Healthcare in 2014: Three Opportunities on the Horizon

Jon Zimmerman
Jon Zimmerman

Guest post by Jonathan Zimmerman vice president and general manager, Clinical Business Solutions, GE Healthcare IT.

With key deadlines looming, 2014 will be a critical year for the healthcare industry, one marked by important industry milestones and advances. As ICD-10 implementation and meaningful use Stage 2 attestation approach, many are saying we have reached healthcare’s tipping point – where first of its kind opportunities for collaboration and innovation intersect with challenging regulatory standards and population health demands. In order to better facilitate these updates and solve potential market challenges, healthcare providers will need to blend innovative technological solutions with current operational systems.

As the industry evolves, we anticipate three key opportunities for 2014.

#1: Smarter Collaborations

New industry partnerships and alliances are being created to collectively address standardization and implementation. Healthcare IT organizations are working to adopt common standards and protocols to provide sustainable, cost-effective, trusted access to patient data. Payers and providers are coming together to ensure healthcare providers are setup up for success. Regulatory agencies, manufacturers and providers are working diligently to approve more devices, streamline communications and update payment codes in time for ICD-10 implementation. We are also seeing CIOs/CTOs work closer than ever before with physicians in order to reap the benefits of incentive driven initiatives like meaningful use Stage 2.

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Office of the National Coordinator’s Needs More Planning; Until then Move On

I’m a cynic and I’m snarky. They are character traits earned from my days as a reporter at the newspaper. Constantly being pitched the greatest new thing meant to change the world when rarely these things lived up to their promise made me this way.

It takes a lot to impress me.

This, of course, won’t do it.

By “this” I mean the

The latest offering from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), the site is being billed as a place for public input to update the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan.

According to the site, the plan outlines goals and strategies for the nationwide shift to electronic health records and information exchange, and for creation and spread of new health information technologies. “On this site, you can learn about these issues and be part of the public discussion that will shape the new plan. Whether you’re a patient, consumer, provider, insurer or IT developer, you should have a voice in this process.”

The rest of the site focuses on a variety of topics in discussion board fashion (think late ‘90s comment-based webpage) where consumers, the general public and anyone else with an opinion of any kind can respond to the seeded ONC topic.

Some of the topics include:

The list goes on, with a few sparse comments to support the topics addressed, and some questions and responses.

The rest of the site features some meager announcements and a bit more info about

I’ve been a supporter of many of’s work and have featured it multiple times on this site for the availability of their information and the organization’s outreach to the public and the HIT community, but is a limp attempt at a public information movement.

I’ve got to hand it to ONC for trying to engage the public in an information and educational campaign, but this effort wreaks of propaganda. For the most part, the comments are thin and generic and the “conversation” here seems someone staged.

This sure seems to resemble the acts of a start up site looking to generate page views and buzz. Certainly, there are people interacting with the site, but it comes off as fluff; a bit too polished if you will.

Call it the cynic in me, but at present, this effort just isn’t enough to make me think it’s going to drive any real change. Perhaps as it grows and evolves it will be worth a lot more, but in its current, state, not so much.

Is the ONC Blue Button a Lot Like Staples’ “Easy Button”?

Staples’ “Easy Button”

As the self-proclaimed ONC Blue Button movement gains steam and more members of the public sign up to make sure their data gets downloaded, it seems the Office of the National Coordinator, among others in the fold, have borrowed a marketing campaign from office supply chain, Staples.

The “Easy Button” is vernacular for something that get done at the press of a button, even if said task isn’t necessarily as easy as just pushing as button. Obviously, that’s the point.

Same goes for the Blue Button. From a marketing perspective, the concept is genius. With the simple push of a button, you too (read: “consumer/patient”) can have instant access to every last bit of your media records and personal health information like never before.

With the campaign just getting started, there are already more than one million people who have signed up for the Blue Button service (sounds sort of like “black tie event” when I read it like this). Eventually, the movement will take hold, no doubt, and the consuming public will be on board like never before. I anticipate Blue Button will grow enormously, similar in nature to the culture that social sites the likes of Facebook and Twitter have become. Not that we’ll sit around sharing our records with those who “like” us or posting comments about each others ailments and conditions, I think people will perceive blue button to have the same value.

It’s about access to information – information that until now many people have not realized they owned or had access to – instantly, as long as Blue Button is available to them.

That’s the catch after all, isn’t it? Blue Button has to be available to consumers for them to be able to push that little easy button. Seems like there are only a couple things that might keep someone from it. The most obvious is that a patient’s physician must have a meaningful use EHR in place. Another is that the practice must choose to offer the service.

It goes without saying, then, that consumers without insurance most likely won’t have access to Blue Button as they’ll likely not have access to a regular physician with a certified EHR. The current healthcare reform may change this slightly as more people will be “encouraged” to insure themselves. And, as practices move to EHR, access to Blue Button will increase.

All of these details are beside the point. Right now, it’s about the marketing. Making sure patients know that the health information that is rightfully theirs can be in the palm of their hands as easily as pushing a little button.

As we know, or so we’ve hypothesized, that the more you can engage patients in their care, the better care they’ll take of themselves.

And you’ve got to hand it to the ONC. Creating a message that directly engages the public rather than hoping that physicians and their vendors will carry the task is something I have long advocated for.

So getting us, as patient consumers, to engage in and to own our care really took little more effort than developing an app and marketing it directly to the people.

“That was easy.”

Creating An EHR Implementation Plan: Map Your Route, Follow Through

In continuing a series based on’s “How to Implement an EHR,” now seems like an appropriate time to seek additional insight into how to prioritize your implementation plan and identify critical tasks to perform when putting your system in place.

As the HIT world continues to reel from continuous change – meaningful use stage 2, ICD-10 postponement and mobile health among the biggies – like any commercial market, there’s bound to be some constant ebbs and flows.

Selecting, and changing, an EHR are bound to happen no matter what else is going on in the market. So, though much of the market may be focused on regulation and reform related to EHRs, there are still practices who haven’t yet implemented, and there are practices that are looking to get out of their current solutions.

According to the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), “Building an EHR implementation plan becomes critical for identifying the right tasks to perform, the order of those tasks and clear communication of tasks to the entire team involved with the change process.”

Implementing an EHR is really about implementing a change management process: new rules, new ways of doing things and new things to learn. That’s an oversimplification, but it essentially hits the mark.

Setting up an implementation plan (the plan should be in place before the implementation begins) first starts with segmenting tasks into three categories, according to ONC:

The three categories help determine the future work environment of the practice; how things will work after the change.

Obviously, if you are moving from an existing EHR, you’re probably going to be more familiar with how things will work once the system is in place, with a few exceptions. However, moving from paper to electronic records means there are going to be a great number of changes that, if not accounted for, may cause some initial hurdles along the way.

Your next steps should include:

Once this point has been reached, you can bring other parties into your plan, like consultants and vendors, to get the plan rolling and potentially start the implementation.

Next, you can begin the selection and implementation or upgrading process, but if you need additional information about planning your implementation or assessing your readiness, read “Assess Your Practice’s EHR Readiness and Plan Your Implementation.”

Otherwise, you’re on your way.