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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!”

Safety Issues Remain Long After EMR Rollout

Posted on June 24, 2014 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 following is a bit depressing, but shouldn’t come as a surprise. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association has concluded that patient safety issues relate to EMR rollouts continue long after the EMR has been implemented, according to a report in iHealthBeat.

Now, it’s worth noting that the study focused solely on the Veterans Health Administration’s EMR, which doubtless has quirks of its own. That being said, the analysis is worth a look.

To do the study, researchers used the Veterans Health Administration’s Informatics Patient Safety Office, which has tracked EMR safety issues since the VA’s EMR was implemented in 1999.  Researchers chose 100 closed patient safety investigations related to the EMR that took place between August 2009 and May 2013, which covered 344 incidents.

Researchers analyzed not only safety problems related to EMR technology, but also human operational factors such as workflow demands, organizational guidelines and user behavior, according to a BMJ release.

After reviewing the data, researchers found that 74 events related to safety problems with EMR technology, including false alarms, computer glitches and system failures. They also discovered problems with “hidden dependencies,” situation which a change in one part of the EMR system inadvertently changed important aspects in another part of the system.

The data also suggested that 25 other events were related to the unsafe use of technology, including mistakes in interpreting screens or human input errors.

All told, 70% of the investigations had found at least two reasons for each problem.

Commonly found safety issues included data transmission between different parts of the EMR system, problems related to software upgrades and EMR information display issues (the most commonly identified  problem), iHealthBeat noted.

After digging into this data, researchers recommended that healthcare organizations should build “a robust infrastructure to monitor and learn from” EMRs, because EMR-related safety concerns have complicated social and technical origins. They stressed that this infrastructure is valuable not only for providers with newly installed EMRs, but also for those with EMRs said that in place for a while, as both convey significant safety concerns.

They concede, however, that building such an infrastructure could prove quite difficult at this time, with organizations struggling with meaningful use compliance and the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

However, the takeaway from this is that providers probably need to put safety monitoring — for both human and technical factors — closer to the top of their list of concerns. It stands to reason that both newly-installed and mature EMR implementations should face points of failure such as those described in the study, and they should not be ignored. (In the meantime, here’s one research effort going on which might be worth exploring.)

Report: Poor EMR Use Created Hazards At VA Clinic

Posted on December 3, 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 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.

A new report from the Office of the Inspector General for the VA has concluded that a lack of EMR documentation, as well as the shredding of prescription records and potentially inappropriate renewals of opiate prescriptions, are ongoing problems at the VA’s Medical Practice Clinic in San Francisco.

The report follows on a a similar OIG effort exposing an array of poor practices, including improper EMR use and inadequate patient monitoring, at its Memphis location, according to a story in EHR Intelligence.

The OIG’s research found that providers at the San Francisco clinic were failing to document prescription renewal problems in the EMR, and that they seldom completed a narcotic instruction note template for pain management patients.

Meanwhile, reviews of patient adherence to their regimen in screenings for possible abuse were conducted in less than half of the cases analyzed by OIG. Fifty-three percent of patient files reflected no documentation that a qualified clinician checked in on the patient’s pain management regimen, and one-third of patients did not have documented urine drug test to ensure that the patient was using the medication correctly, EHR Intelligence reported.

Also, the clinic used paper prescription request forms to share the status of renewal requests between one clinician and another — but these paper communications were later shredded and never became part of the patient’s EMR file, leaving a big documentation gap.

Perhaps the most egregious problem at the clinic arose due to the clinic’s otherwise understandable attempt to keep pain patients current with the medications, EHR Intelligence noted.

The clinic serves 10,000 patients using ten nurse practitioners and 30 part-time attending on duty physicians. Patients, who are allowed only 30 day doses of narcotics, had been getting renewal scripts from whatever part-time attending physician was available. Often, the attendings didn’t know the patients and in some cases had never met the patient’s in person when they wrote the prescription renewals.

In the wake of these findings, the San Francisco VA clinic will cease using attendings to review urgent script renewal requests and will migrate to the use of an opioid dashboard to manage such requests on the primary care side of the clinic.

DoD May Keep Its EMR Until 2018

Posted on November 13, 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 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.

Though it had previously announced plans to update its system by 2017, the Department of Defense is now looking for contractors who can support its current EMR, the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA), through 2018, according to iHealthBeat.

The DoD and VA have been working for years to integrate their separate systems,but seemingly have little to show for their efforts. The two sprawling agencies kicked off their effort to create an integrated record, the iEHR, back in 2009. The idea was to offer every service member to maintain a single EMR throughout their career and lifetime, iHealthBeat reports. But the effort has been something of a disaster.

The iEHR project was halted in February 2013, with officials deciding to work on making their current EMR systems more interoperable. A few months later, DoD Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote a memo stating that the agency will consider a commercial EMR system. Most recently, the DoD asked 27 EMR vendors to provide demos of possible EMR replacements, according to iHealthBeat.

In DoD’s pre-solicitation notice, DoD announced that it would extend the contract for AHLTA’s underlying Composite Healthcare System, which is the back end of the military EMR.  The Composite Health System handles laboratory tests, prescriptions and scheduling.

That being said, the DoD is also moving along with its iEHR plans once again, a gigantic project which the Interagency Program Office estimates will cost somewhere between $8 billion and $12 billion. A contractor named Systems Made Simple recently won the contract to provide systems integration and engineering support for creating  the iEHR.

Folks, if you can follow the twists and turns of this story — they’ve giving me whiplash — you’re a better person than I am. So far as I can tell, the DoD changes its mind about once a quarter as to what it really wants and needs. Seems to me that Congress ought to keep that birch rod handy that it used on HHS over the HealthCare.gov debacle. Isn’t somebody going to get this thing once and for all on track?

DoD, VA Move Closer To Joint EHR

Posted on October 24, 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 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 looks like the DoD and VA may yet again be making  progress toward creating an integrated health record, after a long stretch when it looked like the project was dead, according to Healthcare IT News.

This is a gigantic effort, and expenses for executing it are gigantic too. In September 2012, the Interagency Program Office estimated the final costs for the iEHR at between $8 billion to $12 billion.

The course of the project has been bumpy, with key players shifting direction more than once. Most recently, the DoD had announced in May that it was looking for an EHR on the commercial market, seemingly dropping plans for creating an iEHR with the VA. But now the two agencies have awarded a re-compete contract for creating the iEHR, HIN reports.

Last week, the Interagency Program office said that Systems Made Simple had won the contract, under which the company would provide systems integration and engineering support for creating the iEHR.  SMS had previously won the contract in 2012, but that contract called for it to bid again in a competitive process.

The idea behind the iEHR has been and continues to be creating a system that can present a single record for each military veteran, complete with all clinical information held by the two giant agencies.

However, for a time it looked like the iEHR project was dead, when the two organizations announced that they were shifting their approach to buying technology from an outside vendor. Critics — including myself  — sharply scolded the agencies when these plans came to light, with most suggesting that the new plan was doomed to fail.

Now, the integration game is on. SMS’s three main focus areas will be to establish data interoperability between the VA and DoD systems, plan a service-oriented architecture for the integration, and create terminology translation services that deliver data to users in a shared format, notes HIN.

With these goals met, SMS plans to “create data through a single, common health record between all VA and DoD medical facilities,” the company said in a statement.

Now, let’s hope that nobody in the agencies switches direction again. Let’s give this thing a chance to work, people!

DoD Official Challenges Agency’s EMR Approach

Posted on April 26, 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 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.

Back in 2009, the Department of Defense and the VA began an initiative, the iEHR project, which was supposed to integrate the two sprawling agencies’ EMR systems.  That initiative came to a halt in February, with the two organizations deciding make their two independent systems more interoperable and the data contained wtihin more shareable.

At least one DoD official, however, believes that the latest effort flies in the face of President Obama’s directive that agencies adopt and use open data standards. J. Michael Gilmore, director of the DoD’s operational test and evaluation office, has sent a memo to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter arguing that the DoD’s plan to evaluate commercial EMR systems is “manifestly inconsistent” with that order.

“The White House has repeatedly recommended that the Department take an inexpensive and direct approach to implementing the President’s open standards,” Gilmore wrote. “Unfortunately, the Department’s preference is to purchase proprietary software for so-called “core” health management functions…To adhere to the President’s agenda, the iEHR program should be reorganized and the effort to define and purchase “core” functions in the near term be abandoned.”

If the DoD actually manages to successfully implement a commercial EMR system, it “would be the exception to the rule, given the Department’s consistently poor performance whenever it has attempted wholesale replacement of existing business processes with commercially derived enterprise software,” Gilmore noted tartly.

Gilmore recommends that the DoD go the open standards route by defining and testing the iEHR architecture, then purchasing a software “layer” to connect DoD’s EMR with other providers using open standards.

The VA, meanwhile, has formally proposed that the DoD migrate from its existing AHLTA EMR to the VA’s popular VistA EMR, already in place successfully throughout the agency’s hospitals and clinics. VistA is deployed at more than 1,500 sites of care, including 152 hospitals, 965 outpatient clinics, 133 community living centers and 293 Vet Centers.

Patients Benefit From Access To EHR Data

Posted on April 8, 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 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.

While doctors may not be completely comfortable with granting patients access to their EHR data, new evidence suggests that doing so produces significant benefits.  A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has concluded that granting patients such access “overwhelmingly” yields positive results, according to a report in FierceEMR.

To track the benefits of patient data access, researchers studied the My HealtheVet EHR pilot program, which gave access to the initial PHR established by VA. The pilot recruited 7,464 patients at nine VA facilities between 2000 and 2010.  An enrolled patient completing in-person identity proofing could access clinic notes, hospital discharge notes, problem lists, vital signs, medications, allergies, appointments, and laboratory and imaging test results. They could also as enter personal health data, access educational content and authorize others to access the PHR for them.

To evaluate the impact of the pilot, researchers from within and outside of the VA conducted focus group interviews at the Portland, Ore.-based VA Medical Center, which had 72 percent of pilot enrollees.

In discussing the program with patients, researchers found that they did have some negative experiences, such as reading uncomplimentary or offensive language in notes, concerns with inconsistencies in content and some technical problems with the EHR, FierceEMR reports. On the other hand, having access to their data improved patients’ communication with clinicians, coordination of care and follow-through on key items such as abnormal test results, the study found.

That being said, there are some repercussions to offering this access, researchers found. Though having access to notes and test results seems to empower patients, increase their  knowledge and improve self-care, it does have an impact on how physicians practice. “While shared records may or may not impact overall clinic workload, it is likely to change providers’ work, necessitating new types of skills to communicate and partner with patients,” the authors said.

Frontline Female Veterans Likely to Benefit from New VA Telemedicine Project

Posted on January 30, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

As anyone in healthcare will tell you, the U.S. government has an interesting sense of timing. A day after the Pentagon announces it plans to end its ban on women in frontline combat, the VA announces that it has awarded grants to VA facilities that are launching women’s health projects, including establishing telehealth services for female veterans living in rural areas. Coincidence, or well-timed marketing/public relations strategy?

According to the VA’s press release announcing the grants, “Women serve in every branch of the military, representing 15 percent of today’s active duty military and nearly 18 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces. By 2020, VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10 percent of the Veteran population.”

No mention was made in the release, of course, of the 237,000 jobs that will be available to women in the armed forces now that the combat ban has been lifted. I wonder if that 10-percent figure might jump a little once 2016 rolls around and arguments amongst government agencies regarding combat roles that should remain closed to women are laid to rest.

Telehealth grants were awarded to 10 facilities, and, according to the VA, will be used to provide services including tele-mental health, tele-gynecology, tele-pharmacy and telephone maternity care coordination.

While I applaud Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s statement that “[t]hese new projects will improve access and quality of critical health care services for women,” I’m not quite sure where I stand on the underlying issue – why aren’t female veterans already given 100 percent access to care at VA facilities, and why does the government seem to be planning for an increased need for healthcare services? But that speaks to a bigger problem that is probably best addressed elsewhere.

Having Already Failed Once, DoD Snubs Open Source For Second EMR Try

Posted on August 28, 2012 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 theory, the VA now has everything it needs to standardize and upgrade the open source VistA EMR, especially after forming the Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent (OSEHRA) organization.  But when it comes to bringing that expertise to the DoD’s EMR projects, it seems OSEHRA alone can’t do the trick.  Sadly, it’s no surprise to find this out, as the DoD has an abysmal track record on this subject.

OSEHRA, an independent non-profit open source group, was launched about a year ago. The group is working away at improving compatibility between versions of VistA at the 152 VA medical centers.  According to an InformationWeek piece, there’s now about 120 different versions of VistA ticking away within the VA system.  OSEHRA hopes to create a common core — a “minimum baseline standard”  for 20 VistA modules — which will make it easier for the medical centers to deploy enterprise-wide apps.

The DoD, meanwhile, is hacking away at a joint system with the VA, called iEHR, which is due for initial testing in 2014.  A few months ago, DoD told Congress that while open source technology will be part of iEHR, the agency will also include commercial and custom applications, using a service-oriented architecture.

What that means, in practical terms, is that OSEHRA will be cooling its heels waiting for DoD contractor Harris Corp. to build an Enterprise Service Bus and open source APIs to allow for open source development on the project.

Now, that wouldn’t raise my suspicions so much if DoD hadn’t proven to be a collosal failure at developing an EMR.  Did anyone else here catch the major slap GAO delivered to DoD a couple of years ago, noting that its 13-year, $2 billion AHLTA application was a near-complete fizzle?  If anyone at DoD had humility, or if their bosses were held accountable for AHLTA’s staggering losses, nobody would let them drive the technical choices on this project.

Am I the only one who sees a recipe for billions more in DoD losses here?

Defense Department’s EHR Effort Falters

Posted on October 7, 2010 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.

From reader DKBerry:

You’d think that buying a common EHR platform and deploying it across all of Defense Department’s medical centers (Army, Navy, Air Force) … that they would have done better.  How did VA succeed where DoD is failing?

Unless the Defense Department addresses weaknesses in project planning and management that have hampered its current electronic health-record system’s capabilities, it risks undermining its new EHR initiatives, according to a Government Accountability Office report (PDF) requested by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee.

The report notes how the Defense Department has obligated some $2 billion since 1988 to an EHR system for the 9.6 million active-duty service members, their families and other beneficiaries but has come up short and has scaled back its original expectations for AHLTA. (AHLTA was originally an acronym for “Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application,” but the department later declared it was no longer an acronym, but a brand.)

After finding AHLTA’s early performance “problematic” in terms of speed, usability and availability, the Department of Defense has sought to acquire a new system known as EHR Way Ahead, according to the report.

The new system, according to the GAO report, “is expected to address performance problems; provide unaddressed capabilities such as comprehensive medical documentation; capture and share medical data electronically within DOD; and improve existing information sharing with the Department of Veterans Affairs,” and has initiated efforts to “stabilize” AHLTA so it can act as a bridge until the system is ready.

The Defense Department has allocated $302 million in its 2011 budget request, according to the report, but has not changed its EHR acquisition process to avoid the same shortcomings it experienced with AHLTA.

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