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Texas Hospital Association Dashboard Offers Risk, Cost Data

Posted on January 22, 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.

The Texas Hospital Association has agreed to a joint venture with health IT vendor IllumiCare to roll out a new tool for physicians. The new dashboard offers an unusual but powerful mix of risk data and real-time cost information.

According to THA, physician orders represent 87% of hospital expenses, but most know little about the cost of items they order. The new dashboard, Smart Ribbon, gives doctors information on treatment costs and risk of patient harm at the point of care. THA’s assumption is that the data will cause them to order fewer and less costly tests and meds, the group says.

To my mind, the tool sounds neat. IllumiCare’s Smart Ribbon technology doesn’t need to be integrated with the hospital’s EMR. Instead, it works with existing HL-7 feeds and piggybacks onto existing user authorization schemes. In other words, it eliminates the need for creating costly interfaces to EMR data. The dashboard includes patient identification, a timer if the patient is on observational status, a tool for looking up costs and tabs providing wholesale costs for meds, labs and radiology. It also estimates iatrogenic risks resulting from physician decisions.

Unlike some clinical tools I’ve seen, Smart Ribbon doesn’t generate alerts or alarms, which makes it a different beast than many other clinical decision support tools. That doesn’t mean tools that do generate alerts are bad, but that feature does set it apart from others.

We’ve covered many other tools designed to support physicians, and as you’d probably guess, those technologies come in all sizes. For example, last year contributor Andy Oram wrote about a different type of dashboard, PeraHealth, a surveillance system targeting at-risk patients in hospitals.

PeraHealth identifies at-risk patients through analytics and displays them on a dashboard that doctors and nurses can pull up, including trends over several shifts. Its analytical processes pull in nursing assessments in addition to vital signs and other standard data sets. This approach sounds promising.

Ultimately, though, dashboard vendors are still figuring out what physicians need, and it’s hard to tell whether their market will stay alive. In fact, according to one take from Kalorama Information, this year technologies like dashboarding, blockchain and even advanced big data analytics will be integrated into EMRs.

As for me, I think Kalorama’s prediction is too aggressive. While I agree that many freestanding tools will be integrated into the EMR, I don’t think it will happen this or even next year. In the meantime, there’s certainly a place for creating dashboards that accommodate physician workflow and aren’t too intrusive. For the time being, they aren’t going away.

Hospitals Puts Off Patient Billing For Several Months During EMR Rollout

Posted on January 6, 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.

Here’s something you don’t see every day. A New Hampshire hospital apparently delayed mailing out roughly 10,000 patient bills going back as far as 11 months ago while it rolled out its new EMR.

According to a report in the Foster’s Daily Democrat,  members of Frisbie Memorial Hospital’s medical staff recently went public with concerns about the hospital’s financial state. Then a flood of delayed patient bills followed, some requesting thousands of dollars, the paper reported.

Hospital officials, for their part, said the delay was planned. Hospital president John Marzinzik said Frisbie needed time to implement its new Meditech EMR and didn’t want to send out incorrect bills during the rollout.

In fact, Marzinzik told Foster’s, under the previous system, records generated during doctor visits weren’t compatible with forms for hospital billing.

Rather than relying further on this patchwork of incompatible systems, Marzinzik and his staff decided to wait until the process was “absolutely clean” for patients. The hospital decided to have a staff member validate every balance shown on a statement before sending them out, he says.

Previously, in December of last year, anonymous Frisbie medical staff members sent Foster’s a letter to share concerns about the hospital and its administrators. The criticisms included skepticism about the over-budget implementation of the $13.5 million Meditech system, which they named as one of the reasons they lack confidence in the hospital administration. The staff members said that this cost overrun, as well as other problems, have undermined the hospital’s financial position.

As is always the case in such situations, hospital leaders took the stage to deny these allegations. Frisbie Senior VP Joe Shields told the paper that the hospital is in sound financial condition, and also said that the only reason why the Meditech project went over budget by $1.5 million was that the administrators delayed the implementation by seven weeks to give the staff holiday time off.

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but to me, some parts of this story look a little bit bogus. For example:

* I appreciate accurate hospital bills as much as anybody, but the staff was going to check them manually anyway, why did it take 10 or 11 months for them to do so?

* The holidays take place at the same time every year.  Did administrators actually forget they were coming to an event that necessitated an almost 10% cost overrun?

Of course, only a small number of people know the answers to these questions, and I’m certainly not one of them. But the whole picture is a little bit odd.

Merged Health Systems Face Major EHR Integration Issues

Posted on January 2, 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.

Pity the IT departments of Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. When the two health systems complete their merger, IT leaders face a lengthy integration process cutting across systems from three different EHR vendors or a forklift upgrade of at least one.

It’s tough enough to integrate different instances of systems from the same vendor, which, despite the common origin are often configured in significantly different ways. In this case, the task is exponentially more difficult. According to Fierce Healthcare, when the two organizations come together, they’ll have to integrate Aurora’s Epic EHR with the Cerner and Allscripts systems used by Advocate.

As part of his research, the reporter asked an Aurora spokesperson whether health systems attempt to pull together three platforms into a single EHR. Of course, as we know, that is unlikely to ever happen. While full interoperability is obviously an elusive thing, getting some decent data flow between two affiliated organizations is probably far more realistic.

Instead, depending on what happens, the new CIO might or might not decide to migrate all three EHRs onto one from a single vendor. While this could turn out to be a hellish job, it certainly is the ideal situation if you can afford to get there. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option. Especially as health system mergers and acquisitions get bigger and bigger.

To me, however, the big question around all of this is how much the two organizations would spend to bring the same platforms to everyone. As we know, acquiring and rolling out Epic for even one health system is fiendishly expensive, to the point where some have been forced to report losses or have had ratings on the bond reduced.

My guess is that the leaders of the two organizations are counting often-cited merger benefits such as organizational synergies, improved efficiency and staff attrition to meet the cost of health IT investments like these. If this academic studies prove this will work, please feel free to slap me with a dead fish, but as for now I doubt it will happen.

No, to me this offers an object lesson in how mergers in the health IT-centered world can be more costly, take longer to achieve, and possibly have a negative impact on patient care if things aren’t done right (which often seems to be the case).

Given the other pressures health systems face, I doubt these new expenses will hold them back from striking merger deals. Generally speaking, most health systems face little choice but to partner and merge as they can. But there’s no point minimizing how much complexity and expense EHRs bring to such agreements today.

Hospital Takes Step Forward Using Patient-Reported Outcome Data

Posted on December 6, 2017 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 usually summarize stories from other publications — I don’t want to bore you! — and I like to offer you a surprise or two. This time, though, I thought you might want to hear about an interesting piece appearing in Modern Healthcare. This item offers some insight into how understanding patient-generated determinants of health could improve outcomes.

The story tells the tale of the Hospital for Special Surgery, an orthopedics provider in New York City which provides elective procedures to treat joint pain and discomfort. According to the MH editor, HSS has begun collecting data on patient-reported outcomes after procedures to see not only how much pain may remain, but also how their quality of life is post-procedure.

This project began by doing a check in with the patient before the procedure, during which nurses went over important information and answered any questions the patient might have. (As readers may know, this is a fairly standard approach to pre-surgical patient communication, so this was something of a warm-up.)

However, things got more interesting a few months later. For its next step, the hospital also began surveying the patients on their state of mind and health prior to the procedure, asking 10 questions drawn from the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System, or Promis.

The questions captured not only direct medical concerns such as pain intensity and sleep patterns, but also looked at the patient’s social support system, information few hospitals capture in a formal way at present.

All of the information gathered is being collected and entered into the patient’s electronic health record. After the procedure, the hospital has worked to see that the patients fill out the Promis survey, which it makes available using Epic’s MyChart portal.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy, as IT leaders struggled to integrate the results of the Promis survey into patient EHRs. However, once the work was done, the care team was able to view information across patients, which certainly has the potential to help them improve processes and outcomes over time.

Now, the biggest challenge for HSS is collecting data after the patients leave the hospital. Since kicking off the project in April, HSS has collected 24,000 patient responses to nursing questions, but only 15% of the responses came from patients who submitted them after their procedure. The hospital has seen some success in capturing post-surgical results when doctors push patients to fill out the survey after their care, but overall, the post-surgical response rate has remained low to date.

Regardless, once the hospital improves its methods for collecting post-surgical patient responses, it seems likely that the data will prove useful and important. I hope to see other hospitals take this approach.

When It Comes To Meaningful Use, Some Vendors May Have An Edge

Posted on December 1, 2017 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 article appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association has concluded that while EHRs certified under the meaningful use program should perform more or less equally, they don’t.

After conducting an analysis, researchers found that there were significant associations between specific vendors and level of hospital performance for all six meaningful use criteria they were using as a yardstick. Epic came out on top by this measure, demonstrating significantly higher performance on five of the six criteria.

However, it’s also worth noting that EHR vendor choice by hospitals accounted for anywhere between 7% and 34% of performance variation across the six meaningful use criteria. In other words, researchers found that at least in some cases, EHR performance was influenced as much by the fit between platform and hospital as the platform itself.

To conduct the study, researchers used recent national data on certified EHR vendors hospitals and implemented, along with hospital performance on six meaningful use criteria. They sought to find out:

  • Whether certain vendors were found more frequently among the highest performing hospitals, as measured by performance on Stage 2 meaningful use criteria;
  • Whether the relationship between vendor and hospital performance was consistent across the meaningful use criteria, or whether vendors specialized in certain areas; and
  • What proportion of variation in performance across hospitals could be explained by the vendor characteristics

To measure the performance of various vendors, the researchers chose six core stage two meaningful use criteria, including 60% of medication orders entered using CPOE;  providing 50% of patients with the ability to view/download/transmit their health information; for 50% of patients received from another setting or care provider, medication reconciliation is performed; for 50% of patient transitions to another setting or care provider, a summary of care record is provided; and for 10% of patient transitions to another setting or care provider, a summary of care record is electronically transmitted.

After completing their analysis, researchers found that three hospitals were in the top performance quartile for all meaningful use criteria, and all used Epic. Of the 17 hospitals in the top performance quartile for five criteria, 15 used Epic, one used MEDITECH and one another smaller vendor. Among the 68 hospitals in the top quartile for four criteria, 64.7% used Epic, 11.8% used Cerner and 8.8% used MEDITECH.

When it came to hospitals that were not in the top quartile for any of the criteria, there was no overwhelming connection between vendor and results. For the 355 hospitals in this category, 28.7% used MEDITECH, 25.1% used McKesson, 20.3% used Cerner, 14.4% used MEDHOST and 6.8% used Epic.

All of this being said, the researchers noted that news the hospital characteristics nor the vendor choice explained were then a small amount of the performance variation they saw. This won’t surprise anybody who’s seen firsthand how much other issues, notably human factors, can change the outcome of processes like these.

It’s also worth noting that there might be other causes for these differences. For example, if you can afford the notably expensive Epic systems, then your hospital and health system could likely afford to invest in meaningful use compliance as well. This added investment could explain hospitals meaningful use performance as much as EHR choice.

Amazon May Soon Announce Major Cloud Deal With Cerner

Posted on November 27, 2017 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.

As I’ve previously noted, Amazon is making increasingly aggressive moves into the healthcare space of late. While it hasn’t been terribly public with its plans—and why should it, honestly?— there been some talk of its going into the healthcare technology space. There’s also much talk about angles from which Amazon could attack healthcare sectors, including its well-publicized interest in the pharmacy business.

Though interesting, all of this has been vaguely defined it best. However, a new deal may be in the works which could have a very concrete effect. It could change not only the future of Amazon’s healthcare industry efforts but also, potentially, have an impact on the entire health IT world.

Think I’m exaggerating? Check this out. According to a story on the CNBC site, Amazon is about to announce a “huge” deal with Cerner under which the two will work together on building a major presence in enterprise health IT for Amazon Web Services. Put that way, this sounds a bit hyperbolic, but let me lay this out a bit further.

As things stand, the online retailer’s Amazon Web Services is already generating almost $20 billion a year, boasting clients across major industries such as technology, energy and financial services. Its only stumbling point to date is that it’s had trouble cracking the healthcare market.

Apparently, at the re:Invent conference in Las Vegas next week, AWS’s CEO will announce that Amazon is teaming up with Cerner to convince senior healthcare leaders to use AWS for key initiatives like population health management.

Sources who spoke to CNBC that the partnership will initially focus on Cerner’s HealtheIntent population health product, presumably as a door into convincing hospitals shift more of the cloud-based business to AWS.

Now why, you ask, is this deal bigger than the average bear?  is it one of those vaporware partnerships that fly a flag and promise a lot but don’t really go anywhere?

Yes, I admit that’s always possible, but in this case, I don’t think it’s going to turn out that way. The fit simply seems to work too well for this to be one of those much-ballyhooed deals that fade away quietly. (In fact, I could visualize a Cerner/Amazon merger in the future, as crazy as that might sound. It’s certainly less risky than the Whole Foods deal.)

For one thing, both Amazon and Cerner have significant benefits they can realize. For example, as the story notes, Amazon hasn’t gotten far in the healthcare market, and given its talent for doing the impossible, it must be really stuck at this point. Cerner, meanwhile, will never pull together the kind of cloud options AWS can offer, and I doubt Epic could either, which gives Cerner a boost in the always next-and-neck competition with its top rival.

If this agreement goes through, the ripples could be felt throughout the healthcare industry, if for no other reason than the impact it will have on the enterprise EHR market. This one should be fun to watch. I’m pulling out the popcorn.

Surescripts Deal Connects EMR Vendors And PBMs To Improve Price Transparency

Posted on November 22, 2017 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’m no expert on the pharmacy business, but from where I sit as a consumer it’s always looked to me as though pharmaceutical pricing is something of a shell game. It makes predicting what your airline ticket will cost seem like child’s play.

Yes, in theory, the airlines engage in demand-oriented pricing, while pharma pricing is based on negotiated prices spread among multiple contracted parties, but in either case end-users such as myself have very little visibility into where these numbers are coming from.  And in my opinion, at least, that’s not good for anyone involved. You can say “blah blah blah skin in the game” all you want, but co-pays are a poor proxy for making informed decisions as a patient as to what benefits you’ll accrue and problems you face when buying a drug.

Apparently, Surescripts hopes to change the rules to some degree. It just announced that it has come together with two other interest groups within the pharmacy supply chain to offer patient-specific benefit and price information to providers at the point of care.

Its partners in the venture include a group of EMR companies, including Cerner, Epic, Practice Fusion and Aprima Medical Software, which it says represent 53% of the U.S. physician base. It’s also working with two pharmacy benefit managers (CVS Health and Express Scripts) which embrace almost two-thirds of US patients.

The new Surescripts effort actually has two parts, a Real-Time Prescription Benefit tool and an expanded version of its Prior Authorization solution.  Used together, and integrated with an EHR, these tools will clarify whether the patient’s health insurance will cover the drug suggested by the provider and offer therapeutic alternatives that might come at a lower price.

If you ask me, this is clever but fails to put pressure on the right parties. You don’t have to be a pharmaceutical industry expert to know that middlemen like PBMs and pharmacies use a number of less-than-visible stratagems jack up drug prices. Patients are forced to just cope with whatever deal these parties strike among themselves.

If you really want to build a network which helps consumers keep prices down, go for some real disclosure. Create a network which gathers and shares price information every time the drug changes hands, up to and including when the patient pays for that drug. This could have a massive effect on drug pricing overall.

Hey, look at what Amazon did just by making costs of shipping low and relatively transparent to end-users. They sucked a lot of the transaction costs out of the process of shipping products, then gave consumers tools allowing them to watch that benefit in action.

Give consumers even one-tenth of that visibility into their pharmacy supply chain, and prices would fall like a hot rock. Gee, I wonder why nobody’s ever tried that. Could it be that pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t want us to know the real costs of making and shipping their product?

Epic Mounts Clumsy Public Defense On False Claims Lawsuit

Posted on November 6, 2017 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 former employee of a health system using Epic filed a False Claims Act whistleblower suit claiming that the vendor’s platform overbills for anesthesia services by default. The suit claims that Epic’s billing software double-bills both Medicare and Medicaid for anesthesia, as well as commercial payers.

At this point, let me be clear that I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but in theory, this could be a very big deal. One could certainly imagine a scenario in which multiple Epic customers colluded to permit this level of overbilling, which could generate staggering levels of overpayment. If so, one could imagine hospitals and health systems paying out judgments that add up to billions of dollars. To date, though, nobody’s made such a suggestion. In fact, Epic has said essentially the opposite and pointed to the need to understand how medical billing works, but we’ll get to that.

In the suit, which was filed in 2015 but unsealed this month, Geraldine Petrowski contended that Epic’s software was billing for both the base units of anesthesia for procedures and the time the procedure took.

Petrowski, a former employee with the compliance team at Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed Health & Hospitals, alleges that setting the billing to these defaults has resulted in “hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent bills” submitted to Medicare, Medicaid and other payers. (WakeMed is an Epic customer.)

According to an article appearing in Modern Healthcare, Petrowski developed these concerns when she worked with Epic as the provider’s liaison for its software implementation between 2012 and 2014. In the complaint, she says that she raised these concerns with Epic, but got a dismissive response. Eventually, after Petrowski kept up the pressure for a while, Epic fixed the billing issue — but only for WakeMed.

Apparently, the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed Petrowski’s case and decided not to intervene, a fact which Epic has not-surprisingly mentioned every chance it gets. Perhaps more tellingly, the vendor has suggested that Petrowski filed the suit largely because she’s clueless. “The plaintiff’s assertions represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how claims software works,” Epic spokesperson Meghan Roh told the magazine.

Now, I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but if the best public defense Epic can mount in this case is to offer some mixture of “everybody’s doing it” and “you’re a big dummy,” you’ve got to wonder what it’s got to hide.

Not only that, trying to brush off the suit as the product of ignorance or inexperience makes no sense given what’s involved. While False Claims whistleblowers can collect a very large payoff, getting there can take many years of grueling work, and their odds of prevailing aren’t great even if they make it through the torturous litigation process.

No, I’m more inclined to think that Epic has tipped its hand already. I’d argue that fixing only the WakeMed billing system shows what the legal folks call mens rea – a guilty mind — or at least a willingness to ignore potential wrongdoing. Not only that, if the system was operating as expected, why would Epic have gotten involved in the first place? Its consulting services don’t come cheap, and I’m guessing that Petrowski didn’t have the authority to pay for them.

It doesn’t look good, people…it just doesn’t look good.

Sure, the hospitals and health systems using Epic’s billing solution are ultimately responsible for the results. Maybe Epic is completely blameless in the matter this case. Regardless, if Epic’s hands are clean, it could do a better job of acting like it.

Visible and Useful Patient Data in an Era of Interoperability Failure

Posted on October 13, 2017 I Written By

Healthcare as a Human Right. Physician Suicide Loss Survivor. Janae writes about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Data Analytics, Engagement and Investing in Healthcare. twitter: @coherencemed

Health record interoperability and patient data is a debated topic in Health IT. Government requirements and business interests create a complex exchange about who should own data and how it should be used and who should profit from patient data. Many find themselves asking what the next steps in innovation are. Patient data, when it is available, is usually not in a format that is visible and useful for patients or providers. The debate about data can distract from progress in making patient data visible and useful.

Improvements in HealthIT will improve outcomes through better data interpretation and visibility. Increasing the utility of health data is a needed step. Visibility of patient data has been a topic of debate since the creation of electronic health records. This was highlighted in a recent exchange between former vice president Joe Biden and Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic Systems.

Earlier this year at the Cancer Moonshoot, Faulkner expressed her skepticism about the usefulness of allowing patients access to their medical records. Biden replied, asking Faulkner for his personal health data.

Faulkner was quick to retort, questioning why Mr. Biden wanted his records, and reportedly responded “Why do you want your medical records?” There are a thousand pages of which you understand 10.”

My interpretation of her response-“You don’t even know what you are asking. Do not get distracted by the shiny vendor trying to make money from interpreting my company’s data”

As reported in Politico Biden–and really, I think that man can do no wrong, responded, “None of your business.”

In the wake of the Biden Faulkner exchange, the entire internet constituency of Health IT and patient records had an ischemic attack. Since this exchange we’ve gone on to look at interoperability in times of crisis. We’ve had records from Houston and Puerto Rico and natural disasters. The importance of sharing data and the scope of useful data is the same. 

During what I call the beginning of several months of research about the state of interoperability I started reading about the Biden and Faulkner exchange. This was not the first time I had been reading extensively about patient data and if EHR and EMR data is useful. It just reminded me of the frustrations I’ve heard for years about EHR records being useless. Like many of us, I disappeared down the rabbit hole of tweets about electronic health records for a full day. Patient advocates STILL frustrated by the lack of cooperation between EHR and EMR vendors found renewed vigor; they cited valid data. Studies were boldly thrown back and the exchange included some seriously questionable math and a medium level of personal attack.

Everyone was like, Are we STILL on this problem where very little happens and it’s incredibly complex? How? How do we still not have a system that makes patient data more useful? Others were like, Obviously it doesn’t make sense because A) usefulness in care, and B) money.

Some argued that patients just want to get better. Others pointed out that acting like patients were stupid children not only causes a culture of contempt for providers and vendors alike, but also kills patients. Interestingly, Christina Farr CNBC reported that the original exchange may have been more civil than originally interpreted. 

My personal opinion: Biden obviously knew we needed to talk about patient rights, open data, and interoperability more. It has had more coverage since then. I don’t know Faulkner, but it sounds like a lot of people on Twitter don’t feel like she is very cooperative. She sounds like a slightly savage businesswoman, which for me is usually a positive thing. I met Peter from Epic who works with interoperability and population health and genomics and he was delightful.

Undeniably, there is some validity to Judy’s assertion that the data would not be useful to Biden; EHR and EMR data, at least in the format available from the rare cooperative vendors, is not very useful. They are a digital electronic paper record. I am willing to bet Biden–much as I adore the guy–didn’t even offer a jump drive on which to store his data. The potential of EHR data visualization to improve patient outcomes needs more coverage. Let’s not focus on the business motivations of parties that don’t want to share their data, let’s look at potential improvements in data usefulness. 

It was magic because I had just had a conversation about data innovation with Dr. Michael Rothman. An early veteran in the artificial intelligence field, Dr. Rothman worked in data modeling before the AI winter of the 80s and the current resurgence in investment and popularity. He predates the current buzz cycle of blockchain and artificial intelligence everything. With many data scientists frustrated by an abandonment of elegant, simple solutions in favor of venture capital and sexy advertising vaporware, it is timely to look at tools that improve outcomes.

In speaking with Dr. Rothman, I was surprised by the cadence of his voice, he asked me what I knew about the history of artificial intelligence, and I asked him to tell his data story. He started by outlining the theory of statistical modeling and data dump in neural net modeling. His company, PeraHealth, represents part of the solution for making EMR and EHR data useful to clinicians and patients.

The idea that data is going to give you the solution is, in a sense, slightly possible but extremely unlikely. If you look at situations where people have been successful, there is a lot of human ingenuity that goes into selecting and transforming the variables into meaningful forms before building the neural network or deep learning algorithm. Without a framework of understanding, a lot of EHR data is simply a data dump that lacks clinical knowledge or visualization to provide appropriate scaffolding.  You do need ingenuity, and you do need the right data. There are so many problems and complexities with data that innovation and ingenuity is lagging behind with healthIT.

The question is – is the answer you are looking for in the input data? If you have the answer in the data, you will be able to provide insights based on it. Innovation in healthcare predictions and patient records will come from looking at data sets that are actually predictive of health.

Dr. Rothman’s work in healthcare started with a medical error. His mother had valve replacement surgery and came through in good shape. Although initially she was recovering quickly, she started to deteriorate after a few days. And the problem was that the system made it difficult to see.  Each day she was evaluated.  Each day her condition was viewed as reasonable given her surgery and age.  What they couldn’t see was that each day she was getting worse.  They couldn’t see the trend.  She was discharged and returned to the ED 4-days later and died.

As a scientist, he recognized that the hospital staff didn’t have everything they needed to avoid an error like this. He approached the hospital CEO and asked for permission to help them solve the problem. Dr. Rothman explained, I didn’t feel that the doctors had given poor medical care, this was a failure of the system.

The hospital CEO did something remarkable. They shared their data. In a safe system they allowed an expert in data science to come in to see what he could find in their patient records, rather than telling him he probably wouldn’t understand the printout. The hospital was an early adopter of EHR records, so they were able to look at a long history of data to find what was being missed. Using vital signs, lab tests, and importantly, an overlooked source of data, nursing notes, Dr. Rothman (and his brother) found a way to synthesize a unified score, a single number which captures the overall condition of the patient, a single number which was fed from the EMR and WOULD show a trend.  There is an answer if you include the right data.  

Doctors and nurses look at a myriad of data and synthesize it, to reach an understanding.  Judy is right that a layman looking at random pieces of data will not likely gain much understanding, BUT they may.  And with more help they might.  Certainly, they deserve a chance to look.  And certainly, the EMR and EHR companies have an obligation to present the data in some readable form.

Patients should be demanding data, they should be demanding hospitals give them usable care and normalize data based on their personal history to help save their lives.

Based on this experience, Michael and Steven built the Rothman Index, a measure of patient health based on analytics that visualizes data found in EHRs. They went on to found PeraHealth, which enables nursing kiosks to show the line and screens to see if any patients decline. In some health systems, an attending physician can get an alert about patients in danger. The visualization from the record isn’t just a screen by the patient, it is also on the physicians and nurses’ screens and includes warnings. Providers have time to evaluate what is wrong before it is too late. The data in the health record is made visual and can be a tool for providers.


Visualization of Patient Status with the Rothman Index and Perahealth

Is Perahealth everywhere? Not yet. For every innovation and potential improvement there is a period of time where slow adopters wait and invest in sure bets. Just like interoperable data isn’t an actuality in a system that desperately needs it, this is a basic step toward improving patient outcomes. Scaling implementation of an effective data tool is not always clear to hospital CMIO and CEO teams.  The triage of what healthIT solution a healthcare system chooses to implement is complex. Change also requires strong collaborative efforts and clear expectations. Often, even if hospital systems know something provides benefits to patients, they don’t have the correct format to implement the solution. They need a strategy for adoption and a strong motivation. It seems that the strongest motivations are financial and outcomes based. The largest profit savings with the minimum effort usually takes adoption precedent. This should also be aligned with end users- if a nurse uses the system it needs to improve their workflow, not just give them another task.

One of the hospitals that is successfully collaborating to make patient data more useful and visual is Houston Methodist. I spoke to Katherine Walsh, Chief Nursing Officer from Houston Methodist about their journey to use EHR data with Perahealth. She explained it to me- Data is the tool, without great doctors and nurses knowing the danger zone, it doesn’t help. This reminded me of Faulkner’s reaction that not all patient data is useful. Clinical support should be designed around visible data to give better care. Without a plan, data is not actionable. Katherine explained that when nurses could see that the data was useful, they also had to make sure their workflow included timely records. When EHR data is actually being used in the care of patients, suddenly data entry workflow changes. When nurses and doctors can see that their actions are saving lives, they are motivated.
The process to change their workflow and visualize patient data did not happen overnight. In the story of Houston Methodist’s adoption of Perahealth, Walsh said they wanted to make sure they helped doctors and nurses understand what the data meant.  “We put large screens on all the units- you can immediately see the patients that are at risk- it’s aggregated by the highest risk factor.” If you are waiting for someone to pull this data up on their desktop, you are waiting for them to search something. But putting it on the unit where you can see it makes it much easier to round, and makes it much easier to get a sense of what is going on. You can always identify what and who is at risk because it’s on a TV screen. The Houston Methodist team showed great leadership in nursing informatics, improving outcomes and using an internal strategy for implementation.

They normalize the variants for each person- a heart rate of 40 for a runner might be normal- then on the next shift 60 seems normal- then at 80 it also seems normal- you can tell them when you want an alert. To help with motivation, Walsh needed to make the impact of PeraHealth visual. They hung 23 hospital gowns around a room, representing the patients they had saved using the system.
The future of electronic health records will be about creating usable data, not just a data dump of fields. It is transforming EHRs from a cost hemorrhage to a life-saving tool through partnerships. Physicians don’t want another administrative task or another impersonal device. Nurses don’t want to go through meaningless measures and lose track of patients during shift changes. Show them the success they’ve had and let the data help them give great care.

Hospital administrators don’t want another data tool that doesn’t improve patient outcomes but has raised capital on vaporware. Creators don’t want more EHR companies that don’t know how to work with agile partners to create innovation.

The real ingenuity is in understanding – what data do you need? What data do patients need? Who can electronic healthcare record companies partner with to bridge the data divide?

We can bridge the gap of electronic health records that aren’t legible or useful to patients and create tools to save lives. Tools like those from PeraHealth are the result of a collaborative effort to take the data we have and synthesize it and visualize it and let care providers SEE their patients.  This saves lives.

Without this, the data is there, it’s just not usable.

Don’t just give the patients their data, show them their health.

AHA Asks Congress To Reduce Health IT Regulations for Medicare Providers

Posted on September 22, 2017 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.

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.