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A Look At An Interoperability Option For Lab Tests and Services

Posted on December 6, 2016 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 I don’t go to the right parties, but I hadn’t heard that HL7 had released an implementation guide offering a standardized way for providers and other health organizations to exchange catalogs of lab tests and services. But I just learned the basics from a recent article on ONC’s HealthIT Buzz blog, and thought you might find them interesting.

The article, which was authored by execs with the American Clinical Laboratory Association, says the new guide can help labs share data electronically in a way that wasn’t possible before. Right now, the article notes, most clinical practice managers in the US must manually curate lab test catalogs. While the article doesn’t specify, it’s hard to imagine how this could fail to be a very time-consuming process.

However, under the new model, things are much different. The HL7 invitation guide describes how labs can provide electronic Directory of Services (eDOS) information to all providers ordering lab work, regardless of whether they are using EHRs, laboratory information systems or other platforms. Also, the guide explains how these labs can enable lab-to-EHR interoperability by using data formats that EHRs can incorporate into lab ordering systems.

The release of the eDOS guide follows a long-term effort by the American Clinical Laboratory Association to standardize lab catalogs for most commonly-ordered tests. The article authors, Steven Posnack and Thomas Sparkman of the ACLA, contend that by using the guide to automate eDOS, practices can reduce labor costs, improve test ordering accuracy through clinical decision support and even phase in precision medicine more rapidly as labs add new services. What’s more, using eDOS, EHRs would be able to import lab test companion information directly, in minutes, which is not possible in most current configurations.

And hear them tell it, the benefits to providers will be tangible. They note that according to ACLA estimates, a typical practice ordering an average of 1,000 frequently-ordered lab tests could potentially save $94,500 solely by using eDOS.

The article also suggests that eDOS implementations are good for labs and health IT developers. They point out that in most cases, specs for laboratory interfaces are customized one offs and nonstandard, but that under eDOS, the specs standardize laboratory data exchange from end to end.

As a non-developer, I can’t comment on how effective this framework is, though the argument made by the ACLA seems promising from a business standpoint. Still, speaking as an observer of this industry for quite some time, I still wish I was hearing about broader solutions that might actually work, rather than solving the problems within one of healthcare’s many silos.

That being said, if it’s actually possible to dramatically boost the efficiency of lab data sharing, the industry should have at it. We can’t let the ideal be the enemy of the better, I suppose.

Advanced APM Timeline – MACRA Monday

Posted on December 5, 2016 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Last week we posted about the APM Expansion in MACRA and the new PTAC Committee. Today we’ll dive into the timelines for APMs. They can get pretty confusing, so hopefully after you read this post you’ll have a better idea on how the APM timelines work.

Before we dive into the timelines, I also wanted to make a quick note of the benefits related to participating in an APM. The APM benefits really didn’t change in the MACRA final rule so our previous post on Advanced APM incentives is still accurate as well.

As we noted before, participating as an advanced APM provides incentives on top of whatever rewards are part of your original APM agreement. Under MACRA, you just get an extra 5% bonus on top of your pre-MACRA rewards for being in an APM. Here are the 3 main benefits of participating as an advanced APM under MACRA:
advanced-apm-benefits

As far as reporting as an Advanced APM, CMS will take three “snapshots” on March 31, June 30, and August 31 in order to determine which eligible providers are eligible as an Advanced APM and meet the thresholds to become a Qualified APM participant.

Here’s the official timeline details from CMS:

cms-apm-determination-timeline

At point B, the snapshots are taken to determine eligibility and at point D in the graph above, eligible providers will be notified of their APM eligibility. Yes, this is a very compressed timeline, so it behooves you to get started early. Remember that if you don’t qualify as an Advanced APM, then you still have to participate in MIPS.

The timeline for paying the 5% reward for being part of a qualified Advanced APM is still 2019 for reporting year 2017. 2018 reporting year will determine payouts for 2020 and so forth. That’s no change from the proposed MACRA rule.

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

OIG Says HHS Needs To Play Health IT Catch-Up

Posted on December 1, 2016 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 analysis by the HHS Office of the Inspector General suggests that the agency still has work to do and appropriately managing health information technology and making sure it performs, according to Health Data Management. And unfortunately, the problems it highlights don’t seem likely to go away anytime soon.

The critique of HHS’s HIT capabilities came as part of an annual report from the OIG, in which the oversight body lists what it sees as the department’s top 10 management and performance issues. The OIG ranked HIT third on its list.

In that critique, auditors from the OIG pointed out that there are still major concerns over the future of health data sharing in the US, not just for HHS but also in the US healthcare system at large. Specifically, the OIG notes that while HHS has spent a great deal on health IT, it hasn’t gotten too far in enabling and supporting the flow of health data between various stakeholders.

In this analysis, the OIG sites several factors which auditors see as a challenge to HHS, including the lack of interoperability between health data sources, barriers imposed by federal and state privacy and security laws, the cost of health IT infrastructure and environmental issues such as information blocking by vendors. Of course, the problems it outlines are the same old pains in the patoot that we’ve been facing for several years, though it doesn’t hurt to point them out again.

In particular, the OIG’s report argues, it’s essential for HHS to improve the flow of up-to-date, accurate and complete electronic information between the agency and providers it serves. After all, it notes, having that data is important to processing Medicare and Medicaid payments, quality improvement efforts and even HHS’s internal program integrity and operations efforts. Given the importance of these activities, the report says, HHS leaders must find ways to better streamline and speed up internal data exchange as well as share that data with Medicare and Medicaid systems.

The OIG also critiqued HHS security and privacy efforts, particularly as the number of healthcare data breaches and potential cyber security threats like ransomware continue to expand. As things stand, HHS cybersecurity shortfalls abound, including inadequacies and access controls, patch management, encryption of data and website security vulnerabilities.  These vulnerabilities, it noted, include not only HHS, but also the states and other entities that do business with the agency, as well as healthcare providers.

Of course, the OIG is doing its job in drawing attention to these issues, which are stubborn and long-lasting. Unfortunately, hammering away at these issues over and over again isn’t likely to get us anywhere. I’m not sure the OIG should have wasted the pixels to remind us of challenges that seem intractable without offering some really nifty solutions, or at least new ideas.

Accountable Care HIT Spending Growing Worldwide

Posted on November 30, 2016 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 market research report has concluded that given the pressures advancing the development of accountable care models, the market for solutions serving ACOs should expand worldwide, though North America is likely to lead the segment for the near future.

The report, by research firm Markets & Markets, covers a wide range of technologies, including EHRs, healthcare analytics, HIE, RCM, CDSS, population health, claims management and care management. It also looks at delivery mode, e.g. on premise, web and cloud and end-user, which includes providers and payers. So bear that in mind when you look at these numbers. That being said, providers accounted for the largest share of this niche last year, and should see the highest growth in the sector over the next five years.

Broadly speaking, Markets & Markets reports that the accountable care solutions market grew a healthy growth rate during the last decade. Researchers there expect to see this market grow at a CAGR of 16.6% over the next five years, to hit $18.86 billion by 2021.

When it comes to leaders in the sector, researchers identify Cerner, IBM, Aetna and Epic as leaders in the current ACO solutions market and probable future winners between 2016 and 2021. Other major players in the space include UnitedHealth Group, Allscripts, McKesson, Verisk Health, Zeomega, eClinicalWorks and NextGen. Given how broadly they define this category, I’m not sure how important this is, but there you have it.

According Markets & Markets, the growth of the ACO solutions market worldwide is due to forces we know well, including shifting government regulations, the rollout of initiatives shifting financial risk from payers to providers, the demand to slow down healthcare cost increases in the advance of IT and big data capabilities. (Personally, I’d add the desire of health systems – ACO-affiliated or not – to differentiate themselves by performing well at the population health level.)

If your view is largely US-centric, as is mine, you might be interested to note that the trend towards ACO-like entities in the Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions is expanding, the researchers report. Most specifically, Markets & Markets researchers found that there is notable growth occurring in Asian countries, which, it reports, are modifying regulations and monitoring the implementation of procedures, policies and guidelines to promote innovation and commercialization. This has led to an increasing number of hospitals and academic institutions interested in the sector, along with a government focus on implementing health IT solutions and infrastructure – factors likely to generate an expanding ACO solutions market there.

After reading all of this, the question I’m left with is whether there’s any point in differentiating an “ACO” specific player as these researchers have. Maybe I’m playing with words too much hear, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the definition of health system infrastructure is evolving, whether it’s part of an ACO as such or not?

AMA Approves List Of Best Principles For Mobile Health App Design

Posted on November 29, 2016 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.

The American Medical Association has effectively thrown her weight behind the use of mobile health applications, at least if those apps meet the criteria members agreed on at a recent AMA meeting. That being said, the group also argues that the industry needs to expand the evidence base demonstrating that apps are accurate, effective, safe and secure. The principles, which were approved at its recent Interim Meeting, are intended to guide coverage and payment policies supporting the use of mHealth apps.

The AMA attendees agreed on the following principles, which are intended to guide the use of not only mobile health apps but also associated devices, trackers and sensors by patients, physicians and others. They require that mobile apps and devices meet the following somewhat predictable criteria:

  • Supporting the establishment or continuation of a valid patient-physician relationship
  • Having a clinical evidence base to support their use in order to ensure mHealth apps safety and effectiveness
  • Following evidence-based practice guidelines, to the degree they are available, to ensure patient safety, quality of care and positive health outcomes
  • Supporting data portability and interoperability in order to promote care coordination through medical home and accountable care models
  • Abiding by state licensure laws and state medical practice laws and requirements in the state in which the patient receives services facilitated by the app
  • Requiring that physicians and other health practitioners delivering services through the app be licensed in the state where the patient receives services, or will be providing these services is otherwise authorized by that state’s medical board
  • Ensuring that the delivery of any service via the app is consistent with the state scope of practice laws

In addition to laying out these principles, the AMA also looked at legal issues physicians might face in using mHealth apps. And that’s where things got interesting.

For one thing, the AMA argues that it’s at least partially on a physician’s head to school patients on how secure and private a given app may be (or fail to be). That implies that your average physician will probably have to become more aware of how well a range of apps handle such issues, something I doubt most have studied to date.

The AMA also charges physicians to become aware of whether mHealth apps and associated devices, trackers and sensors are abiding by all applicable privacy and security laws. In fact, according to the new policy, doctors are supposed to consult with an attorney if they don’t know whether mobile health apps meet federal or state privacy and security laws. That warning, while doubtless prudent, must not be helping members sleep at night.

Finally, the AMA notes that there are still questions remaining as to what risks physicians face who use, recommend or prescribe mobile apps. I have little doubt that they are right about this.

Just think of the malpractice lawsuit possibilities. Is the doctor liable because they relied on inaccurate app results collected by the patient? If the app they recommended presented inaccurate results? How about if the app was created by the practice or health system for which they work? What about if the physician relied on inaccurate data generated by a sensor or wearable — is a physician liable or the device manufacturer? If I can come up with these questions, you know a plaintiff’s attorney can do a lot better.

APM Expansion and New PTAC Committee – MACRA Monday

Posted on November 28, 2016 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Most of the general details about APMs was changed in the final rule (See our previous post about APMs and whether you should take part in an APM or MIPS within MACRA). However, if you want to dive into the details of APMs, then check out this CMS webinar and slides that dive into the APM program. One thing that didn’t change much yet is the types of programs that counted as possible advanced APMs:

  • Shared Savings Program (Tracks 2 and 3)
  • Next Generation ACO Model
  • Comprehensive End Stage Renal Disease Care Model (Two-Sided Risk Arrangements)
  • Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+)
  • Oncology Care Model (OCM) (two-sided risk track)

However, as CMS mentioned previously, their goal is to get more and more people involved in the APM program. As part of that effort, a number of other programs are likely to be eligible as an advanced APM in 2018:

  • Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) Payment Model (CEHRT)
  • Advancing Care Coordination through Episode Payment Models Track 1 (CEHRT)
  • ACO Track 1+
  • New Voluntary Bundled Payment Model
  • Vermont Medicare ACO Initiative (as part of the Vermont All-Payer ACO Model)

In fact, some of these might even be available in 2017. The MACRA final rule also created a new committee called the PTAC (Physician-Focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee). This committee will accept suggestions on other programs that should be considered an advanced APM. Then, they make recommendations to the HHS secretary on which programs should be added as Advanced APMs.

All updates on programs that qualify as an Advanced APM will be available on the CMS Quality Payment Program (MACRA) website.

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Mission Impossible – Liberate Legacy Medical Records Video

Posted on November 23, 2016 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.

With the Thanksgiving Holiday upon us, I thought I’d share a fun video that ChartCapture shared with me. When you watch this video it’s no wonder they won an award at this year’s Healthcare IT Marketing and PR Conference. I love the creativity and I think Mission Impossible is the way many people feel when it comes to accessing and converting their legacy EHR data. Enjoy the video below!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope you have a lovely holiday.

What Will Be Trump’s Impact on MACRA? – MACRA Monday

Posted on November 21, 2016 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Next week we’ll be kicking off our weekly series of details from the MACRA Final Rule. However, before we start going through the changes and what you need to know about MACRA, I wanted to cover an important topic of concern for many practices. I’ve heard a lot of practices that are afraid of what they consider the uncertain future in the coming Trump presidency.

While I believe that healthcare could see significant impact from a Trump presidency, I don’t believe that MACRA will be impacted by the change in presidency. First, MACRA was as bipartisan as you could find in Washington DC. Even if Trump wanted to replace, modify, repeal MACRA, I can’t imagine it getting enough support in the senate and house. If this is true, Trump won’t even try to do anything with MACRA. Second, Trump has plenty of bigger fish to fry. When you look at the various priorities that Trump has said he has for his presidency, nothing indicates that MACRA will be anywhere near those priorities. Third, it’s hard for me to imagine that Trump would see a problem with the move to technology in healthcare.

What also is worth noting is that MACRA is separate from ACA (aka Obamacare) and even ARRA (the HITECH Act). I’ll leave the predictions for what will happen with ACA for other people. I have no doubt that ACA will be impacted by the change in presidency, but even if they did a full repeal of Obamacare (which looks like it’s impossible), MACRA will still remain and be in force. If MACRA was part of Obamacare, I’d have a different view, but since it’s not then I think MACRA will continue forward as planned.

Those of you hoping for MACRA to disappear due to the new president and those of you waiting for MACRA to change after the comment period is over are grasping at straws. Love it. Hate it. Feel however you may about MACRA, I really don’t see any scenario where MACRA is not part of the future of healthcare.

What do you think? If you disagree, I’d love to hear why in the comments. If you agree, I’d love to hear from you as well. With that view, we’ll be continuing MACRA Monday blog posts for the foreseeable future so that our readers are ready.

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

E-Patient Update: Time To Share EMR Data With Apps

Posted on November 18, 2016 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.

Like most Americans, I’ve used many a health-related app, in categories including vitals tracking, weight control, sleep management, medication management and exercise tracking. While I’ve continued to use a few, I’ve dropped most after a few uses because they didn’t contribute anything to my life.

Now, those of you who are reading this might assume that I lost interest in the apps because they were poorly designed. I admit that this was true in some cases. But in others, I’ve ceased to use the apps because the data they collect and display hasn’t been terribly useful, as most of it lives in a vacuum. Sure, I might be able to create line graph of my heart rate or pulse ox level, but that’s mildly interesting at best. (I doubt physicians would find it terribly interesting either.)

That being said, I believe there is a way healthcare organizations can make the app experience more useful. I’d argue that hospitals and clinics, as well as other organizations caring for patients, need to connect with major app developers and synch their data with those platforms. If done right, the addition of outside data would enrich the patient experience dramatically, and hopefully, provide more targeted feedback that would help shape their health behaviors.

How it would work

How would this work? Here’s an example from my own life, as an e-patient who digitally manages a handful of chronic, sometimes-complex conditions.

I have tested a handful of medication management apps, whose interfaces were quite different but whose goals seem to be quite similar — the primary one being to track the date and time each medicine on my regimen was taken. In each case, I could access my med compliance history rather easily, but had no information on what results my level of compliance might have accomplished.

However, if I could have overlaid those compliance results with changes in my med regimen, changes in my vital signs and changes in my lab values, I have a better picture of how all of my health efforts fit together. Such a picture would be far more likely to prompt changes in my health behavior than uncontextualized data points based on my self-report alone.

I should mention that I know of at least one medication management app developer (the inspiration for this essay) which hopes to accomplish just this result already, and is hard at work enriching its platform to make such integration possible. In other words, developers may not need much convincing to come on board.

The benefits of added data

“Yes,” I hear you saying, “but why should I share my proprietary data?” The answer is fairly simple; in the world of value-based reimbursement, you need patients to get and stay well, and helping them better manage their health fits this goal.

Admittedly, achieving this level of synchronization between apps and provider data won’t be simple. However, my guess is that it would be easier for app developers to import, say, pharmacy or EMR data than the other way around. After all, app platforms aren’t at the center of nearly as many overlapping data systems as a health organization or even a clinic. While they might not be starting from zero, they have less bridges to build.

And once providers have synchronized key data with app developers, they might be able to forge long-term partnerships in which each side learned from the exchange. After all, I’d submit that few app developers would turn up the chance to make their data more valuable — at least if they have bigger goals than displaying a few dots on a smartphone screen.

I realize that for many providers, doing this might be a tall order, as they can’t lose their focus on cultivating their own data. But as a patient, I’d welcome working with any provider that wanted to give this a try. I think it would be a real win-win.

AMA Urges Med Schools To Cover Health IT Basics

Posted on November 17, 2016 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.

Despite the nearly universal use of health IT tools in medical practice today, the majority of med students make it through their medical school experience without having much exposure to such tools. In an effort to change this, the AMA is launching a new textbook designed to give med students at least a basic exposure to critical health IT topics.

To create the textbook, the AMA collaborated with its 32-school Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium. The collaboration generated a new “pillar” of medical education it dubs Health Systems Science, which members concluded should be taught alongside of basic and clinical sciences. This follows a recent study by the AMA concluding that its practicing physician members are quite interested in digital health.

In addition to covering key business concepts such as value in healthcare, patient safety, quality improvement, teamwork/team science and leadership, socio-ecological determinants of health, healthcare policy and health care economics, the textbook also addresses clinical informatics and population health.  And an AMA press release notes that many schools within the Consortium will soon use the textbook with the students, including Penn State College of Medicine and Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.

The Brown program, for example, which received a $1 million AMA grant to support the change in this curriculum, has created a Primary Care-Population Medicine program. The program awards graduates both a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Science in Population Medicine. The AMA describes this program is the first of its kind in the US.

It’s interesting to see that the AMA has stepped in and funded this project, partly because it seems to have been ambivalent about key health IT tools in the past, but partly because I expect to see vendors doing something like this. Honestly, now that I think about it, I’m surprised there isn’t a Cerner grant for the most promising clinical informatics grad, say, or the eClinicalWorks prize sponsoring a student’s medical training. Maybe the schools have rules against such things.

Actually, this is a rare situation in which I think getting vendors involved might be a good idea. Of course, med students wouldn’t benefit particularly from being trained exclusively on one vendor’s interface, but I imagine schools could organize regular events in which med school students had a chance to learn about different vendors’ platforms and judge the strengths and weaknesses of each on their own.

I guess what I’m saying is that while obtaining an academic understanding of health IT tools is great, the next step is to have med students get their hands on a wide variety of health IT tools and play with them before they’re on the front lines. That being said, adding pop health any clinical informatics is a step in the right direction