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Patient Engagement Strategies Must Start with the Patient

The following is a guest blog post by Matt Adamson, vice president of product management for ACO and value-based health at ZeOmega

Healthcare providers are preparing to engage patients at a deeper level than ever before as they strive to achieve quality and savings metrics required of accountable care models being implemented across the country. However, a critical, lingering question remains – will patients participate? Patients have grown accustomed to seeking out healthcare information on their own, with the top five healthcare websites logging more than 78 million unique visitors monthly.[i] While this is clearly a positive sign that must be leveraged to move the needle even further, the answer could lie with the addition of the care coordinator that exists in most accountable care and medical homes.

A patient portal is seen as the most likely way that care providers will interact with patients outside of resource intensive office visits or telephone conversations, but any technology adoption must be accompanied by monumental shifts in attitudes among both physicians and patients in order to be successful. Physicians already are strapped for time and few are reimbursed for patient engagement beyond the traditional face-to-face interaction. Likewise, patients may hesitate to “bother” their doctors with questions or access their personal healthcare information online.

Care coordinators could serve as the bridge that connects physicians and patients, bringing them together at a clinical connection point. Relatively new in the healthcare system, care coordinators generally are nurses with care management experience who can help put conditions and diagnoses into the appropriate clinical context while speaking with patients on their level. The patient portal would provide another avenue for patients to communicate with the care coordinator, who would serve as the liaison to the physician when appropriate.

Meaningful Use Drives Push for Patient Engagement

Patient engagement will be a critical consideration in achieving Stage 2 Meaningful Use. Now extended through 2016, Stage 2 includes objectives to improve patient care through better clinical decision support, care coordination and patient engagement. Patient engagement metrics will require that more than 5% of a practice’s patients send secure messages to the provider and more than 5% of the patients access their health information online.[ii]

The Medicare Shared Savings Programs (MSSP) and the Partnership for Patients community-based care transitions program both have measures related directly to demonstrating an enhanced communication experience between patients and physicians that can lead to recognition and additional revenue for practices and hospitals. The NCQA Patient-Centered Medical Home certification also includes elements related to patient engagement. One of the critical certification factors requires contact with at least 50% of patients to develop and document self-management plans and goals.[iii]

Beyond regulations and certifications, patient engagement is also being shown to help meet the cost savings aspects of accountable care. Patients who are more engaged have fewer hospital stays, adhere more often to prescribed medical treatments, recover faster and are more satisfied with their care.[iv]

Engaged patients are also more successful at managing chronic illness than those who are not. More than 40% of Americans are living with at least one chronic disease, which overall cause seven in 10 deaths each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Getting Patients Involved in Their Own Health

As clinicians work more closely with patients who are trying to manage chronic illness, it is important to note that the time patients spend with physicians, nurses and other care providers represents a very small percentage of the overall time spent managing conditions or treatments. The patient and other caregivers are largely responsible for adhering to care plans and making the necessary lifestyle changes to accommodate chronic conditions. Patients who are educated about their conditions and engaged in the process will more likely succeed in keeping their chronic conditions in check.

So using a patient portal or similar technology would seem a rational, logical way for patients to learn more about their conditions and interact with care providers in a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as that. With all of the rules, metrics and evidence that are mandated for the clinician community, there are no such rules in place that require compliance for patients.

A portal would allow patients to contact their doctor any time, day or night, to ask a question or relate treatment information. But few doctors are trained for or desire that type of high-touch interaction, especially since reimbursement for that type of interaction is rare. The United States also is facing a rather serious primary care shortage in many areas, one that will be exacerbated as up to 30 million uninsured obtain coverage under the Affordable Care Act. So what’s the best use of physician time – diagnosing and treating an increasing number of patients or answering questions by secure email?

Patient portals and other technologies that Meaningful Use is bringing into common usage will not move the needle toward smarter health choices on their own. The technology has to be helpful and interesting for patients, providing them with an easy way to connect with care providers when they need help and to get updates and reminders when needed.

This is why the idea of using care coordinators in the role of engaging patients when not in the physician office or receiving direct care is gaining traction. The goal of care coordinators would be to guide patients and help them to navigate the healthcare system so that they stay on track with their treatments between physician visits. Care coordinators would have a direct link to a patient’s physicians, bringing them in only when needed.

Secure messaging and emails could provide an easy way for patients to submit questions or take action when they are ready to do so. Platforms that can connect and share the nursing care plans between the care coordinator, caregivers and the patient could be highly effective, especially if there are issues resulting from chronic or acute conditions. This seamless connection would allow the care coordinator to pass along educational content and become part of a two-way mechanism for tracking medications in a manner that allows patients to update and print the list.

From there, embedding incentive management and gaming features into the portal would provide a reason for the patient to keep coming back to continue the engagement.

Technology platforms built to enable the connection between the patient and the care coordinator could be the missing pieces of the puzzle that would allow patients to become more involved in their health and allow the promise of patient engagement to become a reality.

December 18, 2013 I Written By

EMR Analysis Detects Childrens’ Growth Disorders

EMRs can be used to detect growth disorders in children, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association . The study, which was written up in FierceEMR, used a special automated growth monitoring algorithm integrated into an EMR system to track childrens’ growth.

To conduct the study, researchers compared three “control” years to an “intervention” year. An annual average of 33,029 children were screened, according to FierceEMR.

Researchers found that in a control year an average of four children were diagnosed with a growth disorder. During the intervention year, however, 28 new diagnoses of growth disorders were made among 32,404 children, FierceEMR reports.

Looked at another way, the rate of growth disorder diagnoses was 0.1 per 1000 screened children in the control years versus 0.9 per 1000 screened children in the intervention year, FierceEMR noted.

These study results are part of an emerging body of literature suggesting that EMRs to help clinicians detect and manage disease states.

For example, another study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that EMRs can be associated with a drop in emergency department visits and hospitalizations among diabetics.  That study, which analyzed all of the 169,711 records for patients enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California diabetes registry during a four-year period, found a 10.5% decline in hospitalizations for preventable ambulatory care sensitive conditions where EMRs were in use.

Another study, which recently appeared in BMJ Quality & Safety, recently concluded that EMRs can help reduce hospital readmissions of high-risk heart failure patients by sorting out high from low risk patients in the ED.

September 16, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Meaningful Use Stage 3 Should Address Care Disparities

A consumer coalition of more than 50 consumer, patient and labor organizations has published a plan designed to thrust care disparities into center stage as part of Stage 3 of Meaningful Use, according to Healthcare IT News.

According to data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the combined costs of premature death and health disparities in the U.S. were $1.24 trillion between 2003 and 2006. The group, the Consumer Partnership for eHealth, argues that these disparities will only increase as the country grows more diverse.

CPeH developed the plan after a year-long review of scientific literature, along with collaboration with experts on disparities in care and health IT. The plan focuses on data collection and use to identify disparities; language; literacy and communication and care coordination and planning, HIN reports.

The plan is designed to integrate disparities reduction with the other Stage 3 criteria to improve the identification and understanding of health disparities. The CPeH has submitted the plan to the Health IT Policy Committee, and has asked the committee to act on its recommendations.

Right now, the Meaningful Use program only requires basic identification of race, ethnicity and gender data collection. But the action plan would like to see Stage 3 include more stringent data collection standards designed by HHS, which would include disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The group’s action plan includes recommendations that:

* EMRs have the ability to stratify patients’ specific conditions by demographic variables such as race, ethnicity, language, gender identity, sexual orientation and socio-economic status

* Providers make greater use of patient data collected and shared through mobile health applications

* Clinicians effectively communicate EMR information to patients, so patients can better make use of its benefits

While the goals outlined here are laudable, my sense is that even for doctors ready for Stage 3 Meaningful Use, requiring this level of data collection and analysis would be a difficult burden. I guess this one is a “wait and see” proposition.

September 13, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

HIEs Unable To Keep Up With User Demands

While HIEs are expanding their offerings to include analytic and care coordination functions useful for population health management, they aren’t doing it quickly enough to meet market demand, according to a piece in Information Week.

The IW story, which outlines the conclusions of a new report from Chilmark Research, notes that the focus of most HIEs is still on secure clinical messaging, which is not adequate for cross-enterprise care coordination. The Chilmark report estimates that queries of databases for patient info needed at the point of care account for just 2 percent to 10 percent of HIE transactions overall.

Information Week also drew attention to a study appearing in Health Affairs noting that the most common functions of the 119 operational public HIEs were transmitting lab results, clinical summaries and discharge summaries. While there’s been a large increase in the number of HIEs that can exchange Continuity of Care Documents, few EMRs can integrate the data components of CCDs in to structured fields, the Health Affairs piece noted.

The problem is particularly acute in ambulatory care. As Chilmark CEO John Moore told Information Week, most ambulatory EMRs haven’t been able to generate CCDs that other EMRs can consume or do queries using a record locator service. “The value that HIEs provide to the ambulatory sector, where 80 percent of care takes place, is pretty limited,” Moore told IW.

Still, despite their weaknesses, public HIEs continue to hold onto life. For example, as various industry stats have shown, hospital CIOs increasingly see participation in an HIE as a key initiative, if nothing else because Meaningful Use will eventually demand interoperability.

But as the Chilmark study emphasizes, HIEs have a long way to go before they’re making a major contribution to patient care. And getting enough momentum to address these problems seems elusive. All told, while HIEs are clearly an important movement, getting them to the point of true usefulness could take years more.

August 7, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Another Example Of EMR “Golden Age” Applications

Not long ago, John posted a piece about the “Golden Age of EMRs Being Over” and how that’s playing out from an EMR vendor perspective. Since writing that piece he’s found that while the Golden Age of EMR buyer frenzy has passed, we’re entering a new EMR Golden Age which will feature amazing applications for clinicians and public health administrators. John calls these applications Smart EMR.

Today, I came across some news which I think is a perfect example of the kind of innovative applications John is predicting will emerge as EMRs mature. At the University of Notre Dame, researchers have developed a system which uses collaborative filtering of EMR records to better guide treatment, manage disease and predict disease risks across a population.

Notre Dame computer science associate professor Nitesh Chawla and doctoral student Darcy Davis call the new system the Collaborative Assessment and Recommendation Engine (CARE). CARE uses collaborative filtering to detect similarities between patients and produce personalized disease risk profiles for individuals. It does so by looking at diseases in similar patients.

“In its most conservative use, the CARE rankings can provide reminders for conditions that busy doctors may have overlooked,” Chawla said in a prepared statement. “Utilized to its full potential, CARE can be used to explore broader disease histories, suggest previously unconsidered concerns and facilitate discussion about early testing and prevention, as well as wellness strategies that may ring a more familiar bell with an individual and are essentially doable.”

Ultimately, Chawla says, such a system can produce a host of benefits. For example, he suggests, it can reduce readmission rates, improve quality of care ratings, help demonstrate Meaningful Use and improve personal and population health. On a more micro level, it can allow patients to walk out of their doctor’s office with a list of recommendations based on predicted health risks, he notes.

This is just one example of the kind of new applications that are emerging as EMRs mature and the use of big data becomes a tool for wellness. I expect to see lots of announcements of this kind over the next year or two. It’s an exciting time.

July 30, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Partners Integrates Mobile Data With EMR

In a move that could realize much of the promise of wireless remote monitoring, Partners HealthCare system has made it possible for providers to view remotely-collected patient health data in its EMR.  The program was launched by Partners division The Center for Connected Health, which focuses on delivering new forms of patient care outside of standard medical settings.

For years, Partners has been running programs which collect patient data through a combination of remote-monitoring technology, sensors and Web-based tools. Their focus has included management of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, medication adherence and improved pregnancy outcomes and cardiac care outcomes. The Center’s remote monitoring database now stores over 1.2 million  patient vital signs.

Now, Partners has linked The Center’s proprietary remote monitoring database to its EMR, a step which moves the system in the direction of offering continuous chronic disease management. If a patient is participating in a remote monitoring program, Partners physicians can can now see a patient’s day-to-day vital signs, blood glucose levels, weight and other key health indicators directly within their records in the EMR.

The ultimate notion, according to the press release at least, is to  “put the patient at the center of their care while maintaining a close watch on their condition when they are not in the hospital or doctor’s office.”

While Partners didn’t say how many patients are involved in The Center’s programs, it’s doubtless a small fraction of overall Partners patient population. So despite the general coolness of what they’re trying to do, this is still more on the order of an experiment than a population health management program via remote monitoring.

Still, what Partners is doing is a large step in the right direction, and will doubtless realize some of the long anticipated benefits of remote monitoring for patients who are involved. Good show, folks.

June 25, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

EMRs Help Identify High-Risk Pregnancies

A group of researchers have begun a project in which they use EMRs to identify pregnant mothers who may be at high risk for medical complications.

The researchers, who are being supported by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Population Health IT (CPHIT), are conducting a pilot using predictive modeling and natural language processing to find indicators of possible risk in the text of records for pregnant Medicaid beneficiaries, according to an article in iHealthBeat.

Maryland, where the pilot is taking place, has had a statewide HIE in place since 2009. The HIE data is useful for spotting trends in the medical histories of individual patients, as it ensures that doctors have the whole story, but obviously, the data doesn’t analyze itself.

That’s where CPHIT comes in. Its job is to find ways to improve public health using existing sources of data.

To find high-risk moms, the researchers are working with CPHIT to find such hints such as whether the mother smokes or lives in an abusive environment. Historically, those beneficiaries don’t receive regular follow-up care, the story notes.

The team of researchers and CPHIT learned which beneficiaries should be considered a risk, in part, by taking a trip to a Johns Hopkins campus in East Baltimore, where a nurse shared warning signs for complicated pregnancies and along the way, shared different phrases which could confuse the search (such as ‘former tobacco user’ or ‘this patient is not a tobacco user’ or ‘this patient lives with a tobacco user.’)

Now armed with this information — and a difficult-to-obtain link between OB, primary care charts and insurance files — the pilot is slowly moving forward. When researchers find mothers who could be at risk for complicated pregnancy, they contact those mothers about receiving care needed to increase the odds of their having a safe, normal pregnancy and delivery.

June 7, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

eHealth Pilot Helps Chronically Ill

An 18-month pilot in one of Rio de Janeiro has demonstrated that even a small amount of health IT tools, applied to the right population, can have a significant effect on targeted patients’ health.

To conduct the pilot, the New Cities Foundation and GE Healthcare set out to test out a model which would improve access to primary care in a poor urban community, reports PMLive. (Note: The New Cities Foundation was established by GE, Cisco and Ericsson.)

The partners gave a clinic in the Santa Marta favela in Rio a GE-created eHealth kit, capable of fitting in a backpack, which contained a set of tools to measure key health indicators.  The materials in the kit, if purchased by outside parties, would usually cost about $42,000.

Clinic staff used the portable set of tools to visit 100 elderly patients living with chronic illness and mobility issues, in an effort to offer these patients a comprehensive diagnosis, the publication said.

According to a report created on the project by the Foundation, the results were substantial. Cost savings due to avoiding adverse clinical events included $4,000 (heart failure) to $200,000 (kidney failure) per 100 elderly patients.  Meanwhile, the pilot saved $136,000 per 1,000 patients by avoiding hospitalizations of those with cardiovascular diseases.

Time and time again, research shows that proactively providing preventive care takes costs out of the health system. This model, which seems like it could be duplicated easily in the U.S., should be tested widely in urban “health deserts” here. Any approach which brings primary care to where the frail, immobile elderly are seems almost guaranteed to be a winner.

May 28, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

NY Hospital Links DNA Profiles With EMR

New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center has launched a new program designed to link patient DNA to optimal treatments, in which patients consent to DNA sequencing, contact with researchers and longitudinal studies related to data within their EMR.

To date, 25,000 people have signed up to participate in the biobank program, BioMe. BioMe is designed to access a broad range of clinical and environmental information stored in the EMR and link it with genetic information provided by patients.  BioMe also offers doctors the opportunity to give patients more targeted care based on their DNA profile. The program is funded by The Charles Bronfman Institute for Personalized Medicine at Mount Sinai.

As part of this effort, a team of doctors, genetic scientists and IT experts at Mount Sinai are gradually implementing a new program called CLIPMERGE (Clinical Implementation of Personalized Medicine through Electronic Health Records and Genomics).  CLIPMERGE is using a new tool, developed at Mount Sinai, which gives doctors real-time therapeutic suggestions based on patient genetic profiles. The idea behind these technologies is to link CLIPMERGE and BioMe, bringing up to the moment information on genetic responses to certain medication to the patient bedside.

Right now, real-time feedback on ideal medications based on DNA profiles is available for three conditions related to cardiovascular disease, blood clots and high cholesterol. The idea is that as scientists discover other DNA-specific responses to therapeutics, CLIPMERGE and BioMe will help bring them to practicing physicians quickly.

According to Healthcare IT News, the BioMe databank will include diverse human ancestry, with self-reported 25 percent of African ancestry, 30 percent of European ancestry, 36 percent of Hispanic Latino, and 9 percent of other ancestry.

May 6, 2013 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Health Sensors Panel at SXSW

If you’ve been following @ehrandhit on Twitter, then you know that I’ve spent the past few days at the SXSW conference in Austin. It’s been quite the experience and I’ll no doubt write a lot more about my experience at the conference. For now, let’s take a look at many of the top takeaways from the health sensors panel.


While this doesn’t necessarily apply to sensors, I found it interesting that only 5 people raised their hands when asked who in the audience were patients. It’s kind of a stupid question since we’re all patients. I think most of us that heard the question assumed he meant patient advocate or possibly chronic patient. At least I bet that the 5 that raised their hands fit into those categories. Someone on Twitter said that maybe it’s because many of us don’t see ourselves as patients since we’re “healthy.”


Fascinating to consider all the data that our brain is processing. Plus, it should give us hope for what is possible with sensors. Needless to say, we have a long way to go.


This is really sad to consider and applies to many diseases. I think they’re point was that sensors can help us get at some of these diseases.


I’d never consider integrating environmental sensors in your healthcare. Those sensors could be indicators of why our health suffers. Interesting idea.


Seriously amazing technology…assuming it really works. I love people trying even if it doesn’t work out.


This was an important takeaway from my time at the mHealth Summit. We need new study methodologies that match the speed with which we can collect data using sensors and other tech.


I can’t wait for data to point out when we’re lying to ourselves and others.


People always say the wrong thing about Watson. At least right now, it’s not diagnosing. It’s just assisting and supporting the diagnosis.


This is definitely true and we haven’t even started to tap into the health data that’s possible. We’re going to need some amazing technology created to be able to make sense and filter the data down to only what matters.


It’s amazing how important the context is to the data. This is part of the challenge with the Watson technology and the volume of data mentioned above.


This is a fascinating differentiation. I think we’ll see this start to merge over time, but it is interesting to consider the various types of sensors and their intended use. I think until now we’ve focused mostly on sensors for disease. The idea of sensors for health is still such a nascent field of study.

March 13, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.