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AHIMA Plans To Promote Blue Button

Posted on October 31, 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.

This week, at its annual conference, AHIMA announced that it’s launching a drive to get its members and state organizations to push use of Blue Button technology.  The idea behind the push is to improve consumer access to personal health records, according to a report in iHealthBeat.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Blue Button dates to 2010, when the Department of Veterans Affairs launched the tool to help veterans access and share their personal health data in a standardized manner. Consumers who click on the Blue Button get human-readable personal health data in ASCII format.

Since its inception, both private organizations and federal agencies have implemented the Blue Button. According to ONCHIT, almost 500 healthcare organizations have joined the Blue Button Pledge Program, which encourages providers to make personal health records available to individuals and caregivers. Almost 80 million Americans can now access their health information through the program.

Now, AHIMA is encouraging wider expansion of Blue Button use. The association is urging members and state AHIMA chapters to inform employers, families, healthcare providers and other health professionals of the benefits of the Blue Button format, according to iHealthBeat.

This effort should be enhanced as providers move toward Blue Button+, the next generation of Blue Button efforts, which meets and builds on view, download and transmit requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2.

Neither Blue Button nor Blue Button+ programs magically transform patient data into something everyone can see and use, but they’re steps in the right direction.

So, what’s the next step when Blue Button functionality becomes common?  Will it help patients manage their data, or is it unrealistic to expect them to download and transfer information? I think the jury’s still out on this one.

If nothing else, though, we can look too the Automated Blue Button Initiative, which will probably evolve away from ASCII into more universal standards like XML. I’m keeping my eye on #ABBI to see where that goes, for sure.

ONCHIT Health IT Software Contests – Some Thoughts

Posted on May 30, 2012 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

Ken Terry at InformationWeek has an interesting editorial on Office of National Coordinator on Health IT’s (ONCHIT) latest contest for developers. This time the ONCHIT wants developers to come up with an IT product that can help ophthalmologists see better (yes, it’s a lame pun 🙂

Among the laundry list of requirements that this mythical software must possess: (I’m quoting from Terry’s article)

it must warehouse data from many different devices;
convert the data from proprietary formats to a single, vendor-neutral format;
enable clinicians to manipulate data and images;
and interface with existing EHR systems (presumably, just the top dozen or so)

Here’s the link to the slightly more detailed ONCHIT list. The first prize is $100,000 which is nothing to sneeze at.

Terry lists some problems uniquely faced by specialists such as oncologists and ophthalmologists: off the shelf EHRs don’t really grasp the nuances and details of information needed by specialists. Terry lists for example weight and height details that EHRs typically capture. Opthalmologists don’t really need this information. Typical EHRs on the other hand don’t allow for visual acuity information to be stored, at least not without (paid-for, and hence costly) customizations.

Looking at this issue as a some-time developer with some skin in the game, here’s how I see this process: ONCHIT wants to kick start IT development by getting developers interested via contests. This time it’s shining its light on opthalmologists. It has provided a list of not-so-impossible to design features, which might not capture all the nuances of features needed by ophthalmologists.

The major flaws I see in this process: the prize money is smallish, which means that the people that would be most interested in developing something would be the smaller IT shops. However, most IT developers don’t know enough about ophthalmology to truly understand what’s needed of their IT product. Till I saw Terry’s accompanying editorial, I was under the impression that this was a perfectly fine list of features to request. Also, I’m very underwhelmed by the “details” provided in the ONCHIT page. It is full of 20 dollar words, which will probably make little sense to the developers who are the intended targets of these words.

To be sure, you will see some health IT developers develop something and send them out, just because. Hell, it’s a contest, and there’s decent prize money.

Here’s what I’d rather have seen: maybe a short video that shows an ophthalmologist at work, a couple of minutes where s/he describes the main challenges s/he faces and provides the top 5-6 things that is on hizzer wishlist in an EMR. Or ONCHIT could facilitate talks between developers and specialists so each side understands what is required of them. Till then we’re doomed to square pegs in round holes software products that frustrate everyone soundly.

ONC Wants Medical Practices To Have A Privacy and Security Officer

Posted on May 21, 2012 I Written By

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

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)  has thrown down the gauntlet on HIPAA, challenging medical practices to select a privacy and security officer.  The ONC recommendation comes as part of a report outlining a 10-step plan to protect patient data.

While the advice it offers might be helpful to a range of providers, the report is largely focused on medical practices which are adopting EHRs and don’t have trained IT staffers to manage privacy protection and security, said Daniel Berger, president and CEO of Redspin Inc. in an interview with InformationWeek.  As practices shift from paper notes to digital records, there’s countless opportunities to slip up and have a data breach.

The problem may get worse as practices move up to Meaningful Use Stage 2, as this level of compliance will force practices to exchange data between providers.  Securing their own health data is hard enough; HIEs poses greater risks yet.

To make sure their data stays secure, a privacy officer is important but not sufficient. Other suggestions include:

*  Do a privacy/security risk analysis, and create an action plan to address problems found during the analysis

*  Develop written policies and procedures for protecting electronic protected health information

*  Educate and train employees thoroughly

*  Make sure business associate agreements  meet HIPAA standards and HITECH breach notification requirements

Though the ONC is trying to be helpful, I suspect that few medical practices are ready to follow these suggestions.  While practices certainly understand that HIPAA is a serious proposition, I’ll submit that few are ready to do a risk analysis. (After all, many medical practices haven’t had their EMR that long and are pretty overwhelmed just making it work for them.)

On the other hand, if practices name a privacy and security officer, train them and get them going now on risk analysis, it could result in a process of learning where knowledge diffuses out into the practice. Yup, I think that step will go along way on its own.

ONCHIT’s Healthy New Year Challenge

Posted on January 16, 2012 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

EMR and EHR Readers, have you already started breaking your New Year Resolutions? I know I have. My New Year resolution was a very unambitious I will exercise at least every other day, and I couldn’t hold on to that for a week. However, all is not lost. Even if you’re falling short on fulfilling your resolutions, you can still make a compelling video on some kinds of health IT related resolutions and maybe walk away with a decent cash prize. Don’t know what I’m talking about?

The Office of National Coordinator on Health IT is hosting a health IT challenge. Participants need to create a short (upto 2 mins) in length video that covers:
a) what your health resolution for 2012 is
b) how you will use IT to fulfill your resolution and
c) how you maintain your resolution using health IT tools.

Here are some examples listed on the ONCHIT website:

I will set up an online personal health record for myself (or another family member) so I can have all of my health information conveniently stored in one place.

I will ask my doctor for a copy of my own health records — electronically if available — and help him or her to identify any important information that may be missing or need to be corrected.

I will find an online community that helps me figure out the best ways to manage my health condition (depression, cancer, diabetes, etc.)

I will use an electronic pedometer to help me track my physical activity and will try to take 10,000 steps per day.

I will find an app on my smartphone to help me track my food intake so I can lose 10 pounds by my high school reunion.

I will sign up for a text reminder program on my cell phone to help me stop smoking or remind me to take my medications on time.

Please note that these are just suggestions, not listed topics. In fact ONCHIT encourages you to get creative and create your own HIT resolutions.

Of course, being as it is 2012, and well into Web 2.0fication of our lives, it’s not enough to make resolutions about improving our health. If you want to participate in the ONCHIT challenege, you’ll have to find ways to incorporate health IT into your resolution. I’ve worked pretty much my whole adult life, barring some exceptions, in the IT industry. But even so, I believe that IT can only solve some classes of problems, so I’m a bit wary when developers and programmers bring their hey-I-can-create-an-app-for-that attitudes whenever they’re confronted with any problems. That said, I do think some aspects of health IT can be useful. And I’m excited to see what creative things people will come up with.