Health IT’s Most Pressing Issues (Part 2)

Health IT’s most pressing issues may be so prevalent that they can’t be contained to a single post, as is obvious here, the second installment in the series detailing some of the biggest IT issues. There are differing opinions as to what the most important issues are, but there are many clear and overwhelming problems for the sector. Data, security, interoperability and compliance are some of the more obvious, according to the following experts, but those are not all, as you likely know and we’ll continue to see.

Here, we continue to offer the perspective of some of healthcare’s insiders who offer their opinions on health IT’s greatest problems and where we should be spending a good deal, if not most, of our focus. If you’d like to read the first installment in the series, go here: Health IT’s Most Pressing Issues. Also, feel free to let us know if you agree with the following, or add what you think are some of the sector’s biggest boondoggles.

Michael Fimin
Michael Fimin

Michael Fimin, CEO and co-founder, Netwrix
The largest concern of any healthcare organization is protecting patient personal data. Every year healthcare entities of all sizes become victims of data leaks, fresh examples are both Anthem and Premera Blue Cross, and lose thousands of dollars mainly because of employee misbehave or human error. Being not an easy one to prevent, human factor sets IT pros a number of challenges to cope with:

1. Insider threat. Unfortunately, privilege abuse is a primary root cause for many data breaches. No matter if an employee is breaking bad or his credentials were stolen, sensitive data is put at risk. The only way to prevent insider threats is to have visibility into the IT infrastructure and be able to track any changes made to both security configurations and data. Monitor user activity and establish rigorous control over accounts with extended privileges. Regularly review all access rights to ensure that permissions are granted adequately to employees’ business needs.

2. Security of devices. In 2014 healthcare organizations suffered from physical theft or loss of electronic devices more than any other industry, said the Verizon 2014 DBIR. Without proper identity and authentication management personal data stored on these devices can be easily accessed by adversaries, leading to financial and reputational losses. If your employees’ laptop or tablets end up in the wrong hands, encryption, two-factor authentication and ability to manage the device remotely will protect your data, or at least will make hacker’s job much harder.

3. Employees’ negligence. Deliberate or accidental mistakes pose more danger to data integrity than you might think. A simple email with confidential data sent to the wrong address may lead to a huge data leak. Make sure that your employees are familiar with the company’s security policy and are aware of what they should do to maintain security each person in the company should clearly understand that integrity of information assets is their personal responsibility.

Barry Chaiken
Barry Chaiken

Dr. Barry Chaiken, chief medical information officer, Infor
Healthcare providers organizations invested billions of dollars purchasing and implementing electronic medical records with this investment driven by the economic incentives provided by the HITECH Act. Now that these systems are installed an up and running, organizations struggle to obtain real value from these investments. These systems were implemented with speed in mind rather than clinical transformation that improved quality and reduced costs. Now, organizations must embrace clinical transformation and change management to redo workflows and processes to effectively impact care. Organizations cannot justify their investment in EMRs unless they rework their EMR implementations to obtain true value from their deployment.”

Matthew Fisher, co-chair, health law group, Mirick O’Connell

Matthew R. Fisher
Matthew Fisher

One of the top health IT issues that I encounter is meeting compliance requirements with the HIPAA Security Rule. Security is a hot issue for health IT in light of the numerous breaches and other attacks that have occurred in order to gain access to protected health information. Health IT is at the forefront of these issues because the conversion to predominantly electronic data formats has created a number of vulnerabilities. Foremost among the vulnerabilities is the often outdated security systems or measures that may be in place. From a regulatory compliance perspective, particularly HIPAA, organizations must perform a comprehensive risk analysis of their operations. The results of the risk analysis, which should include identification, likelihood and threat level associated with each issue, form the backbone of an organization’s security policies. Under HIPAA, the Security Rule is designed to be somewhat flexible and scalable to each organization’s needs. As the brief description of the risk analysis shows, the results help an organization to determine how to meet the addressable elements of the Security Rule.

All of this places a lot of pressure on health IT to meet demands and protect organizations. As can be seen from breach fallouts, health IT can be at the top of the blame list. However, proactive attention to these issues can help alleviate the pain and put a organization ahead.

Dr. David Kibbe, president and CEO, DirectTrust

For me, the top issue for health IT is interoperability of information exchange: It should be very easy for health care professionals to move data and information across organizational boundaries and IT platforms, without extra effort, and in a manner that is electronic, secure, and identity-validated. Data exchange has to be vendor agnostic. That we don’t have this capability deployed everywhere in health care is less a problem of standards than a problem of business models and culture.

The reason this one issue is on the top of my list is because the lack of interoperable exchange of health information is a by-product of fee-for-service payment to doctors and hospitals; payment for volume not payment for quality. If you get paid by insurers even when tests and procedures need to be duplicated, because the data aren’t readily available to your “silo” of information from someone else’s “silo” of information, why bother to change? But health care payers are moving toward “value-based care” in which quality and efficiency are rewarded, providers are put at some level of risk for the costs of the care they deliver, and those who do poorly on such metrics as readmissions to hospital and patient satisfaction are penalized and paid less.

Value-based payment success requires that providers communicate with one another in a distinctly multi-vendor environment, one in which doctors and hospitals use EHRs from over 300 vendors. Yet many members of care coordination teams, such as those in long-term post-acute care and home health, don’t use EHRs at all.

Providers engaged in value-based payment simply can’t fumble the transitions of care made by their patients as they did under fee-for-service; if they do they’ll fail financially. The challenge they are facing is how to move data and information wherever and to whomever the patient goes to next, and regardless of which vendor’s EHR the next provider organization is using, so that care becomes much more coordinated and outcomes more predictable.

Direct exchange is an example of a standard that is open and available for use in over 40,000 health care organizations that use EHRs certified by ONC; that certification includes that the EHRs are Direct-enabled to both send and receive messages, and file attachments of any kind, and to and from any other certified EHR user. Direct messages are sent encrypted end-to-end, and the relying parties know precisely the identity of one another even before the message is transmitted. Attachments can be in any type of file format, including structured XML, Word, PDF, and in common file image file formats like .jpg and DICOM.

Why don’t we hear more about direct exchange in the media and press? Well, that’s because new technologies take time to become adopted, even when there are federal standards built into certifications. And, as the recent ONC report to Congress on Information Blocking pointed out, “… some [provider and EHR] business practices, though they may arguably advance legitimate individual economic interests, interfere with the exchange of electronic health information in ways that raise serious information blocking concerns.” Put even more simply, there still exist business and cultural incentives in health care to restrict information flows to protect private economic gain, even at the expense of the patients and the public at large.

As the incentives change because of value-based purchasing contracts becoming more widespread, we will see more and more health care providers and hospitals choosing to use interoperable health IT tools.

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