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mHealth App-makers Must Develop Privacy, Security Standards

Posted on November 30, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jon Michaeli, Executive Vice President of Medisafe

In recent times, consumers have developed a rapidly-growing interest in mobile health apps. In fact, more than half of the 1,600 mobile phone users surveyed recently by a New York University research team had downloaded at least one such app. And signs suggest that user uptake of mHealth apps could grow dramatically over the next few years.

But consumers’ adoption of mobile health apps is being held back by concerns that their health data isn’t safe.  Nearly half of consumers surveyed told Healthline that they’re afraid hackers may try to steal their personal health data from a wearable, and one-quarter of respondents said that they don’t believe app or health tracking data is secure.

We believe that it’s time for mHealth app developers and vendors to take a stand on mobile health data privacy and security. Consumers have the right to exchange private health data securely, and to be sure that data is never stolen or shared with unauthorized parties.

But until we develop industry-wide standards for protecting mobile health data, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to do so. To make that happen, we welcome the creation of a broad industry coalition to create these standards.

Security fears justified

Concerns over the security and privacy of mHealth data are well-founded. Less than one-third of the 600 most commonly-used mHealth apps have privacy policies in place, according to recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Another study, by HIMSS, suggests that health IT leaders are just beginning to scope out their mobile health security strategies.

Worse, some practices engaged in by app developers pose a clear risk to users’ health data. For example, some health apps use a Social Security number as a “secure” user method of validating user identity. Unfortunately, Social Security numbers are often stolen during hacking exploits, and they’re fairly easy to buy online. Thieves have a powerful incentive to steal SSNs, as health data now sells for 10 times the prices of credit card numbers.

Once SSNs are obtained by the wrong party, the results can be catastrophic. If I obtain a user’s SSN and download their claims data, I might find out that they, for example, take meds used to treat psychiatric conditions or HIV. Malicious parties could conceivably use this information to blackmail someone, expose them at work or in the community, outflank them during a divorce or worse. There’s a reason that SSNs sell for 10 times the price of a stolen credit card number on the black market.

Not only that, even among those who post privacy policies, few app developers make it clear how they address privacy issues. Developers often fill their policy write-ups with jargon and deceptive language. And few consumers are informed enough to demand plain, straightforward disclosures in areas that may affect them. For example, they may not be aware that their privacy could be compromised if the app pulls data from outside sources without requiring an additional login and password.

Those opaque privacy policies may also conceal questionable data-sharing practices, such as the sale of personal data. If individually-identifiable data gets shared with the insurance industry, insurers might use this data to reject applications for coverage. Pharmaceutical companies could leverage this data to market meds to such consumers. Employers could even buy such data to screen out sick applicants. The possibilities for harm are great.

Time for mHealth security standards

Fortunately, mHealth vendors that want to boost security and privacy protections don’t have to start from scratch. Practices and standards already in place in healthcare IT departments provide a good foundation for mHealth app developers. Certainly, consumers need to play a role in protecting their own health information, by taking a responsible and smart approach to app use, but we have obligations too.

First, we should assume that any mHealth app must meet HIPAA standards for protecting patient health information (PHI). Requirements include making sure users are who they claim to be (authentication), seeing that PHI isn’t altered prior to reaching its destination, and assuring that data is encrypted at rest, in transit and when stored on independently-managed servers.

Also, if PHI is being exchanged, mHealth developers must be sure that any third-party apps integrated into our health app also meets HIPAA requirements. And we need to verify that compliance. If connected third parties are compromised, the app isn’t secure either.

But above all, our industry needs to establish privacy and security standards that meet the unique needs of mobile health environment, standards which evolve as mHealth changes. I believe it’s high time that the mobile health industry leaders collaborate and create these standards. Otherwise, we may fail in our ethical obligations and do lasting damage to consumer trust. We invite other mHealth app vendors and their partners to join us in collaborating to protect consumers.

Jon Michaeli is Executive Vice President of Medisafe (www.medisafe.com), a cloud-synched platform which helps consumers manage their medications.

We’re Just Getting Started with an Internet of Healthy Things (Part 3 of 3)

Posted on November 27, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The previous sections of this article described the state of health care today and some of the impressive advances described in Joseph Kvedar’s new book, The Internet of Healthy Things. Now we’ll look at the possibilities for advancing further, and what stands in the way.

Futures postponed

Later in the book, Kvedar explores the promise of analytics. On a small scale, analytics can tie the results of traditional clinical research to recommendations for individuals. For instance, if the A1C hemoglobin of a person with diabetes hits a certain level that clinical research has established as dangerous, she can be notified. We also know what heart rates are best for exercising and other useful statistics. Walgreens and CVS also use data at this level to market their products to consumers who sign up for their fitness tracking programs.
Read more..

We’re Just Getting Started with an Internet of Healthy Things (Part 2 of 3)

Posted on November 25, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The previous section of this article described the dire condition of health care today. So where does Kvedar’s book, The Internet of Healthy Things,fit into all this? It encapsulates all those years of learning at his Center for Connected Health, set up by the Boston-area giant Partners HealthCare and now renamed Partners Connected Health. From these insights, the book pinpoints the areas where innovators can make headway. He shows the gap between how we approach chronic health conditions now–even among the companies experimenting with mobile health and patient engagement–and the ideal for which the Partners Connected Health is striving. In reviewing his suggestions, I’ll try also to shine lights into passageways he did not explore.

Lessons from the field

Kvedar divides the evolution of connected health into three broad phases. Most companies are now in the first phase of simply reporting statistics back to patients and doctors. You can find out from a mobile app what your blood sugar is, and from your fitness bracelet how far you’ve walked during the day. This phase can have some benefits on athletes and the small set of Quantified Selfers who love data, but has absolutely no appeal for the vast mass of people who most need support.

Partners Connected Health has entered the second phase and has its own data to show the great strides it has made. In this phase, you engage the patients by connecting him to his providers, family, and friends, making him feel watched (the Sentinel Effect) and therefore extracting healthier behavior. This starts to achieve the changes we want, but is still limited in the people we reach.

The third stage is to fit the intervention directly to the lifestyle and needs of the individual, a process Kvedar calls “hyperpersonalization.” If walking your dog is an important part of your life, the system should feed you messages encouraging you to do things that improve your endurance and walking ability. If you want to fit into smaller clothing for an upcoming wedding, focus on everything that can get your waistline down.

Kvedar’s vision does not seem to be the automated-intelligence utopia laid out by Vinod Khosla and others, where patients get automated diagnoses and treatment recommendations from the “cloud” and avoid physicians for most ailments. Rather, technology for Kvedar supports a strong relationship between patient and clinician. At the same time, the technology extends the clinician’s reach–and allows her to treat many more people with greater effectiveness–by bringing the treatment plan into the patient’s everyday life, throughout the day.

The first chapter of the book lays out a fantasy scenario for an automated coach that follows the individual around and sends messages right before he reaches for a cookie or is about to stay up too late at night. Kvedar unveiled the same scenario, which was quite amusing, in his introduction to the Connected Health conference. I covered the major aspects of this hyperpersonalization–automated, contextual, motivational, empowering, and incentivizing–in another article. It has to be done very careful in order not to appear intrusive and annoying, but it offers a greater promise to change behavior than anything else we know.

I already see one difficulty with organizations aiming at this vision of health care. Kvedar talks a great deal about apps–the little agents you download from the Apple Store or Google Play. But hyperpersonalization is not an app. It’s a whole environment for dealing with personal lifestyle–aided by apps, to be sure, but requiring a deep investigation into the patients’ needs and interests. What Kvedar is really calling for is not a prize-winning app, but a reconfiguration of our health system.

In the face of such a challenge, several organizations are stepping up. Among their ranks are scattered a few traditional health care organizations (providers such as Kaiser Permanente and Kvedar’s own Partners HealthCare, insurers such as Aetna) but most come from the outside. Kvedar concentrates on the clinics and wellness programs set up by Walgreens pharmacy. Their integration of convenience and support for ongoing behavior change is much more thorough than most people realize.

Another example of an integrated strategy is provided by a single teenager whose caretakers are monitoring his diabetes remotely. The process brings the teen’s doctor and mother into the picture with technologies that include an unusual skin sensor, Apple HealthKit, and an Epic health record. The solution is not an open one.

It’s great for Walgreen’s to fix sore throats and minor cuts, and even to start offering primary care. But people with serious health needs will eventually need to interact with a traditional clinic or hospital. If these institutions still can’t accept data from the urgent health clinic (some already can), the same old inefficiencies and errors will re-emerge. And this failure to evolve with the times is a danger even though, as Dr. Kvedar repeatedly warns, it threatens the continued existence of the traditional hospitals.

The final section of this article will look at the gap between where we are now and where The Internet of Healthy Things would like us to be.

We’re Just Getting Started with an Internet of Healthy Things (Part 1 of 3)

Posted on November 24, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The release of Joseph Kvedar’s book The Internet of Healthy Thingscoincided with the 15th annual symposium on Connected Health, which he runs every year and which I reported on earlier. Now, more than ever, a health field in crisis needs his pointed insights into the vision widely shared by all observers: collaborative, data-rich, technology-enabled, transparent, and patient-centered.

The promise and the imminent threat

A big part of Dr. Kvedar’s observations concern cost savings and “scaling” clinicians’ efforts to allow a smaller team to treat a larger community of patients with more intensive attention. As I review this book, shock waves about costs are threatening the very foundations of the Affordable Care Act. Massive losses by insurers and providers alike have led to the abandonment of Accountable Care Organizations by many who tried them. The recent bail-out by UnitedHealth was an ominous warning, eagerly jumped on by Fox News. Although other insurers issued assurances that they stay with the basic ACA program, most are reacting to the increased burden of caring for newly signed up patients by imposing insufferably high deductibles as well as extremely narrow networks of available providers. This turns the very people who should benefit from the ACA against the system.

There is nothing surprising about this development, which I have labeled a typical scam against consumers. If you sign up very sick people for insurance and don’t actually make them better, your costs will go up. T.R. Reid averred in his book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care that this is the sequence all countries have to follow: first commit to universal healthcare, then institute the efficiencies that keep costs under control. So why hasn’t that happened here?

Essentially, the health care system has failed us. Hospitals have failed to adopt the basic efficiency mechanisms used in other industries and still have trouble exchanging records or offering patients access to their data. A recent study finds that only 40% of physicians shared data within their own networks, and a measly 5% share data with providers outside their networks.

This is partly because electronic health records still make data exchange difficult, particularly with the all-important behavioral health clinics that can creat lifestyle changes in patients. Robust standards were never set up, leading to poor implementations. On top of that, usability is poor.

The federal government is well aware of the problem and has been pushing the industry toward more interoperability and patient engagement for years. But as health IT leader John Halamka explains, organizations are not ready for the necessary organizational and technological changes.

Although video interviews and home monitoring are finding footholds, the health industry is still characterized by hours of reading People magazine in doctors’ waiting rooms. The good news is that patients are open to mobile health innovations–the bad news is that most doctors are not.

The next section of this article will continue with lessons learned–and applied–both by Dr. Kvedar’s organization, Partners Connected Health, and by other fresh actors in the health care space.

How Much Patient Data Do We Truly Need?

Posted on November 23, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As the demands placed on healthcare data increase, the drive to manage it effectively has of course grown as well. This has led to the collection of mammoth quantities of data — one trade group estimates that U.S. hospitals will manage 665 terabytes of data during 2015 alone — but not necessarily better information.

The assumption that we need to capture most, if not all, of a patient’s care history digitally is clearly driving this data accumulation process. As care moves into the digital realm, the volume of data generated by the healthcare industry is climbing 48% percent per year, according to one estimate. I can only assume that the rate of increase will grow as providers incorporate data feeds from mHealth apps, remote monitoring devices and wearables, the integration of which is not far in the future.

The thing is, most of the healthcare big data discussions I’ve followed assume that providers must manage, winnow and leverage all of this data. Few, if any, influencers seem to be considering the possibility that we need to set limits on what we manage, much less developing criteria for screening out needless data points.

As we all know, all data is not made equal.  One conversation I had with a physician in the back in the early 1990s makes the point perfectly. At the time, I asked him whether he felt it would be helpful to put a patient’s entire medical history online someday, a distant but still imaginable possibility at the time. “I don’t know what we should keep,” he said. “But I know I don’t need to know what a patient’s temperature was 20 years ago.”

On the other hand, providers may not have access to all of the data they need either. According to research by EMC, while healthcare organizations typically import 3 years of legacy data into a new EMR, many other pertinent records are not available. Given the persistence of paper, poor integration of clinical systems and other challenges, only 25% of relevant data may be readily available, the vendor reports.

Because this problem (arguably) gets too little attention, providers grappling with it are being forced to to set their own standards. Should hospitals and clinics expand that three years of legacy data integration to five years? 10 years? The patient’s entire lifetime? And how should institutions make such a decision? To my knowledge, there’s still no clear-cut way to make such decisions.

But developing best practices for data integration is critical. Given the costs of managing needless patient data — which may include sub-optimal outcomes due to data fog — it’s critical to develop some guidelines for setting limits on clinical data accumulation. While failing to collect relevant patient data has consequences, turning big data into astronomically big data does as well.

By all means, let’s keep our eye on how to leverage new patient-centric data sources like wearable health  trackers. It seems clear that such data has a role in stepping up patient care, at least once we understand what part of it is wheat and which part chaff.

That being said, continuing to amass data at exponential rates is unsustainable and ultimately, harmful. Sometimes, setting limits is the only way that you can be sure that what remains is valuable.

Will AI (Artificial Intelligence) Provide Your Own Personal Health Coach?

Posted on November 20, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Adhering to the principle that health improvement is based on sustained behavior change, and that behavior change is based on a profound intervention by health care providers in a patient’s daily activities, a certain fantasy has made the rounds of the health care industry. In this article I’ll describe this fantasy and a product by Lark Technologies that starts to realize the fantasy in real life.

First, a bit of comparison. Some 15 years ago I shed a lot of weight (and kept it off) through firm but supportive monitoring by the health care profession. I went to my primary care physician every three months, and visited a nutritionist twice. I also exploited my personal network, conveying my goal to all my friends and lining them up to support eating habits that would lead there.

This model doesn’t scale well. Furthermore, a visit every 90 days is no match for the temptations that scream at me from the billboards and restaurant windows. (Believe me, as a chronic dieter I am very aware of the food industry’s marketing techniques.) So numerous technologists have imagined virtual assistants that follow you around and act like an intrusive Mom, asking you why you’re buying that donut or whether you’ve signed up for the health club yet.

These assistants would have to be subtle and very well tailored to your personal style to be affective. At the recent Connected Health Conference, MC Joseph Kvedar laid out a requirements list for such assistants. They must be:

Automated

To serve billions of people, these systems can’t depend on constant communication with health professionals. Somehow, software must be observer of your habits, come to know you from your demographics and health conditions, and intervene at appropriate moments with messages that have a chance of getting through the armor of your established routines.

Contextual

This fancy word just reflects the kind of empathetic adaptions each of us does all the time to reflect the situation we’re in. Just as we would shout “Stop” to someone about to step in front of a trolley but “Excuse me, did you want this trolley?” to someone absorbed in her cell phone, contextual software understands that you like donuts (but would enjoy a good fruit salad if offered one), that you like to exercise before work instead of at lunch time, and so on. The interventions it makes for each person would be unique.

Motivational

Positives work better than negatives in getting people to go along with suggestions. “Did you know that another round on the track will put you ahead of your walking record for yesterday?” works better than “Hey, you’ve been sitting for two hours–get up!”

Empowering

If a user doesn’t like an app, he always has the option of turning it off. Therefore, a health app must reflect the user’s goals, not the goals of hie doctor, his daughter, or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Empowering software will ask you what matters to you–for instance, being able to play with your grandchildren or stay in your third-story apartment–and remind you of these goals as a way to persuade you to stay on track.

Incentivizing

I find this trait a bit redundant, if software is empowering. Dr. Kvedar suggested that people using this kind of personal agent get a discount on their health care premiums. I’m a fan of intrinsic rewards, myself. But the distinction can be hard to make. If an app sends you a message from your wife saying, “So proud that you lost five pounds this week!” is it an intrinsic or extrinsic reward?

At the conference I had the privilege of meeting with Julia Hu, cofounder and CEO of Lark Technologies, who showed off their personal weight loss coach, Lark Chat (available for download for Apple and Android). It was amazing how closely this software–available since this past April–matched the simulation that Dr. Kvedar showed off in his opening talk.

Lark Chat uses Siri software to accept voice input or a text message, which is then submitted to artificial intelligence software to respond appropriately to the user. When I told it what I (pretended I) had for lunch, the software readily understood french fries and salad, and made a comment on each. It did not understand what to do with breaded, fried fish, which ought to have triggered a warning. But it has been trained to understand a number of different foods enjoyed by different ethnic groups. Users can also opt into sharing the data collected by Lark so that it can run analytics and improve its interventions.

The interface is enjoyable and popular. According to Hu, “Over the last four months, the Lark coach and its users have text messaged each other 350,000,000 times. Based on a typical chronic disease case manager’s load, that’s equivalent to 25,402 full time nurses and coaches.” This adds up to the longest user engagement record of any interactive apps in the weight loss space.

The industry has been taking notice. Business Insider recently named Lark one of the 10 most innovative apps in the world, and Apple once featured it as the “Best New App” in their App Store. Forrester Research named Lark the “Most Innovative Digital Health Product of the Year” in 2015 and published an exclusive report on it.

People are getting accustomed to apps such as Foursquare and interfaces such as Siri that in previous ages might have been seen as annoyingly intrusive. As our relationships to devices and software evolved, we may find apps such as Lark Chat the perfect support for behavior change. And we may all become better people as a result. If only Mom could have created an app for me.

Uber Health is Back – At Least for Flu Shots

Posted on November 19, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today between 11 AM and 3 PM you can open your Uber app, select the UberHealth option and receive a flu shot from a registered nurse. Passport Health will be administering the shots and it will be available in 35 cities around the country (presumably the cities where you find Passport Health).
Uber Health
The details of how it works aren’t really clear to me from the post on their website. For example, is it 11 AM to 3 PM in the local time zone or is that Pacific time? Also, if I understand it right, you’re going to pay $10 for a wellness pack which includes an UberHEALTH water bottle, tissues, hand sanitizer, lollipop and recyclable UberHEALTH tote. It looks like when they deliver this wellness pack, a Passport Health nurse will provide up to 10 “free” Flu shots. I guess you could say it’s a $10 flu shot since you have to buy the wellness pack to get the flu shot. Or 10 $1 flu shots assuming you have 10 friends around that want a flu shot as well. It’s still a good price for a flu shot and convenient that they come to you.

Unfortunately I’m in Las Vegas and that’s not one of the participating cities. So, I’d love to hear from readers how this goes and what the experience is really like. (Side Note: For new Uber users, here’s a link to get a free $15 ride on Uber.) They expect demand for Uber Health to be high. I guess that means they’re not willing to pay surge pricing to get you your Uber Health services? Of course, the real issue probably isn’t Uber drivers, but is instead the number of Passport Health nurses they have available to provide the flu shots. I guess they don’t have surge pricing available for nurses yet (chew on that idea).

In related news, John Brownstein, Ph.D., the Director of Computational Epidemiology Group at Boston Children’s Hospital and Professor, Department of Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School (that’s a mouthful), has joined Uber as their first health care adviser. We’ll see if they start offering more Uber Health services beyond just the flu shots not that they have John on board.

Their new health care adviser has also been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and they aptly note the need for convenience in the methods we deliver health care. Convenience has become so important in all of our decisions, so it should come as no surprise that our decision to get health services (like a flu shot) or not is very dependent on how convenient it is to obtain that service.

What do you think of Uber’s involvement in health care? Will this become a really big part of their business and important component of health care? Is this the return of house calls?

HealthTap’s Integrated, Patient-Centered, Data-Rich Care

Posted on November 18, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Health reformers dream of integrated health delivery systems that leap across the barriers between providers, employers, insurers, and various supporting groups such as pharmacies and test labs. People who have investigated this goal realize that it can be achieved only by putting data in the hands of the patients. HealthTap recently announced a “health operating system” that suggests what this much-anticipated integration will look like.

In this article I’ll look at some of the building blocks HealthTap put in place, and then delve a bit into features of the health care landscape that support their work.

HealthTap has built an integrated health delivery system over a five-year period. They started with an audacious enough goal in its own right: signing up doctors to answer questions from the public. A couple dozen other capabilities were tacked on over time, such as ratings, various personalization features, and then checklists and a recommendation system for apps.

Doctor-to-doctor interaction is also built into HealthTap, echoing proposals in a 2012 book called #SOCIALQI. Doctors can check how peers handle cases similar to theirs, do online consultations, and carry out literal reviews online. Founder and CEO Ron Gutman describes the combined process as “virtual grand rounds.” And in a glowing endorsement by the medical establishment, HealthTap has won the right to grant CME to doctors for conducting these routine activities on its system.

Now the integrated impact of all these initiatives can be seen. Health care delivered through HealthTap might look something like this.

  1. An individual creates a HealthTap account directly with HealthTap, or in a private system that her clinic, hospital, or employer creates based on HealthTap. This brings the patient into the system, where information and other forms of communication take place. The provision of private environments run by single hospital or clinic is a recent innovation by HealthTap.

  2. The individual optionally adds information about personal data such as age, and conditions she is suffering from. HealthTap uses this to direct educational content at her, and to answer her questions in a personalized manner that is more informative than a typical web search. For instance, the query “Is aspirin good or bad for me?” would trigger answers that take the patient’s particular health information into account. HealthTap’s Personal Health Record (PHR) becomes the key component that links together the entire continuum of care.

  3. The patient can sign up for a reasonably-priced concierge service that allows her to request an online consultation with a doctor whenever she needs one. The doctor writes a SOAP note at the end of the consultation. He can also create a checklist of things to do (take medication every day, go to the gym, make a follow-up appointment in three months) and HealthTap will remind the patient to do these things in a way chosen by the patient to be convenient. HealthTap offers apps for both doctors and patients on all major mobile devices, including Apple Watch and Android Wear. Communications are HIPAA-compliant and have received SOC 2 Type II security certification, the highest level.

  4. A doctor can also order a lab test electronically. The patient can take the test and get results delivered directly and securely through HealthTap.

  5. All this information is stored in a record available to the patient. Therefore, data that used to be available only to institutions serving the patient (hospitals, insurers, labs, pharmacies), and was used only for marketing or improving service delivery, is now available to the patient.

  6. All the information ranging from patients’ online queries to test results become input into anonymized, aggregated sets that HealthTap gives health care providers. They can view dashboards of information about their patients, about people throughout their geographic area, about people with related conditions and demographics around the country, etc. Savvy institutions can use this data for value-based care and improving their outreach to at-risk patients.

Thus, a plethora of features that health care reformers are asking for appear in HealthTap, ranging from targeted educational materials to messages that promote compliance with treatment plans and even analytics. The service strives to make the experience as comfortable as possible for the patients, who have access to all their data.

The achievement of Ron Gutman, to whom I talked this week on the phone, and his crew is impressive. But we should also be aware that the technical infrastructure and features put in place by the health care industry play a crucial role. These include:

  • ePrescribing systems such as Surescripts, and electronic ordering for lab tests, along with coding standards to ensure the different parties can exchange messages

  • Electronic health records, which have become widespread only during the past five to six years since the start of Meaningful Use payments from the US government

  • Devices capable of secure messaging

  • Public health information provided by a number of government and private institutions

  • Analytics offered by a huge number of firms to health care providers

Thus, the health care ecosystem has been evolving for some time to create the possibility for an advance like HealthTap. Much more is needed throughout the healthcare system for instant communications and smooth data exchange. For instance, HealthTap hasn’t yet integrated fitness devices into its ecosystem. But HealthTap has built a huge service on existing system elements, which many more institutions could do so if we had a health care system as open and rich as exists in e-commerce.

How Complicated Is It to Simplify Medication Adherence?

Posted on November 17, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Of all the things that irrationally inflate health costs, one of the top concerns is people who just don’t take their prescribed medications. Medication adherence doesn’t sound like a high-tech issue, but a lot of interesting technology is being thrown at the problem.

One pharmacist (obviously harboring an interest in increasing orders) estimated that we’d save 290 billion dollars a year if everybody took the medications prescribed for them. But don’t dismiss their claim as self-serving–the Centers for Disease Control suggests they may be right. It also says that half of all medications are discontinued too early. As the “fee for value” movement starts extending to the performance of medications, concerns that patients actually follow through on prescriptions will increase.

At the recent Connected Health Conference I talked to several companies taking on the difficult adherence problem from different angles. Medisafe aids patients in self-monitoring, Insightfil creates convenient packaging that groups pills the ways patients take them, and Dose doles out medication at prescribed times.

Medisafe is one of a wave of firms that address medication adherence, representing an advance over jotting down daily practices in a paper journal. These services share a good deal in common with other solutions in the marketplace that carry out patient monitoring, care planning, and the patient-centered medical home. In all these areas, services boast of tracking behavior, providing feedback to both patients and clinicians, promoting communication, and similar aspects of the connected health vision.

Medisafe handles patients’ nonadherence in multiple ways, including importing the patient’s medication list, along with vital signs such as blood pressure. Visualizations help both the patient and the doctor see the relationship between taking medication and the relevant vital signs. Patients can manage their doctor office visits or when they have been assigned a change in medication, and monitor the effects of such events on adherence through Medisafe. Finally, doctors will be able to compare data on patients within their practices, grouping them by condition, by medication taken, by demographics, or by behavior traits.

Other medication solutions try to reduce the burden of compliance that falls on the patient–or to look at it in another way, reduce the patient’s discretion. At something of an extreme, Proteus inserts a tiny radio device into each pill and makes the patient wear a patch that can detect the presence of the pill in the body. People have suggested one or two use cases for this intrusive system (for instance, during a drug trial, to guarantee accuracy) but in general, treating patients like criminals doesn’t encourage healthy behavior.

A lot of people, especially the elderly and those with the most severe medical conditions, need so many pills and capsules that it’s hard to remember which ones to take, and when. I’ve seen relatives loading little pillboxes every Sunday morning with the pills for the upcoming week.

Insightfil hopes to take all the manual labor, and consequent chances for error, out of this process. It ships each person a customized blister pack with a week’s worth of medications, offering up to four compartments per day to cover different times. This may seem like a simple problem, but it’s actually a major logistical feat.

First, according to founder and CEO Ted Acworth, his company had to develop a robot that could recognize different pills and accurately load them into the blister packs. Then they had to find a pharmacy with nationwide reach and room in its warehouse for the robot.

Dose solves the problem a different way, through a dispenser into which a patient or caregiver can pour bottles of pills. The dispenser, which has been configured to know the patient’s medication regimen, can automatically separate the pills and release them at the right time.

Once the pills are in the box, control can be removed from the patient. This can be important for doling out opiates or other drugs that can be dangerous or that patients have a tendency to abuse.

Dose’s dispenser is a very smart machine, supporting some of other goals of connected health I mentioned. Clinicians, caregivers, and patients can get alerts about doses taken or missed. The device has bi-directional programming capabilities with a web portal and mobile app, and clinicians can change regimens over the Internet. Biometric devices can be attached to let users map medication adherence to vital signs, or to report a user’s exercise and eating habits. The device’s forward facing camera can be used for scanning the barcode of a pill bottle, as well as for video consultations with a clinician. Along with these features, the device is integrated with an FDA Drug Database and therefore an accurate drug list, along with information about potential drug interactions is readily available.

On many levels, then, advanced technology can help patients with the apparently simple problem of opening a bottle at the right time and popping a pill in their mouths. This article has been a limited look at the problem–I haven’t dealt with over-prescription or side effects, but just the question of how to get patients to take the drugs that are understood to improve their health. We’ll see over time which of these solutions–perhaps all of them at different times–can help of hundreds of millions who regularly take prescription drugs.

EHR Data Integration and Changing Health Behaviors

Posted on November 16, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Every so often I like to highlight interesting tweets from the Twittersphere and add some of my own commentary. Here’s a few of them worth mentioning today.


How many EHR integrate with Fitbit? I’ve seen a few partial integrations, but none of them that really make an impact on the patients life. At best I’ve seen them take the data in, but then they do nothing with it. I’d love to see some examples where the EHR is actually doing something with the Fitbit data. In fact, is there anyone taking Fitbit data and making it more useful than what it is in the Fitbit app?


Speaking of outside data (Fitbit data), I agree with IBM that we’re heading towards a lot more data than just what the EMR can provide. In fact, I think the real breakthroughs in health care are going to come from the mixing of multiple data sources into a pretty little package with a bow on top. We’re still Christopher Columbus looking for the new world though. However, unlike Columbus, I know the world isn’t flat (ie. there’s value in the data).


I love when things are timely. I’m extremely interested in this discussion about behavior change in health care. I’m glad that the #hcldr chat is about this topic. I’ll be watching with a keen eye on what people share. I hope everyone will take the time to share their thoughts on how to change people’s health behaviors.