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FHIR is on Fire

Posted on December 5, 2014 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.

Ever since the announcement yesterday about Project Argonaut, FHIR has been getting some widespread coverage. Although, even before this important announcement, I was hearing a lot of people talk really optimistically about the potential of FHIR for healthcare. However, with Project Argonaut, you get all of these big name organizations on board as well:

  • athenahealth
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
  • Cerner
  • Epic
  • Intermountain Healthcare
  • Mayo Clinic
  • MEDITECH
  • McKesson
  • Partners HealthCare System
  • SMART at the Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program
  • The Advisory Board Company

That’s quite a list of powerhouses that are investing money behind FHIR. I’m excited that the majority of major hospital EHR are represented in that list. Although, I do wonder if this is a lot of the same people who ruined CCDA. Let’s hope I’m wrong and they learned their lesson.

FHIR was also the topic of today’s #HITsm chat. Here are some of the tweets from the chat that caught my eye.


How’s that for optimism about the future of FHIR? Keith is deep in the trenches of health IT standards so he’s got a very informed opinion on what’s happening.


A very good sign since everyone I talk to seems to hate CCDA. They say that it’s bloated and really not usable.


I agree with Donald. The real question I have is whether FHIR will get us open APIs to the data we want. I need to investigate more to know the answer to that question.


I generally think this is true also, but not if it is a limited set of data. If you limit the data and don’t provide write back function, then there’s a real limit on what you can do with that data. Of course, you can start with some functionality and then build from there.


I’m still early on in my understanding of FHIR. I’m doing a whole series of posts on EMR and HIPAA around interoperability and the challenges associated with interoperability. You can be sure that FHIR will be a major part of my research and discussion. The above links look like a good place to start.

Please add your thoughts on FHIR in the comments as well.

Treating a Patient with Partial Information

Posted on December 4, 2014 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.

In some recent discussions, I’ve heard arguments against HIEs and healthcare interoperability which say that it’s a bad thing because “What if the HIE doesn’t provide me all the patient info I need?” This is actually a really important question and one worthy of consideration. In fact, it could be extended to say, “What if the HIE provides me the wrong information?

While these are really important challenges for HIEs to address, it returns to the common fallacy that I see over and over again in healthcare. We compare the implementation of future technology against perfection as opposed to the status quo.

The reality is that doctors have been treating patients with partial and incorrect information forever. An HIE that can only provide partial or even incorrect information sometimes is similar to the situation that doctors face every day.

Think about how many patients have chosen not to tell their doctor something because they didn’t remember to tell them that info. How many patients have told their doctors the wrong information because they couldn’t remember the right information? Millions. There are even many patients who are afraid to give their doctor their health information based on privacy concerns. Once again, the doctor is treating the patient with partial information.

I imagine the reason it feels different is that we feel like their should be a different level of trust with an HIE. Maybe there is a different level of trust in data coming from an HIE versus a patient’s memory. However, that doesn’t mean that a doctor should put 100% trust in the data that an HIE provides. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy skepticism with any third party data source. No doubt there are varying degrees of trust with all third party data sources that are used by a doctor. The HIE needs to be at the high end of the trust spectrum, but its inability to be perfect shouldn’t hinder its use anymore than the imperfect EHR data hinders its use.

Over time these HIE systems will do a much better job of measuring the confidence of the data their providing. Ok, that might be pretty optimistic. Instead, it’s more likely that doctors will learn how confident they should be in the data they get from an HIE.

Doctors already have created a culture of appropriate skepticism with patient provided data. I think something similar is the right approach with HIE data. Plus, doctors are smart enough to evaluate when a medical situation requires confirmation of data and when it requires further investigation. They’re making these types of decisions all of the time.

Adverse Event Reporting: What Is It?

Posted on December 3, 2014 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.

Eric Duncan’s Ebola death in Dallas was, to say the least, an adverse event (AE). Famously now, when he had a high fever, pronounced pain, etc., he went to Texas Health’s Presbyterian Hospital’s ER, and was sent home with antibiotics. Three days later much worse, he came back by ambulance.

In the aftermath of Duncan’s death, the hospital’s EHR, EPIC, came in for blame, though it was later cleared. Many questions have come from Duncan’s death including how our medical system handles such problems. Articles often use the term adverse event, but rarely mention reporting. I think it’s important to take a direct look at our adverse event reporting systems and where EHR and AEs are headed. This blog post looks at AE systems. The next will look at where EHRs fit in.

The FDA: Ground Zero for Adverse Event Reports

HHS’ Food and Drug Administration has prime, but not exclusive, jurisdiction over adverse reports breaking them into three classes:

  • Medicines
  • Medical Devices, and
  • Vaccines.

Four FDA systems cover these classes:

  • FAERS. This is FDA’s system for drug related adverse reports. It collects information for FDA’s post marketing for drug and biologic product surveillance. For example, if there’s a problem with Prozac, it’s reported here.
  • MAUDE. The Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience reporting system. If an X-Ray machine malfunctions or lab equipment operates defectively, this is where the report goes.
  • VAERS. Vaccine adverse reports are collected here.
  • MEDSUN. This is voluntary, device reporting system gathers more detailed information than MAUD. It’s run by as a collaboration of the FDA and several hundred hospitals, clinics, etc. (Disclosure: My wife was MAUD project system developer.) MEDSUN captures details and incidents, such as close calls or events that may have had a potential for harm, but did not cause any. MEDSUN has two subsystems, HeartNet, which is for electrophysiology labs and KidNet for neonatal and pediatric ICUs.
DSC04388

MEDSUN Reporting Poster

State Adverse Event Reporting Systems

Several states require Adverse Event reporting in addition to FDA reports. Twenty-seven states and DC require Adverse Event reports, with varying coverage and reporting requirements. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have an extensive, public system for reporting and analysis.

Patient Safety Organizations

Added to federal and state organizations are many patient safety organizations (PSOs) with an Adverse Event interest. Some are regional or state groups. Others, are national non profits, such as the ECR Institute.

The Safety Reporting Paradox

If you delve into an Adverse Event reporting systems, you’ll quickly see some institutions are more present than others. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are prone to bad events. In fact, these may be the most safety conscious who report more of their events than others. Moreover, high reporters often have policies that encourage AE reporting to find systemic problems without punitive consequences.

Many safety prevention systems work this way. Those in charge recognize it’s important to get all the facts out. They realize adopting a punitive approach drives behavior underground.

For example, the FAA has learned this the hard way. Recently on vacation, I met two air traffic controllers who contrasted the last Bush administration’s approach to now. Under Bush’s FAA errors were subject to public shaming. The result was that many systemic problems were hidden. Now, the FAA encourages reporting and separates individual behavior. The result is that incidents are more reported and more analyzed. If individual behavior is culpable, it’s addressed as needed.

In the next part, I’ll look at how EHRs fit into the current system and the congressional efforts to exempt them from reporting AEs, a move that I think is akin to putting pennies in a fuse box.

Communities Help Open Source Electronic Health Records Thrive (Part 1 of 3: Justification)

Posted on December 2, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://radar.oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The value of community participation is a major topic among open source software projects. When people draw together around a project, talk about it (and argue passionately about it) among themselves, offer advice, contribute code, fix bugs, and generally consider themselves one of the family–a robust, highly engaged community seems to be a magical force that determines whether an open source project succeeds.

The correlation is strong. Great community participation: the project lasts forever. Poor community participation: the project stagnates and is widely seen as irrelevant.

The company I work for, O’Reilly Media, in recognition of the bond between community and open source, has sponsored a Community Leadership Summit for the past seven years in conjunction with our Open Source convention. Many other Community Leadership Summits are now held around the world. The founder of the summit also wrote a book called The Art of Community for O’Reilly. The health of an open source community is also assessed as one of the factors that let potential software users judge the project’s maturity, and therefore whether they feel trusting enough to put its software at the center of their own endeavors.

The next two articles in this series will examine various open source projects in the health IT space that have developed vibrant communities. But before we can appreciate the importance of those efforts, we need to understand why community is central to growth. That is the subject of this article.

Naturally, we have no randomized clinical trials to draw on, so we don’t really know why community and success are correlated in open source. It could simply be that good software draws interested people around it. But there are persuasive explanations for the apparent positive effect that communities have on projects.

Community members help each other get started with projects, solve problems among more knowledgeable users, advocate for the projects, make substantial contributions to code, and find ways to reward project developers and make them feel appreciated. Of course, some of these activities are done for proprietary projects as well, and for other companies of all types–just witness the loyalty of Apple users, Harley Davidson motorcycle drivers, In-N-Out Burger gourmands, and so forth.

Witnessing the value of community, many companies nowadays try to develop communities around their products or services. Many do it through social media campaigns (seeing how many “likes” they can get on Facebook, for instance), but these small boasts pale before the tangible contributions of an open source community. I believe community offers open source an unshakeable advantage over proprietary software in three ways.

  • Setting direction: by extending the software in ways they care about, and even creating the new building blocks at the core of a software project, community members ensure that a project stays relevant to its users. If the leaders of a project don’t recognize an important trend in the field, someone else will create the code to make sure the project supports that trend, and users will champion the adaptation. Whereas proprietary projects have to choose one or two directions that promise the most revenue, open source projects can permanently support niche uses. Nowadays, there is no stigma involved in changing the software and creating a whole new project based on an older one.

  • Continuity and trust: purchasers of proprietary software–and nowadays, users of online services–are at the mercy of the vendor. The developers of the software you depend on every day may go out of business, raise prices precipitously, or drop features you consider critical. I’ve heard numerous such horror stories and experienced a couple myself. Therefore, many users insist on open source software because it will stay around even if the original developers lose interest or try to move it in a different direction. A well-educated and motivated community can pick up an abandoned project and generate new developers.

  • Education: open source provides examples and models for people learning how to program, and these programmers in turn can serve the users of open source. Nothing gives you more insight into a project’s robustness and performance than looking inside the software. Paging through code gives a user a bond with the software comparable to that of a musician who makes his own instruments or a motorcyclist who services his own vehicle. Not everyone who uses software has the time and expertise to study the source code, but the few people who do can be resources for the rest of the community. They can usually describe the quirks and problems of the software better than the developers, who are too close to their own work to have the same empathy for users. Organizations can also hire a competent programmer to customize the code and meet their unique needs.

Community has been credited with one of the most notable successes in computing history: the rise of the Linux operating system. Many people–most notably, BSD proponents–have wondered why the august BSD operating system didn’t achieve the fame and dominance of Linux. Community is a formidable component of the answer.

BSD (which stands for Berkeley Software Distribution, a nod toward the university where it originated), a variant of the Unix operating system, was mature and widely used more than a decade before Linux was famously invented by 19-year-old college student Linus Torvalds. BSD was generally credited with having better programming interfaces than the original Unix developed by AT&T, and many of its library calls made it back into the “real” Unix. BSD was also adopted by many proprietary companies, and became in particular the basis of the great company Sun Microsystems, the most popular source for modestly priced computer systems for decades.

But BSD was not as innovative organizationally as it was technically. It was developed by a closed team that experienced disagreements and splits. Three different, incompatible versions of BSD still exist today (not even counting the version that underlies Apple products, and some other smaller branches).

In contrast, Linus Torvalds announced his project by posting it to the Internet and inviting others to contribute. He has proved an extremely adept project leader during the ensuing 23 years, a “benevolent dictator” in open source parlance.

Certainly, the computer field has evolved a great deal between the founding of the BSD project and the founding of the Linux project, and many factors can be credited in Linux’s success. But the organizational woes of the various BSD factions contrast strikingly with the fiercely fought but successfully contained debates within the Linux community.

Having surveyed the history of open source and the role of community, I’ll turn in the next article to successes within health IT.

By Supporting Digital Health, EMRs To Create Collective Savings of $78B Over Next Five Years

Posted on December 1, 2014 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.

Here’s the news EMR proponents have been insisting would emerge someday, justifying their long-suffering faith in the value of such systems.  A new study from Juniper Research has concluded that EMRs will save $78 billion cumulatively across the globe over the next five years, largely by connecting digital health technologies together.

While I’m tempted to get cynical about this — my poor heart has been broken by so many unsupportable or conflicting claims regarding EMR savings over the years — I think the study definitely bears examination. If digital health technologies like smart watches, fitness trackers, sensor-laden clothing, smart mobile health apps, remote monitoring and telemedicine share a common backbone that serves clinicians, the study’s conclusions look reasonable on first glance.

According to Juniper, the growth of ACOs is pushing providers to think on a population health level and that, in turn, is propelling them to adopt digital health tech.  And it’s not just top healthcare leaders that are getting excited about digital health. Juniper found that over the last 18 months, healthcare workers have become significantly more engaged in digital healthcare.

But how will providers come to grips with the floods of data generated by these emerging technologies? Why, EMRs will do the job. “Advanced EHRs will provide the ‘glue’ to bring together the devices, stakeholders and medical records in the future connected healthcare environment,” according to Juniper report author Anthony Cox.

But it’s important to note that at present, EMRs aren’t likely to have the capacity sort out the growing flood of connected health data on their own. Instead, it appears that healthcare providers will have to rely on data intermediary platforms like Apple’s HealthKit, Samsung’s SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions) and Microsoft Health. In reality, it’s platforms like these, not EMRs, that are truly serving as the glue for far-flung digital health data.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that on reflection, my cynical take on the study is somewhat justified. While they’ll play a very important role, I believe that it’s disingenuous to suggest that EMRs themselves will create huge healthcare savings.

Sure, EMRs are ultimately where the buck stops, and unless digital health data can be consumed by doctors at an EMR console, they’re unlikely to use it. But even though using EMRs as the backbone for digital health collection and population health management sounds peachy, the truth is that EMR vendors are nowhere near ready to offer robust support for these efforts.

Yes, I believe that the combination of EMRs and digital health data will prove to be very powerful over time. And I also believe that platforms like HealthKit will help us get there. I even believe that the huge savings projected by Juniper is possible. I just think getting there will be a lot more awkward than the study makes it sound.

Happy Thanksgiving – Family Health History Day Infographic

Posted on November 27, 2014 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.

Did you know that today is Family Health History Day? I didn’t either, but this infographic spells it out. I hope everyone’s having a lovely Thanksgiving! I have to get back to football my family.

Family Health History Day Infographic

Epic Tries To Open New Market By Offering Cloud Hosting

Posted on November 26, 2014 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.

When you think of Epic, you hardly imagine a company which is running out of customers to exploit. But according to Frost & Sullivan’s connected health analyst, Shruthi Parakkal, Epic has reached the point where its target market is almost completely saturated.

Sure, Epic may have only (!) 15% to 20% market share in both hospital and ambulatory enterprise EMR sector, it can’t go much further operating as-is.  After all, there’s only so many large hospital systems and academic medical centers out there that can afford its extremely pricey product.

That’s almost certainly why Epic has just announced  that it was launching a cloud-based offering, after refusing to go there for quite some time.  If it makes a cloud offering available, note analysts like Parakkal, Epic suddenly becomes an option for smaller hospitals with less than 200 beds. Also, offering cloud services may also net Epic a few large hospitals that want to create a hybrid cloud model with some of its application infrastructure on site and some in the cloud.

But unlike in its core market, where Epic has enjoyed incredible success, it’s not a lock that the EMR giant will lead the pack just for showing up. For one thing, it’s late to the party, with cloud competitors including Cerner, Allscripts, MEDITECH, CPSI, and many more already well established in the smaller hospital space. Moreover, these are well-funded competitors, not tiny startups it can brush away with a flyswatter.

Another issue is price. While Epic’s cloud offering may be far less expensive than its on-site option, my guess is that it will be more expensive than other comparable offerings. (Of course, one could get into an argument over what “comparable” really means, but that’s another story.)

And then there’s the problem of trust. I’d hate to have to depend completely on a powerful company that generally gets what it wants to have access to such a mission-critical application. Trust is always an issue when relying on a SaaS-based vendor, of course, but it’s a particularly significant issue here.

Why? Realistically, the smaller hospitals that are likely to consider an Epic cloud product are just dots on the map to a company Epic’s size. Such hospitals don’t have much practical leverage if things don’t go their way.

And while I’m not suggesting that Epic would deliberately target smaller hospitals for indifferent service, giant institutions are likely to be its bread and butter for quite some time. It’s inevitable that when push comes to shove, Epic will have to prioritize companies that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its on-site product. Any vendor would.

All that being said, smaller hospitals are likely to overlook some of these problems if they can get their hands on such a popular EMR.  Also, as rockstar CIO John Halamka, MD of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center notes, Epic seems to be able to provide a product that gets clinicians to buy in. That alone will be worth the price of admission for many.

Certainly, vendors like MEDITECH and Cerner aren’t going to cede this market gracefully. But even as a Johnny-come-lately, I expect Epic’s cloud product do well in 2015.

Consumers Are Still Held Back From Making Rational Health Decisions

Posted on November 25, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://radar.oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Price and quality of care–those are what we’d like to know when we need a medical procedure. But a perusal of a recent report from the Government Accountability Office reminded me that both price and quality information are hard to get nowadays.

This has to make us all a little leery about trends in health reform. Governments, insurers, and employers want us to get choosy about where we have our procedures. They justify rises in copays and deductibles by saying, “You patients should start to take responsibility for the costs of your own health care.”

Yeah, as responsible as a person looking for his car keys in the dark. Let’s start with prices, which in many countries are uniform and are posted on the clinic wall.

Sites such as Clear Health Costs and Castlight Health prove what we long knew anecdotally: charges in the US vary vertiginously among different institutions. Anyone who had missed that fact would have been enlightened by Steven Brill’s 2013 Time Magazine article.

But aspirations become difficult when we get down to the issue at hand–choosing a provider. That’s because US insurance and reimbursement systems are also convoluted. We don’t know whether a hospital will charge our insurer their official price, or how much the insurer will cover. It might feel righteous to punish a provider with high posted prices (or prices reported by other consumers), but most patients have a different goal: to keep as much of their own money as they can.

We can gauge the depth of the cost problem from one narrow suggestion made in the GAO report that yet could help a lot of health consumers: the suggestion that Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) publish out-of-pocket expenditures for Medicare recipients as well as raw costs of procedures (page 31). Even this is far from simple. HHS pointed out that 90% of Medicare patients have supplemental overage that reduces their out-of-pocket expenditures (page 43). Tracking all the ancillary fees is also a formidable job.

Castlight Health is out in front when it comes to measuring the real impact of charges on consumer. They achieve great precision by hooking up with employers. Thus, they know the insurer and the precise employer plan that covers each individual visiting their site, and can take deductibles, exclusions, and caps into account when calculating the cost of a procedure. A recent study found that Castlight users enjoyed lower costs, especially for labs and imaging. Some nationwide system built around standards for reporting these things could unpack the cost conumdrum for all patients.

Let’s turn to quality. As one might expect, it’s always a slippery concept. The GAO report pointed out that quality may be measured in different ways by different providers (page 26). A recently begun program releases Medicare data on mortality and readmissions, but it hasn’t been turned into usable consumer information yet (pages 27-28). Two more observations from the report:

  • “…with the exception of Hospital Compare, none of CMS’s transparency tools currently provide information on patient-reported outcomes, which have been shown to be particularly relevant to consumers considering common elective medical procedures, including hip and knee replacements.” (Page 21)

  • “CMS’s consumer testing has focused on assessing the ability of consumers to interpret measures developed for use by clinicians, rather than to develop or select measures that specifically address consumer needs.” (Page 25)

Some price-check sites simply don’t try to measure quality. A highly publicized crowdsourcing effort by California radio station KQED, based on the Clear Health Costs service, admitted that quality measures were not available but excused themselves by citing the well-known lack of correlation between price and quality.

Price and quality may not be related, but that doesn’t relieve consumers of concerns over quality. Can you really exchange Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for Daddy-o’s Fix-You-Up Clinic based on price alone? Without robust and reliable quality data, people will continue choosing the historically respected hospitals with the best marketing and PR departments–and the highest prices.

A recent series on health care costs concludes by admonishing consumers to “get in the game and start to push back.” The article laments the passivity of consumers in seeking low-cost treatment, but fails to cite the towering barriers that stand in the way.

The impasse we’ve reached on consumer choice, driven by lack of data, reflects similar problems with analytics throughout the health care field. For instance, I recently reported on how hard a time researchers have obtaining and making use of patient data. Luckily, the GAO report cites several HHS efforts to enhance their current data on price and quality. Ultimately, of course, what we need is a more rational reimbursement system, not a gleaming set of computerized tools to make the current system more transparent. Let’s start by being honest about what we’re asking health consumers to achieve.

Review of “Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool” by Colin Hung

Posted on November 24, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Colin Hung (@Colin_Hung), Co-Host of #hcldr and SVP of Marketing at Patient Prompt.
Colin Hung
If Leonard Kish’s new eBook – http://www.hl7standards.com/kish-ebook/”>Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool was a song, it would be categorized as a “mashup” – and that’s a good thing.

Never heard a mashup song before? Just go to youtube.com and type it into the search bar and you’ll find thousands (or try this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbrWu8XyAcM). Mashups are a unique form of music. To make one, DJs will take snippets (called samples) from other songs usually from different artists and combine them into a single piece and in so doing create a whole new song in the process.

When done properly a mashup is both familiar and fresh. It has elements which you know and love yet the composition as a whole feels new. That is exactly what Kish has done in his eBook. He expertly weaves together numerous ideas, themes and approaches from different people and different industries into a single cohesive arrangement.

Kish starts by laying down a central idea that is carried like a melody from page 1 through to the end:

“The key to [patient] engagement in early stages is to get people’s attention and to let them see what’s possible by using the tools available to improve their health. It’s a process and a strategy, not a data set or any one tool”

With that idea track locked in, Kish proceeds to mix in concepts from:

  • Marketing – target audiences, key messages and clear calls-to-action
  • Product Management – inclusive design and agile development
  • Behavioral Science – Maslow’s hierarchy, social interaction and motivation

The eBook starts off strong with a nice definition of patient engagement – a rather amorphous term in healthcare right now –  and gets stronger with examples of successful “attention grabbing” marketing campaigns that could be adopted by healthcare organizations.

One particular statement that stands out:

“Engagement requires what marketers know very well: motivation, context and messaging.”

As a person who works in HealthIT Marketing, I’m tickled by this statement…but I think Kish is giving those of us in Marketing a bit too much credit. Although it is true that marketers should have a good grasp of our target audiences (their needs, wants, motivations and fears) – we are not seers. In fact, it is common for marketers to be a little “off key” when approaching new markets or when working with new products.

Truly successful marketers are the ones who are open to being wrong…and who can quickly adapt their messages/approach based on real data and feedback from the target audience. Like a good DJ, you must read the reaction of the audience and change the tune in order to keep things hopping.

The idea of iterating, fitting engagement into the world of the patient (context) and using feedback are the themes that fill the middle portion of Kish’s eBook. Using anecdotes, quotes and statistics from a wide array of leaders he encourages readers to draw parallels with healthcare and to think critically on how that wisdom from outsiders can be applied successfully in their own organizations.

Fittingly there is a section that draws a parallel between healthcare and music. Kish quotes former Talking Heads singer David Byrne in a particularly memorable and interesting chapter.

The finale is where “Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool” shines. Having laid the ground work in the prior chapters on why getting patients’ attention is so critical and how difficult it can be to turn that attention into meaningful behavior change, Kish closes by giving readers 10 concrete steps to follow to “win the attention war” in healthcare:

  1. Know what health problem you are trying to solve
  2. Know whose attention you’re trying to get
  3. Use social tools
  4. Know behavior models and behavioral economics
  5. Focus on goals and narratives
  6. Start Simple
  7. Try something and measure results
  8. Understand context
  9. Take an open approach
  10. Follow an analysis-driven implementation plan

I was hoping for a little more depth from Kish on the Agile approach, especially as it relates to A/B testing, iterative design and high reliance on real-user feedback – something that I believe could DEFINITELY be used in healthcare – but perhaps he is keeping these concepts for his next composition.

Overall, Kish’s eBook is a solid mix of familiar theories/approaches from other industries and new ideas/success stories from within healthcare. It offers insight and practical advice on how to change from a tools-based approach to patient engagement to a process and strategy based one. If you work in healthcare and are involved in your organization’s patient experience, access or engagement initiatives this eBook should be on your reading list.

I am looking forward to Kish’s next release – which I hope drops soon.

“Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool” can be downloaded for free courtesy of the good folks at HL7 Standards (http://www.hl7standards.com/kish-ebook/)

Treating a Healthy Patient

Posted on November 21, 2014 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.

I first coined the concept of what I call treating a healthy patient back in 2011. I’ve always loved the concept of a doctor actually treating someone who thinks and feels completely healthy. The challenge is that this type of relationship is very different than what we have in our current health system today.

While our current model is very different, I’m hearing more and more things that get me back to healthcare treating an otherwise healthy patient. Although, someone recently pointed out to me that we’re not really treating a healthy patient, because we’re all sick. We just each have different degrees of sickness. It’s a fine point, but I still argue we’re “healthy” because we feel “healthy.”

This analysis points out one layer of change that I see happening in healthcare. This change is being able to detect and predict sickness. Yes, that still means a doctor is treating a sickness. However, I see a wave of new sensors, genetics, and other technology that’s going to absolutely change what we define as “sick.”

This is a massive change and one that I think is very good. I recently read an article by Joseph Kvedar which commented that we’re very likely to seek medical help when we break our arm, because the pain is a powerful motivating factor to get some help. Can this new wave of sensors and technology help us know the “pain” our bodies are suffering through and thus inspire us to seek medical attention? I think they will do just that.

The problem is that our current health system isn’t ready to receive a patient like this. Doctors are going to have to continue to evolve in what they consider a “disease” and the treatment they provide. Plus, we’ll likely have to include many other professionals in the treatment of patients. Do we really want our highly paid doctors training on exercise and nutrition when they’ve had almost no training in medical school on the subjects? Of course, not. We want the dietitian doing this. We’ll need to go towards a more team based approach to care.

I’ve regularly said, “Treating a healthy patient is more akin to social work than it is medicine.” Our health system is going to have to take this into consideration and change accordingly.

Treating a healthy patient won’t solve all our healthcare problems. In fact, I’ve wondered if in some ways treating a healthy patient isn’t just shifting the costs as opposed to lowering the costs. Regardless of the cost impact, this is where I see healthcare heading. Yes, we’ll still need many doctors to do important procedures. Just because you detect possible heart issues doesn’t mean that patient won’t eventually need a heart bypass surgery some day. In fact, a whole new set of medical procedures will likely be created that treat possible heart issues before they become straight up heart issues.

What other ways do you see the system moving towards or away from “treating healthy patients”?