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The New Congressional Rider: Unique Patient ID Lemonade?

Posted on January 8, 2015 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of, 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.

Note: Previous versions referred to Rand Paul as the author of the first congressional rider. That was in error. The first rider was authored by then Representative Ron Paul. I regret the error. CB

Last month, I posted that Ron Paul’s gag rule on a national patient identifier was gone. Shortly, thereafter, Brian Ahier noted that the gag rule wasn’t dead. It just used different words. Now, it looks as if we were both right and both wrong. Here’s why. Paul’s rider’s gone, but its replacement, though daunting, isn’t as restrictive.

The gag rules are appropriation bill riders. Paul’s, which began in 1998, was aimed at a HIPAA provision, which called for identifiers for:

…. [E]ach individual, employer, health plan, and health care provider for use in the health care system. 42 US Code Sec. 1320d-2(b)

It prohibited “[P]lanning, testing, piloting, or developing a national identification card.” This was interpreted to prohibit a national patient id.

As I noted in my post, Paul’s language was dropped from the CRomnibus appropriation act. Brian, however, found new, restrictive language in CRomnibus, which says:

Sec. 510. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to promulgate or adopt any final standard under section 1173(b) of the Social Security Act providing for, or providing for the assignment of, a unique health identifier for an individual (except in an individual’s capacity as an employer or a health care provider), until legislation is enacted specifically approving the standard.

Gag Rule’s Replacement Language

Unlike Paul’s absolutist text, the new rider makes Congress the last, biggest step in a formal ID process. The new language lets ID development go ahead, but if HHS wants to adopt a standard, Congress must approve it.

This change creates two potential adoption paths. Along the first, and most obvious, HHS develops a mandatory, national patient ID through Medicare, or the Meaningful Use program, etc., and asks congress’ approval. This would be a long, hard, uphill fight.

The second is voluntary adoption. For example, NIST could develop a voluntary, industry standard. Until now, Paul’s rider stopped this approach.

NIST’s a Consensus Building Not a Rulemaking Agency

NIST’s potential ID role is well within its non regulatory, consensus standards development mandate. It could lead a patient ID building effort with EHR stakeholders. Given the high cost of current patient matching techniques, stakeholders may well welcome a uniform, voluntary standard. That would not solve all interoperability problems, but it would go a long way toward that end.

Congress has loosened its grip on a patient ID, now its up to ONC, NIST, etc., to use this new freedom.

Could Clinicians Create Better HIE Tools?

Posted on August 13, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Andy Oram.His post reminds me of when I asked “Is Full Healthcare Interoperability a Pipe Dream?

A tense and flustered discussion took place on Monday, August 11 during a routine meeting of the HIT Standards Committee Implementation Workgroup, a subcommittee set up by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), which takes responsibility for U.S. government efforts to support new IT initiatives in the health care field. The subject of their uncomfortable phone call was the interoperability of electronic health records (EHRs), the leading issue of health IT. A number of “user experience” reports from the field revealed that the situation is not good.

We have to look at the depth of the problem before hoping to shed light on a solution.

An interoperability showcase literally takes the center of the major health IT conference each year, HIMSS. When I have attended, they physically arranged their sessions around a large pavilion filled with booths and computer screens. But the material on display at the showcase is not the whiz-bang features and glossy displays found at most IT coventions (those appear on the exhibition floor at HIMSS), but just demonstrations of document exchange among EHR vendors.

The hoopla over interoperability at HIMSS suggests its importance to the health care industry. The ability to share coordination of care documents is the focus of current government incentives (Meaningful Use), anchoring Stage 2 and destined to be even more important (if Meaningful Use lasts) in Stage 3.

And for good reason: every time we see a specialist, or our parent moves from a hospital to a rehab facility, or our doctor even moves to another practice (an event that recently threw my wife’s medical records into exasperating limbo), we need record exchange. If we ever expect to track epidemics better or run analytics that can lower health case costs, interoperability will matter even more.

But take a look at extensive testing done by a team for the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, recently summarized in a posting by health IT expert Brian Ahier. When they dug into the documents being exchanged, researchers found that many vendors inserted the wrong codes for diagnoses or drugs, placed results in the wrong fields (leaving them inaccessible to recipients), and failed to include relevant data. You don’t have to be an XML programmer or standards expert to get the gist from a list of sample errors included with the study.

And that list covers only the problems found in the 19 organizations who showed enough politeness and concern for the public interest to submit samples–what about the many who ignored the researchers’ request?

A slightly different list of complaints came up at the HIT Standards Committee Implementation Workgroup meeting, although along similar lines. The participants in the call were concerned with errors, but also pointed out the woeful inadequacy of the EHR implementations in representing the complexities and variety of patient care. Some called for changes I find of questionable ethics (such as the ability to exclude certain information from the data exchange while leaving it in the doctor’s records) and complained that the documents exchanged were not easy for patients to read, a goal that was not part of the original requirements.

However, it’s worth pointing out that documents exchange would fall far short of true coordinated care, even if everything worked as the standards called for. Continuity of care documents, the most common format in current health information exchange, have only a superficial sliver of diagnoses, treatments, and other immediate concerns, but do not have space for patient histories. Data that patients can now collect, either through fitness devices or self-reporting, has no place to be recorded. This is why many health reformers call for adopting an entire new standard, FHIR, a suggestion recognized by the ONC as valid but postponed indefinitely because it’s such a big change. The failure to adopt current formats seems to become the justification for keeping on the same path.

Let’s take a step back. After all those standards, all those certifications, all those interoperability showcases, why does document exchange still fail?

The JAMIA article indicated that failure can be widely spread around. There are rarely villains in health care, only people pursuing business as usual when that is insufficient. Thus:

  • The Consolidated CDA standard itself could have been more precisely defined, indicating what to do for instance when values are missing from the record.

  • Certification tests can look deeper into documents, testing for instance that codes are recorded correctly. Although I don’t know why the interoperability showcase results don’t translate into real-world success, I would find it quite believable that vendors might focus on superficial goals (such as using the Direct protocols to exchange data) without determining whether that data is actually usable.

  • Meaningful Use requirements (already hundreds of pages long) could specify more details. One caller in the HIT Standards Committee session mentioned medication reconciliation as one such area.

The HIT Standards Committee agonized over whether to pursue broad goals, necessarily at a slow pace, or to seek a few achievable improvements in the process right away. In either case, what we have to look forward to is more meetings of committees, longer and more mind-numbing documents, heavier and heavier tests–infrastructure galore.

Meanwhile, the structure facilitating all this bureaucracy is crumbling. Many criticisms of Meaningful Use Stage 2 have been publicly aired–some during the HIT Standards Committee call–and Stage 3 now looks like a faint hope. Some journalists predict a doctor’s revolt. Instead of continuing on a path hated by everybody, including the people laying it out, maybe we need a new approach.

Software developers over the past couple decades have adopted a range of ways to involve the users of software in its design. Sometimes called agile or lean methodologies, these strategies roll out prototypes and even production systems for realistic testing. The strategies call for a whole retooling of the software development process, a change that would not come easily to slow-moving proprietary companies such as those dominating the EHR industry. But how would agile programming look in health care?

Instead of bringing a doctor in from time to time to explain what a clinical workflow looks like or to approve the screens put up by a product, clinicians would be actively designing the screens and the transitions between them as they work. They would discover what needs to be in front of a resident’s eyes as she enters the intensive care ward and what needs to be conveyed to the nurses’ station when an alarm goes off sixty feet away.

Clinicians can ensure that the information transferred is complete and holds value. They would not tolerate, as the products tested by the JAMIA team do, a document that reports a medication without including its dose, timing, and route of administration.

Not being software experts (for the most part), doctors can’t be expected to anticipate all problems, such as changes of data versions. They still need to work closely with standards experts and programmers.

It also should be mentioned that agile methods include rigorous testing, sometimes to the extent that programmers write tests before writing the code they are testing. So the process is by no means lax about programming errors and patient safety.

Finally, modern software teams maintain databases–often open to the users and even the general public–of reported errors. The health care field needs this kind of transparency. Clinicians need to be warned of possible problems with a software module.

What we’re talking about here is a design that creates a product intimately congruent with each site’s needs and workflow. The software is not imported into a clinical environment–much less imposed on one–but grows organically from it, as early developers of the VistA software at the Veterans Administration claimed to have done. Problems with document exchange would be caught immediately during such a process, and the programmers would work out a common format cooperatively–because that’s what the clinicians want them to do.

Patient Experience Key to Unlocking Engagement Potential

Posted on September 19, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I enjoy my day job, fortunately (it actually encourages my blogging-on-the-side habit), and I love it even more when our product marketing manager, Jessica Clifton, rolls into town from up North to spend a week or so with our team plotting, planning and catching up. Yesterday found us finalizing a new report, “10 Trends in Hospital Patient Experience,” before the dismissal bell rang at 5 p.m. As I read over it with my editor’s hat on, I realized that if hospitals want to not only increase patient satisfaction, but also more easily meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements pertaining to electronic patient communication, then diving into patient experience/satisfaction surveys are a good place to gain insight into both.

Let me back up a bit. First, let’s review the Stage 2 requirements pertaining to digital patient engagement, as so nicely compiled by Brian Ahier:

  • Use secure messaging to communicate with patients on relevant health information
  • Use Certified EHR Technology to identify patient-specific education resources and provide those resources to the patient
  • Provide patients the ability to view online, download, and transmit their health information within 4 business days of the information being available
  • Use clinically relevant information to identify patients who should receive reminders for preventative/follow-up care
  • Provide clinical summaries for patients for each office visit

Now, let’s take a look at some of the common categories covered in patient experience surveys:

  • How often did doctors communicate well with patients?
  • How often did nurses communicate well with patients?
  • Were patients given information about what to do during recovery at home?

While the national average of patient responses for these particular questions were in the 77 to 83 percent range, other categories of patient experience didn’t fare so well. Our report found that “Patients rated staff explanation of medications (prior to administering) most poorly, with 20 percent of those surveyed indicating it sometimes or never occurred. Seventeen percent of patients surveyed reported not being given instruction on at-home recovery care.”

I’ve obviously cherry-picked those survey sections having to do with patient communication, and I’ve done so to highlight the opportunities providers have to begin meeting their electronic messaging quota in the areas patients seem to need it most.

I’d be interested in hearing from providers as to how they are going to go about increasing their digital engagement with patients. Did the latest batch of patient surveys provide any insight? Please share your experiences below.

Preparing for HIMSS 2012 – #HIMSS12

Posted on January 19, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

It seems like everyone I talk to or interact with in the Health IT world is in full on HIMSS 12 preparation mode. I only attended my first HIMSS 2 years ago in Atlanta. So, I’m mostly a newbie at HIMSS. I sometimes long for the days when I just went to HIMSS with little real planning. I just went and enjoyed myself.

As you can imagine, HIMSS is a perfect place for me and my business. I’ve often told people that the core of my business is great content and advertisers. Turns out that every booth and every person at HIMSS is possibly both. For me, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. So, many exciting things to try (and you might even say you get sick after “eating” too many as the flavors all run together). To be quite honest, I love the entire experience. I was meant for the system overload that happens at HIMSS. I love large crowds of people and being overstimulated. I guess that’s why I love living in Las Vegas (which is also convenient for this year’s HIMSS).

HIMSS Attendee and Exhibitor Count
Enough about me. What can we expect at this fantastic affair called HIMSS 2012? Last year there were 30,000 attendees and I wouldn’t be surprised if this year it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 people attending HIMSS. During an #HITsm twitter chat about HIMSS, I said that there would be at least 1000 vendors exhibiting at HIMSS. If I remember right (I can’t find the tweet), one of the HIMSS staff corrected me and said there would be 1100 companies exhibiting at HIMSS this year.

What does all this mean? Well, as my mother always told me: You can’t do everything. I’d always look at her shaking my head saying, “You’re right….but I’m sure going to try.” I think this describes my approach to HIMSS as well. Although, each year I am getting more selective on what I spend my time doing.

Press at HIMSS
I’m sure that many reading this are wondering how they can get some coverage on the Healthcare Scene blog network at HIMSS. Considering the 40 or so emails from PR people that I have filed away already, I’m going to have to apply a pretty strict filter.

What then are my filters?

First, if you’re an EHR company, then I’m probably interested in connecting with you in some form. Although, if you’re an EHR company that’s just seen me and has nothing new to say, then I’ll probably pass at this HIMSS. To be honest, I could probably fill my entire schedule with just EHR companies considering how many EHR companies there are out there. Plus, I think I’m going to bring around my flip video and do an EHR series called “5 Questions with EHR Companies.” I’ll see how many EHR companies I can get to answer the same 5 questions.

However, an entire week of just EHR talk would be a little rough. Plus, I asked on Twitter if I should look at things outside of EHR and they all said I should. I’m a man for the people, so I must listen. How then could another healthcare IT company get me interested in meeting with them at HIMSS?

The best way to get me interested in talking with your company is to provide something that will be interesting, unique and insightful to my readers. Remember that my main goals are great content and advertising. If you provide me with great content that my readers will love, then I’ll love you and likely write about that content.

I didn’t realize this when I started blogging, but I’m not like a lot of journalists. I don’t go to any conference with stories in mind. I’m not digging around HIMSS to try and find an ACO story for example. Instead, every person that I talk to I’m trying to discover what stories are being told at HIMSS that are worth telling. I’m always happy when people help me find interesting stories.

Social Media at HIMSS 12
Speaking of finding stories. One of the most interesting ways I use to find stories and connect with people is through social media and in particular Twitter (see this post I did on EMR and HIPAA about Twitter). I guarantee you that Twitter usage at HIMSS 12 is going to be off the charts. There is going to literally be no way to keep up. I love the idea that Cari McLean had of the HIMSS Social Media Center summarizing the most important tweets during HIMSS. Granted, that’s an almost impossible task to ask anyone to do.

Of course, the HIMSS related hashtags will be another great way to filter through the various HIMSS related tweets that are happening. Here are some of the ones I’m sure I’ll be using:
#HIMSS12 — official hashtag for the event
#HSMC — HIMSS Social Media Center
#HITX0 — HIT X.0: Beyond the Edge specialty program
#LFTF12 — Leading from the Future specialty program
#eCollab12 — eCollaborative Forum
Here’s a bunch more HIMSS related social media hashtags you might want to consider:

HIMSS Social Media Center
If you love social media like I do, then you’re also going to love the HIMSS Social Media Center. They’re doing a number of Meet the Bloggers sessions again and I’ve been invited to participate in the Health IT Edition of Meet the Bloggers at HIMSS. I’m on the panel along with: Brian Ahier (Moderator) Health IT Evangelist, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, Jennifer Dennard, Social Marketing Director at Billian’s HealthDATA/Porter Research/, Neil Versel, Freelance Journalist and Blogger, Carissa Caramanis O’Brien, Social Media Community and Content Director, Aetna. Should make for a pretty interesting conversation. Plus, you know I always like to mix it up a bit.

New Media Meetup at HIMSS
More details coming soon. We’ll have to work on Neil Versel’s idea of starting a Twitter storm to get Biz Stone to come to the HIMSS meetup.

Dates of HIMSS
Be sure to check the dates of HIMSS. As Neil Versel noted, it’s a little different days than it’s been in the past. I personally like these dates better than the other ones.

There you have it. I thought I’d do a short post on HIMSS and I guess I had a lot more to say. I’d love to hear if you’re going to HIMSS. If you know of any events, sessions, parties, announcements, technologies etc. that I should know about at HIMSS, let me know.

And the most exciting part of HIMSS…seeing old friends and making new friends. I can’t wait.

#HIT100: Healthcare IT Embraces Twitter in a Big Way

Posted on July 20, 2011 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

It’s not secret that social media continues to play an increasingly powerful role in connecting folks within the healthcare IT community. Sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter offer easy-to-navigate platforms that enable communication with peers on any continent, in any time zone. Twitter has become a personal favorite – both for its brevity and its simplicity. (Yes, I’ve heard promising things about Google+, but haven’t yet checked it out.)

The healthcare IT community has also embraced Twitter. Follow a variety of hashtags, including personal favorite #HITsm, and you’ll encounter a variety of opinionated, educated, and often humorous industry folk who, through their activity in the social space, are either emerging as thought leaders or bolstering their credibility as one.

The hashtag #HIT100 has been popular of late thanks to the crowdsourcing efforts of Michael Planchart, aka @theEHRguy. According to his Twitter profile, he is a “Healthcare Interoperability Consultant, Enterprise Architect for Healthcare IT and Standards Specialist.” According to his LinkedIn profile, he is a chief software architect at ProKSys. One thing is for sure – he is passionate about the healthcare IT community on Twitter. So much so that just a few weeks ago he began compiling nominations from his peers on Twitter of the top 100 tweeters (personal or company accounts) in the healthcare IT space.

The resultant list, published earlier this week, can be downloaded here: Final HIT100 Nominees. It is a great resource of folks to keep up with. (Be sure to check out @billians at #78!) Anne Zieger at (@ehroutlook at #86) has helpfully distilled the list into the top EMR/EHR tweeters.

I’ve met many in person at industry events, and know even more through Twitter. Hopefully I’ll run into Michael Planchart himself at some point. In the meantime, I chatted with him via email about why he wanted to take on this project, and why the healthcare IT community has embraced social media, particularly Twitter.

Why did you decide to embark on this project?

I wanted the healthcare IT community to vote for their most valued peers. Many well-intended folks would come up with their personal list and publish it. I wanted everyone to participate to create a more objective and transparent selection. This one may not yet be perfect, but it is open and publicly created. Hopefully, for 2012 we will have greater participation from many more folks. But for now, we have this to evangelize from.

Do you think there are more influencers in the #HIT space this year than last?

I know many of the folks that I follow and those that follow me. I’ve personally met many at RSNA, HIMSS and other healthcare events. But I’ve noticed a lot of newcomers to the social media space. Many of them I know as excellent contributors to healthcare IT, since I belong to the same standards committees that they do, although many times we work on different projects. What’s new is not them being in healthcare IT, but being in social media representing healthcare IT.

But answering your question more directly, yes there are many more participants this year. To be an influencer like John Halamka, Brian Ahier, Keith Boone, Matthew Holt and Dave deBronkart, just to name a few, most have some miles to go.

And why do you think there has been such an increase?

Twitter has been an open platform to create networks from the beginning. Linkedin and Facebook are too closed to create peer-to-peer networks. So Twitter has been highly influential in creating these peer-to-peer specialized networks like our #hcsm or #HIT groups.

I encourage you to take a look at the list and start connecting, communicating and educating. Be sure to follow this blog – @ehrandhit, and myself – @SmyrnaGirl, while you’re at it!