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Mercy Shares De-Identified Data With Medtronic

Posted on October 20, 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.

Medtronic has always performed controlled clinical trials to check out the safety and performance of its medical devices. But this time, it’s doing something more.

Dublin-based Medtronic has signed a data-sharing agreement with Mercy, the fifth largest Catholic health system in the U.S.  Under the terms of the agreement, the two are establishing a new data sharing and analysis network intended to help gather clinical evidence for medical device innovation, the company said.

Working with Mercy Technology Services, Medtronic will capture de-identified data from about 80,000 Mercy patients with heart failure. The device maker will use that data to explore real-world factors governing their response to Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy, a heart failure treatment option which helps some patients.

Medtronic believes that the de-identified patient data Mercy supplies could help improve device performance, according to Dr. Rick Kuntz, senior vice president of strategic scientific operations with Medtronic. “Having the ability to study patient care pathways and conditions before and after exposure to a medical device is crucial to understanding how those devices perform outside of controlled clinical trial setting,” said Kuntz in a prepared statement.

Mercy’s agreement with Medtronic is not unique. In fact, academic medical centers, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and increasingly, broad-based technology giants are getting into the health data sharing game.

For example, earlier this year Google announced that it was expanding its partnerships with three high-profile academic medical centers under which they work to better analyze clinical data. According to Healthcare IT News, the partners will examine how machine learning can be used in clinical settings to sift through EMR data and find ways to improve outcomes.

“Advanced machine learning is mature enough to start accurately predicting medical events – such as whether patients will be hospitalized, how long they will stay, and whether the health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, or heart failure,” said Google Brain Team researcher Katherine Chou in a blog post.

As with Mercy, the academic medical centers are sharing de-identified data. Chou says that offers plenty of information. “Machine learning can discover patterns in de-identified medical records to predict what is likely to happen next, and thus, anticipate the needs of the patients before they arise,” she wrote.

It’s worth pointing out that “de-identification” refers to a group of techniques for patient data protection which, according to NIST, include suppression of personal identifiers, replacing personal identifiers with an average value for the entire group of data, reporting personal identifiers as being within a given range, exchanging personal identifiers other information and swapping data between records.

It may someday become an issue when someone mixes up de-identification (which makes it quite difficult to define specific patients) and anonymization, a subcategory of de-identification whereby data can never be re-identified. Such confusion would, in short, be bad, as the difference between “de-identified” and “anonymized” matters.

In the meantime, though, de-identified data seems likely to help a wide variety of healthcare organizations do better work. As long as patient data stays private, much good can come of partnerships like the one underway at Mercy.

Usability, Interoperability are Political Questions: We Need an EHR Users Group

Posted on October 6, 2017 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.

Over the years, writers on blogs such as this and EMRandHIPAA have vented their frustration with lousy EHR usability and interoperability problems. Usability has shown no real progress unless you count all the studies showing that its shortcomings cost both time and money, drives users nuts, and endangers patient lives.

The last administration’s usability approach confused motion with progress with a slew of roadmaps, meetings and committees. It’s policies kowtowed to vendors. The current regime has gone them one better with a sort of faith based approach. They believe they can improve usability as long it doesn’t involve screens or workflow. Interoperability has seen progress, mostly bottom up, but there is still no national solution. Patient matching requires equal parts data, technique and clairvoyance.

I think the solution to these chronic problems isn’t technical, but political. That is, vendors and ONC need to have their feet put to the fire. Otherwise, in another year or five or ten we’ll be going over the same ground again and again with the same results. That is, interop will move ever so slowly and usability will fade even more from sight – if that’s possible.

So, who could bring about this change? The one group that has no organized voice: users. Administrators, hospitals, practioners, nurses and vendors have their lobbyists and associations. Not to mention telemed, app and device makers. EHR users, however, cut across each of these groups without being particularly influential in any. Some groups raise these issues; however, it’s in their context, not for users in general. This means no one speaks for common, day in day out, EHR users. They’re never at the table. They have no voice. That’s not to say there aren’t any EHR user groups. There are scads, but vendors run almost all of them.

What’s needed is a national association that represents EHR users’ interests. Until they organize and earn a place along vendors, etc., these issues won’t move. Creating a group won’t be easy. Users are widely dispersed and play many different roles. Then there is money. Users can’t afford to pony up the way vendors can. An EHR user group or association could take many forms and I don’t pretend to know which will work best. All I can do is say this:

EHR Users Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose, But Your Frustrations!

There’s a New Medicare ID Coming in April – CMS Dumps SSN

Posted on September 26, 2017 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.

Following a 2015 Congressional directive, CMS is abandoning its Social Security based Medicare ID for a new randomly generated one. The new card will be hitting beneficiary’s mailboxes in April with everyone covered by a year later.

The old ID is a SSN plus one letter. The letter says if you are a beneficiary, child, widow, etc. The new will have both letters and numbers. It is wholly random and drops the coding for beneficiary, etc. Fortunately, it will exclude S, L, O, I, B and Z, which can look like numbers. You can see the new ID’s details here.

                           New Medicare ID Card

Claimants will have until 2020 to adopt the new IDs, but that’s not the half of it. For the HIT world, this means many difficult, expensive and time consuming changes. CMS sees this as a change in how it tracks claims. However, its impact may make HIT managers wish for the calm and quiet days of Y2K. That’s because adopting the new number for claims is just the start. Their systems use the Medicare ID as a key field for just about everything they do involving Medicare. This means they’ll not only have to cross walk to the new number, but also their systems will have to look back at what was done under the old.

Ideally, beneficiaries will only have to know their new number. Realistically, every practice they see over the next several years will want both IDs. This will add one more iteration to patient matching, which is daunting enough.

With MACRA Congress made a strong case for Medicare no longer relying on SSNs for both privacy and security reasons. Where it failed was seeing it only as a CMS problem and not as a HIT problem with many twists and turns.

Bringing Zen To Healthcare:  Transformation Through The N of 1

Posted on July 21, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The following essay wasn’t easy to understand. I had trouble taking it in at first. But the beauty of these ideas began to shine through for me when I took time to absorb them. Maybe you will struggle with them a bit yourself.

In his essay, the author argues that if providers focus on “N of 1” it could change healthcare permanently. I think he might be right, or at least makes a good case.  It’s a complex argument but worth following to the end. Trust me, the journey is worth taking.

The mysterious @CancerGeek

Before I share his ideas, I’ll start with an introduction to @CancerGeek, the essay’s author. Other than providing a photo as part of his Twitter home page, he’s chosen to be invisible. Despite doing a bunch of skillful GoogleFu, I couldn’t track him down.

@CancerGeek posted a cloud of interests on the Twitter page, including a reference to being global product manager PET-CT; says he develops hospital and cancer centers in the US and China; and describes himself as an associate editor with DesignPatient-MD.

In the essay, he says that he did clinical rotations from 1998 to 1999 while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center, working with Dr. Minesh Mehta.

He wears a bow tie.

And that’s all I’ve got. He could be anybody or nobody. All we have is his voice. John assures me he’s a real person that works at a company that everyone knows. He’s just chosen to remain relatively anonymous in his social profiles to separate his social profiles from his day job.

The N of 1 concept

Though we don’t know who @CancerGeek is, or why he is hiding, his ideas matter. Let’s take a closer look at the mysterious author’s N of 1, and decide for ourselves what it means. (To play along, you might want to search Twitter for the #Nof1 hashtag.)

To set the stage, @CancerGeek describes a conversation with Dr. Mehta, a radiation oncologist who served as chair of the department where @CancerGeek got his training. During this encounter, he had an insight which helped to make him who he would be — perhaps a moment of satori.

As the story goes, someone called Dr. Mehta to help set up a patient in radiation oncology, needing help but worried about disturbing the important doctor.

Apparently, when Dr. Mehta arrived, he calmly helped the patient, cheerfully introducing himself to their family and addressing all of their questions despite the fact that others were waiting.

When Dr. Mehta asked @CancerGeek why everyone around him was tense, our author told him that they were worried because patients were waiting, they were behind schedule and they knew that he was busy. In response, Dr. Mehta shared the following words:

No matter what else is going on, the world stops once you enter a room and are face to face with a patient and their family. You can only care for one patient at a time. That patient, in that room, at that moment is the only patient that matters. That is the secret to healthcare.

Apparently, this advice changed @CancerGeek on the spot. From that moment on, he would work to focus exclusively on the patient and tune out all distractions.

His ideas crystallized further when he read an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that gave a name to his approach to medicine. The article introduced him to the concept of N of 1.  All of the pieces began to began to fit together.

The NEJM article was singing his song. It said that no matter what physicians do, nothing else counts when they’re with the patient. Without the patient, it said, little else matters.

Yes, the author conceded, big projects and big processes matter still matter. Creating care models, developing clinical pathways and clinical service lines, building cancer centers, running hospitals, and offering outpatient imaging, radiology and pathology services are still worthwhile. But to practice well, the author said, dedicate yourself to caring for patients at the N of 1. Our author’s fate was sealed.

Why is N of 1 important to healthcare?

Having told his story, @CancerGeek shifts to the present. He begins by noting that at present, the healthcare industry is focused on delivering care at the “we” level. He describes this concept this way:

“The “We” level means that when you go to see a physician today, that the medical care they recommend to you is based on people similar to you…care based on research of populations on the 100,000+ (foot) level.”

But this approach is going to be scrapped over the next 8 to 10 years, @CancerGeek argues. (Actually, he predicts that the process will take exactly eight years.)

Over time, he sees care moving gradually from the managing groups to delivering personalized care through one-to-one interactions. He believes the process will proceed as follows:

  • First, sciences like genomics, proteomics, radionomics, functional imaging and immunotherapies will push the industry into delivering care at a 10,000-foot population level.
  • Next, as ecosystems are built out that support seamless sharing of digital footprints, care will move down to the 1,000-foot level.
  • Eventually, the system will alight at patient level. On that day, the transition will be complete. Healthcare will no longer be driven by hospitals, healthcare systems or insurance companies. Its sole focus will be on people and communities — and what the patient will become over time.

When this era arrives, doctors will know patients far more deeply, he says.

He predicts that by leveraging all of the data available in the digital world, physicians will know the truth of their experiences, including the food they eat, the air they breathe, how much sleep they get, where they work, how they commute to and from work and whether they care for a family member or friend, doctors will finally be able to offer truly personalized care. They’ll focus on the N of 1, the single patient they’re encountering at that moment.

The death of what we know

But we’re still left with questions about the heart of this idea. What, truly, is the N of 1? Perhaps it is the sound of one hand clapping. Or maybe it springs from an often-cited Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” Do what you’re doing right now – focus and stay in the present moment. This is treating patients at the N of 1 level, it seems to me.

Like Zen, the N of 1 concept may sound mystical, but it’s entirely practical. As he points out, patients truly want to be treated at the N of 1 – they don’t care about the paint on the walls or Press Ganey scores, they care about being treated as individuals. And providers need to make this happen.

But to meet this challenge, healthcare as we know it must die, he says. I’ll leave you with his conclusion:

“Within the next eight years, healthcare as we know it will end. The new healthcare will begin. Healthcare delivered at the N of 1.”  And those who seek will find.

Google’s DeepMind Runs Afoul Of UK Regulators Over Patient Data Access

Posted on July 20, 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.

Back in February, I recounted the tale of DeepMind, a standout AI startup acquired by Google a few years ago. In the story, I noted that DeepMind had announced that it would be working with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees three hospitals, to test out its healthcare app

DeepMind’s healthcare app, Streams, is designed to help providers kick out patient status updates to physicians and nurses working with them. Under the terms of the deal, which was to span five years, DeepMind was supposed to gain access to 1.6 million patient records managed by the hospitals.

Now, the agreement seems to have collapsed under regulatory scrutiny. The UK’s data protection watchdog has ruled that DeepMind’s deal with the Trust “failed to comply with data protection law,” according to a story in Business Insider. The watchdog, known as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has spent a year investigating the deal, BI reports.

As it turns out, the agreement empowered the Trust hospitals to share the data without the patients’ prior knowledge, something that presumably wouldn’t fly in the U.S. either. This includes data, intended for use in developing the Streams’ app kidney monitoring technology, which includes info on whether people are HIV-positive, along with details of drug overdoses and abortions.

In its defense, DeepMind and the Royal Free Trust argued that patients had provided “implied consent” for such data sharing, given that the app was delivering “direct care” to patients using it. (Nice try. Got any other bridges you wanna sell?) Not surprisngly, that didn’t satisfy the ICO, which found several other shortcomings and how the data was handled as well.

While the ICO has concluded that the DeepMind/Royal Free Trust deal was illegal, it doesn’t plan to sanction either party, despite having the power to hand out fines of up to £500,000, BI said. But DeepMind, which set up his own independent review panel to oversee its data sharing agreements, privacy and security measures and product roadmaps last year, is taking a closer look at this deal. Way to self-police, guys! (Or maybe not.)

Not to be provincial, but what worries me about this is less the politics of UK patient protection laws, and bore the potential for Google subsidiaries to engage in other questionable data sharing activities. DeepMind has always said that they do not share patient data with its corporate parent, but while this might be true now, Google could do incalculable harm to patient privacy if they don’t maintain this firewall.

Hey, just consider that even for an entity the size of Google, healthcare data is an incredibly valuable asset. Reportedly, even street-level data thieves pay 10x for healthcare data as they do for, say, credit card numbers. It’s hard to even imagine what an entity the size of Google could do with such data if crunched in incredibly advanced ways. Let’s just say I don’t want to find out.

Unfortunately, as far as I know U.S. law hasn’t caught up with the idea of crime-by-analytics, which could be an issue even if an entity has legal possession of healthcare data. But I hope it does soon. The amount of harm this kind of data manipulation could do is immense.

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

Posted on May 17, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper Records Are Dead

Posted on March 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.

Here’s an argument that’s likely to upset some, but resonate with others. After kicking the idea around in my head, I’ve concluded that given broad cultural trends, that the healthcare industry as a whole has outgrown the use of paper records once and for all. I know that this notion is implicit in what health IT leaders do, but I wanted to state this directly nonetheless.

Let me start out by noting that I’m not coming down on the minority of practices (and the even smaller percentage of hospitals) which still run on old-fashioned paper charts. No solution is right for absolutely everyone, and particularly in the case of small, rural medical practices, paper charts may be just the ticket.

Also, there are obviously countless reasons why some physicians dislike or even hate current EMRs. I don’t have space to go into them here, but far too many, they’re hard to use, expensive, time-consuming monsters. I’m certainly not trying to suggest that doctors that have managed to cling to paper are just being contrary.

Still, for all but the most isolated and small providers, over the longer term there’s no viable argument left for shuffling paper around. Of course, the healthcare industry won’t realize most of the benefits of EMRs and digital health until they’re physician-friendly, and progress in that direction has been extremely slow, but if we can create platforms that physicians like, there will be no going back. In fact, for most their isn’t any going back even if they don’t become more physician firendly. If we’re going to address population-wide health concerns, coordinate care across communities and share health information effectively, going full-on digital is the only solution, for reasons that include the following:

  • Millennial and Gen Y patients won’t settle for less. These consumers are growing up in a world which has gone almost completely digital, and telling them that, for example they have to get in line to get copies of a paper record would not go down well with them.
  • Healthcare organizations will never be able to scale up services effectively, or engage with patients sufficiently, without using EMRs and digital health tools. If you doubt this, consider the financial services industry, which was sharing information with consumers decades before providers began to do so. If you can’t imagine a non-digital relationship with your bank at this point, or picture how banks could do their jobs without web-based information sharing, you’ve made my point for me.
  • Without digital healthcare, it may be impossible for hospitals, health systems, medical practices and other healthcare stakeholders to manage population health needs. Yes, public health organizations have conducted research on community health trends using paper charts, and done some effective interventions, but nothing on the scale of what providers hope (and need) to achieve. Paper records simply don’t support community-based behavioral change nearly as well.
  • Even small healthcare operations – like a two-doctor practice – will ultimately need to go digital to meet quality demands effectively. Though some have tried valiantly, largely by auditing paper charts, it’s unlikely that they’d ever build patient engagement, track trends and see that predictable needs are met (like diabetic eye exams) as effectively without EMRs and digital health data.

Of course, as noted above, the countervailing argument to all of this is the first few generations of EMRs have done more to burden clinicians than help them achieve their goals, sometimes by a very large margin. That seems to be largely because most have been designed — and sadly, continue to be designed — more to support billing processes than improve care. But if EMRs are redesigned to support patient care first and foremost, things will change drastically. Someday our grandchildren, carrying their lifetime medical history in a chip on their fingernail, will wonder how providers ever managed during our barbaric age.

 

First Time HIMSS: Hospital CEO John Kurvink

Posted on March 7, 2017 I Written By

Healthcare as a Human Right. Physician Suicide Loss Survivor. Janae writes about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Data Analytics, Engagement and Investing in Healthcare. twitter: @coherencemed

I met John Kurvink from Georgian Bay General Hospital at the Salesforce party at HIMSS this year. We discussed the relative value of a VIP pass vs a regular guest pass. As a hospital CEO, John was wearing a shiny VIP necklace complete with sparkling flashing lights. We found the flashing light wands together and discussed how HIMSS was going for them.

John has the ability to motivate staff and managers to develop their potential and participated in the Intermountain Healthcare video series on healthcare in November 2016.  It was immediately clear that he was there with his team, to maximize the HIMSS experience. I wanted to hear more about the decision making process and differentiating between sales pitches on the exhibitor floor and value for Hopital CFO and CEOs. I asked if I could walk the exhibit floor a bit with their team.  After the show John shared his insights about his first visit to HIMSS.

What was your first health IT conference like?

It was a good experience.  Overwhelming at first.  It took a day to get my conference legs under me.

What were your goals?

See some of the latest health IT projects.  Connect with some of the vendors we do business with.

What was your favorite part of HIMSS?

Networking with other attendees and vendors.  I met some very interesting smart people

What did you learn about Health IT?

There are so many vendors who all appear to be offering the same solutions.  Differentiating between them is a challenge.

What did you learn?

I learned that as a hospital we have lots of options as far as technology solutions.  Need to be very careful before making a commitment.

What was your least favorite part of HIMSS?

Not having a plan which meant I wasted a lot of time walking back and forth arriving late for sessions.

What do people need to know about Health IT from HIMSS?

You need to be sure to have a plan before you arrive.  Know what you want to learn about and focus on executing instead of being caught up with the “new shiny object”.

Many vendors have similar offerings or business solutions and making buying decisions for a hospital or healthcare group can be overwhelming. Brenda and Elizabeth from the Georgian Bay were intelligent and hilarious. Georgian Bay had proposals from patient security partners and other vendors and walking the exhibit floor with John helped me see how vendors interact with Hospital CEOs. They are more aggressive and less technical in their product description. There are more invited dinners with sales pitches. His consideration for his team and ability to see past the “new shiny object” were impressive.

Here’s to many more years of learning with John and his team.

Epic Launches FHIR-Based App Platform

Posted on March 2, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

It looks like Epic is getting on the FHIR train. According to an article in Modern Healthcare, Epic is launching a new program – serving physician practices and hospitals – to help them build customized apps. The program, App Orchard, will also support independent mobile app developers who target providers and patients.

The launch follows on the heels of a similar move by Cerner, which set up its own sandbox for developers interested in linking to its EMR using FHIR. The Cerner Open Developer Experience (code_), which launched in early 2016, is working with firms creating SMART on FHIR apps.

App Orchard, for its part, lets developers use a FHIR-based API to access an Epic development sandbox. This will allow the developers to address issues in connecting their apps to the Epic EMR. Previously, Epic wouldn’t let mobile app developers connect to its EMR until a customer requested permission on their behalf.

In addition to providing the API, App Orchard will also serve as an online marketplace along the lines of Google Play or the Apple app store. However, end users won’t be able to download the app for their own use — only software developers and vendors will be able to do that. The idea is that these developers will create the apps on contract to customers.

Meanwhile, according to the magazine, Epic will screen and pick an initial group of developers to the program. Brett Gann, who leads the Epic-based team developing App Orchard, told Modern Healthcare that factors which will distinguish one developer from the other include app safety, security, privacy, reliability, system integrity, data integrity and scalability.

As part of their participation, developers will get documentation listing these criteria and what they mean to Epic. The Epic team will expect the developers to commit to following these guidelines and explain how they’ll do so, Gann said.

While Epic hasn’t made any predictions about what types of apps developers will pursue, recent research offers a clue. According to new research by SMART and KLAS, providers are especially interested in apps that help with patient engagement, EMR data viewing, diagnostics, clinical decision support and documentation tasks.

One thing to watch is how Epic decides to handle licensing, ownership, and charges for participation in their Orchard Program. If they have a true open API, then this will be a good move for the industry. If instead they choose to take ownership of everything that’s created, put restrictive licenses on developers, and/or charge huge sums to participate, then it’s unlikely to see much true innovation that’s possible with an open API. We’ll see how that plays out.

Meanwhile, in other Epic news, Becker’s Hospital Review notes that the vendor is planning to develop two additional versions of its EMR. Adam Whitlatch, a lead developer there, told the site that the new versions will include a mid-range EMR with fewer modules (dubbed “utility”), and a slimmer version with fewer modules and advanced features, to be called “Sonnet.”

Whitlatch said the new versions will target physician practices and smaller hospitals, which might prefer a lower-cost EMR that can be implemented more quickly than the standard Epic product. It’s also worth noting that the two new EMR versions will be interoperable with the traditional Epic EMR (known as “all-terrain”).

All told, these are intriguing developments which could have an impact on the EMR industry as a whole.

On the one hand, not only is Epic supporting the movement towards interchangeable apps based on FHIR, it appears that the vendor has decided to give in to the inevitable and started to open up its platform (something it hasn’t done willingly in the past).  Over time, this could affect providers’ overall Epic development plans if Epic executes it well and enables innovation on Orchard and doesn’t restrict it.

Also, the new versions of the Epic could make it available to a much wider audience, particularly if the stripped-down versions are significantly cheaper than its signature EMR. In fact, an affordable Epic EMR could trigger a big shakeup in the ambulatory EMR market.

Let’s see if more large EMR vendors decide to offer an open API. If access to EMR APIs became common, it would represent a major shift in the whole health IT ecosystem.

E-Patient Update: Hey Government, Train Patients Too!

Posted on February 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.

Recently I got a most interesting email from the ONC and A-list healthcare educator Columbia University. In the message, it offered me a free online course taught by Columbia’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, apparently paid for by ONC funding. (Unfortunately, they aren’t giving away free toasters to students, or I definitely would have signed up. No wait, I’m sorry, I did register, but I would have done it faster for the toaster.)

The course, which is named Health Informatics For Innovation, Value and Enrichment) or HI-FIVE, is designed to serve just about anyone in healthcare, including administrators, managers, physicians, nurses, social workers an care coordinators. Subjects covered by the course include all of the usual favorites, including healthcare data analytics, population health, care coordination and interoperability, value-based care and patient-centered care.

If I seem somewhat flippant, it’s just because the marketing material seemed a little…uh…breathlessly cheery and cute given the subject. I can certainly see the benefits of offering such a course at no cost, especially for those professionals (such as social workers) unlikely to be offered a broader look at health IT issues.

On the other hand, I’d argue that there’s another group which needs this kind of training more – and that’s consumers like myself. While I might be well-informed on these subjects, due to my geeky HIT obsession, my friends and family aren’t. And while most of the professionals served by the course will get at least some exposure to these topics on the job, my mother, my sister and my best girlfriend have essentially zero chance of finding consumer-friendly information on using health IT.

Go where the need is

As those who follow this column know, I’ve previously argued hard for hospitals and medical groups to offer patients training on health IT basics, particularly on how to take advantage of their portal. But given that my advice seems to be falling on deaf ears – imagine that! – it occurs to me that a government agency like ONC should step in and help. If closing important knowledge gaps is important to our industry, why not this particular gap. Hey, go where the need is greatest.

After all, as I’ve noted time and again, we do want patients to understand consumer health IT and how to reap its benefits, as this may help them improve their health. But if you want engagement, folks, people have to understand what you’re talking about and why it matters. As things stand, my sense is that few people outside the #healthit bubble have the faintest idea of what we’re talking about (and wouldn’t really want to know either).

What would a consumer-oriented ONC course cover? Well, I’m sure the authorities can figure that out, but I’m sure education on portal use, reading medical data, telemedicine, remote monitoring, mobile apps and wearables wouldn’t come amiss. Honestly, it almost doesn’t matter how much the course would cover – the key here would be to get people interested and comfortable.

The biggest problem I can see here is getting consumers to actually show up for these courses, which will probably seem threatening to some. It may not be easy to provoke their interest, particularly if they’re technophobic generally. But there’s plenty of consumer marketing techniques that course creators could use to get the job done, particularly if you’re giving your product away. (If all else fails, the toaster giveaway might work.)

If providers don’t feel equipped to educate patients, I hope that someone does, sometime soon, preferably a neutral body like ONC rather than a self-interested vendor. It’s more than time.