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Making Health Data Patient-Friendly

Posted on May 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of 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.

Most of the efforts designed to make healthcare processes more transparent hope to make patients better shoppers. The assumption is that better-informed patients make better decisions, and that ultimately, if enough patients have the right data they’ll take steps which improve outcomes and lower the cost of care. And while the evidence for this assumption is sparse, the information may increase patient engagement in their care — and hopefully, their overall health.

That’s all well and good, but I believe too little attention has been paid to another dimension of transparency. To wit, I’d argue that it’s more than time to present patients with clinical data on a real- or near-real-time basis. Yes, shopping for the right doctor is good, but isn’t it even more important for patients to see what results he or she actually gets in their particular medical case?

Patients rarely get a well-developed look at their clinical data. Patient portals may offer access to test and imaging results from today through 10 years ago — my health system does — but offer no tools to put this data in context. If a patient wants to take a good look at their health history, and particularly, how test results correlate with their behavior, they’ll have to map the data out themselves. And that’s never going to work for your average patient.

Of course, there are obstacles to making this happen:

  • Physicians aren’t thrilled with the idea of giving patients broad healthcare data access. In fact, more than one doctor I’ve seen wouldn’t let me see test results until he or she had “approved” them.
  • Even if you set out to create some kind of clinical data dashboard, doing so isn’t trivial, at least if you want to see patients actually use it. Significant user testing would be a must to make this approach a success.
  • To my knowledge, no EMR vendor currently supports a patient dashboard or any other tools to help patients navigate their own data. So to create such an offering, providers would need to wait until their vendor produces such a tool or undertake a custom development project.

To some extent, the healthcare IT industry is already headed in this direction. For example, I’ve encountered mobile apps that attempt to provide some context for the data which they collect. But virtually all healthcare apps focus on just a few key indicators, such as, say calorie intake, exercise or medication compliance. For a patient to get a broad look at their health via app, they would have to bring together several sets of data, which simply isn’t practical.

Instead, why not give patients a broad look at their health status as seen through the rich data contained in an EMR? The final result could include not only data points, but also annotations from doctors as to the significance of trends and access to educational materials in context. That way, the patient could observe, say, the link between blood pressure levels, exercise, weight and med compliance, read comments from both their cardiologist and PCP on what has been working, and jump to research and education on cardiovascular health.

Ultimately, I’d argue, the chief obstacle to creating such an offering isn’t technical. Rather, it’s a cultural issue. Understandably, clinicians are concerned about the disruption such approaches might pose to their routine, as well as their ability to manage cases.

But if we are to make patients healthier, putting the right tools in their hands is absolutely necessary. And hey, after paying so much for EMRs, why not get more value for your money?

P.S. After writing this I discovered a description of a “digital health advisor” which parallels much of what I’m proposing. It’s worth a read!

Clinical Data Access, New Open Source EHR, and Striiv – Around Healthcare Scene

Posted on October 28, 2012 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

Hospital EMR and EHR

Call Me Maybe at #CHIME12

One of the most popular songs among teens recently is “Call Me Maybe.” Well, at CHIME 2012, a music video of this song was created, featuring many of the participants in #CHIME12. It’s a fun little video, and the song sure is catchy.

Senators Join Initiative to Scrutinize Meaningful Use

After four GOP leaders have demanded that HHS Katherine Sebilus account for “failures” they found with Meaningful Use. Recently, a few senators have joined in the fight as well. Several questions were raised about EMRs, Medicare, and Meaningful Use. Is this the push that was needed in order to get Congress interested in the future of EMRs?

SXSW Accelerator Event for Health Startups

SXSW has long been known as an amazing music, film and now IT event. In fact, many people laud the event as a great place where creative people from all industries come together. This year SXSW has a whole health IT campus and a section of their Startup Accelerator competition that’s just devoted to healthcare IT startups. It will be a great place for healthcare IT to mix with the rest of the IT startup world. Plus, I expect a number of very interesting health IT companies to launch in the SXSW accelerator.

Access to Clinical Data Too Easy Via Phone

Most doctor’s offices will verify information by asking for a name and birthdate. However, this system could easily be compromised. Is there a better way to verify this type of information, before discussing medical issues? This post talks about different ideas, and how patient portals might be the solution.

New Open Source (Free) EHR Offering Developed by A Doctor

A new open source EHR is about to be released. And it was developed by a physician. Michael Chen, MD,  the doctor behind it, was interviewed on EMR and HIPAA. He discusses why he wanted to create an open source EHR, future plans, and any challenges that might be associated with it in this post.

Happy EMR Doctor

EMR Use Improves Primary Care: New Study

While there has been some debate about if EMR improves patient care, a recent study indicates that it does; at least in some health specialties. Over 7000 patients with coronary artery disease and diabetes were studied over the course of nine months, and the results ruled in the favor of EMRs. Dr. Michael West has found in his own personal observations, EMR does indeed improve patient care as well.

Smart Phone and Health Care

Five Challenges of mHealth

While mHealth has many advantages and has improved health care in many ways, there have been some challenges that have come about. These challenges include privacy, data security, and funding.

Striiv Ups the Standard for Pedometers — Games, Challenges, and Charity Incorporated

A new generation for the classic pedometer has been created. Striiv recently released a $99 pedometer that really gives the old kind a makeover. It incorporates fitness games, goals, and a charity to convince people to get walking. For those that don’t want to spend $99 on a pedometer, the (free) mobile app is available for the iPhone, and has a lot of the same functions.

Increasing Revenue Through Clinical Connectivity

Posted on August 27, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As most of you know, I’ve been working hard to create more content related to revenue in healthcare. My interest in this has grown even more since I had the chance to attend the ANI 2012 conference in Las Vegas where I got the chance to talk to people like Rishi Saurabh from GE Healthcare. It’s amazing how many people (myself included) don’t think that revenue cycle management is sexy since there are so many opportunities in healthcare.

One example of missed healthcare revenue management opportunities has to do with connecting clinical content with the financial data. From my experience, it’s quite rare to see a healthcare institution that does a great job of connecting these two pieces of data. The clinical data is in a silo of its own and it’s only looked at by the clinical people. The financial data is in its own financial data silo and only ever looked at by the financial people.

These silos are a problem and present a really big opportunity for healthcare organizations to increase the revenue of their organization. Although, doing so in an organization is not always easy. It takes great leadership to bridge the two content silos. Plus, you need someone who’s effective at understanding both the clinical and financial point of view. So, it’s not hard to understand why this doesn’t happen more often.

I think the most basic example of what I’m talking about can be seen in the annual checkup. I was talking with a colleague the other day when I told him that I couldn’t remember the last time that I’d been to my doctor. In fact, I honestly don’t even know my doctor’s name (which might beg the question of whether he’s really MY doctor). Why hasn’t my doctor sent me a reminder about the need to do an annual physical exam? Why don’t I have a regular connection with my doctor that helps me to take better care of my health?

I think at least part of the answer to this is that the clinical is not tied to the financial. If the clinical were tied to the financial, then the doctor could provide a care plan for me and my specific health needs. Then, the financial could ensure that I’m following that care plan. Imagine the revenue implications of me visiting the doctor regularly as part of a well defined care plan.

I’m sure that many of you out there are likely skeptical about whether patient reminders will actually change behavior. Certainly in many cases, these reminders will be discarded or ignored. However, a certain percentage of those reminders will be followed. This will mean your patients get better care and your clinic increases their revenue. Plus, maybe we need to take a deeper look at the care plans that we offer patients. If large percentages are ignoring the suggestions, then maybe we need to rethink the plan or how we’re communicating that plan to the patient.

There are certainly plenty of other medical examples where a follow up doctor visit would make sense and improve the health of your patients. In fact, you could get really sophisticated with how you reach out to your patient population.

I believe the key to success of this type of program is to integrate the clinical data with the financial data. It creates tremendous power and amazing opportunities.

How EMR Process Issues Screwed Up One Small Practice

Posted on January 31, 2011 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.

Here’s a story which I’m sure could be retold in practices around the U.S.  It’s a tale of how EMR process issues slowed down care to a crawl.

I recently visited small OB/GYN practice — a busy and seemingly prosperous one in a wealthy suburb — which had just implemented a popular EMR package. Knowing how small practices are struggling to make EMRs/EHRs work, I took a suspicious look around.

From the looks of things, everything was in place:  the EMR was available at every workstation used by clinicians and nurses, doctors had carts to roll their e-charts into exam rooms, and the use of paper was minimal.

Then, it was my turn to be seen, and the EMR (in theory) came into the picture. Whoops!  Things went downhill pretty fast.

First, I had my vitals taken by a medical assistant, all of which went onto a piece of paper.  Couldn’t she have had access to one of those carts?   Was the practice too cheap to buy enough terminals to make this not-so-cheap EMR a success? Process failure #1.

Then, I was moved along to a nurse to be asked some additional questions. Though the nurse seemed patient and careful, she had to ask me about my medications three times, because something about the system interface led her to dump the data over and over.  I’m not blaming the nurse (I blame the vendor and their UI) but that was definitely process issue #2.

Then, I finally had a talk with the doctor.  She didn’t make use of  the EMR at all!  She did look at some of the paper I turned in during my waiting room stay, and clearly listened carefully to my concerns, but didn’t take notes during the whole conversation, EMR or no.

I thought one of the great things about an EMR was to normalize how notes were taken and preserve the value of them from the point of care on.  Process issue #3 and the EMR is outta there!  (Well, I wanted to pitch it anyway.) Just how much clinical value could they be getting from this fractured way of doing things?

Folks, I have no idea how long the EMR had been in place there. This could have just been growing pains.  But my instinct is that more likely, the place is going to keep running its EMR in a hodgepodge style until it  begins losing clients or gets punished harshly for its inefficiency. Which do you think will happen first?