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Hospitals Taking Next-Gen EHR Development Seriously

Posted on October 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.

Physicians have never been terribly happy with EHRs, most of which have done little to meet the lofty clinical goals set forth by healthcare leaders. Despite the fact that EHRs have been a fact of life in medicine for nearly a decade, health IT leaders don’t seem to have figured out how to build a significantly better one — or even what “better” means.

While there has been the occasional project leveraging big data from EHRs to improve care processes, little has been done that makes it simple for physicians to benefit from these insights on a day-to-day basis. Not only that, while EHRs may have become more usable over time, they still don’t present patient data in an intuitive manner.

However, hospital leaders have may be developing a more-focused idea of how a next-gen EHR should work, at least if recent efforts by Stanford Medicine and Penn Medicine are any indication.

For example, Stanford has developed a next-gen EHR model which it argues could be rolled out within the next 10 years. The idea behind the model would be that clinicians and other healthcare professions would simply take care of patients, with information flowing automatically to all relevant parties, including payers, hospitals, physicians and patients. Its vision seems far less superficial than much of the EHR innovation happy talk we’ve seen in the past.

For example, in this model, an automated physician’s assistant would “listen” to interactions between doctors and patients and analyze what was said. The assistant would then record all relevant information in the physical exam section of the chart, sorting it based on what was said in the room and what verbal cues clinicians provided.

Another initiative comes from Penn Medicine, where leaders are working to transform EHRs into more streamlined, interactive tools which make clinical work easier and drive best outcomes. Again, while many hospitals and health centers have talked a good game on this front, Penn seems to be particularly serious about making EHRs valuable. “We are approaching this endeavor as if it were building a new clinical facility, laboratory or training program,” said University of Pennsylvania Health System CEO Ralph Muller in a prepared statement.

Penn hasn’t gone into many specifics as to what its next-gen EHR would look like, but in its recent statement, it provided a few hints. These included the suggestion that they should allow doctors to “subscribe” to patients’ clinical information to get real-time updates when action is required, something along the lines of what social media networks already do with feeds and notifications.

Of course, there’s a huge gap between visions and practical EHR limitations. And there’s obviously a lot of ways in which the same general goals can be met. For example, another way to talk about the same issues comes from HIT superstar Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and CIO and dean for technology at Harvard Medical School.

In a blog post looking at the shift to EHR 2.0, Halamka argues for the development of a new Care Management Medical Record which enrolls patients in protocols based on conditions then ensures that they get recommended services. He also argues that EHRs should be seen as flexible platforms upon which entrepreneurs can create add-on functionality, something like apps that rest on top of mobile operating systems.

My gut feeling is that all told, we are seeing from real progress here, and that particularly given the emergence of more mature AI tools, a more-flexible EHR demanding far less physician involvement will come together. However, it’s worth noting that the Stanford researchers are looking at a 10-year timeline.  To me, it seems unlikely that things will move along any faster than that.

Apple Trials Tech Offering Patient Access To Their Health Records

Posted on January 29, 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.

In recent times, tech giants have been falling over themselves in a race to offer consumers the best access to their health data, including even dark horses like Amazon. And it’s little wonder – it’s become increasingly obvious that he who controls patient health data access controls a critical sector of the entire healthcare industry.

The most recent stake in the ground comes from Apple, whose latest update to its Health app allows customers to see their medical records on their iPhone. The Health Records section of the Health app, which comes with the release of the iOS 11.3 beta, collects FHIR-based records from multiple sources and makes them available through its Health Records section.

The patient data display will pull together patient data from various healthcare organizations into a single view. The data will include lists of allergies, conditions and medications taken, immunizations records, lab results on procedures and vital sign information. When providers published new information, iPhone users will be notified.

To conduct its Health Records beta test, Apple has partnered with a number of high-profile health systems and hospitals, including Johns Hopkins Medicine; Cedars-Sinai; Penn Medicine; Geisinger Health System; UC San Diego Health; UNC Health Care; Rush University Medical Center; Dignity Health; Ochsner Health System; MedStar Health and OhioHealth.

As part of its launch, Apple told the New York Times that unless consumers specifically choose to share it with the company, it will never see the data, which will be encrypted and stored locally on the iPhone.  A recent (if unscientific) poll suggests that consumers trust Apple with their health data more than other top tech vendors, so this reassurance may be enough to ease their fears.

But security is hardly Apple’s biggest concern. How does the tech colossus expect to profit from its health data investments?  When I break the issues down, it looks like this:

  • Unlike hospitals and clinics, which can expect medium- to long-term ROI when patients manage their health better, Apple doesn’t deliver care.
  • Apple might want to sell anonymized aggregated patient data, but as far as I know, the company would still have to get patient permission, and that would be an administrative and legal nightmare.
  • If Apple or its competitors have some vision of selling access to the patient, good luck with that. Providers have a hard time attracting and keeping patients with nifty technology even if those patients live in their backyard.

While I could be missing something major, from what I see, Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon and the rest are engaging in a series of preemptive patient data land grabs. My sense is that none of them know exactly what to do with this data, they’ll be damned if they’re going to let their competitors get there first.

That said, many in the industry are suggesting that this move is just another effort by Apple to sell more iPhones. The question I ask is how valuable will the information be to the patients? Certainly the beta hospitals and health systems are large and have a lot of data, but how is this going to scale down to the smaller providers? If you don’t have these smaller providers, then you’re going to be missing some of the most important health data.