This article is part of the “Think Further” series sponsored by Fred Alger Management. For more “Think Further” content, please visit www.thinkfurtheralger.com.
There is almost nothing I’m certain of except that life is an uncertain thing and that it seems to change a lot. Even in the most predictable of settings, even the minutest changes in detail can have a lasting and overwhelming effect on nearly everything in its atmosphere. In healthcare, a space seemingly immune to the status quo, things seem to get a whole lot more complicated. The same can be said of life and death, health and well-being. On their own, they are not so difficult to understand and often, in most cases, predictable and redundant; until the final days, of course, then things begin to get a little more complicated. When we’re fine, we’re fine. Life is good and most of our concerns seem trivial.
Then health gets involved and the minutest change in detail can send our lives in a spiral so much so that we barely recognize our place in it let alone who we are and where we belong. When such an occurrence arises, we begin to rely on beeps and buttons, software and technology in ways never before imagined for the intersection of our lives.
Clearly, the health IT landscape will be completely different five years from now. From where we stand today to where we’re headed, we’ll likely look back on this moment and wonder how we survived such archaic times. Just a couple years removed from the age of the electronic health records, technology that already seems dated and antiquated, is no longer monolithic and domineering to the space as it likely seemed in 2010.
Our future selves might stand on the threshold of 2020 and say that we were being single minded. The technology — EHRs were supposed to save healthcare and are now nothing but foundational. The technology was supposed to simply aggregate information collection, provide for the ability to quickly share information system wide and around the world; and give us the capability accessing all of a patient’s information at the tips of the proverbial finger.
When the promise of those solutions faded (yes, their stars have faded) and as our attention forced us into new technologies (primarily because of consumers’ desire) we are now seeing developments in technology creating touch points that impact patients “where they live” and has become the new force behind healthcare technology.
Consumers will drive healthcare’s future. Probably not a secret at this point, but a point that is hard for the old guard. They’ve had enough of being left out of the ownership process regarding their own health. They’re tired of being locked out of their own records, and kept access to their own information. Such data would not exist without those helping produce it. New consumer technologies have and will further level the field. Consumer tech will continue to spur innovation, at light speeds. Data will flow between healthcare parties and its consumers; HIPAA protections will be waived and open access for the social good will become the norm. Standard and traditional approaches when dealing with patients, in a generation or so, will be completely different and far less segmented, as they are now.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today released final rules that simplify requirements and add new flexibilities for providers to make electronic health information available when and where it matters most and for health care providers and consumers to be able to readily, safely, and securely exchange that information. The final rule for 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria (2015 Edition) and final rule with comment period for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHRs) Incentive Programs will help continue to move the health care industry away from a paper-based system, where a doctor’s handwriting needed to be interpreted and patient files could be misplaced.
“We have a shared goal of electronic health records helping physicians, clinicians, and hospitals to deliver better care, smarter spending, and healthier people. We eliminated unnecessary requirements, simplified and increased flexibility for those that remain, and focused on interoperability, information exchange, and patient engagement. By 2018, these rules move us beyond the staged approach of ‘meaningful use’ and focus on broader delivery system reform,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, M.D., M.Sc., CMS deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer. “Most importantly we are seeking additional public comments and plan for active engagement of stakeholders so we take time to get broad input on how to improve these programs over time.”
HHS heard from physicians and other providers about the challenges they face making this technology work well for their individual practices and for their patients. In recognition of these concerns, the regulations announced today make significant changes in current requirements. They will ease the reporting burden for providers, support interoperability, and improve patient outcomes. Providers can choose the measures of progress that are most meaningful to their practice and have more time to implement changes to program requirements. Providers are encouraged to apply for hardship exceptions if they need to switch or have other technology difficulties with their EHR vendor. Additionally, the new rules give developers more time to create user-friendly technologies that give individuals easier access to their information so they can be engaged and empowered in their care.
As part of today’s regulations, CMS announced a 60-day public comment period to gather additional feedback about the EHR Incentive Programs going forward, in particular with the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which established the Merit-based Incentive Payment System and consolidates certain aspects of a number of quality measurement and federal incentive programs into one more efficient framework. We will use this feedback to inform future policy developments for the EHR Incentive Programs, as well as consider it during rulemaking to implement MACRA, which we expect to release in the spring of 2016.
Health IT’s most pressing issues may be so prevalent that they can’t be contained to a single post, as is obvious here, the third installment in the series detailing some of the biggest IT issues. There are differing opinions as to what the most important issues are, but there are many clear and overwhelming problems for the sector. Data, security, interoperability and compliance are some of the more obvious, according to the following experts, but those are not all, as you likely know and we’ll continue to see.
Here, we continue to offer the perspective of some of healthcare’s insiders who offer their opinions on health IT’s greatest problems and where we should be spending a good deal, if not most, of our focus. If you’d like to read the first installment in the series, go here: Health IT’s Most Pressing Issues and Health IT’s Most Pressing Issues (Part 2). Also, feel free to let us know if you agree with the following, or add what you think are some of the sector’s biggest boondoggles.
The healthcare industry has undoubtedly become a bigger target for security threats and data breaches in recent years and in my opinion that can be attributed in large part to the industry’s movement to virtualization and the cloud. By adopting these agile, effective and cost-effective modern technological trends, it also widens the network’s attack surface area, and in turn, raises the potential risk for security threats.
We actually conducted some research recently that addresses evolving security challenges, including those impacting the healthcare industry, with the introduction of cloud infrastructures. The issue is highlighted by the fact that the growing popularity of cloud adoption has been identified as one of the key reasons IT and security professionals (57 percent) find securing their networks more difficult today than two years ago.
Paul Brient, CEO, PatientKeeper, Inc. No industry on Earth has computerized its operations with a goal to reduce productivity and efficiency. That would be absurd. Yet we see countless articles and complaints by physicians about the fact that computerization of their workflows has made them less productive, less efficient and potentially less effective. An EHR is supposed to “automate and streamline the clinician’s workflow.” But does it really? Unfortunately, no. At least not yet. Impediments to using hospital EHRs demand attention because physicians are by far the most expensive and limited resource in the healthcare system. Hopefully, the next few years will bring about the innovation and new approaches necessary to make EHRs truly work for physicians. Otherwise, the $36 billion and the countless hours hospitals across the country have spent implementing electronic systems will have been squandered.
Email security is one of healthcare’s top IT issues, thanks, in part, to budget constraints. Many healthcare organizations have already allocated the majority of IT dollars to improving systems that manage electronic patient records in order to meet HIPAA compliance. As such, data security may fall to the wayside, leaving sensitive customer information vulnerable to sophisticated cyber-attacks that combine social engineering and spear-phishing to penetrate organizations’ networks and steal critical data. Most of the major data breaches that have occurred over the past year have been initiated by this type of email-based threat. The only defense against this level of attack is a layered approach to security, which has evolved beyond traditional email security solutions that may have been adequate a few years ago, but are no longer a match for highly-targeted spear-phishing attacks.
Dr. Rae Hayward, HCISPP, director of education and training at (ISC)²
Dr. Rae Hayward
According to the 2015 (ISC)² Global Information Security Workforce Study, global healthcare industry professionals identified the following top security threats as the most concerning: malware (77 percent), application vulnerabilities (74 percent), configuration mistakes/oversights (70 percent), mobile devices (69 percent) and faulty network/system configuration (65 percent). Also, customer privacy violations, damage to the organization’s reputation and breach of laws and regulations were ranked equally as top priorities for healthcare IT security professionals.
So what do these professionals believe will help to resolve these issues? Healthcare respondents believe that network monitoring and intelligence (76 percent), along with improved intrusion detection and prevention technologies (73 percent) are security technologies that will provide significant improvements to the security posture of their organizations. Other research shows that having a business continuity management plan involved in remediation efforts will help to reduce the costs associated with a breach. Having a formal incident response plan in place prior to any incident decreases the average cost of the data breach. A strong security posture decreases not only incidents, but also the loss of data when a breach occurs.
Guest post by Steve Tolle, chief strategy officer and president of iConnect Network Services, Merge Healthcare.
Sooner than later, payers will demand meaningful interoperability to determine the true cost of quality healthcare outcomes. While they may not have a preference for which electronic health record (EHR) platform a doctor or health system uses, they will understand that a platform’s ability to communicate with other EHR platforms will affect the cost and quality of the care provided.
Payers are already implementing bundled payments for some types of costly care, such as full hip replacements. Conventional assumptions aside, physician fees and facility charges are not the leading drivers of joint replacement cost variability. Instead, wide cost disparities frequently seen between Joint Replacement Procedure A and Joint Replacement Procedure B are the product of unpredictable charges for supplies, anesthesia, and medical imaging. When payers start bundling reimbursements for common procedures, risk will shift to providers who will be challenged to closely manage cost fluctuations. In preparation for this transition, healthcare organizations must proactively assess their imaging strategies to keep their business running smoothly, continue providing quality patient care, and ensure they maximize revenue for the services they deliver.
What Providers Must Evaluate
Medical imaging is a $100 billion industry that drives $300 billion in healthcare spending. It accounts for nearly eight percent of U.S. healthcare spending, according to the Journal of the American College of Radiology — a costly component of care that must be effectively addressed as the industry readies itself for the shift from volume to value-based reimbursement.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently set an ambitious goal that by 2016, 85 percent of healthcare payments will be tied to quality and value of care. Successful healthcare organizations will need to manage two key factors closely — appropriateness and efficiency.
CMS and private payers will increase their vigilance around quality measures such as readmission rates and unnecessary diagnostic imaging. Medically unnecessary or redundant imaging is already on Medicare’s radar, showing up in legislation that mandated decision support for imaging and extended the deadline for ICD-10 conversion. If providers begin to correct course now, downstream risk of lost revenue and decreased patient satisfaction can be mitigated, if not avoided.
Take Stock of Current Assets
To stay ahead of the curve, providers should evaluate all aspects of their image management programs. Many are looking for new solutions that simplify and digitize outdated, paper-based procedures for patient orders, automate insurance payment authorization, and move images from point A to point B in real time, regardless of file format.
It has only been about two generations since traveling medicine shows were common forums for medical information. Phony research and medical claims were used to back up the sale of all kinds of dubious medicines. Potential patients had no real method to determine what was true or false, let alone know what their real medical issues were.
Healthcare has come a long way since those times, but similar to the lack of knowing the compositions of past medical concoctions and what ailed them, today’s digital age patients still don’t know what is in their medical records. They need transparency, not secret hospital –vendor contracts and data blocking, like the practices being questioned by the New York Times. One patient, Regina Holliday resorts to using art to bring awareness to the lack of patient’s access to their own medical records.
There are many reasons patients want access. Second opinions, convenience, instant access in a medical emergency and right of ownership—I paid for them, I own them. Other reasons patients need to view their records is for accuracy and validity. Inaccurate record keeping has even caused the EHRI Institute to cite incorrect or missing data in EHRs and other health IT systems as the second highest safety concern in its annual survey, outlining the Top Ten Safety Concerns for Healthcare Organizations in 2015.
Healthcare system executives, from CIOs to CEOs are very aware of the increasing requirements from patients asking for their records and the various state and federal laws that come into play. However, they are also aware that by making it too easy for patients to access records they risk liability and HIPAA issues. They also don’t want to provide documents that can easily enable cost comparisons or raise questions about charges.
Riding the wave of interest in accessing personal medical records are organizations like Get My Health Data. Org. The organization was founded in June 2015 as a collaborative effort among leading consumer organizations, healthcare experts, former policy makers and technology organizations that believe consumer access to digital health information is an essential cornerstone for better health and better care, coordinated by the National Partnership for Women & Families, a non-profit consumer organization. On July 4 it launched #DataIndependenceDay to create awareness for the HIPAA law which states that patients must be granted access to their health information with very few exceptions. An update to those laws that was finalized in 2013 extends these rights to electronic health records.
Despite the introduction of personal health records (PHRs), Blue Button technology and product introductions from blue chip technology leaders, such as Microsoft and Google, there has been no significant, unifying technology to ignite pent up demand for their medical records by consumers. This lack luster interest and ongoing interoperability issues might be the unifying force to drive many consumers to consider Personal Health Information Exchanges (PHIEs) as an alternative to EHRs and Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) that unnecessarily duplicate data and risk HIPAA violations.
Will PHIEs Ignite the Patient Record Access Movement?
Frost & Sullivan, in its research report, “Moving beyond the Limitations of Fragmented Solutions Empowering Patients with Integrated, Mobile On-Demand Access to the Health Information Continuum”, identifies personal health information exchange (PHIEs). They are described as providing individual patients, physicians, and the full spectrum of ancillary providers with immediate, real-time access to medical records regardless of where they are stored by using an open API.
The PHIE can provide access to the entirety of an individual patient record, regardless of the number of sources or EHR systems in which the patient data resides. This technology is made possible through fully interoperable integration servers that can access any EHR system with available APIs and portray the integrated data in a viewable, secure and encrypted format on a mobile device.
By leveraging the powerful simplicity of open APIs, PHIE technology can also access medical records in a way that is much more comprehensive than the closed EMR portals commonly used by doctors’ offices. Despite their pervasive use, these portals are cumbersome and expensive for patient’s use. The portals also include the same lack of interoperability that plagues hospital EHR systems.
Information collaboration is not new, but there is an increasingly critical need for effective collaboration to create an efficient healthcare ecosystem. How can healthcare organizations design collaborative frameworks that allow them to successfully manage vast amounts of data and create actionable information from that data?
One of the first, and perhaps most important steps, is to understand why it’s imperative to foster an environment that encourages and promotes information collaboration. The amount of data companies use to track performance can be overwhelming, and many companies are inclined to abandon their quest to connect results across the organization, particularly when redundant data sources conspire across the enterprise to prevent a single source of truth. While it’s easy to understand why it happens, this approach can inhibit an organization’s ability to address the management of its data.
The implementation of an effective, collaborative framework is imperative. Not only does it have short-term impact, like enforcing consistent data quality and use, but it also improves business results. Active collaboration can lower management costs and enhance an organization’s ability to analyze and interpret information over the long haul and:
Improves the user experience for management, physicians, nurses, and patients
Reduces data inaccuracies and redundancies
Offers impact analysis across the organization for change requests
Enhances the organization’s ability to drive insight analysis and action creation based on a balanced information asset environment
Furthermore, if a healthcare organization chooses not to enforce a collaborative information framework, there may be financial consequences. Inconsistency in reporting can lead to noncompliance with provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which require uniform reporting and analytics.
What’s really at stake? One example of the potential damage insufficient collaboration can create is evidenced in North Highland’s recent work with a healthcare organization that wanted to improve its management environment. During the onboarding process, new requirements and analytics were captured and documented. The requirements were then coded, tested and deployed prior to completion of the data loads. The missing component was an understanding of the impact that those changes had to legacy analytics in use across the client’s enterprise. As a consequence of no established metadata environment, changes made to the analytical applications impacted numerous analytics and reporting downstream- resulting in massive rework. North Highland worked to remediate data continuity throughout the effected systems and establish a scalable metadata framework to grow analytical capabilities with the future needs of the organization.
This example underscores why it is imperative to implement a model that addresses and improves interoperability, collaboration, and information knowledge, which eliminates a significant amount of risk and creates a highly effective information collaboration governance program.
One successful model that can be followed to address this issue emphasizes a business first approach and requires that there is an overall culture of collaboration both internally and externally. It is based on three fundamental disciplines and supported with metadata foundation that connects and maintains the relationships between the three disciplines. The model’s pillars include:
The Business Information Discipline (BID), which defines the data and information necessary to support the operational goals of each department, business unit or division within the organization. Roles and responsibilities within the BID vary based on the size of the organization, but certain roles are central to the discipline.
The Systems and Network Discipline (SND), which defines the system roles and network analyst roles within the information environment. This is the discipline with the largest concentration of technical resources, each having a degree of stewardship responsibility.
The Information Asset Discipline (IAD), which is responsible for creating, maintaining and delivering information asset management for the organization. IAD outlines governance implementation, stewardship roles and general management of information, enabling impact analysis across the organization.
Organizations must respond to healthcare laws and adapt business models to comply with necessary requirements, all the while continuing to monitor reform-related legislative changes and regulatory guidance. By following the outlined framework, healthcare organizations can create an unbreakable foundation that ensures consistency in data and enhances enterprise agility.
Interoperability standardization is a critical element of e-health innovation. Varied and complimentary standards will be needed in the decades ahead to accelerate development of life-saving and life-enhancing capabilities and to ensure that the greatest potential benefits of e-health are realized around the world.
The IEEE Standards Association is at the tip of this spear and is working to make progress in the field of medical device interoperability. Illustrating the benefit of interoperability of standards in the monitoring and assessment of patients, and creating awareness of current medical device standards, this following infographic gives a short description of six medical device standards that strive to improve medical treatment for both patients and providers.
Utilizing smart phones, people can track and send their data to doctors from a variety of personal health devices such as, sleep monitors, insulin pumps, sleep apnea equipment, health and fitness monitors, health weighing scales and glucose meters. The standards specify the use of specific term codes, formats and behaviors in telehealth environments that promote interoperability of multi-vendor products to create an over-all more seamless tracking of health.
Guest post by Donald M. Voltz, MD, Aultman Hospital, Department of Anesthesiology, Medical Director of the Main Operating Room, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Case Western Reserve University and Northeast Ohio Medical University; and Thanh Tran, CEO, Zoeticx, Inc.
The ECRI Institute released in May a survey outlining the top 10 safety concerns for healthcare organizations in 2015. The second highest concern is incorrect or missing data in EHRs and other health IT systems.
HIEs? The latest Black Book survey in the U.S. finds that 90 percent of hospitals and 94 percent of independent physicians don’t trust the business model of public HIEs and have concerns over how much of the cost payers will be fronting, causing a contraction in the HIE market. Even the ONC and medical industry are at odds on how to address the interoperability issue. The ONC does not even mention middleware in any of its plans.
Even HL7 does not provide the seamless connection of middleware and is only capable of connecting one medical facility to another, requiring specific end point interfaces to even do that. For every additional facility, a customized interface must be built. At the end of the day, HL7 is really a point-to-point customized interface requiring extra steps. A middleware platform does not tie developers to specific hospitals or EMRs and allows universal access.
Meanwhile, yet another survey cites the tragedy of a lack of interoperability. A new survey of nurses nationwide, taken by the Gary and Mary West Health Institute, find that some 60 percent of registered nurses say medical errors could significantly decrease if hospital medical devices were coordinated and interoperable. Also, 74 percent of these nurses agreed that it is burdensome to coordinate the data collected by medical devices and 93 percent agreed that medical devices should be able to seamlessly share data with one another automatically.
Half of them claim they actually witness medical mistakes because of lack of interoperability of these devices. Some 46 percent of RN respondents also noted that when it comes to manual transcription from one device to another, an error is “extremely” or “very likely to occur.”
From a cost perspective, West Health Institute officials estimate that a connected, fully interoperable health system could save a potential $30 billion each year by reducing transcription errors, manual data entry and redundant tests. Meanwhile physicians and surgeons struggle with interoperability on a daily basis.
According to data published on HealthIT.gov, 173 health IT vendors are supplying certified EHR products to more than 4,500 hospitals. Despite wide penetration of EHR’s in hospitals, clinics and physician offices, access to patient information between systems continues to plaque our healthcare system.
Alan Portela, CEO of AirStrip, has more than 25 years of experience in bringing medical technology solutions to market. Portela originally joined AirStrip as a senior advisor and member of the board of directors prior to his appointment as CEO in 2011. Prior to joining AirStrip, he was CEO and principal of Hybrid Clinical Transformation, LLC, where he developed EHR adoption strategies for the U.S. Military Health System and much of the Veterans Health Administration. He also served as president and chief strategist at CliniComp, Intl., and in senior executive roles in several innovative healthcare technology and service organizations.
AirStrip provides a vendor and data source-agnostic, enterprise-wide mobile interoperability platform that advances care collaboration and serves as a catalyst for health system innovation. Here he discusses mHealth trends; why and how it needs to change; interoperability; security and protecting against breach;and the biggest issues facing healthcare in the next year.
Can you tell us about yourself and your background prior to starting AirStrip? Why healthcare?
Prior to joining AirStrip, I was the president at CliniComp and responsible for the implementation of high acuity EHR systems at the U.S Military Health System, Veterans Health Administration (VA) and a number of prestigious healthcare organizations in the private sector. In my more than 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry, I have held several senior executive roles with innovative healthcare technology vendors and helped pioneer an mHealth company more than a decade ago that came out of UCLA Medical Center Department of Neurosurgery (Global Care Quest). Leading the industry via disruptive and continuous innovation has become a true passion. Each day I see how technology improves patient care, and I enjoy being an active part of that transformation.
What do you think the mHealth industry needs to change to better support doctors and patients today?
Mobile technology and clinical decision support tools will undoubtedly be the biggest contributors to the needed clinical transformation revolution, providing physicians with a means to deliver proactive quality care to millions of patients throughout the continuum of care. However, for clinical transformation to occur, the industry needs to establish – and enforce – interoperable standards so that data and technology can move seamlessly across systems and provide clinically relevant patient information at the moment of care regardless of where the caregivers and the patients are. Interoperability will remove the data silos that currently impede access to information, and allow for clinical decision support that lets clinicians provide the best care, improving overall patient outcomes and well-being. The fact that legacy vendors are not sharing data means that innovation is being stifled. Unfortunately, both the federal government and a handful of legacy vendors seem to be driving us deeper into the crisis by carrying the flag of interoperability, but only limiting requirements to minimal clinical data sets, which do not contribute to the move from volume to value-based reimbursement.
At HIMSS this year, multiple speakers laid out visions for a future where parents could consult with a pediatrician via a telemedicine encounter during the middle of the night, take their children to receive immunization shots at a retail clinic, and have all of this information aggregated in their primary care provider’s record so that providing an up to date immunization record at the start of the next school year is as simple as logging into the PCP’s patient portal and printing out the immunization record. In short, multiple speakers presented visions of a truly interoperable future where patient information is exchanged seamlessly between providers, healthcare applications on smartphones, and insurers.
While initiatives such as the CommonWell Health Alliance, Epic’s Care Everywhere, and regional health information exchanges attempt to address the interoperability challenge, these fall short of fully supporting the future vision described above. Today’s solutions do not address smartphone applications and still require manual intervention to ensure that suggested record matches truly belong to the same patient before the records are linked. This process is costly but manageable in an environment where a low volume of patient records are matched between large provider organizations. In a future world where patient data is available from a multitude of websites, smartphone applications and traditional healthcare organizations, it would be cost prohibitive to manually review and verify all potential record matches.
Of course, one solution to this dilemma would be to improve patient matching algorithms and no longer require manual review of records before they are linked. However, for this to be possible, a standard set of data attributes would need to be captured by any application that would use or generate patient data. In a 2014 industry report to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, first name, last name, middle name, suffix, date of birth, current address, historical address, current phone number, historical phone number, and gender were identified as data attributes that should be standardized. Many of the suggestions in this report were incorporated into the Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap that the ONC released in January 2015.