Why EHRs Must Embrace APIs

Guest post by Justin Rockman, vice president of sales and business development, Surgimate.

Justin Rockman
Justin Rockman

Since the late ’80s, the inflexible and cumbersome Health Level 7 (HL7) protocol has been the standard form of sending messages between healthcare applications. However, HL7 integration is timely to implement, technically limited and costly. It is not uncommon for a medical practice to face upwards of $10,000 in expenditure for one simple message.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) have recently become a fashionable alternative. The term API sounds complicated, but it’s really just a way in which software applications (like your EHR) can talk to other systems, and exchange large amounts of data rapidly and securely. In short – they support better, faster, cheaper interoperability.

In addition to transmitting data between systems, APIs offer the ability to plug in chunks of functionality to another system, in a clean and predictable manner. Instantaneous and seamless interaction between systems is the leanest and trendiest way to design software in 2018. New applications should not “reinvent the functionality wheel” but provide unique integratable services.

As the EHR market estimated to reach $28 billion in 2016, it is no surprise that tech titans like Amazon, and Apple are looking for ways to get a slice of the pie. With top of the line products sure to come from those companies and others, here are 4 reasons why healthcare IT vendors must offer their clients a way to integrate using APIs.

Platform Stickiness

Physicians need easy access to data supported by EHRs, but hate the time it takes to manually enter patient information. It’s no wonder – doctors typically spend 50 percent of their day working with an EHR. If a physician isn’t happy with the usability or efficiency of their system, they’ll drop it and choose another. While the annual EHR adoption rate among providers is 67 percent, the EHR vendor switch rate is about 15 percent.

APIs offer cheaper and deeper integration options. For EHR vendors to provide better value for their customers they must embrace the API and ditch the expensive, outdated and rigid HL7 protocol.

Using an EHR that is integrated with other programs will make switching systems even more inconvenient. EHR vendors who give customers the additional functionality offered by their partners will be rewarded with brand loyalty, and lower churn.

An Additional Revenue Stream

Innovative EHR vendors are partnering with upstart technology companies to generate additional revenue. Greenway and athenahealth advertise an array of solutions in their marketplace, and provide partners with utilization of their APIs. In exchange, they receive monthly or recurring payment for each license sold. Since most practices already have purchased an EHR, finding new revenue streams is crucial for a company’s growth.

The healthcare API market is predicted to exceed $200 million in the next few years. Former engineers from Epic Systems saw the industry’s need for interoperability and raised $15 million in venture capital to found Redox – a company solely focussed on building bridges between healthcare applications. Creating platforms that deliver easy integrations at reasonable costs will greatly benefit the healthcare industry.

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The Four Trends Shaping Digital Transformation of Healthcare in 2018

By Rahul Patel, EVP of digital products and services, Persistent Systems.

Rahul Patel
Rahul Patel

As we launch into 2018, questions remain about the healthcare policy environment and how it can impact many healthcare initiatives. As Yogi Berra said, “It’s difficult to make predictions – especially about the future.” I feel confident, however, about some fundamental trends in the healthcare landscape. These include a steady shift toward value-based care, an increased focus on data and analytics as a core enabler for digital transformation, and the all-consuming focus on the patient experience.

Here are my four key predictions for the healthcare IT trends that will transform the industry in 2018:

Patient Satisfaction Takes Center Stage

The era of healthcare consumerism is here. Patients are bearing increasing financial responsibility for healthcare costs, and seek improved experiences as a part of the value-for-money equation. In response, providers are taking a 360-degree view of patients, employing better analytics to leverage patient data such as demographic information, lifestyles and individual preferences, to personalize interactions and treatment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Becomes Entrenched in Clinical Settings

Despite the overuse of the term AI to describe many types of technology-enabled solutions, the adoption of AI has been steadily gaining ground in a wide range of settings. Deep learning algorithms will increasingly be used in clinical settings to support medical diagnosis and treatment decisions, predict the likelihood of patient re-admissions and help providers better leverage the data that has been accumulating in electronic health records. According to the 2017 Internet Trends Report by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, medical knowledge is doubling every three years, and the average hospital is generating more than 40 petabytes of data every year.

While all this accumulated information empowers more informed physicians, the growing range of data and knowledge sources creates a challenge as well, since physicians and clinicians must manage and stay on top of this information on specific conditions, especially in fields such as oncology. AI technologies are enabling time-constrained and overworked physicians to make sense of the vast amounts of data, helping them uncover hidden insights and supporting their medical diagnoses and decisions with timely and relevant input at the point of care.

Open Source Finally Takes Hold

Healthcare organizations have been conservative when it comes to open source technologies, largely due to concerns about data security and privacy. With the growing adoption of cloud-enabled solutions and a gradual shift of enterprise IT workloads to the cloud, they no longer have to worry about risks to the IT environment and can rely on mature cloud service providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. And, open source architecture can now incorporate robust technology components with rich functionality. Our current collaboration with Partners Healthcare to build a digital platform for clinical care is based on an open source architecture. As the industry shifts rapidly to value-based care, cost pressures will force healthcare enterprises to transform their technology strategies, turning to open source solutions to rapidly build new solutions cost-effectively.

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Contribute To Electronic Health Reporter!

Hello. Thanks for checking out Electronic Health Reporter. I appreciate your interest in the site! The reason I’m writing today is to let you know that after nearly six years we continue to grow, and are always looking to add new contributors to the site. Which is the reason I’m writing today. We are seeking additional content and new voices for the stable of contributors on Electronic Health Reporter; new insights, news, trends and opinions on the changes that we are going through in healthcare and health IT.

If you are or represent someone (preferably an executive) who has insightful opinions about the state of and the future of health IT, I’d like to hear from you. Contributions are free (though we’re happy to accept paid sponsored posts), typically are a minimum of 600 words, vendor neutral and free from marketing speak. We’ll include a picture of the author and link back to the contributor’s firm in their byline! Simple as that. Want examples? Check out the site!

Electronic Health Reporter continues to grow, but we need even more voices and contributors and we hope you can help us with that. Even if you are not interested in contributing, I look forward to hearing from you, and hope that you keep reading. If there is anything you would like us to tackle, I’m open to suggestions. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at scottrupp@electronichealthreporter.com.

Thank you!

Scott E. Rupp

Founder, publisher and editor

Electronic Health Reporter

Are Physicians Ready To Meet Consumer Demand For Genomics?

By Joel Diamond, MD, FAAFP, chief medical officer, 2bPrecise.

Joel Diamond, MD
Joel Diamond, MD

Patients are becoming more engaged in (and financially responsible for) their own care. As such, they are increasingly interested in information about their health risks and which courses of treatment have the best potential for success. In my practice, I have seen a sharp rise in the number of patients asking about genetic and genomic tests.

Healthcare consumers are drawn to the idea that this information can unlock answers to persistent health problems, or reveal risk for future issues. They want genetic information to lay out a clear path forward for prevention and treatment, perhaps indicating which medications will be most effective for their profile. It’s one of the reasons why direct-to-consumer genetic testing, such as 23andMe, has become so popular.

The precision medicine learning curve

Soon we will move from individual gene tests and panels to exome and full genome testing, some of which is happening today. As the concept of applying genomics and precision medicine gains momentum, physicians are enthusiastic about the potential of personalized care plans to improve patient outcomes.

But are physicians equipped with the right tools to put precision medicine into practice? For example, can we identify which patients might benefit from genetic testing? Do we know what test to order? How do we interpret results? How do we incorporate this information into the patient record? And of course, cost is always an issue: Who pays for these tests?

These are some of the many questions physicians are wrestling with today. If they have a clinical-genomic solution within the electronic health record (EHR) workflow, they can get some of the support they need to meet rising demand for personalized medicine and care plans.

3 trends to watch as consumers drive precision medicine into the mainstream

Consumer interest shows no signs of slowing, which will continue to bring new challenges and opportunities into the physician’s office. Trends include:

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What’s Ahead for Electronic Health Record Technology in 2018

Jeff Lew, vice president of product management, Nextech.

Jeffery Lew
Jeffrey Lew

The dawn of a new year brings anticipation for things to come—and this certainly holds true regarding health information technology. Electronic health records (EHRs) continue to evolve, and the next 12 months should provide some excitement as new developments emerge. In particular, there are three trends worth watching.

The inescapable shift to the cloud

More and more healthcare organizations are seeking cloud-based EHR and practice management systems, and it appears this trend will continue throughout the coming year. One of the primary reasons for moving to the cloud is the economics of these solutions. An organization does not have to maintain costly hardware and software or allocate resources for upgrades and other technology management functions. Instead, the system is housed remotely and kept constantly up-to-date by the vendor. Users can access the software with any device that has an internet connection, including laptops, tablets and, in some cases, smartphones. A cloud solution is especially cost effective for those organizations that have multiple facilities. Gone are the days of a server in each site—users can bring their laptops or tablets with them as they travel from location to location, logging in to the system from anywhere. Not only can this keep costs in check, it can also promote greater user satisfaction because the tool offers the flexibility to work from anyplace at any time.

Security and protecting an organization’s IT from threats will continue to make headlines like it has in the past year. It is a real and present risk that organizations must be acutely aware of and ensure relevant preventative measures are established and continuously maintained. This requires not just the relevant knowledge and skills, but also focus and resources, that many organizations may not have.

Ultimately, most—if not all healthcare providers—will shift to cloud-based solutions at some point. Although the move may not occur immediately for every organization, 2018 will see many healthcare entities take steps in that direction.

Complying with MACRA

This past November, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final rule governing 2018 MACRA participation. The rule introduced several changes that stand to impact physician practices and other healthcare organizations. Here are a few key aspects of the rule of which to be aware for the coming year:

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Value-Based Care: What Happened, What’s Next

By Matthew Fusan, director of customer experience, SA Ignite.

Matthew Fusan
Matthew Fusan

Although the Quality Payment Program (QPP) has been in effect for a year, there continues to be a lot of change in the program as CMS continues to evolve. The new year creates an ideal time to reflect back on what changes we have experienced to date as well as look forward and examine what could happen in 2018 and beyond.

2017: A Year of Regulatory Confusion

As the QPP rolled out, confusion still reigned supreme at both the CMS and HHS levels:

2018: More Focus, More Models

While some programs are being cut/reduced, there is still pressure on CMS to accelerate new Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs) so they are exploring options during 2018.

While these models are all under consideration/in development, it will be interesting to see if the CMMI RFI will drive additional choice or will the changes proposed consume CMMI for 2018 and reduce the capacity to introduce new models. Either way, CMMI will look very different in 2018 and beyond.

2019: Change is Mandated

In 2019, critical components of MIPS are mandated, including:

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How Virtual Consults Can Benefit the Emergency Department

By Lee Horner, CEO, Synzi.

Lee Horner
Lee Horner

In urgent care situations, being able to provide timely and quality healthcare is essential to the impact and satisfaction of the ED staff and related EMS team members. Using telehealth, current ED workflows can be enhanced to increase access and make collaboration between onsite providers and offsite colleagues and specialists easier and more timely. Virtual care platforms can rapidly improve the delivery of care, effectively addressing urgent patient needs while reconciling the gap in having available specialists on-hand / in-person for immediate consults. Virtual consults are a viable and valuable solution to helping improve outcomes in emergent care situations.

Providing Critical Care On-Demand in the ED

Seconds and minutes count in the ED. With a virtual care platform, a hospital’s ED staff can quickly access remote specialists and facilitate a virtual consult between offsite specialists and patients. Instead of losing crucial minutes, hours, or even critical days in the ED to call a specialist or wait for an in-person consult, ED staff can quickly reach the first available, designated specialist who can deliver a timely virtual consult and provide guidance as to diagnosis, admission, and/or transfer. With virtual care technology, specialists can provide the needed consult from anywhere and on any device. Key decisions as to whether the patient needs to be admitted, transferred or discharged can be made in minutes (vs. hours or days). The costs involved with keeping a patient in the ED are also contained, and the hours or days which a patient spends in the ED are reduced. As hospitals struggle to have multiple specialists on-hand at any time, virtual consult platforms can empower hospitals to leverage specialists within their networks to support their patient care objectives around-the-clock.

Reducing Waiting Time and Minimizing Leakage in the ED

Virtual care platforms are also being used to reduce waiting times in the ED and deliver routine care to patients with non-emergent conditions. In a recent study published in Telemedicine and e-Health, rural hospitals using telehealth reduced the time between patients entering the ED to receiving physician care, according to University of Iowa researchers.

Virtual care had decreased door-to-provider time by six minutes. The researchers also concluded that the length of stay in the ED of the initial hospital was shorter for patients who were eventually transferred but had initially participated in a virtual care consultation. At New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, the Express Care program allows patients with minor injuries or non-life-threatening symptoms to be seen virtually by an offsite provider via video. When asked by the Wall Street Journal, “What’s the number one complaint of patients in the emergency room?” Rahul Sharma, the emergency physician-in-chief at Weill Cornell, responded: “Wait time.”

The hospital reported that the Express Care telehealth program has cut the average wait time in the hospital’s ED by more than half; between 35 to 40 minutes. As hospitals struggle to prevent leakage and minimize the chance of patients leaving their ED waiting room for another healthcare setting, virtual consults can help the waiting patients access the diagnoses and care they need in a more timely and convenient manner.

Expanding Impact into the Community

ED staff can also use virtual care platforms to expand their impact within their respective communities.  Rural hospitals face some of the biggest deficits in terms of having a range of specialists on staff. Providers in these hospitals can have access to a greater pool of specialists who can support urgent patient care via video when a particular specialist is not already on staff or readily available in-person.  Giving ED staff the ability to facilitate virtual consults on-demand improves their impact within their own community – regardless of distance between the ED and the specialist. ED staff can also conduct HIPAA-compliant virtual meetings to drive better collaboration amongst the broader care team across the care continuum. Communication can be maintained with the appropriate care team members (including the patient’s PCP, a pharmacist, a coordinator at the next care facility, etc.) to ensure the patient’s overall health needs are regularly discussed and addressed in the ED and during the transition of care – without requiring care team members to drive to/from meetings at different locations and facilities.

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4 Ways Dentistry Can Impact Your Health

The start of a New Year is a great time to reassess your wellness. It’s also an opportune time for you to make changes to tasks that you may have placed on the back burner. Losing weight and adopting healthier eating habits typically top the list. But if you’ve been putting off a trip to the dentist, you may want to make this a priority. The following are four ways a trip to the dentist can have a great impact on your health.

Prevent Serious Health Problems

Poor oral health won’t only cause you to lose your teeth. Failing to keep your mouth and gums in prime condition can also lead to serious health complications. Based on several recent studies, the inflammation of gums has been found to boost your risk of stroke and heart disease. The Canadian Academy of Periodontology found that individuals with periodontal disease had a greater chance of having a fatal heart attack and heart disease than those without the issue. Other studies show that gum disease and diabetes have a strong correlation. Whether it’s because of the control of blood glucose or the bacterial infection within the gums, this could be your wake-up call to better oral health. If you’re planning on getting pregnant, you may also want to schedule your dental work well in advance. Women with gum disease are more likely to deliver a baby with a lower birth weight or pre-term over those with good oral health. Gum disease may also put you at risk for gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. While today’s technology offers advancements in dentistry, the best way to promote a healthy mouth is through regular checkups.

Keep a Healthy Digestive System

One of the primary reasons people skip going to the dentist is because they are afraid. But according to Dr. Lane of Wasilla, AK, you can ease your dental anxieties by finding a dedicated and friendly team of professionals. Here they can help you keep your mouth healthy, and your smile beautiful. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to the dentist, you want to schedule an appointment soon. Unfortunately, issues with your teeth can hinder the way they function, especially in ways that you chew and digest your food. If you experience overcrowded teeth, significant gaps and sensitivity, the problems may affect your ability to eat properly. An initial exam can determine the best treatment needed for you.

If your teeth are crooked or overcrowded in areas, braces or other teeth straightening devices may improve the aesthetics and functioning of your teeth. If you experience sensitivity, you may have cavities that need to be filled. Dental implants can also fill the gaps where you’re missing teeth. When your teeth are returned to normal functioning, you’ll appreciate the ability to taste and chew your favorite foods again. Proper chewing can also eliminate digestive issues you may have suffered from such as gas, bloating and indigestion.

Eliminate Infections

Regular brushing, flossing and dental visits can help combat bad breath and gum disease. But if you skip going to the dentist for an extended period-of-time, you could be at risk for inflammation and disease. Without regular cleanings from the professionals, you could put your mouth at risk for bacteria. If left for long periods of time, the infection will then enter the body’s bloodstream, heart and other organs. Although brushing can eliminate tartar, you still need the skill of a professional cleaning to remove extensive build-up.

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We’ve Got An Adherence Problem: What Are We Doing About It?

By Dr. Tal Rapke, founder, ScalaMed.

According to a 2003 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) into medication adherence, about 50 percent of patients with chronic illness don’t take their medications as prescribed. This poor adherence to medication leads to wastage, disease progression, increased morbidity and death, increased burden on medical resources, and is estimated to cost approximately $100 billion per year.

A 2012 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine recorded a lack of adherence to taking medication as the cause of almost 125,000 deaths in the US per year. The research found that 10 percent of admittances to hospital were as a consequence of non-adherence to prescribed medication, resulting in an estimated annual cost to the healthcare system of between $100 billion an $289 billion.

Of course, it can be easy to write this issue off as the patient’s responsibility, and naturally they have a huge role to play in solving this issue. There are, however, myriad factors that contribute to non-adherence of the 4.45 billion prescriptions written in the US each year.

The medication-taking experience is a complex interaction that involves patient, physician and the broader healthcare system, and all of these protagonists need to be functioning together correctly if we are to reach a state where avoidable medical treatment is minimized.

Given that increased adherence would not only greatly improve patient outcomes, but also save the healthcare sector billions of dollars, addressing this pervasive issue should be a priority for the industry. But what really causes it, and how can we improve our approach?

The patient
From the patient’s perspective, there are a number of factors that can contribute to the non-adherence of prescribed medication. One overarching theme for patients is patient activation and empowerment. The healthcare system isn’t constructed to ensure patients take on the role in self-management expected of them. Our paternalistic healthcare system can often make patients feel disempowered, and excluded from care decisions.

A poor understanding of both their condition and the medication that has been prescribed can lead to a lack of ownership of and accountability for the management of their condition. In numerous reports, patients are overly concerned about side effects, lack understanding on how to take the medicine safely, and may not understand why it is so important to continue to remain in therapy (especially in asymptomatic non-communicable diseases). Increasing the patient’s understanding of their condition, and the management thereof, can play a significant role in increasing adherence.

Sometimes, of course, non-adherence isn’t a deliberate decision by the patient, but an unintentional side effect due to capacity and resource limitations. For example, problems physically accessing prescriptions, a prohibitive cost, or competing demands on a patient’s time can all result in non-adherence.

Literacy is also a large contributing factor – in the US alone, close to 90 million adults have inadequate health literacy. The consequential lack of understanding puts them at greater risk of hospitalization and poorer clinical outcomes. Their beliefs about and attitudes toward health and treatment effectiveness, together with previous experiences with pharmacological treatments, also affect their level of adherence.
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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Implications for Healthcare

By Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell, Inc.

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

H.R. 1, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), gained passage in the Senate (by a 51-48 vote) and the House (by a 224-201 vote) on Dec. 20, 2017, and two days later, President Donald Trump signed the bill into law.

The TCJA constitutes the biggest tax reform legislation in three decades for the U.S. and unquestionably the most significant legislative accomplishment of the Trump administration in 2017. Two provisions and one possible pitfall of the TCJA are most relevant to the healthcare industry.

Decrease in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent

This change, excluding other provisions of the TCJA, will clearly benefit for-profit hospitals and health systems, as well as pharmaceutical companies.

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate

Starting in 2019, the TCJA repeals the ACA individual mandate that requires all Americans under 65 to have health insurance or pay an annual penalty, $695 per person or 2.5 percent of income—whichever is higher.

Per the Congressional Budget Office’s November 2017 analysis, “Repealing the Individual Health Insurance Mandate: An Updated Estimate,” the repeal of the individual mandate in 2019 would increase the number of uninsured Americans—relative to a baseline that assumes continuation of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies in the ACA marketplaces—by 4 million in 2019, with that figure growing to 13 million in 2025 and remaining at that level thru 2027.

According to the CBO, the 13 million is composed of five million people who would not choose to obtain coverage thru the individual insurance market, five million people who would not enroll in Medicaid—not due to a pullback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, as that was not in the TCJA—and three million people who would choose to no longer have employer-sponsored insurance. The CBO admits that its projections are uncertain and states, “The preliminary results of analysis using revised methods indicates that the estimated effects on the budget and health insurance coverage would probably be smaller than the numbers reported in this document.”

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