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Few Practices Rely Solely On EMR Analytics Tools To Wrangle Data

Posted on May 23, 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.

A new survey done by a trade group representing medical practices has concluded that only a minority of practices are getting full use of their EMR’s analytics tools.

The survey, which was reported on by Becker’s Hospital Review, was conducted by the Medical Group Management Association.  The MGMA’s survey called on about 900 of its members to ask how their practices used EMRs for analytics.

First, and most unexpectedly in today’s data-driven world, 11 percent of respondents said that they don’t analyze their EMR data at all.

Thirty-one percent of respondents told MGMA that they use all of their EMR’s analytical capabilities, and 22 percent of respondents said they used some of their EMR’s analytics capabilities.

Another 31 percent reported that they were using both their EMR’s analytics tools and tools from an external vendor. Meanwhile, 5 percent said they used only an external vendor for data analytics.

According to Derek Kosiorek, CPEHR, CPHIT, principal consultant with MGMA’s Health Care Consulting Group, the survey results aren’t as surprising as they may seem. In fact, few groups are likely to get  everything they need from EMR data, he notes.

“Many practices do not have the resources to mine the data and organize it in ways to create new insights from the clinical, administrative and financial information being captured daily,” said Kosiorek in a related blog post. “Even if your practice has the staff with the knowledge and time to create reports, the system often requires an add-on product sold by the vendor or an outside product or service to analyze the data.”

However, he predicts that this will change in the near future. Not only will EMR analytics help groups to tame their internal data, it will also aggregate data from varied community settings such as the emergency department, outpatient care and nursing homes, he suggests. He also expects to see analytics tools offer a perspective on care issues brought by regional data for similar patients.

At this point I’m going to jump in and pick up the mic. While I haven’t seen anyone from MGMA comment on this, I think this data – and Kosiorek’s comments in particular – underscore the tension between population health models and day-to-day medical practice. Specifically, they remind us that doctors and regional health systems naturally have different perspectives on why and how they use data.

On the one hand there’s medical practices which, from what I’ve seen, are of necessity practical. These providers want first and foremost to make individual patients feel good and if sick get better. If that can be done safely and effectively I doubt most care about how they do it. Sure, doctors are aware of pop health issues, but those aren’t and can’t be their priority in most cases.

Then, you have hospitals, health systems and ACOs, which are already at the forefront of population health management. For them, having a consistent and comprehensive set of tools for analyzing clinical data across their network is becoming job one. That’s far removed from focusing on day-to-day patient care.

It’s all well and good to measure whether physicians use EMR analytics tools or not. The real issue is whether large health organizations and practices can develop compatible analytics goals.

E-Patient Update: The Kaiser Permanente Approach To Consumer Health IT

Posted on May 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.

Usually, particularly when I have complaints, I don’t name the providers or vendors who serve my healthcare needs, largely because I don’t want to let my personal gripes overshadow my analysis of a particular health IT issue.

That being said, I thought I’d veer from that rule today, as I wanted to share some details on how Kaiser Permanente, my new provider and health plan, supports consumers with health IT functions. Despite having started with Kaiser – in this case the DC metro division – less than a week ago, being an e-patient I’ve had my hands all over its Web – and mobile-based options for patients.

I’m not going to say the system is perfect by any means. There are some blind alleys on the web site, and some problems in integrating clinical information into consumer records, but so far their set-up largely seems thoughtful and well-managed.

Having allegedly spent $4 billion plus on its Epic rollout, it’s hard to imagine how Kaiser could have realized that big a return even several years later, but it seems that the healthcare giant is at least doing many of the right things.

Getting enrolled

My first contact with Kaiser, after signing up with Healthcare.gov, was a piece of snail-mail which provided us with our insurance cards and a summary of our particular coverage. The insurance cards included my health plan ID/medical record number.

To enroll on the core Kaiser site, kp.org, I had to supply the record number, my birth date and a few other basic pieces of information. I also downloaded the KP app, which offers a far-more-elegant interface to the same functions.

Medical appointments

Once logged in, it was easy to choose a primary care doctor and OB/GYN by searching the site and clicking a selection button. If you wished you could review physician profiles and educational history as well as testimonial quotes from patients about that doctor before you chose them.

Having chosen a doctor, booking an appointment with them online was easy.  As with Zocdoc.com, you entered a range of dates for a possible consult, then chose the slot that worked for you. And if you need to cancel one of those appointments, it’s easy to do so online.

Digital communication

I was glad to see that the Kaiser portal allows you to email your doctor directly, something which is less common than you might think. (My last primary care group wouldn’t even put their doctors on the phone.)

Not only that, everyone I’ve talked to at KP so far– three medical appointments, as I was playing catch-up — has stressed that the email function isn’t just for show. My new providers insisted that they do answer email messages, and that I shouldn’t hesitate to write if I have questions or concerns.

Another way KP leverages digital communications is the simple, but effective, device of texting me when my prescriptions are due for a refill. This may not sound like much, but convenience matters! (I can also check med reminders by logging in to a custom KP meds app.)

Data sharing

Given that everyone at Kaiser uses the same Epic EMR, clinicians are of course more aware of what their colleagues are doing than my past gaggle of disconnected specialists. They seem quite serious about reading this history before seeing me, something which past physicians haven’t always done, even if I was previously seen by someone else in their practice.

KP also uses Epic’s Care Everywhere function, which allows them to pull in a limited summary of care from other Epic-based providers. While Care Everywhere has limits, the providers are making use of what they can.

One small wrinkle was that prior to two of my visits, I filled out a questionnaire online and when asked to submit it to my electronic patient record, did so. Nonetheless, I was asked to fill out the same questionnaire again, on paper, when I saw a specialist.

Test results

KP seems to be set up appropriately to share standard test results. However, I’ve already had one test, a mammogram, and in doing so found out that their data sharing infrastructure isn’t quite complete.

After being scanned, I was told that I’d receive my results via snail-mail, in about two weeks. I’m glad that this was a routine screening, rather than a test to investigate something scary, as I would have been pretty upset with this news if I was worried.

My conclusions

I don’t want to romanticize Kaiser’s consumer HIT services. After all, looked at one way, KP is only doing what integrated health systems are supposed to do, and not without at least a few hitches.

Still, at least on first view, on the whole I’m pretty happy with how Kaiser’s interactive functions are deployed, as well the general attitude staff members seem to have about consumer use of HIT tools. Generally speaking, they seem to encourage it, and for someone like me that’s quite welcome.

As I see it, if providers outside of the Kaiser bubble were as married to a shared infrastructure as KP providers are, my care would be much improved. Let’s see if I still if I still feel that way after the new health plan smell has worn off!

Dogged By Privacy Concerns, Consumers Wonder If Using HIT Is Worthwhile

Posted on May 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.

I just came across a survey suggesting that while we in the health IT world see a world of possibilities in emerging technologies, consumers aren’t so sure. The researchers found that consumers question the value of many tech platforms popular with health execs, apparently because they don’t trust providers to keep their personal health data secure.

The study, which was conducted between September and December 2016, was done by technology research firm Black Book. To conduct the survey, Black Book reached out to 12,090 adult consumers across the United States.

The topline conclusion from the study was that 57 percent of consumers who had been exposed to HIT through physicians, hospitals or ancillary providers doubted its benefits. Their concerns extended not only to EHRs, but also to many commonly-deployed solutions such as patient portals and mobile apps. The survey also concluded that 70 percent of Americans distrusted HIT, up sharply from just 10 percent in 2014.

Black Book researchers tied consumers’ skepticism to their very substantial  privacy concerns. Survey data indicated that 87 percent of respondents weren’t willing to divulge all of their personal health data, even if it improved their care.

Some categories of health information were especially sensitive for consumers. Ninety-nine percent were worried about providers sharing their mental health data with anyone but payers, 90 percent didn’t want their prescription data shared and 81 percent didn’t want information on their chronic conditions shared.

And their data security worries go beyond clinical data. A full 93 percent responding said they were concerned about the security of their personal financial information, particularly as banking and credit card data are increasingly shared among providers.

As a result, at least some consumers said they weren’t disclosing all of their health information. Also, 69 percent of patients admitted that they were holding back information from their current primary care physicians because they doubted the PCPs knew enough about technology to protect patient data effectively.

One of the reason patients are so protective of their data is because many don’t understand health IT, the survey suggested. For example, Black Book found that 92 percent of nurse leaders in hospital under 200 beds said they had no time during the discharge process to improve patient tech literacy. (In contrast, only 55 percent of nurse leaders working in large hospitals had this complaint, one of the few bright spots in Black Book’s data.)

When it comes to tech training, medical practices aren’t much help either. A whopping 96 percent of patients said that physicians and staff didn’t do a good job of explaining how to use the patient portal. About 40 percent of patients tried to use their medical practice’s portal, but 83 percent said they had trouble using it when they were at home.

All that being said, consumers seemed to feel much differently about data they generate on their own. In fact, 91 percent of consumers with wearables reported that they’d like to see their physician practice’s medical record system store any health data they request. In fact, 91 percent of patients who feel that their apps and devices were important to improving their health were disappointed when providers wouldn’t store their personal data.

Researcher Puts Epic In Third Place For EMR Market Share

Posted on May 16, 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.

A new research report tracking market share held by EMR vendors puts Epic in third place, behind Cerner and McKesson, a conclusion which is likely to spark debate among industry watchers.

The analyst firm behind the report, Rockville, MD-based Kalorama Information, starts by pointing out that despite the hegemony maintained by larger EMR vendors, the competition for business is still quite lively. With customers still dissatisfied with their systems, the hundreds of vendors still in the market have a shot at thriving, it notes.

Kalorama publisher Bruce Carlson argues that until the larger firms get their act together, there will still be plenty of opportunity for these scrappy smaller players: “It’s still true to say no company, not even the largest healthcare IT firms, have even a fifth of this market,” Carlson said in a published statement. “We think that is because there’s still usability, vendor-switching, lack of mindshare in the market and customers are aching for better.”

In calculating how much each vendor has of the EMR market, the analyst firm estimated each vendors’ hardware, software and services revenue flowing directly from EMRs, breaking out the percentage each category represented for each vendor. All projects were based on 2016 data.

Among the giants, Kalorama ranks Cerner as having the biggest market share, McKesson as second in place and Epic as third. The report’s observations include:

  • That Cerner is picking up new business, in part, due to the addition of its CernerITWorks suite, which works with hospital IT departments, and Cerner RevWorks, which supports revenue cycle management functions. Kalorama also attributes Cerner’s success to the acquisition of Siemens IT and its having won the Department of Defense EMR contract.
  • That McKesson is building on its overall success as a health IT vendor, which puts it in a good position to build on its existing technology. For example, it has solutions addressing medication safety, information access, revenue cycle management, resource use and physician adoption of EMRs, including Paragon, Horizon, EHRM, Star and Series for hospitals, along with Practice Partners, Practice Point Plus and Fusion for ambulatory care.
  • That Epic serves giant customers like Kaiser Permanente, as well as holding a major share of new business in the EMR market. Kalorama is predicting that Epic will pick up more ambulatory customers, which it has focused on more closely of late.

The report also lists Allscripts Healthcare Solution, which came in fourth. Meanwhile, it tosses in GE Healthcare, Athenahealth’s Intersystems, QSI/NextGen, MEDITECH, Greenway and eClinicalWorks in with a bundle of at least 600 companies active in the EMR market.

The report summary we editors got didn’t include some details on how the market components broke down. I would like to know more about the niches in which these vendors play.

For example, having seen a prediction earlier this year that the physician practice market would hit $17.6 billion worldwide within seven years, it would be interesting to see that dot connected with the rest of the market share information. Specifically, I’d like to know how much of the ambulatory EMR market included integrated practice management software. That would tell me something about where overall solutions for physicians were headed.

However, I still got something out of the information Kalorama shared.  As our esteemed publisher John Lynn often notes, all market share measurements are a bit, um, idiosyncratic at best, and some are not even that reliable. But as I see it the estimates are worth considering nonetheless, as they challenge us to look at the key moving parts in the EMR market. Hey, and it gives us something to talk about at tradeshow parties!

Using AI To Streamline EMR Workflow For Clinicians

Posted on May 10, 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.

Understandably, most of the discussion around AI use in healthcare focuses on data analytics for population health management and predictive analytics. Given the massive scale of the data we’re collecting, that’s no surprise.

In fact, one could argue that using AI technologies has gone from an interesting idea to an increasingly established parto the health IT mix. After all, few human beings can truly understand what’s revealed by terabytes of data on their own, even using well-designed dashboards, filters, scripting and what have you. I believe it takes a self-educating AI “persona,” if you will, to glean advanced insights from the eternity of information we have today.

That being said, I believe there’s other compelling uses for AI-fueled technologies for healthcare organizations. If we use even a relatively simple form of interpretive intelligence, we can improve health IT workflows for clinicians.

As clinicians have pointed out over and over, most of what they do with EMRs is repetitive monkey work, varied only by the need to customize small but vital elements of the medical record. Tasks related to that work – such as sending copies of a CT scan to a referring doctor – usually have to be done in another application. (And that’s if they’re lucky. They might be forced to hunt down and mail a DVD disc loaded with the image.)

Then there’s documentation work which, though important enough, has to be done in a way to satisfy payers. I know some practice management systems that integrate with the office EMR auto-populate the patient record with coding and billing information, but my sense is that this type of automation wouldn’t scale within a health system given the data silos that still exist.

What if we used AI to make all of this easier for providers? I’m talking about using a predictive intelligence, integrated with the EMR, that personalizes the way data entry, documentation and follow-up needs are presented. The AI solution could automatically queue up or even execute some of the routine tasks on its own, leaving doctors to focus on the essence of their work. We all know Dr. Z doesn’t really want to chase down that imaging study and mail it to Albany. AI technology could also route patients to testing and scans in the most efficient manner, adjusted for acuity of course.

While AI development has been focused on enterprise issues for some time, it’s already moving beyond the back office into day-to-day care. In fact, always-ahead-of-the-curve Geisinger Health System is already doing a great deal to bring AI and predictive analytics to the bedside.

Geisinger, which has had a full-featured EMR in place since 1996, was struggling to aggregate and manage patient data, largely because its legacy analytics systems couldn’t handle the flood of new data types emerging today.

To address the problem, the system rolled out a unified data architecture which allowed it to integrate current data with its existing data analytics and management tools. This includes a program bringing together all sepsis-vulnerable patient information in one place as they travel through the hospital. The tool uses real-time data to track patients in septic shock, helping doctors to stick to protocols.

As for me, I’d like to see AI tools pushed further. Let’s use them to lessen the administrative burden on overworked physicians, eliminating needless chores and simplifying documentation workflow. And it’s more than time to use AI capabilities to create a personalized, efficient EMR workflow for every clinician.

Think I’m dreaming here? I hope not! Using AI to eliminate physician hassles could be a very big deal.

Is It Time To Divorce Your HIT Vendor?

Posted on May 2, 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.

Few organizations are totally satisfied with their technology vendors. Even if they’re doing their best, their relationship with you can be disrupted by issues like staff turnover, changes in the product roadmap or an acquisition. Depending on how well your partnership worked in the first place – and how dependent you are on their technology – you may choose to ride out such issues.

But there are times that you have to make some hard decisions about your future with a vendor, particularly if their overall strategy diverges from yours. If you’re wondering how to sort out whether you need to part ways, you might want to consider some suggestions from Dick Taylor, MD, executive vice president with healthcare IT consulting firm MedSys Group. Dr. Taylor’s “Signs Your Vendor’s Not That Into You” include:

  • The new upgrade comes with sticker shock: If the new software calls for a costly “forklift upgrade,” and all told will create a lot of expense and issues, be concerned.
  • Their technology is very dated: If the vendor hasn’t adopted current technologies like virtualization, web services and the cloud – or at least considered whether they’re appropriate for customer needs — it’s a bad sign. Remember that part of your maintenance fees should go to long-term planning by the vendor that incorporates emerging tech as needed.
  • They haven’t stayed in touch post-sale: Expect for not only sales people to touch base, but also experts from R&D, support engineering and implementation to check in and ask about your needs and concerns. If they don’t, maybe they just see you as a revenue stream.
  • Their engineering staff has been gutted: Some vendors reduce their engineering roster, particularly if they’ve acquired the product in question, seemingly in the belief that their source code will maintain itself. This will not end well.
  • They don’t have customers like you on board anymore: You don’t want to be part of a dying customer base. In fact, you want to make sure other customers like you – such as, say, other large health systems – are still part of the mix. Otherwise, it’s unlikely developers will address your specific interests.
  • They’ve lost their focus: Given the rapid pace at which new healthcare technologies emerge, it’s easy for vendors to get distracted. Of course, it’s all well and good that they’re aware of cutting-edge technologies. That being said, make sure they don’t plan to rush in a new direction and ignore your needs.

Other vendor warning signs that came to mind for me included:

  • They don’t respond promptly to service requests
  • The people who interact with you are rude or poorly trained
  • Their new contract has hidden “gotchas” in it that they won’t consider addressing
  • The product can no longer do the job for which you acquired it, and they don’t seem capable of fixing it to your satisfaction

In some ways, important vendor relationship are like marriages in that every situation is different and that some give and take is involved. But if your relationship isn’t working, or undermining your plans, you’ve probably reached the end of the road.

Collaborating With Patients On Visit Agendas Improves Communication

Posted on April 26, 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.

Maybe it’s because I spent many years as a reporter, but when I meet with a doctor I get all of my questions out, even if I don’t plan things out in advance. I realize that this barrage may be unnerving for some doctors, but if I need to fire off a bunch of questions to understand my care, I’m going to do it.

That being said, I realize most people are more like my family members. Both my husband and my mother feel overwhelmed at medical visits, and often fail to ask the questions they want answered. I don’t know if they feel pressured by the rapid pace of your typical medical visit, afraid to offend their doctor or have trouble figuring out what information will help them most effectively, but clearly, they don’t feel in control of the situation.

Given their concerns, I wasn’t surprised to learn that letting patients create and share an agenda for their medical visit – before they see their provider – seems to improve physician-patient communication substantially. New research suggests that when patients set the agenda for their visit, both the patient and their doctor like the results.

Study details

The paper, which appeared in the Annals of Family Medicine, said that researchers conducted their study at Harborview Medical Center, a safety-net county hospital in Seattle. The researchers recruited patients and clinicians for the study between June 9 and July 22, 2015 at the HMC Adult Medicine Clinic. The 67-clinician primary care clinic serves about 5,000 patients per year.

When participating patients came in for a visit, a researcher assistant met them in the waiting room and gave them a laptop computer with the EMR interface displayed. The participating patients then typed their agenda for the visit in the progress notes section of their medical record. Clinicians then reviewed that agenda, either before entering the exam room or upon entering.

After the visit, patients were given a survey asking them for demographic information, self-reported health status and perceptions of the agenda-driven visit. Meanwhile, clinicians filled out a separate survey asking them for their gender, age, role in the clinic and their own perceptions of the patient agenda.

After reviewing the survey data, researchers concluded that using a collaborative visit agenda is probably a good idea. Seventy nine percent of patients and 74 percent of clinicians felt the agendas improved patient-clinician communication, and both types of participants wanted to use visit agendas agenda (73 percent of patients and 82 percent of clinicians).

Flawed but still valuable

In closing, the authors admitted that the study had its technical limits, including the use of a small convenient sample at a single clinic with no comparison group, It’s also worth noting that the study drew from a vulnerable population which might not be representative of most healthcare consumers.

Nonetheless, researchers feel these data points to a broader trend, in which patients have become increasingly comfortable with electronic health data. “The patient cogeneration of visit notes, facilitated by new EMR functionality, reflects a shift in the authorship and “ownership” of [their data],” the study points out. (I can’t help but agree that this is the case, and moreover, that patients’ response to programs  like Open Notes support their conclusion.)

I’m not sure if my mom or hubby would buy into this approach, but I imagine that if they did, they might find it helpful. Let’s hope the idea catches fire, and helps ordinary consumers take more control of their clinical relationships.

Could AI And Healthcare Chatbots Help Clinicians Communicate With Patients?

Posted on April 25, 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.

AI-driven chatbots are becoming increasingly popular for a number of reasons, including improving technology and a need to automate some routine processes. (I’d also argue that these models are emerging because millennials and Gen Z-ers have spent their lives immersed in online-based social environments, and are far less likely to be afraid of or uncomfortable with such things.)

Given the maturation of the technology, I’m not surprised to see a number of AI-driven chatbots for healthcare emerging.  Some of these merely capture symptoms, such as the diabetes, CHF and mental health monitoring options by Sense.ly.

But other AI-based chatbots attempt to go much further. One emerging company, X2ai, is rolling out a psychology-oriented chatbot offering mental health counseling, Another, UK-based startup Babylon Health, offers a text-only mobile apps which provides medical evaluations and screenings. The app is being pilot-tested with the National Health Service, where early reports say that it’s diagnosing and triaging patients successfully.

One area I haven’t seen explored, though, is using a chatbot to help doctors handle routine communications with patients. Such an app could not only triage patients, as with the NHS example, but also respond to routine email messages.

Scheduling and administration

The reality is that while doctors and nurses are used to screening patients via telephone, they’re afraid of being swamped by tons of electronic patient messages. Many feel that if they agree to respond to patient email messages via a patient portal, they’ll spend too much time doing so. With most already time-starved, it’s not surprising that they’re worried about this.

But a combination of AI and healthcare chatbot technology could reduce their time required to engage patients. In fact, the right solution could address a few medical practice workflow issues at one time.

First, it could triage and route patient concerns to doctors and advanced practice nurses, something that’s done now by unqualified clerks or extremely busy nurses. For example, the patient would be able to tell the chatbot why they wanted to schedule a visit, with the chatbot teasing out some nuances in their situation. Then, the chatbot could kick the information over to the patient’s provider, who could, with a few clicks, forward a request to schedule either an urgent or standard consult.

Perhaps just as important, the AI technology could sit atop messages sent between provider and patient. If the patient message asked a routine question – such as when their test results would be ready – the system could bounce back a templated message stating, for instance, that test results typically take five business days to post on the patient portal. It could also send templated responses to requests for medical records, questions about doctor availability or types of insurance accepted and so on.

Diagnosis and triage

Meanwhile, if the AI concludes that the patient has a health concern to address, it could send back a link to the chatbot, which would ask pertinent questions and send the responses to the treating clinician. At that point, if things look questionable, the doctor might choose to intervene with their own email message or phone call.

Of course, providers will probably be worried about relying on a chatbot for patient triage, especially the legal consequences if the bot misses something important. But over time, if health chatbot pilots like the UK example offer good results, they may eventually be ready to give this approach a shot.

Also, patients may be uncertain about working with a chatbot at first. But if physicians stress that they’re not trying put them off, but rather, to save time so they can take their time when patients need them, I think they’ll be satisfied.

I admit that under ideal circumstances, clinicians would have more time to communicate with patients directly. But the truth is, they simply don’t, and pressuring them to take phone calls or respond to every online message from patients won’t work.

Besides, as providers work to prepare for value-based care, they’ll need not only physician extenders, but physician extender-extenders like chatbots to engage patients and keep track of their needs. So let’s give them a shot.

Provider-Backed Health Data Interoperability Organization Launches

Posted on April 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.

In 1988, some members of the cable television industry got together to form CableLabs, a non-proft innovation center and R&D lab. Since then, the non-profit has been a driving force in bringing cable operators together, developing technologies and specifications for services as well as offering testing and certification facilities.

Among its accomplishments is the development of DOCSIS (Data-over-Cable Service Interface Specification), a standard used worldwide to provide Internet access via a cable modem. If your cable modem is DOCSIS compliant, it can be used on any modern cable network.

If you’re thinking this approach might work well in healthcare, you’re not the only one. In fact, a group of powerful healthcare providers as just launched a health data sharing-focused organization with a similar approach.

The Center for Medical Interoperability, which will be housed in a 16,000-square-foot location in Nashville, is a membership-based organization offering a testing and certification lab for devices and systems. The organization has been in the works since 2011, when the Gary and Mary West Health Institute began looking at standards-based approaches to medical device interoperability.

The Center brings together a group of top US healthcare systems – including HCA Healthcare, Vanderbilt University and Community Health Systems — to tackle interoperability issues collaboratively.  Taken together, the board of directors represent more than 50 percent of the healthcare industry’s purchasing power, said Kerry McDermott, vice president of public policy and communications for the Center.

According to Health Data Management, the group will initially focus on acute care setting within a hospital, such as the ICU. In the ICU, patients are “surrounded by dozens of medical devices – each of which knows something valuable about the patient  — but we don’t have a streamlined way to aggregate all that data and make it useful for clinicians,” said McDermott, who spoke with HDM.

Broadly speaking, the Center’s goal is to let providers share health information as seamlessly as ATMs pass banking data across their network. To achieve that goal, its leaders hope to serve as a force for collaboration and consensus between healthcare organizations.

The project’s initial $10M in funding, which came from the Gary and Mary West Foundation, will be used to develop, test and certify devices and software. The goal will be to develop vendor-neutral approaches that support health data sharing between and within health systems. Other goals include supporting real-time one-to-many communications, plug-and-play device and system integration and the use of standards, HDM reports.

It will also host a lab known as the Transformation Learning Center, which will help clinicians explore the impact of emerging technologies. Clinicians will develop use cases for new technologies there, as well as capturing clinical requirements for their projects. They’ll also participate in evaluating new technologies on their safety, usefulness, and ability to satisfy patients and care teams.

As part of its efforts, the Center is taking a close look at the FHIR API.  Still, while FHIR has great potential, it’s not mature yet, McDermott told the magazine.

A Tool For Evaluating E-Health Applications

Posted on April 11, 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 recent years, developers have released a staggering number of mobile health applications, with nearly 150,000 available as of 2015. And the demand for such apps is rising, with the mHealth services market projected to reach $26 billion globally this year, according to analyst firm Research 2 Guidance.

Unfortunately, given the sheer volume of apps available, it’s tricky to separate the good from the bad. We haven’t even agreed on common standards by which to evaluate such apps, and neither regulatory agencies nor professional associations have taken a firm position on the subject.

For example, while we have seen groups like the American Medical Association endorse the use of mobile health applications, their acceptance came with several caveats. While the organization conceded that such apps might be OK, it noted that such approval applies only if the industry develops an evidence base demonstrating that the apps are accurate, effective, safe and secure. And other than broad practice guidelines, the trade group didn’t get into the details of how its members could evaluate app quality.

However, at least one researcher has made an attempt at developing standards which identify the best e-Health software apps and computer programs. Assistant professor Amit Baumel, PhD, of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, has recently led a team that created a tool to evaluate the quality and therapeutic potential of such applications.

To do his research, a write-up of which was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Baumel developed an app-rating tool named Enlight. Rather than using automated analytics, Enlight was designed as a manual scale to be filled out by trained raters.

To create the foundation for Enlight, researchers reviewed existing literature to decide which criteria were relevant to determine app quality. The team identified a total of 476 criteria from 99 sources to build the tool. Later, the researchers tested Enlight on 42 mobile apps and 42 web-based programs targeting modifiable behaviors related to medical illness or mental health.

Once tested, researchers rolled out the tool. Enlight asked participants to score 11 different aspects of app quality, including usability, visual design, therapeutic persuasiveness and privacy. When they evaluated the responses, they found that Enlighten raters reached substantially similar results when rating a given app. They also found that all of the eHealth apps rated “fair” or above received the same range of scores for user engagement and content – which suggests that consumer app users have more consistent expectations than we might have expected.

That being said, Baumel’s team noted that even if raters like the content and found the design to be engaging, that didn’t necessarily mean that the app would change people’s behaviors. The researchers concluded that patients need not only a persuasive app design, but also qualities that support a therapeutic alliance.

In the future, the research team plans to research which aspects of app quality do a better job at predicting user behaviors. They’re also testing the feasibility of rolling out an Enlight-based recommendation system for clinicians and end users. If they do succeed, they’ll be addressing a real need. We can’t continue to integrate patient-generated app data until we can sort great apps from useless, inaccurate products.