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Health Systems, Hospitals Getting Serious About Telemedicine

Posted on December 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.

In the spring of last year, I wrote up a story about hospitals and health systems and their growing interest in telemedicine. The story included data from a survey on hospitals and telemedicine, which found that health systems averaged 5.51 telemedicine service lines at the time, up almost 20% from 2015.

Given these stats, I was not surprised to see a new press release from Teladoc reporting that the company now supports more than 200 hospitals, a number which represents a 100% growth in such relationships during this year.

If you’re wondering why this has happened, you’ll get more or less the same answer from last year’s study and Teladoc’s news release. In short, it’s all about the outcomes, baby.

When I wrote the story last year, one of the things that stood out for me was that 96% of respondents had said they were planning to roll up telemedicine services because they felt it would improve patient outcomes. While that made sense to me at the time, it seemed more like an aspiration rather than a practical plan.

What made the survey data even more provocative is that “improving financial returns” turned out to be a very low priority for hospitals working on telemedicine programs. At the time, this focus on outcomes rather than direct financial returns surprised me.

Now, about 18 months later, I’m doing the facepalm thing and saying “of course, hospitals want affordable, flexible care delivery options — they’re a great tool for managing population health!” It’s a no-brainer, actually, but I guess my brain wasn’t working at the time.

Now, as far as I know, the assumption that telemedicine can help with PHM and value-based delivery generally has not been rigorously tested. Also, even if the assumption is correct, hospitals are likely to struggle with deploying telemedicine for a while until they develop the most efficient workflows for using it.

Also, while it’s all well and good to say that focusing on outcomes will create ROI as a secondary effect, for some hospitals it will be pretty rough to carry telemedicine infrastructure and staffing costs upfront for a while. After all, if they want to make an impact with telemedicine, they have to make a serious commitment; I’m guessing that most of us would agree that a scattershot approach would get most hospitals nowhere.

Ultimately, though, I think hospitals have it right. Telemedicine is likely to offer health systems and hospitals some amazing options for extending service lines, managing populations more effectively, and yes, improving outcomes.

AHA Asks Congress To Reduce Health IT Regulations for Medicare Providers

Posted on September 22, 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.

The American Hospital Association has sent a letter to Congress asking members to reduce regulatory burdens for Medicare providers, including mandates affecting a wide range of health IT services.

The letter, which is addressed to the House Ways and Means Health subcommittee, notes that in 2016, CMS and other HHS agencies released 49 rules impacting hospitals and health systems, which make up nearly 24,000 pages of text.

“In addition to the sheer volume, the scope of changes required by the new regulations is beginning to outstrip the field’s ability to absorb them,” says the letter, which was signed by Thomas Nickels, executive vice president of government relations and public policy for the AHA. The letter came with a list of specific changes AHA is proposing.

Proposals of potential interest to health IT leaders include the following. The AHA is asking Congress to:

  • Expand Medicare coverage of telehealth to patients outside of rural areas and expand the types of technology that can be used. It also suggests that CMS should automatically reimburse for Medicare-covered services when delivered via telehealth unless there’s an individual exception.
  • Remove HIPAA barriers to sharing patient medical information with providers that don’t have a direct relationship with that patient, in the interests of improving care coordination and outcomes in a clinically-integrated setting.
  • Cancel Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program, institute a 90-day reporting period for future program years and eliminate the all-or-nothing approach to compliance.
  • Suspend eCQM reporting requirements, given how difficult it is at present to pull outside data into certified EHRs for quality reporting.
  • Remove requirements that hospitals attest that they have bought technology which supports health data interoperability, as well as that they responded quickly and in good faith to requests for exchange with others. At present, hospitals could face penalties for technical issues outside their control.
  • Refocus the ONC to address a narrower scope of issues, largely EMR standards and certification, including testing products to assure health data interoperability.

I am actually somewhat surprised to say that these proposals seem to be largely reasonable. Typically, when they’re developed by trade groups, they tend to be a bit too stacked in favor of that group’s subgroup of concerns. (By the way, I’m not taking a position on the rest of the regulatory ideas the AHA put forth.)

For example, expanding Medicare telehealth coverage seems prudent. Given their age, level of chronic illness and attendant mobility issues, telehealth could potentially do great things for Medicare beneficiaries.

Though it should be done carefully, tweaking HIPAA rules to address the realities of clinical integration could be a good thing. Certainly, no one is suggesting that we ought to throw the rulebook out the window, it probably makes sense to square it with today’s clinical realities.

Also, the idea of torquing down MU 3 makes some sense to me as well, given the uncertainties around the entirety of MU. I don’t know if limiting future reporting to 90-day intervals is wise, but I wouldn’t take it off of the table.

In other words, despite spending much of my career ripping apart trade groups’ legislative proposals, I find myself in the unusual position of supporting the majority of the ones I list above. I hope Congress gives these suggestions some serious consideration.

Did EMRs Help Hospitals Hit By Hurricane Harvey?

Posted on September 5, 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.

On August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Over the next few days, it devastated communities from Florida to Texas, generating massive storm surges and triggering levee failures that drowned cities like New Orleans. It was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

At the time, virtually all healthcare providers used paper medical records, many of which were destroyed by flooding. According to an AHIMA article, the flood waters destroyed roughly 400,000 paper records, a catastrophic loss by any standard.

The situation wasn’t nearly as dire at facilities like Tulane University Hospital and Clinic, though. The New Orleans-based organization had implemented an EMR before the storm hit. In the trying weeks afterward, physicians at these hospitals had access to medical records, while many other hospitals were struggling to gather patient information for months or even years after Katrina.

Now, we’re facing the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which has all but submerged the city of Houston. Days after the storm’s peak, which dumped a record 51.88 inches of rain on Texas, roughly a third of the Houston area was covered in water, and Texas officials estimated that close to 49,000 homes had suffered flood damage.

During the worst of the storm, some 20 Houston hospitals transferred some or all of their patients to facilities outside of the area as water rose in their basements or levees seemed ready to burst. In its immediate aftermath, many of the area’s 110 facilities shut down outpatient services and canceled elective surgeries.

But despite the challenges they faced, the majority of Houston-area hospitals remained open for business.  One reason for their ability to function: unlike the hospitals battered by Katrina, they have EMRs in place. The area didn’t see any major power outages and the systems seem to stayed online.

It’s hard to say whether New Orleans would’ve fared better if the city’s hospitals had already implemented EMRs. Houston hospitals were apparently better prepared for hurricane flooding, having put a host of storm fortifications in place after Tropical Storm Allison wreaked massive damage sixteen years ago.

That being said, it seems likely that the EMRs have helped hospitals keep the doors open and keep caring for patients. If nothing else, they gave facilities a giant head start over New Orleans hospitals post-disaster, which in some cases had virtually nothing to go on when delivering care.

Of course, digital data offers some significant advantages over paper records of any kind, including but not limited to the ability to backup records to off-site facilities well out of a given disaster zone.  But organizing patient data in an EMR, arguably, offers additional benefits, not the least of which is the ability to access existing workflows and protocols. Few tools are better suited to capturing, sharing and preserving care records in the midst of a catastrophic event like Harvey.

Over the next few decades, some observers predict that care will become massively decentralized, with remote nurses, telemedicine and connected health doing much of the heavy lifting day-to-day. If that comes to pass, and health IT intelligence is distributed across mobile devices instead, the EMR of today may be far less important to healthcare organizations hoping to rebound after a disaster. But until then, it’s safe to say that it’s a good thing Houston’s hospitals don’t rely on paper records anymore.

The Distributed Hospital On The Horizon

Posted on February 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.

If you’re reading this blog, you already know that distributed, connected devices and networks are the future of healthcare.  Connected monitoring devices are growing more mature by the day, network architectures are becoming amazingly fluid, and with the growth of the IoT, we’re adding huge numbers of smart devices to an already-diverse array of endpoints.  While we may not know what all of this will look when it’s fully mature, we’ve already made amazing progress in connecting care.

But how will these trends play out? One nice look at where all this is headed comes from Jeroen Tas, chief innovation and strategy officer at Philips. In a recent article, Tas describes a world in which even major brick-and-mortar players like hospitals go almost completely virtual.  Certainly, there are other takes out there on this subject, but I really like how Tas explains things.

He starts with the assertion that the hospital of the future “is not a physical location with waiting rooms, beds and labs.” Instead, a hospital will become an abstract network overlay connecting nodes. It’s worth noting that this isn’t just a concept. For an example, Tas points to the Mercy Virtual Care Center, a $54 million “hospital without beds” dedicated to telehealth and connected care.  The Center, which has over 300 employees, cares for patients at home and in beds across 38 hospitals in seven states.

While the virtual hospital may not rely on a single, central campus, physical care locations will still matter – they’ll just be distributed differently. According to Tas, the connected health network will work best if care is provided as needed through retail-type outlets near where people live, specialist hubs, inpatient facilities and outpatient clinics. Yes, of course, we already have all of these things in place, but in the new connected world, they’ll all be on a single network.

Ultimately, even if brick-and-mortar hospitals never disappear, virtual care should make it possible to cut down dramatically on hospital admissions, he suggests.  For example, Tas notes that Philips partner Banner Health has slashed hospital admissions almost 50% by using telehealth and advanced analytics for patients with multiple chronic conditions. (We’ve also reported on a related pilot by Partners HealthCare Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the “Home Hospital,” which sends patients home with remote monitoring devices as an alternative to admissions.)

Of course, the broad connected care outline Tas offers can only take us so far. It’s all well and good to have a vision, but there are still some major problems we’ll have to solve before connected care becomes practical as a backbone for healthcare delivery.

After all, to cite one major challenge, community-wide connected health won’t be very practical until interoperable data sharing becomes easier – and we really don’t know when that will happen. Also, until big data analytics tools are widely accessible (rather than the province of the biggest, best-funded institutions) it will be hard for providers to manage the data generated by millions of virtual care endpoints.

Still, if Tas’s piece is any indication, consensus is building on what next-gen care networks can and should be, and there’s certainly plenty of ways to lay the groundwork for the future. Even small-scale, preliminary connected health efforts seem to be fostering meaningful changes in how care is delivered. And there’s little doubt that over time, connected health will turn many brick-and-mortar care models on their heads, becoming a large – or even dominant – part of care delivery.

Getting there may be tricky, but if providers keep working at connected care, it should offer an immense payoff.

Searching for Disruptive Healthcare Innovation in 2017

Posted on January 17, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Disruptive Innovation has been the brass ring for technology companies ever since Clayton Christensen popularized the term in his seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997. According to Christensen, disruptive innovation is:

“A process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

Disruption is more likely to occur, therefore, when you have a well established market with slow-moving large incumbents who are focused on incremental improvements rather than truly innovative offerings. Using this definition, healthcare has been ripe for innovation for a number of years. But where is the AirBNB/Uber/Google of healthcare?

On a recent #hcldr tweetchat we asked what disruptive healthcare technologies might emerge in 2017. By far the most popular response was Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning.

Personally, I’m really excited about the potential of AI applied to diagnostics and decision support. There is just no way a single person can stay up to speed on all the latest clinical research while simultaneously remembering every symptom/diagnosis from the past. I believe that one day we will all be using AI assistance to guide our care – as common as we use a GPS today to help navigate unknown roads.

Some #hcldr participants, however, were skeptical of AI.

While I don’t think @IBMWatson is on the same trajectory as Theranos, there is merit to being wary of “over-hype” when it comes to new technologies. When a shining star like Theranos falls, it can set an entire industry back and stifle innovation in an area that may warrant investment. Can you imagine seeking funding for a technology that uses small amounts of blood to detect diseases right now? Too much hype can prematurely kill innovation.

Other potentially disruptive technologies that were raised during the chat included: #telehealth, #wearables, patient generated health data (#PDHD), combining #HealthIT with consumer services and #patientengagement.

The funniest and perhaps most thoughtful tweet came from @YinkaVidal, who warned us that innovations have a window of usefulness. What was once ground-breaking can be rendered junk by the next generation.

What do you believe will be the disruptive healthcare technology to emerge in 2017?

Some Projections For 2017 Hospital IT Spending

Posted on January 4, 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 couple of months ago, HIMSS released some statistics from its survey on US hospitals’ plans for IT investment over the next 12 months. The results contain a couple of data points that I found particularly interesting:

  • While I had expected the most common type of planned spending to be focused on population health or related solutions, HIMSS found that pharmacy was the most active category. In fact, 51% of hospitals were planning to invest in one pharmacy technology, largely to improve tracking of medication dispensing in additional patient care environments. Researchers also found that 6% of hospitals were planning to add carousels or packagers in their pharmacies.
  • Eight percent hospitals said that they plan to invest in EMR components, which I hadn’t anticipated (though it makes sense in retrospect). HIMSS reported that 14% of hospitals at Stage 1-4 of its Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model are investing in pharmacy tech for closed loop med administration, and 17% in auto ID tech. Four percent of Stage 6 hospitals plan to support or expand information exchange capabilities. Meanwhile, 60% of Stage 7 hospitals are investing in hardware infrastructure “for the post-EMR world.”

Other data from the HIMSS report included news of new analytics and telecom plans:

  • Researchers say that recent mergers and acquisitions are triggering new investments around telephony. They found that 12% of hospitals with inpatient revenues between $25 million and $125 million – and 6% of hospitals with more than $500 million in inpatient revenues — are investing in VOIP and telemedicine. FWIW, I’m not sure how mergers and acquisitions would trigger telemedicine rollouts, as they’re already well underway at many hospitals — maybe these deals foster new thinking and innovation?
  • As readers know, hospitals are increasingly spending on analytics solutions to improve care and make use of big data. However (and this surprised me) only 8% of hospitals reported plans to buy at least one analytics technology. My guess is that this number is small because a) hospitals may not have collected their big data assets in easily-analyzed form yet and b) that they’re still hoping to make better use of their legacy analytics tools.

Looking at these stats as a whole, I get the sense that the hospitals surveyed are expecting to play catch-up and shore up their infrastructure next year, rather than sink big dollars into future-looking solutions.

Without a doubt, hospital leaders are likely to invest in game-changing technologies soon such as cutting-edge patient engagement and population health platforms to prepare for the shift to value-based health. It’s inevitable.

But in the meantime it probably makes sense for them to focus on internal cost drivers like pharmacy departments, whose average annual inpatient drug spending shot up by more than 23% between 2013 and 2015. Without stanching that kind of bleeding, hospitals are unlikely to get as much value as they’d like from big-idea investments in the future.

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.

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!