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Physicians Are (Justfiably) Ambivalent About Virtual Care

Posted on July 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 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 easy for pundits like myself to support virtual care. From my standpoint, it’s obvious that virtual care is the easiest and most effective way to handle many health conditions, from handling one-off issues like sore throats and sinusitis to managing long-term chronic conditions.

Not only that, emerging devices will allow patients to test their own blood, urine, heart rhythm and more. When these devices are perfected and put into common use, virtual care will become even more useful and appropriate.

Despite all of these signs of progress, though, physicians aren’t all in with virtual care just yet. According to a study by consulting firm Deloitte, doctors think virtual care might help with patient engagement and support. However, doctors said they would need to overcome several obstacles to virtual care use before they get involved.

Generally speaking, survey respondents seem to “get it” about telemedicine. In fact, according to the survey nine in 10 physicians understand the benefits of virtual care, particularly when it came to connecting with patients. They reported that these benefits include improved patient access to care (66%), increased patient satisfaction (52%) and staying connected with patients and their caregivers (45%).

They also said virtual care could improve patient care coordination (42%), boost the cost-effectiveness of care (42%), offer increased flexibility to clinician schedules (41%), streamline workflow (32%) and help them stay connected with peers and other clinicians (28%). Only 11% said they didn’t see any benefits to virtual care.

Given these advantages, you might think that physicians were gung-ho about virtual care adoption – but you’d be wrong. Just over a third (38%) have rolled out email/patient portal consultations, and 17% are conducting physician-to-physician electronic consultations. Only 14% are conducting virtual/video visits.

On a side note, I was interested to learn adoption of such technologies is higher among primary care physicians than specialists. The survey found that 48% of primary care physicians have implemented portals, compared with 34% of specialists, and that 17% of PCPs were offering video visits versus 13% of specialists.

Meanwhile, I was interested to learn that 43% of respondents who had electronic consultation tools at their disposal connected with colleagues at least once a week. In fact, I’m surprised to learn that this is even happening– electronic consults with between doctors and their peers was not on my radar.

But I wasn’t taken aback to learn that physicians employed or affiliated with hospitals and health systems (62%) made regular use of at least one virtual care technology. After all, hospitals are generally ahead of other providers when it comes to telemedicine. (For example, check out Intermountain’s virtual hospital program.)

Bottom line, physicians still face big obstacles to rolling out virtual care, including a need for training (51%), a lack of access to this technology (35%) and worries about security and privacy of patient data (33%).

All told, when I read about their reasonable objections, low physician adoption of virtual care makes a whole lot more sense. Until these concerns are addressed little is likely to change.

E-Patient Update: Alexa Nowhere Near Ready For Healthcare Prime Time

Posted on February 9, 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 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.

Folks, I just purchased an Amazon Echo (Alexa) and I’ll tell you up front that I love it. I’m enjoying the heck out of summoning my favorite music with a simple voice command, ordering up a hypnotherapy session when my back hurts and tracking Amazon packages with a four-word request. I’m not sure all of these options are important but they sure are fun to use.

Being who I am, I’ve also checked out what, if anything, Alexa can do to address health issues. I tested it out with some simple but important comments related to my health. I had high hopes, but its performance turned out to be spotty. My statements included:

“Alexa, I’m hungry.”
“Alexa, I have a migraine.”
”Alexa, I’m lonely.”
”Alexa, I’m anxious.”
”Alexa, my chest hurts.”
“Alexa, I can’t breathe.”
“Alexa, I need help.”
“Alexa, I’m suicidal.”
“Alexa, my face is drooping.”

In running these informal tests, it became pretty clear what the Echo was and was not set up to do. In short, it offered brief but appropriate response to communications that involved conditions (such as experiencing suicidality) but drew a blank when confronted with some serious symptoms.

For example, when I told the Echo that I had a migraine, she (yes, it has a female voice and I’ve given it a gender) offered vague but helpful suggestions on how to deal with headaches, while warning me to call 911 if it got much worse suddenly. She also responded appropriately when I said I was lonely or that I needed help.

On the other hand, some of the symptoms I asked about drew the response “I don’t know about that.” I realize that Alexa isn’t a substitute for a clinician and it can’t triage me, but even a blanket suggestion that I call 911 would’ve been nice.

It’s clear that part of the problem is Echo’s reliance on “skills,” apps which seem to interact with its core systems. It can’t offer very much in the way of information or referral unless you invoke one of these skills with an “open” command. (The Echo can tell you a joke, though. A lame joke, but a joke nonetheless.)

Not only that, while I’m sure I missed some things, the selection of skills seems to be relatively minimal for such a prominent platform, particularly one backed by a giant like Amazon. That’s particularly true in the case of health-related skills. Visualize where chatbots and consumer-oriented AI were a couple of years ago and you’ll get the picture.

Ultimately, my guess is that physicians will prescribe Alexa alongside connected glucose meters, smart scales and the like, but not very soon. As my colleague John Lynn points out, information shared via the Echo isn’t confidential, as the Alexa isn’t HIPAA-compliant, and that’s just one of many difficulties that the healthcare industry will need to overcome before deploying this otherwise nifty device.

Still, like John, I have little doubt that the Echo and his siblings will eventually support medical practice in one form or another. It’s just a matter of how quickly it moves from an embryonic stage to a fully-fledged technology ecosystem linked with the excellent tools and apps that already exist.

Everything Old is New Again at Lenovo #HIThinkTank Event

Posted on June 28, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Last week in Durham NC, 35 healthcare innovators gathered at the Lenovo offices to discuss three trendy topics: Value-base care, connected health and virtual care. Dubbed the Health Innovation Think Tank #HIThinkTank, it was the first summit-style event hosted by Lenovo Health.

#HIThinkTank was designed to be an opportunity for audience members to learn about the latest innovations from leading academics, technology companies and healthcare organizations. I went into the event expecting to hear about the latest in artificial intelligence, big data, predictive analytics and genomic medicine. It did not turn out to be that kind of event…and it was all the better for it.

I would say that the overall theme of #HIThinkTank was innovation through the application of old ideas in new ways. In other words, everything old is new again in healthcare.

The day started with Rasu Shrestha MD, Chief Innovation Officer at UMPC Enterprises, emphatically stating that we are “in a time of tremendous opportunity in healthcare” and that it was “time for us to move from ‘doing digital’ to truly ‘being digital’”. Shrestha went on to explain that our challenge now was to reimagine clinical processes/workflows in light of modern technologies and methodologies. Like the re-engineering wave that swept through manufacturing in the 1980s, Shrestha believes it’s time to engage all stakeholders and collaborate on reworking healthcare.

Shrestha was followed by Juliet Silver of Perficient who gave us all a dose of reality by telling her personal healthcare story. The day Silver’s husband was diagnosed with cancer was the day she became an advocate – “Google searching and academic research quickly became my constant companions as we struggled to make sense of his disease.” Silver made specific mention of how she had to manually obtain paper copies of her husband’s medical records in order to share them with members of his care team and what a difference that made in his care. She hinted that patients may be the key to truly solving healthcare’s interoperability problem as they are the one stakeholder with the most to lose/gain.

After Silver, several speakers made their case for a return to a more community-based approach to healthcare – one that harkens back to the days of early pioneers when physicians, nurses and members of the community worked together to keep each other healthy.

Holly Miller MD of MedAllies presented the results of a local implementation of CMS’s Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+) program – a program that stressed simple post-discharge follow-up as a way to reduce readmissions and keep overall healthcare spending to a minimum. Miller specifically mentioned how community doctors do this all the time.

This was echoed by Marty Fattig, CEO of Nemaha County Hospital, a 16-bed facility 60 miles south of Omaha NE. Fattig spoke at length about the successful EHR, HIE data sharing and population health initiatives by his staff. Particularly noteworthy was his repeated statement: “We may not have the financial or technical resources of the large networks, but we get stuff done because we are all driven to improve the health of our community peers. It makes a big difference that we see our patients at church, at the grocery store and at the post office.” Ironically this old fashioned community approach to delivering healthcare is now the goal of many healthcare organizations.

In the afternoon Steve Aylward of Change Healthcare and Dr Sylvan Waller led the discussion on virtual care by first reminding the audience that over 90% of virtual visits still happen via the phone. Video consults is the fastest growing area of virtual care, but it has a long way to go to catch up to the telephone. Dr Waller said it best “In 30 years #telehealth will finally become the overnight success everyone expects it to be”. Both Aylward and Waller stressed that we cannot lose sight of these “older technologies” that work for patients when we think about innovation.

For me, what drove home this theme of old-is-new-again was the afternoon tour of the Lenovo model data center. This new highly efficient and “green” room prominently featured Lenovo’s latest innovation – direct water-cooled servers. The new NeXtScale WCT server series boasts high pressure water lines that physically run through the server and draw heat directly away from the quad CPUs. Back in the early 90’s I remember getting a tour of an IBM facility (not far from Lenovo’s facility in Durham) that still had a functioning 308X mainframe that featured…you guessed it…water cooling technology.

All in all, I walked away from #HIThinkTank feeling encouraged about the future of healthcare. It was refreshing to be at an innovation event and hear about actual successful implementations rather than pie-in-the-sky promises. The event reaffirmed my belief that technology alone is insufficient to fix healthcare. Those of us in HealthIT need to do more than just create cool products, we need to help clients re-engineer their internal processes to better utilize those products to improve community health.

As Dr Shrestha said – It’s time for us to stop doing digital and truly be digital.

3 Benefits of Virtual Care Infographic

Posted on May 20, 2016 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.

The people at Carena have put out an infographic that looks at 3 ways virtual clinics are improving care quality. I’d like to see better sources since most of the sources for the data in this infographic come from virtual care providers. However, it’s also interesting to look at the case virtual care providers are making so we can test if they’re living up to those ideals.

What do you think of these 3 benefits? Are they achievable through virtual care?

3 Ways Virtual Clinicals are Improving Care Quality

Telemedicine Rollouts Are Becoming More Mature

Posted on May 19, 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.

For a long time, telemedicine was a big idea whose time had not come. Initially, the biggest obstacles providing video consults was consumer bandwidth. Once we got to the point that most consumers had high-speed Internet connections, proponents struggled to get commercial insurers and federal payers to reimburse providers for telemedicine. We also had to deal with medical licensure which most companies are dealing with by licensing their providers across multiple states (Crazy, but workable). Now, with both categories of payers increasingly paying for such services and patients increasingly willing to pay out of pocket, providers need to figure out which telemedicine business models work.

If I had to guess, I would’ve told you that very few providers have reached the stage where they had developed a fairly mature telemedicine service line. But data gathered by researchers increasingly suggests that I am wrong.

In fact, a new study by KPMG found that about 25% of healthcare providers have implemented telehealth and telemedicine programs which have achieved financial stability and improved efficiency. It should be noted that the study only involved 120 participants who reported they work for providers. Still, I think the results are worth a look.

Despite the success enjoyed by some providers with telemedicine programs, a fair number of providers are at a more tentative stage. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they didn’t have a virtual care program in place, and 40% had said they had just implemented a program. But what stands out to me is that the majority of respondents had telehealth initiatives underway.

Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents said that one of the key reasons they were in favor of telehealth programs is that they felt it would increase patient volumes and loyalty. Other providers have different priorities. Seventeen percent felt that implement the telehealth with help of care coordination for high-risk patients, another 17% said they wanted to reduce costs for access to medical specialists, and 13% said they were interested in telemedicine due to consumer demand.

When asked what challenges they faced in implementing telehealth, 19% said they had other tech priorities, 18% were unsure they had a sustainable business model, and 18% said their organization wasn’t ready to roll out a new technology.

As I see it, telemedicine is set up to get out of neutral and pull out of the gate. We’re probably past the early adopter stage, and as soon as influential players perfect their strategy for telemedicine rollouts, their industry peers are sure to follow.

What remains to be seen is whether providers see telemedicine as integral to the care they deliver, or primarily as a gateway to their brick-and-mortar services. I’d argue that telemedicine services should be positioned as a supplement to live care, a step towards greater continuity of care and the logical next step in going digital. Those who see it as a sideline, or a loyalty builder with no inherent clinical value, are unlikely to benefit as much from a telemedicine rollout.

Admittedly, integrating virtual care poses a host of new technical and administrative problems. But like it or not, telemedicine is important to the future of healthcare. Hold it is at arms’ length to your peril.