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Intelligent Analytics, Clinical Decision Support, and EMR As a Skill

Posted on August 22, 2017 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.

It’s time for a quick Twitter round up where I highlight a few tweets from around the Twittersphere and add some of my own commentaries. I hope you’ll join in the comments and share your perspectives on these tweets.


I agree with Lalit that it’s clear that the patient owns the clinical data. The real problem is that many healthcare organizations don’t act like patients own it. We need that culture change to occur in many parts of healthcare. However, Lalit is aso correct that the data needs to be married to intelligent analytics if we want the data to be extremely useful for both patients and their care providers. We’re starting to see this happen.


I’ve often thought that CDS (Clinical Decision Support) is the oft forgotten feature of an EMR and that it likely should get a lot more attention than it does. Dr. Harvey is correct that the CDS inside an EMR is the largest feature that contributes to the intelligence of the EMR system. However, the CDS gets so little attention. I know that’s not true in many EMR implementations where vast committees scour the CDS to ensure that it satisfies the care requirements and guidelines they want to follow in their organization. However, CDS doesn’t get nearly enough press. I think that needs to change since much of what can be accomplished to improve care in the EHR is going to be CDS.


This was great to see Dr. Stewart acknowledge and highlight how learning to use an EMR is a skill that needs to be developed just like deliveriers and sutures are a skill to be developed. I’ve seen so many doctors who complain about their EHR, but they also chose not to spend the time learning how to develop the EMR skill. They just thought that they could start using it with no training, no real workflow evaluation, etc. Skills have to be developed and learned and that’s true with the EMR as well.

Leveraging New Age Technology to Overcome MACRA Challenges – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 21, 2017 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.

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. David A. Goldman, CEO and founder, Goldman Eye and Ophthalmology Team Lead, Anterior Segment at Modernizing Medicine.  This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

MACRA and the Quality Payment Program (QPP) were implemented by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to improve healthcare by focusing on the quality of care provided to patients. There are two paths under the QPP: the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track which covers most clinicians, and the Advanced Alternate Payment Models (APMs) track which applies to providers who have taken on some risk related to patient outcomes (Medicare Shared Savings 2,3 and Next Gen ACO participants for example).

MACRA and MIPS are intended to advance quality based care by implementing outcome-based payment adjustments. Providers will be measured across a number of different performance categories and will be paid on a curve. By 2022, physicians who outperform their peers may receive up to a 9 percent positive payment adjustment on their Medicare reimbursements based on their performance in 2020. Those who report poor performance may receive up to a 9 percent negative payment adjustment on their Medicare reimbursements in 2022.

Specialtyspecific Measures & Bonus Points

As previously mentioned, if you perform better than your peers when it comes to MIPS, you can substantially increase your Medicare reimbursements. Conversely, reporting a score below the performance threshold could prevent you from receiving a positive payment adjustment on your Medicare reimbursements, and not reporting on MIPS could cause you to be penalized.

Some MIPS categories will be the same across all specialties such as Advancing Care Information and Improvement Activities, whereas others can be geared towards a specialty, like Quality. Quality accounts for 60 percent of your total MIPS score in 2017. As an Eligible Clinician (EC), you should select six measures, including one Outcome Measure or if an Outcome Measure is not available, a High Priority Measure. After your first Outcome or High Priority Measure, any additional ones you report will count towards your bonus points (up to six points). In addition, an EC can earn another six points by doing end-to-end reporting. More information on the measure specifications can be found here.

Under the Advancing Care Information (ACI) category, ECs have the option to earn 5 bonus points by being in active engagement with a specialized registry, which are typically specialty-specific. The third category of MIPS is called Improvement Activities (IAs) which has over 90 activities to choose from. ECs, regardless of specialty, can choose activities that apply to their practice size and way of practicing like expanded practice access and closing the referral loop. Depending on the IA selected, ECs can also earn a 10 point bonus under the ACI category.

How can we turn this change into an opportunity?

A major factor in succeeding in MIPS is the use of today’s latest technology. Innovative electronic health record (EHR) systems, which can collect and organize clinical data in a structured format, empower doctors to extract meaningful insights at the patient and population levels. Instead of relying on any one physician’s narrative assessment or unstructured data for a diagnosis or treatment, physicians who have access to an interoperable platform can reference relative findings from their peers while eliminating redundancies, automating communications and improving patient outcomes.

How Do You Track Your Performance

The answer is certainly not using pen and paper. Look for a certified EHR vendor that has technology which provides services and products that can track data in real time and provide analytics to show your progress and outcomes. You want MIPS intelligence directly built-in to your EHR system.

Modernizing Medicine offers a specialty-specific suite of products and services that gives physicians added support. modmed Ophthalmology™ helps ophthalmologists transition to MIPS by providing them with quality data and reporting capabilities with the products and services they provide. Included within the suite is the company’s flagship EHR system, EMA™. EMA provides functionality for automated quality data capture, population health registries, real patient engagement and analytical tools, plus the ability to submit MIPS right to CMS.

I have been utilizing EMA for the past few years and am also a team lead on Modernizing Medicine’s ophthalmology team. As a practicing ophthalmologist, I have gone through the process of spending countless hours documenting patient reporting following a long day in the office. Couple that with ensuring my compliance measures are in check – it adds up. Now, my measures are completed efficiently, accurately and securely, ready to be submitted to CMS at the end of my reporting period. I even led a webinar on the topic of MIPS, if you want to see it in action.

EHR System Checklist for MIPS

From my unique perspective of working for an EHR vendor and utilizing the certified technology in my practice, I’ve shared a few qualities to look for in an EHR to support your reporting needs:

  • 2014 / 2015 ONC Certified
  • Integrated MIPS intelligence
  • Built in Improvement Activities
  • Qualified MIPS Registry
  • Automated data capturing and reporting
  • Built-in, real-time analytics reporting for Quality, Resource Use, Advancing Care Information and Improvement Activities
  • A vendor with an all-in on solution, including the ability to submit MIPS right to CMS
  • Advisory services and consultation during MIPS transition and reporting

While there is much work to be done in terms of keeping up with and understanding today’s fast-paced healthcare landscape, one thing is for certain – the proper use of specialty-specific technology can help alleviate hours of extra work, stress and physician burnout. As noted above, there are certain aspects of MACRA that apply across all specialties, whereas others are specialty-specific and working with a vendor that can guide you along this MIPS journey can be crucial to your financial success.

David A. Goldman, M.D. is the Ophthalmology Team Lead, Anterior Segment at Modernizing Medicine and founder of Goldman Eye in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Medical Groups Struggling To Collect Payments Promptly

Posted on August 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.

Particularly as patients assume responsibility for more of the costs of care, it’s getting harder for providers to collect on outstanding bills.

My recent look at a dashboard created by the Medical Group Management Association certainly underscores the point. The story it tells is a grim one. Despite their best efforts, few practices are succeeding at meeting RCM challenges.

The MGMA intends the dashboard, which focuses on the number of days bills spend in Accounts Receivable, to give medical groups some benchmark RCM data. It relies on data from the group’s 2016 DataDive Cost and Revenue study, and allows users to view (at no cost):

  • Mean percentages of accounts receivable aged 0-30 days, 31-60 days, 61-90 days, 91-120 days and over 120 days
  • Mean days gross fee-for-service charges in A/R
  • Meeting days adjusted fee-for-service charges in A/R

It also allows users to select a specialty group type, including primary care, nonsurgical, surgical and multispecialty practices and look at their specific profile.

For example, the dashboard reveals that roughly 50% of accounts held by primary care practices spent a mean of 0-30 days in A/R, 11.2% of accounts were aged 31-60 days, 6.9% were at 61-90 days, 6.2% stayed in A/R for 91-120 days and 25.4% for 120+ days in A/R.

The MGMA page also stated that primary-care groups had an overall average of 61.86 adjusted days in A/R and 35.60 gross days in A/R.

Does that sound depressing? Well, it should. What’s more, other specialties’ performance was nearly as bad in some categories and even worse in others.

Look at the performance of nonsurgical groups. Only 44.7% of nonsurgical groups’ revenue came in within 30 days in A/R or less, almost 13% of accounts averaged 31-60 days before being paid, and almost 15% of accounts spent between 61 and 120 days in A/R. Twenty-eight percent of accounts had a mean 120+ days in A/R before being satisfied.

The other stats were even worse. For example, nonsurgical groups’ accounts spent a mean of 88 days in A/R and 46.2 gross days in A/R. Not very encouraging.

Even well-paid surgeons weren’t exempt from this problem. Most of the account aging stats were distributed similarly to the other specialty areas, and only 28.2% of accounts in this area spent more than 120 days in A/R. However, adjusted days in A/R came in at 136.7 and gross days in A/R at 54.

Meanwhile, the tally for multispecialty groups was a bit better, but not much. Account aging benchmarks were very similar to primary care practices, and adjusted days in A/R came in at 69.4.

Most of you probably had an idea that medical groups were facing these kind of collection problems, even if you didn’t have these benchmark numbers in hand. The thing is, they were even worse than I feared. (An acquaintance working in medical billing called the results “comical.”)

I don’t know what percentage of the accounts in question were self-pay, but given that self-pay is becoming a steadily higher proportion of medical practice revenue, these stats are pretty bad news. Something’s gotta give eventually. Plus, we’ll have to keep tracking how this data trends over time.

Amazon Attacking Health IT Opportunities

Posted on August 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.

Getting a footing in the health IT industry is more challenging than it looks. After all, even tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google haven’t managed to take over despite their evident interest in the field.

Apparently, that hasn’t daunted Amazon. The retail giant has pulled together a secret team dedicated to exploring new healthcare technology opportunities, according to a CNBC report. And unlike other companies attacking the space from outside, Amazon has a history of sliding its way into unexpected markets successfully.

According to CNBC the new team, which is named 1492, is working to find an easier way to extract data from EMRs as well as push data into them. In doing so, Amazon is going up against a very wide field of competitors ranging from small startups to the healthcare arms of giant tech vendors and consulting firms.

What distinguishes Amazon’s approach from its competitors is that the online retailer hopes to aggregate that data and make it available to consumers and their doctors, sources told CNBC. The story doesn’t say whether Amazon plans to sell this data, and I don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t here, but my bet is that if it can, Amazon will pitch the data to pharmaceutical companies. And where there’s a will there’s a way.

In addition to looking at data management opportunities, 1492 members are scouting out ways of repurposing Amazon’s existing technology for use in healthcare. As another article notes, some healthcare organizations have already begun experimenting with delivering routine medical information and even coaching surgeons on safety protocols using Amazon voice-based assistant Alexa.  The new group, for its part, will be looking for healthcare applications for existing Amazon products like the Echo and Dash Wand.

The 1492 group is also preparing to build a telemedicine platform. Your first thought might be that the industry doesn’t need another telemedicine platform, and generally speaking, you would probably be right.  But if Amazon can get its healthcare IT bona fides in order, and manages to attract enough doctors to its platform, it could be in a strong position to market those services to consumers.

Make no mistake: We should take Amazon’s health IT effort seriously. At first glance, healthcare may seem like an odd arena for a company best known for selling frying pans and socks and discount beauty supplies. But Amazon has expanded its focus many times over the years and has typically done better than people expected. It may do so this time as well.

By the way, the retailer is apparently still hiring people for the 1492 initiative. I doubt it’s easy to find the hiring manager in question, but if I were you I’d inquire. These jobs could pose some interesting challenges.

EHR Innovation & Regulation: Friends or Foes?

Posted on August 16, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Stephen Dart, Sr. Director of Product Management at AdvancedMD.

Healthcare insiders often point out how far behind the industry is in taking advantage of technology when compared to industries like retail or finance.

Technology providers get their share of blame for not designing it with a user in mind, a common argument heard in relation to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) ill-fitting place in the physician’s workflow. What is not talked about much is the role regulations play in shaping the technology and its use in healthcare.

Designing for compliance

Regulations are present in every industry and serve an important function of protecting individuals’ privacy and rights. Healthcare is highly regulated compared to many other industries due to the sensitive nature of Protected Health Information.  There is a good deal of additional regulations regarding programs such as MACRA, dedicated to monitoring provider performance and reporting it back to the government for reimbursement. As such, technology for providers must be designed to capture and report such data.

For vendors like AdvancedMD, one of the challenges is not in designing software to address the regulations, but rather in designing it under the ever-evolving guidelines and shifting deadlines. At times, well-meaning standards also fail to function as intended because they are not enforced end-to-end.

As an example, Meaningful Use Stage 2 required the EHR to meet a standard for interfacing with state immunization registries. For certification, technology providers had to produce a standard-format file and transmit it to the state immunization registry. However, every state had its own set of requirements and most states would not accept the format designated as the certification requirement but instead have their own additional or different requirements.

Consider lab results as another example. The EHR has to meet the engineering standard for using a LOINC code when receiving lab results to enable the physician to report metrics for regulatory attestation. Unfortunately, labs are not held to the same standard, and if the lab does not send results using the LOINC code, the physician cannot get credit when reporting or has to manually add a code for it to be considered for meeting the performance metric.

Naturally, there is cost incurred to design compliance features for vendors. At AdvancedMD, it has a significant impact on our research and development (R&D) budget. It also influences the other two R&D categories that have a direct impact on the end-user experience – keeping the technology on the cutting edge and innovation.

Integrating compliance into workflow

If regulations require physicians to report more data, vendors have a choice of designing compliance features to either ask the physician to input that information manually or to capture it automatically for reporting.

At AdvancedMD, a lot of effort goes into automating the regulatory requirements and integrating the necessary data collection naturally into providers’ existing workflow. If software identifies that the physician has just written an electronic prescription, there is no reason to ask him or her to go into a separate system and attest manually to having done so. This regulatory tracker can be natively built into the platform.

All roads lead to innovation

There is a lot of pressure on everyone in healthcare today and the industry is undergoing constant changes. Patients expect more as they pay more under high-deductible plans.  They increasingly rely on wearables to tell them how well they sleep and how many steps they need to take as part of a larger trend of taking command of their own health. Doctors and patients alike will benefit from this data being integrated into patient records.  If this patient-captured data can be merged into the patient chart, machine learning and analytics algorithms can in some cases predict what an independent practice needs to do next. This next step could be to streamline administrative processes for outreach messaging and improve care through electronic follow-up, leading to increased profitability and better care. Importantly, the EHR, practice management and all other technologies designed for providers need to liberate them to focus on patient care, not distract from it.

All these advanced features are the next frontier in healthcare and require vendors to dedicate a lot more effort and budget to innovation. While healthcare technology can’t be expected to catch up with an Apple or Facebook overnight with regard to user experience, there is much that can be done to close the gap. The industry as a whole will get there much faster when regulations and technology align to advance that goal.

Incremental regulatory steps in areas where standards can be controlled and enforced cradle-to-the-grave will benefit all parties. Vendors can plan their engineering budgets in advance and design fully functional compliance features. The industry will benefit from designing with the user in mind, furthering the role regulations play in shaping technology and its use in healthcare. Ultimately, regulations should allow providers to focus on care and to engage more meaningfully with their patients, thus optimizing the EHR’s role in the physician’s workflow.

Getting Buy-in For Your Second (Or More) EMR Purchase

Posted on August 15, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Michael Shearer is VP of Marketing for SelectHub.

Remember when you rolled out your first EMR?  Many of your doctors were uncertain, frustrated or angry, insurers were rejecting claims left and right and revenue fell as providers struggled to use the new system. Ah, those were lovely days.

Thankfully, in time everyone finally adapted. Through a combination of one-on-one coaching, group training, peer-to-peer mentoring and daily practice, clinicians got used to the system. Your patient volumes returned to normal. Some, though probably not all, of them got comfortable with the EMR, and a few even developed an interest in the technology itself.

Unfortunately, over time you’ve realized that your existing EMR isn’t cutting it. Maybe you want a system with an integrated practice management system. Perhaps your vendor isn’t giving you enough support or plans to jack up prices for future upgrades.  It could be that after working with it for a year or two, your EMR still doesn’t do what you wanted it to do. Whatever your reasons, it’s time to move on and find a system that fits better.

Given how painful the previous rollout was, buying a new EMR could be pretty disruptive and could easily stir up resentments and fears that had previously been laid to rest. But if you handle the process well, you might find that getting EMR buy-in is easier the second (or more) time around. Below are some strategies for getting clinicians on board.

Learn from your mistakes

Before you begin searching for an EMR, make sure that you’ve learned from your past mistakes. Consider taking the following steps:

  • Conduct thorough research on how clinicians (and staff if relevant) see your existing system. This could include a survey posing questions such as:
    • How usable is the EMR?
    • What impact does the EMR have on patient care, and why?
    • Does the EMR meet the needs of their specialty?
    • What features does the existing EMR lack?
    • Are EMR templates helping with documentation?
    • What are the great features of your existing EHR?
  • Compile a list of technical problems you’ve experienced with the system
  • Evaluate your relationship with the EMR vendor, and make note of any problems you’ve experienced
  • Consider whether your purchasing model (perpetual license vs. online subscription) is a good fit

Put clinicians in charge

When you bought your first EMR, you may have been on uncharted ground. You weren’t sure what you wanted to buy or how much to spend, and clinicians were at a loss as well.  Perhaps in the absence of detailed clinical feedback, you moved ahead on your own in an effort to keep the buying process moving.

This time around, though, clinicians will have plenty to say, and you should take their input very seriously. If they’re like their peers, their critiques of the existing EMR may include that:

  • It made documentation harder and/or more time-consuming
  • It wasn’t intuitive to use
  • It got in the way of their relationship with patients
  • It forced them to change their workflow
  • It didn’t present information effectively

These are just a few examples of the problems clinicians have had with their first EMR – you’ll probably hear a lot more. Ignoring these concerns could doom your next EMR rollout.

To avoid such problems, put clinicians in charge of the EMR purchasing process. By this point, they probably know what features they want, how documentation should work, what breaks their workflow, what supports their process and how the system should present patient data.

This will only work if you take your hands off of the wheel and let them drive the EMR selection process. Giving them a chance for token input but buying whatever administrators choose can only breed hostility and distrust.

Look to the future

When EMRs first showed up in medical practice, no one was sure what impact they’d have on patient care. Administrators knew that digitizing medical records would help them produce cleaner claims and shoot down denials, but few if any could explain why that would help their providers offer better care. In some cases, these first-line systems did nothing whatsoever for clinicians while weighing them down with extra work.

Over time, however, providers have begun using pooled EMR data to make good things happen, such as improving the health of entire populations, identifying how genetics can dictate responses to medication and predicting whether a patient is likely to develop a specific health condition. These are goals that will inspire most clinicians. While they may not care what happens in the business office, they care what happens to patients.

These days, in fact, using EMR data to improve care has become almost mandatory. Even if they didn’t bother before, practices are now buying systems better designed to help providers deliver care and improve outcomes. If your clinicians are still unhappy about their first experience, they may have trouble believing this. But make sure that they do.

The truth is, there will always be someone who doesn’t like technology, or refuses to take part in the buying process, and it’s unlikely you’ll win them over. But if your EMR actually enhances their ability to provide care, most will be happy to use it, and even evangelize the system to their colleagues. That’s the kind of buy-in you can expect if you deliver a system that meets their needs.

Michael Shearer is VP of Marketing for SelectHub, which offers selection tools for EMRs and practice management systems.

 

ONC To Farm Out Certification Testing To Private Sector – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 14, 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

EHR certification has been a big part of the meaningful use program and is now part of MACRA as well. After several years of using health IT certification testing tools developed by government organizations, the ONC has announced plans to turn the development of these tools over to the private sector.

Since its inception, ONC has managed its health IT’s education program internally, developing automated tools designed to measure health IT can compliance with certification requirements in partnership with the CDC, CMS and NIST. However, in a new blog post, Office of Standards and Technology director Steven Posnack just announced that ONC would be transitioning development of these tools to private industry over the next five years.

In the post, Posnack said that farming out tool development would bring diversity to certification effort and help it perform optimally. “We have set a goal…to include as many industry-developed and maintained testing tools as possible in lieu of taxpayer financed testing tools,” Posnack wrote. “Achieving this goal will enable the Program to more efficiently focus its testing resources and better aligned with industry-developed testing tools.”

Readers, I don’t have any insider information on this, but I have to think this transition was spurred (or at least sped up) by the eClinicalWorks certification debacle.  As we reported earlier this year, eCW settled a whistleblower lawsuit for $155 million a few months ago;  in the suit, the federal government asserted that the vendor had gotten its EHR certified by faking its capabilities. Of course the potential cuts to ONC’s budget could have spurred this as well.

I have no reason to believe that eCW was able to beat the system because ONC’s certification testing tools were inadequate. As we all know, any tool can be tricked if you throw the right people at the problem. On the other hand, it can’t hurt to turn tool development over to the private sector. Of course, I’m not suggesting that government coders are less skilled than private industry folks (and after all, lots of government technology work is done by private contractors), but perhaps the rhythms of private industry are better suited to this task.

It’s worth noting that this change is not just cosmetic. Poznack notes that with private industry at the helm, vendors may need to enter into new business arrangements and assume new fees depending on who has invested in the testing tools, what it costs to administer them and how the tools are used.

However, I’d be surprised if private sector companies that develop certification arrangements will stay tremendously far from the existing model. Health IT vendors may want to get their products certified, but they’re likely to push back hard if private companies jack up the price for being evaluated or create business structures that don’t work.

Honestly, I’d like to see the ONC stay on this path. I think it works best as a sort of think tank focused on finding best practices health IT companies across government and private industry, rather than sweating the smaller stuff as it has in recent times. Otherwise, it’s going to stay bogged down in detail and lose whatever thought leadership position it may have.

Should EMR Vendors Care If Patients Get Their Records?

Posted on August 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.

Not long ago, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner and former Vice President Joe Biden reportedly butted heads over whether patients need and can understand their full medical records. The alleged conversation took place at a private meeting for Cancer Moonshot, a program with which Biden has been associated since his son died of cancer.

According to a piece in Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review, Faulkner asked Biden why patients actually needed their full medical records. “Why do you want your medical records? They’re a thousand pages of which you understand 10,” she is said to have told Biden.

Epic responded to the widely-reported conversation with a statement arguing that Faulkner had been quoted out of context, and that the vendor supported patients’ rights to having their entire record. Given that Becker’s had the story third-hand (it drew on a Politico column which itself was based on the remarks of someone who had been present at the meeting) I have little difficulty believing that something was lost in translation.

Still, I am left wondering whether this piece had touched on something important nonetheless. It raises the question of whether EMR vendor CEOs have the attitude towards patient medical record access Faulkner is portrayed as having.

Yes, I suspect virtually every EMR vendor CEO agrees in principle that patients are entitled to access their complete records. Of course, the law recognizes this right as well. However, do they, personally, feel strongly about providing such access? Is making patient access to records easy a priority for them? My guess is “no” and “no.”

The truth is, EMR vendors — like every other business — deliver what their customers want. Their customers, providers, may talk a good game when it comes to patient record access, but only a few seem to have made improving access a central part of their culture. In my experience, at least, most do what medical records laws require and little else. It’s hard to imagine that vendors spend any energy trying to change customers’ records practices for the better.

Besides, both vendors and providers are used to thinking about medical record data as a proprietary asset. Even if they see the necessity of sharing this information, it probably rubs at least some the wrong way to ladle it out at minimal cost to patients.

Given all this background, it’s easy to understand why health IT editors jumped on the story. While she may have been misrepresented this time, it’s not hard to imagine the famously blunt Faulkner confronting Biden, especially if she thought he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Even if she never spoke the words in question, or her comments were taken out of context, I have the feeling that at least some of her peers would’ve spoken them unashamedly, and if so, people need to call them out. If we’re going to achieve the ambitious goals we’ve set for value-based care, every player needs to be on board with empowering patients.

USAA Tapping EHR To Gather Data From Life Insurance Applicants

Posted on August 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.

I can’t believe I missed this. Apparently, financial giant USAA announced earlier this year that it’s collecting health data from life insurance applicants by interfacing with patient portals. While it may not be the first life insurer to do so, I haven’t been able to find any others, which makes this pretty interesting.

Usually, when someone applies for life insurance, they have to produce medical records which support their application. (We wouldn’t want someone to buy a policy and pop off the next day, would we?) In the past, applicants have had to push their providers to send medical records to the insurer. As anyone who’s tried to get health records for themselves knows, getting this done can be challenging and is likely to slow down policy approvals.

Thanks to USAA’s new technology implementation, however, the process is much simpler. The new offering, which is available to applicants at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, allows consumers to deliver their health data directly to the insurer via their patient portal.

To make this possible, USAA worked with Cerner on EHR retrieval technology. The technology, known as HealtheHistory, supports health data collection,  encrypts data transmission and limits access to EHR data to approved persons. No word yet as to whether Cerner has struck similar deals elsewhere but it wouldn’t surprise me.

USAA’s new EHR-based approach has paid off nicely. The life insurer has seen an average 30-day reduction in the time it takes to acquire health records for applicants, and though it doesn’t say what the average was back in the days of paper records, I assume that this is a big improvement.

And now on to the less attractive aspects of this deal. I don’t know about you, but I see a couple of red flags here.

First, while life insurers may know how to capture health data, I doubt they’re cognizant of HIPAA nuances. Even if they hire a truckload of HIPAA experts, they don’t have much context for maintaining HIPAA compliance. What’s more, they rarely if ever have to look a patient in the face, which serves as something of a natural deterrent to provider data carelessness.

Also, given the industry’s track record, is it really a good idea to give a life insurer that much data? For example, consider the case of a healthy 36-year-old woman with no current medical issues who was denied coverage because she had the BRCA 1 gene. That gene, as some readers may know, is associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The life insurer apparently found out about the woman’s makeup as part of the application process, which included queries about genetic information. Apparently, the woman had had such testing, and as a result had to disclose it or risk being accused of fraud.

While the insurer in question may have the right, legally, to make such decisions, their doing so falls into a gray area ethically. What’s more, things would get foggier if, say, it decided to share such information with a sister health insurance division. Doing so may not be legal but I can easily see it happening.

Should someone’s genes be used to exclude them life or health insurance? Bar them from being approved for a mortgage from another sister company? Can insurers be trusted to meet HIPAA standards for use of PHI? It’ll be important to address such questions before we throw our weight behind open health data sharing with companies like USAA.

A Model For Fostering Health Data Sharing

Posted on August 8, 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.

Sometimes, I’m amazed by what Facebook’s advertising algorithm can do. While most folks get pitches for hot consumer devices, shoes or casual wear, I get pitched on some cool geek stuff.

Most recently, I got an interesting pitch from data.world, a social networking site that helps members share and discover open datasets. The site is free to join, and if there’s a paid “premium” setting I haven’t found it. From what I’ve seen, this is a pretty nifty model which could easily be adapted for use by health IT organizations.

The site, which looks and feels something like Facebook, features data from a wide range of industries, tilted heavily toward government databases. For example, when I checked in, a front-page column listing the most commonly used tags includes “GIS,” “Homeland Security,” “police,” “SBA” and “DC” (which lead the pack with 688 mentions).

And there’s plenty of healthcare industry data to grab if you’d like. If you search for the term “healthcare” some useful datasets pop up, including a list of last year’s hospital HCAHPS ratings, California-specific data from 2005 to 2014 on the number and rates of preventable hospitalizations for selected medical conditions and New York state data on payments it made under its Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program. (You’ll have to become a site member to access these records.)

What makes the site truly interesting is the data sharing mechanism it offers. As a member, you have a chance to both upload open datasets, download datasets, post a project or join someone else’s project already in progress. Want help crunching the data on preventable hospitalizations in California? Let other site members know. There’s at least a chance you’ll find great project partners.

Of course, I’m not here to shill for this particular venture. My point in writing about its features is to draw your attention to what it does.

I think it’s more than time for healthcare organizations to collaborate on shared data projects together, and this is perhaps one mechanism for doing so. True, most of the data health systems work with is proprietary, but perhaps it’s possible to work past this issue.

Some healthcare organizations have already decided that sharing otherwise proprietary data is worth the risk. For example, late last year I wrote about a project undertaken by Sioux Falls, SD-based Sanford Health, in which the health system shared clinical data with a handful of academic researchers.  Benson Hsu, MD, vice president of enterprise data and analytics for the system, told Healthcare IT News this “crowdsourced” approached helped Sanford predict risk more effectively and improved its chronic disease management efforts.

Admittedly, Sanford’s approach won’t work for everyone. Today, healthcare organizations aren’t in the habit of cooperating on clinical data analytics projects, and anyone who suggests the idea is likely to get some serious pushback. Yes, in theory we all want interoperability, but this is different. Sharing entire clinical data repositories is a big deal. Still, how are we going to tackle big problems like population health management if we aren’t open to data analytics collaboration?

Sometimes new initiatives happen because people learn to understand each other’s needs, and decide that the prospect of mutual gain is worth the risk. I think a community devoted to data analytics could do much to foster such relationships.