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Advice On Winning Attention For Digital Health Solutions

Posted on December 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.

Some of you reading this are probably involved with a digital health startup to one degree or another. If so, you’ve probably seen firsthand how difficult it can be to get attention for your solution, no matter how sophisticated it is or how qualified its creators are. In fact, given the fevered pace of digital health’s evolution, you may be facing worse than typical Silicon Valley odds.

That being said, there are strategies for standing out even in this exploding market, according to participants at a recent event dedicated to getting beyond health tech hype. The event, which was written up by health tech startup incubator Rock Health, featured experts from Dignity Health, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and Evidation Health.

Generally speaking, the panelists from these organizations spelled out how health tech startups can make more convincing pitches, largely by providing more robust forms of evidence:

  • They said that standard metrics demonstrating the effectiveness of your solutions — such as randomized trials and evidence-based reviews — probably weren’t enough, as they sometimes don’t translate to real-world results. Instead, what they’d like to see is the product “used under some stress or duress and how it’s received by caregivers, members, patients and their families,” said Dr. Scott Young, who serves as executive director and senior medical director of Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute.
  • They want you to produce “softer feedback” such as stories and testimonials directly from customers and users. “So many solutions claim to do the same thing,” said Karen Lee, innovation and strategic partnerships leader at Humana. “This softer feedback allows us to really get a feel for that experience and whether or not it’s effective.”
  • They expect you to be able to nail down how your product meets their strategic objectives, and can help them achieve the specific outcomes they have in mind. If you can’t do that, though just reach out to someone who can.
  • They want to bear in mind that even if they’re quite interested in what you’re doing, there’s typically a lot of politics to navigate before they can the pilot with your technology, much less implement fully. “Beyond the evidence, a successful pilot, and research, there are some complexities that you have to be patient and working through,” says Lee.
  • Perhaps most importantly, they need to know that you’ve kept the patient in mind. “The patient needs to know how to use [your technology], and should be using it,” said Dr. Manoja Lecamwasam, executive director of intellectual property and strategic innovations at Dignity Health. “You have to first build that foundation – look at it there, and a lot of people want to talk to you.”

At this point, readers, I realize some of you are probably feeling frustrated, as it may seem that many potential digital health adopters have set the bar for adoption very high, even once you’ve proven that your solution works by most conventional methods. Still, it doesn’t hurt to get an idea of how the “other side” thinks.

AMA Approves List Of Best Principles For Mobile Health App Design

Posted on November 29, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on November 18, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

How it would work

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

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

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

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

The benefits of added data

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

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

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

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

Portals May Not Reduce Calls To Medical Practices

Posted on November 16, 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.

Initially, patient portals were rolled out to give patients access to their core medical information, with the hope that a more educated patient would be more likely to take care of their health. Over time, features like appointment setting and the ability to direct-email providers were added, with some backers predicting that they would make practices more efficient. And since providers began rolling out nifty new interactive portals, anecdotes have piled up suggesting that they are delivering the goods.

However, a new study suggests that this might not be the case — or at least not always. The researchers behind the study, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, had predicted that when patients got access to a full-featured portal, clinic staffers’ workload would be cut. But they did not achieve the results they had expected.

The researchers, who were from the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, compared portal adoption rates and the number of telephone calls received at four clinics affiliated with a university hospital between February and June 2014.

They found that despite growing adoption rates of the portal at all four clinics, call volumes actually increased at two of the clinics, which included a commercial, community-based health center and a university-based health center. Meanwhile, call volume stayed level at the two other clinics, a rural health center and a federally-qualified health center. In other words, in no case did the volume of phone calls fall.

The researchers attempted to explain the results by noting that it might take a longer time than the study embraced for the clinics to see portals reduce their workload. Also, they suggested that while the portal didn’t seem to reduce calls, it might be offering less-concrete benefits such as increased patient satisfaction.

What’s more, they said, the study results might have been impacted by the fact that all four clinics were implementing a patient centered medical home model. They seemed to think that PCMH requirements for care coordination and quality improvement initiatives for chronic illness, routine screenings and vaccinations might have increased the complexity of the patients’ needs and encouraged them to phone in for help.

As I have noted previously, patients seldom see your portal the way you do. In that previous article, I described my largely positive — but still somewhat vexing – experience using the Epic MyChart portal as a patient. In that case, while I could access all of the data held within the health system behind the EMR pretty easily, getting the health system employees to integrate outside data was a hassle and a half.

In the case described in the study, it sounds like the portal may not have been designed with patient workflow in mind. With the practices rolling out a patient-centered medical home model, the portal would have to support patients in activities that went well beyond standard appointment setting and even email exchanges with clinicians. And presumably, it didn’t.

Bottom line, I think it’s good that this research has led to questions about whether portals actually make make medical practices more efficient. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that they do — so much that investing in portals still makes sense — it’s good to see questions about their benefits looked at with some rigor.

Healthcare Orgs Must Do Better With Mobile Data Security Education

Posted on November 15, 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 finds that while most healthcare professionals use mobile messaging at work, many aren’t sure what their organization’s mobile messaging policies are, and a large number have transmitted Protected Health Information via insecure channels. In other words, it seems that health IT leaders still have a lot of work to do in locking down these channels.

According to a report by Scrypt, 65% of health professionals who use a mobile device at work also use the same device for personal use, the standard BYOD compromise which still gives healthcare CIOs the willies. Underscoring the security risks, 52% of respondents said that they had free reign over which applications they downloaded and used at work.

To be fair, virtually all respondents (96%) use at least one security method to protect the security of their mobile device. However, their one-factor efforts — usually passcode or PIN-based — may not be secure enough to protect such sensitive data.

The research also blows the whistle on the frequency with which health professionals share PHI using a mobile messaging clients (not surprisingly given that the vendor sells a secure mobile messaging solution). It notes that just a quarter of those who reported using mobile messages use a secure client, and that one in five have sent or received PHI via mobile message with names (24%), telephone numbers (19%) and email addresses (13%) included in the content.

Researchers found that 78% of healthcare professionals use mobile messaging at work. However, few understand how their organizations expect them to use these services. Fifty-two percent of respondents who use mobile messaging said they didn’t know or weren’t sure of what their organization’s policies were on the subject.

Showing some awareness of data security vulnerabilities, 56% of the survey respondents said they believe the organization could do more to educate employees on the rules around sharing PHI and HIPAA compliance. On the other hand, it seems like most consider this to be everybody else’s problem, as 80% of respondents reported that their own knowledge of HIPAA compliance was either good or very good.

Clearly, as self-serving as the vendor’s conclusion is, they’re onto something important. Not only are CIOs facing huge challenges in establishing a smart BYOD policy, they’re confronted with a major educational problem when it comes to sharing of PHI. While the professionals on their team may have been handed a mobile policy, they may not have absorbed it. And if they haven’t been given a policy, you have to be conservative and assume they’re not doing a great job protecting data on their own.

If nothing else, healthcare organizations can remind their staff members to be careful when texting at work – heck, why not text them the reminder so it’s in context? Bottom line, even highly intelligent and educated team members can succumb to habit and transmit PHI. So a nudge never hurts!

E-Patient Update: Bringing mHealth To The People

Posted on November 11, 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.

Today, it’s standard for patients to travel to a central hub of some kind, spend as much as a half hour in the lobby and fill out a few minutes of paperwork to get a maximum of 15 minutes of time with their doctor. But thankfully, we’ve come to a time when care can return to the home. And it’s time we take full advantage of that fact.

I’d argue that it’s long overdue to bring the medical visit back to patient homes, not just for those in need of chronic care, but for all patients who are less than markedly stable. If we’re not quite at the point where we can provide every standard primary care service in a home, we’re pretty close, and it should be our goal to close the gap.

Consumers want convenience
While it might not be practical to roll out the service to everyone at once, we could start with patients who are healthy, but in higher risk categories due to age or condition. My mother comes to mind. At age 74, she has a history of cardiac arrhythmia, is slightly overweight and suffers from joint problems. None of these may pose an immediate risk to her health, but they are part of the complex process of aging for her, and all that goes with it.

I believe her health would be managed better if someone saw her “in her element,” taking care of my disabled brother, rushing around cooking dinner and climbing stairs. It would also be easier for clinicians to show her health information at her kitchen table, and get her engaged with making progress. (Kitchen tables are inherently less intimidating.)

Besides, there’s the issue of travel. Often, she finds it taxing to get organized and get to medical appointments, which take place 20 minutes away at the offices of her local health system. “I wish someone would bring a van with testing devices like an x-ray machine in it, bring their tablets into my house and do the check up at home,” she says. “There’s no reason for me to do all the traveling.” And believe me, folks, if a technophobe like my mom — who won’t touch a computer — is wondering why her physicians aren’t making better use of mobile healthcare tools, you can bet other patients are.

Mobile satisfaction
If you’re a health leader reading this, you may be flinching at the idea of reorganizing your services to hit the road. But it’s worth doing, particularly now that patients are demanding mobile health access. After all, rolling out a mobile-enhanced door to door primary care service would be an unbeatable way to differentiate yourself from your competitors and enhance patient satisfaction.

I believe that whatever investments you have to make would be modest in comparison to the benefits your patients would realize. If you come to them, not only are you getting to know them better, and as a result, you’re likely to improve care quality.

Now, I understand that if you’re traveling, you probably can’t pack four patient encounters into an hour, and that is certainly a financial consideration. But I believe patients would pay more to see their very own doctor (not a stranger, as with some startups) visit them at home. More importantly, I’d argue, a reworked system that puts patients at the center of their care would eventually save money, time and lives which is where value based reimbursement is headed anyway.

FDA Under Pressure To Deliver Clinical Decision Support Guidelines

Posted on November 10, 2016 I Written By

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

The world of clinical decision support technologies may change soon, as the FDA may soon be releasing guidelines on how it will regulate such technology. According to a new report in Politico, the agency has been working on such guidelines since 2011, but it’s not clear what standards it will use to establish these rules.

Software vendors in the CDS business are getting antsy. Early this year, a broad-based group known as the Clinical Decision Support Coalition made headlines when it challenged the agency to clarify the scope of CDS software it will regulate, as well as what it will require from any software that does fall under its authority.

At the time, the group released a survey which found that one-third of CDS developers were abandoning CDS product development due to uncertainty around FDA regulations. Of CDS developers that were moving ahead despite the uncertainty, the only two-thirds were seeing significant delays in development, and 20% of that group were seeing delays of greater than one year.

The delay has caught the attention of Congress, where Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) have filed the Medical Electronic Data Technology Enhancement for Consumers’ Health Act, legislation designed to resolve open questions around CDS software, but the problem still remains.

The FDA has had a research project in place since late 2014 which is creating and evaluating a CDS system for safe and appropriate use of antibiotics. The researcher-developed system generates alerts when a provider prescribes an antibiotic that poses a risk of serious cardiac adverse events for specific patients. Two of the 26 hospitals in the Banner Health network are participating in the study, one of which will use the system and the other which will not. The results aren’t due until April of next year.

It’s hard to say what’s holding the FDA up in this case, particularly given that the agency itself has put CDS guidance on his list of priority projects. But it could be a simple case of too much work and too few staff members to get the job done. As of late last year, the agency was planning to fill three new senior health scientist positions focused on digital health, a move which could at least help it keep up with the flood of new health technologies flooding in from all sides, but how many hours can they work?

The truth is, I’d submit, that health IT may be moving too quickly for the FDA to keep up with it. While it can throw new staff members at the problem, it could be that it needs an entirely new regulatory process to deal with emerging technology such as digital health and mobile device-based tools; after all, it seems to be challenged by dealing with CDS, which is hardly a new idea.

AMA Touts Physician Interest In Digital Health Tools

Posted on October 13, 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 few months ago, the group’s annual meeting, American Medical Association head Dr. James Madara ignited a firestorm of controversy when he suggested that many direct to consumer digital health products, apps and even EMRs were “the digital snake oil of the early 21st century.” Madara, who as far as I can tell never backed down completely from that statement, certainly raised a few hackles with his pronouncement.

Now, the AMA has come out with the results of physician survey whose results suggest that community doctors may be more excited about digital health’s potential than the AMA leader. The survey found that physicians are optimistic about digital health, though some issues must be addressed before they will be ready to adopt such technologies.

The study, which was backed by the AMA and conducted by research firm Kantar TNS, surveyed 1,300 physicians between July 7 and 18. Its content addressed a wide range of digital health technologies, including mobile apps, remote monitoring, wearables, mobile health and telemedicine.

Key findings of the study include the following:

  • While physicians across all age groups, practice settings and tenures were optimistic about the potential for digital health, their level of enthusiasm was greater than their current adoption rates.
  • The majority of physicians surveyed (85% of respondents) believe that digital health solutions can have a positive impact on patient care.
  • Physicians reported that they were optimistic a digital health can reduce burnout, while improving practice efficiency, patient safety and diagnostic capabilities.
  • Physicians said liability coverage, data privacy and integration of digital health tools with EMR workflows were critical to digital health adoption, as well as the availability of easy-to-use technologies which are proven to be effective and reimbursement for time spent conducting virtual visits.

All told, physicians seem willing to use digital health tools if they fit into their clinical practice. And now, it seems that the AMA wants to get out ahead of this wave, as long as the tools meet their demands. “The AMA is dedicated to shaping a future when digital health tools are evidence based, validated, interoperable, and actionable,” said AMA Immediate Past President Steven J. Stack, M.D

By the way, though it hasn’t publicized them highly, the AMA noted that it has already dipped its oar into several digital health-related ventures:

  • It serves as founding partner to Health2047, a San Francisco-based health care innovation company that combines strategy, design and venture disciplines.
  • It’s involved in a partnership with Chicago-based incubator MATTER, to allow entrepreneurs and physicians to collaborate on the development of new technologies, services and products in a simulated health care environment.
  • It’s collaborating with IDEA Labs, a student-run biotechnology incubator, that helps to support the next generation of young entrepreneurs to tackle unmet needs in healthcare delivery and clinical medicine.
  • It’s playing an advisory role to the SMART project, whose key mission is the development of a flexible information infrastructure that allows for free, open development of plug-and-play apps to increase interoperability among health care technologies, including EHRs, in a more cost-effective way.
  • It’s involved in a partnership with Omada Health and Intermountain Healthcare that has introduced evidence-based, technology-enabled care models addressing prediabetes.

Personally, I have little doubt that this survey is a direct response to the “snake oil” speech. But regardless of why the AMA is seeking a rapproachment with digital health players, it’s a good thing. I’m just happy to see the venerable physicians’ group come down on the side of progress.

 

The Exciting Future of Healthcare IT #NHITWeek

Posted on September 28, 2016 I Written By

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

One time I went to my wife’s OB/GYN appointment and I was in shock and awe with how well the doctor remembered my wife’s past pregnancies. Literally down to the tear that occurred. The reason I was in shock was that she prefaced her memory of my wife’s medical history with “Your old chart is off in storage, but as I recall you had a…”

While year later I’m still impressed with this OB/GYN’s ability to remember her patients, I know that this is not always the case. Doctors are humans and can’t possibly remember everything that occurred with every patient. Humans have limits. In fact, doctors deserve credit that they’ve provided such amazing medical care to so many patients despite these limits.

My esteem for doctors grows even greater when I think of the challenges associated with diagnosing computer problems (Yes, I am the nerd formerly known as @techguy). It’s not easy diagnosing a computer problem and then applying the fix that will remedy the problem. In fact, you often find yourself fixing the problem without really even knowing what’s causing the problem (ie. reinstall or reboot). While fixing computers is challenging, diagnosing and treating the human body has to be at least an order and probably two or more orders of magnitude more complex.

My point is that the work doctors do is really hard and they’ve generally done great work.

While I acknowledge the history of medicine, I also can’t help but think that technology is the pathway to solving many of the challenges that make doctors lives so difficult today. It seems fitting to me that IT stands for Information Technology since the core of healthcare’s challenges revolve around information.

Here are some of the ways technology can and will help:

Quality Information
The story of my wife’s OB/GYN is the perfect illustration of this potential. Doctors who have the right information at the point of care can provide better care. That’s a simple but powerful principle that can become a reality with healthcare IT. Instead of relying on this OB/GYN’s memory, she could have had that information readily available to her in an EHR.

Certainly, we’re not perfect at this yet. EHR software can go down. EHR can perpetuate misinformation. EHRs can paint the incorrect picture for a patient. However, on the whole, I believe an EHRs data is more accessible and available when and where it’s needed. Plus, this is going to get dramatically better over time. In some cases, it already is.

Deep Understanding of Individual Health Metrics
Health sensors are just starting to come into their own. As these health sensors create more and more clinically relevant data, healthcare providers will be empowered with a much deeper understanding of the specific health metrics that matter for each unique patient. Currently, doctors are often driving in the dark. This new wave of health sensors will be like turning the lights on in places that have never seen light before. In some cases, it already is.

Latest Medical Research
Doctors do an incredible job keeping up on the latest research in their specialty, but how can they keep up with the full body of medical knowledge? Even if they study all day and all night (which they can’t do because they have to see patients), the body of medical knowledge is so complex that the human mind can’t comprehend, process, and remember it all. Technology can.

I’m not suggesting that technology will replace humans. Not for the forseeable future anyway. However, it can certainly assist, inform, and remind humans. My phone already does this for me in my personal life. Technology will do the same for doctors in their clinical life. In some cases, it already is.

Patient Empowerment
Think about how dramatic a shift it’s been from a patient chart which the patient never saw to EHR software that makes your entire record available to patients all the time. If that doesn’t empower patients, nothing will. I love reading about how many kings use to suppress their people by suppressing information. Information is power and technology can make access to your health information possible.

Related to this trend is also how patients become more empowered through communities of patients with similar conditions and challenges. The obvious example is Patients Like Me, but it’s happening all over the internet and on social media. This is true for chronic patients who want to find patients with a rare condition, but it’s also true for patients who are finding the healthcare system a challenge to navigate. There is nothing more empowering than finding someone in a similar situation that can help you find the best opportunities and solutions to your problems.

In some cases, patient empowerment is already happening today.

Yes, I know that many of the technologies implemented to date don’t meet this ambitious vision of what technology can accomplish in healthcare. In fact, many health technologies have actually made things worse instead of better. This is a problem that must be dealt with, but it doesn’t deter me from the major hope I have the technology can solve many of the challenges that make being a doctor so hard. It doesn’t deter me from the dream that patients will be empowered to take a more active role in their care. It doesn’t deter me from the desire to leverage technology to make our healthcare system better.

The best part of my 11 years in healthcare IT has been seeing technology make things better on a small scale (“N of 1” –@cancergeek). My hope for the next decade is to see these benefits blow up on a much larger scale.

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.