Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

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.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of “Epic Finger”

Posted on January 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.

The following is a summary of an “academic” paper written by Andrew P. Ross, M.D., an emergency physician practicing in Savannah, GA. In the paper, Dr. Ross vents about the state of physician EMR issues and repetitive EMR clicking (in quite witty fashion!). Rather than try and elaborate on what he’s said so well, I leave you with his thoughts.

At long last, medical science has identified a subtle but dangerous condition which could harm generations of clinicians. A paper appearing in the Annals of Emergency Medicine this month has described and listed treatment options for “Epic finger,” an occupational injury similar to black lung, phossy jaw and miner’s nystagmus.

Article author Andrew Ross, MD, describes Epic finger, otherwise known as “Ross’s finger” or “the furious finger of clerical rage,” as a progressive repetitive use injury. Symptoms of Epic finger can include chronic-appearing tender and raised deformities, which may be followed by crepitus and locking of the finger. The joint may become enlarged and erythematous, resembling “a boa constrictor after it has eaten a small woodland mammal.”

Patients with Epic finger may experience severe psychiatric and comorbid conditions. Physical complications may include the inability to hail a cab with one’s finger extended, play a musical instrument or hold a pen due to intractable pain.  Meanwhile, job performance may suffer due to the inability to conduct standard tests such as the digital rectal exam and percussion of the abdomen, leading in turn to depression, unhappiness and increased physician burnout.

Dr. Ross notes that plain film imaging may show findings consistent with osteoarthritic changes of the joint space, and that blood work may show a mild leukocytosis and increased nonspecific markers of inflammation. Ultimately, however, this elusive yet disabling condition must be identified by the treating professional.

To treat Epic finger, Dr. Ross recommends anti-inflammatory medication, aluminum finger splinting and massage, as well as “an unwavering faith in the decency of humanity.”  But ultimately, to reverse this condition more is called for, including a sabbatical “in some magnificent locale with terrible wi-fi and a manageable patient load.”

Having identified the syndrome, Dr. Ross calls for recognition of this condition in the ICD-10 manual. Such recognition would help clinicians win acceptance of such a sabbatical by employers and obtain health and disability insurance coverage for treatment, he notes. In his view, the code for Epic finger would fit well in between “sucked into jet engine, subsequent encounter,” “burn due to water skis on fire” and “dependence on enabling machines and devices, not elsewhere classified.”

Meanwhile, hospitals can do their part by training patients to recognize when their healthcare providers are suffering from Epic finger. Patients can “provide appropriate and timely warnings to hospital administrators through critical Press Ganey patient satisfaction scorecards.”

Unfortunately, the prognosis for patients with Epic finger can be poor if it remains untreated. However, if the condition is recognized promptly, treated early, and bundled with time spent in actual patient care, the author believes that this condition can be reversed and perhaps even cured.

To accomplish this result, clinicians need to stand up for themselves, he suggests: “We as a profession need to recognize this condition as an occult manifestation of our own professional malaise,” he writes. “We must heal ourselves to heal others.”

Healthcare Needs Clinician Data Experts

Posted on November 2, 2016 I Written By

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

This week I read an interesting article by a physician about the huge challenges clinicians face coping with unthinkably large clinical data sets — and what we should do about it. The doctor who wrote the article argues for the creation of a next-gen clinician/health IT hybrid expert that will bridge the gaps between technology and medicine.

In the article, the doctor noted that while he could conceivably answer any question he had about his patients using big data, he would have to tame literally billions of data rows to do so.

Right now, logs of all EHR activity are dumped into large databases every day, notes Alvin Rajkomar, MD. In theory, clinicians can access the data, but in reality most of the analysis and taming of data is done by report writers. The problem is, the HIT staff compiling reports don’t have the clinical context they need to sort such data adequately, he says:

“Clinical data is complex and contextual,” he writes. “[For example,] a heart rate may be listed under the formal vital sign table or under nursing documentation, where it is listed as a pulse. A report writer without clinical background may not appreciate that a request for heart rate should actually include data from both tables.“

Frustrated with the limitations of this process, Rajkomar decided to take the EHR database problem on. He went through an intense training process including 24 hours of in–person classes, a four-hour project and four hours of supervised training to obtain the skills needed to work with large clinical databases. In other words, he jumped right in the middle of the game.

Even having a trained physician in the mix isn’t enough, he argues. Ultimately, understanding such data calls for developing a multidisciplinary team. Clinicians need each others’ perspectives on the masses of data coming in, which include not only EHR data but also sensor, app and patient record outcomes. Moreover, a clinician data analyst is likely to be more comfortable than traditional IT staffers when working with nurses, pharmacists or laboratory technicians, he suggests.

Still, having even a single clinician in the mix can have a major impact, Rajkomar argues. He contends that the healthcare industry needs to create more people like him, a role he calls “clinician-data translator.” The skills needed by this translator would include expertise in clinical systems, the ability to extract data from large warehouses and deep understanding of how to rigorously analyze large data sets.

Not only would such a specialist help with data analysis, and help to determine where to apply novel  algorithms, they could also help other clinicians decide which questions are worth investigating further in the first place. What’s more, clinician data scientists would be well-equipped to integrate data-gathering activities into workflows, he points out.

The thing is, there aren’t any well-marked pathways to becoming a clinician data scientist, with most data science degrees offering training that doesn’t focus on a particular domain. But if you believe Rajkomar – and I do – finding clinicians who want to be data scientists makes a lot of sense for health systems and clinics. While their will always be a role for health IT experts with purely technical training, we need clinicians who will work alongside them and guide their decisions.

News Flash: Physicians Still Very Dissatisfied With EMRs

Posted on October 18, 2016 I Written By

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

Anyone who reads this blog knows that many physicians still aren’t convinced that the big industry-wide EMR rollout was a good idea. But nonetheless, I was still surprised to learn — as you might be as well — that in the aggregate, physicians thoroughly dislike pretty much all of the ambulatory EMRs commonly used in medical practices today.

This conclusion, along with several other interesting factoids, comes from a new report from healthcare research firm peer60. The report is based on a survey from the firm conducted in August of this year, reaching out to 1,053 doctors in various specialties.

Generally speaking, the peer60 study found that EMR market for acute care facilities is consolidating quickly, and that Epic continues to add market share in the ambulatory EMR market (Although, it’s possible that’s also survey bias).  In fact, 50% of respondents reported using an Epic system, followed by 21% Cerner, 9% Allscripts and 4% the military EMR VistA.  Not surprisingly, respondents reporting Epic use accounted for 55% of hospitals with 751+ beds, but less predictably, a full 59% of hospitals of up to 300 beds were Epic shops as well. (For an alternate look at acute care EMR market share, check out the stats on systems with the highest number of certified users.)

When it came to which EMR the physician used in their own practice, however, the market looks a lot tighter. While 18% of respondents said they used Epic, 7% reported using Allscripts, 6% eClinicalWorks, 5% Cerner, 4% athenahealth, e-MDs and NextGen, 3% Greenway and Practice Fusion and 2% GE Healthcare. Clearly, have remained open to a far greater set of choices than hospitals. And that competition is likely to remain robust, as few practices seem to be willing to change to competitor systems — in fact, only 9% said they were interested in switching at present.

To me, where the report got particularly interesting was when peer60 offered data on the “net promoter scores” for some of the top vendors. The net promoter score method it uses is simple: it subtracts the percent of physicians who wouldn’t recommend an EMR from the percent who would recommend that EMR to get a number from 100 to -100. And obviously, if lots of physicians reported that they wouldn’t recommend a product the NPS fell into the negative.

While the report declines to name which NPS is associated with which vendor, it’s clear that virtually none have anything to write home about here. All but one of the NPS ratings were below zero, and one was rated at a nasty -73. The best NPS among the ambulatory care vendors was a 5, which as I read it suggests that either physicians feel they can tolerate it or simply believe the rest of the crop of competitors are even worse.

Clearly, something is out of order across the entire ambulatory EMR industry if a study like this — which drew on a fairly large number of respondents cutting across most hospital sizes and specialties — suggests that doctors are so unhappy with what they have. According to the report, the biggest physician frustrations are poor EMR usability and a lack of desired functionality, so what are we waiting for? Let’s get this right! The EMR revolution will never bear fruit if so many doctors are so frustrated with the tools they have.

One Example Of An Enterprise Telehealth System

Posted on August 30, 2016 I Written By

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

While there’s a lot of talk about how telehealth visits need to be integrated with EMRs, I’m not aware of any well thought-out model for doing so. In the absence of such standardized models, I thought it worth looking at the approach taken by American Well, one of a growing list of telehealth firms which are not owned by a pre-existing provider organization. (Other examples of such telemedicine companies include MD Live, Teladoc and Doctor on Demand.)

American Well is now working with more than 170 health plans and health systems to streamline and integrate the telehealth process with provider workflows. To support these partners, it has created an enterprise telehealth platform designed to connect with providers’ clinical information systems, according to Craig Bagley, director of sales engineering for the firm.

Bagley, who recently hosted a webinar on EMR/telehealth integration for AW, said its system was designed to let providers offer telehealth consults labeled with their own brand name. Using its system, patients move through as follows, he said:

  • First, new patients sign up and enter their insurance information and demographics, which are entered into AW’s system.
  • Next, they are automatically connected to the provider’s EMR system. At that point, they can review their clinical history, schedule visits and get notifications. They can also contact their doctor(s).
  • At this point, they enter the telehealth system’s virtual “waiting room.” Behind the scenes, doctors can view the patients who are in the waiting room, and if they click on a patient name, they can review patient information collected from the EMR, as well as the reason for the visit.

Now, I’m not presenting this model as perfect. Ultimately, providers will need their EMR vendors to support virtual visits directly, and find ways to characterize and store the video content generated by such visits as well. This is becoming steadily more important as telemedicine deployments hit their stride in provider organizations.

True, it looks like AW’s approach helps providers move in this direction, but only somewhat. While it may do a good job of connecting patients and physicians to existing clinical information, it doesn’t sound as though it actually does “integrate” notes from the telehealth consult in any meaningful way.

Not only that, there are definitely security questions that might arise when considering a rollout of this technology. To be fair, I’m not privy to the details of how AW’s platform is deployed, but there’s always HIPAA concerns that come up when an outside vendor like AW interacts with your EMR. Of course, you may be handing off clinical information to far less healthcare-focused vendors under some business associate contracts, but still, it’s a consideration.

And no matter how elegant AW’s workaround is – if “workaround” is a fair word – it’s still not enough yet. It’s going to be a while before players in this category serve as any kind of a substitute for EMR-based conferencing technology which can document such visits dynamically.

Nonetheless, I was interested to see where AW is headed. It looks like we’re just at the start of the enterprise-level telemedicine system, but it’s still a much-needed step.

Team Training Can Produce Great Results

Posted on July 21, 2016 I Written By

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

A new study suggests that team training of healthcare staffers can cut patient mortality and also reduce medical errors. The study, which was conducted by multiple universities and two federal agencies, also found that such training improved staff members’ learning skills and use of such skills, as well as boosting financial outcomes, clinical performance and patient satisfaction.

Participants in the research program included Rice University, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the University of Central Florida, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 129 prior studies, which looked at programs designed to improve team-based knowledge, skills, attitudes and problem-solving interactions, as well as developing coordination, cooperation, communication and leadership skills.

To conduct their analysis, researchers looked at the impact of team training programs among 23,018 participants. The studies being analyzed looked at how team training affected quality of care, customer service, patient satisfaction and other relevant variables. Participants in the team trainings included clinicians, allied health staffers, support staffers and healthcare students. The trainings were conducted at facilities ranging from small clinics to large hospitals in the U.S. and abroad.

Researchers found that team training can reduce patient mortality by 15%, and reduce medical errors by 19%. The training program also boosted employees’ learning of new skills by 31% and on-the-job use of such skills by 25%. In addition, the training improved financial outcomes of healthcare organizations by 15%. And team training was associated with a 34% improvement in clinical performance and 15% growth in patient satisfaction, researchers said.

While this study didn’t address health IT teams, it’s easy to see how such cross-disciplinary efforts might help IT staffers succeed.

As Rick Krohn of HealthDataManagement aptly puts it, health IT teams often cope with “a spaghetti bowl of boutique applications, systems and external linkages,” which creates major stresses and leaves little time for outreach. In other words, as things stand, keeping rank and file HIT staffers from burning out is a challenge – and keeping them aware of end user needs is a daunting task.

But if health IT managers have at least sporadic team meetings with outside departments that depend on them – including clinical, financial and operational units – a big uptick in learning, sharing and coordination may be possible. As the study underscores, people have to be taught how to work with their partners in the organization, no matter how professional everyone is. Fostering a cooperative exchange between health IT front-liners and users can make that happen.

Dallas Children’s Health and Sickle Cell Patients: Cobbling Together a Sound Solution

Posted on June 23, 2016 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.

Sickle cell anemia (SCA) is a genetic, red blood cell condition, which damages cell walls impeding their passage through capillaries. Episodic, it is often extremely painful. It can damage organs, cause infections, strokes or joint problems. These episodes or SCA crises can be prompted by any number of environmental or personal factors.

In the US, African Americans are most commonly susceptible to SCA, but other groups can have it as well. SCA presents a variety of management problems in the best of circumstances. As is often the case, management is made even more difficult when the patient is a child. That’s what Children’s Health of Dallas, Texas, one of the nation’s oldest and largest pediatric treatment facilities faced two years ago. Children’s Health, sixty five percent of whose patients are on Medicaid, operates a large, intensive SCA management program as the anchor institution of the NIH funded Southwestern Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center.

Children’s Health problem wasn’t with its inpatient care or with its outpatient clinics. Rather, it was keeping a child’s parents and doctors up to date on developments. Along with the SCA clinical staff, Children’s Chief Information Officer, Pamela Arora, and Information Management and Exchange Director, Katherine Lusk, tackled the problem. They came up with a solution using all off the shelf technology.

Their solution? Provide each child’s caregiver with a free Verizon smartphone. Each night, they extracted the child’s information from EPIC and sent it to Microsoft’s free, vendor-neutral HealthVault PHR. This gave the child’s doctor and parents an easy ability to stay current with the child’s treatment. Notably, Children’s was able to put the solution together quickly with minimal staff and without extensive development.

That was two years ago. Since then, EPIC’s Lucy PHR has supplanted the project. However, Katherine Lusk who described the project to me is still proud of what they did. Even though the project has been replaced, it’s worth noting as an important example. It shows that not all HIE projects must be costly, time-consuming or resource intense to be successful.

Children’s SCA project points out the value of these system development factors:

  • Clear, understood goal
  • Precise understanding of users and their needs
  • Small focused team
  • Searching for off the shelf solutions
  • Staying focused and preventing scope creep

Each of these proved critical to Children’s success. Not every project lends itself to this approach, but Children’s experience is worth keeping in mind as a useful and repeatable model of meeting an immediate need with a simple, direct approach.

Note: I first heard of Children’s project at John’s Atlanta conference. ONC’s Peter Ashkenaz mentioned it as a notable project that had not gained media attention. I owe him a thanks for pointing me to Katherine Lusk.

New Effort Would Focus HIE Data Around Patients

Posted on June 7, 2016 I Written By

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

In theory, doctors should be able to pull up all data available on a patient located within any networks to which they have access. In other words, not only should they be able to see any data on Patient A within the EMR where A’s care is documented, but also retrieve data on A from within any HIEs which connect with the EMR. But the reality is, that’s not always the case (in fact, it’s rarely the case).

To help weave together patient data strung across various HIEs, three exchanges have teamed up to pilot test the idea of a patient-centered data home (PCDH). While many health leaders have looked at the idea of putting patients in charge of their own data, largely by adding to or correcting existing records, getting patients involved in curating such data has been difficult at best.

In this model, Arizona Health-e Connection, western Colorado’s Quality Health Network and the Utah Health Information Network are testing a method of data sharing in which the other HIEs would be notified if the patient undergoes an episode of care within their network.

The alert confirms the availability and specific location of the patient’s clinical data, reports Healthcare Informatics. Providers will then be able to access real-time information on that patient across network lines by initiating a simple query. Unlike in other models of HIE data management, all clinical data in a PCDH will become part of a comprehensive longitudinal patient record, which will be located in the HIE where the patient resides.

The PCDH’s data sharing model works as follows:

  • A group of HIEs set up a PCDH exchange, sharing all the zip codes within the geographic boundaries that their exchanges serve.
  • Once the zip codes are shared, the HIEs set up an automated notification process which detects when there is information on the patient’s home HIE that is available for sharing.
  • If a patient is seen outside of their home territory, say in a hospital emergency department, the event triggers an automated alert which is sent to the hospital’s HIE.
  • The hospital’s HIE queries the patient’s home HIE, which responds that there is information available on that patient.
  • At that point providers from both HIEs and query and pull information back and forth. The patient’s home HIE pulls information on the patient’s out-of-area encounter into their longitudinal record.

The notion of a PCDH is being developed by the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative, a 37-member HIE trade group to which the Utah, Arizona and Colorado exchanges belong.

Developing a PCDH model is part of a 10-year roadmap for interoperability and a “learning health system” which will offer centralized consent management and health records for patients, as well as providing national enterprises with data access. The trade group expects to see several more of its members test out PCDHs, including participants in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

According to the Collaborative, other attempts at building patient records across networks have failed because they are built around individual organizations, geographies such as state boundaries, single EHR vendors or single payers. The PCDH model, for its part, can bring information on individual patients together seamlessly without disrupting local data governance or business models, demanding new technical infrastructure or violating the rights of local stakeholders, the group says.

Like other relatively lightweight data sharing models (such as the Direct Project) the PCDH offers an initial take on what is likely to be a far more complex problem. But it seems like a good idea nonetheless.

E-patient Update: Remote Monitoring Leaves Me Out of The Loop

Posted on May 24, 2016 I Written By

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

As some readers may recall, I don’t just write about digital health deployment — I live it. To be specific, my occasional heart arrhythmia (Afib) is being tracked remotely by device implanted in my chest near my heart. My cardiac electrophysiologist implanted the Medtronic device – a “loop recorder” roughly the size of a cigarette lighter though flatter — during a cardiac ablation procedure.

The setup works like this:

  • The implanted device tracks my heart rhythm, recording any events that fit criteria programmed into it. (Side note: It’s made entirely of plastic, which means I need not fear MRIs. Neat, huh?)
  • The center also includes a bedside station which comes with a removable, mouse shaped object that I can place on my chest to record any incidents that concern me. I can also record events in real time, when I’m on the road, using a smaller device that fits on my key ring.
  • Whether I record any perceived episodes or not, the bedside station downloads whatever information is stored in the loop recorder at midnight each night, then transmits it to the cardiac electrophysiologist’s office.
  • The next day, a tech reviews the records. If any unusual events show up, the tech notifies the doctor, who reaches out to me if need be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is all very cool. And these devices have benefited me already, just a month into their use. For example, one evening last week I was experiencing some uncomfortable palpitations, and wondered whether I had reason for concern. So I called the cardiac electrophysiologist’s after-hours service and got a call back from the on-call physician.

When she and I spoke, her first response was to send me to my local hospital. But once I informed her that the device was tracking my heart rhythms, she accessed them and determined that I was only experiencing mild tachycardia. That was certainly a relief.

No access for patients

That being said, it bugs me that I have no direct access to this information myself. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that interacting with heart rhythm data is complicated. Certainly, I can’t do as much in response to that information as I could if the device were, say, tracking my blood glucose levels.

That being said, my feeling is that I would benefit from knowing more about how my heart is working, or failing to work appropriately in the grand scheme of things, even if I can’t interpret the raw data of the device produces. For example, it would be great if I could view a chart that showed, say, week by week when events occurred and what time they took place.

Of course, I don’t know whether having this data would have any concrete impact on my life. But that being said, it bothers me that such remote monitoring schemes don’t have their core an assumption that patients don’t need this information. I’d argue that Medtronic and its peers should be thinking of ways to loop patients in any time their data is being collected in an outpatient setting. Don’t we have an app for that, and if not, why?

Unfortunately, no matter how patients scream and yell about this, I doubt we’ll make much progress until doctors raise their voices too. So if you’re a physician reading this, I hope you’re willing to get involved since patients deserve to know what’s going on with their bodies. And if you have the means to help them know, make it happen!

Telemedicine Rollouts Are Becoming More Mature

Posted on May 19, 2016 I Written By

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

For a long time, telemedicine was a big idea whose time had not come. Initially, the biggest obstacles providing video consults was consumer bandwidth. Once we got to the point that most consumers had high-speed Internet connections, proponents struggled to get commercial insurers and federal payers to reimburse providers for telemedicine. We also had to deal with medical licensure which most companies are dealing with by licensing their providers across multiple states (Crazy, but workable). Now, with both categories of payers increasingly paying for such services and patients increasingly willing to pay out of pocket, providers need to figure out which telemedicine business models work.

If I had to guess, I would’ve told you that very few providers have reached the stage where they had developed a fairly mature telemedicine service line. But data gathered by researchers increasingly suggests that I am wrong.

In fact, a new study by KPMG found that about 25% of healthcare providers have implemented telehealth and telemedicine programs which have achieved financial stability and improved efficiency. It should be noted that the study only involved 120 participants who reported they work for providers. Still, I think the results are worth a look.

Despite the success enjoyed by some providers with telemedicine programs, a fair number of providers are at a more tentative stage. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they didn’t have a virtual care program in place, and 40% had said they had just implemented a program. But what stands out to me is that the majority of respondents had telehealth initiatives underway.

Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents said that one of the key reasons they were in favor of telehealth programs is that they felt it would increase patient volumes and loyalty. Other providers have different priorities. Seventeen percent felt that implement the telehealth with help of care coordination for high-risk patients, another 17% said they wanted to reduce costs for access to medical specialists, and 13% said they were interested in telemedicine due to consumer demand.

When asked what challenges they faced in implementing telehealth, 19% said they had other tech priorities, 18% were unsure they had a sustainable business model, and 18% said their organization wasn’t ready to roll out a new technology.

As I see it, telemedicine is set up to get out of neutral and pull out of the gate. We’re probably past the early adopter stage, and as soon as influential players perfect their strategy for telemedicine rollouts, their industry peers are sure to follow.

What remains to be seen is whether providers see telemedicine as integral to the care they deliver, or primarily as a gateway to their brick-and-mortar services. I’d argue that telemedicine services should be positioned as a supplement to live care, a step towards greater continuity of care and the logical next step in going digital. Those who see it as a sideline, or a loyalty builder with no inherent clinical value, are unlikely to benefit as much from a telemedicine rollout.

Admittedly, integrating virtual care poses a host of new technical and administrative problems. But like it or not, telemedicine is important to the future of healthcare. Hold it is at arms’ length to your peril.