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Are We Moving from Passive Patients to Active Consumers?

Posted on October 15, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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 were the questions I was asking myself when I sat in on a presentation by Intermountain’s revenue cycle manager at the Craneware Summit in Las Vegas. I think the clear answer to the first question is that patients are becoming more active. Patients are shouldering a larger portion of the cost of their healthcare and so now they’re move involved in the care they receive. Plus, the internet and mobile applications have made it much easier for a patient to be informed on their health.

The later question is much harder. What impact will this change have on healthcare?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but it’s going to take a dramatic shift by the current healthcare system to adapt to this changing consumer. The days of the omniscient doctor (at least perceived) are gone and there’s now a shift to a more collaborative care model.

Of course, many doctors fear that this shift is going too far. They usually point to the overbearing patient who thinks they know better than the doctor. Certainly these patients exist, but they are the minority and aren’t a huge shift from the patients who didn’t listen to their doctor before the shift happened. The problem is that 1 rotten apple spoils the bunch.

Overall, I think this change will be a good thing for the healthcare system. There are a lot of things you can’t change in healthcare if you don’t have an active patient that’s engaged and cares about their health. Hopefully this will be the start of that movement to helping patients care more about their health.

If you want proof that things are changing, Intermountain has changed their mission statement. First, it’s not very often that an organization as large as Intermountain makes a major change to their mission statement. Second, think about whether this mission statement would work for your hospital or healthcare organization:

Change is in the air. What are you doing to prepare for the change?

Open Standards Advance in Health Care Through the Appeal of FHIR and SMART

Posted on October 13, 2014 I Written By

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

The poor state of interoperability between EHRs–target of fulminations and curses from health care activists over the years–is starting to grind its way forward. Dr. Kenneth Mandl, a leader of the SMART Platform and professor at the Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, found that out when his team, including lead architect Josh Mandel, went to HIMSS this year to support Cerner’s implementation of his standard, and discovered three other vendors running it.

That’s the beauty of open source and standards. Put them out there and anyone can use them without a by-your-leave. Standards can diffuse in ways the original developers never anticipated.

A bit of background. The SMART platform, which I covered a few years ago, was developed by Mandl’s team at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital to solve the festering problem of inaccessibility in EHRs and other health care software. SMART fulfilled the long-time vision of open source advocates to provide a common platform for every vendor that chose to support it, and that would allow third-party developers to create useful applications.

Without a standard, third-party developers were in limbo. They had to write special code to support each EHR they want to run on. Worse still, they may have to ask the EHR vendor for permission to connect. This has been stunting the market for apps expanding the use of patient data by clinicians as well as the patients themselves.

SMART’s prospects have been energized by the creation of a modern interoperability resource called FHIR. It breaks with the traditional health care standards by being lean, extendible in controllable ways, and in tune with modern development standards such as REST and JSON.

It helps that SMART was supported by funds from the ONC, and that FHIR was adopted by the leading health care standards group, HL7. HL7’s backing of FHIR in particular lent these standards authority among the vendor and health care provider community. Now the chocolate and peanut butter favored by health IT advocates have come together in the SMART on FHIR project, which I wrote about earlier this year.

Mandl explains that SMART allows innovators to get access to the point of care. As more organizations and products adopt the SMART on FHIR, API, a SMART app written once will run anywhere.

Vendors have been coming to FHIR meetings and expressing approval in the abstract for these standards. But it was still a pleasant surprise for Mandl to hear of SMART implementations demo’d at HIMSS by Intermountain, Hewlett-Packard, and Harris as well as Cerner.

The SMART project has just released guidlines for health care providers who want to issue RFPs soliciting vendors for SMART implementations. This will help ensure that providers get what they ask and pay for: an API that reliably runs any app written for SMART.

It’s wise to be cautious and very specific when soliciting products based on standards. The notion of “openness” is often misunderstood and taken to places it wasn’t meant to go. In health care, one major vendor can trumpet its “openness” while picking and choosing which vendors to allow use of its API, and charging money for every document transferred.

The slipperiness of the “open” concept is not limited to health IT. For years, Microsoft promulgated an “open source” initiative while keeping to the old proprietary practices of exerting patent rights and restricting who had access to code. Currently they have made great progress and are a major contributor to Linux and other projects, including tools used with their HealthVault PHR.

Google, too, although a major supporter of open source projects, plays games with its Android platform. The code is nominally under an open license–and is being exploited by numerous embedded systems developers that way–but is developed in anything but an open manner at Google, and is hedged by so many requirements that it’s hard to release a product with the Android moniker unless one partners closely with Google.

After talking to Mandl, I had a phone interview with Stan Huff, Chief Informatics Officer for Intermountain. Huff is an expert in interoperability and active in HL7. About a year ago he led an effort at Intermountain to improve interoperability. The motivation was not some ethereal vision of openness but the realization that Intermountain couldn’t do everything it needed to be competitive on its own–it would have to seek out the contributions of outsiders.

When Intermountain partnered with Cerner, senior management had by that time received a good education in the value of a standard API. Cerner was also committed to it, luckily, and the two companies collaborated on FHIR and SMART. Cerner’s task was to wrap their services in a FHIR-compliant API and to make sure to use standard technology, such as in codes for lab data.

Intermountain also participated in launching a not-for-profit corporation, the Healthcare Services Platform Consortium, that promotes SMART-on-FHIR and other standards. A lot of vendors have joined up, and Huff encourages other vendors to give up their fears that standardization is a catheter siphoning away business and to try the consortium out.

Intermountain currently is offering several applications that run in web browsers (and therefore should be widely usable on different platforms). Although currently in the prototype stage, the applications should be available later this year. Besides an application developed by Intermountain to monitor hemolytic disease among neonates and suggest paths for doctors to take, they support several demonstration apps produced by the SMART project, including a growth chart app, a blood pressure management app, and a cardiovascular app.

Huff reports that apps are easy to build on SMART. In at least one case, it took just two weeks for the coding.

Attendees at HIMSS were very excited about Intermountain’s support for SMART. The health care providers want more flexible and innovative software with good user interfaces, and see SMART providing that. Many vendors look to replicate what Intermountain has done (although some hold back). Understanding that progress is possible can empower doctors and advocates to call for more.

A Do-Not-Forget Checklist for EHR Switchers on the Hook for Meaningful Use

Posted on November 21, 2013 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Tom S. Lee, PhD, CEO and Founder at SA Ignite.

According to a recent survey by Black Book rankings, as many as 16 percent of ambulatory EHR users may become  EHR switchers within the next 12 months.  Large health systems such as Intermountain (a client of ours) and the Department of Defense have recently announced that they are switching EHRs or are currently evaluating a change. Many such organizations are planning to switch EHRs while continuing to meet increasingly difficult Stage 2 Meaningful Use (MU) requirements.  According to past National Coordinator  Dr. Farzad Mostashari, there will be no delay of MU Stage 2. That means your health IT road map may now include switching EHRs, managing Stage 2 attestations, and achieving ICD-10 compliance.

How do you switch jugglers while the number of balls in the air increases at the same time?

We have encountered a common set of issues and questions in our work with clients, discussions with prospects, and exchanges with thought leaders in the industry related to the EHR switching scenario, especially as it relates to Meaningful Use.  Here are some things to consider:

1. Assess and properly store data from your old EHR for future MU audits. A recent wave of MU audit notices has been sent by CMS to some of the country’s leading health systems. Each MU attestation is subject to audit 6 years after the attestation date.  With this in mind, be sure to pull out and securely and centrally store all supporting data from your old EHR before its license expires.  Get expert assistance if needed to understand how to build a comprehensive and solid audit trail.  One great place start is the guidance on audit documentation provided by CMS.

2. Optimize the timing of the EHR switch relative to government reporting timelines.  For example, in 2014 there is a one-time opportunity to report on only a calendar quarter’s worth of data for many eligible providers, rather than the entire year.  This modification to MU was originally made to accommodate delayed Stage 2 certifications by the EHR vendors.  However, it can also be leveraged by EHR switchers who can time the switch to happen within 2014 to benefit from a lower compliance bar while the massive impacts of switching EHRs are absorbed by the organization.

3. Plan to merge data across EHRs to meet MU reporting requirements.  Even with the 2014 calendar-quarter reporting reprieve, for many hospitals and eligible providers to achieve Meaningful Use in an EHR-switching year it’ll be necessary to stitch together Meaningful Use data across the old and new EHRs in order to meet many MU reporting requirements.  For example, this may be required simply to meet the minimum certified EHR usage threshold to be eligible for the MU program in that year.  Assume merging data will be necessary, prepare how to do so before your old EHR license expires, seek help, or do both. An interesting contingency we have seen is to drive eligible providers to “over perform” on their MU measures on the old EHR in anticipation that MU performance will drop at the outset of adapting to the new EHR.  This will increase the chances that providers’ total MU performance within a reporting period spanning both EHRs will end up above threshold.

4. Plan to be supporting two EHRs at the same time.  Although it is sometimes possible to do a “big bang” switchover to a new EHR across an entire organization, we often see that rollout plans for the new EHR are phased across specialty, location, or other sub-groups.  During those periods when the organization could be supporting two different EHRs, such as two ambulatory EHRs in different geographic regions, it is important to organize and align teams to not only handle the immediate demands of MU but also transition completely to supporting the new EHR.  For example, MU data reporting and attestation can be hard enough for just one ambulatory EHR, much less two.  It takes preparation well in advance of the EHR switch and government attestation deadlines to avoid 11th hour fire drills.

Is your organization juggling MU requirements while switching EHRs? If so, I’m sure that you’ve found there are additional considerations surrounding an EHR switch that are important to keep in mind. I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

Improving the EHR Interface and Topol Saves Patient’s Life on Flight Home

Posted on March 5, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

As I thought through my day at HIMSS, a theme started to emerge from all the dozens of meetings I’ve already had at the show (with many more still to come). The theme I saw coming out was ways to improve the EHR interface. This is a much needed change in EHR’s, so it was interesting to see a whole series of companies working on ways to make the EHR interface better. Here are some of the highlights from companies I talked to at HIMSS.

SwiftKey – While the SwiftKey product can be used in the consumer space as well, it was interesting to see the technology applied to healthcare. SwiftKey is basically a replacement for your mobile device keyboard. In fact, I’d call SwiftKey a smart keyboard for your mobile device. What does it do to make your mobile device keyboard smart?

First, it offers word suggestions you can easily choose as you start to type. Most people are familiar with this base functionality because it exists in some form in most mobile keyboards (or at least it does on my Android). However, they’ve taken it a couple steps further. They actually use the context of what you’ve typed to predict what word you may want to type next. For example, if you type, “nausea and” then it predicts that you’ll want to type vomiting. If you type “urinary” then it will predict tract and then infection. Plus, they told me their algorithm will also learn your own colloquial habits. Kind of reminds me of Dragon voice recognition that learns your voice over time. SwiftKey learns your language habits over time.

I’m sure some of these predictive suggestions could lead to some hilarious ones, but it’s an interesting next step in the virtual keyboards we have on mobile devices. I’ll be interested to hear from doctors about what they think of the SwiftKey keyboard when it’s integrated with the various EHR iPad apps.

M*Modal and Intermountain – Thinking back on the demos and products I’ve seen at HIMSS 2013, I think that the app M*Modal has created for Intermountain might be the coolest I’ve seen so far. In this app, a doctor would say an order for a prescription, and the M*Modal technology would apply voice recognition and then parse the words into the appropriate CPOE order fields. It was pretty impressive to see it in action. Plus, the time difference between speaking the order and trying to manually select the various order fields on the mobile device was incredible.

I was a little disappointed it was only a demo system, but it sounds like Intermountain is still doing some work on their end to make the CPOE happen. I’m also quite interested to see if a simple mobile app like this will see broad adoption or if more features will need to be added to get the wide adoption. However, it was almost like magic to see it take a recorded voice and convert it into 5-7 fields on the screen. I’d be interested to see the accuracy of the implementation across a large set of doctors, but the possibilities are quite interesting for transforming the CPOE interface.

Cerner Mobile – One of the new Cerner ambulatory EHR features is an iPad interface for the doctor. I’m sure that many will think this is old news since so many other iPad EHR interfaces are out there. In some ways it is, but there was a slickness to their app that I hadn’t seen a lot of places. In fact, the demo of their ambulatory EHR iPad app reminded me a lot of the features that I saw in this video Jonathan Dreyer from Nuance created (bottom video) that demonstrated some of the mobile voice capabilities. Plus, the app had a nice workflow and some crazy simple features like doing a refill. One swipe and the med was refilled. Almost makes it too easy.

Canon – This is a little different than some of the other EHR interface things I talk about above. In the case of Canon it was interesting to see the tight integration that’s possible between the Canon scanners and EHR software. Instead of the often laborious process of scanning to your EHR and assigning it to a patient, Canon has a scan direct to EMR option including analyzing the cover sheet to have the scanned document attached to the right patient and EHR chart location. While we’d all love to have paper gone, it will be a part of healthcare for the forseeable future. The scan direct to EMR is a pretty awesome feature.

Those are a number of the EHR interface things that I’ve seen so far at HIMSS. I’m sure there are dozens of others out there as well. I think this is a great trend. Sure, each of these things is only a small incremental change, but with hundreds of EHR vendors all doing small incremental changes we’re going to see great things. That’s good, because many of the current EHR interfaces are terribly unusable.

In an related topic, Eric Topol gave a keynote address at HIMSS today. He had glowing reviews from what I could tell. Although, what’s an even more powerful story is to see the message he shared at HIMSS in action. On Topol’s flight home to San Diego a patient was having some medical issue. He did the ECG right on the plane using his smartphone and the passenger was able to make it safely to the destination. You can read the full story here. What’s even more amazing is that this is the second time something like this has happened to Topol. This probably means he flies too much, but also is an incredible illustration of the mHealth technology at work. Truly amazing!

Full Disclosure: Cerner and Canon are advertisers on this site.