Two big communicable disease scares—Ebola and measles—gripped the attention of the general public recently. They did so with enough strength that the average person on the street spoke out and demanded that actions be taken to protect themselves and families. It was virulent on social media. The total count of Ebola deaths at the end of last year was 5,021 worldwide. The CDC reported 10 Ebola cases treated in the U.S. and two patients died as of January 2015. There were 121 total measles cases in the U.S. this year in 17 states. All but 18 of the measles cases were because of an outbreak that spread from Disneyland in California.
What is remarkable is that these two infectious diseases affected a total of less than 200 people across the nation. Yet it triggered a vigorous response from masses of people who were afraid that they could contract Ebola when the actual chances were significantly lower than dying from a lightening strike. The spread of measles among children erupted into online wars between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Contrast this with the lack of concern over the flu vaccine’s low effectiveness against this year’s virus, which the CDC estimates kill 3,300 to 49,000 people in the U.S. every year. Warnings from the CDC that the flu strain this year is worse and getting the flu shot will at least temper the illness seems to have had little effect on increasing vaccinations.
Ebola attracted the public’s attention with such obsessive coverage that the public expected exposed individuals to be quarantined even though an individual had no symptoms to indicate a contagious state. More importantly, contact with fluids of an infected person is necessary to become infected. Contrast this with measles where the air and surfaces an infected person has coughed or sneezed remain contaminated for up to two hours. Measles is contagious up to four days before the telltale rash appears. According to the CDC, about one in every 1,000 children who contract measles will die and 90 percent of the non-immune people close to an infected person will get it.
Fear was the driver for Ebola’s patient engagement. The measles outbreak engaged parents because it raised the issue of the high rate of non-immunized children of a highly contagious and serious disease, but there were no calls to quarantine measles victims and guard them as with Ebola victims.
The little spacecraft that flew for 10 years crossing millions of miles in space, bounced on a comet hurtling 84,000 mph, transmits tons of data for 64 hours, finally tells its handlers that it needs to take a nap. Hitting any kind of target after 10 years in space is an amazing feat by itself, but this project had many hurdles and changes since its inception.
Healthcare is transforming at a rapid pace. In the past 10 years that the Rosetta orbiter traveled with the Philae lander strapped to its side, electronic health records have been implemented, meaningful use instituted, the diverse and multiple roads of interoperability have been examined, but progress has been slow.
The Rosetta project had to plan for executing tasks 10 years in advance. The team also had to anticipate the problems that it would find when Philae did something that had never been done before—landing on a comet. Nearly all projects on Earth have been done before but the nature of a project’s progression varies.
Here are three events that occurred on the Rosetta project that analogous Earth-bound healthcare projects also face.
Major change pre-launch. A problem was discovered that caused the launch to be delayed. This in turn caused the chosen comet to be abandoned because the orbit window was missed. Another comet whose gravity and other differences were not accounted for in the design of Philae was selected. Would the lander survive the descent? The craft would need to be put in a 3-year hibernation to conserve energy on the new flight plan.
Response: Adjust to the change. A large health insurance company discovered a security flaw in a new application to enroll customers during dry run tests. The problem would have caused multiple HIPAA violations and the company would be subject to expensive fines. The project had to be delayed until a fix was in place in spite of publicity of the go live date.
Major changes prior to the launch of a project are best addressed immediately. There is much better control in the early stages of a project. Changes may affect scheduled milestones, but it is better to adjust dates early in the project and explain changes to executive supporters.
Guest post by Judy Chan, president, HealthPro Consulting.
Burgeoning EHR implementations nationwide attributable to the meaningful use incentive program have created a surge in HIO and electronic health information exchange (eHIE).
Having health information available for electronic exchange is generally accepted as beneficial to patients, providers and payers. Providers can access patient information from other providers when they need it where they need it. Providers are able to avoid duplicating lab tests, scans and x-rays that save the payers dollars. Additionally, patients don’t need to remember what treatments were administered or drugs prescribed and can avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation.
In emergency situations, the benefits of having a patient’s health information available to emergency room staff are obvious. Patients who have experienced referrals in the course of diagnosis and treatment also readily see the advantage of not having to hand-carry all of their medical records from one doctor’s office to the next. The electronic exchange of health information among providers eliminates faxes, paper work and phone calls.
What makes the exchange of health information frightening to patients?
1. Your health information is available to others who have a legitimate need.
2. Consent must be given by the patient to share their information
3. You must trust the distributor of your information
4. You should monitor your data on a regular basis and make corrections when necessary
5. Information could be accidentally released without your permission.
6. Your consent is electronically recorded by multiple systems.
Do these risks sound familiar? They should because they are not very different from the risks that credit rating agencies that have recorded your financial transactions for years.