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Why Delaying the Transition to 2015 Edition Technology Would Be a Problem for Patients and Families – MACRA Monday

Posted on September 11, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Erin Mackay, Associate Director, Health Information Technology Policy and Programs, National Partnership for Women & Families.  This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

The National Partnership for Women & Families recently weighed in on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed rule for 2018 updates to the Quality Payment Program (QPP). In our comments, we express concerns that many of the proposed requirements would have a chilling effect on the country’s badly needed transition to a health care system that rewards quality and value over volume. Of particular concern to us is the proposed delay in clinicians’ transition to the 2015 Edition electronic health record (EHR) certification requirements.

Putting off requirements to use more advanced health IT would be a one-two punch to health transformation. First, new models of care that demand high-quality, efficient practices and coordinated care rely on robust health IT. Likewise, these new models only succeed when patients have the information – about their medications, health status, diagnoses and treatment received – they need to participate in their care and make informed decisions with their health care teams.

Here are three ways the proposed rule would delay critical functionalities that are foundational to a patient and family-centered health care system:

1) Delaying Availability of APIs for Consumer Access
It would undermine the commitment to patient engagement to delay the availability of application programming interfaces (APIs) as a way for patients and their caregivers to access, download and share health data. When available, APIs will let consumers choose from a range of apps that pull in health data from various health care providers and hospitals, helping form a comprehensive picture of their health and health care and facilitating information sharing. Gone will be the days when patients and family caregivers struggled to remember passwords for multiple patient portals, or were able to view only one aspect of their medical history at a time.

2) Slowing More Robust Collection of Demographic Data
To enhance health equity, we must first be able to identify disparities by gathering standardized, granular demographic data. Right now, certified EHRs are not designed to distinguish among Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese patients, for instance, instead collapsing these identities into a single “Asian” category. Similarly, EHRs cannot currently store structured information about patients’ sexual orientation or gender identity. In both these examples, this information has clinical relevance and is vital for improving health outcomes. For example, too often transgender individuals do not receive appropriate “gendered” preventive screenings such as Pap tests, mammograms and prostate exams.

3) Failing to Capture Information on Social Determinants of Health
In addition to better demographic information, to best support providers in delivering patient- and family-centered care, EHRs should also capture information about non-clinical factors pertinent to individuals’ health. The 2015 Edition includes a new criterion to capture relevant social, psychological and behavioral data. This includes information on financial resource strain, educational attainment, stress, depression, physical activity, alcohol use, social connection and isolation, and intimate partner violence. At the individual level, this information could help clinicians and care teams determine treatment options that address the unique needs of the patients and families they serve. To improve population health, clinicians, hospitals and community organizations need this information to identify communities that need additional support in order to get and stay healthy.

Conclusion
Overall, the proposed rule for QPP 2018 raises a number of concerns for the National Partnership, particularly the proposed delay of 2015 Edition certified health IT products. We strongly encourage CMS to maintain the current requirements and timeline for clinicians transitioning to the 2015 Edition to provide the necessary infrastructure for the kind of patient- and family-centered health system our country urgently needs.

Xerox Files Patents For Blockchain-Based Tech With Healthcare Applications

Posted on September 5, 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.

According to a site focused on blockchain technology, Xerox has filed patents for technology using blockchain to securely revise electronic documents. The patent application was filed in February of last year, but the move became news this month when it was reported by Coin Telegraph.

According to the site, the patent filings propose a network of nodes that can create and update documents and share data using blockchain technology. The system can be used by regional hospital organizations to exchange electronic health records, Xerox says in its application.

In a more-recent blog post, Xerox India’s director of global document outsourcing, Ritesh Gandotra, asserts that the use of blockchain can offer unique benefits.

“Historically, EHRs were never really designed to manage multi-institutional and lifetime medical records,” he writes. “…Adopting the blockchain structure to EHRs will help manage authentication, confidentiality, accountability and data sharing while allowing medical researchers to access insights into medical treatment.”

Xerox is hardly the first organization to take an interest in blockchain’s potential as a backbone for health data management. Not only that, but leaders in the industry are developing what look like practical models for using blockchain in this manner.

For example, my colleague John Lynn recently shared an infographic outlining a use case for blockchain in healthcare. You’ll probably learn more by clicking through and looking at the infographic yourself, but in summary, the model outlines a process in which:

  • Health organizations direct administrative information to the blockchain via APIs and track clinical data in parallel using existing health IT
  • The blockchain stores each transaction with a unique identifier
  • When they need information, healthcare organizations query the blockchain
  • Patients share their identity with healthcare organizations, using a private key that links their identity to blockchain data

Not only that, high-profile industry thinkers like John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, have developed their own models for the use of blockchain in healthcare. (In a Harvard Business Review article, Dr. Halamka describes a system for managing EHRs using blockchain which he and his co-authors call “MedRec.”)

What’s striking here is that while Xerox may have filed some patent applications, it probably doesn’t know anything we don’t. The applications it describes for blockchain in healthcare document management certainly sound fine, and may be the basis for something great in the future.

If you look around the web, however, you’ll see that virtually anyone with an interest in health IT is out there making predictions about its applications for healthcare. What will really be interesting is when we get beyond ideas — as intriguing as they can be — and pilot some real, concrete technology.

In the meantime, let the blockchain games continue. Obviously, Xerox won’t be the last company angling for a piece of this market. There’s little doubt it will come to something eventually, and the rewards will be great for the company that helps to shape its future.

Leveraging New Age Technology to Overcome MACRA Challenges – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 21, 2017 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.

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. David A. Goldman, CEO and founder, Goldman Eye and Ophthalmology Team Lead, Anterior Segment at Modernizing Medicine.  This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

MACRA and the Quality Payment Program (QPP) were implemented by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to improve healthcare by focusing on the quality of care provided to patients. There are two paths under the QPP: the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track which covers most clinicians, and the Advanced Alternate Payment Models (APMs) track which applies to providers who have taken on some risk related to patient outcomes (Medicare Shared Savings 2,3 and Next Gen ACO participants for example).

MACRA and MIPS are intended to advance quality based care by implementing outcome-based payment adjustments. Providers will be measured across a number of different performance categories and will be paid on a curve. By 2022, physicians who outperform their peers may receive up to a 9 percent positive payment adjustment on their Medicare reimbursements based on their performance in 2020. Those who report poor performance may receive up to a 9 percent negative payment adjustment on their Medicare reimbursements in 2022.

Specialtyspecific Measures & Bonus Points

As previously mentioned, if you perform better than your peers when it comes to MIPS, you can substantially increase your Medicare reimbursements. Conversely, reporting a score below the performance threshold could prevent you from receiving a positive payment adjustment on your Medicare reimbursements, and not reporting on MIPS could cause you to be penalized.

Some MIPS categories will be the same across all specialties such as Advancing Care Information and Improvement Activities, whereas others can be geared towards a specialty, like Quality. Quality accounts for 60 percent of your total MIPS score in 2017. As an Eligible Clinician (EC), you should select six measures, including one Outcome Measure or if an Outcome Measure is not available, a High Priority Measure. After your first Outcome or High Priority Measure, any additional ones you report will count towards your bonus points (up to six points). In addition, an EC can earn another six points by doing end-to-end reporting. More information on the measure specifications can be found here.

Under the Advancing Care Information (ACI) category, ECs have the option to earn 5 bonus points by being in active engagement with a specialized registry, which are typically specialty-specific. The third category of MIPS is called Improvement Activities (IAs) which has over 90 activities to choose from. ECs, regardless of specialty, can choose activities that apply to their practice size and way of practicing like expanded practice access and closing the referral loop. Depending on the IA selected, ECs can also earn a 10 point bonus under the ACI category.

How can we turn this change into an opportunity?

A major factor in succeeding in MIPS is the use of today’s latest technology. Innovative electronic health record (EHR) systems, which can collect and organize clinical data in a structured format, empower doctors to extract meaningful insights at the patient and population levels. Instead of relying on any one physician’s narrative assessment or unstructured data for a diagnosis or treatment, physicians who have access to an interoperable platform can reference relative findings from their peers while eliminating redundancies, automating communications and improving patient outcomes.

How Do You Track Your Performance

The answer is certainly not using pen and paper. Look for a certified EHR vendor that has technology which provides services and products that can track data in real time and provide analytics to show your progress and outcomes. You want MIPS intelligence directly built-in to your EHR system.

Modernizing Medicine offers a specialty-specific suite of products and services that gives physicians added support. modmed Ophthalmology™ helps ophthalmologists transition to MIPS by providing them with quality data and reporting capabilities with the products and services they provide. Included within the suite is the company’s flagship EHR system, EMA™. EMA provides functionality for automated quality data capture, population health registries, real patient engagement and analytical tools, plus the ability to submit MIPS right to CMS.

I have been utilizing EMA for the past few years and am also a team lead on Modernizing Medicine’s ophthalmology team. As a practicing ophthalmologist, I have gone through the process of spending countless hours documenting patient reporting following a long day in the office. Couple that with ensuring my compliance measures are in check – it adds up. Now, my measures are completed efficiently, accurately and securely, ready to be submitted to CMS at the end of my reporting period. I even led a webinar on the topic of MIPS, if you want to see it in action.

EHR System Checklist for MIPS

From my unique perspective of working for an EHR vendor and utilizing the certified technology in my practice, I’ve shared a few qualities to look for in an EHR to support your reporting needs:

  • 2014 / 2015 ONC Certified
  • Integrated MIPS intelligence
  • Built in Improvement Activities
  • Qualified MIPS Registry
  • Automated data capturing and reporting
  • Built-in, real-time analytics reporting for Quality, Resource Use, Advancing Care Information and Improvement Activities
  • A vendor with an all-in on solution, including the ability to submit MIPS right to CMS
  • Advisory services and consultation during MIPS transition and reporting

While there is much work to be done in terms of keeping up with and understanding today’s fast-paced healthcare landscape, one thing is for certain – the proper use of specialty-specific technology can help alleviate hours of extra work, stress and physician burnout. As noted above, there are certain aspects of MACRA that apply across all specialties, whereas others are specialty-specific and working with a vendor that can guide you along this MIPS journey can be crucial to your financial success.

David A. Goldman, M.D. is the Ophthalmology Team Lead, Anterior Segment at Modernizing Medicine and founder of Goldman Eye in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Amazon Attacking Health IT Opportunities

Posted on August 17, 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.

Getting a footing in the health IT industry is more challenging than it looks. After all, even tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google haven’t managed to take over despite their evident interest in the field.

Apparently, that hasn’t daunted Amazon. The retail giant has pulled together a secret team dedicated to exploring new healthcare technology opportunities, according to a CNBC report. And unlike other companies attacking the space from outside, Amazon has a history of sliding its way into unexpected markets successfully.

According to CNBC the new team, which is named 1492, is working to find an easier way to extract data from EMRs as well as push data into them. In doing so, Amazon is going up against a very wide field of competitors ranging from small startups to the healthcare arms of giant tech vendors and consulting firms.

What distinguishes Amazon’s approach from its competitors is that the online retailer hopes to aggregate that data and make it available to consumers and their doctors, sources told CNBC. The story doesn’t say whether Amazon plans to sell this data, and I don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t here, but my bet is that if it can, Amazon will pitch the data to pharmaceutical companies. And where there’s a will there’s a way.

In addition to looking at data management opportunities, 1492 members are scouting out ways of repurposing Amazon’s existing technology for use in healthcare. As another article notes, some healthcare organizations have already begun experimenting with delivering routine medical information and even coaching surgeons on safety protocols using Amazon voice-based assistant Alexa.  The new group, for its part, will be looking for healthcare applications for existing Amazon products like the Echo and Dash Wand.

The 1492 group is also preparing to build a telemedicine platform. Your first thought might be that the industry doesn’t need another telemedicine platform, and generally speaking, you would probably be right.  But if Amazon can get its healthcare IT bona fides in order, and manages to attract enough doctors to its platform, it could be in a strong position to market those services to consumers.

Make no mistake: We should take Amazon’s health IT effort seriously. At first glance, healthcare may seem like an odd arena for a company best known for selling frying pans and socks and discount beauty supplies. But Amazon has expanded its focus many times over the years and has typically done better than people expected. It may do so this time as well.

By the way, the retailer is apparently still hiring people for the 1492 initiative. I doubt it’s easy to find the hiring manager in question, but if I were you I’d inquire. These jobs could pose some interesting challenges.

ONC To Farm Out Certification Testing To Private Sector – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 14, 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

EHR certification has been a big part of the meaningful use program and is now part of MACRA as well. After several years of using health IT certification testing tools developed by government organizations, the ONC has announced plans to turn the development of these tools over to the private sector.

Since its inception, ONC has managed its health IT’s education program internally, developing automated tools designed to measure health IT can compliance with certification requirements in partnership with the CDC, CMS and NIST. However, in a new blog post, Office of Standards and Technology director Steven Posnack just announced that ONC would be transitioning development of these tools to private industry over the next five years.

In the post, Posnack said that farming out tool development would bring diversity to certification effort and help it perform optimally. “We have set a goal…to include as many industry-developed and maintained testing tools as possible in lieu of taxpayer financed testing tools,” Posnack wrote. “Achieving this goal will enable the Program to more efficiently focus its testing resources and better aligned with industry-developed testing tools.”

Readers, I don’t have any insider information on this, but I have to think this transition was spurred (or at least sped up) by the eClinicalWorks certification debacle.  As we reported earlier this year, eCW settled a whistleblower lawsuit for $155 million a few months ago;  in the suit, the federal government asserted that the vendor had gotten its EHR certified by faking its capabilities. Of course the potential cuts to ONC’s budget could have spurred this as well.

I have no reason to believe that eCW was able to beat the system because ONC’s certification testing tools were inadequate. As we all know, any tool can be tricked if you throw the right people at the problem. On the other hand, it can’t hurt to turn tool development over to the private sector. Of course, I’m not suggesting that government coders are less skilled than private industry folks (and after all, lots of government technology work is done by private contractors), but perhaps the rhythms of private industry are better suited to this task.

It’s worth noting that this change is not just cosmetic. Poznack notes that with private industry at the helm, vendors may need to enter into new business arrangements and assume new fees depending on who has invested in the testing tools, what it costs to administer them and how the tools are used.

However, I’d be surprised if private sector companies that develop certification arrangements will stay tremendously far from the existing model. Health IT vendors may want to get their products certified, but they’re likely to push back hard if private companies jack up the price for being evaluated or create business structures that don’t work.

Honestly, I’d like to see the ONC stay on this path. I think it works best as a sort of think tank focused on finding best practices health IT companies across government and private industry, rather than sweating the smaller stuff as it has in recent times. Otherwise, it’s going to stay bogged down in detail and lose whatever thought leadership position it may have.

Before Investing In Health IT, Fix Your Processes

Posted on August 2, 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, my colleague John Lynn conducted a video interview with healthcare consultant and “recovering CIO” Drex DeFord (@drexdeford) on patient engagement and care coordination. During the interview, DeFord made a very interesting observation: “When you finally have a process leaned out to the point where [tech] can make fewer mistakes than a human, that’s the time to make big technology investments.”

This makes a lot of sense. If a process is refined enough, even a robot may be able to maintain it, but if it remains fuzzy or arbitrary that’s far less likely. And by extension, we shouldn’t automate processes until they’re clearly defined and efficient.

Honestly, as I see it this is just common sense. If the way things are done doesn’t work well, who wants to embed them in their IT infrastructure? Doing so is arguably worse than keeping a manual process in place. It may be simpler — though not easy — to change how people work than to rewrite complicated enterprise software then shift human routines.

Meanwhile, if you do rush ahead without refining your processes, you could be building dangerously flawed care into the system. Patients could suffer needless harm or even die. In fact, I can envision a situation in which a provider gets sued because their technology rollout perpetuated existing care management problems.

Unfortunately, CIOs have powerful incentives to roll ahead with their technology implementation plans whether they’ve optimized care processes or not.

Sometimes, they’re trying to satisfy CEOs pushing to get systems in gear no matter what. They can’t afford to alienate someone who could refuse to greenlight their plans for future investments, so they cross their fingers and plunge ahead. Other times, they might not be aware of serious care delivery problems and see no reason to let their implementation deadlines slip. Or perhaps they believe that they will be able to fix workflow problems during after the rollout. But if they thought they could act first and deal with workflow later, they may get a nasty surprise later.

Of course, the ultimate solution is for providers to invest in more flexible enterprise systems which support process improvements (including across mobile devices). To date, however, few big health IT platforms have strayed much from decades-old computing models that make change expensive and time-consuming. Such systems may be durable, but updating them to meet user needs is no picnic.

Eventually, you’ll be able to adjust health IT workflows without dispatching an army of developers. In the meantime, though, providers should anything they can to perfect processes, especially those related to care delivery, before they’re fixed in place by technology rollouts. Doing so may be a bit disruptive, but it’s the kind of disruption that helps rather than hurts.

Is The ONC Still Relevant?

Posted on July 18, 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.

Today, I read an article in Healthcare IT News reporting on the latest word from the ONC. Apparently, during a recent press call, National Coordinator Donald Rucker, MD, gave an update on agency activities without sharing a single new idea.

Now, if I were the head of the ONC, I might do the same. I’m sure it played well with the wire services and daily newspapers reporters, most of whom don’t dig in to tech issues like interoperability too deeply.

But if I were wiseacre health IT blogger (and I am, of course) I’d react a bit differently. By which I mean that I would wonder aloud, very seriously, if the ONC is even relevant anymore. To be fair, I can’t judge the agency’s current efforts by what it said at a press conference, but I’m not going to ignore what was said, either.

According to HIN, the ONC sees developing a clear definition of interoperability, improving EMR usability and getting a better understanding of information blocking as key objectives.

To address some of these issues, Dr. Rucker apparently suggested that using open APIs, notably RESTful APIs like JSON, would be important to future EMR interoperability efforts. Reportedly, he’s also impressed with the FHIR standard, because it’s a modern API and because large vendors have very get some work with the SMART project.

To put it kindly, I doubt any of this was news to the health IT press.

Now, I’m not saying that Dr. Rucker got anything wrong, exactly. It’s hard to argue that we’re far behind when it comes to EMR usability, embarrassingly so. In fact, if we address that issue many of EMR-related efforts aren’t worth much. That being said, much of the rest strikes me as, well, lacking originality and/or substance.

Addressing interoperability by using open APIs? I’m pretty sure someone the health IT business has thought that through before. If Dr. Rucker knows this, why would he present this as a novel idea (as seems to be the case)? And if he doesn’t, is the agency really that far behind the curve?

Establishing full interoperability with FHIR? Maybe, someday. But at least as of a year ago, FHIR product director Grahame Grieve argued that people are “[making] wildly inflated claims about what is possible, [willfully] misunderstanding the limits of the technology and evangelizing the technology for all sorts of ill-judged applications.”  If Grieve thinks people are exaggerating FHIR’s capabilities, does ONC bring anything useful to the table by endorsing it?

Understanding information blocking?  Well, perhaps, but I think we already know what’s going on. At its core, this is a straightforward business use: EMR vendors and many of their customers have an incentive to make health data sharing tough. Until they have a stronger incentive share data, they won’t play ball voluntarily. And studying a much-studied problem probably won’t help things much.

To be clear, I’m relying on HIN as a source of facts here. Also, I realize that Dr. Rucker may have been simplifying things in an effort to address a general audience.

But if my overall impression is right, the news from this press conference isn’t encouraging. I would have hoped that by 2017, ONC would be advancing the ball further, and telling us something we truly didn’t know already. If it’s not sharing new ideas by this point, what good can it do? Maybe that’s why the rumors of HHS budget cuts could hit ONC really hard.

Did Meaningful Use Really Turn EMRs Into A Commodity?

Posted on July 12, 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.

Not long ago, I had a nice email exchange with a sales manager with one of the top ambulatory EMR vendors.  He had written to comment on “The EMR Vendor’s Dilemma,” a piece I wrote about the difficult choices such vendors face in staying just slightly ahead of the market.

In our correspondence, he argued that Meaningful Use (MU) had led customers to see EMRs as commodities. I think he meant that MU sucked the innovation out of EMR development.

After reflecting on his comments, I realized that I didn’t quite agree that EMRs had become a commodity item. Though the MU program obviously relied on the use of commoditized, certified EMR technology, I’d argue that the industry has simply grown around that obstacle.

If anything, I’d argue that MU has actually sparked greater innovation in EMR development. Follow me for a minute here.

Consider the early stages of the EMR market. At the outset, say, in the 50s, there were a few innovators who figured out that medical processes could be automated, and built out versions of their ideas. However, there was essentially no market for such systems, so those who developed them had no incentive to keep reinventing them.

Over time, a few select healthcare providers developed platforms which had the general outline EMRs would later have, and vendors like Epic began selling packaged EMR systems. These emerging systems began to leverage powerful databases and connect with increasingly powerful front-end systems available to clinicians. The design for overall EMR architecture was still up for grabs, but some consensus was building on what its core was.

Eventually, the feds decided that it was time for mass EMR adoption, the Meaningful Use program came along. MU certification set some baselines standards for EMR vendors, leaving little practical debate as to what an EMR’s working parts were. Sure, at least at first, these requirements bled a lot of experimentation out of the market, and certainly discouraged wide-ranging innovation to a degree. But it also set the stage for an explosion of ideas.

Because the truth is, having a dull, standardized baseline that defines a product can be liberating. Having a basic outline to work with frees up energy and resources for use in innovating at the edges. Who wants to keep figuring out what the product is? There’s far more upside in, say, creating modules that help providers tackle their unique problems.

In other words, while commoditization solves one (less interesting) set of problems, it also lets vendors focus on the high-level solutions that arguably have the most potential to help providers.

That’s certainly been the case when an industry agrees on a technology specification set such as, say, the 802.11 and 802.11x standards for wireless LANs. I doubt Wi-Fi tech would be ubiquitous today if the IEEE hadn’t codified these standards. Yes, working from technical specs is different than building complex systems to meet multi-layered requirements, but I’d argue that the principle still stands.

All told, I think the feds did EMR vendors a favor when they created Meaningful Use EMR certification standards. I doubt the vendors could have found common ground any other way.

The EMR Vendor’s Dilemma

Posted on June 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.

Yesterday, I had a great conversation with an executive at one of the leading EMR vendors. During our conversation, she stressed that her company was focused on the future – not on shoring up its existing infrastructure, but rather, rebuilding its code into something “transformational.”

In describing her company’s next steps, she touched on many familiar bases, including population health, patient registries and mobile- first deployment to support clinicians. She told me that after several years of development, she felt her company was truly ready to take on operational challenges like delivering value-based care and conducting disease surveillance.

All that being said – with all due respect to the gracious exec with whom I spoke – I wouldn’t want to be a vendor trying to be transformed at the moment. As I see it, vendors who want to keep up with current EMR trends are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, such vendors need to support providers’ evolving health IT needs, which are changing rapidly as new models of care delivery are emerging. Not only do they need to provide the powerhouse infrastructure necessary to handle and route massive floods of data, they also need to help their customers reach and engage consumers in new ways.

To do so, however, they need to shoot at moving targets, or they won’t meet provider demand. Providers may not be sure what shape certain processes will take, but they still expect EMR vendors to keep up with their needs nonetheless. And that can certainly be tricky these days.

For example, while everybody is talking about population health management, as far as I know we still haven’t adopted a widely-accepted model for adopting it. Sure, people are arriving at many of the same conclusions about pop health, but their approach to rolling it out varies widely.  And that makes things very tough for vendors to create pop health technology.

And what about patient engagement solutions? At present, the tools providers use to engage patients with their care are all over the map, from portals to mobile apps to back-end systems using predictive analytics. Synchronizing and storing the data generated by these solutions is challenging enough. Figuring out what configuration of options actually produces results is even harder, and nobody, including the savviest EMR vendors, can be sure what the consensus model will be in the future.

Look, I’m aware that virtually all software vendors face this problem. It’s difficult as heck to decide when to lead the industry you serve and when to let the industry lead you. Straddling these two approaches successfully is what separates the men from the boys — or the girls from the women — and dictates who the winners and losers are in any technology market.

But arguably, health IT vendors face a particularly difficult challenge when it comes to keeping up with the times. There’s certainly few industries are in a greater state of flux, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It will take some very fancy footwork to dance gracefully with providers. Within a few years, we’ll look back and know vendors adapted just enough.

Dogged By Privacy Concerns, Consumers Wonder If Using HIT Is Worthwhile

Posted on May 17, 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.

I just came across a survey suggesting that while we in the health IT world see a world of possibilities in emerging technologies, consumers aren’t so sure. The researchers found that consumers question the value of many tech platforms popular with health execs, apparently because they don’t trust providers to keep their personal health data secure.

The study, which was conducted between September and December 2016, was done by technology research firm Black Book. To conduct the survey, Black Book reached out to 12,090 adult consumers across the United States.

The topline conclusion from the study was that 57 percent of consumers who had been exposed to HIT through physicians, hospitals or ancillary providers doubted its benefits. Their concerns extended not only to EHRs, but also to many commonly-deployed solutions such as patient portals and mobile apps. The survey also concluded that 70 percent of Americans distrusted HIT, up sharply from just 10 percent in 2014.

Black Book researchers tied consumers’ skepticism to their very substantial  privacy concerns. Survey data indicated that 87 percent of respondents weren’t willing to divulge all of their personal health data, even if it improved their care.

Some categories of health information were especially sensitive for consumers. Ninety-nine percent were worried about providers sharing their mental health data with anyone but payers, 90 percent didn’t want their prescription data shared and 81 percent didn’t want information on their chronic conditions shared.

And their data security worries go beyond clinical data. A full 93 percent responding said they were concerned about the security of their personal financial information, particularly as banking and credit card data are increasingly shared among providers.

As a result, at least some consumers said they weren’t disclosing all of their health information. Also, 69 percent of patients admitted that they were holding back information from their current primary care physicians because they doubted the PCPs knew enough about technology to protect patient data effectively.

One of the reason patients are so protective of their data is because many don’t understand health IT, the survey suggested. For example, Black Book found that 92 percent of nurse leaders in hospital under 200 beds said they had no time during the discharge process to improve patient tech literacy. (In contrast, only 55 percent of nurse leaders working in large hospitals had this complaint, one of the few bright spots in Black Book’s data.)

When it comes to tech training, medical practices aren’t much help either. A whopping 96 percent of patients said that physicians and staff didn’t do a good job of explaining how to use the patient portal. About 40 percent of patients tried to use their medical practice’s portal, but 83 percent said they had trouble using it when they were at home.

All that being said, consumers seemed to feel much differently about data they generate on their own. In fact, 91 percent of consumers with wearables reported that they’d like to see their physician practice’s medical record system store any health data they request. In fact, 91 percent of patients who feel that their apps and devices were important to improving their health were disappointed when providers wouldn’t store their personal data.