The Future of the Connected Healthcare System

HIMSS organizers, in preparation of the annual conference and trade show, and as a way to rally attendees around several trending topics for the coming event, are once again asking the healthcare community how it feels about several key issues that are likely to resonate. As is often the case with this ongoing experiment, the folks in my position — those with a venue to voice their opinions who tell the rest of us what they think — pontificate on the potential impact of these trends.

Certainly, some of my fellow journalists are far better qualified than I to answer the questions posed by HIMSS with any level of authority. Therefore, I’ve given my small microphone to readers of this site so they can voice their opinions of the topics that conference goers are likely to hear about dozens of time while in Chicago.

This year HIMSS is asking what we feel will be the future of: the connected healthcare system, big data, security, innovation and patient engagement. Today, here, we focus on the future of the connected healthcare system, and what several insiders believe that future to be.

With that, enjoy and let me know if you agree with the following thoughts. If not, why; what’s missing?

Tom Bizzaro, vice president of health policy, First Databank

Tom Bizzaro

We’re hoping that the electronic health records (EHR) interoperability movement follows a trajectory similar to that of e-prescribing. To start, as an industry, we have to universally acknowledge the value of interoperability within healthcare IT systems. Indeed, sharing data across systems can help to improve care quality and efficiency in the country’s health system and lead to success of value-based reimbursement models. However, all players – providers, payers, patients and vendors alike – need to truly embrace the value EHR interoperability, putting it above any proprietary concerns.

Then, we need to get to work. We must continue to develop and implement a wide range of standards and vocabularies. Through these, we will ensure that our data is in synch and that systems will always be speaking the same language. Perhaps most important, we need a National Patient Identifier, which will make it possible to match information to specific patients as they traverse the health system. And, while it might seem like doing all this work will take a long time, if we roll up our sleeves and do what’s required, the EHR interoperability story will be on its way to its own happy ending soon enough.

Jonathan Isaacs, executive vice president and general manager, surgery solutions, SourceMedical

Jonathan Isaacs
Jonathan Issacs

It’s 3:00 a.m. and you wake up with an acute pain in your side that won’t go away — you head to the ER. The CT scan shows nothing — you head to the GI specialist. The doctor says to get an endoscopy — you head to the ASC. The endoscopy says you have a chronic condition that will need to be managed by you, your PCP, and even more specialists. Where does all that data live? Everywhere!

It’s a changing world out there. From cancer centers to freestanding Emergency Departments, healthcare organizations must deliver quality care at lower prices. But information collected at different points can fall through the cracks, putting the patient at risk. That’s why data interoperability is a critical issue.

The solution is not to put every entity in the healthcare value chain on the same closed, monolithic EHR that tries to do everything.  We have seen time and again what happens when innovation is stifled and vendors become “too big to fail.” But by embracing connectivity standards, providers and patients alike can leverage best-in-class tools purposely built for specific treatments and outcomes. The easier it is, the higher the likelihood of success. And isn’t that the whole point?

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Alere Connect: Mobile Devices Connecting Healthcare

Kent Dicks

Guest post by Kent Dicks, CEO, Alere Connect.

Mobile devices are completely ingrained in the fabric of our daily lives – from personal use to business – throughout the world.

The healthcare industry, usually resistant to the whims of technology trends, has been a fast and significant adopter of mobile devices. Apple’s introduction of the iPad appears to have been a watershed that brought healthcare IT into the 21st century. Besides improved efficiency in communication and administrative functions, clinicians found the devices much more practical to incorporate to patient interactions – from consultation to education. Now mobile devices have become almost indispensable in the daily care of patients. Physicians use smart phones and tablets wherever they review patient records, receive updates or alerts by secure text messaging and coordinate care among other clinicians. Care professionals are connected to health information like never before.

Telehealth has “connected” patients and physicians for decades in an attempt to deliver proactive healthcare, but mobile devices and cloud-based technologies are making remote healthcare more practical. Still, we are just scratching the surface as to what a “connected healthcare system” can look like. Despite strides, we still need to tie it all together: patients, physicians, devices, data, analytics, decision support, monitoring services and education – to achieve the best outcomes for our patients.

A connected patient is more compliant with a better chance to attain better outcomes. A connected provider has access to better information to make better decisions. The common goal is to keep the patient out of the hospital, lower costs, reduce the strain on an already strained healthcare system and provide better outcomes. How we implement the goal of a connected healthcare system is the challenge.

In assessing how to best utilize mobile technology with patients and providers, my belief is that one solution doesn’t fit all. We must align the right technology with the right patients. Smart phones and tablets with complex apps and expensive data plans may be common in demographic groups that may skew younger, or those with higher technical literacy and dexterity and more disposable income. Simpler technology using month-to-month or prepaid service plans may better suit seniors and those with limited and fixed incomes. Meaningful change will come faster by focusing on the 15 percent of the population that consumes 80 percent of healthcare costs. This segment traditionally includes the elderly and indigent, Medicare/Medicaid population. This group doesn’t overwhelmingly consume the “latest and greatest” devices with the hottest apps and seamless connectivity – 4G, Bluetooth, WiFi and syncing to the cloud is not reality. We must be realistic when we propose solutions to address something as important as the delivery of patient care, providing the right technology to meet the needs of the people using it. Acquiring the right data, at the right time, and right cost, to achieve the right (better) outcome for the patient.

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Ownership and Privacy of Health Data: An Emerging Conflict

Rob McCray
Rob McCray

Guest post by Robert B. McCray, president and CEO, Wireless-Life Alliance (WLSA).

A patient’s right to the privacy of their health records seems obvious, but some of the benefits of connected health will only be achieved if this right is qualified and perhaps compromised. Assuming the twin goals of maximizing both personal and public health, there can be no absolute rights of privacy or ownership in personal health data.

The tools of connected health make it possible to determine the efficacy and safety of diagnostic and therapeutic devices and services in the real world. This can serve as the basis for a learning health care system that continuously improves its services and outcomes. Today it takes between 15 and 17 years for the medical community to fully embrace better approaches.[1] 

Traditional privacy and ownership rights of health data stand in the way of these benefits. An obvious example of the problem arises where an antibiotic drug taken for an infectious and dangerous disease is not effective. What if a diagnostic device is unreliable? Does the patient have an absolute right to privacy in these situations? What obligation does that patient and her provider have to other individuals who are at risk and to the system that is paying for ineffective services?

There has been a lot of discussion recently in regard to the ownership of patient health data in the electronic health records of providers. The issues of ownership and privacy are overlapping considerations in determining the answer to these questions.

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