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E-Patient Update: A Missed Opportunity For Primary Care Collaboration

Posted on March 3, 2017 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.

Tell me if you’ve run into the following.

You call your primary care doctor to set an appointment, wading through the inevitable voice-response prompts and choosing the right number to reach a clerk. You wait on hold for a while – perhaps a LONG while – and finally get a clerk.

The clerk asks why you’re booking an appointment, and you name a problem. The clerk says she needs to consult a nurse about the problem before she books you, so you wait on hold while she calls the nurse. Of course, the nurse is too busy to answer her phone, so you leave her a voicemail message.

The next day she finally calls back and tells you a standard appointment will be fine. Yay.

This might sound like an incredibly twisty process, but this is exactly how it works at my PCP office. And the truth is that I’ve been run through a similar mill before by other primary care practices of this size.

In theory, many of these problems would go away if my PCP office simply took advantage of the scheduling tools its portal already offers. But for some reason its leaders don’t seem to value that function much; in fact, when it went offline for a while the practice didn’t seem to know.

But there are alternatives to this crazy workflow pattern that don’t require the re-invention of the lightbulb. In fact, all it would take is adding a few functions to the portal to make progress.

Gathering the threads

From what I can see, the key to streamlining this type of process is to gather these threads together. And it doesn’t take much imagination to picture how that would work.

What if my initial contact with the practice wasn’t via phone, but via more sophisticated interface than a calendaring app? This interface should ask patients what prompts their requested visit, and offer a pulldown menu providing a list of standard situations and conditions.

If a patient chooses a condition that might be hazardous, the system would automatically kick the request to a nurse, who can email or call the patient directly, possibly avoiding hit-or-miss phone tag. Or the practice could provide the nurse with a secure messaging client to use in connecting with clients on the go.  Using such an app, the nurse could even conference in the doctor as needed.

Meanwhile, if a patient wants to get a provider’s opinion on their condition – whether they should wait and see what happens, go to urgent care, make an appointment or hit the ED – the same interface could route the request to the provider on call. If the patient can be treated effectively with a basic appointment, the clinician routes the request to the front desk, with a request that the clerk schedule an appointment. The clerk reaches out to the patient, which means the patient (me!) doesn’t have to call in and wait for an age while the clerk handles other issues.

The same process would also work well for medication refill and referral requests, which my practice now handles in the same cumbersome, time-wasting manner. Not only that, automating such requests would leave an audit trail, which doesn’t exist at present.

Pursuing the obvious

What bugs me about all of this is that if I can imagine this, anyone in healthcare could — it’s a massive case of pursuing the obvious. Though I’m an HIT fan, and I follow the industry closely, I’m no programmer or engineer. I’m just somebody who wants to do my business effectively. Surely my PCP does too?

Of course, I know that just because an approach is possible, it doesn’t mean that it will be easy to implement. Not only that, only the largest and most prosperous practices have enough clout to demand that vendors develop such features. So it may not be as easy as it should be to put them in place.

Still, I see a crying need here, or perhaps one might call it an opportunity.  If we arm primary care doctors – who will play a steadily-growing role in next-gen systems – with better workflow options, every part of the system will benefit.

E-Patient Update: Hey Government, Train Patients Too!

Posted on February 10, 2017 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.

Recently I got a most interesting email from the ONC and A-list healthcare educator Columbia University. In the message, it offered me a free online course taught by Columbia’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, apparently paid for by ONC funding. (Unfortunately, they aren’t giving away free toasters to students, or I definitely would have signed up. No wait, I’m sorry, I did register, but I would have done it faster for the toaster.)

The course, which is named Health Informatics For Innovation, Value and Enrichment) or HI-FIVE, is designed to serve just about anyone in healthcare, including administrators, managers, physicians, nurses, social workers an care coordinators. Subjects covered by the course include all of the usual favorites, including healthcare data analytics, population health, care coordination and interoperability, value-based care and patient-centered care.

If I seem somewhat flippant, it’s just because the marketing material seemed a little…uh…breathlessly cheery and cute given the subject. I can certainly see the benefits of offering such a course at no cost, especially for those professionals (such as social workers) unlikely to be offered a broader look at health IT issues.

On the other hand, I’d argue that there’s another group which needs this kind of training more – and that’s consumers like myself. While I might be well-informed on these subjects, due to my geeky HIT obsession, my friends and family aren’t. And while most of the professionals served by the course will get at least some exposure to these topics on the job, my mother, my sister and my best girlfriend have essentially zero chance of finding consumer-friendly information on using health IT.

Go where the need is

As those who follow this column know, I’ve previously argued hard for hospitals and medical groups to offer patients training on health IT basics, particularly on how to take advantage of their portal. But given that my advice seems to be falling on deaf ears – imagine that! – it occurs to me that a government agency like ONC should step in and help. If closing important knowledge gaps is important to our industry, why not this particular gap. Hey, go where the need is greatest.

After all, as I’ve noted time and again, we do want patients to understand consumer health IT and how to reap its benefits, as this may help them improve their health. But if you want engagement, folks, people have to understand what you’re talking about and why it matters. As things stand, my sense is that few people outside the #healthit bubble have the faintest idea of what we’re talking about (and wouldn’t really want to know either).

What would a consumer-oriented ONC course cover? Well, I’m sure the authorities can figure that out, but I’m sure education on portal use, reading medical data, telemedicine, remote monitoring, mobile apps and wearables wouldn’t come amiss. Honestly, it almost doesn’t matter how much the course would cover – the key here would be to get people interested and comfortable.

The biggest problem I can see here is getting consumers to actually show up for these courses, which will probably seem threatening to some. It may not be easy to provoke their interest, particularly if they’re technophobic generally. But there’s plenty of consumer marketing techniques that course creators could use to get the job done, particularly if you’re giving your product away. (If all else fails, the toaster giveaway might work.)

If providers don’t feel equipped to educate patients, I hope that someone does, sometime soon, preferably a neutral body like ONC rather than a self-interested vendor. It’s more than time.

E-Patient Update: All I Want For 2017

Posted on January 6, 2017 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.

Over the past year, I’ve done a lot of kvetching about the ways in which I think my e-relationships with doctors and hospitals have fallen short. I don’t regret doing so, but I think it’s just as important to focus on the future. So without further ado, here’s a list of ways in which providers could improve their digital interactions with me and my fellow patients during the coming year:

  • Have consistent policies and operations: Over time, I’ve found that many providers don’t seem to keep track of what they say about e-services such as portals and telemedicine visits. Others do little to let you know whether, say, doctors respond to email and how long it may take for them to do so. All of this creates patient confusion. This year, please be consistent in what you do and how you do it.
  • Create channels for patient feedback: As you may recall, I recently trashed a practice that didn’t respond to patient complaints about a broken appointment-making function on its site, and noted that all could have been avoided if patient objections had gotten routed to practice administrators sooner. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen anymore. This year, make sure your patients don’t face this kind of frustration; create formal channels for patient technical feedback and have a process for escalating their concerns quickly.
  • Give us more access: While patients do have access to some data from their medical records, most of the time we still have to jump through onerous hoops if we need a complete record. Given that it’s all digital these days, this is very hard for us to understand, so fix this process. (And by the way, don’t pile on $2.50 per page charges when you produce a digitally-produced patient record; not only is it insulting and predatory, if that fee doesn’t reflect the costs of sharing the record it may be illegal in many states.)
  • Give us more control: Particularly when, like me, you have more than one chronic condition to manage, it gets very tiring to deal with the policies of multiple institutions when you want the big picture. We want more control of our records!  We’ll be much happier (and possibly healthier) if we have ways to compile complete record sets of our own.
  • Take us seriously: The following is not just an e-patient concern, but it still applies. Too often, when I raised a concern (“Why do you say I don’t have an appointment when I made one online?”) I’ve gotten a blank stare or defensive posturing. This year, providers, please take our digital problems as seriously as other any problems we face in interacting with you. We do!

As I look at this list, I think it’s interesting that I have no temptation to suggest one technology or another (though as your faithful scribe I’ve seen many intriguing options). The truth is, I’d submit, that most providers should get their social and operational ducks in a row before they roll out sophisticated patient engagement platforms or roll out major telehealth initiatives. Just make sure everything works, and everybody cares, and you’ll be off to a better start.

E-Patient Update: Bringing mHealth To The People

Posted on November 11, 2016 I Written By

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

Today, it’s standard for patients to travel to a central hub of some kind, spend as much as a half hour in the lobby and fill out a few minutes of paperwork to get a maximum of 15 minutes of time with their doctor. But thankfully, we’ve come to a time when care can return to the home. And it’s time we take full advantage of that fact.

I’d argue that it’s long overdue to bring the medical visit back to patient homes, not just for those in need of chronic care, but for all patients who are less than markedly stable. If we’re not quite at the point where we can provide every standard primary care service in a home, we’re pretty close, and it should be our goal to close the gap.

Consumers want convenience
While it might not be practical to roll out the service to everyone at once, we could start with patients who are healthy, but in higher risk categories due to age or condition. My mother comes to mind. At age 74, she has a history of cardiac arrhythmia, is slightly overweight and suffers from joint problems. None of these may pose an immediate risk to her health, but they are part of the complex process of aging for her, and all that goes with it.

I believe her health would be managed better if someone saw her “in her element,” taking care of my disabled brother, rushing around cooking dinner and climbing stairs. It would also be easier for clinicians to show her health information at her kitchen table, and get her engaged with making progress. (Kitchen tables are inherently less intimidating.)

Besides, there’s the issue of travel. Often, she finds it taxing to get organized and get to medical appointments, which take place 20 minutes away at the offices of her local health system. “I wish someone would bring a van with testing devices like an x-ray machine in it, bring their tablets into my house and do the check up at home,” she says. “There’s no reason for me to do all the traveling.” And believe me, folks, if a technophobe like my mom — who won’t touch a computer — is wondering why her physicians aren’t making better use of mobile healthcare tools, you can bet other patients are.

Mobile satisfaction
If you’re a health leader reading this, you may be flinching at the idea of reorganizing your services to hit the road. But it’s worth doing, particularly now that patients are demanding mobile health access. After all, rolling out a mobile-enhanced door to door primary care service would be an unbeatable way to differentiate yourself from your competitors and enhance patient satisfaction.

I believe that whatever investments you have to make would be modest in comparison to the benefits your patients would realize. If you come to them, not only are you getting to know them better, and as a result, you’re likely to improve care quality.

Now, I understand that if you’re traveling, you probably can’t pack four patient encounters into an hour, and that is certainly a financial consideration. But I believe patients would pay more to see their very own doctor (not a stranger, as with some startups) visit them at home. More importantly, I’d argue, a reworked system that puts patients at the center of their care would eventually save money, time and lives which is where value based reimbursement is headed anyway.

E-Patient Update: A Bad Case Of Hyperportalotus

Posted on September 30, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-Patient Update:  Keeping Data From Patients Has Consequences

Posted on September 20, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duplicate Work in Healthcare

Posted on July 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.

One of my favorite stories is the time we implemented an EHR in the UNLV health center. At first, we decided to do a phased implementation in order to replace some legacy bubble sheet software that was no longer being supported. So, we just implemented enough of the PM system to handle the patient scheduling and to capture the charge data in the EHR. Of course, we were also a bit afraid if we implemented the full EHR, the staff would revolt.

A week or two into the partial implementation, something really amazing happened. First, some of the providers started to document the patient visit in the EHR even though they still had to document it in the paper chart as well. I asked them why and they just said, “It was there and I thought it would be good to have my info in the note.”

Second, some of the providers started asking me why they had to do duplicate work. They really hated having to enter the diagnosis and charge codes into the EHR and then document them again in the paper chart. Plus, they followed up that they could see the other section of the notes in the EHR and “why couldn’t they just use that instead of the paper chart.” The reality was: Doctors hated doing duplicate work!

Once I heard this, I ran to the director of the Health Center’s office and told her what they’d said. We both agreed, why wait? A week or so later we’d moved from paper charts to a full EHR implementation.

There were a lot of lessons learned from this experience. First, it’s amazing how people want to use the new system when they can see that it’s possible. They basically drove the EHR implementation forward. However, what was interesting to me was the power of “duplicate work.” We all hate it and it was a driving force for using technology the right way.

While we used the concept of duplicate work for good, there’s a lot of duplicate work in healthcare which drives patients and healthcare staff totally nuts. However, we don’t do anything about it. This was highlighted perfectly in a recent e-Patient update from Anne Zieger. Go and read her full account. We’ll be here when you get back.

What’s astounding from her account is how even though doctors hate duplicate work for themselves, we’re happy to let our patients and support staff do duplicate work all the time. I’ve seen some form of Anne’s experience over and over. Technology can and should solve this. This is true across multiple clinics but is absolutely true in the same clinic where you handle the workflow.

I get that there are reasons why you may want a staff to verify a patient’s record to ensure it was entered correctly and is complete. That’s absolutely understandable and would not have likely been an issue for Anne. However, to disregard the work a patient had done on their intake paperwork is messed up. Let alone not tapping into a patient’s history that may have been entered at another clinic owned by the same organization or collecting/updating the info electronically through a patient portal. I’m reminded of @cancergeek’s recent comment about the excuse that “it’s how we’ve always done it.”

In the past this might not have mattered too much. Patients would keep coming back. However, the tides of consumerism in healthcare are changing. Do you enjoy doing duplicate work? Of course not! It’s time to purge duplicate work for patients and healthcare staff as well!

E-Patient Update: Apple Offers iPhone EMR Access

Posted on June 22, 2016 I Written By

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

Over the last few years, Apple has steadily beefed up the health data access provided by its iPhone operating system, in ways that have made some sense. But depending on how consumers react, its latest effort may have the biggest impact of all of its data sharing efforts to date.

In its latest mobile operating system, Apple is allowing users to store their EMR data directly in its Health app, using the HL7 CCD standard. And while this isn’t a huge step forward for interoperability, it does give e-patients like me a greater sense of control, which is definitely a good thing.

In recent years, Apple has made increasingly sophisticated efforts to unify healthcare data. Perhaps the highest profile effort is the summer 2014 launch of HealthKit, a healthcare data integration platform whose features include connecting consumer-generated data with traditional clinical sources such as the Epic EMR.

Meanwhile, it has steadily added capabilities to the Health app, which launched with iOS 8. Since then, it has been encouraging consumers to manage health data on their phone using HealthKit-enabled apps like the Epic MyChart patient portal app. The new EMR data retrieval function is available in the iOS 10 version of Health.

According to Apple blog 9to5Mac, consumers can import the CCD data from Mail, Safari and other applications as well as into Health. When consumers add the CCD file to Health, the app opens and providers a quick preview of the document’s data, including the healthcare provider’s name, patient’s name and document owner’s name. It also identifies the document’s custodian. Once downloaded, the device stores the document in encrypted form, indefinitely.

Also, when a user confirms that they want to save the record to the Health app, the CCD info is added to a list of all of the health record documents stored in the app, making it easier to identify the entire scope of what a user has stored.

Looked at one way, the addition of medical record storage capabilities to the latest iOS release may not seem like a big deal. After all, I’ve been downloading broad swaths of my healthcare data from the Epic MyChart app for a couple of years now, and it hasn’t rocked my world. The document MyChart produces can be useful, but it’s not easily shareable. How will it change patients’  lives to store multiple records on their cell phone, their tablet or heaven help us, their Apple Watch?

On the surface, the answer is almost certainly “not much,” but I think there’s more to this than meets the eye. Yes, this solution doesn’t sound particularly elegant, nor especially useful for patients who want to share data with clinicians. My guess is that at first, most consumers will download a few records and forget that they’re available.

However, Apple brings something unique to the table. It has what may be the best-integrated consumer technology base on the planet, and can still claim a large, fanatical following for its products. If it trains up its user base to demand EMR data, they might trigger a cultural shift in what data patients expect to have available. And that could prove to be a powerful force for change.

E-patient Update: Remote Monitoring Leaves Me Out of The Loop

Posted on May 24, 2016 I Written By

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

As some readers may recall, I don’t just write about digital health deployment — I live it. To be specific, my occasional heart arrhythmia (Afib) is being tracked remotely by device implanted in my chest near my heart. My cardiac electrophysiologist implanted the Medtronic device – a “loop recorder” roughly the size of a cigarette lighter though flatter — during a cardiac ablation procedure.

The setup works like this:

  • The implanted device tracks my heart rhythm, recording any events that fit criteria programmed into it. (Side note: It’s made entirely of plastic, which means I need not fear MRIs. Neat, huh?)
  • The center also includes a bedside station which comes with a removable, mouse shaped object that I can place on my chest to record any incidents that concern me. I can also record events in real time, when I’m on the road, using a smaller device that fits on my key ring.
  • Whether I record any perceived episodes or not, the bedside station downloads whatever information is stored in the loop recorder at midnight each night, then transmits it to the cardiac electrophysiologist’s office.
  • The next day, a tech reviews the records. If any unusual events show up, the tech notifies the doctor, who reaches out to me if need be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is all very cool. And these devices have benefited me already, just a month into their use. For example, one evening last week I was experiencing some uncomfortable palpitations, and wondered whether I had reason for concern. So I called the cardiac electrophysiologist’s after-hours service and got a call back from the on-call physician.

When she and I spoke, her first response was to send me to my local hospital. But once I informed her that the device was tracking my heart rhythms, she accessed them and determined that I was only experiencing mild tachycardia. That was certainly a relief.

No access for patients

That being said, it bugs me that I have no direct access to this information myself. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that interacting with heart rhythm data is complicated. Certainly, I can’t do as much in response to that information as I could if the device were, say, tracking my blood glucose levels.

That being said, my feeling is that I would benefit from knowing more about how my heart is working, or failing to work appropriately in the grand scheme of things, even if I can’t interpret the raw data of the device produces. For example, it would be great if I could view a chart that showed, say, week by week when events occurred and what time they took place.

Of course, I don’t know whether having this data would have any concrete impact on my life. But that being said, it bothers me that such remote monitoring schemes don’t have their core an assumption that patients don’t need this information. I’d argue that Medtronic and its peers should be thinking of ways to loop patients in any time their data is being collected in an outpatient setting. Don’t we have an app for that, and if not, why?

Unfortunately, no matter how patients scream and yell about this, I doubt we’ll make much progress until doctors raise their voices too. So if you’re a physician reading this, I hope you’re willing to get involved since patients deserve to know what’s going on with their bodies. And if you have the means to help them know, make it happen!

ONC Encourages Emergence Of E-Patients

Posted on February 15, 2013 I Written By

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

Throughout the Meaningful Use rollout, there’s been discussion of how to best use all of these new health IT toys to get patients more engaged in their care.  But as far as I know, the following is the first time ONC has officially launched an initiative to cultivate the emergence of health IT-smart e-patients.

In a new article in Health Affairs, ONC national coordinator for  health IT Farzad Mostashari has shared plans to use health IT to reach patients and encourage their involvement with their care. The ONC is already working with 17 Beacon communities to test ideas such as text-messaging for diabetes risk assessment, but the idea now is to expand things to much higher level.

ONC now hopes to encourage patients to participate in e-patient activities such as secure e-mail messaging with doctors, use of EMRs that patients can add to and transmit, as well as use of mobile health apps for chronic disease monitoring and wellness promotion, reports Politico.com.

I’m excited to see ONC jump on this bandwagon enthusiastically. While there is an e-patient movement afoot, and a growing list of doctors interested in “participatory medicine,” it’s unlikely that the run-of-the-mill patient with few self-advocacy or technical skills would get involved on their own.

And the truth is, if ONC truly wants to build a nation of engaged patients, Meaningful Use requirements are too modest by far. Sure, there’s new requirements afoot that will make it easier for patients to e-mail doctors and transmit their health information, and that’s fine. But the truth is that few patients will take advantage of these features without a great degree of encouragement.

As something of an e-patient myself, I’m eager to see the movement blossom, as I believe it’s good for both the clinician and ordinary citizens receiving medical care. Let’s see how much effort Dr. Mostashari and his team put into cultivating patient engagement.