Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

Competition Heating Up For AI-Based Disease Management Players

Posted on May 21, 2018 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.

Working in collaboration with a company offering personal electrocardiograms to consumers, researchers with the Mayo Clinic have developed a technology that detects a dangerous heart arrhythmia. In so doing, the two are joining the race to improve disease management using AI technology, a contest which should pay the winner off handsomely.

At the recent Heart Rhythm Scientific Sessions conference, Mayo and vendor AliveCor shared research showing that by augmenting AI with deep neural networks, they can successfully identify patients with congenital Long QT Syndrome even if their ECG is normal. The results were accomplished by applying AI from lead one of a 12-lead ECG.

While Mayo needs no introduction, AliveCor might. While it started out selling a heart rhythm product available to consumers, AliveCor describes itself as an AI company. Its products include KardiaMobile and KardiaBand, which are designed to detect atrial fibrillation and normal sinus rhythms on the spot.

In their statement, the partners noted that as many as 50% of patients with genetically-confirmed LQTS have a normal QT interval on standard ECG. It’s important to recognize underlying LQTS, as such patients are at increased risk of arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. They also note that that the inherited form affects 160,000 people in the US and causes 3,000 to 4,000 sudden deaths in children and young adults every year. So obviously, if this technology works as promised, it could be a big deal.

Aside from its medical value, what’s interesting about this announcement is that Mayo and AliveCor’s efforts seem to be part of a growing trend. For example, the FDA recently approved a product known as IDx-DR, the first AI technology capable of independently detecting diabetic retinopathy. The software can make basic recommendations without any physician involvement, which sounds pretty neat.

Before approving the software, the FDA reviewed data from parent company IDx, which performed a clinical study of 900 patients with diabetes across 10 primary care sites. The software accurately identified the presence of diabetic retinopathy 87.4% of the time and correctly identified those without the disease 89.5% of the time. I imagine an experienced ophthalmologist could beat that performance, but even virtuosos can’t get much higher than 90%.

And I shouldn’t forget the 1,000-ton presence of Google, which according to analyst firm CBInsights is making big bets that the future of healthcare will be structured data and AI. Among other things, Google is focusing on disease detection, including projects targeting diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, among other conditions. (The research firm notes that Google has actually started a limited commercial rollout of its diabetes management program.)

I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff fascinating. Still, the AI future is still fuzzy. Clearly, it may do some great things for healthcare, but even Google is still the experimental stage. Don’t worry, though. If you’re following AI developments in healthcare you’ll have something new to read every day.

Nurse Satisfaction With EHRs Rises Dramatically, But Problems Remain

Posted on May 18, 2018 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.

In the past, nurses despised EHRs as much as doctors did – perhaps even more. In fact, in mid-2014, 92% of nurses surveyed weren’t satisfied with the EHR they used, according to a study by Black Book Research. But things have changed a lot since then, Black Book says. The following data is focused largely on hospital-based nursing, but I think many of these data points are relevant to medical practices too.

Despite their previous antipathy to EHR’s, as of Q2 2018, 96% of nurses told Black Book that they wouldn’t want to go back to using paper records. That score is up 24% since 2016, the research firm reports.

Part of the reason the nurses are happier is that they feel they’re getting the technical support they need. Eighty-eight percent of responding nurses said that their IT departments and administrators were responding quickly when they asked for EHR changes, as compared with 30% in 2016.

On the other hand, the study also noted that when hospitals outsource the EHR helpdesk, nurses don’t always like the experience. Twenty-one percent said their experience with the EHR’s call center didn’t meet their expectations for communication skills and product knowledge. On the other hand, that’s a huge improvement from 88% in 2016.

Not only that, RNs are eager to improve their EHR skillsets. Most nurses are now glad that they are skilled at using at least one EHR, and 65% believe that persons who are skilled at working with multiple systems are seen as highly-desirable job candidates by health systems.

Providers’ choice of EHR can be an advantage for some in attracting top dressing talented. Apparently, RNs are beginning to choose job openings for the EHR product and vendor the provider uses as an indication of how the working environment may be than the provider itself. Eighty percent of job-seeking RNs reported that the reputation of the hospital’s EHR system is one of the top three considerations impacting where they choose to work.

That being said, there are still some IT issues that concern nurses. Eighty-two percent of nurses in inpatient facilities said they don’t have computers in each room or handheld/mobile devices they can use to access the EHR. That number is down from 93% in 2016, but still high.

These statistics should be of great interest to both hospitals and physicians. Obviously, hospitals have an institutional interest in knowing how nurses feel about their EHR platform and how they supported. Meanwhile, while most average size practices don’t address the same IT issues faced by hospitals, it benefits them to know what their nurses are looking for in a system. There’s much to think about here.

The Bad and the Ugly of Prior Authorization and How Technology Will Fix It

Posted on May 16, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Karen Tirozzi, VP of Solutions, ZappRx.

Specialty drugs, which are usually defined by their complex instructions, special handling requirements or delivery mechanisms, are typically priced much higher than traditional drugs and cost more than the average American family’s salary. These medications are priced higher for a variety of reasons such as manufacturing costs, smaller patient populations and patient services like IV administration or at-home care required to support patients who will take these medicines.

Due to the costly nature of these treatments, payers insist on a comprehensive prior authorization (PA) process to ensure qualified patients are receiving the medications they need. The PA process involves cumbersome paperwork and fax machines and are a huge burden to physician’s and their staff. Physicians have even resorted to hiring extra, dedicated staff just to process these prescriptions as nurses, NP’s, PA’s and medical assistants tend to fall victim to the prior authorization nightmare. According to a recent study, it is estimated that $85,276 was spent on personnel costs to address billing and insurance issues associated with prior authorization, which is approximately 10 percent of practice revenue.

To put just how inefficient the PA process into perspective, a recent AMA survey of 1,000 physicians providing 20 or more hours of care a week, showed that doctors receive an average of 37 PA requests a week, which took an average of 16.4 hours to process. Extrapolate 16.4 hours a week over a year and clinicians are spending around 41% of their time annually doing paperwork, making calls and or sending faxes just to navigate PA and get medications to their patients. It includes enrollment forms and signatures from the patient, which can be done while the patient is in the office, however, it’s often done through mail, which slows down the process even more. Providers also have trouble ensuring they have the right forms for the insurer’s preferred specialty pharmacy, as sending to the wrong pharmacy also causes delays. Providers are tangled in faxes and phone calls for weeks on end so that all parties have all the information they need to approve just one prescription. In 2018, how is it that the medical community still heavily relies on fax machines to process information and deliver life-saving drugs to patients.

A Brighter Future

Digitizing the entire prior authorization process will significantly reduce the administrative burden on clinicians and get patients their medications in a much more streamlined manner. Healthcare providers should be able to, in one place, order a specialty prescription, see the paperwork and signatures needed and follow its progress until it reaches the patient’s hands. The healthcare industry needs to start utilizing the technology available today to streamline workflows and decrease operational expenses, which in turn, can help save patients’ lives.

By embracing technology, clinicians can also leverage the rich data sets generated to better understand their patients’ needs, trends within the space they’re treating and ultimately, improve patient care. Data can also be used by pharmacies to understand how their medications are trending within the market and catch any snags that may cause delays. The potential for pharma companies to use this level of information to provide insights and improve products in real-time is invaluable.

Let’s take the next step

Inherently risk adverse and with siloed stakeholders, healthcare must begin taking steps toward change. With what the space has at its disposal from a next-generation technology standpoint, there is no excuse to remain chained to the fax machine.

The good news? Providers, pharmacists and biopharma have options to improve this cumbersome process today. Forward thinking innovators are beginning to break down silos and uncover new methods with technology to streamline the prior authorization process and get patients their specialty medications in days, not weeks.

About Karen Tirozzi
ZappRx Vice President, Solutions, Karen Tirozzi, leads a fast growing team that is focused on transforming the specialty pharmaceutical prescribing process. With a focus on client success, Karen and her team are innovating technologies to automate traditionally manual and cumbersome processes in an effort to save clinicians time and resources, and deliver lifesaving drugs to patients in a timely manner.  Having spent more than 15 years in the industry, Karen’s unique background in HIT and clinical social work serve as the basis for her ability to deliver successful programs in highly disruptive healthcare services and IT companies.

How Will CMS Handle Issues Surrounding MACRA Changes?

Posted on May 14, 2018 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.

As most readers will know, when CMS released details on MIPS and the Alternative Payment Model incentives it embarked on a new direction for quality programs generally. As most readers will know, MIPS consolidated PQRS, the Physician Value-based Modifier and the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for EPs (Meaningful Use). But CMS is still updating the Medicaid incentive program.

If I were a physician, I’d be even more interested in the CMS initiative dubbed Promoting Interoperability. In some of the biggest news to come out of the agency in ages, CMS is restructuring the EHR Incentive Programs to become the Promoting Interoperability Programs. Promoting Interoperability replaces the Advancing Care Information category of MIPS.

Whoa. That would be a big enough deal on its own, but the issues the rule raises are an even bigger one.

CMS’s has been working towards this goal for a few years. Per HIMSS, here are some changes suggested in the proposed rule that might have the biggest impact on the health IT world:

  • The rule would cut down measures from 16 to six
  • It would use a new performance-based scoring methodology which would include measures of performance on e-prescribing, health information exchange, provider to patient exchange and public health and clinical data exchange
  • The agency will define and work to prevent “information blocking”

On a related note, CMS has posted a request for information asking for stakeholder feedback on program participation conditions. This is pretty unusual for the agency.

Like many CMS proposals, this one leaves some important questions open. (Apparently, CMS itself wonders how this thing will work, as the request for information suggests.)

For example, the new performance-based scoring method will award providers anywhere from 0 to 100 points. Measuring health IT performance is always a tricky thing to do, and there’s little doubt that if this becomes a final rule, both providers and CMS will have to go through some struggles before they perfect this approach. In the meantime, providers face some big challenges. How will they adapt to them? Its too soon to say.

Addressing so-called “information blocking” should be an even bigger challenge. Everyone from members of Congress to providers to vendors acts as though there’s one way to describe this practice, but there’s still a lot of wiggle room. Honestly, I’ll be amazed if CMS manages to pin it down the first time around.

Still, the time is more than overdue for CMS to take on interoperability directly. Without real data interoperability, many promising digital health schemes will collapse under their own weight. If CMS can figure out how to make it happen, it will be pretty neat.

Doc Vader on Integrative Medicine – Fun Friday

Posted on May 11, 2018 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.

Time again for another Fun Friday entry as we head into the weekend. This week we tapped into the most comedic doctor out there, ZDoggMD. Well, I guess it’s actually his alter ego Doc Vader, but you get the idea (and if you don’t get the idea, you should find ZDoggMD’s parody videos and watch them).

For this week’s Fun Friday video check out this video with Doc Vader talking about Integrative Medicine (not to be confused with integrated medicine or collaborative medicine with your doctor):

How to Improve Communication So You Can Improve Satisfaction

Posted on May 9, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

In attempts to boost revenue, practices often find themselves mired in the complex tasks of generating marketing, improving scheduling, reducing inefficiencies, and more. And while these practice management pieces are important, sometimes we make things more complicated than they really need to be. When it comes down to it, the foundation of a financially-healthy practice is simple—keeping your patients happy.

Happy patients are the patients that show up—and come back. They’re the patients that refer you to their friends. They are the ones who leave those all-important online reviews. They truly are the bread and butter of your practice’s bottom line. Research backs this up—multiple studies have found a direct correlation between revenue and patient satisfaction. In fact, one study found that those healthcare practices delivering a “superior” customer experience achieve 50 percent higher net margins than those providing just an “average” customer experience.

Use Surveys to Uncover Problems

Obviously, creating a happy patient base is key to a successful practice. But how do you know if your patients are happy? Well, you ask them—in person, in focus groups, and online. The most effective way to gather this data, however, is through surveys. Surveys are an easy and efficient way to find out where you may be falling short.

And since a study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that 96 percent of all patient complaints are related to customer service rather than care or expertise, every person in your practice can be involved in making improvements.

Some of the most common complaints of patients include:

  • Excessive waiting times
  • Inadequate communication
  • Disorganized operations

Last month, I discussed the importance of reducing excessive wait times. You can read that article here. In this post, we will be exploring how to avoid those communication problems that lead to low patient satisfaction.

There are two main areas where communication tends to break down within a practice—between staff members and between the practice and the patient. How can you improve?

Communication within the Office

From the front desk to nurses to doctors and even to the billing department, it is critical that everyone within the practice works as a team to support your patients. Failure to do so leads to errors, confusion, and unhappy patients. Unfortunately, experts estimate that problems take place in 30 percent of all intra-team healthcare communication. There are some ways you can combat poor intra-office communication.

  1. Daily team huddles. A daily huddle meeting is not a full staff meeting. It is a quick (10-15 minute maximum) meeting where each member of your team gives a status report. It’s a great way to align your team and know what to expect that day. Do you know an incoming patient is celebrating a birthday? Just graduated? Do you have holes in your schedule? All of these types of issues can be addressed during a quick huddle.
  2. Escalation processes. While critical care specialties have an acute need for escalation processes, every practice can improve their communication by implementing a designated process for difficult or complex situations. Decide which situations in your individual practice may warrant extra care. Lay out a plan for handling and monitoring these situations. Include the way you refer patients to other offices and communication between practices as part of this process.
  3. Use of a standardized communication tool. While your daily huddle is a great way to get everyone together each day, it is also important to have ways to communicate in real time as new issues arise. Healthcare is definitely a dynamic environment—constantly changing throughout the day. The best way to make sure everyone stays on the same page during the busy day is through the use of an instant messaging app to make communication accessible at all times.

Communication Between Provider and Patient

The vast majority of providers work hard to communicate with patients. But the sad truth remains—patients struggle to remember your instructions. One study showed that patients only recalled 40 percent of the information they were given. Even worse, around half of what they did remember was actually remembered wrong. This means that the way information is conveyed to patients is just as important as the actual information communicated. There are a few tips to improving your communication with patients.

  1. Use open-ended questions. When speaking with a patient, make sure to ask questions that leave room for patients to expound on their thoughts. Yes or no questions often leave many things undiscussed.
  2. Read non-verbal cues. Much of the communication that takes place between a patient and their provider occurs through nonverbal communication. So pay close attention to the patient’s face and their body language. After explaining something to your patient, do they look confused? Are they worried? If so, there is a good chance they will not follow your instructions. Follow up based on the body language of each patient.
  3. Use the teach-back method. One of the best ways to ensure your patients have a good grasp of the things you’ve taught them is to ask them to teach you. This may take an extra few minutes, but can have a lasting impact on patient outcomes (and satisfaction!).
  4. Continue communication between visits. Communication does not end when a patient leaves the office. Continue sending educational tips and encouragement through regular newsletters, social media, and email.

Communication is one of (if not THE) most important component of the patient-provider relationship. It is also the cornerstone of the financial success of every practice. Effective communication helps practices and patients better understand each other and develop a closer bond. It makes for not just healthy—but happy—patients.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.

Meaningful Use Becomes Advancing Care Information Becomes Promoting Interoperability – MACRA Monday

Posted on May 7, 2018 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.

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.

I’m quite sure you’ve all seen the news coming out from CMS about the name change for the various Medicare EHR Incentive and MACRA programs. I decided to not dive into it in depth here since so many organizations are already doing it. Plus, this is just the proposed rule. However, if you want some light reading, here’s all 1883 pages of the Promoting Interoperability proposed rule.

The name change of Meaningful Use/Advancing Care Information to Promoting Interoperability is an interesting way for CMS to signal what they want these programs to accomplish. It’s always been clear that ONC has wanted to find a way to promote interoperability. Now they literally have a program that will work to drive that goal.

I’ll admit that I’ve been a fan of this idea since May 15, 2014 when I suggested that ONC and CMS blow up meaningful use and just focus it on interoperability. It only took 4 years for them to figure this out.

While I still think this is directionally an interesting way to go, I’m afraid that the current programs aren’t a big enough incentive for CMS to really move the needle on interoperability. Plus, can CMS really create a rule that would push effect interoperability? I’m skeptical on both counts.

What’s interesting is that CMS could really push interoperability if it wanted. It could just say, if you want to get paid for Medicare, then you have to start sharing data. No doubt there are some complexities to this idea, but if CMS is really serious about promoting interoperability, that’s what they’d really do. That would move the needle much better than thousands of pages of rule making that won’t cause doctors and healthcare organizations to change.

What are your thoughts on the proposed rule? Were there big pieces of it that you saw and you think others should be watching? Are these changes going to relieve doctors of the massive reporting burden they should today? Please share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter with @HealthcareScene

Giving Patients Test Results: Is It A Good Idea?

Posted on May 2, 2018 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.

These days, the conventional wisdom is that sharing health data with patients increases their engagement, which then improves their health.  And certainly, that may well be the case. I can tell you that when one of my doctors refused to share lab data until he reviewed it, I chewed his practice manager out. (Not very nice, I realized later.)

Still, I was intrigued by a story in the Washington Post challenging the idea that sharing test results is always a good idea. The story argues that in some cases, sharing data with patients lead to confusion and fear, largely because the patient usually gets no guidance on what the results mean. They may not be prepared to receive this information, and if they can’t reach their doctor, they might panic.

According to a source quoted in the Post, virtually no one knows what the actual benefits and risks are associated with releasing test results. “There is just not enough information about how it should be done right,” said Hardeep Singh, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine who studies patients’ experiences in receiving test results from portals. “There are unintended consequences for not thinking it through.”

Despite these concerns, some healthcare providers have decided to release most test results, gambling that this will pay off over the long-term. One such provider is Geisinger Health System. Geisinger releases test results twice a day, four hours after the data is published through a portal. ‘The majority [of patients] want early access to the results, and they don’t want to be impeded,” said Ben Hohmuth, Geisinger’s associate chief medical informatics officer at Geisinger.

Geisinger’s bet may help it avoid needless patient harm. According to a study appearing in JAMA, between 8% and 26% of abnormal test results – including potential malignancies – aren’t followed up on in a timely matter. Giving them this data allows them to react quickly to abnormal test results and advocate for themselves.

It also seems that the Washington Post didn’t take the time to get to know CT Lin, CMIO at University of Colorado Health. He’s done extensive research into providing electronic access to results and other health data. His results are clear and cover the idea that releasing some results is harmful. There are a few results that are good to keep until the provider has talked to the patient. However, he found across a wide range of examples that releasing the results doesn’t cause any of the damages that many imagine in their minds.

Maybe its time for providers to begin studying patient responses to test result access even more. We’re not talking rocket science here. You could start with an informal survey of patients visiting one of your primary care clinics, asking them whether they use your portal and which features they consider most valuable.

If patients don’t rate access to test results highly, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother making them available.  It could be that at the moment, your test results aren’t displayed in a useful manner, or that the patients you talk with dislike the portal overall. We can work to learn this as well rather than imagining some scenario that could go bad. That’s easy in healthcare.

Regardless, the evidence suggests that at least some patients benefit from having this data, especially the ability to ask good questions about their health status. For the time being, that’s probably a good enough reason to keep the data flowing.

Setting Work Limits, Slow EMR Access, and Good, Better, and Best Data

Posted on April 30, 2018 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 that time once again for a roundup of interesting tweets. There are always thousands more that we could highlight, so if you’re not on Twitter, why not? It takes some investment to get the best feed possible, but once you do it’s invaluable. Of course, we do our best here at Healthcare Scene to read everything so you don’t have to. So, at least we have you covered there.

Now on to the fun…


This is a fine point that is worthy of more discussion. Of course, it’s a universal problem that doesn’t just apply to healthcare. It’s worth noting that this doctor didn’t comment about the times she had to race into the office to look up a paper chart either because she got a call about a patient that was in the ER. As in most things in life, there’s a lot of give and take. Setting limits is really the key because the accessibility of records can save a lot of time too.


This is an interesting one for me. There are some real red flags here. First, if they’re using Citrix, then it’s likely not a true cloud implementation and likely means it’s an older EMR software. Not always true, but quite possible. Second, if the workflow is to print a list so they can write notes with a pencil, then they have some serious EHR implementation, adoption, and optimization problems. Is the optimal workflow a pencil and paper? My guess is not. However, the fact that the machine boots up slow probably indicates that this user doesn’t have great tech support that can show them a better way. Unfortunately, I think that this is probably all too common too.


Rasu offered some great insights into data at Health Datapalooza. This was a golden one that I could tell he’d shared quite a bit. How many of you work in organizations that turn data into action?

AI Software Detects Diabetic Retinopathy Without Physician Involvement

Posted on April 27, 2018 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 FDA has approved parent company IDx to market IDx-DR, the first AI technology which can independently detect diabetic retinopathy. The software can make basic recommendations without any physician involvement.

Before approving the software, the FDA reviewed data from a clinical study of 900 patients with diabetes across 10 primary care sites. IDx-DR accurately identified the presence of diabetic retinopathy 87.4% of the time and accurately identified those without the disease 89.5% of the time. In other words, it’s not perfect but it’s clearly pretty close.

To use IDx-DR, providers upload digital images of a diabetic patient’s eyes taken with a retinal camera to the IDx cloud server. Once the image reaches the server, IDx-DR uses an AI algorithm to analyze the images, then tells the user whether the user has anything more than mild retinopathy.

If it finds significant retinopathy, the software suggests referring the patient to an eye care specialist for an in-depth diagnostic visit. On the other hand, if the software doesn’t detect retinopathy, it recommends a standard rescreen in 12 months.

Apparently, this is the first time the FDA has allowed a company to sell a device which screens and diagnoses patients without involving a specialist. We can expect further AI approvals by the FDA in the future, according to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning hold enormous promise for the future of medicine,” Gottlieb tweeted. “The FDA is taking steps to promote innovation and support the use of artificial intelligence-based medical devices.”

The question this announcement must raise in the minds of some readers is “How far will this go?” Both for personal and clinical reasons, doctors are likely to worry about this sort of development. After all, putting aside any impact it may have on their career, they may be concerned that patient will get short-changed.

They probably don’t need to worry, though. According to an article in the MIT Technology Review, a recent research project done by Google Cloud suggests that AI won’t be replacing doctors anytime soon.

Jia Li, who leads research and development at Google Cloud, told a conference audience that while applying AI to radiology imaging might be a useful tool, it can automate only a small part of radiologists’ work. All it will be able to do is help doctors make better judgments and make the process more efficient, Li told conference attendees.

In other words, it seems likely that for the foreseeable future, tools like IDx-DR and its cousins will help doctors automate tasks they didn’t want to do anyway. With any luck, using them will both save time and improve diagnoses. Not at all scary, right?