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Will New Group Steal Thunder From CommonWell Health Alliance?

Posted on January 26, 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.

Back in March 0f 2013, six health IT vendors came together to announce the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance. The group, which included Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth, said they were forming the not-for-profit organization to foster national health data interoperability. (Being a cynical type, I immediately put it in a mental file tagged “The Group Epic Refused To Join,” but maybe that wasn’t fair since it looks like the other EHR vendors might have left Epic out on purpose.)

Looked at from some perspectives, the initiative has been a success. Over the past couple of years or so, CommonWell developed service specifications for interoperability and deployed a national network for health data sharing. The group has also attracted nearly three dozen HIT companies as members, with capabilities extending well beyond EMRs.

And according to recently-appointed executive director Jitin Asnaani, CommonWell is poised to have more than 5,000 provider sites using its services across the U.S. That will include more than 1,200 of Cerner’s provider sites. Also, Greenway Health and McKesson provider sites should be able to share health data with other CommonWell participants.

While all of this sounds promising, it’s not as though we’ve seen a great leap in interoperability for most providers. This is probably why new interoperability-focused initiatives have emerged. Just last week, five major HIT players announced that they would be the first to implement the Carequality Interoperability Framework.

The five vendors include, notably, Epic, along with athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts. While the Carequality team might not be couching things this way, to me it seems likely that it intends to roll on past (if not over) the CommonWell effort.

Carequality is an initiative of The Sequoia Project, a DC-area non-profit. While it shares CommonWell’s general mission in fostering nationwide health information exchange, that’s where its similarities to CommonWell appear to end:

* Unlike CommonWell, which is almost entirely vendor-focused, Sequoia’s members also include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts.

* The Carequality Interoperability Framework includes not only technical specifications for achieving interoperability, but also legal and governance documents helping implementers set up data sharing in legally-appropriate ways between themselves and patients.

* The Framework is designed to allow providers, payers and other health organizations to integrate pre-existing connectivity efforts such as previously-implemented HIEs.

I don’t know whether the Carequality effort is complimentary to CommonWell or an attempt to eclipse it. It’s hard for me to tell whether the presence of a vendor on both membership lists (athenahealth) is an attempt to learn from both sides or a preparation for jumping ship. In other words, I’m not sure whether this is a “game changer,” as one health IT trade pub put it, or just more buzz around interoperability.

But if I were a betting woman, I’d stake hard, cold dollars that Carequality is destined to pick up the torch CommonWell lit. That being said, I do hope the two cooperate or even merge, as I’m sure the very smart people associated with these efforts can learn from each other. If they fight for mindshare, it’d be a major waste of time and talent.

HealthTap’s Integrated, Patient-Centered, Data-Rich Care

Posted on November 18, 2015 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://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.

Health reformers dream of integrated health delivery systems that leap across the barriers between providers, employers, insurers, and various supporting groups such as pharmacies and test labs. People who have investigated this goal realize that it can be achieved only by putting data in the hands of the patients. HealthTap recently announced a “health operating system” that suggests what this much-anticipated integration will look like.

In this article I’ll look at some of the building blocks HealthTap put in place, and then delve a bit into features of the health care landscape that support their work.

HealthTap has built an integrated health delivery system over a five-year period. They started with an audacious enough goal in its own right: signing up doctors to answer questions from the public. A couple dozen other capabilities were tacked on over time, such as ratings, various personalization features, and then checklists and a recommendation system for apps.

Doctor-to-doctor interaction is also built into HealthTap, echoing proposals in a 2012 book called #SOCIALQI. Doctors can check how peers handle cases similar to theirs, do online consultations, and carry out literal reviews online. Founder and CEO Ron Gutman describes the combined process as “virtual grand rounds.” And in a glowing endorsement by the medical establishment, HealthTap has won the right to grant CME to doctors for conducting these routine activities on its system.

Now the integrated impact of all these initiatives can be seen. Health care delivered through HealthTap might look something like this.

  1. An individual creates a HealthTap account directly with HealthTap, or in a private system that her clinic, hospital, or employer creates based on HealthTap. This brings the patient into the system, where information and other forms of communication take place. The provision of private environments run by single hospital or clinic is a recent innovation by HealthTap.

  2. The individual optionally adds information about personal data such as age, and conditions she is suffering from. HealthTap uses this to direct educational content at her, and to answer her questions in a personalized manner that is more informative than a typical web search. For instance, the query “Is aspirin good or bad for me?” would trigger answers that take the patient’s particular health information into account. HealthTap’s Personal Health Record (PHR) becomes the key component that links together the entire continuum of care.

  3. The patient can sign up for a reasonably-priced concierge service that allows her to request an online consultation with a doctor whenever she needs one. The doctor writes a SOAP note at the end of the consultation. He can also create a checklist of things to do (take medication every day, go to the gym, make a follow-up appointment in three months) and HealthTap will remind the patient to do these things in a way chosen by the patient to be convenient. HealthTap offers apps for both doctors and patients on all major mobile devices, including Apple Watch and Android Wear. Communications are HIPAA-compliant and have received SOC 2 Type II security certification, the highest level.

  4. A doctor can also order a lab test electronically. The patient can take the test and get results delivered directly and securely through HealthTap.

  5. All this information is stored in a record available to the patient. Therefore, data that used to be available only to institutions serving the patient (hospitals, insurers, labs, pharmacies), and was used only for marketing or improving service delivery, is now available to the patient.

  6. All the information ranging from patients’ online queries to test results become input into anonymized, aggregated sets that HealthTap gives health care providers. They can view dashboards of information about their patients, about people throughout their geographic area, about people with related conditions and demographics around the country, etc. Savvy institutions can use this data for value-based care and improving their outreach to at-risk patients.

Thus, a plethora of features that health care reformers are asking for appear in HealthTap, ranging from targeted educational materials to messages that promote compliance with treatment plans and even analytics. The service strives to make the experience as comfortable as possible for the patients, who have access to all their data.

The achievement of Ron Gutman, to whom I talked this week on the phone, and his crew is impressive. But we should also be aware that the technical infrastructure and features put in place by the health care industry play a crucial role. These include:

  • ePrescribing systems such as Surescripts, and electronic ordering for lab tests, along with coding standards to ensure the different parties can exchange messages

  • Electronic health records, which have become widespread only during the past five to six years since the start of Meaningful Use payments from the US government

  • Devices capable of secure messaging

  • Public health information provided by a number of government and private institutions

  • Analytics offered by a huge number of firms to health care providers

Thus, the health care ecosystem has been evolving for some time to create the possibility for an advance like HealthTap. Much more is needed throughout the healthcare system for instant communications and smooth data exchange. For instance, HealthTap hasn’t yet integrated fitness devices into its ecosystem. But HealthTap has built a huge service on existing system elements, which many more institutions could do so if we had a health care system as open and rich as exists in e-commerce.

Is Full Healthcare Data Interoperability A Pipe Dream?

Posted on July 11, 2014 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.

It’s always been very clear to me that healthcare interoperability is incredibly valuable. I still wish most organizations would just bite the bullet and make it a reality. Plus, I hope meaningful use stage 3 is blown up and would just work on interoperability. I think there are just so many potential benefits to healthcare in general for us not to do it.

However, I had a really interesting discussion with an EHR vendor today (Side Note: they questioned if interoperability was that valuable) and I asked him the question of whether full healthcare interoperability is even possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. As we discussed it more, it was clear that we could have full interoperability if the data was just exported to files (PDFs, images, etc), but that’s really just a glorified fax machine like we do today. Although it could potentially be a lot faster and better than fax. The problem is that the data is then stuck in these files and can’t be extracted into the receiving EHR vendor.

On the other end of the spectrum is full interoperability of every piece of EHR data being transferred to the receiving EHR. Is this even possible or is the data so complex that it’s never going to happen?

The closest we’ve come to this is probably prescriptions with something like SureScripts. You can pull down a patient’s prescription history and you can upload to it as well. A deeper dive into its challenges might be a great study to help us understand if full healthcare data interoeprability is possible. I’m sure many readers can share some insights.

I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts. Should we trim down our interoperability expectations to something more reasonable and achievable? We’ve started down that path with prescriptions and labs. Should we start with other areas like allergies, family history, diagnosis, etc as opposed to trying to do everything? My fear is that if our goal is full healthcare data interoperability, then we’re going to end up with no interoperability.

Use Of Surescripts E-Prescribing Up Dramatically

Posted on October 21, 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.

E-prescribing has become almost commonplace, if not universally used, among providers with EMRs during the last four years, a new study concludes. The study, which was published in The American Journal of Managed Care, was conducted by a team led by ONCHIT’s Meghan  H. Gabriel, PhD.

Researchers found that between 2008 and 2012, the total number of e-prescribers using Surescripts shot up from 7 percent (47,000 providers) to 54 percent (398,000), according to a report in EHR Intelligence.

As EHR Intelligence notes, these numbers didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Part of the reason e-prescribing has gained so much ground is that 94 percent of pharmacies are now able to accept e-prescriptions, up from 61 percent in December 2008.

It’s a good thing pharmacies are on board. E-prescribing must be in place  — specifically, certified EHR technology (CEHRT) — to meet one of the requirements of Stage 2 Meaningful Use. The requirement is that eligible providers need to transmit more than 50 percent of “all permissible prescriptions” via their CEHRT, EHR Intelligence points out, 10 percent higher than the Stage 1 requirement.

Side note: CMS seems happy with e-prescribing progress to date. According to the agency, more than 190 million electronic prescriptions had been sent by doctors, physician’s assistants and other healthcare  providers using EMRs. That 190 million is the cumulative total sent since the inception of the Meaningful Use program in 2011.

But from my way of looking at things, it isn’t completely kosher that e-prescribing by providers is barely over the half-way mark, despite representing considerable improvement over the years. While 54 percent is a nice round number, it still suggests that nearly half of providers are not equipped to achieve compliance with Meaningful Use Stage 2, an undesirable situation at best.

No, despite the improvement in e-prescribing uptake, to me the current stats actually look like a problem, not a win at this stage. The 46 percent of providers not online with e-prescribing had better get their act together.

A Report on ePrescribing Challenges

Posted on November 28, 2011 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.

From the Center for Studying Health System Change (hschange.com) comes a study on e-prescriptions, and how providers and pharmacies work together to electronically transmit and fulfill prescriptions. Now, I don’t know how reliable this organization or its research is (the .com in its name, for example, is something that bothers me. Also the report focuses almost exclusively on SureScripts). But the study is interesting to me for what it reveals statistically.

HSChange.com conducted 114 phone interviews with 24 physician practices, 48 community pharmacies, divided between local and national companies. The national respondents included 3 mail-order pharmacies, and 3 chain pharmacy headquarters. Those of you who are interested in the numbers, the methodology and other sundries, go ahead and read the report in its entirety. Here’s a quick summary from the report’s results the rest of us. My comments are bolded.

According to the report:
Two-thirds of the practices sent at least 70% of their prescriptions electronically. Which means about 46.2% of the prescriptions are e-prescribed. Plenty of room for growth, methinks.

Pharmacists at more than 50% of Community said their pharmacies received less than 15% of their prescriptions electronically. The reasons: providers didn’t transmit electronically, or sent out computer-generated prescriptions by fax or mail. Interesting – could be indicative of either lack of knowhow, or infrastructure that allows for e-transmission.
New prescriptions are more likely to be e-prescribed than prescription refills (renewals). The report states that many pharmacies don’t use this feature in order to avoid SureScripts fees for renewals.

There are plenty of inefficiencies. E.g. a) multiple requests for the same prescription were sent (say by phone, fax and through SureScripts) by pharmacies b) providers mistakenly deny prescriptions and then re-send the same prescription as a new one.

E-prescribing to mail order pharmacies is a different process – (apparently providers need to be Surescripts certified to e-prescribe with community pharmacies, and also need to be certified to e-prescribe to mail order pharmacies. So, even when a provider selects a mail order pharmacy to fulfill an e-prescription, the prescription is delivered by fax to the the mail order pharmacy by Surescripts.)
Prescription specificity falls on the provider – tablets, capsules, and liquid formulations might have different costs. Pharmacists can’t change the prescription from a capsule to a tablet on their own, without consulting with the prescribing provider. This might result in unexpected costs.
Providers’ patient instructions are still incomprehensible! Pharmacists often have to play translator (maybe because as the report alludes to, the instructions are intended for pharmacist eyes, not the patient.)

an independent pharmacist explained, ‘A lot of times we can’t copy the directions word for word because the patient doesn’t understand them, just like with paper prescriptions. We have to go in and erase ‘t.i.d.’ and put in, ‘One tablet three times a day’.’

 

Subsidiary Modules in Certified EHR Products

Posted on June 2, 2011 I Written By

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

Carl Bergman, from EHRSelector.com, sent me the following email which poses some interesting questions about various certified EHR vendors and the software that they depend on to be certified.

Many of the [certified EHR] products relied on several other software companies to function. Usually this was Dr. First’s Rocopia, Surescripts, etc. However, many others had required several subsidiary modules to work. For example, Pearl EMR lists: MS .NET Framework 3.5 Cryptographic Service Provider; SureScripts; BCA Lab Interface; Oracle TDE.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it raises three questions. Does the vendor include the price, if any, for subsidiary software? More importantly, how well integrated are these programs integrated into the main program? Does the vendor take responsibility if the subsidiary software changes making them incompatible?

He definitely asks some interesting questions. I’d say that in most cases, there will be little issues with the dependent software. Any changes by the dependent software are going to have to be dealt with or in some cases replaced by the EMR vendor. That will just be part of the EMR upgrade process that the EMR vendor does for you.

The only exception might be things like the third party ePrescribing software. Depending on how this is integrated it could be an issue. In most cases, integration with the ePrescribing software can be very much like an interface with a PMS system or even a lab interface. If you’ve had the (begin sarcasm) fun (end sarcasm) of dealing with these types of interfaces you know how it can be problematic and often a pain to manage. I believe the interface with an ePrescribing module is less problematic, but it will exhibit similar issues depending on how the EMR software works with the ePrescribing.

Personally, I don’t have much problem with these types of integrations. As long as the EMR vendor is providing all of the software for you. The reason this is important is because if you get the EMR software from one vendor and the ePrescribing software from another vendor and then tell them to work together, you’re just asking for a lot of finger pointing. However, if your EMR software chooses to integrate a third party software to flesh out the certified EMR requirements and provides you all of the software, then you’re in a much better position. As they say, then you only have one neck to ring if something goes wrong. You don’t want to have to call both vendors and have each vendor point the finger at the other. That’s a position that no one enjoys.

Another EMR on the iPad

Posted on November 9, 2010 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.

You know how I love to keep track of all the iPad EMR that are announced or marketed. Seems like the latest trend is to give the doctor a free iPad for selecting an iPad EMR. Not a bad strategy. Now if I could just get one of them to provide me a free iPad for reviewing their EMR *wink* *wink* but I digress.

I first read about this EMR that is available on the iPad on the Essinova site. This iPad EMR is being offered by Dr Chrono. Yes, another EMR vendor I’d never heard of before I saw this. Although, there site has them being on CNBC, Fox Business and The Wall Street Journal.

Dr Chrono’s approach is to provide a free iPad EMR app, but they take over the billing for you. Sounds a bit like Athena to me. They also say that they’re the only SureScripts certified ePrescribing app for the iPad. Maybe this was true when the video was made. I know that now there are others.

I guess maybe the next question is whether there’s an EMR vendor that won’t have something available on the iPad in the next 6 months.

EMR Market Share

Posted on October 6, 2010 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 the most popular questions I get asked (although far behind the Which EMR is Best? question) is what’s the EMR market share look like. The problem is that there really isn’t any great data out there for EMR market share. Plus, the numbers that EMR vendors give out just clouds up the conversation completely.

Here’s an example from an article about Allscripts completed merger with Eclipsys:

“What this merger heralds is the coming together of the health care system,” says Tullman. In other words, Allscripts now provides service to about 180,000 physicians (roughly 30% of all U.S. physicians), more than 1500 American hospitals (about 50% of U.S. hospitals with 200 beds or more) and over 10,000 post acute care facilities (more than 75% of U.S. facilities).

These numbers just make me laugh. The wrong assumption that people make is that when they say they provide services to 180,000 physicians that they mean their providing EMR services. After all, Allscripts has something like 7 different EMR software products, right? Too bad that assumption would be way off base.

I think it’s pretty clear that the Allscripts product that’s most widely used is SureScripts (ePrescribing). Take out the SureScripts users and I wonder how many physicians really use Allscripts products. The number would be DRAMATICALLY lower.

Of course, we could have easily known this if we just looked at the “30% of all U.S. physicians” quote. There aren’t even that many physicians using an EMR (let alone an Allscripts EMR). I’m sure similar things could be said about the hospital numbers listed above.

Yes, these numbers are just the “spin” that is so prevalent in marketing and PR. That is their job after all. Hard to complain too much about them doing their job.

One thing is certain. Trying to figure out EMR market share is pretty much impossible. Plus, the ones that are the loudest aren’t always the ones with the most market share. Remember that.