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AMA Approves List Of Best Principles For Mobile Health App Design

Posted on November 29, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMA Urges Med Schools To Cover Health IT Basics

Posted on November 17, 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.

Despite the nearly universal use of health IT tools in medical practice today, the majority of med students make it through their medical school experience without having much exposure to such tools. In an effort to change this, the AMA is launching a new textbook designed to give med students at least a basic exposure to critical health IT topics.

To create the textbook, the AMA collaborated with its 32-school Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium. The collaboration generated a new “pillar” of medical education it dubs Health Systems Science, which members concluded should be taught alongside of basic and clinical sciences. This follows a recent study by the AMA concluding that its practicing physician members are quite interested in digital health.

In addition to covering key business concepts such as value in healthcare, patient safety, quality improvement, teamwork/team science and leadership, socio-ecological determinants of health, healthcare policy and health care economics, the textbook also addresses clinical informatics and population health.  And an AMA press release notes that many schools within the Consortium will soon use the textbook with the students, including Penn State College of Medicine and Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.

The Brown program, for example, which received a $1 million AMA grant to support the change in this curriculum, has created a Primary Care-Population Medicine program. The program awards graduates both a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Science in Population Medicine. The AMA describes this program is the first of its kind in the US.

It’s interesting to see that the AMA has stepped in and funded this project, partly because it seems to have been ambivalent about key health IT tools in the past, but partly because I expect to see vendors doing something like this. Honestly, now that I think about it, I’m surprised there isn’t a Cerner grant for the most promising clinical informatics grad, say, or the eClinicalWorks prize sponsoring a student’s medical training. Maybe the schools have rules against such things.

Actually, this is a rare situation in which I think getting vendors involved might be a good idea. Of course, med students wouldn’t benefit particularly from being trained exclusively on one vendor’s interface, but I imagine schools could organize regular events in which med school students had a chance to learn about different vendors’ platforms and judge the strengths and weaknesses of each on their own.

I guess what I’m saying is that while obtaining an academic understanding of health IT tools is great, the next step is to have med students get their hands on a wide variety of health IT tools and play with them before they’re on the front lines. That being said, adding pop health any clinical informatics is a step in the right direction

Should More Doctors Think About MACRA Like Med School? – MACRA Monday

Posted on November 7, 2016 I Written By

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

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

While at the recent MGMA Annual conference I ran into Dr. Robert Wah at the CSC Health booth. Dr. Wah has a fascinating background as the former President of the AMA and was also the first Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT back in the Brailer days before now becoming Global Chief Medical Officer at CSC. No doubt he’s seen the full evolution of healthcare IT.

During our chat, Dr. Wah expressed some concern about doctors decision to not properly prepare for MACRA. Between the Pick Your Pace options which basically mean doctors don’t have to fully participate in 2017 and the MACRA final rule being published with a comment period, many doctors have decided to just sit back and not worry about MACRA for now. Those doctors argue that they should wait until the comment period is over to see if the final rule will be changed or they just figure they’ll worry about MACRA in 2018 when they have to fully participate.

Dr. Wah explained to me that this is a dangerous strategy for doctors to employ. He then compared this strategy to medical school. Dr. Wah said that medical students realize pretty early on that they can’t just cram for a class the day before the test in medical school. If students get behind in their studies, then it’s really hard for them to catch up before the test.

Dr. Wah argues that this is what many doctors are doing with MACRA and it could lead to problems. Much like in medical school, it won’t be possible to “cram” for MACRA right before a doctor must fully participate in 2018. Instead, doctors need to use 2017 to appropriately “study” for the MACRA test that’s coming in 2018.

Thanks to Pick Your Pace, CMS have given doctors a pretty big window to make sure that they’re ready for everything that’s required with the full MACRA requirements in 2018. Those that sit on their hands in 2017 will be complaining about how hard MACRA is in 2018. Those that fully participate in 2017 will likely not worry much about the MACRA requirements in 2018.

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

AMA Touts Physician Interest In Digital Health Tools

Posted on October 13, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

Key findings of the study include the following:

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

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

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

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

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

 

AMA Introduces MACRA Tools – MACRA Monday

Posted on October 10, 2016 I Written By

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

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

The American Medical Association has released a package of online tools designed to help physicians cope with major changes to Medicare rolling out next year under MACRA. While it’s likely that practices will still have plenty of challenges to address on their own, these tools seem like they may offer a leg up on the subject, particularly for smaller practices with less resources to throw at MACRA issues.

One of the tools being introduced is the AMA Payment Model Evaluator (Sadly an account is required, but there’s an option to create a new account), designed to help doctors determine how their practices will be impacted by MACRA. The Evaluator, which was developed in partnership with physicians and AMA partners, asks physicians and medical practice administrators to fill out an online questionnaire on their practice. The Evaluator then offers an assessment of their specific situation, along with educational material and other resources. This includes recommendations on which MACRA payment model is best for them, which can help your practice know the best direction for your specific needs.

The AMA has also added new MACRA-specific tools to its AMA Steps Forward collection of practice improvement strategies. The STEPS modules help physicians determine how to report on quality metrics central to MACRA as well as the Physician Quality Reporting System. The STEPS modules each focus on a specific issue and offer solutions, steps for implementation, case studies, CME opportunities and downloadable additional tools.

In addition, the physician group has launched a podcast series, Inside Medicare’s New Payment System, featuring acting CMS administrator Andy Slavitt, AMA staff experts and other healthcare leaders. The series, which will include five episodes, should help get physicians up to speed on MACRA-related changes. I for one am eager to hear what Slavitt has to say about MACRA, as he is about the best source on the subject you could have.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem that the AMA plans to spend a lot of time on the Advancing Care Information subset of MIPS, better known as the replacement for the Meaningful Use program. I guess that’s not a huge surprise, given that physicians are still grappling with broad implications of MACRA which go well beyond HIT issues. However, given how important Meaningful Use has been to physicians over the past few years, one might expect it to get a little bit of special attention. Maybe they’re waiting for the MACRA final rule to come out.

With CMS casting a wider net and looking for more from medical practices than just adequate levels of EMR adoption, the AMA is probably following CMS’ path in talking about more than just the meaningful use (Advancing Care Information) portion of MACRA.

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Will New Group Steal Thunder From CommonWell Health Alliance?

Posted on January 26, 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.

Back in March 0f 2013, six health IT vendors came together to announce the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance. The group, which included Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth, said they were forming the not-for-profit organization to foster national health data interoperability. (Being a cynical type, I immediately put it in a mental file tagged “The Group Epic Refused To Join,” but maybe that wasn’t fair since it looks like the other EHR vendors might have left Epic out on purpose.)

Looked at from some perspectives, the initiative has been a success. Over the past couple of years or so, CommonWell developed service specifications for interoperability and deployed a national network for health data sharing. The group has also attracted nearly three dozen HIT companies as members, with capabilities extending well beyond EMRs.

And according to recently-appointed executive director Jitin Asnaani, CommonWell is poised to have more than 5,000 provider sites using its services across the U.S. That will include more than 1,200 of Cerner’s provider sites. Also, Greenway Health and McKesson provider sites should be able to share health data with other CommonWell participants.

While all of this sounds promising, it’s not as though we’ve seen a great leap in interoperability for most providers. This is probably why new interoperability-focused initiatives have emerged. Just last week, five major HIT players announced that they would be the first to implement the Carequality Interoperability Framework.

The five vendors include, notably, Epic, along with athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts. While the Carequality team might not be couching things this way, to me it seems likely that it intends to roll on past (if not over) the CommonWell effort.

Carequality is an initiative of The Sequoia Project, a DC-area non-profit. While it shares CommonWell’s general mission in fostering nationwide health information exchange, that’s where its similarities to CommonWell appear to end:

* Unlike CommonWell, which is almost entirely vendor-focused, Sequoia’s members also include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts.

* The Carequality Interoperability Framework includes not only technical specifications for achieving interoperability, but also legal and governance documents helping implementers set up data sharing in legally-appropriate ways between themselves and patients.

* The Framework is designed to allow providers, payers and other health organizations to integrate pre-existing connectivity efforts such as previously-implemented HIEs.

I don’t know whether the Carequality effort is complimentary to CommonWell or an attempt to eclipse it. It’s hard for me to tell whether the presence of a vendor on both membership lists (athenahealth) is an attempt to learn from both sides or a preparation for jumping ship. In other words, I’m not sure whether this is a “game changer,” as one health IT trade pub put it, or just more buzz around interoperability.

But if I were a betting woman, I’d stake hard, cold dollars that Carequality is destined to pick up the torch CommonWell lit. That being said, I do hope the two cooperate or even merge, as I’m sure the very smart people associated with these efforts can learn from each other. If they fight for mindshare, it’d be a major waste of time and talent.

Can We Now Officially Say that ICD-10 Is Going to Happen?

Posted on July 15, 2015 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.

With the announcement that came a little over a week ago about CMS and AMA working together on ICD-10, does that mean that we can officially say that ICD-10 is going to happen? The ICD-10 Watch blog has a good summary of what CMS committed to do in the announcement:

  • CMS is creating an ICD-10 Ombudsman to deal with healthcare providers’ ICD-10 problems. More on how this will work later.
  • Without using the words “safe harbor” or “grace period,” CMS promises that Medicare will not deny any medical claims “based solely on the specificity of the ICD-10 diagnosis code as long as the physician/practitioner used a valid code from the right family.”
  • Quality reporting programs such as Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), Value Based Modifier (VBM), or Meaningful Use 2 (MU) will suspend penalties that may result because of lack of specificity.
  • There will be advance payments available if the Medicare system has problems.

The second and fourth items have gotten all the buzz. Most have interpreted that the second one means that CMS won’t deny ICD-10 claims that weren’t done correctly. That’s an overstatement, but it does decrease the number of denied claims that will occur with the switch to ICD-10. The fourth item listed above was a major concern that I raised, but it applied to all payers and not just CMS. So, it’s nice that CMS has addressed the cash flow challenges that slow claims processing of ICD-10 claims will cause, but that still leaves all the other payers.

With the “peace treaty” signed between AMA and CMS, can we finally say that ICD-10 will not be delayed again? One person suggested to me that it just leaves the AHA as a possible opponent that could stop it. However, I also heard it suggested that they weren’t looking for a delay.

While usually avoiding trying to predict the unpredictable Washington, I’m going to say that we can safely assume that ICD-10 will not be delayed again. We might see an overture or two still that tries to delay it, but if I were putting my money down in Vegas I’d put it all on No ICD-10 Delay in 2015. Are you putting your organization’s “bet” in the same place?

The Real Problem with ICD-10 Delay or ICD-10 #NoDelay

Posted on December 10, 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.

Today, AHIMA put together a really interesting Twitter campaign (they called a Twitter chat, but it wasn’t as much of a chat as a Twitter campaign in my book) where they tweeted about the need for no more delay to ICD-10. You can see what they did by checking out the #nodelay and #ICD10Matters hashtags. They were hitting a number of congressmen really hard. No doubt, their social media people will have seen these messages. We’ll see if that trickles up to the senators and representatives themselves.

On the opposite side is the AMA which is pushing congress for a 2 year delay to ICD-10. Modern Healthcare just published a story that the ICD-10 delay bill was “dead on arrival.” However, that seemed like a link bait headline. When you read the actual story, they suggest that the ICD-10 bill might be dead when it comes to the lame duck session of congress (now through the end of the year). However, it doesn’t address whether congress will choose to incorporate another ICD-10 delay into the SGR fix in 2015 like they did in 2014. That story is still waiting to be played out.

The real problem with all of this is a topic that we’ve discussed over and over here on EMR and EHR. It applied to meaningful use and EHR certification and now it applies just as well to the implementation of ICD-10. No doubt there are proponents and opponents on each side of the ICD-10 debate. Personally, I’ve seen both arguments and I think both sides have an interesting case to make. I don’t think the decision is as clear cut as either sides makes it out to be. If you delay ICD-10 many organizations will be hurt. If you move forward with ICD-10 many organizations will be hurt.

Uncertainty around ICD-10 is the real problem.

What’s worse than going ahead with ICD-10? Uncertainty about whether ICD-10 is going forward or not. What’s worse than delaying ICD-10? Uncertainty about whether ICD-10 is going forward or not. ICD-10 uncertainty is costing healthcare much more than either an ICD-10 delay or a hard and fast ICD-10 go live date.

The US government (yes, that includes all parts of the US government) needs to make a firm decision on whether ICD-10 should be implemented or not. If ICD-10 is going to be the US medical coding future, then we should bite the bullet and implement ICD-10 on schedule. Another delay won’t improve that implementation. If ICD-10 is not of value, then let’s offer some certainty and do away with it completely. Either way, the certainty will be more valuable than our current state of uncertainty.

I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on DC politics. However, I’ve wondered if there’s something the US government could do that would provide this certainty. In 2014, CMS had done everything they could do to provide that certainty. It turns out, they didn’t have the power to make such a promise. Congress undercut them and they got left with egg on their face.

Could Congress pass a bill that would either set the ICD-10 implementation in stone or banish ICD-10 forever? Would that provide healthcare organizations the certainty they need to plan for ICD-10? Or would they just be afraid that the President would do some executive order to delay ICD-10 again? Is there anything that can be done to communicate a clear message on ICD-10’s future?

My gut tells me that if ICD-10 isn’t delayed in the SGR Fix bill next year, then ICD-10 will probably go forward. You’ll notice that probably was the best I could say. Can anyone offer more certainty on the future of ICD-10? I don’t think they can and that’s the problem.

What I do know is that ICD-10 uncertainty is costing healthcare a lot!

Meaningful Use #HITsm Twitter Chat

Posted on October 17, 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 had the honor today to host the #HITsm Twitter chat. For those not familiar with the #HITsm chat, you just join every Friday at Noon ET and watch the tweets that are sent using the #HITsm hashtag. There are usually 4-5 questions that are discussed over the hour chat. Since I was the host, I created the questions this week. I chose to focus the chat on the latest happenings with meaningful use. The transcript of the chat is found here.

I just took a look at the stats for the chat on Symplur and saw that the chat had 68 participants that sent out 474 tweets which had 3,196,079 impressions. You have to be a little careful looking at impressions since that’s potential impressions, but it’s still interesting to consider the possible reach of a chat.

There were some really interesting tweets during the chat, so here are the questions and a few (ok, more than a few since I got carried away) of my favorite tweets: Read more..

EHR Usability: Is There a Right Path?

Posted on December 9, 2013 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.

The following is a guest post by Carl Bergman from EHR Selector.

Earlier this fall, the AMA sponsored a Rand Corporation study on physician’s professional satisfaction. Based on interviews with physicians in 30 practices, the study covers a variety of topics from workplace setting to quality of care, EHRs and health reform, etc. At the time, the report generated discussion about dissatisfaction in general with EHRs and MU in particular.

Usability, Part of MU?
Overlooked in the discussion was a new and important recommendation on usability. Here’s what is says:

Physicians look forward to future EHRs that will solve current problems of data entry, difficult user interfaces, and information overload. Specific steps to hasten these technological advances are beyond the scope of this report. However, as a general principle, our findings suggest including improved EHR usability as a precondition for federal EHR certification. (Factors Affecting Physician Professional Satisfaction and Their Implications for Patient Care, Health Systems, and Health Policy, p.142) Emphasis added.

It would be overkill to say that this represents adopted AMA policy, however, it’s not overkill to say that the recommendation is part of a project that the AMA initiated and supports. As such, it is most significant that it recognizes the need to bring some coherence to EHR usability and that the MU system is the logical place to put it.

Changing the Vendor – User Relationship
One commentator who did notice the recommendation was EHR Intelligence’s Robert Green. In his review, Green took a different tack. While agreeing that usability needs improvement, he saw a different way to get change:

Usability remains an enigma in many clinic-EHR vendor relationships because it hasn’t been nearly as important in the recent years’ dialogue as “meaningful use.” But among the competing priorities, usability among physicians and their EHR vendor is a real opportunity to develop shared expectations for a new user experience.

As a patient, I would rather not see the delegation of the “usability” dialogue of EHR to those in the roles of meaningful use certification. Instead, physicians who have spent many years of their lives learning how to “take care of patients” could seize the moment to define their own expectations with their EHR vendor of choice within and beyond their practice. (How connected is EHR user satisfaction to vendor choice?) Emphasis added.

I think these two different paths put the question squarely. They agree that usability needs increased action. Users have gotten their message across with alacrity: all systems fail users in some aspect. Some fail catastrophically. Though some vendors take usability to heart, the industry’s response has been uneven and sporadic.

Where these two approaches differ is tactics. Rand looks at usability, and sees an analog to MU functions. It opts for adding usability to MU’s tests. Green sees it as part of the dialogue between user and vendor.

As a project manager and analyst, my heart is with Green. Indeed, helping users find a system that’s a best fit is why we started the Selector.

Marketplace Practicalities
Nevertheless, relying on a physician – vendor dialogue is, at best, limited and at worst unworkable. It won’t work for several reasons:

  • Nature of the Market. There’s not just one EHR market place where vendors contend for user dollars, there are several. The basic divide is between ambulatory and in patient types. In each of these there are many subdivisions depending on practice size and specialty. Though a vendor may place the same product name on its offerings in these areas, their structure, features and target groups differ greatly. What this means is that practices find themselves in small sellers’ markets and that they have little leverage for requesting mods.
  • Resources. Neither vendors nor practices have the resources needed to tailor each installation’s interface and workflow. Asking a vendor, under the best of circumstances, to change their product to suit a particular practice’s interface approach not only would be expensive, but also would create a support nightmare.
  • Cloud Computing. For vendors, putting their product in the cloud has the major advantage of supporting only one, live application. Supporting a variety of versions is something vendors want to avoid. Similarly, users don’t want to hear that a feature is available, but not to them.
  • More Chaos. Having each practice define usability could lead to no agreement on any basics leaving users even worse off. It’s bad enough now. For example as Ross Koppel points out, EHRs record blood pressure in dozens of different ways. Letting a thousand EHRs blossom, as it were, would make matters worse.

ONC as Facilitator Not Developer
If the vendor – buyer relationship won’t work, here’s a way the MU process could work. ONC would use an existing usability protocol and report on compliance.

Reluctance to put ONC in charge of usability standards is understandable. It’s no secret that the MU standards aren’t a hands down hit. All three MU stages have spawned much criticism. The criticism, however, is not that there are standards so much as individual ONC’s standards are too arcane, vague or difficult to meet. ONC doesn’t need to develop what already exists. The National Institutes of Standards and Technology usability protocols were openly developed, drawing from many sources. They are respected and are not seen as captured by any one faction. (See NISTIR 7804. And see EMRandEHR.com, June 14, 2012.)

As I’ve written elsewhere, NIST’s protocols aren’t perfect, but they give vendors and users a solid standard for measuring EHR usability. Using them, ONC could require that each vendor run a series of tests and compare the results to the NIST protocols. The tool to do this, TURF, already exists.

Rather than rate each product’s on a pass – fail basis, ONC would publish each product’s test results. Buyers could rate product against their needs. Vendors whose products tested poorly would have a strong incentive to change.

EHRs make sense in theory. They also need to work in practice, but don’t. The AMA –Rand study is a call for ONC to step up and takes a usability leadership role. Practice needs to match promise.