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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 is a true believer in #HealthIT, social media and empowered patients. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He currently leads the marketing efforts for @PatientPrompt, a Stericycle product. Colin’s 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!

E-Patient Update: Hospitals Need Virtual Clinicians

Posted on July 20, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospital Accused Of Firing Nurse For EMR Safety Complaints

Posted on June 29, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telemedicine A Growing Priority For Hospitals

Posted on April 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.

Telemedicine programs are not new to hospitals. In fact, tele-stroke and tele-ICU programs have gained significant ground over the past several years, and other subspecialties, such as tele-psychiatry, seem likely to grow in popularity.

In coming years, telemedicine will go from being a one-off strategy to an integral part of hospital care delivery, if a new survey is any indication. Government and private insurers are gradually agreeing to pay for telemedicine services, knocking down the biggest obstacle to rolling out such programs. And while integrating telemedicine services with EMRs poses major challenges, hospital leaders seem determined to address them.

Virtually all of the hospitals responding to the survey, which was conducted by telemedicine vendor ReachHealth, told researchers that they were busy planning and preparing for telemedicine programs. Twenty-two percent of survey respondents, which also included some medical practices, said that rolling out telemedicine programs was one of their top priorities, and another 44% said that it was a high priority. Health systems averaged 5.51 telemedicine service lines, up almost 20% from last year.

I was interested to note that 96% of respondents were planning to roll out telemedicine because they felt it would improve patient outcomes. I’m not aware that there’s any substantial body of evidence demonstrating that telemedicine can have this effect, but clearly this is a widespread belief.

Also, it was a bit surprising to read that “improving financial returns” was a very low priority for providers when developing telemedicine programs. On the other hand, as researchers point out, hospitals and practices to see improved patient satisfaction as a driver of ROI. Apparently, execs responding to this survey are convinced that telemedicine to have a substantial effect on satisfaction and outcomes, though to date, only 55% said telemedicine was improving outcomes and 44% felt it was boosting patient satisfaction.

Researchers also found that providers that dedicate more resources to telemedicine are seeing more success than those that don’t. Specifically, hospitals and clinics that have a 100% dedicated telemedicine program manager in place were doing better with their initiatives.

In fact, two thirds of respondents with a dedicated program manager in place ranked their efforts to be “highly successful,” while only 46% of programs without a dedicated program manager met that description. (The programs were most successful when a VP or director was put in charge of telemedicine efforts, but only slightly more than when a CEO or coordinator was in charge.)

That being said, it seems that the highest barriers to telemedicine success are technical. The respondents complained that the lack of common EMR in hub and spoke hospitals, and the lack of integration between telemedicine and their current EMR, were still standing in their way. Many were also concerned about the lack of native telemedicine capabilities in their EMR.

Despite all of the obstacles to creating a flourishing telemedicine program, hospitals and clinics have continued to make progress. In fact, 36% have had a tele-stroke program in place for more than three years, 23% tele-radiology for three years plus, and 22 percent have had neurology and psychiatry telemedicine programs for three years or more. ReachHealth researchers note that service lines requiring access to specialists are growing more rapidly than other service lines, but contend that this is likely to shift given pending shortages of primary care physicians.

Admittedly, any survey published by telemedicine vendor is likely to be biased. Still, I thought these statistics were worth discussing. Do they track with what you’re seeing out there? And do you think EMR vendors will do more to support telemedicine anytime soon?