Guest post by Joel Rydbeck, director, healthcare technology and strategy, Infor.
Healthcare is undergoing rapid “digitization” – a move toward an integrated ecosystem of mobile applications and data exchange that integrate consumer data into the enterprise. For healthcare, this could enhance patient engagement and enable care to become more efficient and “real time”.
Nonetheless, moving to a more digital healthcare enterprise presents a series of challenges:
How will the data be transmitted and is it semantically interoperable?
Where and how much should be persisted?
How can the data be made “actionable” for the clinician?
We’ve all visited a doctor and been asked “How are you sleeping?” and “Are you getting exercise?”. If you are among the growing number of people with a fitness tracker, you may think, “Hold on, I have that recorded”. So, you pull out your mobile phone and respond “I am getting six to seven hours of sleep a night and about 11,000 steps a day. Is that good?” While your doctor may understand your quick synopsis of the data, imagine if they were getting the data real-time. Would they know what to do with it? What if it contains disturbing trends? It would be unfortunate if crucial information wasn’t put to good use. But how?
Interactions like these prompted Washington University’s Olin School of Business and Infor Healthcare to collaborate on improving the usability of personal tracker data. This collaboration included conducting a small survey of 39 physicians from a broad spectrum of specialties asking their thoughts about the use of tracker data for clinical care.
The survey uncovered differing views on what information would actually be useful, showing:
56 percent thought active hours would be useful,
46 percent said miles walked or intensity of movement,
36 percent included steps taken as a useful metric,
and 10 percent the said the degree of upward incline during movement would be useful.
The survey also asked providers what factors would enhance their likelihood of using tracker data for patient care. Majority would like to see better integration with their electronic health record (EHR), more patients using the devices, and additional data, such as blood sugar, being collected.
Physicians reported lack of education as a barrier to effectively using the data. About 50 percent believed that education, in the form of a short presentation or discussion, would be useful while 31 percent thought that a short guide would suffice.
While two-thirds of providers were open to discussing personal trackers with their patients, they did express concerns in using the data for care. The data must be proven accurate before physicians will place trust in it. Inconsistent or inaccurate data could lead to unnecessary anxiety and possibly harm. Also noted is that extraneous data can clutter the EHR and complicate patient care. Many of the providers mentioning drawbacks to using device data stated that the devices might work best as motivational tools for patients. More study towards interpreting tracker data for clinical use is needed.
Healthcare is one sector where information technology is yet to be exploited to its fullest. Medical science has gained a lot from computers and information technology but healthcare is still being run mostly without it. The basic healthcare process entail the patient thinking something is wrong with them and going to a doctor. It depends too much on people’s own observances and not enough on science. Our medical equipment has gotten better and we are able to cure and manage more diseases than before but the basic healthcare regimen is still the same. That will not be true for many more years because healthcare is slowly starting to embrace information technology.
The biggest roadblock for technology in healthcare is that failure is unacceptable. In most other areas you can afford some mistakes or errors. Sometimes your Netflix doesn’t load, sometimes your phone may drop a few calls, perfectly acceptable. The same cannot be afforded when it comes to healthcare. So while we are not happy that IT is not being full used in healthcare right, we are happy that we are focusing on ensuring everything works perfectly before implementing it in a medical setting.
Health monitoring will save lives and change how we communicate with doctors
The diseases that most people die of are perfectly curable or manageable. Even most cancers are curable – as long as they are caught in time. That is why so many people still die from cancers. You can have cancerous growths in your body and not show any symptoms. By the time people get in front of an oncologist it is often too late to fully cure their issues. This is also why the deadliest cancers are also the ones that are the hardest to detect. There’s a special type of gallbladder cancer which doesn’t exhibit any symptoms until it metastases. Aside from cancers there are many other diseases which can be reversed in the beginning. Many forms of diabetes as well as heart problems can be reversed if caught early simply through diet and exercise.
Another problem is that people do not know what symptoms to be worried about and often do not go to doctors because they don’t realize what is wrong with them. We can’t blame people either; only doctors know what symptoms to be worried about and it takes them a decade worth of education to reach that level. We cannot expect people who did not pursue a medical education to instantly realize that something is wrong with them. There are many simple things which indicate big problems as well. Things like fatigue and a lack of desire to eat seem like just one of those things that happen to everyone sometimes, but they can be symptoms of serious illnesses as well.
Sensors and trackers will capture medical information in real time
All this is about to be changed thanks to information technology. Medical sensors are already a consumer product but they are limited. Products like Fitbit have been available in the market for years but they only measure basic vital signs such as pulse and the amount of exercise you are getting. As we get better at making sensors smaller we will soon begin seeing similar devices which can monitor many other things in our bodies and let us know if anything is wrong. These devices are proving to be quite popular as well; in this year’s Consumer Electronics Expo there were 32 new health monitoring products unveiled by companies like HTC, Philips, Samsung, and Intel.
Another huge application of such devices is providing vital information to doctors. Doctors need your medical history in order to make the correct diagnoses. Since most of us do not know what is medically significant we aren’t very good at self reporting what is wrong with us. Medical sensors, trackers and mHealth apps will be able to tell doctors exactly what has changed in our bodies and when the changes started. Doctors will have more information about our bodies than ever before which will allow them to make more accurate diagnosis than ever before. The devices will also be connected to the internet and will be able to contact emergency services when needed. Heart attacks, seizures, accidents, anything that requires immediate medical attention will automatically hail an ambulance to your location. This is huge because a big problem is ensuring that people who live alone get the medical help which they need without needing there to be someone else in the room with them to call 911.
Preventive care will get the focus it deserves
There’s a big problem with the way we treat the healthcare system in the world. We focus a lot on curing diseases but do not focus on preventing diseases. We came to this system not because we are stupid – it was just the most viable way to do things. We only begin fighting diseases when people come to the doctor because that was the only way we had to detect a problem. Now, thanks to the developments in information technology, we will soon have the means to focus on preventive care properly. There are already sensors which can tell you if there are any harmful gases or particles in your home.
Such monitoring devices will get more advanced and become a great way to detect diseases earlier and will allow us to prevent them completely. Imagine getting a notification on your phone that goes “You have consumed 10 tablespoons of sugar and 500 grams of fats per day for the past month. Continuing this pattern will cause many diseases and medical problems. Would you like to switch to a healthier diet?”. Information technology will give us the ability to detect problems as they are being formed and fix them. This will also substantially lower our medical expenses. The effects of such monitoring and its aid for preventive care are mind boggling. Ever year more than 3 million skin cancer cases are diagnosed; most of these could be prevented just by ensuring that people do not spend too much time out in the sun. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the developed world, more than all the cancers combined. Yet, most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented entirely through diet and proper exercise.
The impact of the digital revolution is widespread, but arguably few industries have felt the impact more than the health informatics field. From medical mobile applications to vital-monitoring wearables, smart technology is taking the health care world by storm and remodeling patient care delivery.
Over the years, health informatics has strengthened provider-patient relationships and empowered patients to take control of their health care. But that’s just the beginning. Here’s a look at how health informatics will take shape in 2017 and continue to be one of the most promising fields for STEM careers.
Improving Patient and Hospital Information Security
Cybersecurity is top of mind for health care specialists as the world grows increasingly reliant on technology. From large retail chains to voting polls, cybersecurity breaches are on the rise. And hospitals are no exception. Earlier this year, a hospital in Kansas reported a cyber attack in which the hackers forced the hospital to pay a ransom in exchange for unfreezing their data.
Understandably, hospitals are desperately seeking new ways to improve the security of their data. Hospitals are addressing vulnerabilities by making security a part of their existing governance, risk management and business development initiatives. By building more secure network infrastructures and educating all staff, hospitals are able to better protect their information in the short term. In the longer term, it will come down to hiring more security specialists to identify and correct security threats. This is why the cybersecurity field is taking off and more individuals are earning cyber security degrees to gain entry into the field.
Decreasing Healthcare Costs in the Long Run
Before things get better, they tend to get worse—and that seems to be the case with healthcare costs. At first, the cost of health care will rise as hospitals and physicians’ offices purchase and implement new systems. But once the upfront cost has been covered, these new systems and machines will decrease operational costs for hospitals by simplifying daily processes.
On the other hand, individuals seeking health care will see the long term benefit thanks to the increased efficiency of electronic health records (EHRs). Since EHRs provide a comprehensive overview of health history, it will become easier to identify potential health risks and administer treatments early on with fewer doctor visits. Early detection and diagnosis is key to lowering health care costs and, ideally, making us a healthier population.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) produced a wealth of data from its first two years in operation. Health actuaries voraciously consumed that data, using predictive modeling techniques to solve healthcare industry problems that have never been seen before. While we don’t yet know how the ACA may change, I know actuaries will find solutions, because we thrive in the realm of the uncertain.
Actuaries have always been in the business of data. Centuries ago the work involved scanning clerical ledgers to create the first mortality tables. Today, human activity, including healthcare, is far more complex. Every two days, we create more data than was created from the dawn of civilization through the year 2000.
A significant portion of my recent work has involved studying ACA data, particularly deconstructing a health plan’s performance using the prism of risk adjustment.
Risk adjustment used to be a niche on the spectrum of a healthcare actuary’s work. However, since the ACA risk adjustment program is now a permanent fixture – for the time being – in commercial individual and small group markets, it is the focus of many actuaries’ every day work. Risk adjustment involves adjusting a health plan’s revenue based on a measure of morbidity of the average member enrolling with the plan. It aims to mitigate incentives to select low-risk populations, and instead re-focus the basis of competition on other factors such as quality, efficiency, and benefits delivered.
The program presents a great opportunity for actuaries to apply predictive modeling concepts on large scale data to deliver actionable insights to clients and employers. From the predictive modeling work, actuaries have learned that risk adjustment renders seemingly intuitive notions of health plan performance and profitability rather meaningless. For example, sicker and costlier individuals may have threatened a health plan’s viability in the past. But that may not necessarily be the case going forward.
Guest post by Andrew M. Webster, MS, ASA, MAAA, Associate of the Society of Actuaries, actuary, Validate Health.
Predictive modelers working in the healthcare industry need to be one-part physician, epidemiologist, economist, and data scientist. Because healthcare is offered in a variety of settings, by a diverse set of highly-trained professionals, it requires health actuaries to model future healthcare cost and utilization with a high degree of precision.
It also requires a hands-on approach to data-mining.
During my decade-long career in healthcare, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside clinicians while programming at an electronic health records (EHR) company and onsite in a hospital’s skilled nursing facility. Through those experiences, I gained firsthand knowledge of patient care delivery.
Because of that experience, I can recognize a sequence of patient events and care transitions when I see them in patient data. Observing how healthcare is delivered helps non-clinicians recognize which problems are most relevant to physicians.
Most clinicians want to know how data analysis will help improve patient outcomes instead of merely focusing on short-term cost reduction. Communicating the modeling results in a way that is meaningful to physicians and integrating results into their daily workflows is essential. While most physicians are not mathematicians, they are highly trained in the scientific method and ask insightful questions when reviewing modeling results from actuaries and data scientists.
As an example of the benefits of predictive modeling, my team helped a 20-physician independent practice determine which segment of its patient population was the most costly. By mining the practice data, we identified a specific Medicare Advantage Plan for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). The medical practice then used the data to redesign its discharge protocol and develop a COPD care management program to help keep patients out of the hospital, improve quality care and lower costs. The solution was effective because of the hands on approach from everyone involved.
Guest post by Torben Nielsen, senior vice president of product at HealthSparq.
Significant policy changes are inevitably on the horizon for health care in 2017. Though the question marks about what is next for our industry seem endless, Americans are wondering how health care costs will change, and if their insurance carrier will continue to provide them with the coverage they need. One thing we know for certain is that health care industry disruptors will continue to innovate in a way that we can’t ignore. That’s why it’s important for health plans and hospitals alike to embrace the technology that could simplify the way people interact with the health care industry.
To that, here are my five predictions for the industry in 2017:
Artificial intelligence innovations will help people navigate the healthcare system.
From robots and chat bots, to increasing telehealth options, we’re expecting significant innovations in 2017 for both doctors and patients. On the hospital side, chat bots have the potential to streamline the processes that people often get caught up in when visiting their practitioner, or when dealing with insurance protocol. The chat bots of the future will be able to have meaningful conversation that will help people navigate the system, instead of confusing them. A member could say to their health plan, “I’m looking for a cheaper MRI,” and artificial intelligence can help with a more guided search.
Virtual reality will continue moving into the hospital side of healthcare.
With technology like Oculus Rift and HTC Vibe on the market, people around the world are getting used to the idea of virtual reality in health care, too, and we don’t expect that interest to die down anytime soon. Surgeons are already utilizing virtual reality to practice upcoming surgeries, and patients are beginning to see the benefits of this technology, too. For example, at the University of Southern California combat veterans experiencing PTSD are being treated using virtual reality gaming as a healing mechanism to help process trauma. As these tools continue to get smarter, both hospitals and patients will continue to see virtual reality extend into their care practices more regularly in the coming year.
Personalization of healthcare technology will help data transfers happen easier.
Block chain technology has potential to help secure EHR data and health plan member information in a way that streamlines the health care journey for both the patient and the provider. Healthcare processes and experiences can feel very stifled and complicated to all parties in the system (that’s why HealthSparq created #WhatTheHealthCare!) because hospitals and health systems are sitting on so much data that is not connected or easily shared. Data fluidity is a goal for the industry, and with new applications of block chain technology, the health care ecosystem may now see data transfers and fluidity happen much more simply, giving everyone a more holistic view of health care status, options and improvement opportunities.
Guest post by Abhinav Shashank, CEO and co-founder, Innovaccer.
The story of Geraldine Alshamy explains how a minor complication in healthcare network can be catastrophic! The patient started experiencing severe headaches, and she was rushed to an emergency room. Since she didn’t have a primary care physician, she had a previous condition of hypothyroidism. But because of a lack of proper communication channel, her care process wasn’t the best that she could have gotten and, unfortunately, she had a heart attack!
This story might seem unusual but enough to understand that the consequences of uncoordinated health care could be grave. Health care is too critical and margin of error doesn’t exist here, it is imperative that we realize the importance of coordinating the healthcare sector and bridge the gaps in care.
Why Coordinated Healthcare?
When patients are brought in to be treated, the thing that physicians, nurses, assistants and other professionals require are the relevant medical information about them. For such a scenario, healthcare providers need to be well connected to provide coordinated care through smooth information flow.
According to a survey, some 40 percent of physicians believe that their patients undergo problems because of lack of coordination and information exchange between providers. The possibility of repetitive tests, unnecessary visits to the emergency rooms and preventable readmissions increases, giving way to poor health outcomes. Inadequate care coordination is estimated to cost as much as $45 billion to the healthcare industry, tagged as wasteful spending — $8.3 billion are lost every year because of inefficient technology.
What is the aim?
With everything around us changing and healthcare picking up pace, it’s high time we start thinking accordingly. The future of healthcare is smart teams aiding the one-on-one patient-physician interaction for better outcomes. These teams have physicians, nurses, financial advisors, health coaches and even family members and watch over patient’s health, follow-ups, and the insurance matters as well.
We have to move beyond the paradigm of isolated partial care towards integrated teams performing comprehensive patient care by encouraging the development of technology and providing care at hand with the center of our focus being:
1.) Accessible Care Anywhere
There used to be a time where people were not as well-connected to each other, and the only way of staying informed was telephones, letters, and postcards. With the evolution of information technology, we can safely share every ounce of information.
We need to put the rapid evolution of information technology to use and have patients connected with their physicians. Real-time alerts, genome sequencing, and data analytics will help us establish a world where patients won’t necessarily have to travel to a particular building and wait for hours to get treated.
2.) Connected Care Networks
Coordinated healthcare will hardly be possible without interoperable technology: teams connecting providers and specialists everywhere with the aim to deliver quality care. And the primary requirement for creating this team would be health information exchange, followed by notifying the PCPs.
Guest post by Richard Loomis, chief medical officer and VP of informatics, Practice Fusion.
In 2016 the healthcare industry made a number of meaningful strides on the move to value-based care, culminating in October with CMS issuing the final rule for the Quality Payment Program (QPP). As the largest program of its kind, the QPP will replace existing programs such as meaningful use and PQRS and fundamentally change the way providers receive payment for patients with Medicare Part B coverage.
In 2017, this focus on value will begin to shift to the vast value found in restoring the provider-patient relationship that drives individualized care and best outcomes. Healthcare isn’t ultimately about quality programs, big data or population health management — it’s about improving our shared human experience and to live happier, longer, more fulfilling lives. The healthcare industry will start restoring this humanity by unwinding the complexity of care delivery and supporting individualized care through a number of new and exciting ways in the new year. Below are five themes we’re predicting to see in 2017:
The year of EHR usability: EHR usability will become a critical success factor for providers as the burden of quality reporting continues to grow in an increasingly fee-for-value world. Practices already spend $40,000 per doctor per year — $15.4 billion nationwide — on collecting and reporting information about their care to Medicare, payers and others. These costs will increase in 2017 and disproportionately affect small practices. It will be financially impossible to practice medicine without a user-friendly EHR. Given this emphasis in usability, more EHRs will turn to offering cloud-based solutions to stay relevant and cost-effective.
Real world evidence comes of age: Real world evidence (RWE) will increasingly be used to support FDA approval for marketing new drugs, leading to further investigation through one or more RWE studies. Although randomized clinical trials continue to be the gold standard for establishing efficacy and safety, they may not reflect typical patient care or day-to-day experiences. RWE studies can include larger sample sizes and a greater breadth of patient demographics and clinical circumstances, which can help supplement the data derived from clinical trials. The FDA has already signaled their interest in RWE, and in 2017 we will begin to see it come to fruition.
Small practices recognized for their oversized role: Small independent practices are a cornerstone of the healthcare ecosystem: Independent solo and small practices are shown to have a lower average cost per patient, with fewer preventable hospital admissions, and a lower readmission rate among their patient populations. For CMS to drive additional value through the QPP, they will start to recognize and support small practices in 2017.
As developers of electronic health record (EHR) software, my company gets into a lot of conversations with providers about their expectations for the future. This information helps us make decisions about what to build next. Here are three trends we’re hearing from our customers right now:
Low-tech beats high-tech in telemedicine
Unlike the way it was imagined decades ago by science fiction writers, telemedicine does not necessarily mean holographic images or live video conferencing with a physician half a continent away. Patients would rather receive “low tech” remote care from their primary care physician who has a full picture of their health status.
This form of telemedicine happens whenever an EHR system adds to a patient’s clinical chart the messages, pictures, or videos sent securely via smartphone. It happens whenever a smartphone connects to a remote health monitoring device for collection of real-time data such as blood pressure, oxygen levels, and heart rate.
The new rules allowing reimbursement of telemedicine and other non-face-to-face services will encourage physicians to bill for these remote care activities. Medicare’s recently expanded set of billing codes for Chronic Care Management (CCM) is a good example of how the future of value-based care goes beyond the office visit to keep patients out of hospitals and emergency rooms. The ability to securely and rapidly receive and answer a patient’s questions via text, and then capture those activities in the patient’s permanent clinical record is a critical step in that direction.
Primary care providers are trying new types of practices
Primary care physicians are frustrated with the hassle and expense of dealing with insurance companies. The new Medicare fee-for-value quality payment program is creating uncertainty about future reimbursement levels and requires additional reporting. Also, there is an acute level of burnout with “corporate medicine,” which has providers booked for dozens of daily appointments, only to spend less than 15 minutes with each patient.
In order to remain independent, a small but growing group of primary care practitioners are becoming more financially creative and experimenting with new models of practice. One example is direct care, in which a financial relationship is established directly between patient and provider, cutting out insurance altogether. This model includes concierge and direct primary care (DPC), where patients become “members” of a practice and pay a fixed monthly fee for unlimited primary care – similar to a gym membership, but for healthcare. Another example of direct care is the cash-only practice that sees walk-in patients for urgent care.
EHR interoperability will catch FHIR
Physicians and their patients are frustrated with the lack of interoperability in health IT. The concept of having a patient’s medical records accessible to any authorized provider at any time is still a rare occurrence. When a patient switches primary care physicians, the first office typically prints out and faxes their medical records to the second office, which introduces the possibility of errors, HIPAA violations, and others.
Guest post Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell.
One of the Affordable Care Act’s overarching goals is to lower cost, and one way it intended to accomplish this was by providing Medicaid coverage to more low-income adults, giving them greater access to and ability to pay for sources of care outside the emergency department (ED), resulting, in theory, in reduced ED use.
ED use is a significant driver of cost, accounting for 5 percent to 6 percent of U.S. health expenditures. Medicaid alone spends $23 billion to $47 billion each year on ED care.
There have been a number of different studies on the impact of providing Medicaid coverage to previously uninsured adults.
Some high-level research suggests that Medicaid coverage does not affect ED use. Pines, et al. analyzed ED use in 36 states—some of which were Medicaid expansion states and some were nonexpansion—for 2014, the first year of expanded Medicaid eligibility. The researchers concluded that there were no significant differences in overall ED use between expansion and nonexpansion states, though Medicaid-paid ED visits rose by 27.1 percent in the expansion states, while uninsured visits dropped by 31.4 percent and privately insured visits fell by 6.7 percent.
Most importantly, the researchers admitted, “…we do not know which visits were by patients who obtained new health insurance (Medicaid) in 2014, as opposed to those who were continuously enrolled, were uninsured, or may have switched insurance type” (Pines, et al., “Medicaid Expansion In 2014 Did Not Increase Emergency Department Use Bud Did Change Insurance Payer Mix,” Health Affairs, Aug. 2016).
In contrast, a randomized, controlled study by Finkelstein, et al. in involving 24,646 lottery-selected uninsured individuals in Oregon who were granted Medicaid coverage in 2008 showed that they increased their ED visits by 40 percent in the first 15 months after receiving coverage. Many observers speculated that the rise in ED use was due to pent-up demand and would therefore dissipate over time as the newly insured found and used other sites of care or as their health needs were met and their health improved. However, the researchers were unable to find any evidence that the increase in ED use due to Medicaid coverage is driven by pent-up demand that decreases over time; in fact, they found that the effect on ED use appears to persist over the first two years of coverage.
In addition, the study determined that Medicaid coverage increased the joint probability of a person’s having both an ED visit and an office visit by 13.2 percentage points, indicating that expanded coverage will not necessarily drive material substitution of office visits for ED use (Finkelstein, et al., “Effect of Medicaid Coverage on ED Use—Further Evidence from Oregon’s Experiment,” New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 20, 2016).
As the randomized, controlled trial is the gold standard of research, Oregon’s study and its conclusions get the nod in the debate about the impact of Medicaid coverage on ED use.