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Posters Flame ONC Comments

Posted on March 3, 2015 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

Someone at ONC who has to read public comments deserves a break. They’ve been flamed.

ONC just released the public comments on its 10 year Interoperability Plan. Many of the posts are from stakeholders who provided careful, point by point comments. These often represent greatly divergent views. However, these commenters have one thing quite solidly in common. They’ve read the plan.

Not so, many others who skipped the boring reading homework. They just dumped on it with one theme: The federal government has no business getting its hands on my medical records! There are dozens upon dozens of comments on this theme. They’re irate, angry and often vituperative – to say the least. The fact that nothing like that is in the plan doesn’t stop them from believing it and roundly denouncing it.

Where did all these folks get this notion? From what I can tell, two sources made the inductive leap from practioners sharing EHR records to the feds wanting to know about your lumbago.

One was the Citizens Council for Health Freedom, which issued an August 14, 2014 press release saying:

Our government is funneling billions of dollars into systems that will dump all of our private medical records into one giant hub—accessible by many,” said CCHF president and co-founder Twila Brase. Doctors and nurses who have already started using these systems are not convinced that they are ready for use or even necessary. The government is touting these procedures as ways to streamline patient care, but they’re actually an attempt to capture and store Americans’ private medical data and share it with agencies that have nothing to do with health care.

The release then urged readers to comment on the plan.

Brase cites no sources in or out of the plan for her observations or conclusions.

The other source was Tammy Bruce. On December 14, 2014 she wrote:

Your personal healthcare information will be shared with an astounding 35 agencies (at least), offices and individuals including the Department of Defense, NASA, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Federal Communications Commission, the HHS assistant secretary for legislation, the HHS office for civil rights, the HHS office for the general counsel, the Office of Personnel Management, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons.

Clearly, this is meant to establish the fact that every federal agency will be participating in this scheme and will have access to your health information. Not only should this be anathema to every American on principle alone, but having all of our personal information available in the cloud also poses ridiculously obvious general security threats to our personal security.

She also urged readers to comment about the plan.

Again, no proof, no cites, just assertions and conclusions.

I don’t have anything to say about their claims, other than this. Our open political discourse means that those who read posts have to carefully sort out thoughtful, even if misinformed, opinion from dross. Pushing phony claims for whatever reason just makes it all the more difficult. Whoever at ONC has to slog through the dross in these comments has my sympathy.

Insightful Revenue Cycle Stats and Charts

Posted on March 2, 2015 I Written By

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

It never ceases to amaze me how many opportunities there are in medical practices to improve their revenue cycle management. You’d think we’d have solved this problem, but there is still so much opportunity to improve a practice’s revenue.

With this as the premise, I was interested in the revenue cycle management (RCM) survey report which offers up a number of stats and charts on such an important topic for practices.

Here’s one example chart from the report:
Percentage of Practices that Automate Revenue Cycle Management Chart

The thing about this chart that stands out for me is that almost all of them hover around 50% adoption. Some might say that this is pretty good adoption of these technologies. I see it as a huge opportunity for the other 50% of practices to adopt much of this technology.

The one that caught my eye the most is the “automated eligibility-inquiry checks.” Since reading Vishal Gandhi‘s posts on EMR and HIPAA, I’m a real convert to the importance of high quality, real time eligibility checking. Take for example his post on “The Eligibility Verification Time Suck” and “How Does a Practice Deal with All These High Deductible Plans?” This is a big deal for a practice’s revenue and is likely going to only get bigger as reimbursement continues to evolve.

There’s a lot more in the RCM survey report. Check it out and see how your practice can benefit from better revenue cycle management.

Is the Concierge Model A Real Option for Providers?

Posted on February 25, 2015 I Written By

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

This article last month in Crain’s New York Business talks about the pressures that primary care doctors are facing and how those financial pressures are getting many of them to try cash-only or concierge practices. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

To stave off the pressures prompting many physicians to sell their practices to hospital systems, Manhattan internist Peter Bruno has tried a number of creative solutions. They have ranged from forming a now-disbanded group practice with 60 colleagues to his ongoing strategy of working at a nursing home one day a week to supplement his income in his current solo practice.

With reimbursements dropping, Dr. Bruno made the bold move in July of converting his six-employee private practice on East 59th Street in Manhattan to a hybrid concierge model. In concierge care, patients pay an annual fee or retainer to get more immediate, customized care. Hybrid practices treat both concierge and traditional patients. He worked with SignatureMD, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based network that assists physicians in doing so.

I don’t think we need to cover the financial realities of being a solo physician here. You’re all to aware of the challenges. However, I’m interested to hear what you think about the potential for the concierge model of medicine for primary care doctors? Is that an option for most primary care doctors?

I ask this because I’ve seen concierge medicine work in the rich areas (the above case is Manhattan for example), but I have yet to see it really work in poorer areas. If we’re shifting to concierge medicine, what does that mean for the poorer areas of the country?

Here in Las Vegas, they have an interesting hybrid model that they’re trying where concierge medicine is part of the insurance plan. In fact, it could be part of the insurance plan your employer provides. I just signed up for the plan, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m also watching how the EHR market is adapting to this trend as well. Over on EMR and HIPAA I wrote an article titled “An EHR Focused On Customer Requests, Not MU” which talks about what an EHR would look like that was just focused on patient care and how Amazing Charts was offering that product.

Just today SRSsoft announced their new SRS Essentials product that’s a non-MU EHR as well. Although, they offer an interesting wrinkle that allows their SRS Essentials customers to move up to an meaningful use certified EHR should they decide they later want to take part in meaningful use (or whatever that program eventually becomes).

Of course, SRSsoft focuses mostly on the specialty market and not general medicine. Although, maybe this physician focused EHR product will be of interest to the emerging concierge and direct primary care doctors as well.

What do you think of these new models of medicine? What’s their place in the healthcare world? Where are they going in the future? Will their technology needs be different than other doctors?

Why Are So Many Big Health IT Companies from Small Cities?

Posted on February 23, 2015 I Written By

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

I was reading over something on HIStalk the other day that talked about how many major healthcare IT and EHR companies have come out of small cities. In fact, when you think about the EHR world, there are only a handful of EHR companies that have come out of the tech hub of the world, Silicon Valley, and they’ve all been started within the past 10 years.

In the article HIStalk mentioned the town Malvern, Pennsylvania. I hadn’t even heard of the town, but a look at Wikipedia has Siemens Healthcare, Ricoh Americas, and Cerner as among the companies based in Malvern. I think the Cerner mention in the list must be because Cerner just purchases Siemens Healthcare, so they are now claiming them. However, Cerner is definitely a Kansas City based company. Either way though, Kansas City is not a HUGE city either and certainly hasn’t been the hub of technology (although, I know they have some cool tech things happening now, like most cities).

The healthcare IT behemoth, Epic was founded in Madison, Wisconsin and now has headquarters in Verona, Wisconsin. If you aren’t in healthcare IT, my guess is that you’ve probably never even heard of Verona.

Those are just a few examples and I’m sure there are many more. Why is it that so many of the large healthcare IT companies have come from small cities? Will that trend continue or will large cities like San Francisco, Boston, New York, and LA start to dominate?

I’m a bit of a young buck in this regard. So, I don’t have the answer. Hopefully some of my readers do. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Is there an advantage to being from a small town when going into healthcare? It’s exciting to me that healthcare innovation can come from anywhere. I hope that trend continues.

Patient Wait Time Tracking – Can We Learn Something from Fast Food?

Posted on February 19, 2015 I Written By

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

I was recently asked by @HIMTrainer (Jennifer Della’Zanna if you prefer) if I knew where my article was that I wrote about having a “patient wait” timer in an office. I vaguely remember talking about the idea, but couldn’t find and don’t remember specifically posting about the topic. However, the idea of a timer that tracks a patient’s wait time was interesting.

I’m sure that most of you are familiar with these timers at fast food restaurants. They track how long you’re waiting for your food and they often have some promise of free food if it takes over a certain amount of time. I’ve always found these timers interesting. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I’ve been to a restaurant with one of these timers that I ever had to wait very long for my food. Is that because of the timer or is that the nature of the restaurant and this was just a marketing mechanism? The answer is that it’s likely both.

The timer is a visual display of how long you’re really waiting. Time is a funny thing. A wait time that is relatively short can feel really long. We often lie to ourselves about how long something is, but that’s our perception. A timer helps to readjust that perception to the proper perspective. Of course, on a bad day it can also illustrate how much the restaurant needs to improve.

The other value of the timer is that it encourages the staff to work faster. At first this probably means the staff will feel some anxiety over the timer. However, over time it will just be a visual indication of how quickly or slowly their working and will help to ensure a consistent speed of service from most employees.

Now I’m sure that many of you are thinking that Fast Food is an awful comparison to healthcare. Fast Food is a pretty consistent product with a consistent request. Healthcare is a pretty inconsistent product with a wild variety of requests (almost limitless). Plus, I’m sure that many people’s gut reaction will be that this is an awful idea and corrupts the practice of medicine. I can already hear the cries for “Where’s the humanity in medicine?”

Certainly an organization could take this too far. However, maybe there’s something we can learn from the wait time clock that could help healthcare improve. Plus, when people cry fowl over something, that really makes me want to dig into that idea and see how it can help.

What’s Realistic in Healthcare?
There’s no way you’re going to see an actual clock at the check in or check out window in healthcare. I can’t even imagine how that workflow and tracking would work. So, it won’t be the same as fast food, but there are certainly a number of options available to track how long a patient is waiting. In fact, in many cases you can get quite granular.

Built in EHR Status Tracking
10 years ago when I first implemented an EMR system (yes, it was EMR, not EHR at the time), we could track the patient wait times in our EMR system. It wasn’t a perfect process, but you could get a good idea of how long a patient was in the office, how long they waited to be put in a room, how long they waited from the nurse to the doctor, and then when they checked out. Of course, you can add it all together and get an idea of how long the patient was in the office.

We simply used the statuses in the EHR to track this time data. It worked out pretty well with a few exceptions. If we didn’t have something that was specifically queued off of that status, then the data would be incorrect. For example, the nurses knew to bring a patient into an exam room based on the front desk changing them to a checked in status. So, the front desk always did this. The doctor would know to go into the room based on the nurse changing the status of the patient, so the nursing staff always did this. The patient was marked as discharged when the patient was making their payment (or checking to see if they had payments) and so this final status change was always done. Nothing was queued off of the doctor changing the status, so this often failed and so that data wasn’t very accurate.

Running these reports was fascinating and we could slice and dice the data in a variety of different ways. We could see it by provider, by appointment type, etc. Seeing the data helped us analyze what was taking the most time and improve it. We were also able to exclude any outliers that would skew the data unfairly to a provider who had a crazy complex case or in case a status change was missed.

Proximity Tracking
While EHR status tracking is good, there’s an even more powerful and effective way to track patient wait times in an office. I saw this first hand at the Sanford Health clinic in Fargo, ND at the Intelligent Insite conference. The entire clinic was wired with proximity tracking and other wireless monitoring technology that could track everyone in the clinic. Every nurse, doctor, MA, etc all had this technology embedded in their badge. Patients were issued a tracking device when they checked in for their appointment.

With this technology in place, you can imagine how the workflow for my above tracking is totally automated. They would actually immediately room the patient upon the patient’s arrival. In this case, the room would automatically know that the patient was in the room and provide an indication to the nursing staff that the patient was ready and waiting. I can’t remember the exact times, but they worked to have a nurse go into the room with the patient almost immediately after the patient got in the room. No doubt that’s a unique setup, but with these tracking devices they could know how well they were doing with the goal.

I won’t dive into all the other details of this workflow, but you can imagine how all of these tracking devices can inform the flow of patients, nurses and doctors through your office. Plus, all of this data is now trackable and reportable. The nurse, doctor, or patient don’t have to remember to do anything. The proximity devices do all the tracking, status change, etc for you.

I asked them if many patients walk out of the office with their tracking device. They told me that they’ve never had that happen, but they have returning the device as part of their checkout procedures so that could be why.

Informing the Patient
I think we’re just getting started on all of this. The price of this technology will continue to come down and we’ll do a much better job of tracking what happens in a practice. Plus, it offers so many interesting workflow benefits. I wonder if one of the next steps is to inform the patient of their wait time.

If we’re tracking the wait time, it’s not that far of a stretch to share that wait time with the patient. Kick off a clock that starts counting once they check in for their appointment. Maybe that wait time is displayed in an app on the patient’s smartphone. Maybe the wait time could be integrated into the Epion Health tablets a practice gives the patient during their office visit. If it’s a fast visit, do you prompt them to do a review of the doctor on a social site like Yelp or HealthGrades? Would doctors be ready for a patient to see front and center how long they’ve been waiting?

Final Thoughts
I’m sure that many doctors and practices will be afraid of this type of transparency. Plus, I’ve seen some general medicine doctors in particular make some serious arguments for why they run behind. Maybe the app could take this into consideration and inform the patient accordingly. While there are many unreasonable patients that are going to be unreasonable regardless of the situation, many other patients will have a much better experience if they just know more details on what’s going on.

While the comparison to a fast food timer clock is a stretch, the concept of tracking a patient’s time in an office is a discussion that is just starting. As providers work to differentiate themselves from their competitors, I’ll be interested to see how all these new technologies combine to make the patient experience better.

Remote Patient Monitoring and Small Practices

Posted on February 18, 2015 I Written By

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

We’ve started to see the proliferation of wireless health devices that can track a wide variety of health data and more of these devices are becoming common place in the home. Here’s a great tweet that contains an image of some of the popular devices:

While many of these devices are being purchased by the patients and used in the home, there are a number of other programs where healthcare organizations (usually hospitals) are purchasing the devices for the patients who then use the device at home. These programs are designed for hospitals to remotely monitor a patient and identify potential health issues early in order to avoid a hospital readmission.

For those who work in hospitals, you know how important (financially and otherwise) it is for hospitals to reduce their readmissions. While this is great for hospitals, how does this apply to small practices and general and family practice doctors in particular. There’s no extra payment for a small practice doctor to help reduce the readmission of their patient to the hospital. At least I haven’t seen a hospital pay a doctor for their help in this service yet.

What then would motivate a small practice doctor to leverage these types of remote patient monitoring tools?

Sadly, I don’t think there is much motivation for the standard small practice office to use them. It’s easy to see where a concierge doctor might be interested in these technologies. As a concierge doctor or direct primary care doctor, it’s in their best interest to keep their patient population as healthy as possible. As this form of care becomes more popular, I think these types of technology will become incredibly important to their business model.

The other trend in play is the shift to value based reimbursement and ACOs. Will these types of remote patient monitoring technologies become important in this new reimbursement world? I think the jury is still out on this one, but you could see how they could work together.

I’ve recently had a number of doctors hammering me on Twitter and in the comments of blog posts about how technology is not the solution to the problems and that technology is just getting in the way of the personal face to face connection that doctors have been able to make in the office visit of the past. Their concern is real and those implementing the technology need to take this into account. The technology can get in the way if it’s implemented poorly.

However, these people who smack the technology down are usually speaking from a very narrow perspective. EHR and other technology can and does disrupt many office visits. We all know the common refrain that the doctor was looking at the computer not at me. This is a challenge that can be addressed.

While the above is true, how impersonal is a rushed 10-15 minute office visit with a doctor? How impersonal is it for the doctor to prescribe a medication to you and never know if you actually filed it? How impersonal is it for a doctor to prescribed a treatment and never follow up with you to know if the treatment worked? How impersonal is it for the doctor to never talk or interact with you and your health unless you proactively go to that doctor because you’re sick?

Technology is going to be the way that we bridge that gap and these remote patient monitoring technologies are one piece of that puzzle. I believe these technologies and others make healthcare so much more personal than it is today. It changes a short office visit to treat a chief complaint into actually caring for the patient.

This is what most doctors I know would rather be doing anyway. They don’t want to churn patients anymore than the patient wants to be churned, but that’s how they get paid. Hopefully the tide is changing and we’ll see more and more focus on paying providers for using technology that provides this type of personal care.

Small Meaningful Use Penalties for Small Practices

Posted on February 17, 2015 I Written By

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

Michelle has posted an interesting CMS analysis of the price of EHR penalties for physicians:

CMS reports that the majority of physicians who will be penalized this year for not having met MU requirements will lose less than $1,000 of their Medicare reimbursement; 34% of the penalties will be $250 or less, while 31% will exceed $2,000.

The adjustments will impact approximately 257,000 eligible providers. While no one likes losing money, the CMS penalty “stick” is pretty small compared to the overall cost of implementing an EHR.

Unfortunately her link to the CMS report seemed to be the wrong link. I’d love to dig into the 31% of doctors who will exceed $2000 in penalties. $2000 still isn’t very compelling to most doctors I know, but if it scales from there we could see how many doctors are really going to suffer from the EHR penalties.

What’s also not clear to me is if this includes the PQRS penalties as well. All of the penalties start to add up. I also heard one doctor talk about the feared 22% Medicare cut that’s been delayed for a decade or so (I lose track of the number of years). I’ll be surprised if those cuts aren’t delayed again, but it’s interesting that many doctors fear these cuts even if they’re likely to be delayed. Perception is still very important.

Back to the meaningful use penalties, $1000 penalty is not something most doctors will bat an eye at. Even those who have an EHR are opting out of meaningful use stage 2. The math doesn’t work out for small practices. $1000 of penalties certainly won’t balance the equation either. I expect a very small number of small practices to do meaningful use stage 2. Hospitals on the other hand are a different story.

Restructure and Reform Meaningful Use: Here’s a Way

Posted on February 12, 2015 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

It’s no secret that ONC’s meaningful use program’s a mess. I’m not sure there is an easy way out. In some respects, I wish they would go back and start over, but that’s not going to happen. They could do something to see daylight, but it won’t be either easy or simple. As I‘ll outline, ONC could adopt a graduated system that keeps the MU standards, includes terribly needed interoperability and usability standards, but does not drive everyone crazy over compliance.

MU’s Misguided Approach

ONC has spent much time and money on the MU standards, but has painted itself into a corner. No one, vendors, practioners or users is happy. Vendors see ONC pushing them to add features that aren’t needed or wanted. Practioners see MU imposing costs and practices that don’t benefit them or their patients. Users see EHRs as demonic Rube Goldberg creations out to frustrate, confuse and perplex. To boot, ONC keeps expanding its reach to new areas without progress on the basics.

Most the MU criticisms I’ve seen say MU’s standards are too strict or too vague. Compliance is criticized for being too demanding or not relevant. Most suggested cures tinker with the program: Eliminate standards or delay them. I think the problems are both content and structure. What MU needs is a return to basics and a general restructuring.

Roots of the MU Program’s Problems

It’s easy to beat up on ONC’s failures. Almost everyone has a pet, so I’ll keep mine short.

MU1: Missed Opportunities. MU’s problems stem from its first days. ONC saw EHRs as little more than database systems that stored and retrieved encounters. Data sharing only this:

Capability to exchange key clinical information (for example, problem list, medication list, medication allergies, diagnostic test results), among providers of care and patient authorized entities electronically.

Compliance only required one data exchange attempt. ONC relied on state systems to achieve interoperability. Usability didn’t exist.

MU2: Punting the Problems. ONC’s approach to interoperability and usability was simple. Interoperability was synonymous with continuity of care and public health reports. Every thing else was put off for future testing criteria.

ONC’s usability approach was equally simple. Vendors defined their usability and measurement. The result? Usability’s become a dead topic.

Interoperability

ONC has many good things to say about the need for interoperability. Its recent Roadmap is thoughtful and carefully crafted. However, the roadmap points out just how poor a job ONC has done to date and it highlights, to me, how much ONC needs to rethink its entire MU approach.

Changing ONC

In one of his seminal works on organizations, C. Northcote Parkinson said it’s almost impossible to change a failing organization. His advice is to walk away and sew salt. If you must persist, then you should adopt the heart of a British Drill Sergeant, that nothing is acceptable. Alas, only Congress can do the former and I’m way too old for military service, so I will venture on knowing it’s probably foolhardy, but here goes.

New Basic Requirements

A better approach to MU’s core and menu system would allow vendors to pick and choose the features they want to support, but require that all EHRs meet four basic standards:

  1. Data Set. This first standard would spell out in a basic, medical data set. This would include, for example, vitals, demographics, meds, chief complaints, allergies, surgeries, etc.
  2. Patient ID. A patient’s demographics would include a unique patient identifier. ONC can use its new freedom in this area by asking NIST to develop a protocol with stakeholders.
  3. Interoperability. EHRs would have to transmit and receive, on demand, the basic data set using a standard protocol, for example, HL7.
  4. Usability. Vendors would have to publish the results of running their EHR against NIST’s usability standard. This would give users, for the first time, an independent way to compare EHRs’ usability.

All current EHRs would have to meet these criteria within one year. Compliance would mean certification, but EHRs that only met these criteria would not be eligible for any funding.

Cafeteria Program. For funding, vendors would have to show their EHR supported selected MU2 and MU3 features. The more features certified, the more eligible they’d be for funding.

Here is how it would work. Each MU criteria would have a one to ten score. To be eligible for funding, a product would have to score 50 or more. The higher their score, the higher their funding eligibility.

Provider Compliance. Providers would have a similar system. ONC would assign scores of one to ten for each utilization standard. As with vendors, implementing organizations would receive points for each higher utilization level. That is, unlike current practice, which is all or nothing, the more the system is used to promote MU’s goals the higher the payments. This would permit users to decide which compliance criteria they wanted to support and which they did not.

Flexibility’s Advantages

This system’s flexibility has several advantages. It ends the rigid nature of compliance. It allows ONC to add new criteria as it sees fit giving it freedom to add criteria as needed or to push the field.

It achieves a major advancement for users. It not only tells users how products perform, but it also lets them choose those that best fit their needs.

Vendors, too, benefit from this approach. They would not only know where they stood vs. the competition, but would also be free to innovate without having to include features they don’t want.

The Future of Health Involves Human-Agent Collectives (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on February 3, 2015 I Written By

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

The first part of this article looked at the basic idea of devices and computer systems that can deal with loosely connected actors, human and mechanical. This part takes it further into current experiments in health care.

Devices Must Adapt to Collaborators’ Needs

To be a useful agent, a computer system must understand the context in which it is operating. Take pulse oximetry–the measurement of oxygen in the blood. It’s an easy procedure to perform, and is used in hospitals to tell whether a sick patient, such as one with lung problems, is in danger. The same technology can also be used by fitness buffs to tell whether they’re getting a good workout.

These are obviously very different goals–and the device used for pulse oximetry will also be used in different ways. In a risk monitoring situation, samples may be taken less often than during a healthy fitness workout. At the minimum, a device should be configurable so that it gives the timing and accuracy needed in a particular setting. It should also be easy to turn a device on and off if it is needed for a limited time period, such as a workout.

Diego Alonso, a researcher at MD PnP, points to analgesia (the administration of pain killers) in the hospital as an example of competing needs that must be reconciled by a supervisor, human or machine. So long as the patient is stable, the pain killer should be administered. But if a monitor notices a drop in the patient’s vital signs, the painkiller’s dose must be reduced.

A popular standard for exchanging data among devices is the Data Distribution Service (DDS). The standard is rich and complex, typical of those produced by the Object Management Group. But among its virtues are an ability to specify how often you want data from a particular device. OpenICE uses DDS, among many other systems.

In short, the frequency and accuracy of data collection should be configurable. As patterns of human behavior are better understood, devices may become even more responsive to the contexts in which they are needed.

Even before the current move to standards, Capsule Tech managed to get devices to talk to EHRs through the grueling effort of interpreting the inputs and outputs of each system and crafting protocols to make them work together.

Started in 1997, the company has recently expanded from merely sharing data to developing useful tools based on data, such as alerts and a modest amount of analytics. Some of these tools demonstrate a kind of adaptability reminiscent of a human-agent collective.

For instance, alerts are crucial in any hospital environment, but notorious for crying wolf–90% can be false. In addition to sending data to the EHR, Capsule’s SmartLinx’s Medical Device Information System sends near-real-time alarm data to its Alarm Management System. This helps hospitals manage their alarms, in line with the Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goals.

SmartLinx does not suppress any information, but when reporting it through the Alarm Management System to the clinician’s mobile device, includes some context to help the clinician decide whether the alert needs a response. Some context involves basics such as who, where, when, and which device was activated. Other context can consist of physiological data such as the patient’s heart rate and how long the alarm has been sounding.

Additionally, to provide actionable, timely information that aids in human decision making, Capsule has built an early warning scoring system application that uses vital sign information to calculate an immediate general health status score for patients and to identify those likely to deteriorate. The application also guides the care team through appropriate actions. This may be the beginning of an intelligent, integrated health system.

Computer Systems Must Be Sensitive to Bad Input and Failure

An unfortunate tenet of human-agent collectives is that agents can’t be trusted. The most basic example is system failure. If you don’t hear from a device, does that mean the patient is fine or that the device’s battery has run out of power? DDS offers a handshake or heartbeat, the common way for distributed computing systems to determine whether part of the system has gone bust.

Provenance is another requirement for collaborative environments. This means recording when a measurement was taken, and what person or device was responsible. There must also be ways to protect against data that arrives late or is assigned the wrong timestamp. When data is entered by humans, errors can be assumed as a matter of course, even in something as simple as spelling the name of a medication manufactured by your company.

More subtle is input from inexact devices, and worse still is the potential for malicious manipulation. I heard of instances where people who got rewards by their employers for reporting exercise put their fitness devices on their dogs. Using analytics, a health care system should be able to tell that a series of sudden 20-mile-per-hour rushes interrupted by inactivity are not a human activity.

Ethical and Technical Considerations

Lots of issues come up as simple human-computer interaction evolves into collaboration among agents. I’ve already mentioned error detection and provenance. Other issues include flexibility in computers taking or relinquishing control (agile teaming), legal responsibility, providing each agent with the right incentives, considering when to engage the user’s attention (instead of taking action behind the scenes), and offering the proper interface to do so. Connected health is a deep concept offering a lot to explore, and technologies will get better as we understand more of it.

The Future of Health Involves Human-Agent Collectives (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on February 2, 2015 I Written By

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

Everyone understands that isolated interventions in the doctor’s office will not solve the chronic health conditions that plague developed nations and inflate health care costs. So as the health field shyly tries on new collaborative styles–including coordinated care, patient-centered medical homes, and accountable care organizations–participants are learning that the supporting technologies must also enable collaboration in ways vastly more sophisticated than current EHRs and devices.
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