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Current Security Approaches May Encourage EMR Password Sharing

Posted on October 19, 2017 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.

In theory, you want everyone who accesses a patient’s health data to leave a clear footprint. As a result, it’s standard to assign every clinician using EMR data to be assigned a unique user ID and password. Most healthcare organizations assume that this is a robust way to document who is using the system and what they do when they’re online.

Unfortunately, this may not be the case, which in turn means that providers may know far less about health data users than they think. In fact, this approach may actually undermine efforts to track health data access, according to a new study appearing in the journal Healthcare Informatics Research.

The researchers behind the study created a Google Forms-based survey asking medical and para-medical personnel whether they’d ever obtained another medical staff member’s password, and if so, how many times and what their reasons were.

They gathered a total of 299 responses to their questions. Of that total, 220 respondents (just under 74%) had “borrowed” another staff member’s password. Only 57% answered the question of how many times this had happened, but among those who did respond the average rate was 4.75 episodes. All of the residents taking part had obtained another medical staff member’s password, compared with 57.5 percent of nurses.

The reasons medical staffers gave for sharing passwords included that “I was not given a user account despite having to use the system to fulfill my duties.” This response was particularly prevalent among students. Researchers got similar results when naming the reason “the permissions granted to me did not allow me to a fulfill my duties.”

Given their working conditions, it may be hard for medical staff members to avoid bending the rules. For example, the authors suggest that doctors will at times feel compelled to share password information, as their duties are wide-ranging and may involve performing unplanned services. Also, during on-call hours, interns and residents may need to perform activities that require them to use others’ EMR account information.

The bottom line, researchers said, is that the existing approach to health data security are deeply flawed. The current password-based approach used by most healthcare organizations is “doomed” by how often clinicians share passwords, they argue.

In other words, putting these particular safeguards in effect may actually have the paradoxical effect. Though organizations might be tempted to strengthen the authentication process, doing so can actually worsen the situation by encouraging system workarounds.

To address this problem over the long-term, widely-accepted standards for information security may need to be rethought, they wrote. Specifically, while the ISO standard bases infosec on the principles of confidentiality, integrity and availability, organizations must add usability to the list. Otherwise, it will be difficult to get an-users to cooperate voluntarily, the article concludes.

Telemedicine Becoming Popular, But Seldom Profitable

Posted on October 18, 2017 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.

New research suggests that while most physicians are supportive of telemedicine, others have grave reservations about providing this type of care, and that more than half of organizations aren’t making money delivering telemedicine services.

In an effort to learn more about attitudes toward telemedicine, Reaction Data surveyed 386 physicians, physician leaders, IT leaders and nurse leaders as well as differences in adoption levels between different types of organizations.,

Some of the top benefits of telemedicine cited by respondents included that it helped providers to meet demand for simpler and more cost-effective care delivery (28%), allowed them to treat more patients (23%) and that it was easing demands on staff (19%). Interestingly, just 10% said that telemedicine was proving to be a viable source of revenue, and elsewhere in the survey, 14% reported that telemedicine was revenue-negative.

The majority of physicians (68%) reported that they were in favor of telemedicine, while another 15% took a neutral position. Only 17% didn’t support widespread telemedicine use.

Their responses varied more, however, when it came to how much of care could be effectively delivered via telemedicine.

Thirty-two percent felt that 0 to 20% of care could be delivered this way; 33% of physician respondents felt that 30 to 40% care could be delivered digitally; 19% of respondents said 50 to 60% of care could be provided via telemedicine; 14% felt that 70 to 80% of care could be provided digitally. Just 2% felt that 90 to 100% of care could be delivered via this channel.

When it came to actually delivering the care themselves — rather than a hypothetical situation — respondents seemed less flexible. For example, 33% said that they would never contract with an outsourced telemedicine company to provide patient consults.

On the other hand, 50% said they’d considered moonlighting as a telemedicine consultant, 7% said they’d already done so frequently, 8% said they delivered such consults occasionally 2% said that was all they did for a living.

Regardless, many healthcare organizations are adopting this approach on a corporate level. Sixty-one percent of hospitals in a health system said they adopted telemedicine: 40% of standalone hospitals had done so; 58% practices owned by a health system has that this technology. Only 17% of physician-owned practices had done so, which could reflect cultural issues, costs or technology adoption concerns.

Physicians that were delivering telemedicine services most often used them to reach patients in rural areas (24%), provide follow-up care (24%) and manage specific patient populations (23%).

Among organizations that haven’t adopted telemedicine, many are scarcely getting their feet wet. While one in three providers are evaluating telemedicine options currently, 20% are two years or more away from adoption and 26% said they would never move in this direction.

Meanwhile, roughly one-third of physician-owned practices reported that they would never adopt telemedicine. One responding physician called it “inherent malpractice,” and another called it a “blatant attempt to circumvent the physical examination.” It seems unlikely that these clinicians will change their views on this topic.

Medical Groups Can Use EHR Data To Analyze Clinical Workflows

Posted on October 17, 2017 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.

Typically, ambulatory care organizations don’t do workflow studies, as leaders assume they have neither the time nor the data available to make it happen.

They may have more options than they think, however. A group of researchers has concluded that timestamp data found in their EHR can be used to predict ambulatory workflow.

The research article, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, notes that workflow studies typically require large amounts of timing data which are too expensive to collect through observation or tracking devices. Historically, ambulatory care organizations have had to make do with observation and intuition rather than sophisticated interventions.

In fact, the relationship between health IT and ambulatory care workflow redesign hasn’t been a friendly one. A 2015 study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concluded that health IT implementations could make a mess of existing workflows. Problems included “a redistribution of clinicians’ and clinic staff’s time on different clinical tasks, repurposed usage of workspace, increased level of interruptions, multitasking, and off-hours work activities.”

According to the current group of researchers, however, these organizations may have the data they need at their fingertips. The study, which used EHR timestamp data to predict ambulatory workflow timings, suggests that this approach is valid.

To conduct the study, the researchers studied the workflow at four outpatient ophthalmology clinics associated with the Oregon Health and Science University, observing their workflows and timing each workflow step. They then mapped the EHR timestamps to workflow steps to see how they compared.

They found that workflow times generated by EHR timestamp analysis were within three minutes of observed times for greater than 80% of the appointments. What variance they did observe between observed times and timestamps seems to have been due to EHR use patterns.

Even giving these variances, ambulatory care organizations can get a lot of value out of EHR timestamp data, researchers said. “EHR timestamps…can be used to create simulation models, analyze HR use, and quantify the impact of trainees on workflow,” they concluded.

Even given this option, few ambulatory care organizations are likely to conduct formal workflow studies unless they’re backed by a deep-pocketed health system. Most medical practices have their hands full collecting what they’re owed by health plans and managing operations on a day-to-day basis.

This isn’t to suggest that they are unsophisticated, but rather, that workflow studies may require a level of time, commitment and resources that smaller practices simply don’t have. Most U.S. medical practices are small businesses.

Still, it’s good to know that if they choose, medical groups can use data already available in their EHR to make meaningful workflow improvements. Perhaps it’s time for vendors to step forward and support the use of EHRs for this purpose.

Increasingly, Physician Practices Paying Fees To Receive Electronic Payments

Posted on October 13, 2017 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.

Virtually no one would argue that health plan reimbursement levels are particularly high. Adding a fee if they want to get paid electronically seems like adding insult to injury, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, one in six medical practices report being hit with these charges, according to research by the Medical Group Management Association. Its recent survey found that some practices are paying a meaningful percentage of total medical services payments to get paid via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT).

Under rules created by the Affordable Care Act, designed to decrease healthcare administrative overhead, CMS created a standard for EFT transactions. Health plans have been required to offer EFT payments if providers request it since 2014.

Health plans’ payment policies seem to vary, however. A recent MGMA Stat poll, which generated responses from more than 900 medical practice leaders, found that while 50% of practices were not paying fees for receiving payments via EFT, others are absorbing big surcharges.

For one thing, health plans are increasingly offering practices a “virtual credit card” they can use to receive payments. While 32% of MGMA respondents said they weren’t sure whether they paid an electronic payments fee or not, other research suggests that many practices end up using virtual credit cards without knowing they would be charged 3-5% per payment received.

Meanwhile, 17% of respondents told MGMA they were definitely paying transaction fees, and of that group, almost 60% said that the health plans in question used a third-party payment vendor.

MGMA sees this as little short of highway robbery. “Some bad actors are fleecing physician groups by charging them to simply receive an electronic paycheck,” said Anders Gilberg, MGMA’s senior vice president for government affairs.

The MGMA is asking CMS to issue guidance preventing health plans and payment vendors from charging EFT-related fees. The group argues that such fees are counter to the goal of reducing healthcare administrative complexity, the stated purpose of requiring health plans to offer EFT payments.

Also, the American Hospital Association and NACHA, the electronic payments association, are asking CMS to set standards on when and how health plans can implement virtual cards, as well as making it easy for practices to move to EFT.

The imposition of fees is particularly unfair given that health plans benefit significantly from issuing EFT payments, the group says. For one thing, health insurers save millions of dollars by sending payments via EFT, MGMA notes. Not only that, sending payments via EFT allows health plans to automate the re-association of electronic payments with the Electronic Remittance Advice.

While it’s true that physician practices used to save time staff would’ve used to manually process and deposit paper checks, that doesn’t make the fees okay, the group argues. “Beyond the material administrative time savings for all sides, the time and resources that physician practices spend on billing and related tasks are better spent delivering healthcare to patients,” it said in a prepared statement.

In What Seems Like An Effort To Make Nice, eClinicalWorks Joins OpenNotes Initiative

Posted on October 12, 2017 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.

eClinicalWorks has decided to try something new. The health IT vendor has announced that it will support the OpenNotes project, an initiative in which doctors share their notes with patients.

As most readers will know, it recently came to light that eClinicalWorks had gotten itself into some very hot water with the feds. eCW was forced to pay a $155 million settlement when the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that it had faked compliance with EMR certification standards.

Now, perhaps in an effort to make nice, eCW is making it possible for its customers to share visit notes using its patient portal. Actually, to be precise, the patient portal already had the ability to offer visit summaries to patients, but OpenNotes capabilities enhance these summaries with additional information.

OpenNotes, for its part, got its start in 2010, when Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System and Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center decided to study the effects of letting patients read their medical notes via a portal.

The study, the results of which were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2012, concluded that patients approved of note-sharing wholeheartedly, felt more in control of their care and had an easier time with medication adherence. Also, while some doctors reported changing documentation during this process, the study also found that doctors saw no significant changes in workload.

Perhaps most telling, at the end of the process 99% of patients wanted OpenNotes to continue, and none of the participating doctors opted out. A movement had been launched.

Since then, a long list of organizations has come on board to drive implementation of open notes, including Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Providence Health System, Salem Health and Oregon Health and Science University. This year, OpenNotes announced that 16 million Americans now had access to their medical notes online.

Back in 2012, I asked readers whether OpenNotes would eventually influence EMR design. Today, I would suggest that the answer is both “yes” and “no.”

On the one hand, I have little doubt that the project helped to advance the notion that patients should have on-demand access to their healthcare information, and moreover, to use it in managing their care. While some doubted this approach would work, OpenNotes can now be said to have sold the idea that health data transparency is a good idea. While the initiative had its doubters at its outset, today patient record access is far better accepted.

On the other hand, eClinicalWorks is the first EMR vendor I’m aware of to explicitly announce its support for OpenNotes. While it’s hard to tell what this means, my guess is that its competitors don’t see a need to take a position on the matter. While vendors are certainly being forced to take patient-facing data access into account, we clearly have a long way to go.

Health System Sues Cerner Over Billing-Related Losses

Posted on October 5, 2017 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.

If I asked you what issues cause the biggest conflicts between EMR vendors and their clients, you might guess that clinical data management disputes or customer service issues topped the list. But actually, in my experience the most common problems health systems encounter in their EMR rollouts are billing-related.

For example, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute just announced a $44.2 million operating loss for the third quarter of fiscal 2017. The Boston-based hospital attributes at least part of its losses to billing issues associated with its Epic system. Leaders at Dana-Farber said that these billing issues had cost the hospital roughly $25 million since it rolled out Epic in May 2015, according to Becker’s Hospital CFO Report.

Another instance comes from Healthcare IT News, which reports that Cerner is being sued by a health system accusing the vendor of selling it faulty billing software.

The suit, by Wisconsin-based Agnesian Healthcare, accuses Cerner of fraud and breach of warranty, and asserts that issues with Cerner’s revenue cycle software led to losses of more than $16 million. The hospital system contends that these problems have damaged its reputation and generated $200,000 a month in damages. (Cerner disputes these allegations, of course.)

According to HIN, the hospital system went live with Cerner’s RCM software in 2015, for which it paid $300,000. Agnesian’s suit says that problems with the Cerner package began shortly after rollout, generating widespread errors in its patient billing statements.

According to the health system, its billing process was so compromised that it had to send out statements by hand. (Yes, I can feel you cringing from here.) Given the delays inherent in relying on manual processes, Agnesian ended up with a huge backlog of unprocessed statements, some of which it deemed uncollectible and wrote off.

When the health system alerted Cerner about its concerns, the vendor got involved, and in 2016 it told Agnesian that problems have been addressed.  Nonetheless, this year the health system found “major additional coding errors” which led to another round of lost revenue, Agnesian says.

And brace yourself for more cringing: according to the suit, the Cerner RCM software had been writing off reimbursable charges without informing the health system. If you’re an RCM leader or CFO, this is the stuff of nightmares.

Ultimately, Cerner agreed that the RCM solution needed to be rebuilt given the depth of the coding errors found in the software, but that didn’t happen, the suit says. In a final indignity, the personnel tasked with rebuilding the RCM solution left Cerner before completing the rebuild.

Given all the aforementioned mishegas, it will be many a month before billing processes normalize even if Cerner fixes its RCM software, the health system says. And of course, it’s likely to end up writing off more bills under the circumstances, which has got to be very painful by this point.

Agnesian’s suit asks the court to cancel the Cerner contract and award it direct, indirect and punitive damages. Cerner, meanwhile, seems to want to go into arbitration. We’ll see which side blinks first.

A Look At Share Everywhere, Epic’s Patient Data Sharing Tool

Posted on September 28, 2017 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.

Lately, it looks like Epic has begun to try and demonstrate that it’s not selling a walled garden. Honestly, I doubt it will manage to convince me, but I’m trying to keep an open mind on the matter. I do have to admit that it’s made some steps forward.

One example of this trend is the launch of App Orchard, a program allowing medical practices and hospitals to build customized apps on its platform. App Orchard also supports independent mobile app developers that target providers and patients.

Marking a break from Epic’s past practices, the new program lets developers use a FHIR-based API to access and Epic development sandbox. (Previously, Epic wouldn’t give mobile app developers permission to connect to its EMR unless a customer requested permission on its behalf.) We’ll have to keep an eye on the contracts they require developers to sign to see if they’re really opening up Epic or not.

But enough about App Orchard. The latest news from Epic is its launch of Share Everywhere, a new tool which will give patients the ability to grant access to their health data to any provider with Internet access. The provider in question doesn’t even have to have an EHR in place. Share Everywhere will be distributed to Epic customers at no cost in the November update of its MyChart portal.

Share Everywhere builds on its Care Everywhere tool, which gives providers the ability to share data with other healthcare organizations. Epic, which launched Care Everywhere ten years ago, says 100% of its health system customers can exchange health data using the C-CDA format.

To use Share Everywhere, patients must log into MyChart and generate a one-time access code. Patients then give the code to any provider with whom they wish to share information, according to a report in Medscape. Once they receive the code, the clinician visits the Share Everywhere website, then uses the code once they verify it against the patient’s date of birth.

As usual, the biggest flaw in all this is that Epic’s still at the center of everything. While patients whose providers use Epic gain options, patients whose health information resides in a non-Epic system gain nothing.

Also, while it’s good that Epic is empowering patients, Direct record sharing seems to offer more. After all, patients using Direct don’t have to use a portal, need not have any particular vendor in the mix, and can attach a wide range of file formats to Direct messages, including PDFs, Word documents and C-CDA files. (This may be why CHIME has partnered with DirectTrust to launch its broad-based HIE.)

Participating does require a modest amount of work — patients have to get a Direct Address from one of its partners — and their provider has to be connected to the DirectTrust network. But given the size of its network, Direct record sharing compares favorably with Share Everywhere, without involving a specific vendor.

Despite my skepticism, I did find Share Everywhere’s patient consent mechanism interesting. Without a doubt, seeing to it that patients have consented to a specific use or transmission of their health data is a valuable service. Someday, blockchain may make this approach obsolete, but for now, it’s something.

Nonetheless, overall I see Share Everywhere as evolutionary, not revolutionary. If this is the best Epic can do when it comes to patient data exchange, I’m not too impressed.

What’s Involved In Getting To EHR 2.0?

Posted on September 22, 2017 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.

While the current crop of EHRs have (arguably) served a useful purpose, I think we’d all agree that there’s a ton of room for improvement. The question is, what will it take to move EHRs forward?

Certainly, we face some significant obstacles to progress.

There are environmental factors in play, such as reimbursement issues.

There’s the question of what providers will do with existing EHR infrastructure, which has cost them tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars if next-gen EHRs call for a new technical approach.

Then, of course, there’s the challenge of making the darn things usable by real, human clinicians. So far, we simply haven’t gotten anything that solves that issue yet.

That doesn’t mean people aren’t considering the issue, however. One health IT leader that’s stepped up to the plate is Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and CIO and dean for technology at Harvard Medical School.

In his Life As Healthcare CIO, Halamka lays out the changes he sees as driving the shift to EHR 2.0. Here are some of his main points:

  • Regulators are shifting their focus from prescribing certain types of EHR functionality to looking at results technology achieves. This supports the healthcare industry’s movement from a data recording focus to an outcomes focus.
  • With doctors being pulled in too many directions, it will take teams to maintain patient health, this calls for a new generation of communication and groupware tools. These tools should include workflow integration, rules-based escalation messages, and routing based on time of day, location, schedules, urgency, and licensure.
  • With value-based purchasing gradually becoming the norm, EHRs need new capabilities. These should include the ability to document care plans and variation from those plans, along with outcomes reported from patient-generated healthcare data. Eventually, this will mean the dawn of the Care Management Medical Record, which enrolls patients and protocols based on their condition then ensures that patients get recommended services.
  • EHRs must be more usable. To accomplish this, it’s helpful to think of EHRs as platforms upon which entrepreneurs can create add-on functionality, along the lines of apps that rest on top of mobile operating systems.
  • Next-gen EHRs need to become more consumer-driven, making patients an equal member of the care team. Although existing EHR models do have patient portals, they aren’t robust enough to connect patients fully with their care, and they don’t include tools helping patients navigate their care system.

As far as I can tell, Dr. Halamka has covered the majority of issues we need to address in transitioning to new EHR models. I was also interested to learn that regulatory bodies have begun to “get it” about the limitations of demanding certain functions be included in an EHR system.

I’m still left with one question, however. How does interoperability fit into this picture? Can we even get to the next generation of EHRs without answering the question of how they share data between one another? To me, it’s clear that the answer is no, we can’t leave this issue aside.

Other than that, though, I found Dr. Halamka’s analysis to be fairly comforting. Nothing he’s described is out of reach, unless, of course, vendors won’t cooperate. I think that as providers reach the conclusions he has, they’ll demand the kind of functionality he’s outlined, and vendors will have no choice but to pony up. In other words, there might actually be light at the end of the EHR tunnel.

Virtual Reality Offers New Options For Healthcare Data Analysis

Posted on September 21, 2017 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.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been interested in virtual reality. In fact, given my long-time gaming habit, I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the time when VR-enabled games become part of the consumer mainstream.

Until I read the following article, however, I hadn’t given much thought to how VR technology could be used outside of the consumer sphere. In the article, the author makes a compelling case that VR tools may be the next frontier in big data analytics.

The author’s arguments include the following:

  • VR use allows big data users to analyze data dynamically, as it allows users to “reach out and touch” the data they are studying.
  • Using an approach known as immersive data visualization, coupled with haptic or kinesthetic interfaces, users can understand data intuitively and discover patterns.
  • VR allows users to view and manipulate huge amounts of data simply by looking at them. “VR enables you to capably stack relevant data, pare it and create visual cues so that you can cross-refer instantly,” the author writes.
  • With VR tools, users can interact naturally with data. Rather than glancing at reports, or reviewing spreadsheets, they can “manipulate data streams, push windows around, press buttons and actually walk around data worlds,” the article says.
  • VR makes multi-dimensional data analysis simpler. By using their hands and hearing, you just can pin down the subject, location and significance of specific data sources.

Though these concepts have been percolating for quite a while, I haven’t found any robust use cases for VR-based big data analytics either in or outside of healthcare. (They may well exist, and if you know of one above to hear about it.)

Still, a wide range of healthcare-related VR applications are emerging, including both inpatient care and medical education. I don’t think it will be long now before smart health IT leaders like yourselves begin to apply this approach to healthcare data visualization.

Ultimately, it seems likely that some of the healthcare data technologies are in play will converge with VR applications. By combining immersive or partially-immersive VR technologies with AI and big data analytics tools, healthcare organizations will be able to transform their data-guided outcomes efforts far more easily. And future use cases abound.

Hospitals could use VR to model throughput within the ED and, by layering clinical and transactional data over traffic statistics, doing a much better job of boosting efficiency.

I imagine health insurers combining claims records and clinical performance data, then using VR to as a next-gen tool predict how value-based care contracting play out in certain markets.

We may even see a time when surgeons wear VR glasses and, when perplexed in mid-procedure, can summon big data-driven feedback on options that improve patient survival.

Of course, VR is just set of technologies, and it can’t offer answers to questions we don’t know to ask. However, I do think that by people using their intuition more effectively, VR-based data analysis may extract new and valuable insights from existing data sets. It may take a while for this to happen, but I believe that it will.

Say It One More Time: EHRs Are Hard To Use

Posted on September 19, 2017 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.

I don’t know about you, but I was totes surprised to hear about another study pointing out that doctors have good reasons to hate their EHR. OK, not really surprised – just a bit sadder on their account – but I admit I’m awed that any single software system can be (often deservedly) hated this much and in this many ways.

This time around, the parties calling out EHR flaws were the American Medical Association and the University of Wisconsin, which just published a paper in the Annals of Family Medicine looking at how primary care physicians use their EHR.

To conduct their study, researchers focused on how 142 family physicians in southeastern Wisconsin used their Epic system. The team dug into Epic event logging records covering a three-year period, sorting out whether the activities in question involved direct patient care or administrative functions.

When they analyzed the data, the researchers found that clinicians spent 5.9 hours of an 11.4-hour workday interacting with the EHR. Clerical and administrative tasks such as documentation, order entry, billing and coding and system security accounted about 44% of EHR time and inbox management roughly another 24% percent.

As the U of W article authors see it, this analysis can help practices make better use of clinicians’ time. “EHR event logs can identify areas of EHR-related work that could be delegated,” they conclude, “thus reducing workload, improving professional satisfaction, and decreasing burnout.”

The AMA, for its part, was not as detached. In a related press release, the trade group argued that the long hours clinicians spend interacting with EHRs are due to poor system design. Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to connect the study results directly to this conclusion, but of course, the group isn’t wrong about the low levels of usability most EHRs foist on doctors.

To address EHR design flaws, the AMA says, there are eight priorities vendors should consider, including that the systems should:

  • Enhance physicians’ ability to provide high-quality care
  • Support team-based care
  • Promote care coordination
  • Offer modular, configurable products
  • Reduce cognitive workload
  • Promote data liquidity
  • Facilitate digital and mobile patient engagement
  • Integrate user input into EHR product design and post-implementation feedback

I’m not sure all of these points are as helpful as they could be. For example, there are approximately a zillion ways in which an EHR could enhance the ability to provide high-quality care, so without details, it’s a bit of a wash. I’d say the same thing about the digital/mobile patient engagement goal.

On the other hand, I like the idea of reducing cognitive workload (which, in cognitive psychology, refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in working memory). There’s certainly evidence, both within and outside medicine, which underscores the problems that can occur if professionals have too much to process. I’m confident vendors can afford design experts who can address this issue directly.

Ultimately, though, it’s not important that the AMA churns out a perfect list of usability testing criteria. In fact, they shouldn’t have to be telling vendors what they need at this point. It’s a shame EHR vendors still haven’t gotten the usability job done.