Tag: meaningful use

Three Trends Shaping Health Informatics

Guest post by Justin Sotomayor, pharmacy informatics director, CompleteRx.

Justin Sotomayor, PharmD
Justin Sotomayor, PharmD

The field of health informatics has grown exponentially over the past 50 years. From Robert Ledley’s work paving the way for the use of electronic digital computers in biology and medicine in the 1950s, to the founding of the American Medical Informatics Association in the 1990s, to the launch of the Medicare/Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program in the 2000s, it continues to mark new milestones at an astounding pace, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the healthcare industry.

Three trends – in particular – will have a marked impact on patients and practitioners, and are certain to define health informatics in the near future, if not for years to come.

The end of Meaningful Use

In 2009, with the passing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, came the launch of the Meaningful Use program – and the related requirement that healthcare providers show “meaningful use” of a certified EHR to qualify for incentive payments. With both Stage 1 (adoption) and Stage 2 (coordination of care and exchange of information) behind them, hospitals are fully responsible for Stage 3 (improved outcomes) by 2018. While, undoubtedly, the program has improved EHR adoption – in many cases, streamlining and enhancing patient care – it has been widely criticized. In a 2015 news release, the American Medical Association regarded Stage 2 as a “widespread failure,” suggesting it monopolized staff attention without commensurate benefit to patients, and hampered innovation.

Most recently, following highly-publicized remarks in January by CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt that Meaningful Use would be replaced, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has proposed transitioning Meaningful Use for Medicare physicians to the “Advancing Care Information (ACI)” program under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). According to Mr. Slavitt, this program is designed to be “far simpler, less burdensome, and more flexible,” primarily by loosening the requirements to qualify for extra payments, and incentivizing providers based on treatment merit, known as Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). While this update doesn’t yet affect hospitals or Medicaid providers, and these groups should continue to prepare for full Meaningful Use implementation, it’s an indication that industry concerns over meaningful use are being heard and responded to, and that additional changes may be forthcoming.

The rise in cybersecurity threats

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Will Meaningful Use Flatline in 2016?

Guest post by Emily Tyson, director of emerging markets, Curaspan.

Emily Tyson
Emily Tyson

On the cusp of many important changes currently impacting major healthcare policies, Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), made a striking statement to the audience at the J.P. Morgan Health Care Conference earlier this year: “The meaningful use program as it has existed will now be effectively over and replaced with something better.” This remark created a stir within the healthcare community, which has long lamented the burdensome documentation and lackluster results most often associated with the Meaningful Use (MU) program, and left many providers and healthcare organizations wondering what that really meant for the future of reimbursement, along with healthcare technology and EHR regulation.

What do we know today?

Slavitt’s comments reference a transition – not a replacement – to a new payment program. The government is making a concerted effort to lessen the burden associated with its programs and push the industry toward value-based care. Last year Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). The Act made three notable, high impact changes to Medicare reimbursement:

With the recent release of the proposed MACRA ruling, the Act and associated rules may take effect on January 1, 2017 and will offer healthcare providers two options for participating in quality programs: (1) Fee-for-service (FFS) combined with greater incentives through a new Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), or (2) Alternative Payment Models (APMs). The current payment adjustments associated with the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), the Value-based Payment Modifier (VBPM), and MU will be phased out and replaced with a consolidated approach. MIPS will provide payment adjustments based on four weighted performance categories: Quality (30 percent), Resource Use (30 percent), Meaningful Use of Certified EHR Technology (25 percent), and Clinical Practice Improvement Activities (15 percent). APMs include reimbursement models, such as ACOs, patient centered medical homes, and bundled payments.

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Healthcare’s Next Revolution Is Social, Not Digital

Guest post by Edgar T. Wilson, writer, consultant and analyst.

Edgar T. Wilson
Edgar T. Wilson

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.

The problem is sociological as much as it is a practical matter of care delivery. Stigmas persist–even as the conversation about CTE in the NFL escalates, the knee-jerk reaction is to provide players with better helmets, rather than emphasize how physical injury manifests in behavioral ways.

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Health IT’s Responsibility to Produce Actionable Healthcare Data in 2016

Guest post by LeRoy E. Jones, chief executive officer, GSI Health, LLC.

The Care Coordination LeadersThe 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.

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Health IT’s Responsibility to Produce Actionable Data in 2016

Guest post by LeRoy E. Jones, CEO, GSI Health, LLC.

LeRoy Jones
LeRoy Jones

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.

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Healthcare IT: The One Trend to Rule Them All

Guest post by Paddy Padmanabhan, CEO, Damo Consulting.

Paddy Padmanabhan
Paddy Padmanabhan

After years of underinvestment, CIO’s in healthcare may have something to cheer about this year. The biggest trend seems to be the increased focus and investment in IT in healthcare enterprises. With more than $30 billion invested in electronic health record (EHR) systems, and meaningful use (MU) requirements out of the way, we are seeing enterprises turn toward the more strategic aspects of IT in the ongoing transformation of the healthcare sector.

These investments, however, will follow the money. In other words, funding will focus on initiatives that have the biggest impact in terms of revenues, cost avoidance, and transformative potential. A recent survey by technology provider Healthedge suggests that investments among payers will be targeted at selective enhancements to the most critical systems that support business development, and not a wholesale upgrade of IT. Here are a few of the top investment areas across healthcare:

Population Health Management (PHM): Everybody is on board with the concept of PHM as the defining principle in an outcomes-based business model. However, PHM has eluded a consistent definition, other than that its desired impact is to reduce overall costs of patient populations, and improve clinical outcomes. Analytics has been an important aspect of this discussion, however standalone analytics solutions have struggled to demonstrate value, and progress on advanced analytics involving predictive models and cognitive sciences has been slow. This year may change all of that. Many standalone analytics companies are likely to be acquired, and IBM Watson will gain more traction. M & A in healthcare will drive PHM as well.

Information Security: With healthcare data breaches at over 112 million in 2015, including high-profile breaches at Anthem, Premera, and Excellus, IT security is now a CEO level issue. There is no doubt what this means – investments in data security technologies are going to increase. However, there is no guarantee that data breaches will not increase.

Healthcare Consumerism: Changing demographics and unexpected increases in the costs of health insurance are driving the consumerization of healthcare today. Silicon Valley startups, flush with VC money, are coming up with direct-to-consumer approaches that are making traditional healthcare firms sit up and take notice. At the same time, the newly awakened healthcare consumer is also demanding information and price transparency. New York Presbyterian has launched a patient-first marketing strategy aimed at improving engagement with patients through information sharing, and is revamping its website completely. BCBS of NC has already released the cat among the pigeons by publishing price data (and is facing pushback from its provider network). IT investments will now be focused on maximizing the reach and value of the information to empower consumers to make the right choices.

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The Year of the Consumer: Health IT Trends for 2016

Guest post by Jason W. Buckner, senior vice president, informatics, The Health Collaborative.

Jason Buckner
Jason Buckner

Last year, 2015, was a year of buildup, anticipation, and finally some bold moves to propel healthcare technologies forward, specifically regarding interoperability of data. The Office of the National Coordination, under the auspices of the department of Health and Human Services, released the long-awaited and much-debated meaningful use Stage 3 requirements in October. All the players in the health tech space were awaiting the final verdict on how Application Programming Interface (API) technology was placed into the regulations, and the wait was worth it, regardless of which side of the fence you were on. Before we get into the predictions, though, a little background knowledge about these technologies, and their benefits, will be helpful.

API Overview

An API is a programmatic method that allows for the exchange of data with an application. Modern APIs are typically web-based and usually take advantage of XML or JSON formats. If you are reading this article, you almost inevitably have used apps that exchange data using an API. For example, an application for your smartphone that collects data from your Facebook account will use an API to obtain this data. Weather apps on phones also utilize an API to collect data.

HL7 Overview

Next let’s take a look at the history of interoperability of healthcare data. HL7 2.x is a long standing method to exchange healthcare data in a transactional model. The system is based on TCP/IP principles and typically operates with Lower Layer Protocol (LLP) which allows for rapid communication of small delimited messages. The standard defines both the communications protocol and the message content format. No doubt about it, HL7 2.x is incredibly effective for transactional processing of data, but it has been limited in two key areas:

  1. A pioneering developer of a successful HL7 interface engine once said: “Once you have developed one HL7 interface … you have developed one HL7 interface.” The standard exists, but there is nowhere near enough conformity to allow this to be plug-and-play. For example, a patient’s ethnicity is supposed to be in a specific location and there is a defined industry standard list of values (code set) to represent ethnicity. In reality, the ethnicity field is not always populated and if it is, it rarely follows the defined code set.
  2. HL7 is an unsolicited push method, which means when a connection is made, messages simply flow from one system to another. If you are attempting to build a collection of cumulative data over time, this is a mostly sufficient method, but what you cannot do is ask a question and receive a response. Although some query/response methods have existed for years, their adoption has been very sparse in the industry.

2016: Year of the Healthcare API

If you are a physician with an electronic health record (EHR) system and you accept Medicare patients, you likely have gone through the process of becoming meaningful use (MU) certified, which means you have purchased an EHR software solution certified by the ONC. This EHR must follow guidelines of technical features, and physicians must ensure they utilize those features in some manner. In October 2015, the ONC released MU Stage 3 criteria (optional requirement in 2017, mandatory in 2018) which includes this game changer: A patient has a right to their electronic health information via an API.

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Interoperability for Real; It’s Finally Here

Guest post by Sanjeev Agrawal, president, LeanTaaS Healthcare.  

Sanjeev Agrawal
Sanjeev Agrawal

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:

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Data Security Protocols for an Increasingly Mobile Healthcare System

Guest post by Pawan Sharma, director of operations for healthcare at Chetu.

Pawan Sharma
Pawan Sharma

Healthcare is quickly adapting to the digital environment by leveraging web-based technologies, electronic health records (EHR) and mobile devices to facilitate the movement of information. With innovative software technology comes great responsibility. One of the unfortunate downsides to increasing the use of technology for data sharing in the healthcare world is the risk of data falling into the wrong hands. Full measures need to be put in place to protect patient’s Protected Health Information (PHI). The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates that all PHIs be secured. Any breach, if not handled appropriately under established procedures, can lead to grave consequences including heavy penalties, jail time, or both. Needless to say that proper mechanisms need to be implemented to secure data while it is stored, transmitted and consumed.

Understanding Regulatory Standards

Knowledge is power. It is paramount that software providers look for back-end development partners that have Healthcare IT experience. This includes extensive knowledge and proficiencies with federal regulations like American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), meaningful use stage 1 and 2, Accountable Care Act, etc. Also, regulatory health information exchange (HIE) standards such as Health Level 7 (HL7), Health Information Exchange Open Source (HIEOS), Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), Consolidated-Clinical Document Architecture (C-CDA), Continuity of Care (CCD/CCR) as well as clinical and financial work flows.

Encryption

With information traveling over a network it may be subject to interference. Hence, it is important that data be encrypted in transit. Vendors must include encryption technology to prevent disclosure of patient health information while data is communicated between the application and the server. Web traffic must be transmitted through a secure connection using only strong security protocols such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS). SSL/TLS certificates are light weight data files that are purchased and installed directly onto the server. Once implemented, a user will be able to connect to the web-based application server via a secure tether with an internet browser.

Code Hardening

Organizations have been keen on securing networks and internal infrastructure from external threats. With this in mind, malicious entities are looking to breach data at the application level. Healthcare software proprietors must protect their application from security threats by employing hardening tactics, which shields bugs and vulnerabilities in the coding. This technique primarily includes code obfuscation. Code obfuscation is the act of intentionally creating obscure source code to make it difficult for entities to decipher. Properly employing this tactic hinders a threats ability to reverse engineer and tamper with an application to facilitate a breach.

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CHIME Responds to Modified Meaningful Use Rules

Following the release today of the finalized modified rules for the current stage of meaningful use, CHIME released the following statement, summarizing the position of many in healthcare. Overall, the organization supports the modifications, including the adopted 90-day reporting period:

We are pleased that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services today finalized modifications to the current stages of the Meaningful Use program and agreed to extend the comment period on Stage 3. CHIME and its 1,700-plus members agree with CMS that it is time to focus the meaningful use program on adoption of information technology systems that improve both the quality and safety of patient care.

The 752-page rule grants flexibility for providers who are doing their best to not only meet the intent of the federal program, but also ensure the adoption of health information technology that improves patient care.

Importantly, the rule adopts a 90-day reporting period for the current stages of the program, down from 365 days. CHIME has long called for a 90-day reporting period and applauds CMS for adopting this new standard. While several members are positioned to take advantage of this shorter period, others will be challenged to meet it since there are fewer than 90 days remaining in the year. We urge CMS to implement a hardship exemption for those unable to meet this timeframe.

CHIME also applauds the agency for modifying requirements surrounding patient access to electronic records. The rule stipulates that for 2015 and 2016, one patient discharged from a hospital view, download or transmit their electronic record.

With regard to Stage 3, the extra comment period will enable providers, CMS and other stakeholders to ensure that the next stage of Meaningful Use advances interoperability and takes into account new payment models being advanced by Medicare.

Also today, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology finalized a rule on certification of electronic health records. CHIME supports key provisions in the rule that should lead to greater transparency regarding vendor products; improved testing and surveillance of health IT, and an improved focus on user-centered design.

We are reviewing the regulations and will have more detailed comments in the coming days.

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