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Some Alexa Health “Skills” Don’t Comply With Amazon Medical Policies

Posted on July 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.

It’s becoming predictable: A company offering AI assistant for scheduling medical appointments thinks that consumers want to use Amazon’s Alexa to schedule appointments with their doctor. The company, Nimblr, is just one of an expanding number of developers that see Alexa integration as an opportunity for growth.

However, Nimblr and its peers have stepped into an environment where the standards for health applications are a bit slippery. That’s no fault of theirs, but it might affect the future of Amazon Alexa health applications, which can ultimately affect every developer that works with the Alexa interface.

Nimblr’s Holly AI has recently begun to let patients book and reschedule appointments using Alexa voice commands. According to its prepared statement, Nimblr expects to integrate with other voice command platforms as well, but Alexa is clearly an important first step.

The medical appointment service is integrated with a range of EHRs, including athenahealth, Care Cloud and DrChrono.  To use the service, doctors sign up and let Holly access their calendar and EHR.

Patients who choose to use the Amazon interface go through a scripted dialogue allowing them to set, change or cancel an appointment with their doctor. The patient uses Alexa to summon Holly, then tells Holly the doctor with whom they’d like to book an appointment. A few commands later, the patient has booked a visit. No need to sit at a computer or peer at a smartphone screen.

For Amazon, this kind of agreement is the culmination of a long-term strategy. According to an article featured in Quartz Alexa is now in roughly 20 million American homes and owns more than 70% of the US market for voice-driven assistants. Recently it’s made some power moves in healthcare — including the acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack. It’s has also worked to build connections with healthcare partners, including third-party developers that can enrich the healthcare options available to Alexa users.

Most of the activity that drives Alexa comes from “skills,” which resemble smartphone apps, made available on the Alexa store by independent developers. According to Quartz, the store hosted roughly 900 skills in its “health and fitness” category on the Alexa skills store as of mid-April.

In theory, externally-developed health skills must meet three criteria: they may not collect personal information from customers, cannot imply that they are life-saving by names and descriptions and must include a disclaimer stating that they are not medical devices — and that users should ask their providers if they believe they need medical attention.

However, according to Quartz, as of mid-April there were 65 skills in the store that didn’t provide the required disclaimer. If so, this raises questions as to how stringently Amazon supervises the skills uploaded by its third-party developers.

Let me be clear that I’m not criticizing Nimblr in any way. As far as I know, the company is doing everything the right way. My only critiques would be that it’s not clear to me why its Alexa tool is much more useful than a plain old portal, and that of the demo video is any indication, that the interactions between Alexa and the consumer are a trifle awkward. On the whole, it seems like a useful tool and will likely get better over time.

However, with a growing number of healthcare developers featuring apps Alexa’s skills store, it will be worth watching to see if Amazon enforces its own rules. If not, reputable developers like Nimblr might not want to go there.

DrChrono App Store Illustrates Important Point

Posted on July 16, 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 a recent post, my colleague John Lynn argued that EHRs won’t survive if they stick to a centralized model.  He contends — I think correctly — that ambulatory practices will need to plug best-of-class apps into their EHR system rather than accepting whatever their vendor has available. If they don’t create a flexible infrastructure, they’ll be forced to switch systems when they hit the wall with their current EHR, he writes.

Demonstrating that John, as usual, has read the writing on the wall correctly, I present you with the following. I think it illustrates John’s point exactly. I’m pointing to EHR vendor DrChrono, which just announced that billing and collections company Collectly would be available for use.

Like its peers, Collectly built on the DrChrono API, and will be available in the DrChrono App Directory on a subscription basis. (The billing company also offers custom pricing for large organizations.)

Other apps featured in the app directory include Calibrater Health, which offers text-based patient surveys; Staple Health, a machine learning platform that providers can use to manage at-risk patients and Genius Video, which sends personalized video via text message to educate patients. Payment services vendor Square is also a featured partner.

Collectly, for its part, digitizes paper bills and sends billing statements and collection notices to patients via text or email. The patient messages include a link to the patient portal which offers a billing FAQ, benefits and insurance info and a live chat feature where experts offer info on patient insurance features and payment policy. The live chat staffers can also help patients create an approved payment schedule on behalf of a practice.

While some of the DrChrono apps offer help with well-understood back-office issues – such as Health eFilings, which help practices submit accurate MIPS data –  those functions may be duplicated or at least partially available elsewhere. However, apps like Collectly offer options that EHRs and practice management platforms seldom do. The number of best of breed apps that an EHR won’t be able to replicate natively is going to continue to increase.

Integrating consumer-facing apps like this acknowledges that neither medical practice technology nor its staff is terribly well-equipped to bring in the cash from patients. It may take outside apps like Collectly, which functions like an RCM tool but talks like a patient, to bring in more patient payments in for DrChrono’s customers. In other words, it took a decentralized model to get this done. John called it.

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.

Cloud-Based EHRs With Analytics Options Popular With Larger Physician Groups

Posted on April 20, 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.

Ever wonder what large medical practices want from the EHRs these days? According to one study, the answer is “cloud-based systems with all the bells and whistles.”

Black Book Research just completed a six-month client satisfaction poll questioning members of large practices about their EHR preferences. The survey collected data from roughly 19,000 EHR users.

According to the survey, 30% of practices with more than 11 clinicians expect to replace their current EHR by 2021, primarily because they want a more customizable system. It’s not clear whether they are sure yet which vendors offer the best customization options, though it’s likely we’ll hear more about this soon enough.

Among groups planning an EHR replacement, what appealed to them most (with 93% ranking it as their preferred option) was cloud-based mobile solutions offering an array of analytical options. They’re looking for on-demand data and actionable insights into financial performance, compliance tracking and tools to manage contractual quality goals. Other popular features included telehealth/virtual support (87%) and speech recognition solutions for hands-free data entry (82%).

Among those practices that weren’t prepared for an EHR replacement, it seems that some are waiting to see how internal changes within Practice Fusion and eClinicalWorks play out. That’s not surprising given that both vendors boasted an over 93% customer loyalty level for Q1 2018.

The picture for practices with less than six or fewer physicians is considerably different, which shouldn’t surprise anybody given their lack of capital and staff time.  In many cases, these smaller practices haven’t optimized the EHRs they have in place, with many failing to use secure messaging, decision support and electronic data sharing or leverage tools that increase patient engagement.

Large practices and smaller ones do have a few things in common. Ninety-three percent of all sized medical and surgical practices using an installed, functional EHR system are using three basic EHR tools either frequently or always, specifically data repositories, order entry and results review.

On the other hand, few small to midsize groups use advanced features such as electronic messaging, clinical decision support, data sharing, patient engagement tools or interoperability support. Again, this is a world apart from the higher-end IT options the larger practices crave.

For the time being, the smaller practices may be able to hold their own. That being said, other surveys by Black Book suggest that the less-digitalized practices won’t be able to stay that way for long, at least if they want to keep the practice thriving.

A related 2018 Black Book survey of healthcare consumers concluded that 91% of patients under 50 prefer to work with digitally-based practices, especially practices that offer conductivity with other providers and modern portals giving them easy access to the health data via both phones and other devices.

AAFP Opposes Direction Of Federal Patient Data Access Efforts

Posted on April 4, 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.

Not long ago, a group of federal agencies announced the kickoff of the MyHealthEData initiative, an effort designed to give patients control of their data and the ability to take it with them from provider to provider. Participants in the initiative include virtually every agency with skin in the game, including HHS, ONC, NIH and the VA. CMS has also announced that it will be launching Medicare’s Blue Button 2.0, which will allow Medicare beneficiaries to access and share their health information.

Generally speaking, these programs sound okay, but the devil is always in the details. And according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, some of the assumptions behind these initiatives put too much responsibility on medical practices, according to a letter the group sent recently to CMS administrator Seema Verma.

The AAFP’s primary objection to these efforts is that they place responsibility for the adoption of interoperable health IT systems on physicians. The letter argues that instead, CMS should pressure EHR vendors to meet interoperability standards.

Not only that, it’s critical to prevent the vendors from charging high prices for relevant software upgrades and maintenance, the AAFP argues. “To realize meaningful patient access to their data, we strongly urge CMS to require EHR vendors to provide any new government-required updates such systems without additional cost to the medical practice,” the group writes.

Other requests from the AAFP include that CMS:

  • Drop all HIT utilization measures now that MIPS has offered more effective measures of quality, cost and practice improvement
  • Implement the core measure sets developed by the Core Quality Measures Collaborative
  • Penalize healthcare organizations that don’t share health information appropriately
  • Focus on improving HIT usability first, and then shift its attention to interoperability
  • Work to make sure that admission, discharge and transfer data are interoperable

Though the letter calls CMS to task to some degree, my sense is that the AAFP shares many of the agency’s goals. The physician group and CMS certainly have reason to agree that if patients share data, everybody wins.  The AAFP also suggests measures which foster administrative simplification, such as reducing duplicative lab tests, which CMS must appreciate.

Still, if the group of federal organizations thinks that doctors can be forced to make interoperability work, they’ve got another thing coming. It’s hard to argue the matter how willing they are to do so, most practices have nowhere near the resources needed to take a leading role in fostering health data interoperability.

Yes, CMS, ONC and other agencies involved with HIT must be very frustrated with vendors. There don’t seem to be enough sanctions available to prevent them from slow-walking through every step of the interoperability process. But that doesn’t mean you can simply throw up your hands and say “Let’s have the doctors do it!”

Patients Expect Retail-Style Digital Health Experiences

Posted on March 30, 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 retail industry has been pretty successful in integrating digital tools into their business. All major retailers have customized apps of their own, many if not all retail sites offer chatbots to answer questions and virtually all have spent countless millions on their e-commerce websites.

Healthcare organizations, on the other hand, are far behind when judged by these standards. That’s particularly true in the case of medical practices, few of which offer much in the way of digital sophistication. In fact, in most cases the most patients can hope for is a basic portal offering data, scheduling and bill payment options. (Ok, at times, bigger offices may toss in a kiosk or two, but that’s not a huge service upgrade.)

According to one study, however, consumers are losing patience with this gap. New research by NTT DATA Services has concluded that 59% of US consumers expect their healthcare digital experience to be comparable to their retail digital experience. This is part of a larger trend in which patients are looking for seamless care bringing together diagnosis, treatment, rehab and health promotion, according to Alan Hughes of NTT in a prepared statement.

Some of consumers’ frustrations around mobile options include not being able to accomplish what they wanted to do (62%), feeling that the options offered are not relevant to them (42%) and that entering data into forms took too long to complete (40%). This is not exactly a good report card.

Meanwhile, patients have a long list of services they feel could be improved, including searching for a doctor or specialist (81%), accessing their family health records (80%), making or changing an appointment (79%), accessing test results (76%), paying their bills (75%) and filling a prescription (74%). In other words, consumers see most of the digital services provided by medical practices as subpar. Again, this is not encouraging news.

What’s more, within the general population of consumers, there is one subsection of patients who are particularly demanding, a group NTT has dubbed “explorers.” ITT research found that 78% of explorers say that the digital healthcare experience must improve. Perhaps even more importantly, 50% of these explorers would leave their current doctor if another offered a better digital experience.

If healthcare providers can barely meet the needs of the general population, they’re likely to lose these explorers pretty quickly if they don’t get their act together. Medical practices, in particular, need to step up their digital health game.

E-Patient Update: Clinicians Who Email Patients Have Stronger Patient Relationships

Posted on January 26, 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.

I don’t know about you, but before I signed up with Kaiser Permanente – which relies heavily on doctor-to-patient messaging via a portal – it was almost unthinkable for a primary care clinician to share their email address with me. Maybe I was dealing with old-fashioned folks, but in every other respect, most of my PCPs have seemed modern enough.

Few physicians have been willing to talk with me on the phone, either, though nurses and clinical assistants typically passed along messages. Yes, I know that it’s almost impossible for doctors to chat with patients these days, but it doesn’t change that this set-up impedes communication somewhat. (I know – no solution is perfect.)

Given these experiences, I was quite interested to read about a new study looking at modes of communication between doctors and patients in the good old days before EHR implementation. The study, which appeared in the European Journal for Person Centered Healthcare, compared how PCPs used cellphones, email messages and texts, as well as how these communication styles affected patient satisfaction.

To conduct the study, researchers conducted a 16-question survey of 149 Mid-Atlantic primary care providers. The survey took place in the year before the practices rolled out EHRs offering the ability to send secure messages to patients.

In short, researchers found that PCPs who gave patients their email addresses were more likely to engage in ongoing email conversations. When providers did this, patients reported higher overall satisfaction than with providers who didn’t share their address. Cellphone use and text messaging didn’t have this effect.

According to the authors, the study suggests that when providers share their email addresses, it may point to a stronger relationship with the patient in question. OK, I get that. But I’d go further and say that when doctors give patients their email address it can create a stronger patient relationship than they had before.

Look, I’m aware that historically, physicians have been understandably reluctant to share contact information with patients. Many doctors are already being pushed to the edge by existing demands on their time. They had good reason to fear that they would be deluged with messages, spending time for which they wouldn’t be reimbursed and incurring potential medical malpractice liability in the process.

Over time, though, it’s become clear that PCPs haven’t gotten as many messages as they expected. Also, researchers have found that physician-patient email exchanges improve the quality of care they deliver. Not only that, in some cases email messaging between doctors and patients has helped chronically-ill patients manage their conditions more effectively.

Of course, no communication style is right for everyone, and obviously, that includes doctors. But it seems that in many cases, ongoing messaging between physicians and patients may well be worth the trouble.

Should Doctors Offer Concierge IT Security Services?

Posted on December 20, 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, just for fun, I’m gonna start with a thesis and work my way back to see if you agree with its foundations. My conclusion: With the cost of IT security services climbing, the cost of care coordination rising and practice income in many cases remaining relatively level, group practices will have to change their business model substantially.

Specifically, though this may sound insane, I’m suggesting that they may have to begin charging patients for beyond-the-call-of-duty security efforts.

Of course, as we all know, practices are required to offer at least a minimal level of security protection as specified in rules like those in HIPAA. Necessary though it is, it’s a pricey exercise for many groups.

Even so, cold economics may push them to cut data protection further. Given that care coordination will be necessary to meet population health goals, and that quality monitoring and management are indispensable, they may see security as the most dispensable of these spending options.

As the need for care coordination staff, quality management and other necessities of value-based care rise, paying for IT security services will become almost impossible to pay for without borrowing from another source.

That source can come from an internal budgetary resource, such as money allocated for routine general expenses, or other overhead, such as salaries for existing staff members, neither of which is desirable. Of course, there’s also the possibility of obtaining a line of credit, but that’s arguably even worse for the future of the company.

But since no medical organization can go entirely without IT security protection, it will have to find the funds to pay for it somehow. Given that any of the possibilities discussed above will drain the practice and possibly cut its finances to the bone, but something will have to give.

At this point, many practices decide to sell their group to a hospital or health system. That’s certainly a legitimate way of taking on unmanageable levels of overhead and getting access to far more infrastructure options and financial resources.

But if that’s not the direction you want to take, here’s off-ball idea for recapturing some IT security revenue: concierge security services.

While every patient’s data needs to be protected, obviously, you could offer concierge security patients access to extra layers of security attentiveness, such as a private IT staff or to answer any data privacy and security questions they might have about the practice, hospital where they are seen or other entity.

Toss in a special “security report” (in all candor, probably info they could’ve read in any trade magazine), personalized to patient needs, and a free zip drive with secured copies of their data and you’ll have them hooked.

If this worked, and I’m not suggesting that it necessarily would, it could help carry the cost of mundane IT security services. What do you think? Would this model have a chance?

Study Says Physicians Have Major Cybersecurity Problems

Posted on December 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.

New research sponsored by the AMA and consulting firm Accenture has concluded that cyberattacks on medical practices are common – in fact, far more common than one might think.

Not only do these numbers suggest patient data is far more vulnerable than expected, it suggests that clinicians are often poorly educated about security and the implications of handling it badly. It’s fair to say that unless this trend is turned around, it could undermine industry efforts to build trusting relationships with patients and encourage them to engage in two-way data exchange.

The study found that most physicians (85%) think that sharing electronic protected health information is a good idea and that two-thirds believe that giving patients more access to their health data would improve care. One-third of respondents said that they share ePHI if they trust the vendors involved.

Thirty-seven percent get training content on security from their health IT vendor, and 50% said they trust these training providers are sure the content is adequate. However, this may be a mistake. While 87% of respondents said that their practice is HIPAA-compliant, the study also found that two-thirds of doctors still have basic questions about HIPAA. It’s clear, in other words, that trusted relationships aren’t doing the job here.

In fact, an eye-popping 83% of medical practices have experienced some form of cyberattack such as malware, phishing or viruses. Not surprisingly, 55% of physicians surveyed are very worried about future cyberattacks. Unfortunately, worrying is what many people do instead of taking action, and that may be what’s going on here.

What makes these lax attitudes all the more problematic is that when attacks occur, the effect can be very substantial. For example, 74% of respondents said that a cyberattack was likely to interrupt their clinical practice, and 29% of doctors working in medium-sized practices said that it could take up to a full day to recover from an attack, a crippling length of time for any small business.

So what are practices willing to do to avoid these problems? Among these respondents, 60% said they would pay someone to create a security framework to protect ePHI. Also, 49% of practices surveyed have in-house security staffers on board. However, it should be noted that three times more medium and large practices have such an officer in place compared to smaller medical groups, probably because security expertise is very pricey.

However, probably the most valuable thing they can do is the least expensive of the list. Every practice should require that physicians stay current at least on HIPAA and cybersecurity basics. If medical groups do this, at least they’ve established a baseline from which they can work on other security issues.

In What Seems Like An Effort To Make Nice, eClinicalWorks Joins OpenNotes Initiative

Posted on October 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.

eClinicalWorks has decided to try something new. The health IT vendor has announced that it will support the OpenNotes project, an initiative in which doctors share their notes with patients.

As most readers will know, it recently came to light that eClinicalWorks had gotten itself into some very hot water with the feds. eCW was forced to pay a $155 million settlement when the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that it had faked compliance with EMR certification standards.

Now, perhaps in an effort to make nice, eCW is making it possible for its customers to share visit notes using its patient portal. Actually, to be precise, the patient portal already had the ability to offer visit summaries to patients, but OpenNotes capabilities enhance these summaries with additional information.

OpenNotes, for its part, got its start in 2010, when Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System and Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center decided to study the effects of letting patients read their medical notes via a portal.

The study, the results of which were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2012, concluded that patients approved of note-sharing wholeheartedly, felt more in control of their care and had an easier time with medication adherence. Also, while some doctors reported changing documentation during this process, the study also found that doctors saw no significant changes in workload.

Perhaps most telling, at the end of the process 99% of patients wanted OpenNotes to continue, and none of the participating doctors opted out. A movement had been launched.

Since then, a long list of organizations has come on board to drive implementation of open notes, including Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Providence Health System, Salem Health and Oregon Health and Science University. This year, OpenNotes announced that 16 million Americans now had access to their medical notes online.

Back in 2012, I asked readers whether OpenNotes would eventually influence EMR design. Today, I would suggest that the answer is both “yes” and “no.”

On the one hand, I have little doubt that the project helped to advance the notion that patients should have on-demand access to their healthcare information, and moreover, to use it in managing their care. While some doubted this approach would work, OpenNotes can now be said to have sold the idea that health data transparency is a good idea. While the initiative had its doubters at its outset, today patient record access is far better accepted.

On the other hand, eClinicalWorks is the first EMR vendor I’m aware of to explicitly announce its support for OpenNotes. While it’s hard to tell what this means, my guess is that its competitors don’t see a need to take a position on the matter. While vendors are certainly being forced to take patient-facing data access into account, we clearly have a long way to go.