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Connected Health takes the stage at Partners symposium

Posted on October 28, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site ( and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The Connected Health Symposium is not one of the larger health conferences, but it is one of the most respected. I met a number of leaders in health IT there who praised it for the conference scope and seriousness, and told me they were glad to see me there covering it.

Many issues in health IT and patient empowerment, however, are best learned not from any conference, but from the tussles and tears of everyday life. Let us hope no reader has undergone the personal experience of having her reports dismissed and of being misdiagnosed, as did several speakers at the conference.

But many of us have spent three hours on the phone with an insurer to approve a single medication shipment, or fought in vain to get the medical records that US law requires providers to give us, or watched our doctor fumble with his new EHR for fifteen minutes while trying to stay engaged with us.

It’s encouraging to see the progress of patient engagement at Massachusetts General Hospital, as reported by Gregg Meyer of Partners Healthcare System (the funder behind the Center for Connected Health that put on the symposium). But can small and rural providers struggling with cash flow join the movement?

These institutions would be comfortable using swyMe, a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine system that allows doctors to interview patients over everyday mobile devices and perhaps avoid a trip to the hospital. swyMe can also transmit audio and video from devices that EMTs can connect up to the phone. (Not many devices with the necessary hardware connectors are on the market, though.)

swyMe was one of the “innovators” highlighted in a conference demo. Jeffrey Urdan, COO of the company that makes it, told me later that he felt “low tech” compared to some of the fancy, expensive devices at the demo. But most of the providers in the US, and elsewhere, are more on swyMe’s level than theirs.

Another hurdle to forming connected teams that serve the patient is interoperability. A sign of the distance we have yet to come can be found in iCancerHealth, a service for cancer patients offered by Medocity. A free app is available to individuals, but the main integrated service is offered through providers or pharma companies doing clinical trials. The service includes such conveniences as medication tracking, treatment plans, a diary, audio and video connections to their physician, and even a way to form communities with other patients.

This is great, but iCancerHealth works with data from only one provider. This can be a limitation even for the few months that cancer patients typically use the service, and could certainly be a problem if the service were expanded to a broader range of illnesses. Similarly, there’s no seamless way to share data with patient communities; it has to be re-entered manually. Enhancing the service to encompass multiple providers would probably require wider adoption of electronic health record standards.

As an example of finding a creative solution to devices that lack interoperability, Mobile Diagnostic Services demonstrated an app that could photograph the display panel of a device, interpret the bars on the display to create digital data, and transmit the values to a health record in the cloud. This is a process well-known to computer programmers from thirty years ago as “screen scraping,” now relevant to the health industry.

One of the strengths of the Connected Health Symposium was the platform it gave to patients and doctors to express their frustrations with the old way of delivering care and the slow pace of change. The testimony could come from entrepreneur Robin Farmanfarmaian, who lost three organs unnecessarily to misdiagnosis, or Sarah Krüg, president of the Society for Participatory Medicine, whose parents died from diseases that might have been caught if the doctors had paid attention to their reported symptoms.

Or the testimony could come from Greg LaGana and Barry Levy, MDs who write and perform in a musical review called Damaged Care that skewers everything about doctors behavior as well as the legal and financial environment in which they have to operate.

Anna MCollister-Slipp, co-founder of Galileo Analytics and a sufferer from type 1 diabetes, regaled us with the dozens of vital sign measurements, treatments, and other details she has to manage on her own manually. She still get lab reports only because her doctor sends them via email (using a private account, so that HIPAA zealots don’t discipline him–the rights and wishes of the patient are supposed to be paramount). Like other conference attendees, though, she reported progress in tools and patient-oriented culture.

Less was heard at the symposium from other sectors of the medical field, but we did hear from Michael of Aetna, Jonathan Bush of athenahealth, and Beverley Bryant of England’s National Health Service. The panel on which Bryant spoke proved to be discouraging. Many of us in the US like to think that other developed nations with their universal health care systems have solved the coordination and interoperability messes that the US is in. But the panelists expressed many familiar frustrations.

I plan to return to the Connected Health Symposium next year, and I’m sure each year will bring a bit of progress toward better communication among staff, better use of patient data, and better integration of tools. The mood at the show was largely positive. But a little probing turned up barriers in the way of the healthcare system we all want.

Is Remote Monitoring Data A Blessing, Or A Distraction?

Posted on August 1, 2013 I Written By

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

This week, Venture Beat reported on some growing remote monitoring efforts in which a handful of Massachusetts hospitals are working to pull the data into their EMR. The hospitals are hoping to get their arms around a growing body of data which increasingly lives not only in wireless medical devices (such as glucometers and pulse oximeters) but also smartphones, smart wristbands, FitBit devices and other health-tracking technology.

One of the players involved in the new effort is Partners HealthCare, whose Center for Connected Health is focused on collecting and making use of such data. Its latest initiative sweeps patient data collected at home — such as blood pressure, weight and blood glucose — into the Partners EMR, making it accessible as part of routine clinical workflow. (The data collected by patients is transmitted wirelessly and automatically subsumed into the EMR.)  Patients can also review the data through a patient portal known as Patient Gateway.

According to Partners, this process is designed to change care delivery by allowing doctors to keep a close watch on patients when they’re not in the hospital or doctor’s office.

This is all well and good, especially for monitoring the chronically ill, whose condition may fluctuate dangerously and require timely intervention. But the question is, is this new flood of data going to be manageable for doctors?  Can a physician managing thousands of patients really give appropriate attention to every data point a FitBit or smartphone produces?  Certainly not.

Perhaps that’s why Kaiser Permanente recently told a conference that it was going to be rather picky as to what data flows into its EMR. According to Lead Innovation Designer Christine Folck:

“Don’t come to us telling us you can upload [data] into our electronic medical record. We don’t necessarily want it there. We have too much information in our electronic medical record. Kaiser Permanente was one of the first to go nationwide with our electronic medical record, we are fully integrated, but the problem is now everybody wants to upload into it. Our physicians don’t want it all there. They really don’t need to know how much exercise each of their patients is getting on a daily basis; they just don’t have time to process all of that.”

So, while there’s clearly benefit to tracking chronic conditions via remote monitoring, it seems clear that there will be some pushback from doctors, who can’t possibly absorb all of the data the healthier “quantified self” types are producing.  It looks to me like we’re going to have to narrow down what categories of data are actually helpful in an EMR and which aren’t.

Partners Integrates Mobile Data With EMR

Posted on June 25, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of 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 move that could realize much of the promise of wireless remote monitoring, Partners HealthCare system has made it possible for providers to view remotely-collected patient health data in its EMR.  The program was launched by Partners division The Center for Connected Health, which focuses on delivering new forms of patient care outside of standard medical settings.

For years, Partners has been running programs which collect patient data through a combination of remote-monitoring technology, sensors and Web-based tools. Their focus has included management of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, medication adherence and improved pregnancy outcomes and cardiac care outcomes. The Center’s remote monitoring database now stores over 1.2 million  patient vital signs.

Now, Partners has linked The Center’s proprietary remote monitoring database to its EMR, a step which moves the system in the direction of offering continuous chronic disease management. If a patient is participating in a remote monitoring program, Partners physicians can can now see a patient’s day-to-day vital signs, blood glucose levels, weight and other key health indicators directly within their records in the EMR.

The ultimate notion, according to the press release at least, is to  “put the patient at the center of their care while maintaining a close watch on their condition when they are not in the hospital or doctor’s office.”

While Partners didn’t say how many patients are involved in The Center’s programs, it’s doubtless a small fraction of overall Partners patient population. So despite the general coolness of what they’re trying to do, this is still more on the order of an experiment than a population health management program via remote monitoring.

Still, what Partners is doing is a large step in the right direction, and will doubtless realize some of the long anticipated benefits of remote monitoring for patients who are involved. Good show, folks.

This Is Not An Ad For The Connected Health Conference, But Go Anyway, OK?

Posted on April 20, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

In October of this year, the very smart people at the Center for Connected Health in Boston will again hold their annual symposium.  And unless I get hit by a bus, I intend to be there and learn everything I can.

While you’ve seen me get flip here from time to time, I’m not joking now.  I think that it’s an event that should be taken dead seriously by essentially anyone who cares about the future of health IT, disease management and e-medicine.  Their mission, which I regard as central to the future of healthcare generally, is as follows:

We are engaging patients, providers and the connected health community to deliver quality care outside of traditional medical settings. Telehealth, remote care and disease management initiatives reflect the opportunities for technology-enabled care programs.

By the way, in case you suspect the same, I’m not endorsing the conference because the center is backed by Partners HealthCare, an IDS backed by hoity-toity names like Mass General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s.   Their Harvard connection isn’t the point.

No, I’m ranting about the Connected Health Symposium because I think it’s exactly where HIT visionaries ought to be spending their time.  Their programs are demonstrating, today, how the living, breathing HIT structure can bring care to where it’s needed in addition to documenting what happens in traditional settings.

There’s too much going on at the Center for me to provide a wealth of detail, but here’s some examples of what it does (summaries borrowed from media announcements):

*  Last summer, the CCH announced the results of a medication adherence study, using a wireless electronic pill bottle to remind patients with high blood pressure to take their medication. The ongoing study measured a 27% higher rate of medication adherence in
patients using Internet connected medication packaging and feedback services compared to controls.

* Another study found that remote online visits with dermatologists, or e-visits, achieved equivalent clinical outcomes for acne patients. Data further revealed that this model of care delivery was popular with participating doctors and patients, ranking e-visits as convenient and time-saving.

* Data from a late 2009 pilot  conducted by the Center suggested that its online diabetes management program, Diabetes Connected Health, may lead to improved patient knowledge, engagement and accountability, as well as improved patient provider communication.

Don’t get me wrong, the industry can’t avoid wrestling with EMR implementation and management efforts even if providers spend a lot more on remote patient monitoring and telemedicine.  Any reasonable long-term vision of a fully-connected U.S. digital health network includes all of these technologies, plus mobile health innovations we probably haven’t even heard of yet.

But in the mean time, c-health is where the rubber meets the road. (If you want to know what c-health is, read the blog written by the Center’s Dr. Joe Kvedar.)

Hoping to meet y’all in October!