Is there an unspoken fear among caregivers that the subtext of all this digital disruption is a devaluation of the human element?
In countless industries, workers and analysts alike watch the slow march of technology and innovation and see as inevitable the takeover of human tasks by robots, AI, or other smart systems. We watched as the threat of outsourcing transformed into a reality of automation in industrial sectors, saw drones take on countless new roles in the military and in commerce, and now we hear about how driverless cars, self-checkout kiosks, and even robotic cashiers in restaurants are all waiting in the wings to dive in and displace even more formerly human occupations.
And looking at how EHRs — by virtue of their cumbersome workflows alone, not to mention all the documentation and growing emphasis on analytics and records-sharing–are taking flack for burnout and frustration in hospitals across the country, it hardly seems a reach to suggest that maybe America’s caregivers are feeling not just burdened by technology, but threatened.
Digital records are already changing what doctors and nurses do, how they work, and what is expected of them — it must surely be only a matter of time before their roles start getting handed over to the robots and supercomputers … right?
Change, Not Replacement
While some jobs or roles may face elimination through automation, the more common effect is transformation. In healthcare, that may mean that for many their title is the same — perhaps even the education and certification standards that go along with it–but their actual functions and roles in context will be different.
We see this already with respect to EHRs. The early, primitive documentation workflows and reporting obligations have drawn ire from clinicians who see their autonomy under attack by digital bureaucracy. But this is naturally destined for correction; medicine has advanced through trial and error for centuries, and the 21st century is no different.
All of these trends point to the medical lab as a newly central component of the modern care center, treatment plan, and information hub. The demands all these new technologies and applications put on laboratory professionals requires them to do more learning, adapting, and leading than ever before, especially to integrate the latest and greatest devices and tests available.
Simply put, machines are still fallible, and require assistance in providing critical context, to supplement their ability to accurately read, diagnose, and self-regulate to ensure accuracy and consistency, not to mention proper application in the clinical setting.
It seems increasingly disingenuous to frame health IT as being “revolutionary.”
For one, digitization has already swept nearly every other industry. The iPhone was a revolution in communication, but after generations of iterations and imitations, smartphones are normal, and consumers have adjusted their expectations accordingly.
To bring electronic health records (EHRs) into American hospitals and clinics is less a revolution, and more a remediation. That arguments continue over whether this upgrade will prove practical, valuable, or beneficial to patient care and clinical outcomes at all reflects that this evolution has been a top-down endeavor, rather than a true bottom-up transformation.
Despite rhetoric–and plenty of earnest optimism–the EHR rollout has been incremental, administratively-guided, federally-mandated push toward adoption. It has been a crawl toward process improvement more in the mode of Six Sigma than a grassroots “reset” button on the fundamentals of healthcare.
The true revolution–the one that patients and caregivers alike desperately need–is not merely technological, although technology may be our next best hope for realizing it.
A Mental Problem
Healthcare needs to unify behavioral and physical health, treatment, and discourse.
While physical medicine is climbing the next hill with respect to primary care provider (PCP) shortages, interoperability quagmires, and meaningful use (MU), behavioral health is facing the same primary challenges it has since well before health IT became such a hot topic.
Namely, recognition as a legitimate and necessary component of whole-person wellness and medical treatment.
But on both the side of care providers, and patients, physical health has been rigidly siloed away from behavioral health. Even EHRs have been shoehorned through America’s hospitals while behavioral health clinics have been barred from accessing incentive money. Their exclusion from the development table means fewer solutions and platforms exist at all for those facilities and caregivers who want to embrace digitization, because developers have been preoccupied with MU compliance.
Guest post by Richard A. Royer, MBA, chief executive officer, Primaris.
It has been several years since Medicare began introducing payment changes aimed at driving the healthcare industry away from volume-based payments and toward value-based reimbursements. One of the main purposes of the payment system’s overhaul is to improve the quality of care that healthcare providers deliver to patients. Of course, the other main goal is to keep costs in check. In simple terms, the shift to value-based incentives rewards providers that deliver on cost, quality and patient outcome measures. What many providers have learned along the way is that technology plays an important role in the transition to value-based care, and meaningful use of electronic health records is necessary for success under value-based incentive programs.
Value-Based Payment Basics
For healthcare providers that are working to adapt to new payment models and are just beginning to make adjustments, understanding the basics of value-based care is the first step to success. Some of the key points healthcare providers need to recognize about value-based reimbursements are:
The value model rewards performance. That can mean a number of different things, for example, achieving high quality and patient satisfaction scores or making improvements to care over time. The point is, providers must focus on meeting certain standards for care and cost in order to be eligible to earn financial incentives and to avoid penalties.
Value-based care models are extremely data driven. Providers need to measure and report performance outcomes in order to assess their efforts internally, and also so they can earn reimbursements from external payers. As a result, healthcare providers need to continuously measure and analyze patient data, not just collect it.
Collaboration is an important success factor under value. Patients – particularly those with chronic health conditions – receive care from multiple providers as they move across the care continuum. To ensure that treatments, medications, and care plans are safe and effective, and that patient outcomes (which impact reimbursements) are the best they can be, providers need to communicate with each other and work to coordinate care. Value-based programs demand coordinated care.
Guest post by Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer, IDT911.
Earlier this year, Centene Corporation lost six hard drives containing personal and health information of almost one million of its clients, including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers and health information. Unfortunately, Centene is only one of many healthcare organizations that recently had their sensitive patient information exposed. More than 113 million health records were breached in 2015 – which translates to one out of every three Americans being affected by a healthcare record breach last year. Medical identity theft is a disastrous trend that needs to be addressed. The good news is there are many steps healthcare organizations can take to reduce the risk of data breaches.
Electronic Health Records
As more and more healthcare organizations transition away from paper medical records and move to electronic health records, it is critical that security features are put in place to protect the vast amount of data being collected. Just as the digitally stored health information is more easily accessible for employees, it is also easier for cyber criminals to access. According to the Ponemon Institute’s The State of Cybersecurity in Healthcare Organizations in 2016 report, nearly half of those surveyed said their organizations have experienced an incident involving the loss or exposure of patient information during the last year. Strong encryption, routine vulnerability patches and multi-factor authentication are key to protect health data.
Mobile and BYOD
Greater connectivity means more convenience, but this also opens more doors for hackers to access healthcare networks. Healthcare organizations should set clear BYOD policies so employees understand what can and cannot be accessed from mobile devices, what operating systems are approved for use on the network, what security features and settings are required and what type of data can be stored on devices. While using mobile devices can significantly improve productivity, it is important to minimize security risks in order to protect sensitive data.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is a growing trend in the tech world that has also become popular in the healthcare industry. Now, medical devices can collect, track and share enormous amounts of data instantly through internet connectivity. As these medical devices were most likely added to pre-existing networks, they may not have the necessary security protections. Security vulnerabilities are not just limited to EHR and health networks anymore – medical devices must be thoroughly inspected as well. Just as computers and servers are patched for vulnerabilities, medical devices that connect to healthcare networks must also be regularly patched. If these IoT enabled devices do not have the necessary layers of security, they will become an easy target for hackers to access the healthcare network.
Guest post by Amy Sullivan, vice president of revenue cycle sales, PatientKeeper.
The multi-year run-up to the ICD-10 cut-over last October had a “Chicken Little” quality to it. There was prolonged hand-wringing and hoopla about the prospect of providers losing revenue and payers not processing and paying claims – the healthcare industry equivalent of “the sky is falling.”
Then CMS helped calm things down by announcing last July (as the AMA reported at the time), “For the first year ICD-10 is in place, Medicare claims will not be denied solely based on the specificity of the diagnosis codes as long as they are from the appropriate family of ICD-10 codes.”
Since ICD-10 is all about specificity – the number of diagnosis codes increased approximately four-fold over ICD-9 – this was a big relief to all involved. And, if you believe new research data, the sky indeed has not fallen: Sixty percent of survey respondents “did not see any impact on their monthly revenue following Oct. 1, 2015… Denial rates have remained the same for 45 percent of respondents. An additional 44 percent have seen an increase of less than 10 percent.”
Still one has to wonder what will happen after Oct. 1, 2016, when the current leniency expires and ICD-10 code specificity is required. Will physicians be in a position to enter their charges completely and accurately once “in the general neighborhood” coding no longer suffices?
They will if their organization has invested in technology that adheres to best practices in electronic charge capture system design. The three watch-words are: specialize, simplify and streamline.
A charge capture system is specialized when it exposes only relevant codes to physicians in a particular specialty or department, and when it provides fine-tuned code edits. With different types and processes of workflows (and let’s face it, personal preferences), physicians need an intuitive and personalized application that easily fits into their individual work styles. A tailored user experience allows providers to build and display their patient lists in whatever way is most convenient and meaningful to them – down to lists organized by diagnosis and “favorites.”
The health IT revolution is here and 2016 will be the year that actionable data brings it full circle.
Opportunities to achieve meaningful use with electronic health records (EHRs) are available and many healthcare organizations have already realized elevated care coordination with healthcare IT. However, improved care coordination is only a small piece of HIT’s full potential to produce a higher level synthesis of information that delivers actionable data to clinicians. As the healthcare industry transitions to a value-based model in which organizations are compensated not for services performed but for keeping patients and populations well, achieving a higher level of operational efficiency is what patient care requires and what executives expect to receive from their EHR investment. This approach emphasizes outcomes and value rather than procedures and fees, incentivizing providers to improve efficiency by better managing their populations. Garnering actionable insights for frontline clinicians through an evolved EHR framework is the unified responsibility of EHR providers, IT professionals and care coordination managers – and a task that will monopolize HIT in 2016.
The data void in historical EHR concepts
Traditionally, care has been based on the “inside the four walls” EHR, which means insights are derived from limited data, and next steps are determined by what the patient’s problem is today or what they choose to communicate to their caregiver. If outside information is available from clinical and claims data, it is sparse and often inaccessible to the caregiver. This presents an unavoidable need to make clinical information actionable by readily transforming operational and care data that’s housed in care management tools into usable insights for care delivery and improvement. Likewise, when care management tools are armed with indicators of care gaps, they can do a better job at highlighting those patients during the care process, and feeding care activities to analytics appropriately tagged with metadata or other enhanced information to enrich further analysis.
Filling the gaps to achieve actionable data
To deliver actionable data in a clinical context, HIT platform advancements must integrate and analyze data from across the community—including medical, behavioral, and social information—to provide the big picture of patient and population health. Further, the operational information about moving a patient through the care process (e.g., outreach, education, arranging a ride, etc.) is vital to tuning care delivery as a holistic system rather than just optimizing the points of care alone. This innovative approach consolidates diverse and fragmented data in a single comprehensive care plan, with meaningful insights that empowers the full spectrum of care, from clinical providers (e.g., physicians, nurses, behavioral health professionals, staff) to non-clinical providers (e.g., care managers, case managers, social workers), to patients and their caregivers. Armed with granular patient and population insights that span the continuum, care teams are able to proactively address gaps in patient care, allocate scarce resources, and strategically identify at-risk patients in time for cost-effective interventions. This transition also requires altering the way underlying data concepts are represented by elevating EHR infrastructures and technical standards to accommodate a high-level synthesis of information.
Guest post by Ben Weber, managing director, Greythorn.
This is the time of year when people are looking into their crystal ball, and telling all of us what they see happening in the next 12 months. Some of these predictions will be wild (aliens will cure cancer!) and some will be obvious (more health apps in 2016!). But how many will be helpful?
As I gaze into my own crystal ball, I have to admit I’m also peeking at my email (I like to multi-task). I can’t really say if it’s inspired by the swirling lights of the magic orb on my desk, or if it’s because of the inquiries from clients, messages from my management team and RFPs from various hospital systems … but I also have a prediction for the New Year: 2016 will be the year of migration for Epic and Cerner consultants.
The United States healthcare industry has made great progress in EHR implementation—to the point where implementation is no longer the primary conversation we’re having. Now we’re discussing interoperability, if we’re using ICD-10 codes correctly, how and if we should integrate the data collected from wearable fitness technology, and more. Those discussions—and the decisions made as a result—will continue to require human intelligence and power, but in 2016 there will be a decreased demand for consultants on these projects. Healthcare IT professionals who have grown accustomed to this kind of work will either have to settle into full-time employment—or turn their nomadic hearts north to Canada.
Our neighbors on the other side of the 49th parallel are ramping up their EHR implementations, which is good news for consultants interested in using their passports. Implementations in the US are slowing down, and while there is still work available, it is not as constant and may not command the same hourly rates as in years past. Meanwhile, several leading Canadian healthcare IT organizations have already warned of a looming talent shortage in their country (source), the effects of which are beginning to be felt.
Epic and Cerner specialists are particularly in demand, as there is a dearth of experienced talent. Out of the Canadian healthcare IT professionals who have worked with an EMR, 28 percent report familiarity with MEDITECH, 13 percent with Cerner, and 7 percent with McKesson. Only 4 percent have worked with Epic, according to the 2015 Canadian Healthcare HI & IT Market Report.
Interoperability will be healthcare IT’s biggest trend in 2016 as the industry finally sees momentous forward movement.
In fact, interoperability is not a new trend. It has been an important mission (and a challenge) for healthcare administrators for decades, but the past couple of years have been game-changing:
First, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) wants interoperability to be a common feature in all EHRs by 2024 so that patient data can be shared across systems to provide better care at a lower cost. Since the 2009 passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), a $30 billion initiative to accelerate EHR adoption, more than 433,000 professionals (95 percent of eligible hospitals and 60 percent of eligible professionals in Medicare and Medicaid programs) have received incentive payments.
Second, the HHS’s ambitious announcement that mandates moving 50 percent of Medicare payments from fee-for-service-based to value-based alternatives by 2018 puts care coordination and interoperability at center stage. This historic initiative is transformational for patient-centered care based on accountability and outcomes and is the first step toward achieving better health overall with lower cost.
Third, there’s been significant industry momentum with more than 40 organizations coming together to work on HL7 FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource), dubbed “Project Argonaut,” an industry-wide effort to create a modern API and data services sharing between the EHR and other healthcare IT systems based on Internet standards and architectural patterns. Project Argonaut began in December 2014 and has made impressive progress. And while still evolving, the recently released Stage 3 meaningful use rules have emphasized interoperability — more than 60 percent of the proposed measures require interoperability, up from 33 percent in Stage 2.
Guest post by Kirk Larson, national CIO, healthcare, NetApp Inc.
As we start a new year, let’s take a moment and take stock of the past 12 months. Like an annual physical, it gives us a chance to take a pulse check on the industry and see what the next year has in store – the opportunities and the obstacles.
During 2015, we had the opportunity to chat candidly with CIOs, healthcare technology partners and healthcare providers to discuss the big questions affecting the industry:
— What are the big topics the industry will be focused on?
— What changes do you see coming?
— What new challenges lay ahead and what new technologies will help us overcome them?
Based on these discussions, here are some of the key trends healthcare CIOs can expect in 2016:
Electronic Health Record (EHR) Optimization
As healthcare organizations move beyond implementation phase of EHRs, CIOs and IT are refocusing their efforts towards enhancing care workflow and benefits realization by way of optimizing the IT infrastructure. Basically, the status quo on overspending on legacy hardware is no longer being tolerated.
While the high availability, performance and security requirements for IT infrastructure certainly aren’t lessening anytime soon, IT is feeling greater cost pressures to run EHRs more efficiently. As a result, organizations are looking to simplify IT operations for running on-premises data centers with improved data management solutions, with the end-goal of moving toward building their own private clouds.
In addition to greater cost efficiency, we are seeing a growing demand for increased agility of IT services. As such, organizations are looking to advanced analytics capabilities as a means of achieving greater responsiveness. But before they can reap the benefits of employing a population health management system, IT needs to shift from tired legacy IT environments to highly agile IT infrastructure.
Population Health Management
Population health management programs have long been used by healthcare insurers to increase wellness and decrease claims cost. Organizations leverage multiple data sources such as EHRs, pharmaceutical data, insurance claims, etc.; to enhance and preserve wellness, as well as, programs that anticipatory and pre-emptive in design.
Guest post by Robert Williams, MBA/PMP, CEO, goPMO, Inc.
I continue to view 2016 as a shakeup year in healthcare IT. We’ve spent the last five plus years coming to grips with the new normal of meaningful use, HIPAA and EMR adoption, integrated with the desire to transform the healthcare business model from volume to value. After the billions of dollars spent on electronic health records and hospital/provider acquisitions we see our customers looking around and asking how have we really benefited and what is still left to accomplish.
All politics is local
Our healthcare providers are realizing their clinical applications, specifically EMR vendors, are not going to resolve interoperability by themselves. When the interoperability group, CommonWell formed in 2013 much of the market believed the combination of such significant players (Cerner, Allscripts, McKesson, Athenahealth and others) would utilize their strength to accelerate interoperability across systems. Almost three years late CommonWell only has a dozen pilot sites in operation.
Evolving HL7 standards and a whole generation of software applications are allowing individul hospitals to take the task of interoperability away from traditional clinical applications and creating connectivity themselves.
Black Book’s survey published last month, stated that three out of every four hospitals with more than 300 beds are outsourcing IT solutions. Hospitals have been traditionally understaffed to meet the onslaught of federal requirements. Can they evolve into product deployment organizations as well? Across all the expertise they need within the organization? Most are saying no and searching out specialty services organizations to supplement their existing expertise and staff.
Are you going to eat that?
Patient engagement is on fire right now at the federal level (thank you meaningful use Stage 3), in investment dollars and within the provider
community. But to truly manage hospital re-admissions and select chronic diseases (diabetes, obesity and congestive heart failure for example)
providers need data and trend analysis on daily consumer behavior. The rise of wearable technology and the ability to capture data/analyze data from them will be a major focus going forward. These technologies will likely help to make us healthier but with a bit of big brother side affect.