Hardly a day goes by without some new revelation of a US IT mess that seems like an endless round of the old radio show joke contest, “Can You Top This”, except increasingly the joke is on us. From nuclear weapons updated with floppy disks to needless medical deaths, many of which are still caused by preventable interoperability communication errors as has been the case for decades.
According to a report released to Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the US government last year spent 75 percent of its technology budget to maintain aging computers where floppy disks are still used, including one system for US nuclear forces that is more than 50 years old. In a previous GAO report, the news is equally alarming as it impacts the healthcare of millions of American’s and could be the smoking gun in a study from the British Medical Journal citing medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer.
The GAO interoperability report, requested by Congressional leaders, reported on the status of efforts to develop infrastructure that could lead to nationwide interoperability of health information. The report described a variety of efforts being undertaken to facilitate interoperability, but most of the efforts remain “works in progress.” Moreover, in its report, the GAO identified five barriers to interoperability.
Insufficiencies in health data standards
Variation in state privacy rules
Difficulty in accurately matching all the right records to the right patient
The costs involved in achieving the goals
The need for governance and trust among entities to facilitate sharing health information
CMS Pushing for “Plug and Play” Interoperability Tools that Already Exist
Meanwhile in a meeting with the Massachusetts Medical Society, Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) acknowledges in the CMS interoperability effort “we are not sending a man to the moon.”
“We are actually expecting (healthcare) technology to do the things that it already does for us every day. So there must be other reasons why technology and information aren’t flowing in ways that match patient care,” Slavitt stated. “Partly, I believe some of the reasons are actually due to bad business practices. But, I think some of the technology will improve through the better use of standards and compliance. And I think we’ll make significant progress through the implementation of API’s in the next version of (Electronic Health Records) EHR’s which will spur innovation by allowing for plug and play capability. The private sector has to essentially change or evolve their business practices so that they don’t subvert this intent. If you are a customer of a piece of technology that doesn’t do what you want, it’s time to raise your voice.”
He claims that CMS has “very few higher priorities” other than interoperability. It is also interesting that two different government entities point their fingers at interoperability yet “plug and play” API solutions have been available through middleware integration for years, the same ones that are successfully used in the retail, banking and hospitality industries. As a sign of growing healthcare middleware popularity, Black Book Research, recently named the top ten middleware providers as Zoeticx, HealthMark, Arcadia Healthcare Solutions, Extension Healthcare, Solace Systems, Oracle, Catavolt, Microsoft, SAP and Kidozen.
Medical Errors Third Leading Cause of Death in US
The British Medical Journal recently reported that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer. As such, medical errors should be a top priority for research and resources, say authors Martin Makary, MD, MPH, professor of surgery, and research fellow Michael Daniel, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. However, accurate, transparent information about errors is not captured on death certificates which are the documents the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses for ranking causes of death and setting health priorities. Death certificates depend on International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes for cause of death, but causes such as human and EHR errors are not recorded on them.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 117 countries code their mortality statistics using the ICD system. The authors call for better reporting to help capture the scale of the problem and create strategies for reducing it. “Top-ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC form our country’s research funding and public health priorities,” says Makary in a press release. “Right now, cancer and heart disease get a ton of attention, but since medical errors don’t appear on the list, the problem doesn’t get the funding and attention it deserves. It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care.”
The Root Cause of Many Patient Errors
Better coding and reporting is a no-brainer and should be required to get to the bottom of the errors so they can be identified and resolved. However, in addition to not reporting the causes of death, there are other roadblocks leading to this frighteningly sad statistic such as lack of EHR interoperability. Unfortunately, the vast majority of medical devices, EHRs and other healthcare IT components lack interoperability, meaning a built-in or integrated platform that can exchange information across vendors, settings, and device types.
Various systems and equipment are typically purchased from different manufacturers. Each comes with its own proprietary interface technology like the days before the client and server ever met. Moreover, hospitals often must invest in separate systems to pull together all these disparate pieces of technology to feed data from bedside devices to EHR systems, data warehouses, and other applications that aid in clinical decision making, research and analytics. Many bedside devices, especially older ones, don’t even connect and require manual reading and data entry.
Healthcare providers are sometimes forced to mentally take notes on various pieces of information to draw conclusions. This is time consuming and error-prone. This cognitive load, especially in high stress situations, increases the risk of error such as accessing information on the wrong patient, performing the wrong action or placing the wrong order. Because information can be entered into various areas of the EHR, the possibility of duplicating or omitting information arises. Through the EHR, physicians can often be presented with a list of documentation located in different folders that can be many computer screens long and information can be missed.
The nation’s largest health systems employ thousands of people dedicated to dealing with “non-interoperability.” The abundance of proprietary protocols and interfaces that restrict healthcare data exchange takes a huge toll on productivity. In addition to EHR’s physical inability, tactics such as data blocking and hospital IT contracts that prevent data sharing by EHR vendors are also used to prevent interoperability. Healthcare overall has experienced negative productivity in this area over the past decade.
The lack of EHR interoperability continues to pose a serious threat to healthcare initiatives, according to a recent report published by the American Hospital Association (AHA). The report discusses the various aspects of the healthcare industry and care delivery that are negatively impacted by a lack of interoperability.
The report notes that the exchange of health information is critical for the coordination of care. When patients receive care from multiple different providers, physicians should be able to securely send relevant patient information to the practicing physician. However, that tends not to be the case because EHR systems are not interoperable and cannot exchange information.
Last year, the ECRI Institute released a survey outlining the Top Ten Safety Concerns for Healthcare Organizations in 2015. The second highest concern was incorrect or missing data in EHRs and other health IT systems caused by interoperability. For the second year in a row, EHR data is identified as a concern.
The Partnership for Health IT Patient Safety, a branch of the ECRI Institute, has released safe practice recommendations for using the copy and paste function in EHRs that can adversely affect patient safety, such as the use of copy and paste that can overpopulate data and make relevant information difficult to locate, according to the partnership’s announcement.
Meanwhile, a survey of 68 accountable care organizations conducted by Premier, Inc. and the eHealth Initiative found that despite steep investments in health information technology, they still face interoperability challenges that make it difficult to integrate data across the healthcare continuum.
The survey found that integrating data from out-of-network providers was the top HIT challenge for ACOs, cited by almost 80 percent of respondents. Nearly 70 percent reported high levels of difficulty integrating data from specialists, particularly those that are out-of-network.
User Frustration Over Lack of HIE and Interoperability Standards
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is once again asking the healthcare community for its thoughts on establishing metrics to determine if or to the extent to which electronic health records are interoperable. The push to achieve interoperability is in response to last year’s mandate by Congress, contained in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). Among provisions of that law is a requirement to achieve “widespread” interoperability of health information by the end of 2018.
When it comes to how Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) handle the challenges associated with interoperability, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report cites the following barriers–insufficient health data standards, variations in state privacy rules and difficulty in accurately matching the right records to the right patient. In addition, the costs and resources necessary to achieve interoperability goals, and the need for governance and trust among entities to facilitate sharing health information.
In its annual interoperability survey of hospital and health system executives, physician administrators and payer organization IT leaders released in April 2016, Black Book Research found growing HIE user frustration over the lack of standardization and readiness of unprepared providers and payers.
Of hospitals and hospital systems, 63 percent report they are in the active stages of replacing their current HIE system while nearly 94 percent of payers surveyed intend to totally abandon their involvement with public HIEs. Focused, private HIEs also mitigate the absence of a reliable Master Patient Index (MPI) and the continued lack of trust in the accuracy of current records exchange.
Public HIEs and EHR-dependent HIEs were viewed by 79 percent of providers as disenfranchising payers from data exchange efforts and did not see payers as partners because of their own distinct data needs and revenue models. Progressive payers are moving rapidly into the pay-for-value new world order and require extensive data analytics capabilities and interoperability to launch accountable care initiatives.
Those looking at touted standards such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FIHR) point out that it is only capable of connecting one medical facility to another and 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, FIHR is really a point-to-point customized interface requiring extra steps and ties developers to specific hospitals or EHRs and without universal access.
“Progressive FHIR standards can allow EHRs to talk to other EHRs should standard definitions develop on enough actionable data points as we enter a hectic period of HIE replacements, centering on the capabilities of open network alliances, mobile EHR, middleware and population health analytics as possible answers to standard HIE,” said Doug Brown, managing partner of Black Book.
The long awaited road to true healthcare IT system interoperability is being implemented at Good Samaritan in Indiana, enabling the 232-bed community healthcare facility to better deliver on its commitment to delivering exceptional patient care. The system will also enable the hospital to substantially increase their practice’s revenue while containing healthcare system integration costs.
“We strive to be the first choice for healthcare in the communities that we serve and to be the regional center of excellence for health and wellness,” said Rob McLin, president and CEO of Good Samaritan. “We are proud to be the first hospital in the country to implement this great integrated health record system that will allow us to provide a much higher level of continuity of care for our patients, as they are our top priority.”
The integration is being made possible with Zoeticx’s Patient-Clarity interoperability platform that will integrate WellTrackONE’s Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) patient reports with Indiana’s Health Information Exchange (IHIE) and the hospital’s Allscripts EHR. IHIE is the largest HIE in the US, serving 30,000 physicians in 90 hospitals serving six million patients in 17 states.
Revenue Generator for the Hospital
WellTrackONE and Zoeticx will enable patient’s AWV data to flow from the application to Allscripts EHR and the IHIE system. With Zoeticx’s Patient-Clarity platform and WellTrackONE’s software, the healthcare IT integration passes on increased revenue from the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and decreased IT costs for medical facilities.
Medicare pays medical facilities $164.84 for each initial patient visit under the AWV program and $116.16 for each additional yearly visit. With the AWV integration in place, the hospital is now able to meet CMS’s stringent requirements for patient reimbursements.
It is estimated that the Good Samaritan will be able to generate $500 to $1,200 per AWV patient from follow up appointments for additional testing and referrals for approximately 80 percent of the Medicare patients that are flagged by the AWV for testing, imaging and specialty referrals within the hospital.
This subscriber number is expected to trend upwards into 2050 and will create billions in new healthcare revenue through the US as the population ages. The hospital is not charged any costs for the system until it is reimbursed by CMS.
Overcoming Healthcare System Limitations
The hospital began offering Medicare’s AWV’s a few years ago, but had to develop its own tracking protocols, which impacted its budget and staff resources. The system it had created also operated poorly, allowing hospital staff to only view about 10 percent to 15 percent of patient data.
Good Samaritan medical teams were also constrained by interoperability, having to enter new illness findings and other medical info manually and fax PDFs to other facilities where they would have to again be entered into a different system. The hospital also had all of the data contained in WellTrackONE and Allscripts’ system, but no way to integrate the two, let alone achieve that integration with IHIE. Providers were also spending valuable patient face time trying to find specific patient data buried in the EHR system.
“Our systems were working fine, independently of each other,” said Traci French, director of business development and revenue integrity. “But we could not achieve true interoperability between the two systems. The best we could do was basically reshuffling PDF documents. The next challenge was to integrate that data with the exchange. We needed to get data to providers where they needed it, when they needed it.”
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.