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National Health Service Hospitals Use Data Integration Apps

Posted on February 20, 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 many providers in the US are still struggling with selecting and deploying apps, the UK National Health Service trusts are ready to use them to collect vital data.

According to the New Scientist, the four National Health Services serving the United Kingdom are rolling out two apps which help patients monitor their health at home. Both of the apps, which are being tested at four hospitals in Oxfordshire, UK, focus on management of a disease state.

One, called GDm-health, helps manage the treatment of gestational diabetes, which affects one in 10 pregnant women. Women use the app to send each of their blood glucose readings to the clinician monitoring their diabetes. The Oxford University Institute of Biomedical Engineering led development of the app, which has allowed patients to avoid needless in-person visits. In fact, the number of patient visits has dropped by 25%, the article notes.

The other app, which was also developed by the Institute, helps patients manage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which affects between 1 million and 1.5 million UK patients. COPD patients check their heart rate and blood oxygen saturation every day, entering each result into the app.

After collecting three months of measurements, the app “learns” to recognize what a normal oxygen sat level is for that patient. Because it has data on what is normal for that patient, it will neither alert clinicians too often nor ignore potential problems. During initial use the app, which already been through a 12-month clinical trial, cut hospital admissions among this population by 17% and general practitioner visits by 40%.

NHS leaders are also preparing to launch a third app soon. The technology, which is known as SEND, is an iPad app designed to collect information on hospital patients. As they make their rounds, nurses will use the app to input data on patients’ vital signs. The system then automatically produces an early warning score for each patient, and provides an alert if the patient’s health may be deteriorating.

One might think that because UK healthcare is delivered by centralized Trusts, providers there don’t face data-sharing problems in integrating data from apps like these. But apparently, we would be wrong. According to Rury Holman of the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, who spoke with New Scientist, few apps are designed to work with NHS’ existing IT systems.

“It’s a bit like the Wild West out there with lots of keen and very motivated people producing these apps,” he told the publication. “What we need are consistent standards and an interface with electronic patient records, particularly with the NHS, so that information, with permission from the patients, can be put to use centrally.”

In other words, even in a system providing government-delivered, ostensibly integrated healthcare, it’s still hard to manage data sharing effectively. Guess we shouldn’t feel too bad about the issues we face here in the US.

Hospital Program Uses Connected Health Monitoring To Admit Patients “To Home”

Posted on November 28, 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 Boston-based hospital has kicked off a program in which it will evaluate whether a mix of continuous connected patient monitoring and clinicians is able to reduce hospitalizations for common medical admissions.

The Home Hospital pilot, which will take place at Partners HealthCare Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is being led by David Levine, MD, MA, a physician who practices at the hospital. The hospital team is working with two vendors to implement the program, Vital Connect and physIQ. Vital Connect is supplying a biosensor that will continuously stream patient vital signs; those vital signs, in turn, will be analyzed and viewable through physIQ’s physiology analytics platform.

The Home Hospital pilot is one of two efforts planned by the team to analyze how technology in home-based care can treat patients who might otherwise have been admitted to the hospital. For this initiative, a randomized controlled trial, patients diagnosed at the BWH Emergency Department with exacerbation of heart failure, pneumonia, COPD, cellulitis or complicated urinary tract infection are being placed at home with the Vital Connect/physIQ solution and receive daily clinician visits.

The primary aim of this program, according to participants, is to demonstrate that the in-home model they’ve proposed can provide appropriate care at a lower cost at home, as well as improving outcomes measures such as health related quality of life, patient safety and quality and overall patient experience.

According to a written statement, the first phase of the initiative began in September of this year involves roughly 60 patients, half of whom are receiving traditional in-hospital care, while the other half are being treated at home. With the early phase looking at the success, the hospital will probably scale up to including 500 patients in the pilot in early 2017.

Expect to see more hospital-based connected care options like these emerge over the next year or two, as they’re just too promising to ignore at this point.

Perhaps the most advanced I’ve written about to date must be the Chesterfield, Mo-based Mercy Virtual Care Center, which describes itself as a “hospital without beds.” The $54M Virtual Care Center, which launched in October 2015, employs 330 staffers providing a variety of telehealth services, including virtual hospitalists, telestroke and perhaps most relevant to this story, the “home monitoring” service, which provides continuous monitoring for more than 3,800 patients.

My general impression is that few hospitals are ready to make the kind of commitment Mercy did, but that most are curious and some quite interested in actively implementing connected care and monitoring as a significant part of their service line. It’s my guess that it won’t take many more successful tests to convince wide swath of hospitals to get off the fence and join them.

Hospital CIOs Say Better Data Security Is Key Goal

Posted on November 9, 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 has concluded that while they obviously have other goals, an overwhelming majority of healthcare CIOs see data protection as their key objective for the near future. The study, which was sponsored by Spok and administered by CHIME, more than 100 IT leaders were polled on their perspective on communications and healthcare.

In addition to underscoring the importance of data security efforts, the study also highlighted the extent to which CIOs are being asked to add new functions and wear new hats (notably patient satisfaction management).

Goals and investments
When asked what business goals they expected to be focused on for the next 18 months, the top goal of 12 possible options was “strengthening data security,” which was chosen by 81%. “Increasing patient satisfaction” followed relatively closely at 70%, and “improving physician satisfaction” was selected by 65% of respondents.

When asked which factors were most important in making investments in communications-related technologies for their hospital, the top factor of 11 possible options was “best meets clinician/organizational needs” with 82% selecting that choice, followed by “ease of use for end users (e.g. physician/nurse) at 80% and “ability to integrate with current systems (e.g. EHR) at 75%.

When it came to worfklows they hoped to support with better tools, “care coordination for treatment planning” was the clear leader, chosen by 67% of respondents, followed by patient discharge (48%), “patient handoffs within hospital” (46%) and “patient handoffs between health services and facilities” chosen by 40% of respondents selected.

Mobile developments
Turning to mobile, Spok asked healthcare CIOs which of nine technology use cases were driving the selection and deployment of mobile apps. The top choices, by far, were “secure messaging in communications among care team” at 84% and “EHR access/integrations” with 83%.

A significant number of respondents (68%) said they were currently in the process of rolling out a secure texting solution. Respondents said their biggest challenges in doing so were “physician adoption/stakeholder buy-in” at 60% and “technical setup and provisioning” at 40%. A substantial majority (78%) said they’d judge the success of their rollout by the rate the solution was adopted by by physicians.

Finally, when Spok asked the CIOs to take a look at the future and predict which issues will be most important to them three years from now, the top-rated choice was “patient centered care,” which was chosen by 29% of respondents,” “EHR integrations” and “business intelligence.”

A couple of surprises
While much of this is predictable, I was surprised by a couple things.

First, the study doesn’t seem to have been designed for statistical significance, it’s still worth noting that so many CIOs said improving patient satisfaction was one of their top three goals for the next 18 months. I’m not sure what they can do to achieve this end, but clearly they’re trying. (Exactly what steps they should take is a subject for another article.)

Also, I didn’t expect to see so many CIOs engaged in rolling out secure texting, partly because I would’ve expected such rollouts to already have been in place at this point, and partly because I assume that more CIOs would be more focused on higher-level mobile apps (such as EHR interfaces). I guess that while mobile clinical integration efforts are maturing, many healthcare facilities aren’t ready to take them on yet.

Mobility Strategy Becoming More Important To Hospitals

Posted on October 7, 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.

An annual study of healthcare mobility has found that hospitals may be at a tipping point when it comes to mobile strategy. The study also suggests that hospitals are struggling with Wi-Fi coverage and BYOD issues, but when you add on the fact that mobile EHR access is maturing, you still have a picture in which mobile is playing a rapidly-expanding role.

Spok’s fifth-annual Mobility in Healthcare Survey, which gathered 550 responses in July of this year, found that the number of hospitals reporting having a documented mobility strategy has almost doubled since year one. Specifically, 63% of respondents said that they had a documented strategy in place, a huge shift from 2012, when only 34% of respondents had such a strategy.

Another interesting piece of data derived from the study is that the roles of those involved in forming mobile strategy have shifted meaningfully between 2014 and 2016.

For example, the number of respondents saying IT helped or would help drive mobile strategy changes fell 12 points, while those who said nurses were involved climbed 12 points. The number of respondents said doctors and consultants were involved climbed 9 points, and clinical leadership eight points. The greatest change was the role of nurses, whose current or planned involvement climbed 69% in absolute terms.

Mobile strategies emerging
When respondents that did not have a documented mobile strategy in place were asked why, 31% told Spok that they were in the process of developing such a strategy, 30% didn’t know, 17% said they had a verbal strategy in place which had not been written down or documented and 15% said budget constraints were holding them back.

Another notable set of data collected by Spok focused on which devices the respondent’s hospital was supporting. The fact that 78% percent supported smartphones was no big surprise, but it was a bit unexpected to find that 71% of hospital respondents support in-house pages. (I guess they’re like faxes — some technologies just won’t die!) Wi-Fi phones were supported by 69% of respondents, wide area pagers 57%, tablets 52%, voice badges 20% and smart watches/wearables 8%.

Meanwhile, among the key shifts in support for devices is that Wi-Fi phone and voice badge support were up 24% and 18% respectively in absolute terms. It’s also worth noting that support for smart watches/wearables has climbed to 8% near zero just last year. Clearly these are categories to watch.

Wi-Fi, BYOD challenges
As part of the support discussion, respondents also answered questions about Wi-Fi coverage, and the results highlighted some serious issues. In particular, while 83% of respondents said that their Wi-Fi connection is business-critical, they didn’t seem to feel in complete control of it.

More than half (54%) of respondents said they saw Wi-Fi coverage as a challenge, and 65% said they believed that there were some areas of poor coverage within their hospital. Other mobile device support challenges cited by respondents include data security (43%), user compliance with mobility, BYOD and EMM policies and procedures (39%) and IT support for users (37%).

Meanwhile, BYOD support and policies continue to be a contentious issue for hospitals. Nineteen percent of survey respondents said that their organizations hadn’t created any sort of BYOD program, an 8-point drop from 2015. The proportion of facilities with some type of a BYOD program also fell, from 73% to 58%, though – exercising survey options available for the first time – 5% said they were planning for BYOD and 18% said they didn’t know what was up on this front.

When asked why they chose to allow BYOD programs to exist, 60% of respondents said cost savings was a factor, 50% care team communication, and 46% said both physician demand and workflow time savings for users were important reasons. On the flip side, eighty-one percent of respondents said security issues were the primary reason they didn’t allow BYOD.

Hospitals Face Security Risks In Expanding Mobile Footprint

Posted on October 3, 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 suggests that hospitals are deeply concerned about their ability to protect patient data and their technology infrastructure from the growing threat of mobile cyberattacks.

The study, by Spyglass Consulting Group, found that 71% of hospitals consider mobile communications to be an increasingly important investment, in part due to the growth of value-based reimbursement and emerging patient- centered care models.

Thirty-eight percent of hospitals surveyed by Spyglass reported having invested in a smartphone-based platform to support these communications, with the deployments averaging 624 devices. Meanwhile, 52% have expanded their deployments beyond clinical messaging support other mobile hospital workers, researchers found.

That being said, 82% of hospitals weren’t sure they could protect these assets, particularly against mobile-focused attacks. Respondents worry that both smartphones and tablets could introduce vulnerabilities into the hospitals network infrastructure through malware, blastware and ransomware attacks. (These concerns are backed up by other Spyglass research, which concludes that 25% of data breaches originate from mobile devices.)

The surveyed hospitals said they were especially concerned about personally-owned mobile devices used by advanced practice nurses and physicians, noting that such devices may lack adequate password protection and may not have security software in place to block attacks.

Also, respondents said, APNs and doctors typically rely on unsecured SMS messaging for clinical communications, which may include protected patient health information. What’s more, respondents noted that these clinicians make heavy use of public Wi-Fi and cellular networks which can be compromised easily, exposing not only their device but also their data and communications to view.

But the hospitals’ fears aren’t limited to clinicians’ personal devices, Spyglass noted. Despite making increased investments in mobile security, hospital respondents said they were also concerned about hospital-owned and managed mobile devices, including those used by nurses, ancillary professionals and nonclinical mobile hospital workers.

“Cybercriminals have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable about the capabilities and vulnerabilities of existing security products, and the strategies and tools used by hospital IT detect potential intrusion,” said Gregg Malkary of Spyglass in a prepared statement.

Still, hospitals have a number of reasons to soldier on and solve these problems. For example, a HIMSS study released in March notes that hospitals feel mobile implementations positively impact their ability to communicate with patients and their ability to deliver a higher standard of care. Not only that, 69% of respondents whose hospitals use mobile-optimized patient portals said that this expanded their capability to send and receive data securely.

The HIMSS study found that 52% of survey respondents used three or more mobile and/or connected health technologies, with 58% mobile-optimized patient portals, 48% apps for patient education and engagement, 37% remote patient monitoring, 34% telehealth, 33% SMS texting, 32% patient-generated health data and 26% concierge telehealth.

In addition, 47% of HIMSS respondents said that their hospitals were looking to expand the number of connected health technologies they used, with another 5% of respondents expecting to become first-time users of at least one of these technologies.

Telemedicine Center Is “Hospital Without Beds”

Posted on September 30, 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.

You don’t usually read cutting-edge healthcare stories on the CNN Money site, but the following blew me away.  Chesterfield, MO-based Mercy Virtual Care Center is a first, a four-story facility focused entirely on virtual care.

As I’ve noted previously, hospitals seem quite interested in rolling out telehealth services — and virtually all seem to be experimenting with them to some extent — but technology concerns seem to be holding them back. This is happening, in part, because EMR vendors have been slow to integrate telehealth functions.

But this doesn’t seem to have been a problem in this case. The $54 million Mercy Virtual Care Center, which describes itself as a “hospital without beds,” launched in October 2015. It employs 330 staffers focused on a variety of telehealth services, according to CNN Money.

The Center, which calls itself the world’s first facility dedicated to telehealth, offers four programs:

  • Mercy SafeWatch, which the Center says is the largest single hub electronic intensive care unit in the nation
  • Telestroke, which offers neurology services to emergency departments across the country which don’t have a neurologist on site
  • Virtual Hospitalists, a team of doctors seeing patients within the hospital around the clock using virtual care technology, and
  • Home Monitoring, a service which provides continuous monitoring more than 3,800 patients

Center medical director Gavin Helton told CNN Money that the programs it runs are focused on cutting down the cost of care reducing the admissions. “The sickest 5% of patients are typically responsible for about half of the healthcare spend and many end up, unnecessarily, back in the hospital,” he told the site. “We need an answer for those patients.”

One activity run by the Center is a pilot program focused on remote care for patients in their homes. The initial phase includes 250 patients with complex chronic illnesses for whom care is not readily accessible.

For example, one patient enrolled in the program is Leroy Strubberg, who is recovering from three mini strokes and also has heart problems, CNN Money reports. Strubberg, who lives more than an hour away from parent hospital Mercy St. Louis, participates in the Center’s in-home care program, speaking with Virtual Care staff members twice a week.

The staffers, dubbed “navigators,” call him on his hospital-provided iPad and ask him about his status. They also encourage his wife to use a blood pressure cuff and other devices connected to the iPad to check his health.

Since Strubberg enrolled in the program, Mercy Virtual Care clinicians were able to help him avoid hospitalization twice while providing him with appropriate care, the article says.

All of this would be exciting regardless of how it played out, but the fact that seems to be successful at managing care effectively is an added bonus. Mercy told the site that the Virtual Care program has cut emergency department visits and hospitalizations by 33% since the program opened just under a year ago. They attribute their success, in part to seeing that the patients usually see the same navigator, as well as working closely with the patient’s primary care physician.

Thoughts On Hospital Telecommunications Infrastructure

Posted on August 31, 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.

Given the prevalence of broadband telecom networks in place today, hospital IT leaders may feel secure – that their networks can handle whatever demands are thrown at them. But given the progress of new health IT initiatives and data use, they still might face bandwidth problems. And as healthcare technical architect Lanny Hart notes in a piece for SearchHealthIT, the networks need to accommodate new security demands as well.

These days, he notes healthcare networks must carry not only more-established data and voice data, but also growing volumes of EMR traffic. Not only that, hospital IT execs need to plan for connected device traffic and patient/visitor access to Wi-Fi, along with protecting the network from increasingly sophisticated data thieves hungry for health data.

So what’s a healthcare CIO to do when thinking about building out hospital telecommunications infrastructure?  Here’s some of Hart’s suggestions:

  • When building your network, keep cybersecurity at the top of your priorities, whether you handle it at the network layer or on applications layered over the network.
  • Use an efficient network topology. At most, create a hub-and-spoke design rather than a daisy chain of linked sub-networks and switches.
  • Avoid establishing a single point of failure for networks. Use two separate runs of fiber or cable from the network’s edge switches to ensure redundancy and increase uptime.
  • Use virtual local area networks for PACS and for separate hospital departments.
  • Segment access to your virtual networks – including your guest Wi-Fi service – allowing only authorized users to access individual networks.
  • Build as much wireless network connectivity into new hospital construction, and blend wireless and wired networks when you upgrade networks in older buildings.
  • When planning network infrastructure, bear in mind that hospital networks can’t be completely wireless yet, because big hardware devices like CT scans and MRIs can’t run off of wireless connections.
  • Bigger hospitals that use real-time location services should factor that traffic in when planning network capacity.

In addition to all of these considerations, I’d argue that hospital network planners need to keep a close eye on changes in network usage that affect where demand is going. For example, consider the ongoing shift from desktop computers to mobile devices use of cellular networks have on network bandwidth requirements.

If physicians and other clinical staffers are using cell connections to roam, they’re probably transferring large files and perhaps using video as well. (Of course, their video use is likely to increase as telemedicine rollouts move ahead.)

If you’re paying for those connections, why not evaluate whether there’s ways you could save by extending Internet connectivity? After all, closing gaps in your wireless network could both improve your clinicians’ mobile experience and help you understand how they work. It never hurts to know where the data is headed!

More Ideas On Tightening Hospital IT Security

Posted on August 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.

Security deserves all of the attention you can spare, and it never hurts to revisit the fundamentals, in part because the cost of lagging security measures is so high. After all, it’s more than likely that your organization will face a breach, as almost 90% of healthcare organizations experienced at least one breach within the past two years, according to a Poneman Institute study done earlier this year.

Here’s some options to consider when tightening up your security operations, courtesy of Healthcare IT Leaders, whose suggestions include the following:

Hire white hat hackers: Mayo Clinic reportedly tried this a few years ago, and learned a great deal. While its security measures seem to have gotten something of a beatdown, the Clinic also found a bunch of security holes and got recommendations on how to close those holes.

Lock down employee mobile devices: As mobile technology increasingly becomes a key part of your infrastructure, it’s important to keep it secured – but that can be tough when employees own the phone. One question to ask is whether your IT could lock or wipe data from employee phones and tablets if need be. What are your legal options for securing critical data on employee-owned devices?

Review medical device security:  Networked medical devices – from respirators and infusion pumps to MRI scanners – increasingly pose security threats, as any device that receives and transmits data can be a target for attackers.  It’s critical to audit these devices, while setting careful security standards for device makers.

Train staff on security issues:  Often, breaches are due to human error, so it’s critical to educate non-IT employees on the basics of security hygiene. Offering basic security training should cover not only cover ways to avoid security breakdowns – such as avoiding generic or default passwords and phishing e-mails — but also explanations of how such breaches affect patients.

Encourage risk reporting:  According to Poneman, almost half of healthcare organizations discovered a breach through an employee within the past two years. What’s more, nearly one-third of data breaches came to light due to patient complaints. It’s smart to encourage these reports, as IT staff can’t have eyes everywhere.

Disable laptop cameras and microphones:  Laptops generally come with a webcam and microphone, but at least in an enterprise setting, it may be better to disable these functions. Why? For one thing, attackers may be able to listen to private conversations through the microphone.

As I see it, the bottom line on all of these activities is to infuse security thinking into as many IT interactions as possible.  It may be trite to talk about a culture of security (it’s easier said than done, and too many organizations make empty promises) but such a culture can actually make a big impact on your security status.

To have the biggest impact, though, that culture has to extend all the way to the C-suite, and unfortunately, that rarely seems to happen. When I read research on how often healthcare organizations underspend on security, it seems pretty clear that many senior execs don’t take this issue as seriously as that should. And if the staggering level of health data breaches happening lately isn’t enough to scare them straight, I don’t know what will.

3 EHR Gaps That Hinder Systematic Chronic Disease Management

Posted on May 2, 2016 I Written By

3 EHR Gaps That Hinder Systematic Chronic Disease Management

The following is a guest blog post by Andrei Khomushka.

An EHR typically contains multiple highlights of patients’ health, including observations, lab results, diagnoses and treatment plans. However, this data might be insufficient for systematic chronic care management, and there are 3 key reasons for that.

1. Interrupted care setting

Most EHRs are built around the idea that patients control their conditions to the extent that they can arrange timely appointments with their doctors should disturbing symptoms arise. However, the no-shows rate is still high (up to 55%, according to Family Medicine, 2013), and chronic patients often tend to overlook and mistreat symptoms. Leading to occasional appointments in acute situations. This breaks patient data and thus care delivery. So, EHRs can’t show the real picture of a disease progression.

Only continuous care and health tracking can help prevent, or at least detect early complications and exacerbations. As EHRs simply don’t have the tracking functionality, providers need additional solutions bound to their EHRs. For example, mobile patient apps connect individuals and caregivers, allowing the former to sync medical devices and continuously share their health data with doctors, thus ensuring remote monitoring of health status. Then, this information is automatically analyzed and aligned with the EHR so it’s always up-to-date.

2. Lack of patient engagement

As individuals can’t access EHRs directly, they don’t provide any patient engagement elements. Patients can only interact with the EHR data (to some extent) by visiting the patient portal. Here is your chance to engage them. With the standard functionality, such as appointment scheduling, e-billing, lab results checking, portals allow setting goals, sharing achievements across social media, exploring interactive learning materials and more.

However, systematic chronic care is more effective when a technology is proactive and connected to a patient’s daily life (patient portals can’t beat mobile patient apps here). This way, when multiple personal encouragements, guidelines and notifications are already in your pocket, it’s easier to control a chronic condition.

3. Patient-generated data missing

Most EHRs can’t collect and store patient-generated information such as physical activity, nutrition, daily subjective and objective. To benefit from daily updates of patients’ health statuses, we suggest implementing a separate solution integrated with the EHR. This will automatically process and analyze data to identify condition changes that require a physician’s attention. Then, the solution will notify both the patient and the health specialist about the disturbing patterns and suggest scheduling an appointment or test.

Afterword: Reducing the gaps

Overcoming these limitations is essential for a systematic care of chronic patients in the comfort of their homes. However, a thorough rebuild of an EHR is not realistic. Instead of investing substantial time and budget in making the EHR something it is not supposed to be, we recommend creating a holistic solution based on a chronic disease management system (CDMS), which will be connected to the mobile patient application and the EHR. You can find more about CDMS and its benefits in our recent chronic disease management entry.

It’s Time For A New HIE Model

Posted on April 25, 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.

Over the decade or so I’ve been writing about HIEs, critics have predicted their death countless times – and with good reason. Though their supporters have never backed down, it’s increasingly clear that the model has many flaws, some of them quite possibly fatal.

One is the lack of a sustainable business model. Countless publicly-funded HIEs, jumpstarted by state or federal grants, have stumbled badly and closed their doors when the funding dried up. As it turns out, it’s quite difficult to get hospitals to pay for such services. Whether this is due to fears of sharing data with the competition or a simple reluctance to pay for something new, hospitals haven’t moved much on this issue.

Another reason HIEs aren’t likely to stay alive is that none can offer true interoperability, which diminishes the benefits they offer. Admittedly, some groups won’t concede this issue. For example, I was intrigued to see that DirectTrust, a collaborative embracing 145 health IT and provider organizations, is working to provide interoperability via Direct message protocols. But Direct messaging and true bilateral health information exchange are two different things. (I know, I’m a spoilsport.)

Yet another reason why HIEs have continued to struggle is due to variations in state privacy rules, which add another layer of complexity to managing HIEs. Simply complying with HIPAA can be challenging; adding state requirements to the mix can be a big headache. State laws vary as to when providers can disclose PHI, to whom it can be disclosed and for what purpose, and building an HIE that meets these requirements is a big deal.

Still, given that MACRA demands the industry achieve “widespread interoperability” by 2018, we have to have something in place that might work. One model, proposed by Dr. Donald Voltz, is to turn to a middleware solution. This approach, Voltz notes, has worked in industries like banking and retail, which have solved their data interoperability problems (at least to a greater degree than healthcare).

Voltz isn’t proposing that healthcare organizations rely on building middleware that connects directly to their proprietary EMR, but rather, that they build an independent solution. The idea isn’t incredibly popular yet — just 16% of hospital systems reported that they were considering middleware, according to Black Book – but the idea is gaining popularity, Voltz suggests. And given that hospitals face continued challenges in integrating new inputs, like mobile app and medical device data, next-generation middleware may be a good solution.

Other possible HIE alternatives include health record banks and clearinghouses. These have the advantage of being centralized, connected to yet independent of providers and relatively flexible. There are some substantial obstacles to substituting either for an HIE, such as getting consumers to consistently upload their records to the record banks. Still, it’s likely that neither would be as costly nor as resource-intensive as building EMR-specific interoperability.

That being said, none of these approaches are a pushbutton solution to data exchange problems. To foster health data sharing will take significant time and effort, and the transition to implementing any of these models won’t be easy. But if the existing HIE model is collapsing (and I contend this is the case) hospitals will need to do something. If you think the models I’ve listed don’t work, what do you suggest?