Health IT Must Admit It Has a Security Problem

Guest post by Renata Magurdumov, director of marketing, ColoGuard.

Renata Magurdumov

If you think about it, your doctor probably knows more about you than many of your friends. Healthcare providers store a ton of sensitive data about their patients; everything from their name to their address and place of employment to their Social Security number. In other words, everything a cyber-criminal would need to steal someone’s identity.

Given how valuable that information could be in the wrong hands, you’d think that healthcare providers would use the most high-tech, modernized infrastructure and the most up-to-date security practices to keep it safe. Unfortunately, you’d be mostly mistaken.

Recently, Premera Blue Cross was the victim of a ‘sophisticated cyberattack’ that compromised the healthcare records of 11 million patients. Before that, the victim was Anthem. Before that, Aventura Hospital and Medical Center.

As a matter of fact, according to a recent Kroll study, healthcare accounted for nearly half of the client breaches that took place in 2014, followed closely by business services and higher education. This was the second year in a row that these three industries accounted for nearly two-thirds of all “client events.” What’s more, only 30 percent of the breaches in healthcare were the direct result of hacking.

That means that the other 70 percent were the result of human error – of negligence, poor security practices or ignorance. For an organization whose collection of data can quite literally ruin lives by falling into the wrong hands, this is unacceptable. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

“I believe that healthcare IT systems are fragile and highly vulnerable today,”writes CIO Paddy Padmanabhan. “This, combined with the sophistication of hackers and the rising attractiveness of healthcare data in the black market, makes healthcare a huge target for disruption in 2015.”

The Rocky Relationship Between Healthcare and IT
Part of the problem is that many decision makers in healthcare have a serious attitude problem where technology is concerned. They simply don’t realize how important it is. Healthcare IT is often marginalized and undersold, with CIOs struggling simply to keep their departments afloat – if it’s not simply contracted out to third parties.

“While healthcare costs in the US as a percentage of GDP are the highest in the world, healthcare IT spend as a percentage of revenues is among the lowest across various industry sectors,” continues Padmanabhan. “Healthcare CIOs are constantly challenged to do more with less, and face budget cuts year after year.”

The end result of this is that many hospitals view technology as a hindrance. It’s obtuse, frustrating and poorly implemented – because their IT departments lack the resources to make it anything but. Writing for the New York Times, leading healthcare analyst Robert M. Wachter recounts how a job ad last year listed the fact that it didn’t have digital databases as a plus.

“In today’s digital era,” writes Wachter, “a modern hospital deemed the absence of an electronic medical record system to be a premier selling point. That hospital is not alone.”

“A 2013 RAND survey of physicians found mixed reactions to electronic health record systems, including widespread dissatisfaction,” he continues. “Many respondents cited poor usability, time-consuming data entry, needless alerts and poor workflows.”

Worse still, even those hospitals that have successfully implemented modern IT are fighting an uphill battle to figure out how it all works. They grew so accustomed to the way things were, says Wachter, that they found themselves utterly unprepared for a shift which was, for all intents and purposes, years in the making. They were complacent – and now they’re paying for it.

“Whopping errors and maddening changes in workflow have even led some physicians to argue that we should exhume our three-ring binders and return to a world of pen and paper,” he says. “That argument is utterly unpersuasive. Healthcare, our most information-intensive industry, is plagued by demonstrably spotty quality, millions of errors and backbreaking costs. We will never make fundamental improvements in our system without the thoughtful use of technology.”

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Amazing Charts: Healthcare Predictions for 2015

Amazing Charts, a provider of electronic health records and practice management solutions, issued its healthcare predictions for 2015. Some interesting predictions here I thought you might find worthwhile. Concierge medicine, which I’ve said for some time is going to have a lasting impact, especially in the era of the Affordable Care Act, made the list.

Patient engagement, and consumerism of healthcare– somewhat of a slam dunk — appears here, too. I believe we’ve get some clarification on what that movement means this year. Amazing Charts agrees.

Also, wearables (oh, wearables, will you become more than a fad?) makes this list, and telehealth is here, too; I think we’ve finally reached the saturation point of telemedicine. This year should show strong results that I hope will validate its role at the point of care. We’ll finally get to see if payers get the message.

Here’s the full list of healthcare predictions for 2015 from Amazing Charts:

Membership Medicine Comes on Strong: The patient membership approach to medicine will grow in all forms, including value-based Direct Primary Care (DPC), high-end concierge medicine and primary care services contracted directly by employers. Market-driven medicine, fueled by changes occurring in healthcare today, such as inexpensive health plans with very high deductibles, will continue to encourage consumers to explore more cost-effective alternatives for primary care.

Patients Help Define the Experience: The patient, in partnership with the provider, will help define the care experience going forward. This trend will be powered by technologies that enhance face-to-face interaction in the exam room. One example is the projection of an EHR onto a large display screen to facilitate information sharing between provider and patient. This in turn will help reduce errors and misdiagnosis, as well as motivate patients to take a renewed interest in their own healthcare and treatment options.

EHRs Get Personalized: The EHR market will further mature and become customizable for individual patient needs and treatment plans. Intuitive data analytics will play a critical role here, helping clinicians measure, assess and manage their specific patient populations to better define specific gaps in clinical care and introduce the latest evidenced-based treatment procedures or diagnostic techniques.

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Physicians Foundation Watch List Finds ICD-10 and Need for Cost Transparency the Leading Issues of 2015

As significant changes continue to reshape the U.S. healthcare system, The Physicians Foundation – a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance the work of practicing physicians and help facilitate the delivery of healthcare to patients – has identified five critical areas that will have major impact on practicing physicians and their patients over the next 12 months. The Physicians Watch List for 2015 is based on the Foundation’s insights into the medical practice landscape, supported by data from its 2014 Biennial Physician Survey of 20,000 physicians and other Foundation research and white papers.

Consolidation Hits the Gas Pedal

An increased rate of consolidation among hospitals and health systems continues to drive smaller, independent medical practices into larger systems. This trend is adversely impacting competition in regions where consolidation is most pronounced, while increasing costs and reducing patient choice. Rapid medical consolidation is also presenting a challenge to clinical autonomy. According to the Foundation’s 2014 Biennial Physician Survey, more than two-thirds of all physicians (69 percent) expressed concerns relative to clinical autonomy and their ability to make the best decisions for their patients. Since the rate of medical consolidation shows no signs of abating, it is imperative that hospitals and physicians work together to ensure that clinical decisions are being made independent of any bureaucratic or organizational pressures that could potentially affect the integrity of medical decision-making.

External Pressures Strain the Physician/Patient Relationship

An inadvertent effect of medical consolidation and the rising emphasis on valued-based payment models is increasing strain on the physician / patient relationship. According to the Foundation’s most recent Biennial Survey, 80 percent of physicians describe patient relationships as the most satisfying factor of practicing medicine. Yet, factors such as growing levels of non-clinical paperwork and rising administrative and regulatory pressures are leading to an erosion of quality face-time physicians are able to spend with their patients.

In addition, these pressures can also limit physicians’ choices in terms of practice type while increasing the amount of time and resources they must spend on negotiating with payers and vendors. As these regulatory and marketplace forces persist, it will be more critical than ever for physicians to identify ways to work with support staff in order to maximize the amount of quality time they are able to spend with their patients.

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