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E-Patient Update: Patient-Doctor Communication Still Needs an Update

Posted on December 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.

A few weeks ago, I called my PCP’s after-hours line to address an urgent medical concern. The staff at the answering service took my name, reached out to the doctor on call and when he was ready, connected him to me.

While this procedure was entirely standard, as always I found it a bit offputting, as to me it implies that I can’t be trusted to use the doctor’s cell phone number with some discretion. Don’t get me wrong, part of me understands why the doctors in this practice preferred to preserve their privacy and select when they want to speak to patients. On the other hand, however, it makes me uneasy, as I already have a very superficial relationship with my PCP and this approach doesn’t help.

While this is very much an old-school problem, to me it points to a larger one which has largely gone unnoticed as we plunge forward with the evolution of health IT. In theory, we are living in a far more connected world, one which puts not only family and friends but the professionals we work with on far more of a one-to-one basis with us. In practice, however, I continue to feel that patient-doctor communication has benefited from this far less than one might think.

I know, you’re going to point out to me how many doctors are using portals to email with patients these days, and how some even text back and forth with us. I’ve certainly been lucky enough to benefit from the consideration of providers who have reached out via these channels to solve urgent problems. And I know some health organizations — such as Kaiser Permanente — have promoted a culture in which doctors and patients communicate frequently via its portal.

The thing is, I think Kaiser’s experience is the exception that proves the rule. Yes, my doctors have indeed communicated with me directly via portals or cell. But the email and text messages I’ve gotten from them are typically brief, almost pointillistic, or if longer and more detailed, typically written days or even weeks after the original request on my end. In other words, these communications aren’t a big improvement over what they could accomplish with an old-fashioned phone call – other than being asynchronous communication that doesn’t require we hook up in real-time.

In saying this, I’m not faulting the clinicians themselves. Nobody can communicate with everyone all the time, particularly doctors with a large caseload. And I’m certainly not suggesting that I expect them to be Facebook buddies with me and chat about the weather. But it is worth looking at the way in which these communication technologies have seemingly failed to enrich the communication between patient and doctor in many cases.

Until we develop a communication channel for patients and doctors which offers more of the benefits of real-time communication — while helping doctors manage their time as they see fit — I think much of the potential of physician-patient communication by Internet will be wasted. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do hope we find one.

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.

E-Patient Update: The Joy Of Health Data Synchronization

Posted on October 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.

Today, I realized that I’m a lucky girl. So lucky, in fact, that I get to have most of my health data accessible through one interface. No, I can’t access all of the data through a single interface — if that were true I’d be extraordinarily fortunate — but for day-to-day purposes I’m pretty close.

How does this happen, you ask? Well, actually it’s something fairly simple in principle, but powerful in action. I’ve fallen into a network.

I have been seen, now, by three physicians’ offices which are part of Privia Medical Group. Privia is a multi-specialty network of physicians who use the practice management and population tools provided by parent company Privia Health.

Because she’s part of the multi-specialty network, my primary care physician was able to refer me to two other specialists in the group with confidence and ease. But because she is part of a network of independent practices, rather than a group of employed physicians, I feel confident that she’s not unduly pressured to refer to these other providers. (I am definitely not a fan of staff model HMOs like Kaiser, which give you far too little choice of physicians and far too few means of recourse if you don’t like your provider.)

Just as importantly, at least to an e-patient geek like myself, I’ve learned that all Privia Medical Group specialists work with the same athenahealth portal. So when I log in to read the notes for one visit, I get to review the others as well, through a single sign-in.

Because members of Privia work with the same portal, I get the (sadly) unusual pleasure of looking at past and future appointments for multiple specialists as well as primary care on a single page.

Meanwhile, and this is of course critical, the provider I saw this morning had all the key details he needed about previous care, including an updated medication list, via a shared EMR. It always amazes me how hard it seems to be to give providers access to important details like this, but as readers know it’s still unusual independent offices share information fluidly.

While this is mostly good news story, it’s bit of a downer too, because it shouldn’t be such a treat to have your doctors share your information. Still, the fact remains that this is a high level of data sharing performance. The Privia set-up is a sure-as-shootin’ cure for my recent case of hyperportalotus, a nasty condition in which patients are beset with multiple incompatible portals by their providers.

Now, I still have to deal with two other portals (both instances of Epic MyChart) if I want to review my hospital care notes. But if I can be view all of my outpatient encounters with PCPs and specialists AND be reminded of routine care I might need (such as a flu shot), schedule and reschedule with my providers and pay any remaining bills I’m pretty darned happy.

Providers Often Choose Low-Tech Collection Solutions

Posted on October 6, 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 most providers know, it’s harder to collect money from the patient once they’ve walked out the door. This has always been an issue, but is particularly important today given that patients are being asked to bear an increasingly larger percentage of their healthcare bill.

In some cases, providers solve this problem by having their staff reach out directly via phone, rather than relying entirely on paper billing. Others address these issues with technology solutions such as offering payment options via a web portal. And of course, some providers do both.

But the question remains, which combination is most likely to boost collections efficiently without losing patients in the process? And it’s this question, which underlies all those other considerations, which a new study hopes to address. When reading the results, it’s good to bear in mind that the sponsor, BillingTree, is a payment technology firm and therefore has a bias, but the survey data was interesting nonetheless.

First, a look at providers’ collections challenges. Respondents told BillingTree that compliance and collecting payments once the patient has left the building were concerns, along with knowing the correct amount to bill after insurance and addressing the client’s ability to pay. Perhaps the biggest issues were a lack of payment channels – be they staffers, interactive voice response or website tech — and disputes over the amount billed.

According to BillingTree researchers, few respondents were using Web or automated phone payment collection technologies to bring in these missing dollars. While 93.9% accepted online and mail payments, and 86.7% said they accepted payments over the phone via a live agent, only 66.7% provided a web portal payment option, and just 6.7% offered the ability to pay via an interactive voice response system. Rather than add new technologies, respondents largely said that they intended to improve collections by adding staff members or outsourcing part of their collection operations.

On the other hand, technology plays a somewhat bigger part in providers’ future plans for collections. Over the next 12 months, 20% said they planned to begin accepting payments via a web portal, and 13.3% intend to add an IVR system to accept payments. Meanwhile, the 26.7% of providers who are planning to outsource some or all of their collections are likely to benefit indirectly from these technologies, which are common among payment outsourcers, BillingTree noted.

Among those providers that did offer phone or web-based payment options, one-fifth chose to add a convenience fee to the transaction. BillingTree researchers noted that given the low adoption of such technologies, and concerns about regulatory compliance, such fees might be unwise. Nonetheless, the data suggest that collection of such fees increase over time.

All this being said, the BillingTree study doesn’t look at perhaps the most critical technology issue providers are struggling to address. As a recent American Medical Association survey recently concluded, providers are quite interested in tools that link to their EMR and help them improve their billing and reimbursement processes.

Focusing on revenue cycle management issues at the front end of the process makes sense. After all, while patients are being forced to take on larger shares of their medical costs, insurers are still more reliable sources of income. So while it makes sense for providers to track down patients who leave without having paid their share of costs, focusing the bulk of their technology dollars on improving the claims process seems like a good idea.

E-Patient Update: A Bad Case Of Hyperportalotus

Posted on September 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.

Lately, the medical profession has seen an increasing incidence of a new condition tentatively identified as “hyperportalotus” — marked by symptoms of confusion, impatience, wasted time and existential dread. Unlike many newly-identified medical problems, the cause for this condition is well understood. Patient simply have too many portals being thrust at them.

As a patient with a few chronic illnesses, I see several specialists in addition to a primary care doctor. I’ve also been seen recently at a community hospital, as well as an urgent care center run by a different health system. I have access to at least seven portals, each, as you probably guessed, completely independent of each other.

Portals in play in my medical care include two instances of Epic’s MyChart, the Allscripts FollowMyHealth product and an athenahealth portal. (As an aside, I should say that I’ve found that I like athenahealth’s product the most, but that’s a story for another day.)

Because I am who I am – an e-patient dedicated to understanding and leveraging these tools – I’m fairly comfortable working with my providers on this basis. I simply check in with the portal run by a given practice within a few days of my visit, review reports and lab results and generally orient myself to the flow of information.

Too Much Information
So, if I can easily access and switch between various portals, what’s the big deal? After all, signing up for these portals is relatively simple, and while they differ in how they are organized, their interfaces are basically the same.

The problem is (drumroll…) that most patients aren’t like me. Many are overwhelmed by their contact with the medical system and feel reluctant to dig into more information between visits. Others may not feel confident that they understand the portals and shy away reflexively.

Take the case of my 70-something father. My dad is actually pretty computer-savvy, having worked in the technology business for many years. (His career goes all the way back to the days of punch cards.) But even he seems averse to signing up for MyChart, which is used by the integrated health system that provides all of his inpatient and outpatient care.

Admittedly, my father has less contact with doctors and hospitals than I do, so his need to review medical data might be less than mine. Nonetheless, it’s a shame that the mechanics of signing up for and using a portal are intimidating to both he and my mother.

A Common Portal
All this being said, the question is what we can do about it. I have a theory, and would love to know what you think of it.

What if we launched an open source-based central industry portal to which all other portals could publish basic information?  This structure would take proprietary vendors’ interest in controlling data out of the picture. Also, with the data being by its very nature limited (as consumers never get the whole tamale) it would answer objections by providers who feel that they’re giving away the store with the patient data.

Of course, I can raise immediate and powerful objections to my own proposal, the strongest of which is probably that we would have to agree on a single shared standard for publishing this data to the central megaportal. (And we all know how that usually works out.)

On the other hand, such approach has much to recommend it, including better care coordination and hopefully, stronger patient engagement with their health. Maybe I’m crazy, but I have a feeling that this just might work. Heck, maybe my father would bother looking at his own medical information if he didn’t have to develop hyperportalotus to do it.

How To Choose Tools For Physician-Patient Engagement

Posted on September 22, 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.

To transition from fee-for-service reimbursement to value-based care, it’s pretty much a given that we have to do a better job of getting patients engaged with their physicians and overall plan of care. However, despite the array of intriguing digital health and mobile technologies we have available to get the job done, it’s still not clear exactly how to do it.

But according to one health IT exec, it all boils down to understanding how the various tools and technologies work and integrating them into your practice. Dr. Ali Hussam, CEO of outcomes data collection firm OBERD, suggests that the following tools are particularly important. I’ve listed his suggestions, and added some thoughts of my own:

  • Educational technologies: Physicians can use these tools to make sure patients are prepared to have an intelligent discussion of their health status, he notes. My take: It’s hard to argue that this makes sense; in fact, this concept is so important that I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned more often as part of the broader patient engagement picture.  
  • Electronic questionnaires: Hussam argues that since value-based care calls for quantifiable outcome measurements, it’s smart to use electronic questionnaires, which are more appealing, efficient and sophisticated than paper tools. My response to this is that while it’s a good idea, it will be important that the questionnaires be based on well-defined measures which the provider organization trusts, and these may not be easy to come by at first.
  • Wearables: Patients may already be using wearables to monitor their own health metrics, but it’s time to make better use of their presence, Hussam suggest. Physicians can step up their value by using the information to improve the quality of health discussions and intervene in response to the data if needed.  It’s hard to argue that he’s right about the potential uses of wearables. However, there’s a lot of doubt about their accuracy, so my sense is that many physicians are still reluctant to make use of them given the clinical accuracy questions which still bedeviled these devices.

Along with recommending these approaches to engagement, Hussam offers some tips for implementing patient engagement technology, including:

  • Focus on patient outcome: Hussam recommends sending a patient-determined outcome as the focus of care, and explaining to patients how engagement technology can help them meet this goal. Plain and simple, this sounds like an excellent idea, as patients are more likely to succeed at meeting goals they have embraced.
  • Solicit feedback: Effective engagement tools “should offer patients a sense of individual attention and intimacy by soliciting feedback about individual patients’ entire healthcare experience,” along with offering care data. He argues, I think compellingly, that this exchange of information could help providers succeed under merit-based incentive payment programs.
  • Encourage responses to questionnaires: As Hussam noted previously, providers must collect data to succeed at outcome-based payment models. But he also notes correctly that these questionnaires and help patients achieve their desired health outcomes by tracking what’s going on with their health. No matter how you couch things, however, patients may need additional encouragement to fill out forms. Perhaps it would make sense to have med techs go through the questionnaires with patients prior to their physician encounter, at least at first.

As Hussam’s analysis suggests, engaging patients isn’t just a matter of presenting them with shiny new technologies. It’s critical to align patient use of the technologies with goals they hope to meet, and to explain how the tools can get them there.

Otherwise, both patients and providers will see little benefit from throwing engagement tools into the mix.

E-Patient Update:  Keeping Data From Patients Has Consequences

Posted on September 20, 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.

Given who I am – an analyst and editor who’s waist-deep in the health IT world – I am primed to stay on top of my health data, including physician notes, lab reports, test results and imaging studies. Not only does it help me talk to my doctors, it gives me a feeling of control which I value.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that most physicians support me in this. Time and again, I run into situations where I can’t see my own health information via a portal until a physician “approves” the data. I’ve written about this phenomenon previously, mostly to wring my hands at the foolishness of it all, but I see the need to revisit the issue.

Having given the matter more thought, I’ve come to believe that withholding such data isn’t just unfortunate, it’s harmful. Not only does it hamper patients’ efforts to manage their own care effectively, it reveals attitudes which are likely to hold back the entire process of transforming the health system.

An Example of Delayed Health Data
Take the following example, from my own care. I was treated in the emergency department for swelling and pain which I feared might be related to a blood clot in my leg. The ED staff did a battery of tests, including an MRI, which concluded that I was actually suffering from lumbar spine issues.

Given that the spinal issue was painful and disabling, I made an appointment for follow up with a spine specialist for one week after the ED visit. But despite having signed up with the hospital’s portal, I was unable to retrieve the radiologist’s report until an hour before the spine specialist visit. And without that report the specialist would not have been able to act immediately to assist me.

I don’t know why I was unable to access the records for several days after my visit, but I can’t think of a reason why it would have made sense to deprive me of information I needed urgently for continued care. My previous experience, however, suggests that I probably had to wait until a physician reviewed the records and released them for my use.

Defeating the Purpose
To my way of looking at things, holding back records defeats the purpose of having portals in the first place. Ideally, patients don’t use portals as passive record repositories; instead, they visit them regularly and review key information generated by their clinical encounters, particularly if they suffer from chronic illnesses.

It’d be a real shame if conservative attitudes about sharing unvetted tests, imaging or procedure data undercut the benefits of portals. While it’s still not entirely clear how we’re going to engage patients further in managing their health – individually or across a population – portals are emerging as one of the more effective tools we’ve got. Bottom line, patients use them, and that’s a pretty big deal.

I’m not saying that patients have never overreacted to what looked like a scary result and called their doctor a million times in a panic. (That seems to be the scenario doctors fear, from conversations I’ve had over time.) But my guess is that it’s far less common than they think.

And in their attempts to head off a minor problem, they’re discouraging patients from getting involved with their care, which is what they need patients to do as value-based care models emerge. Seems like everyone loses.

Sure, patients may struggle to understand care data and notes at first, but what we need to do is educate them on what it means. We can’t afford to keep patients ignorant just to protect turf and salve egos.

MGMA Blames Rise in HIT Costs on Fed’s Regs

Posted on September 15, 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.

MGMA’s released a study of 850 member’s practices showing HIT costs up by more than 45 percent in the last six years. MGMA puts much of the blame on federal regulations. It’s concerned that:

Too much of a practice’s IT investment is tied directly to complying with the ever-increasing number of federal requirements, rather than to providing better patient care. Unless we see significant changes in the final MIPS/APM rule, practice IT costs will continue to rise without a corresponding improvement in the care delivery process.

There may be a good case that the HITECH act is responsible for the lion’s share of HIT growth for these and other providers, but MGMA study doesn’t make the case – not by far.

What the study does do is track the rise in HIT costs since 2011 for physician owned, multispecialty practices. For example, MGMA’s press release notes that IT costs have gone up by almost 47 percent since 2009.

In fairness, MGMA also notes that costs may have also gone up do to other costs, such as patient portals, etc. However, the release emphasizes that regulations are at great fault.

Here’s why MGMA’s case falls flat:

  • Seeing Behind the Paywall. If you want to examine the study, it’ll cost you $655 to read it. Many similar studies that charge, provide a good synopsis and spell out their methodology. MGMA doesn’t do either.
  • Identifying the Issue. It’s one thing to complain about regulations. It’s quite another to identify which ones specifically harm productivity without compensating benefit. MGMA cites regulations without so much as an example.
  • Lacking Comparables. MGMA’s press release notes that total HIT costs were $32,000 per practitioner. However, this does not look at non HIT support costs, nor does it address comparable support costs from other professions.
  • Breaking Down Costs. The study offers comparable information to practitioners by specialty types, etc. However, all IT costs are lumped together and called HIT.
  • Ignoring Backgrounds. MGMA notes that HIT costs rose most dramatically between 2010 and 2011, which marked MU1’s advent. It doesn’t address these practices’ IT state in 2009. It would be good to know how many were ready to install an EHR and how many had to make basic IT improvements?
  • Finessing Productivity. Other than mentioning patient portals, MGMA ignores any productivity changes due to HIT. For example, how long did it take and what did it cost to do a refill request before HIT and now? This and similar productivity measures could give a good view of HIT’s impact.

It’s popular to beat up on HITs in general and EHRs in general. Lord knows, EHRs have their problems, but many of the ills laid at their doorstep are just so much piling on. Or, as is this case, are used to make a connection for the sake of political argument.

Studies that want to get at the effect HIE and EHRs have had on the practice of medicine need to be carefully done. They need to look at how things were done, what they could accomplish and what costs were before and after HIT changes. Otherwise, the study’s data are fitted to the conclusions not the other way around.

MGMA’s a major and important player with a record of service to its members. In this case, it’s using its access to important practice information in support of an antiregulatory policy goal rather than to help determine HIT’s real status.

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.

Providers: Today’s Telehealth Tech Won’t Work For Future

Posted on July 5, 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 has concluded that while healthcare leaders see major opportunities for growing their use of telehealth technologies, they don’t think existing technologies will meet the demands of the future.

For the study, which was sponsored by Modern Healthcare and Avizia, researchers surveyed more than 280 healthcare executives to see how they saw the future of telehealth programs and delivery models. For the purposes of the study, they defined telehealth as encompassing a broad mix of healthcare approaches, including consumer-focused wireless applications, remote monitoring of vital signs, patient consultations via videoconferencing, transmission of still images, use of patient portals and continuing medical education.

The survey found that 63% of those surveyed used telehealth in some way. Most respondents were with hospitals (72%), followed by physician groups and clinics (52%) and a grab bag of other provider organizations ambulatory centers in nursing homes (36%).

The most common service lines in use by the surveyed providers included stroke (44%), behavioral health (39%), staff education and training (28%) and primary care (22%). Other practice areas mentioned, such as neurology, pediatrics and cardiology, came in at less than 20%. Meanwhile, when it comes to telehealth applications they wish they had, patient education and training was at the top list at 34%, followed by remote patient home monitoring (30%) and primary care (27%). Other areas on providers’ wish lists include cardiology (25%), behavioral health (24%), urgent care (20%) and wound care (also 20%).

Not only did surveyed providers hope to see telemedicine extended into other service lines, they’d like to see the technologies used for telehealth delivery change as well. Currently, much telehealth is delivered via a computer workstation on wheels or ‘tablet on a stick.’  But providers would like to see technology platforms advance.

For example, 38% would like to see video visits with clinicians supported by their EMR, 25% would like to offer telemedical appointments through a secure messaging app used by providers and 23% would like to deliver telemedical services through personal mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

But what’s driving providers’ interest in telehealth? For most (almost 75%) consumer demand is a key reason for pursuing such programs. Large numbers of respondents also cited the ability to improve clinical outcomes (66%) and value-based care (62%).

That being said, to roll out telehealth in force, many respondents (50%) said they’d have to make investments in telehealth technology and infrastructure. And nearly the same number (48%) said they’d have to address reimbursement issues as well. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that at the time the study was being written, the number of states requiring reimbursement parity between telehealth and traditional care had already risen to 29.)

This study underscores some important reasons why providers are embracing telehealth strategies. Another one pointed out by my colleague John Lynn is that telehealth can encourage early interventions which might otherwise be delayed because patients don’t want to bother with an in-person visit to the doctor’s office. Over time, I suspect additional benefits will emerge as well. This is such an exciting use of technology!