth will use Stratus technology to support its accountable care organizations as well as its provider clinical integration strategy.

While health system execs expect to benefit from integrating payer claims data, the effort doesn’t satisfy every item on their wish list. One major challenge they’re facing is that while Epic data is available to all the instant it’s added, the payer data is not. In fact, it can take as much as 90 days before the payer data is available to UCHealth.

That being said, UCHealth’s leaders expect to be able to do a great deal with the new dataset. For example, by using Stratus, physicians may be able to figure out why a patient is visiting emergency departments more than might be expected.

Rather than guessing, the physicians will be able to request the diagnoses associated with those visits. If the doctor concludes that their conditions can be treated in one of the system’s primary care clinics, he or she can reach out to these patients and explain how clinic-based care can keep them in better health.

And of course, the health system will conduct other increasingly standard population health efforts, including spotting health trends across their community and better understanding each patient’s medical needs.

Over the next several months, 36 of UCHealth’s primary care clinics will begin using the Stratus tool. While the system hasn’t announced a formal pilot test of how Stratus works out in a production setting, rolling this technology out to just 36 doctors is clearly a modest start. But if it works, look for other health systems to scoop up claims data too!