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Virtual Reality Offers New Options For Healthcare Data Analysis

Posted on September 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.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been interested in virtual reality. In fact, given my long-time gaming habit, I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the time when VR-enabled games become part of the consumer mainstream.

Until I read the following article, however, I hadn’t given much thought to how VR technology could be used outside of the consumer sphere. In the article, the author makes a compelling case that VR tools may be the next frontier in big data analytics.

The author’s arguments include the following:

  • VR use allows big data users to analyze data dynamically, as it allows users to “reach out and touch” the data they are studying.
  • Using an approach known as immersive data visualization, coupled with haptic or kinesthetic interfaces, users can understand data intuitively and discover patterns.
  • VR allows users to view and manipulate huge amounts of data simply by looking at them. “VR enables you to capably stack relevant data, pare it and create visual cues so that you can cross-refer instantly,” the author writes.
  • With VR tools, users can interact naturally with data. Rather than glancing at reports, or reviewing spreadsheets, they can “manipulate data streams, push windows around, press buttons and actually walk around data worlds,” the article says.
  • VR makes multi-dimensional data analysis simpler. By using their hands and hearing, you just can pin down the subject, location and significance of specific data sources.

Though these concepts have been percolating for quite a while, I haven’t found any robust use cases for VR-based big data analytics either in or outside of healthcare. (They may well exist, and if you know of one above to hear about it.)

Still, a wide range of healthcare-related VR applications are emerging, including both inpatient care and medical education. I don’t think it will be long now before smart health IT leaders like yourselves begin to apply this approach to healthcare data visualization.

Ultimately, it seems likely that some of the healthcare data technologies are in play will converge with VR applications. By combining immersive or partially-immersive VR technologies with AI and big data analytics tools, healthcare organizations will be able to transform their data-guided outcomes efforts far more easily. And future use cases abound.

Hospitals could use VR to model throughput within the ED and, by layering clinical and transactional data over traffic statistics, doing a much better job of boosting efficiency.

I imagine health insurers combining claims records and clinical performance data, then using VR to as a next-gen tool predict how value-based care contracting play out in certain markets.

We may even see a time when surgeons wear VR glasses and, when perplexed in mid-procedure, can summon big data-driven feedback on options that improve patient survival.

Of course, VR is just set of technologies, and it can’t offer answers to questions we don’t know to ask. However, I do think that by people using their intuition more effectively, VR-based data analysis may extract new and valuable insights from existing data sets. It may take a while for this to happen, but I believe that it will.

Say It One More Time: EHRs Are Hard To Use

Posted on September 19, 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 don’t know about you, but I was totes surprised to hear about another study pointing out that doctors have good reasons to hate their EHR. OK, not really surprised – just a bit sadder on their account – but I admit I’m awed that any single software system can be (often deservedly) hated this much and in this many ways.

This time around, the parties calling out EHR flaws were the American Medical Association and the University of Wisconsin, which just published a paper in the Annals of Family Medicine looking at how primary care physicians use their EHR.

To conduct their study, researchers focused on how 142 family physicians in southeastern Wisconsin used their Epic system. The team dug into Epic event logging records covering a three-year period, sorting out whether the activities in question involved direct patient care or administrative functions.

When they analyzed the data, the researchers found that clinicians spent 5.9 hours of an 11.4-hour workday interacting with the EHR. Clerical and administrative tasks such as documentation, order entry, billing and coding and system security accounted about 44% of EHR time and inbox management roughly another 24% percent.

As the U of W article authors see it, this analysis can help practices make better use of clinicians’ time. “EHR event logs can identify areas of EHR-related work that could be delegated,” they conclude, “thus reducing workload, improving professional satisfaction, and decreasing burnout.”

The AMA, for its part, was not as detached. In a related press release, the trade group argued that the long hours clinicians spend interacting with EHRs are due to poor system design. Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to connect the study results directly to this conclusion, but of course, the group isn’t wrong about the low levels of usability most EHRs foist on doctors.

To address EHR design flaws, the AMA says, there are eight priorities vendors should consider, including that the systems should:

  • Enhance physicians’ ability to provide high-quality care
  • Support team-based care
  • Promote care coordination
  • Offer modular, configurable products
  • Reduce cognitive workload
  • Promote data liquidity
  • Facilitate digital and mobile patient engagement
  • Integrate user input into EHR product design and post-implementation feedback

I’m not sure all of these points are as helpful as they could be. For example, there are approximately a zillion ways in which an EHR could enhance the ability to provide high-quality care, so without details, it’s a bit of a wash. I’d say the same thing about the digital/mobile patient engagement goal.

On the other hand, I like the idea of reducing cognitive workload (which, in cognitive psychology, refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in working memory). There’s certainly evidence, both within and outside medicine, which underscores the problems that can occur if professionals have too much to process. I’m confident vendors can afford design experts who can address this issue directly.

Ultimately, though, it’s not important that the AMA churns out a perfect list of usability testing criteria. In fact, they shouldn’t have to be telling vendors what they need at this point. It’s a shame EHR vendors still haven’t gotten the usability job done.

Challenging Physicians’ Digital Health Fears

Posted on September 12, 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.

Like you, I thought I’d read everything about the reasons some doctors struggle with adopting digital health. Then, the following article showed up on my radar. While it covers some familiar ground, it’s a fairly nuanced take on physician objections to integrating digital health into their practice.

The article, “Top 10 Reasons Doctors Fear Digital Health,” comes from Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, a gastroenterologist and co-creator of the MyGiHealth app.  Given his digital health involvement, he obviously has a dog in the fight, but to my mind, that doesn’t detract from the value of what he had to say.

All ten of his observations make sense, but in the interests of brevity I’ll pick out a few that I found particularly interesting. Below, I’ve summarized some of the concerns expressed by his colleagues, then shared a condensed version of his responses:

“Use digital health devices in my practice? How the world will I have time to check all the data?”

His response:  We need to train a new type of specialist called a “digitalist” who will monitor, interpret and act upon remote patient data. They will reside in an e-coordination facility and remotely track data from biosensors, portals, apps and social media. (EDITOR’S NOTE: To see how an e-coordination center works today, check out this piece on the Mercy Virtual Hospital.) Their job will be to combine the data with clinical parameters and knowledge about the patient’s medical history then act on what they’ve learned.

* “What is my legal liability here? What if remote data show that somebody is doing poorly, but nobody checks it? What if the patient dies when there was clear evidence something bad was going to happen?”

His response: Until you have a digitalist watching your back, you cannot take responsibility – including legal responsibility – for monitoring, interpreting and acting upon the data. As I see it, that will be the digitalist’s responsibility.

* “Digital devices are cool, but most people quit using them before long. How could digital health make any difference if our patients refuse to use the stuff?

His response: To make inroads with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart failure or obesity, we need to change behavior. One way to achieve this comes from Joseph Kvedar at Partners HealthCare. Dr. Kvedar’s team not only personalizes its apps but hyper-personalizes them. By integrating everything from the time of day, step counts, local weather and levels of depression or anxiety, these apps can send pinpoint messages to patients at the right time and place. This approach may work to foster behavioral change.

* “How will digital health improve the value of care? Can it both improve outcomes and lower costs? Until it can prove that it can, insurance won’t pay for it.”

Proving that digital health solutions provide economic value to health systems is the toughest and yet most important obstacle to taking digital health into the mainstream. As more and more digital health solutions roll off the assembly line, we need to see them subjected to formal health-economic analysis as with any other medical innovation.

I don’t know about you, but I found this to be an intriguing discussion, especially the notion of a “digitalist” responsible for remote data management and response. I look forward to talking to Dr. Spiegel someday (perhaps at the Connected Health show!) and getting more of his insights.

Before Investing In Health IT, Fix Your Processes

Posted on August 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.

Recently, my colleague John Lynn conducted a video interview with healthcare consultant and “recovering CIO” Drex DeFord (@drexdeford) on patient engagement and care coordination. During the interview, DeFord made a very interesting observation: “When you finally have a process leaned out to the point where [tech] can make fewer mistakes than a human, that’s the time to make big technology investments.”

This makes a lot of sense. If a process is refined enough, even a robot may be able to maintain it, but if it remains fuzzy or arbitrary that’s far less likely. And by extension, we shouldn’t automate processes until they’re clearly defined and efficient.

Honestly, as I see it this is just common sense. If the way things are done doesn’t work well, who wants to embed them in their IT infrastructure? Doing so is arguably worse than keeping a manual process in place. It may be simpler — though not easy — to change how people work than to rewrite complicated enterprise software then shift human routines.

Meanwhile, if you do rush ahead without refining your processes, you could be building dangerously flawed care into the system. Patients could suffer needless harm or even die. In fact, I can envision a situation in which a provider gets sued because their technology rollout perpetuated existing care management problems.

Unfortunately, CIOs have powerful incentives to roll ahead with their technology implementation plans whether they’ve optimized care processes or not.

Sometimes, they’re trying to satisfy CEOs pushing to get systems in gear no matter what. They can’t afford to alienate someone who could refuse to greenlight their plans for future investments, so they cross their fingers and plunge ahead. Other times, they might not be aware of serious care delivery problems and see no reason to let their implementation deadlines slip. Or perhaps they believe that they will be able to fix workflow problems during after the rollout. But if they thought they could act first and deal with workflow later, they may get a nasty surprise later.

Of course, the ultimate solution is for providers to invest in more flexible enterprise systems which support process improvements (including across mobile devices). To date, however, few big health IT platforms have strayed much from decades-old computing models that make change expensive and time-consuming. Such systems may be durable, but updating them to meet user needs is no picnic.

Eventually, you’ll be able to adjust health IT workflows without dispatching an army of developers. In the meantime, though, providers should anything they can to perfect processes, especially those related to care delivery, before they’re fixed in place by technology rollouts. Doing so may be a bit disruptive, but it’s the kind of disruption that helps rather than hurts.

E-Patient Update: The Kaiser Permanente Approach To Consumer Health IT, Second Stanza

Posted on July 7, 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.

As some of you may recall, I recently wrote a positive review of Kaiser Permanente’s use of consumer-facing health IT. (Kaiser Permanente is both my health insurer and provider.) Their offerings have a number of strengths including:

  • Interfaces: The kp.org site is decent, and the KP app highly usable
  • Access to care: Booking medical appointments is easy, as is cancelling them
  • Responsiveness: Physicians are quick to replay to email via the Kaiser portal
  • Connectedness: Thanks to being on a shared Epic platform, every provider knows my history (at least for the time I’ve spent within the KP system, which is pretty useful)

At the time, I also noted that I had a few minor concerns about the portal features and whatnot, but I was still a fan of KP’s setup.

By and large, my perceptions of Kaiser’s consumer health IT strengths haven’t changed. However, after a couple of months in the system, I’ve gotten a good look at its weaknesses as well. And I thought you might be interested in the problems Kaiser faces in connecting consumers, particularly given its use of best practices in many cases.

All told, these weaknesses suggest that over more than ten years after its Epic rollout, KP leaders still haven’t put their entire consumer health IT strategy in place. Here are a couple of my concerns.

Specialist appointments aren’t integrated

The biggest gripe I have with Kaiser’s interactive tools is that while I can schedule PCP appointments myself, I haven’t been able to set specialist appointments without speaking to a real live person. (My primary care doctor seems to be able to access specialist schedules and set appointments with them on my behalf.)

This may work for someone with no significant health problems, but creates a significant burden for me. After all, as someone with multiple chronic illnesses, I schedule a lot of specialist consults. You don’t realize how much time it takes to set each appointment with a clerical person until you’ve done it for five times in a week.  Try it sometime.

You might assume that this is a rationing measure, as organizations like KP are pretty strict about limiting access to specialist care. The truth is, that doesn’t seem to be the case. At least when it comes to my primary care physician (a big shout out to my PCP, Dr. Jason Singh) it doesn’t seem to be unduly hard to get access to specialists when needed.

No, I have concluded that the reason I can’t schedule specialist appointments online is that KP still hasn’t gotten their act together on this front. My guess is that the specialist systems live in some kind of silo, one that KP hasn’t managed to break down yet.

Mobile and web tools clash

As noted above, I’m largely satisfied with both KP’s consumer portal and its mobile app. True, the website sprawls a bit when it comes to presenting static content — such as physician bios — but the portal itself works fine. The mobile app, meanwhile, is great to use, as it presents my choices clearly and uses screen real estate effectively.

That being said, it annoys the heck out of me that there are minor but seemingly pointless, differences between how the portal and the mobile app function. It would be one thing the app was a shrunken down version of the website, offering a parallel but more limited version of available functions, but that isn’t how it works.

Instead, the services accessible through the portal and via the mobile app vary in small but irritating ways. For example, when emailing providers, you must choose a prewritten subject line from a drop-down menu. And I don’t know why, but the list of subjects available on the web portal version varies significantly from the list of subjects you can access via the mobile app.

There may be a rational reason for this. And mine may sound like a petty objection. But when you’re trying to address something as important as your healthcare, you want to know what’s going on with every detail.

I’d identify other ways in which the app and website portal vary, but I don’t have any other examples I can recall. And that’s the whole point. You don’t remember how the site and/or portal function until you stumble into another incompatibility. You roll your eyes and move on, but you see them again and waste one more spark of energy being annoyed.

It’s all about tradeoffs

So, you might ask if there’s any broad lesson to be taken from this. Honestly, probably not. I don’t like that KP’s tools pose these problems, but they don’t strike me as unusual.

And do my criticisms have any meaning for other healthcare organizations? Nothing more than a reminder that patients will take note of even small problems in your health IT execution, particularly when it comes to tools they rely upon to get things done.

In the end, of course, it’s all about trade-offs, as with any other industry. I don’t know whether KP chose to prioritize a potentially dangerous problem in provider-facing technologies over consumer quibbles, or just don’t know what’s going on. Perhaps they know and have added the fix to a long list of pending projects, or perhaps they don’t have their act together.

Still, lest it is lost in the discussion, remember I’m the customer, and I really don’t care about your IT problems. I just want to have tools that work every time and simplify my life.

So this is my official challenges to Kaiser leadership. For Pete’s sake, KP, would you please help me cut down on the specialist phone calls? Perhaps you could create a centralized specialist appointment call center, or use carrier pigeons, or let me suss out their schedules using my vast psychic powers — hey, they’re all options. Or maybe, just maybe, you can let me schedule the appointments online. Your call.

Retail Clinics Are Not the Enemy, Inconvenience Is!

Posted on June 16, 2017 I Written By

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

Check out this incredible insight that Gabriel Perna shared on Twitter:

What a great insight and something that most of the entrenched healthcare people don’t understand. Retail clinics are not the enemy, inconvenience is.

In many ways, it reminds me of the approach that taxi cabs took to Uber and Lyft. Taxis described them as evil as opposed to understanding why consumers wanted to use Uber and Lyft instead of a taxi cab. If the taxi cab industry would have understood the conveniences that Uber and Lyft provided customers, they could have replicated it and made Uber and Lyft disappear (or at least they could have battled them more effective than they’ve done to date).

Gabriel Perna further describes the issues of retail clinics and AMA’s approach to retail clinics in his article and this excerpt:

There are many reasons for this phenomenon [growth of retail clinics], but more than anything though, retail clinics are convenient and many physician offices are not. Because of this, the AMA shouldn’t be trying to treat the retail clinics as some kind of foreign invader, but rather use their rise to prominence as a way to guide physician practices forward. For instance, getting in to see a doctor shouldn’t be a three-week endeavor, especially when the patient is sick and needs attention immediately. However, that’s what has happened. Personally, I’ve been told “the doctor doesn’t have anything open for at least a month” more times than I can count.

It’s simple supply and demand. If you or your child needs to see someone immediately because of an illness and your doctor’s office can’t take in you for a week, and there happens to be a retail clinic down the street, guess where you’re going? Any hesitations you may have over your care being fragmented, the limited ability of your retail clinic physician, or anything else will go out the window pretty quickly.

I agree completely with the idea that convenience is key. However, what Gabriel doesn’t point out is that the fact that doctors have a 3 week waiting list for patients is why they don’t care about offering convenience to their patients. They have enough patients and so they don’t see why they should change.

You can imagine the taxi cab industry was in a similar position. They had plenty of people using their taxi service. They didn’t see how this new entrant could cause them trouble because they were unsafe and whatever other reasons they rationalized why the new entrant wouldn’t be accepted by the masses. Are we seeing the same thing with retail clinics vs traditional healthcare? I think so. Will it eventually catch up to them? I think so.

What’s even more interesting in healthcare is that retail clinics are just one thing that’s attacking the status quo. Telemedicine is as well. Home health apps and sensors are. AI is. etc etc etc. All of these have the potential to really disrupt the way we consume healthcare.

The question remains: Will traditional healthcare system be disrupted or will they embrace these changes and make them new tools in how they offer care? It took the taxi cab industry years to adapt and build an app that worked like Uber and Lyft. However, it was too late for them. I don’t think it’s too late for healthcare, but it’s getting close.

The EMR Vendor’s Dilemma

Posted on June 6, 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.

Yesterday, I had a great conversation with an executive at one of the leading EMR vendors. During our conversation, she stressed that her company was focused on the future – not on shoring up its existing infrastructure, but rather, rebuilding its code into something “transformational.”

In describing her company’s next steps, she touched on many familiar bases, including population health, patient registries and mobile- first deployment to support clinicians. She told me that after several years of development, she felt her company was truly ready to take on operational challenges like delivering value-based care and conducting disease surveillance.

All that being said – with all due respect to the gracious exec with whom I spoke – I wouldn’t want to be a vendor trying to be transformed at the moment. As I see it, vendors who want to keep up with current EMR trends are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, such vendors need to support providers’ evolving health IT needs, which are changing rapidly as new models of care delivery are emerging. Not only do they need to provide the powerhouse infrastructure necessary to handle and route massive floods of data, they also need to help their customers reach and engage consumers in new ways.

To do so, however, they need to shoot at moving targets, or they won’t meet provider demand. Providers may not be sure what shape certain processes will take, but they still expect EMR vendors to keep up with their needs nonetheless. And that can certainly be tricky these days.

For example, while everybody is talking about population health management, as far as I know we still haven’t adopted a widely-accepted model for adopting it. Sure, people are arriving at many of the same conclusions about pop health, but their approach to rolling it out varies widely.  And that makes things very tough for vendors to create pop health technology.

And what about patient engagement solutions? At present, the tools providers use to engage patients with their care are all over the map, from portals to mobile apps to back-end systems using predictive analytics. Synchronizing and storing the data generated by these solutions is challenging enough. Figuring out what configuration of options actually produces results is even harder, and nobody, including the savviest EMR vendors, can be sure what the consensus model will be in the future.

Look, I’m aware that virtually all software vendors face this problem. It’s difficult as heck to decide when to lead the industry you serve and when to let the industry lead you. Straddling these two approaches successfully is what separates the men from the boys — or the girls from the women — and dictates who the winners and losers are in any technology market.

But arguably, health IT vendors face a particularly difficult challenge when it comes to keeping up with the times. There’s certainly few industries are in a greater state of flux, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It will take some very fancy footwork to dance gracefully with providers. Within a few years, we’ll look back and know vendors adapted just enough.

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.

Could AI And Healthcare Chatbots Help Clinicians Communicate With Patients?

Posted on April 25, 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.

AI-driven chatbots are becoming increasingly popular for a number of reasons, including improving technology and a need to automate some routine processes. (I’d also argue that these models are emerging because millennials and Gen Z-ers have spent their lives immersed in online-based social environments, and are far less likely to be afraid of or uncomfortable with such things.)

Given the maturation of the technology, I’m not surprised to see a number of AI-driven chatbots for healthcare emerging.  Some of these merely capture symptoms, such as the diabetes, CHF and mental health monitoring options by Sense.ly.

But other AI-based chatbots attempt to go much further. One emerging company, X2ai, is rolling out a psychology-oriented chatbot offering mental health counseling, Another, UK-based startup Babylon Health, offers a text-only mobile apps which provides medical evaluations and screenings. The app is being pilot-tested with the National Health Service, where early reports say that it’s diagnosing and triaging patients successfully.

One area I haven’t seen explored, though, is using a chatbot to help doctors handle routine communications with patients. Such an app could not only triage patients, as with the NHS example, but also respond to routine email messages.

Scheduling and administration

The reality is that while doctors and nurses are used to screening patients via telephone, they’re afraid of being swamped by tons of electronic patient messages. Many feel that if they agree to respond to patient email messages via a patient portal, they’ll spend too much time doing so. With most already time-starved, it’s not surprising that they’re worried about this.

But a combination of AI and healthcare chatbot technology could reduce their time required to engage patients. In fact, the right solution could address a few medical practice workflow issues at one time.

First, it could triage and route patient concerns to doctors and advanced practice nurses, something that’s done now by unqualified clerks or extremely busy nurses. For example, the patient would be able to tell the chatbot why they wanted to schedule a visit, with the chatbot teasing out some nuances in their situation. Then, the chatbot could kick the information over to the patient’s provider, who could, with a few clicks, forward a request to schedule either an urgent or standard consult.

Perhaps just as important, the AI technology could sit atop messages sent between provider and patient. If the patient message asked a routine question – such as when their test results would be ready – the system could bounce back a templated message stating, for instance, that test results typically take five business days to post on the patient portal. It could also send templated responses to requests for medical records, questions about doctor availability or types of insurance accepted and so on.

Diagnosis and triage

Meanwhile, if the AI concludes that the patient has a health concern to address, it could send back a link to the chatbot, which would ask pertinent questions and send the responses to the treating clinician. At that point, if things look questionable, the doctor might choose to intervene with their own email message or phone call.

Of course, providers will probably be worried about relying on a chatbot for patient triage, especially the legal consequences if the bot misses something important. But over time, if health chatbot pilots like the UK example offer good results, they may eventually be ready to give this approach a shot.

Also, patients may be uncertain about working with a chatbot at first. But if physicians stress that they’re not trying put them off, but rather, to save time so they can take their time when patients need them, I think they’ll be satisfied.

I admit that under ideal circumstances, clinicians would have more time to communicate with patients directly. But the truth is, they simply don’t, and pressuring them to take phone calls or respond to every online message from patients won’t work.

Besides, as providers work to prepare for value-based care, they’ll need not only physician extenders, but physician extender-extenders like chatbots to engage patients and keep track of their needs. So let’s give them a shot.

The Disconnect Between Where Wearables Are Needed and Where Wearables are Used

Posted on April 21, 2017 I Written By

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

No one can argue that we haven’t seen an explosion of wearable devices in the healthcare space. In most cases, they’ve been a consumer purchase, but there are a few cases of them being used clinically. While we’ve seen a huge uptick in wearable use, there seems to be a massive disconnect between those who use them and those who need to use them.

This was highlighted to me recently when I heard someone say that at the recent Boston Marathon they predicted that almost every athlete running the Boston Marathon had some sort of tracking device on them to track their running. Runners love to track everything from steps to heart rate to speed and everything in between. I wish the Boston Marathon did a survey to know what devices the runners used. That would be a fascinating view into which wearables are most popular, but I digress.

When I heard this person make this observation, I quickly thought “That’s not who we need using wearables if we want to lower the cost of healthcare.”

With some exceptions, those who run the Boston Marathon are in incredible shape. They exercise a lot (maybe too much in some cases) and most of them eat quite healthy. These are the outliers and my guess is that they’re not the people that are costing our healthcare system so much money. That seems like a fair assumption to me.

Yes, the people we need using these wearables are those people sitting on the couch back at home. We need the unhealthy people tracking their health, not healthy people. While not always the case, unhealthy people don’t really want to track their health. What’s more demotivating to your healthy goals than being in a FitBit group with a marthon runner that always destroys you?

This is a challenging psychological problem that I haven’t seen any wearable company address. I guess there’s too much money to be made with healthy people that want to track themselves that they don’t need to dive into the psychological impact of wearables on unhealthy people. However, that’s exactly what we’re going to need to do as wearables become more clinically relevant and can help us better understand a patient’s health.