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E-Patient Update: Doctors Need To Lead Tech Charge

Posted on April 7, 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.

Doctors, like any other group of people, vary in how comfortable they are with technology. Despite the fact that their job is more technology-focused than ever before, many clinicians use tech tools because they must.

As a result, they aren’t great role models when it comes to encouraging patients to engage with portals, try mobile apps or even pay their healthcare bills online. I too am frustrated when doctors can’t answer basic tech questions, despite my high comfort level with technology. I like to think that we’re on the same page, and I feel sort of alienated when my doctors don’t seem to care about the digital health advantage.

This needs to change. Given the extent to which technology permeates care delivery, physicians must become better at explaining how basic tech tools work, why they’re used and how they benefit patients.

Below, I’ve listed three tools which I consider to be critical to current medical practices, based on both my patient experiences and my ongoing research on health IT tools. To me, knowing something about each of them is unavoidable if doctors want to keep up with trends and improve patient care.

The top three tools I see as central to serving patients effectively are:

  • Patient portals: This is arguably the most important technical option doctors can share with patients. To get the most value out of portals, every doctor – especially in primary care – should be able to explain to patients why accessing their data can improve their health and lives.
  • Connected health: For a while, connected health/remote monitoring solutions were a high-end, expensive way to track patient health. But today, these options are everywhere and accessible virtually anyone. (My husband bought a connected glucose monitor for $10 a few weeks ago!) If nothing else, clinicians should be able to explain to patients how such devices can help tame chronic diseases and prevent hospitalizations.
  • Mobile apps: While few apps, if any, are universally trusted by doctors, there’s still plenty of them which can help patients log, measure and monitor important data, such as medication compliance or blood pressure levels. While they don’t need to understand how mobile apps work, they should know something of why patients can benefit from using them.

Of course, this list is brief, but it’s a decent place to start. After all, I’m not suggesting that physicians need to get a master’s in health IT to serve patients adequately; I’m just recommending that they study up and prepare to guide their patients in using helpful tools.

Ultimately, it’s not as important that clinicians use or even have a deep understanding of digital health tools, health bands, smartwatches, sensor-laden clothing or virtual reality. They don’t have to understand cybersecurity or know how to reboot a server. They just have to know how to help patients navigate the healthcare world as it is.

By this point, in fact, I’d argue that it’s irresponsible to avoid learning about technologies that can help patients manage their health. Bear in mind that even if they don’t act like it, even confident, experienced patients like me truly admire our doctors and take what they say seriously. So if I am enthusiastic about using tech tools to manage my health, but my doctor’s eyes glaze over when I talk about them, even I feel a bit discouraged. So why not learn enough to encourage me on my journey?

Healthcare Trade Groups Join To Evaluate mHealth Apps

Posted on December 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.

A group of leading healthcare organizations, including HIMSS, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association and DHX Group, have come together to evaluate mHealth apps. The new organization, which calls itself Xcertia, says members came together to foster knowledge about clinical content, usability, privacy, security and evidence of efficacy for such apps.

It’s hardly surprising that that healthcare groups would want to take a stand on the issue of health app quality. According to a study published late last year by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, there are at least 165,000 mHealth apps available on the iTunes and Android stores.

But what percentage of those apps are worth using? Nobody really knows. It’s hard to tell after casual use which apps are useful and which don’t live up to their hype, which protect patient privacy and which leave data open to prying eyes, and particularly, which offer some form of clinical benefit and which just waste people’s time. And without a set of formal standards by which to judge, it’s very hard to compare one with the other in a meaningful way.

This uncertainty is holding back mHealth adoption by doctors. According to a recent survey by the AMA, physicians are interested in using apps and related tools – in fact, 85% told researches that digital health solutions can have a positive impact on patient care – they’re also reluctant to “prescribe” apps until they understand them better. (There’s also a group of doctors I’ve encountered who say that until mobile apps are FDA-approved, they won’t take them seriously, but that may be another story.)

In late November, attendees at a recent AMA meeting moved the mHealth puck up the ice a little bit, adopting a set of proposed set best principles for mobile health design. The criteria they adopted for mobile apps and devices included that they should follow evidence-based practice guidelines, support data portability and interoperability, and have a clinical evidence base to support their use. But these guidelines are hardly specific enough to help doctors decide which apps to adopt.

So far, all Xcertia is willing to say about its plans is that it plans to develop a framework of principles that will “positively impact the trajectory of the mobile health app industry.” The guidelines should help both consumers and clinicians choose mHealth apps, the group reports.

Let’s hope those guidelines are less ho-hum than those coming out of the AMA meeting – after all, it certainly would be good if developers and providers had concrete standards upon which they could base their app efforts.

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.