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Interoperability Problems Undercut Conclusions of CHIME Most Wired Survey

Posted on November 11, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Most of you have probably already seen the topline results from CHIME’s  “Healthcare’s Most Wired: National Trends 2018” study, which was released last month.

Some of the more interesting numbers coming out of the survey, at least for me, included the following:

  • Just 60% of responding physicians could access a hospital network’s virtual patient visit technology from outside its network, which kinda defeats the purpose of decentralizing care delivery.
  • The number of clinical alerts sent from a surveillance system integrated with an EHR topped out at 58% (alerts to critical care units), with 35% of respondents reporting that they had no surveillance system in place. This seems like quite a lost opportunity.
  • Virtually all (94%) participating organizations said that their organization’s EHR could consume discrete data, and 64% said they could incorporate CCDs and CCRs from physician-office EHRs as discrete data.

What really stands out for me, though, is that if CHIME’s overall analysis is correct, many aspects of our data analytics and patient engagement progress still hang in the balance.

Perhaps by design, the hospital industry comes out looking like it’s doing well in most of the technology strategy areas that it has questions about in the survey, but leaves out some important areas of weakness.

Specifically, in the introduction to its survey report, the group lists “integration and interoperability” as one of two groups of foundational technologies that must be in place before population health management/value-based care,  patient engagement and telehealth programs can proceed.

If that’s true, and it probably is, it throws up a red flag, which is probably why the report glossed over the fact that overall interoperability between hospitals is still very much in question. (If nothing else, it’s high time the hospitals adjust their interoperability expectations.) While it did cite numbers regarding what can be done with CCDs, it didn’t address the much bigger problems the industry faces in sharing data more fluidly.

Look, I don’t mean to be too literal here. Even if CHIME didn’t say so specifically, hospitals and health systems can make some progress on population health, patient engagement, and telehealth strategies even if they’re forced to stick to using their own internal data. Failing to establish fluid health data sharing between facility A and facility B may lead to less-than-ideal results, but it doesn’t stop either of them from marching towards goals like PHM or value-based care individually.

On the other hand, there certainly is an extent to which a lack of interoperability drags down the quality of our results. Perhaps the data sets we have are good enough even if they’re incomplete, but I think we’ve already got a pretty good sense that no amount of CCD exchange will get the results we ultimately hope to see. In other words, I’m suggesting that we take the CHIME survey’s data points in context.

New Reporting and Interop Features Hit The Right Note for PointClickCare

Posted on November 6, 2018 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.

The new reporting and data sharing capabilities of PointClickCare‘s LTPAC EHR platform were a big hit with the 2,000 users gathered on Day 1 of the company’s annual #PCCSummit18 being held in Nashville TN.

In the opening session, Co-Founder and COO of PointClickCare, Dave Wessinger, bravely walked through the company’s new report engine in a live demo. He started by showing off the new searching capability that will allow users to quickly find the report they need by simply typing a keyword into the search bar. Any report with a matching word in its description appears in the results. This one feature replaces dozens of weekly calls to systems administrators who have to help end-users find the right report to run because the current system has limited ability to organize and find reports. There was an audible “Yes” and collective fist pump from many in the audience.

Wessinger then went on to demonstrate the new data visualization tools and data export capabilities in the report engine.

“The export capabilities alone are a game changer for me,” said Timothy Carey, Director of Data and Performance Analytics at BaneCare. “Right now it’s not that easy to export data from a report into Excel where it can be further analyzed or combined with other data sources. The new export capabilities will cut out many hours from our work week.”

Skilled Nursing Facilities (or SNFs) like BaneCare have to produce detailed reports on the patients (residents) that are transferred to them from their acute care partners. These reports are required by the case managers at the acute care organizations – who need them to ensure their patients are getting the post-acute care their physicians prescribed.

“Having the right data and providing it quickly to our acute care partners is what differentiates us from competing facilities,” continued Carey. “The goal is to be the preferred LTPAC partner to acute care organizations and being able to provide timely data is a key criteria of being a good partner. Having good data also helps our own organization determine where to invest additional resources.”

BJ Boyle, VP of Product Management at PointClickCare followed Wessinger on the main stage where he proceeded to give a live demonstration of the company’s new data sharing module called Harmony. Harmony was first announced at HIMSS18 and was something Boyle and I spoke about in this interview.

One of the main components of Harmony is a customizable dashboard that allows case managers at acute care organizations to see how their referred patients are faring at the SNF. Through Harmony, the case mangers and SNF staff can see the same patient data in real-time. This allows for unprecedented collaboration between the organizations.

“Right now we spend a lot of time making phone calls, sending emails and in meetings with our acute care partner,” said Cyndi Howell, Lead RNAC and PCC Clinical Liaison at Willow Valley Communities. “This is needed to keep each organization informed of what’s happening with patients that we are both responsible for. We do it because we are both committed to providing the best care possible. We love working collaboratively with our partners at Lancaster General Hospital (part of Penn Medicine). It’s just what we have to do to take care of people in our community.”

When Willow Valley Communities implements Harmony, they will no longer have to manually pull data from their PointClickCare system in order to facilitate the discussions with Lancaster. Instead, staff from both organizations will simply log onto Harmony and view the same data together in real-time.

“We are very excited and happy about Harmony,” explained Howell. “It’s going to make all our lives so much easier and patients will end up benefitting from better and more coordinated care.”

The real-time dashboard isn’t the only feature of Harmony. The module also featured a robust data integration engine, powered by Redox, that will allow PointClickCare to quickly connect it’s cloud-base system to EHRs at acute care organizations.

“PointClickCare wanted to get off the integration treadmill,” said Boyle. “It simply wasn’t scalable to connect to each hospital system one by one. We are happy to partner with our friends at Redox and leverage the power of their engine and the network of providers/vendors they work with.”

Through the Redox engine, patients transitioning from an acute care organization to a SNF or other LTPAC facility will have all their data seamlessly sent as part of the discharge process. No more faxes or paper-based binders of medical information.

“Part of our vision is for everyone in healthcare to have a complete view of the patients they are taking care of,” stated Luke Bonney, CEO and Co-Founder of Redox who presented with Boyle in a breakout session later on Day 1 of #PCCSummit18. “That can only happen when every member of the healthcare ecosystem can share data in an easy way and in a format that is meaningful to everyone involved.”

Luke Bonney, CEO at Redox (left) and BJ Boyle, VP Product Management at PointClickCare

“I am totally bought into the vision,” said Carey. “All of us here at BaneCare want patients to have the best possible experience while in our facilities. That means we need all the relevant information right at the point of transition from the acute care organization – medications, care plans, etc. Harmony will automate this entire step.”

I must admit I did not expect to meet so many people here at #PCCSummit18 who were excited about interoperability. I was also truly surprised that there are so many organizations actively working together on practical interoperability use cases that are true win-win-wins (for acute care organizations, LTPAC facilities and patients).

But then again, when you are in Nashville (aka Music City) you’d expect a little harmony.

Hospitals Sharing More Patient Data Than Ever, But Is It Having An Impact On Patient Care?

Posted on November 1, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Brace yourself for more happy talk in a positive interoperability spin, folks. Even if they aren’t exchanging as much health data as they might have hoped, hospitals are sharing more patient health data than they ever have before, according to a new report from the ONC.

The ONC, which recently analyzed 2017 data from the American Hospital Association’s Information Technology Supplement Survey, concluded that 93% of non-federal acute care hospitals have upgraded to the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria or plan to upgrade. These criteria include new technical capabilities that support health data interoperability.

Today, most hospitals (88%) can send patient summary of care records electronically, and receive them from outside sources (74%), ONC’s analysis concluded. In addition, last year the volume of hospitals reporting that they could query and integrate patient health data significantly increased.

Not only that, the volume of hospitals engaged in four key interoperability activities (electronically sending, receiving, finding and integrating health data) climbed 41% over 2016. On the downside, however, only four in 10 hospitals reported being able to find patient health information, send, receive and integrate patient summary of care records from outside sources into their data.

According to ONC, hospitals that work across these four key interoperability domains tend to be more sophisticated than their peers who don’t.

In fact, in 2017 83% of hospitals able to send, receive, find, and integrate outside health information also had health information electronic available at the point of care. This is a 20% higher level than hospitals engaging in just three domains, and a whopping seven times higher than hospitals that don’t engage in any domain.

Without a doubt, on its face this is good news. What’s not to like? Hospitals seem to be stepping up the interoperability game, and this can only be good for patients over time.

On the other hand, it’s hard for me to measure just how important it is in the near term. Yes, it seems like hospitals are getting more nimble, more motivated and more organized when it comes to data sharing, but it’s not clear what impact this may be having on patient care processes and outcomes.

Over time, most interoperability measures I’ve seen have focused more on receipt and transmission of patient health data far more than integration of that data into EHRs. I’d argue that it’s time to move beyond measuring back and forth of data and put more impact on how often physicians use that data in their work.

There’s certainly a compelling case to be made that health data interoperability matters. I’ve never disputed that. But I think it’s time we measure success a bit more stringently. In other words, if ONC can’t define the clinical benefits of health data exchange clearly, in terms that matter to physicians, it’s time to make it happen.

Taming the Healthcare Compliance and Data Security Monster: How Well Are We Doing?

Posted on October 18, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lance Pilkington, Vice President of Global Compliance at Liaison Technologies.

Do data breach nightmares keep you up at night?

For 229 healthcare organizations, the nightmare became a reality in 2018. As of late August, more than 6.1 million individuals were affected by 229 healthcare-related breaches, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ HIPAA Breach Reporting Tool website – commonly call the HIPAA “wall of shame.”

Although security and privacy requirements for healthcare data have been in place for many years, the reality is that many healthcare organizations are still at risk for non-compliance with regulations and for breaches.

In fact, only 65 percent of 112 hospitals and hospital groups recently surveyed by Aberdeen, an industry analyst firm, reported compliance with 11 common regulations and frameworks for data security. According to the healthcare-specific brief – Enterprise Data in 2018: The State of Privacy and Security Compliance in Healthcare – protected health information has the highest percentage of compliance, with 85 percent of participants reporting full compliance, and the lowest compliance rates were reported for ISO 27001 and the General Data Protection Regulation at 63 percent and 48 percent respectively.

An index developed by Aberdeen to measure the maturity of an organization’s compliance efforts shows that although the healthcare organizations surveyed were mature in their data management efforts, they were far less developed in their compliance efforts when they stored and protected data, syndicated data between two applications, ingested data into a central repository or integrated data from multiple, disparate sources.

The immaturity of compliance efforts has real-world consequences for healthcare entities. Four out of five (81 percent) study participants reported at least one data privacy and non-compliance issue in the past year, and two out of three (66 percent) reported at least one data breach in the past year.

It isn’t surprising to find that healthcare organizations struggle with data security. The complexity and number of types of data and data-related processes in healthcare is daunting. In addition to PHI, hospitals and their affiliates handle financial transactions, personally identifiable information, employee records, and confidential or intellectual property records. Adding to the challenge of protecting this information is the ever-increasing use of mobile devices in clinical and business areas of the healthcare organization.

In addition to the complexities of data management and integration, there are budgetary considerations. As healthcare organizations face increasing financial challenges, investment in new technology and the IT personnel to manage it can be formidable. However, healthcare participants in the Aberdeen study reported a median of 37 percent of the overall IT budget dedicated to investment in compliance activities. Study participants from life sciences and other industries included in Aberdeen’s total study reported lower budget commitments to compliance.

This raises the question: If healthcare organizations are investing in compliance activities, why do we still see significant data breaches, fines for non-compliance and difficulty reaching full compliance?

While there are practical steps that every privacy and security officer should take to ensure the organization is compliant with HIPAA, there are also technology options that enhance a healthcare entity’s ability to better manage data integration from multiple sources and address compliance requirements.

An upcoming webinar, The State of Privacy and Security Compliance for Enterprise Data: “Why Are We Doing This Ourselves?” discusses the Aberdeen survey results and presents advice on how healthcare IT leaders can evaluate their compliance-readiness and identify potential solutions can provide some thought-provoking guidance.

One of the solutions is the use of third-party providers who can provide the data integration and management needs of the healthcare organization to ensure compliance with data security requirements. This strategy can also address a myriad of challenges faced by hospitals. Not only can the expertise and specialty knowledge of the third-party take a burden off in-house IT staff but choosing a managed services strategy that eliminates the need for a significant upfront investment enables moving the expense from the IT capital budget to the operating budget with predictable recurring costs.

Freeing capital dollars to invest in other digital transformation strategies and enabling IT staff to focus on mission-critical activities in the healthcare organization are benefits of exploring outsource opportunities with the right partner.

More importantly, moving toward a higher level of compliance with data security requirements will improve the likelihood of a good night’s sleep!

About Lance Pilkington
Lance Pilkington is the Vice President of Global Compliance at Liaison Technologies, a position he has held since joining the company in September 2012. Lance is responsible for establishing and leading strategic initiatives under Liaison’s Trust program to ensure the company is consistently delivering on its compliance commitments. Liaison Technologies is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Report Champions API Use To Improve Interoperability

Posted on September 26, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

A new research report has taken the not-so-radical position that greater use of APIs to extract and share health data could dramatically improve interoperability. It doesn’t account for the massive business obstacles that still prevent this from happening, though.

The report, which was released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, notes that both the federal government and the private sector are both favoring the development of APIs for health data sharing.

It notes that while the federal government is working to expand the use of open APIs for health data exchange, the private sector has focused on refining existing standards in developing new applications that enhance EHR capabilities.

EHR vendors, for their part, have begun to allow third-party application developers to access to systems using APIs, with some also offering supports such as testing tools and documentation.

While these efforts are worthwhile, it will take more to wrest the most benefit from API-based data sharing, the report suggests. Its recommendations for doing so include:

  • Making all relevant data available via these APIs, not just CCDs
  • Seeing to it that information already coded in health data system stays in that form during data exchange (rather than being transformed into less digestible formats such as PDFs)
  • Standardizing data elements in the health record by using existing terminologies and developing new ones where codes don’t exist
  • Offering access to a patient’s full health record across their lifetime, and holding it in all relevant systems so patients with chronic illnesses and care providers have complete histories of their condition(s)

Of course, some of these steps would be easier to implement than others. For example, while providing a longitudinal patient record would be a great thing, there are major barriers to doing so, including but not limited to inter-provider politics and competition for market share.

Another issue is the need to pick appropriate standards and convince all parties involved to use them. Even a forerunner like FHIR is not yet universally accepted, nor is it completely mature.

The truth is that no matter how you slice it, interoperability efforts have hit the wall. While hospitals, payers, and clinicians pretty much know what needs to happen, their interests don’t converge enough to make interoperability practical as of yet.

While I’m all for organizations like the Pew folks taking a shot at figuring interoperability out, I don’t think we’re likely to get anywhere until we find a way to synchronize everyone’s interests. And good luck with that.

Do We Need Another Interoperability Group?

Posted on September 20, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Over the last few years, industry groups dedicated to interoperability have been popping up like mushrooms after a hard rain. All seem to be dedicated to solving the same set of intractable data sharing problems.

The latest interoperability initiative on my radar, known as the Da Vinci Project, is focused on supporting value-based care.

The Da Vinci Project, which brings together more than 20 healthcare companies, is using HL7 FHIR to foster VBC (Value Based Care). Members include technology vendors, providers, and payers, including Allscripts, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cerner, Epic, Rush University Medical Center, Surescripts, UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Optum. The initiative is hosted by HL7 International.

Da Vinci project members plan to develop a common set of standards for data exchange that can be used nationally. The idea is to help partner organizations avoid spending money on one-off data sharing development projects.

The members are already at work on two test cases, one addressing 30-day medication reconciliation and the other coverage requirements discovery. Next, members will begin work on test cases for document templates and coverage rules, along with eHealth record exchange in support of HEDIS/STARS and clinician exchange.

Of course, these goals sound good in theory. Making it simpler for health plans, vendors and providers to create data sharing standards in common is probably smart.

The question is, is this effort really different from others fronted by Epic, Cerner and the like? Or perhaps more importantly, does its approach suffer from limitations that seem to have crippled other attempts at fostering interoperability?

As my colleague John Lynn notes, it’s probably not wise to be too ambitious when it comes to solving interoperability problems. “One of the major failures of most interoperability efforts is that they’re too ambitious,” he wrote earlier this year. “They try to do everything and since that’s not achievable, they end up doing nothing.”

John’s belief – which I share — is that it makes more sense to address “slices of interoperability” rather than attempt to share everything with everyone.

It’s possible that the Da Vinci Project may actually be taking such a practical approach. Enabling partners to create point-to-point data sharing solutions easily sounds very worthwhile, and could conceivably save money and improve care quality. That’s what we’re all after, right?

Still, the fact that they’re packaging this as a VBC initiative gives me pause. Hey, I know that fee-for-service reimbursement is on its way out and that it will take new technology to support new payment models, but is this really what happening here? I have to wonder.

Bottom line, if the giants involved are still slapping buzzwords on the project, I’m not sure they know what they’re doing yet. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see where they go with it.

Within Two Years, 20% Of Healthcare Orgs Will Be Using Blockchain

Posted on August 16, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

I don’t know about you, but to me, blockchain news seems to be all over the map. It’s like a bunch of shiny objects. Here! Look at the $199 zillion investment this blockchain company just picked up! Wow! Giant Hospital System is using blockchain to automate its cafeteria! And so on. It gets a bit tiring.

However, I’m happy to say that the latest piece of blockchain news to cross my desk seems boring (and practical) in comparison. The news is that according to a Computerworld piece, 20% of healthcare organizations should be using blockchain for operations management and patient identity by 2020, or in other words within two years. And to be clear, we’re talking about systems in day-to-day use, not pilot projects.

The stats come from a report by analyst firm IDC Health Insights, which takes a look at, obviously, blockchain use in the healthcare industry. In the report, researchers note that healthcare has been slower out of the blockchain gate than other industries for reasons that include regulatory and security concerns and blockchain resource availability. Oh, and while the story doesn’t spell this out, good ol’ conservative decision-making has played its part too.

But now things are changing. IDC predicts that in addition to supporting internal operations, blockchain could form the basis for a new health information exchange architecture. Specifically, blockchain could be used to create a mesh network capable of sharing information between stakeholders such as providers, pharmacies, insurance payers and clinical researchers, the report suggests. This architecture could be far more useful than the existing point-to-point approach HIEs use now, as it would be more flexible, more fault-tolerant and less prone to bottlenecks.

As part of the report, IDC offers some advice to healthcare organizations interested in taking on blockchain options. It includes recommendations that they:

  • See to it that any blockchain-related decisions are evidence-based and informed and that stakeholders share information about the pros and cons of blockchain interoperability freely
  • Develop a blockchain interoperability proof of concept which demonstrates how decentralized, distributed and immutable properties could make a contribution
  • Pitch the benefits of blockchain interoperability to providers and patients, letting them know that it could eliminate barriers to getting the data they need when and where they need it
  • Adopt blockchain interoperability early if at all, as this can offer benefits even prior to implementation, and gives leaders a chance to tackle concerns privately if need be

Of course, these suggestions and factoids barely scratch the surface of the blockchain discussion, which is why IDC gets $4,000 a copy for the full report. (Though I should note that the article goes into a lot more depth than I have here.)

Regardless, what came across to me from the article was nonetheless worth thinking about when kicking around possible blockchain strategies. Broadly speaking, providers should get in early, keep everyone involved (including patients and providers ), work out differences over its use privately and see to it that your rollout meets concrete needs. You may want to also read this article on 5 blockchain uses for healthcare. It may not be in places you’d have thought previously.

And now, back to silly blockchain news. I’ll let you know when another set of practical ideas shows up.

Hospitals That Share Patients Don’t Share Patient Data

Posted on August 7, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

If anyone in healthcare needs to catch up on your records, it’s another provider who is treating mutual patients. In this day and age, there’s no good reason why clinicians at one hospital should be guessing what the other would get (or not get as the case is far too often).

Over the last few years, we’ve certainly seen signs of data sharing progress. For example, in early August the marriage between health data sharing networks CommonWell and Carequality was consummated, with providers using Cerner and Greenway Health going live with their connections.

Still, health data exchange is far more difficult than it should be. Despite many years of trying, hospitals still don’t share data with each other routinely, even when they’re treating the same patient.

To learn more about this issue, researchers surveyed pairs of hospitals likely to share patients across the United States. The teams chose pairs which referred the largest volume of patients to each other in a given hospital referral region.

After reaching out to many facilities, the researchers ended up with 63 pairs of hospitals. Researchers then asked them how likely they were to share patient health information with nearby institutions with whom they share patients.

The results, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, suggest that while virtually all of the hospitals they studied could be classified as routinely sharing data by federal definitions, that didn’t tell the whole story.

For one thing, while 97% of respondents met the federal guidelines, only 63% shared data routinely with hospitals with the highest shared patient (HSP) volume.

In fact, 23% of respondents reported that information sharing with their HSP hospital was worse than with other hospitals, and 48% said there was no difference. Just 17% said they enjoyed better sharing of patient health data with their HSP volume hospital.

It’s not clear how to fix the problem highlighted in the JAMIA study. While HIEs have been lumbering along for well more than a decade, only a few regional players seem to have developed a trusted relationship with the providers in their area.

The techniques HIEs use to foster such loyalty, which include high-touch methods such as personal check-ins with end users, don’t seem to work as well for some HIE they do for others. Not only that, HIE funding models still vary, which can have a meaningful impact on how successful they’ll be overall.

Regardless, it would be churlish to gloss over the fact that almost two-thirds of hospitals are getting the right data to their peers. I don’t know about you, but this seems like a hopeful development.

Connecting the Data: Three Steps to Meet Digital Transformation Goals

Posted on July 16, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Gary Palgon, VP Healthcare and Life Sciences Solutions at Liaison Technologies.

A white paper published by the World Economic Forum in 2016 begins with the statement, “Few industries have the potential to be changed so profoundly by digital technology as healthcare, but the challenges facing innovators – from regulatory barriers to difficulties in digitalizing patient data – should not be underestimated.”

That was two years ago, and many of the same challenges still exist as the digital transformation of healthcare continues.

In a recent HIMSS focus group sponsored by Liaison, participants identified their major digital transformation and interoperability goals for the near future as:

  • EMR rollout and integration
  • Population health monitoring and analytics
  • Remote clinical encounters
  • Mobile clinical applications

These goals are not surprising. Although EMRs have been in place in many healthcare organizations for years, the growth of health systems as they add physicians, clinics, hospitals and diagnostic centers represents a growing need to integrate disparate systems. The continual increase in the number of mobile applications and medical devices that can be used to gather information to feed into EMR systems further exacerbates the challenge.

What is surprising is the low percentage of health systems that believe that they are very or somewhat well-prepared to handle these challenges – only 35 percent of the HIMSS/Liaison focus group members identified themselves as well-prepared.

“Chaos” was a word used by focus group participants to describe what happens in a health system when numerous players, overlapping projects, lack of a single coordinator and a tendency to find niche solutions that focus on one need rather than overall organizational needs drive digital transformation projects.

It’s easy to understand the frustration. Too few IT resources and too many needs in the pipeline lead to multiple groups of people working on projects that overlap in goals – sometimes duplicating each other’s efforts – and tax limited staff, budget and infrastructure resources. It was also interesting to see that focus group participants noted that new technologies and changing regulatory requirements keep derailing efforts over multi-year projects.

Throughout all the challenges identified by healthcare organizations, the issue of data integrity is paramount. The addition of new technologies, including mobile and AI-driven analytics, and new sources of information, increases the need to ensure that data is in a format that is accessible to all users and all applications. Otherwise, the full benefits of digital transformation will not be realized.

The lack of universal standards to enable interoperability are being addressed, but until those standards are available, healthcare organizations must evaluate other ways to integrate and harmonize data to make it available to the myriad of users and applications that can benefit from insights provided by the information. Unlocking access to previously unseen data takes resources that many health organizations have in short supply. And the truth is, we’ll never have the perfect standards as they will always continue to change, so there’s no reason to wait.

Infrastructure, however, was not the number one resource identified in the HIMSS focus group as lacking in participants’ interoperability journey. In fact, only 15 percent saw infrastructure as the missing piece, while 30 percent identified IT staffing resources and 45 percent identified the right level of expertise as the most critical needs for their organization.

As all industries focus on digital transformation, competition for expert staff to handle interoperability challenges makes it difficult for healthcare organizations to attract the talent needed. For this reason, 45 percent of healthcare organizations outsource IT data integration and management to address staffing challenges.

Health systems are also evaluating the use of managed services strategies. A managed services solution takes over the day-to-day integration and data management with the right expertise and the manpower to take on complex work and fluctuating project levels. That way in-house staff resources can focus on the innovation and efficiencies that support patient care and operations, while the operating budget covers data management fees – leaving capital dollars available for critical patient care needs.

Removing day-to-day integration responsibilities from in-house staff also provides time to look strategically at the organization’s overall interoperability needs – coordinating efforts in a holistic manner. The ability to implement solutions for current needs with an eye toward future needs future-proofs an organization’s digital investment and helps avoid the “app-trap” – a reliance on narrowly focused applications with bounded data that cannot be accessed by disparate users.

There is no one answer to healthcare’s digital transformation questions, but taking the following three steps can move an organization closer to the goal of meaningful interoperability:

  • Don’t wait for interoperability standards to be developed – find a data integration and management platform that will integrate and harmonize data from disparate sources to make the information available to all users the way they need it and when they needed.
  • Turn to a data management and integration partner who can provide the expertise required to remain up-to-date on all interoperability, security and regulatory compliance requirements and other mandatory capabilities.
  • Approach digital transformation holistically with a coordinated strategy that considers each new application or capability as data gathered for the benefit of the entire organization rather than siloed for use by a narrowly-focused group of users.

The digital transformation of healthcare and the interoperability challenges that must be overcome are not minor issues, nor are they insurmountable. It is only through the sharing of ideas, information about new technologies and best practices that healthcare organizations can maximize the insights provided by data shared across the enterprise.

About Gary Palgon
Gary Palgon is vice president of healthcare and life sciences solutions at Liaison Technologies, a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. In this role, Gary leverages more than two decades of product management, sales, and marketing experience to develop and expand Liaison’s data-inspired solutions for the healthcare and life sciences verticals. Gary’s unique blend of expertise bridges the gap between the technical and business aspects of healthcare, data security, and electronic commerce. As a respected thought leader in the healthcare IT industry, Gary has had numerous articles published, is a frequent speaker at conferences, and often serves as a knowledgeable resource for analysts and journalists. Gary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Florida.

Important Patient Data Questions Hospitals Need To Address

Posted on July 13, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Obviously, managing and protecting patients’ personal health information is very important already.  But with high-profile incidents highlighting questionable uses of consumer data — such as the recent Facebook scandal – patients are more aware of data privacy issues than they had been in the past, says Dr. Oleg Bess, founder and CEO of clinical data exchange company 4medica.

According to Bess, hospitals should prepare to answer four key questions about personal health information that patients, the media and regulators are likely to ask. They include:

  • Who owns the patient’s medical records? While providers and EHR vendors may contend that they own patient data, it actually belongs to the patient, Bess says. What’s more, hospitals need to be sure patients should have a clear idea of what data hospitals have about them. They should also be able to access their health data regardless of where it is stored.
  • What if the patient wants his or her data deleted? Unfortunately, deleting patient data may not be possible in many cases due to legal constraints. For example, CMS demands that Medicare providers retain records for a fixed period, and many states have patient record retention laws as well, Bess notes. However, if nothing else, patients should have the ability to decline having their personally-identifiable data shared with third parties other than providers and payers, he writes.
  • Who is responsible for data integrity? Right now, problems with patient data accuracy are common. For example, particularly when patient matching tools like an enterprise master patient index aren’t in place, health data can end up being mangled. To this point, Bess cites a Black Book Research survey concluding that when records are transmitted between hospitals that don’t use these tools, they had just a 24% match rate. Hospital data stewards need to get on top of this problem, he says.
  • Without a national patient ID in place, how should hospitals verify patient identities? In addition to existing issues regarding patient safety, emerging problems such as the growing opioid abuse epidemic would be better handled with a unique patient identifier, Bess contends. According to Bess, while the federal government may not develop unique patient IDs, commercially developed master patient index technology might offer a solution.

To better address patient matching issues, Bess recommends including historical data which goes back decades in the mix if possible. A master patient index solution should also offer enterprise scalability and real-time matching, he says.