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The Healthcare IT Guy

January-17-2012

8:00

This is the next post in my series of Do’s and Don’ts Healthcare IT. As we all know, some of our most important citizens live in rural settings, small cities, the countryside, or remote areas. These areas have smaller populations and less direct access to vital healthcare resources. In the past 15 years or so we’ve made some great strides in remotely accessible healthcare; these offerings, called telemedical tools, provide important clinical care at a distance. Here are some do’s and don’ts of telemedicine:

  • Do use commonly available web meeting and online video tools bring expert caregivers anywhere. WebEx, GotoMeeting, Adobe Connect, Skype, and a variety of other “web meeting” tools used mostly in professional office settings and remote sales pitches are wonderful tools to connect caregivers in populated communities to their rural patients. A simple $30 to $50 per month account on the physician side with almost no direct cost for the patient is an excellent way to engage with patients. These kinds of web meetings can happen securely either at the patient’s home or patients can be brought into satellite offices with high-quality telepresence. Then, instead of waiting for days or weeks for a health professional to travel to an area or patients having to take off many hours or entire days traveling to experts in big cities, care can be given almost immediately with less inconvenience. Don’t assume that kinds of web meeting solutions are HIPAA compliant out of the box; however, do realize they can be made HIPAA compliant with appropriate protections.
  • Do use medical devices for remote monitoring of in-home care improve clinical observations. While web meetings are great for basic primary care, it’s not perfect for elder care, long-term care, and other types of clinical requirements. There is a new class of devices that can put near-hospital-quality patient monitoring devices into patient homes and “beam” that data to monitoring centers that can watch for important events across many patients in different geographical areas. Toss in a nurse or other caregiver that can visit once a week or once a month to calibrate the devices and you can see how much more convenience patients can have and have their physicians, wherever they may be, have immediate access to their actual vitals and clinical status.
  • Don’t assume that medical device connectivity will be fast or easy to do on your own — you’ll need something like Qualcomm’s 2net platform. 2net is a trustable, Class I FDA-listed, standalone gateway with an embedded cellular component that sends clinical data truly “in the cloud” without requiring local internet connectivity. Medical data can be sent from devices in the same way that e-books can be read on Kindle devices – using 3G cellular, from mobile phones, and software APIs.
  • Don’t always send patients to labs; instead, take labs to patients with mobile imaging and lab specimen collections that allow remote reading and web-based report distribution. It’s difficult for many rural communities to have their own full diagnosticians but mobile imaging centers and lab specimen “kiosks” can do the X-rays, take pictures, and perform collections and then send the data electronically to large populated centers where they can be “read” and analyzed; the reports can be distributed via secure e-mail or other web-based applications to doctors in the rural areas or physicians remotely available and connected through web meeting or other similar tools.
  • Do try and make behavioral health, mental health, and related care made more accessible. Veterans of our foreign wars are coming home with many problems that can be easily diagnosed with proper access and many of the veterans live in rural communities; while primary care and specialty care is difficult to get in smaller population regions, behavioral and mental health is even harder to access. Telemedical assistance through online chat, Skype-like video conversations, and secure online messaging can provide quick relief.
  • Don’t leave patients on their own and encourage them to join online communities. Online community building tools allow populated city citizens to meld with their rural counterparts. Patients helping other patients is a terrific approach to extending care; sometimes what a patient needs is not necessarily a health professional but a curated session with fellow patients going through the same problems. Online, electronic, community tools such as PatientsLikeMe.com can connect geographic communities and bring them closer together without increasing costs or requiring anything more than a simple mobile phone or computer.

What do’s and don’ts would you add to a telemedicine strategy? Drop me a comment below.

January-13-2012

7:39

I recently wrote, in Do’s and Don’ts of hospital health IT, that you shouldn’t make long-term decisions on mobile app platforms like iOS and Android because the mobile world is still quite young and the war between Apple, Microsoft, and Google is nowhere near being resolved. A couple of readers, in the comments section (thanks Anne and DDS), asked me to elaborate mobile and mHealth strategy for healthcare professionals (HCPs) and hospitals.

A couple of the key points were:

  • (Anne) how can you avoid making long-term mobile decisions at this point?  After all, hospitals that don’t steer their doctors are going to be managing whatever technology the doctors invest in, aren’t they?
  • (DDS) the risk is that people will take this to mean that they shouldn’t move at all on mobile app platforms, and this would be a mistake. This is the perennial issue with health IT; if it’s not perfect, then wait.

The approach I recommend right now for mobile apps, if you’re developing them yourself, is to stay focused on HTML5 browser-based apps and not native apps. So, to answer Anne’s and DDS’s question specifically, no you shouldn’t wait to allow usage of mobile apps by anyone; but, if you’re looking to build your own apps and deploy them widely (not in simple experiments or pilots) then you shouldn’t write to iOS or Android or WP7 but instead use HTML5 frameworks like AppMobi and PhoneGap that give you almost the same functionality but protect you from the underlying platform wars. In the end, HTML5 will likely win and it’s cross-platform and quite functional for most common use cases. If you’re not developing the apps yourself and using third-party apps, then of course you must support the use of iOS native, Android native, and soon Windows native apps on your network.

So, from a general perspective you should embrace mHealth but do so in a strategic, not tactical manner. Here are the most critical questions to answer in a mHealth strategy — it’s not a simple one size fits all approach:

  • How will you allow doctors’ or patients’ own devices within your hospitals / organizations — simply by providing connectivity and wireless access on the production network or some other means?
  • How will you allow doctors’ own devices to connect to hospital IT systems?
  • How will you extend hospital IT systems via hospital-owned mobile devices?
  • How will you allow the hospital or organization to “prescribe” the use of apps to patients and track the usage of apps?
  • How will you approve or deny the use of certain apps that may not meet FDA regulations if they get close to MDDS or Class 1/2/3 devices?

If there is interest in this topic, I will expand on my list of Do’s and Don’ts — mHealth is a very complex topic and requires a good strategy. Just saying that you allow the use of mobile devices like smartphones in your hospital is not an mHealth strategy. :-)

January-10-2012

6:45

In case you haven’t seen it, MU attestations data is now available on Data.gov and it includes analyzable vendor statistics.

The data set merges information about the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs attestations with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, Certified Health IT Products List. This new dataset enables systematic analysis of the distribution of certified EHR vendors and products among those providers that have attested to meaningful use within the CMS EHR Incentive Programs. The data set can be analyzed by state, provider type, provider specialty, and practice setting.

The data set does not include dollar amounts or the difficulty of attestation (e.g. how many times it took to pass). I’ll try and find out if that data might be available in the future. It’s also unclear whether the provider counts were broken up into each line (meaning one provider per row) or if multiple providers were aggregated into lines (meaning multiple providers were grouped).

The dataset is available now on Data.gov at http://www.data.gov/raw/5486 and is worth checking out. Since the file has been downloaded over 75 times, it’s clear some of you already know about this so if you’ve done some analysis with it; if you’ve done any analysis or posted results please drop me a note below so that everyone can benefit.

January-8-2012

21:01

Last year I started a series of “Do’s and Dont’s” in hospital tech by focusing on wireless technologies. Folks asked a lot of questions about do’s and dont’s in other tech areas so here’s a list of more tips and tricks:

  • Do start implementing cloud-based services. Don’t think, though, that just because you are implementing cloud services that you will have less infrastructure or related work to do. Cloud services, especially in the SaaS realm, are “application-centric” solutions and as such the infrastructure requirements remain pretty substantial – especially the sophistication of the network infrastructure.
  • Do consider programmable and app-driven content management and document management systems as a core for their electronic health records instead of special-purpose EHR systems written decades ago. Don’t install new EHRs that don’t have robust document management capabilities. Do consider EHRs that can be easily integrated with document and content management systems like SharePoint or Alfresco.
  • Do go after virtualization for almost all apps – as soon as possible, make it so that no applications are sitting in physical servers. Don’t invest more in any apps that cannot easily be virtualized.
  • Do start looking at location-based asset tracking and app functionality; your equipment should be aware of where it’s physically sitting and be able to “find itself” and “track itself” using location-based awareness. Don’t invest heavily in systems that can not support location-based awareness (like potentially allow or disallow logins based on where someone is logging in from as well as enable / disable certain features in applications on where logins are occurring).
  • Do start implementing single sign on and common identity management with CCOW integration. Don’t invest in any systems that cannot meet common identity or SSO requirements.
  • Don’t make long-term decisions on mobile app platforms like iOS and Android because the mobile world is still quite young and the war between Apple, Microsoft, and Google is nowhere near being resolved. A platform that looks strong today may be weak tomorrow and become legacy quickly; however, HTML5 is not going anywhere and will be ultimate winner of the next 15 years just like HTML4 is the winner from 1995 to now. Do start investing in HTML 5 and CSS3 and away from HTML4. Don’t install any more apps that require IE6/7 or older browsers and don’t invest in systems that don’t have HTML5 in their roadmaps.
  • Don’t write applications on top of legacy EHR platforms; write applications with proper HL7 connectivity and platform independence. Most EHR platforms are using technologies that are either ancient or need to be replaced; by integrating deeply but remaining independent of their technologies you’ll get the best of both worlds.
  • Don’t buy any medical devices from vendors that don’t have a deep and thorough medical device to healthcare IT enterprise connectivity strategy. If a device doesn’t have wired or wireless TCP/IP access, doesn’t have data export or HL7 connectivity is not worth purchasing.
  • Don’t buy any thick-client applications that do not have thin-client “remote viewers” available.

January-2-2012

10:57

One of the most important activities you can undertake before you begin your EHR implementation journey is to standardize and simplify your processes to help prepare for automation. Unlike humans, which can handle diversity, computers hate variations. Before you begin your software selection process, get help from a practice consultant to reduce the number of appointment types you manage, reduce the number of different forms you use, ensure that your charting categories (“Labs”, “Notes”, etc.) don’t look different per patient type or physician, determine how you will manage medication lists and problem lists across the patient population, and deal with how you’ll manage paper in your digital world.

If you spend even just a few hours a week doing the prep-work before you buy any software, you will be better prepared in your selection process. Without some level of standardization your EHR implementation will either fail, be delayed, or have many unhappy users; the more you can standardize and simplify, the more likely you will have a successful outcome. A strong project manager with authority to make decisions will be the difference maker in the simplification process.

To help you with your workflow assessment and standardization efforts, check out the The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ.gov) Workflow Assessment for Health IT Toolkit. Even if you’ve done workflow assessments before, the toolkit is worth checking out.

December-24-2011

8:59

As most of my regular readers know, I work as a technology strategy advisor for several different government agencies; in that role I get to spend quality time with folks from NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology), what I consider one of the government’s most prominent think tanks. They’re doing yeoman’s work trying to get the massive federal government’s different agencies working in common directions and the technology folks I’ve met seem cognizant of the influence (good and bad) they have; they seem to try to wield that power as carefully as they know how. Since most of you are in the technology industry, albeit specific to healthcare, I recommend that you learn more about NIST and the role it plays – they can make your life easier because of the coordination and consensus building work they do for us all. I, for one, was thrilled when NIST was picked as the governing body for the MU certification criteria. These guys know what they’re doing and I wish they got more involved in driving healthcare standards.

A few years ago NIST came up with the first drafts of the seminal definitions of Cloud Computing; they ended up setting the stage for communicating complex technical concepts and helping making “Cloud” a household name. After 15 drafts, the 16th and final definition was published as The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (NIST Special Publication 800-145) in September. It’s worth reading because it’s only a few pages and is understandable by the layperson. No computer science degree is required.

Yesterday I was speaking to a senior executive in the EHR space and we had a great discussion on what healthcare providers are doing in terms of cloud computing and how to communicate these ideas to small practices as well as hospitals. It reminded me of the numerous similar conversations I’ve had with other senior executives we serve in the medical devices and other regulated IT sectors. In almost every conversation I can remember about this topic over the past couple of years, I had to remind people that NIST has already done the hard work and that we can, indeed, rely on them. Most of the time the senior executive was unaware of where the definitions came from so I figured I’d put together this quick advisory.

My strong recommendation to all senior healthcare executives is that we not come up with our own definitions for cloud components – instead, when communicating anything about the cloud we should instruct our customers about NIST’s definition and then tie our product offerings to those definitions. The essential characteristics, deployment models, and service models have already been established and we should use them. When we do that, customers know that we’re not trying to confuse them and that they have an independent way of verifying our cloud offerings as real or vapor.

Below I have copied/pasted from NIST 800-145 their key definitions. Imagine how many debates you would avert with technicians at clients when, during conversations with a client, you communicated some of the following information first, showed them how it was a “standard definition” and handed them a copy of the publication, and then mapped your offerings and discussions to the different areas. Your sales teams and the marketing teams would appreciate the clarity, too.

Note that you do not need to map every offering you have to every definition – just start mapping the obvious ones and then figure out how you can communicate the “gaps” as being not applicable to your products / services or if those gaps will be filled in the future as part of your roadmap. Treat these definitions as canonical but not inclusive – meaning that just because your SaaS offering doesn’t fit every essential characteristic doesn’t mean that you’re not “cloud” – it just means partially cloud.

If you’ve got questions about how to map your product offerings, drop me some comments and I’ll assist as best as I can.

Here are the key definitions from NIST 800-145, copied directly from the original source:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.

Essential Characteristics:

On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.

Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).

Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.

Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability1 at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

Service Models:

Software as a Service (SaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to use the provider’s applications running on a cloud infrastructure2. The applications are accessible from various client devices through either a thin client interface, such as a web browser (e.g., web-based email), or a program interface. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, storage, or even individual application capabilities, with the possible exception of limited user-specific application configuration settings.

Platform as a Service (PaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools supported by the provider.3 The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, or storage, but has control over the deployed applications and possibly configuration settings for the application-hosting environment.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to provision processing, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over operating systems, storage, and deployed applications; and possibly limited control of select networking components (e.g., host firewalls).

Deployment Models:

Private cloud. The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers (e.g., business units). It may be owned, managed, and operated by the organization, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.

Community cloud. The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a specific community of consumers from organizations that have shared concerns (e.g., mission, security requirements, policy, and compliance considerations). It may be owned, managed, and operated by one or more of the organizations in the community, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.

Public cloud. The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for open use by the general public. It may be owned, managed, and operated by a business, academic, or government organization, or some combination of them. It exists on the premises of the cloud provider.

Hybrid cloud. The cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g., cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds).

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Christina's Considerations

January-18-2012

13:00

The Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Healthcare Executive includes an article I wrote for the Satisfying Your Customers column, titled Engaging Staff with Social Media.  In the article I describe how successful leaders will prepare for the shifts occurring in the healthcare workplace; including the push for efficiency and new generations.  I also include a few examples of where social media is contributing to a more effective workplace in hospitals. 

Social media technologies are tools that can help increase customer, physician and employee satisfaction. I hope you will take the time to read the article and share your thoughts.

Another blog post that includes a few great workplace examples is list of 20 hospitals with inspiring social media strategies

January-17-2012

17:41

I was interviewed for a recent article in Becker's Hospital Review that explores the common belief that older adults have more difficulty accepting and using technology.  It includes some great comments about "digital natives" and "digital immigrants" by the other interviewees.   

Speaking for myself, as a late Boomer, I can say that I certainly am a digital immigrant who has embraced technologies as I have found value to my work and life.  And, I believe that this applies to older adults in general.  There are differences in the generations and the oldest may need the most convincing and support, but it isn't that they can't incorporate technology into their daily life.

I remember older adults thinking it was a bit silly for people to carry around a cell phone.  But, once they began to realize value - they feel safer because they can call for help -- then older adults start using the technology just as anyone else.   If I'm correct, I also I believe this is how telephone adoption went.  It took a long time for it to catch on and for people to find value in the technology.  

Health IT is just one more advancement that needs to progress through the adoption cycle.

 

January-15-2012

15:28

I've posted on the subject of volunteersyoung people working in hospitals and those considering a career in healthcare administration, previously.  However, this last week, I've been specifically researching Candy Stripers, who are sometimes referred to as Junior Volunteers.

Candy-stripers
Candy Stripers at Doctors Memorial Hospital, FL

I'd love to here your thoughts or stories about the youngest of our hospital workforce!  If you prefer something more personal, send me an email: Christina {at} cthielst {dot} com

I'm thinking I should also start researching the Pink Ladies, too!

January-12-2012

7:43

The American College of Physicians has released an update to its Ethics Manual and new or expanded sections include, among others, confidentiality and electronic health records, health system catastrophes, boundaries and privacy, social media and online professionalism.  I really appreciate the manual and have pulled out a few key points based upon the topics I cover often on this blog.

  • Communication through email or other electronic means can supplement face-to-face encounters; however, it must be done under appropriate guidelines. Issuance of a prescription or other forms of treatment, based only on an online questionnaire or phone-based consultation, does not constitute an acceptable standard of care. (Exception: on-call situations) (pg 75)
  • Shifting principles guide the patient-physician relationship during catastrophes and physicians need to be prepared for decision making and the just delivery of healthcare. (pg 80)
  • Physicians who use online media, such as social networks, blogs, and video sites, should be aware of the potential to blur social and professional boundaries.  They therefore must be careful to extend standards for maintaining professional relationships and confidentiality from the the clinic to the online setting.  Physicians must remain cognizant of the privacy settings for secure messaging and recording of patient-physician interactions, as well as, online networks and media and should maintain a professional demeanor in accounts that could be viewed by patients or the public. (pg 81)

 

 All Changes to the Manual since the 2005 (fifth) edition

ACP Ethics Manual

January-11-2012

8:45

Healthcare-associated infection data on all hospitals in Califorinia has been released by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).  This means anyone can see the nosocomial infection rates of their local hospital by unit.  But, I urge some caution among consumers with comparing rates of different hospitals and units. Instead, this data should be used to prepare questions and for a discussion with your physician or the hospital.  Hospitals may be interested in using this data to benchmark themselves against other hospitals.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are infections that patients develop during the course of receiving healthcare treatment for other conditions. They can happen following treatment in healthcare facilities including hospitals as well as outpatient surgery centers, dialysis centers, long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and community clinics. They can also occur during the course of treatment at home. They can be caused by a wide variety of common and unusual bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

HAIs are the most common complication of hospital care, occurring in approximately one in every 20 patients. The following HAIs occurring in hospitalized patients are required to be reported to the CDPH by all California general acute care hospitals:

Data is also available on a couple of hospital practices that that contribute to a reduction in HAI rates and length-of-stay.

 

 

January-10-2012

12:53

I participated in this morning's Gartner Worldwide IT Spending Forecast.  Gartner, the technology research giant, brought together some wonderful speakers who shared information that I feel is important to healthcare -- especially at this moment in time.  The issues will have major revenue implications for vendors (perhaps leading to service changes) and could delay current and planned IT initiatives (EHR adoption, HIE, etc) of healthcare organizations.

The floods in Thailand in October of 2011 severely impacted fabrication facilities and this has lead to a shortage of hard drives. It is predicted that it will take at least until the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2012 for the industry to get back to meeting demand.  There is some uncertainty about this timeline.

This means:

  • There will be storage and server component shortages.  Storage will not be cheap and providers will need to be efficient.
  • Virtualization (the cloud) may be a more affordable option.
  • We can expect longer lead times for delivery, backlogs and double ordering of products.
  • We can expect an increase in costs over the short term (re-assess those budget projections you made last year)

One lesson that comes from this situation is to have multiple geographic locations for the manufacturing of components to help prevent business disasters like this one.  In this case all of our (the world's) eggs (hard drives) are manufactured in one basket (Thailand).

PC and software spending is down due to the downturn in the economy.  But, there was one bit of good news that I pulled from the discussion on software.  Spending on software (tools) for collaboration is increasing.  Companies are investing in technologies that will help them stay competitive and this means tools that will help their employees collaborate will reduce the need to bring on additional people. 

Now, I've been seeing this in other industries and have started to see it trickle into healthcare.  With health reform upon us, I hope my friends in the hospital start thinking a little more out of the box and how they too can leverage collaborative tools (aka social media) to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.


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Medgadget

January-19-2012

15:13
rf0oyaje

Researchers from the University of Tennessee Space Institute are developing a device which should make eye exams in children a whole lot simpler. The device is called the Dynamic Ocular Evaluation System (DOES) and it can screen the eyes for abnormalities, while the children watch a cartoon or play a computer game. Here’s how it works:

“DOES is low-cost, high-quality, and operator- and child-friendly. It takes about a minute to train someone to use it. The test is done as the child watches a three-minute cartoon or plays a computer game. Infrared light is used to analyze the binocular condition and the assessment is reported on-site within a minute. Neither eye dilation nor verbal response is required.

Read More


January-19-2012

15:11
Equivital-mobile-EQ02-LifeMonitor

Hidalgo out of Cambridge, England has released its new wireless Equivital EQ02 LifeMonitor that can continuously record ECG, respiratory rate, skin temperature, and activity levels in patients.  Data is analyzed using special software for PCs, web and mobile devices and can provide real-time results that can be immediately acted upon by clinicians.

Hidalgo’s technology has already been in use by UK’s Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue, Addenbrooke’s hospital, and the US Marine Corps in Iraq where wireless, mobile, and easy to use devices save the day.

Read More


January-19-2012

15:07
agfa-dx-m-digitizer

Agfa received FDA clearance for its DX-M digitizer with needle-based detectors for use in mammography and general radiography.  It features the firm’s MUSICA2 advanced image processing software, three image resolution modes (50 μm pixel pitch (20 pixels/mm), 100 μm pixel pitch (10 pixels/mm) and 150 μm pixel pitch (6.7 pixels/mm)), a “drop-and-go buffer” for cassettes so you don’t have to wait for the digitization, and a number of other features that improve workflow.

The system can support both needle-based detector cassettes and standard phosphor plate cassettes, and the two types are colored differently to eliminate confusion.

Read More


January-19-2012

13:21
savile-row-implant

While joint arthroplasty has become impressively advanced over the past few decades, the essence of the procedure still ultimately boils down to trial and error. Using pre-operative X-rays and intra-operative sizing guides, joint surgeons pick from a pre-set list of joint replacement “sizes.” Then, once the bone cuts have been made, temporary implants called “trials” are used to see how the fit is, and the best fit is selected. Rarely are these pre-determined sizes a perfect fit, but they are usually more than sufficient and function quite well.

However, in the quest for perfection, patient-matched custom implants are beginning to increase in popularity. Stanmore Implants just announced the launch of their custom matched unicondylar knee replacement system dubbed “Savile Row,” after the famous Tailoring destination. Unicondylar knee replacements are used in patients with isolated arthritis in one part of their knee and only replace the damaged portion.

Read More


January-19-2012

12:08
anesthetic-contact-lenses

Laser eye surgeries like LASIK and especially photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) can be painful on the eyes for a few days following the procedure.  To alleviate the pain anesthetic eye drops are used, which have to be regularly administered by the patient. Not only is that inconvenient, but one can actually overdose a bit on them drops.

Now researchers at University of Florida are reporting that they developed a way to load topical anesthetics into contact lenses to provide extended delivery of pain relief in a uniform fashion.  And since many of the patients that undergo eye procedures have been wearing contacts prior, they’re already used to putting them on.

Read More


January-19-2012

11:57
medtonic-endurant-II

Medtronic announced receiving European approval for its Endurant II AAA Stent Graft System and will be making it available globally.

The device provides a minimally invasive (endovascular) option for addressing abdominal aortic aneurysms and includes a few improvements on the previous model:

Read More


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MedTech and Devices

Health IT Corner

April-26-2010

15:40
Over the last couple of weeks I have been running across various success and failure stories of EMR implementation in various settings, ranging from small practices to large hospital wide implementations. 

The number one factor in a successful EMR implementation from all the read reports have been due to physician/surgeon buy in.  Makes sense, after all these are end users of the applications and if you don't have anyone on the provider side vying for a successful workflow adaptation, there is no reason to implement an EMR.  Also, if you have an M.D. as your champion, won't the rest of the staff have to buy in for fear of replacement of someone who will?  I know in other occupations, what the boss says, goes.  The true is same in healthcare, no?

The next seemingly most important factor is the ability to customize the application in a way that will best benefit the providers.  This is absolutely a main component in the success factor of an EMR in my opinion.  Vendors have to do what they can to include everything in their system that a practice, clinic or hospital may use.

In a hospital system, this problem is very clear.  A hospital system has to be a nightmare to the specialists who use it.  Why would a provider want to sift through literally thousands of medications when they typically only prescribe certain ones for their patients.  This is where careful planning and delegating comes in.  The customer needs to understand that the hospital system is meant to meet the needs of all providers in the entire system.  It is recommended that each specialty department within the community appoint select staff to create a list of "Favorites" within the medications, procedures, diagnosis, orders etc. tabs.  This way, time will be saved when completing a patient visit.

In a smaller setting, I have to recommend going with a specialty specific vendor.  In doing this, the provider will have a more robust system specifically catered to their needs and will not include any additional data fields that they will never have a need for.  The specialty specific vendors are also more likely to already have certain reporting tools already preloaded in the system to generate specialty specific and relative reports, such as those required for Centers of Excellence.  Exemplo Medical (www.exemplomedical.com)  is one such company that develops specialty specific software.  For example, Exemplo's application for Breast Cancer, eMD for Breast Centers, is an application designed in conjunction with Breast Surgeons and staff that only shows pertinent workflows that a typical Breast Center or Practice may use.  The workflow includes specific data fields for patient visits, orders, medications, procedures and so on.  They even have a specific report that automatically generates a NQMBC report that is easily submitted to the National Consortium of Breast Centers for their COE compliance.

Of all the success stories these two themes: provider buy in and customization seem to be at the top of the list and perhaps the easiest to attain.  Some may disagree with that statement of being "easy to attain" however if a provider has been given a clearly painted picture of the benefits of EMR implementation, then it should be a no brainer on their end.  As for the customization...providers do your homework, there are wonderful systems out there that you will be amazed to find how easily adaptable they are to any practice.


December-16-2009

9:52
Two studies were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this past Monday showing "The risk of cancer associated with popular CT scans appears to be greater than previously believed".

I originally read this article in the WSJ and they included a nifty graph showing the increase in CT scans over the years (1993-2006, and included projected 2007 numbers). I can't say I was shocked. Obviously there will be an increase, population increases year over year.

As expected, the American College of Radiology (ACR), released their own statement in response to the recent studies. The ACR statement was wonderfully put together and basically stated that if an imaging center abides by the standards put forth, then there should be no increased risk as the benefit of the scan outweighs the risk. Seems like common sense to me.

This is where I believe that patients need to take more responsibility for their own health by asking questions instead of just going along with whatever their physician says. After all, when you break it down, its a business that strives to make a profit. I am not putting down all clinicians who perform CTs, I am putting down the clinicians who abuse the system to make the money to pay for their fancy state-of-the-art equipment. Those machines come with a hefty price tag and the ROI must be met somehow. Some clinicians go about it the right way, others don't unfortunately. They are human after all.

Now for the other issue with this...clinicians have to protect themselves. If a patient comes in complaining of a mild condition that a CT may show, its up to the doc to determine the severity of the situation. This is a very fine line due to the liability involved. Unfortunately we live in a world of money hungry individuals who are willing to sue if their coffee if too hot. This is where the relationship of the physician and patient comes into play. There has to be a level of understanding and trust for the situation at hand.

Personally, I have a wonderful relationship with my GP and others specialists that I see because I feel comfortable with them. If you don't feel comfortable asking the hard questions with your provider, maybe its time to look into a different one. Good ones are out there, more good than bad fortunately for us. But it is up to us to sift through the population to find one that fits best. Unfortunately for doctors now a days, it is getting harder and harder to make money and that is unfortunate because I believe that some of the "good" docs may be susceptible to becoming more focused on business side rather than patient care, which I can't say I don't necessarily blame them, they have bills to pay too, big ones like student loans, salaries, mandatory EMR adoption etc.

Now for my cynical comment....I wonder which diagnostic test or treatment or whatever will be next to take some heat in order to cut healthcare costs? Keep in mind this is at the expense of the public who desperately wants change, but I have to ask, at what price? So far it has been more about money than human lives.



December-11-2009

11:43
The National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC) has just released their position statement regarding the recent mammography guideline changes:

“The National Consortium of Breast Center's Board of Trustees has given their consent to the following position statement reflecting their stand on the issue of mammographic screening, in response to the recommendations made by the US Preventive Services Task Force.

National Consortium of Breast Centers, Inc.

Position Statement regarding the Mammography Screening Recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)

The National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC), the largest national organization devoted to the inter-disciplinary care of breast disease, requests the USPSTF rescind their new position on mammography screening.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published a paper detailing model estimates of potential benefits and harms to women screened for breast cancer with mammography.1 They provided an updated USPSTF recommendation statement on screening for breast cancer for the general population that alters currently accepted guidelines for women over 40 years old.2

The NCBC opposes the new guidelines as written. We cite specific evidence that screening mammography leads to early detection which leads to improved survival.3 In every country starting population screening, mortality declines coincide with onset of screening, not systemic therapy. These USPSTF models are not based on sound data, namely different denominators in the “harms” vs. “benefits” groups leading to invalid comparisons. Recent data from randomized controlled trials reveal significant mortality reductions evident approximately five years after screening programs were initiated. The reductions in age-adjusted, disease specific mortality (30-40%) since 1990 define screening program benefits not seen in the prior six decades. In the United States, these mortality declines continue at a rate of approximately 2% per year. 4 This mortality improvement counts as a remarkable public health achievement.

In addition, the USPSTF panel (comprised almost exclusively of primary care physicians) did not include breast imaging specialists nor was it represented by any of the multiple other specialists who collaborate to optimize patient outcomes. These specialists include pathologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, reconstructive surgeons, technologists, geneticists, nurse navigators, educators and others.

The NCBC does not understand the assumptions used by the USPSTF to value human life. We note the cited literature was selective and failed to acknowledge equally powerful and credible peer-reviewed literature, which supports currently accepted breast cancer screening guidelines.

We would also like to note that quality of life has a significant value, not just survival. It is well established that if we discontinue mammography for women in their 40’s, the cancers eventually detected will be larger, more likely need more aggressive surgery, more likely need chemotherapy and more likely lead to other significant socio-economic concerns.

The NCBC requests input into future guideline development and vows to work with government, scientists and industry to keep the process transparent and keep the focus on the patient. We recommend further efforts target screening, risk assessment, education and awareness regarding the implications of positive and negative screening findings. Funding for further research is imperative and supported by the controversy these articles have generated.

Finally, we note the USPSTF article states, “whether it will be practical or acceptable to change the existing U.S. practice of annual screening cannot be addressed by our models.”1 The NCBC agrees with this comment and finds their screening guideline suggestions unacceptable. The NCBC believes many women’s lives will be placed at risk if current screening guidelines are altered. We respectfully request the Task Force rescind their position on this specific women’s healthcare screening policy.

# # # #

About NCBC: The National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC) is the largest national organization devoted to the inter-disciplinary care of breast disease. In keeping with our mission, to promote excellence in breast care through a network of diverse professionals dedicated to the active exchange of ideas and resources including: 1) To serve as an informational resource and to provide support services to those rendering care to people with breast disease through educational programs, newsletters, a national directory, and patient forums; 2) To encourage professionals to concentrate and specialize in activities related to breast disease; 3) To encourage the development of programs and centers that address breast disease and promote breast health; 4) To facilitate collaborative research opportunities on issues of breast health; and 5) To develop a set of core measures to define, improve and sustain quality standards in comprehensive breast programs and centers.

References:

1. November 17th edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 151, Number 10, 738-747.

2. November 17th edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 151, Number 10, 716-726.

3. Tabar L, Vitak B, Chen HT et al. Beyond randomized controlled trials: organized mammographic screening substantially reduces breast cancer mortality. Cancer 2001; 91: 1724-1731.

4. American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Facts and Figures, 2009-2010.

All content and design © 2009 by the National Consortium of Breast Centers, Inc.”


As mentioned in the recent post, "Scrapping the Barrel to Support Health Reform", it seems like the current Health care reform plan is costing the nation a trillion dollars yet is taking away money from preventative care of deadly diseases, mainly its been cancer that has been hit the hardest.


The optimist in me at first said that with these changes, maybe techniques and other medical procedures will be forced to improve based on this change. I still believe this will be the case, but does one outweigh the other? The best approach would be to do both of course. Maintain the guidelines that have been proven effective through various published trials, and allocate ARRA funds to increase R&D of new treatments or improved quality of current techniques. Who knows, there may be money left over from the HITECH stimulus funds by ARRA if physicians are unable to collect the 44k in order adopt EMR.

Once improved procedures allow for a change in the guidelines, then the change is warranted. If not, guidelines should not be altered.

The National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC) is currently the largest national organization devoted to the care of Breast Disease. Through their quality measures program, the National Quality Measures for Breast Centers (NQMBC), breast care centers have the opportunity to collect and standardized data to the NCBC in hopes to improve clinical care of Breast Cancer Patients.



December-7-2009

12:57
As usual, its been a busy few weeks in the Health IT world and things continue to get shaken up with many recent announcements.

In a press release on 10/22/2009 the Certification Committee for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) announced that they are seeking candidates to serve as Trustees and Commissioners.

Another press release on 11/13/2009, announced that CCHIT's well known Chair, Mark Leavitt will be retiring in March of next year after 5 years of service.

Once the first press release came through on my feed, I thought it was only a matter of time before this happened. Changes need to be made by the CCHIT to gain acceptance by many skeptics. Then I received the second feed, an interesting decision made by Dr. Leavitt to announce his retirement, especially since the CCHIT has been under major scrutiny lately for being the sole certifier of EMR systems and carrying a rather large price tag, so large in fact that most of the smaller vendors are unable to afford the certification. I'm just not sure if leaving his organization now, especially announcing it, was the greatest business decision for the CCHIT.

The CCHIT has also been accused by it's critics for catering to the larger EMR vendors that also conveniently sit on their Board of Trustees and Commissioners.

I find it quite coincidental that after undergoing such a large amount of scrutiny for favoritism that the CCHIT is now holding interviews to replace some of it's Board Members. I know that you are probably thinking, damned if you do damned if you don't. Thats not where I'm headed. I want to give kudos to the CCHIT and Dr. Leavitt for their accomplishments in the past years as well as the realization, or wake up call, that changes need to be made their board, specifically the board member ratio, which I'm sure will be affected. The positions are open to members of physician practices and hospitals, payers, health care consumers, vendors, safety net providers, public health agencies, quality improvement organizations, clinical researchers, standards development and informatics experts and government agencies. I would imagine that the vendor to healthcare provider ratio will be severely affected.

As for Dr. Leavitt leaving, personally I don't think this is the greatest time the CCHIT during this critical time, especially when the certification business is open for business according to Health and Human Services. Who know's, maybe its a career move...he would be a perfect candidate to head up a start-up certifying company.

That brings me to my next topic, the Drummond Group may prove to be a worthy alternative. They had their own press release on 11/02/2009 that they will submit to become a certifying body. I haven't heard of any progress, but if anyone out there has heard anything, please let me know. For those of us who are new to the Drummond Group, they are a company specializing in interoperability testing. Rik Drummond, CEO of Drummond Group was quoted in the press release saying, "Drummond Group has been supporting Fortune 500 industries and government by certifying the transfer, identity and cybersecurity of their internet information flow over the last ten years. We have also done testing for the CDC, DEA and GSA. Certification of EHR is a natural extension of our testing program, and we believe we can provide great value for the medical community. We look forward to the publishing of the ONC requirements in the days ahead so we can get started."

There seems to be a lot of progress within the Certification realm. My only other questions and worries are targeted towards getting everything in place in time for physicians to get their reimbursements.



November-20-2009

10:41
What a past couple of days in the Healthcare realm. First of all, the Health Reform bill passed in the House with a price tag of $1 trillion. The money has to come from somewhere and it seems like it is coming down to the preventative care of women as for now. In other releases, separated by one day each, new guidelines came out for mammograms and pap smears. Another release just came out regarding a 5% tax on non-elective plastic surgery procedures.

I have to wonder who is influencing these recently altered guidelines and their research findings. I have my opinions on research...data can be manipulated to prove a desired point. I have to assume this is what is going on in these recent releases regarding the preventative care for serious cancers that specifically target women. For the past year I have heard more news to promote preventative care than ever before. Why? Because it saves lives and yes money too. So now, why are they changing these guidelines that promote a higher level preventative cancer? Has anyone thought that the numbers may be down because of the preventative measures that have been in place?

With a $1 trillion price tag, one has to wonder is its to free up funds to pass this bill. Unfortunately, these changes are going to be just the beginning I believe.

As for the elective plastic surgery procedures, in 2008 it was reported that $10.3 billion was spent on these procedures. People choose to get certain procedures to benefit their quality of life in some way, which can ultimately change certain mental conditions such as depression and anxiety which both play an enormous factor in the progression of other serious health factors. Not everyone who elects to get plastic surgery are the typical "trophy wife" getting a different nose every 5 years, its also those people that have little money to pay for a procedure to correct something that may have been caused by an accident for example. Now, these people who have to spend thousands of dollars, that may have had to scrape it together, are expected to spend 5% more. Is that fair to the little girl who was in a car accident and suffered injuries to her face that left her scarred for life without plastic surgery? This is just an example, but it is also a reality of how people are going to be affected by this health care reform push.

I believe something has to change in Healthcare, but at what cost? Certainly not time, after all the current administration is rushing this thing out without the proper time to think of how it will actually pan out in the future.

Its going to be an interesting couple of years to say the least.



October-19-2009

11:11
Since the inception of ARRA, there has been mixed emotions of whether or not throwing money at a situation will benefit the struggling incumbent health care system. Having only worked in Healthcare IT for a limited amount of time I believe I can shed some light on the subject from an outsider's perspective rather than a biased, perhaps jaded, insider's view.

First lets talk some basics. Approx $19.2 bill in incentives available to physicians who adopt a certified, meaningful use EMR system. This breaks down to around $44k/provider on up to $64k/provider depending on Medicaid/Medicare patient ratio (the more CMS customers, the higher stimulus awarded). Incentives start this 2010 and penalties start 2015.

The main debates have been lying in the "certified" and "meaningful use" or simply "MU" realms. Let's first talk about certification. The only certifying body to date is the CCHIT which was spawned off of HIMSS and even has a former HIMSS member as its leader. For those of you that are new to this area, the Certifying Commission on Health Information Technology (CCHIT) is a non-profit group based out of Chicago, near HIMSS HQ, that is comprised of different executives who have vested interest in the large EMR vendors...because they run and/or work for them. That is all I will rant about for this post on the CCHIT.

The next big issue, which needs to be radically simplified is MU. Every practice and specialty are different. Meaningful use may vary from specialty to specialty. This needs to be a simplistic model, not a complicated matrix that was originally released, for everyone to understand. There also has to be a lot of gray area as well in this definition to allow for proper payment if a practice is able to show that they use MU.

These 2 criteria, certification and MU, have yet to be decided on. Deadlines are set, but as we all know and have experienced, they may be moved again.

So back to the original question in the title, has the stimulus money caused a boom for HIT or has it been a bust thus far?

Certain areas of the HIT market has seen an increase due to the stimulus funds for HIT for sure, but on the same note, many HIT vendors have seen a lull in sales. Why, when there is at least 44k on the table and adoption needs to happen quickly in order to qualify for the 1st and biggest stimulus handout.

The stimulus money has put providers on a bit of a "wait and see" mentality. There are far too many providers who do not see the value of EMR. Should this stimulus money have been allocated differently? Should more money have went to education and research rather than purchase and implementation?

EMR is not a thing of the future. It is a technology that has been around and in use for over a decade. They have time over time proven effective, efficient and reliable. I am not going to go into detail because the case studies are out there. The only problems that I have seen are due to bad matches between vendor and customer, not the idea or technology itself.

Look at our world now, smartphones that allow us to answer emails while out of the office, telecommuting from home to save on overhead costs etc. Technology will continue to improve upon quality. Be it quality of care or quality of life.

EMR is a way to do both. The incentive from ARRA is there yes, but treat it as a bonus for adopting a new way of patient care and reporting to improve the overall quality of care and patient health for futures to come by adopting and embracing a sound technology that you may, or may not, get some extra cash from.



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July-22-2009

21:29

President Obama speaks to the nation about healthcare reform (AP photo)

President Obama speaks to the nation about healthcare reform (AP photo)

Tonight, President Obama spoke to the nation about his plans for healthcare reform. He outlined how he plans to reform the current system and how he plans to pay for it including cutting over $100 billion worth of subsidies to insurance companies as part of Medicare.

Few key points:

  • Wants to create an independent group of doctors and experts to eliminate waste in Medicare on an annual basis. (Obama gave credit to the Republicans for coming up with this plan–”Medpac“)
  • 2/3rds of the costs will come from cutting waste from the current system.
  • 97-98% of uninsured would be covered by his plan.
  • Open to tax increases on families with a combined income of $1 million or individuals making $500k or more per year–”millionaire’s tax
  • Medicare beneficiaries would not see any decline in benefits. “Here’s the thing I want to emphasize,” he said “It is not going to reduce Medicare benefits. What it is going to do is change how the benefits are delivered, so they are more efficient.”
  • The public option will match up with what is available to congress. Read Matt Miller in the NYT today on this one. Miller doesn’t believe that this is a good measure.
  • Wants to free doctors to make decisions based on evidence based medicine, not fee schedules. “Doctors a lot of times are forced to make decisions based on the fee payment schedule right now.”

He also touched upon the need to increase health IT and move way a fee for service system to a team-based approach to deliver healthcare.

Full Video:

Full Text: Obama’s Remarks on Health Care

(without question/answer session)

Following is a text of the prepared remarks by President Obama before his White House news conference on Wednesday, as released by the White House.

Good evening. Before I take your questions, I want to talk for a few minutes about the progress we’re making on health insurance reform and where it fits into our broader economic strategy.

Six months ago, I took office amid the worst recession in half a century. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month and our financial system was on the verge of collapse.

As a result of the action we took in those first weeks, we have been able to pull our economy back from the brink. We took steps to stabilize our financial institutions and our housing market. And we passed a Recovery Act that has already saved jobs and created new ones; delivered billions in tax relief to families and small businesses; and extended unemployment insurance and health insurance to those who have been laid off.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. And the Recovery Act will continue to save and create more jobs over the next two years – just like it was designed to do. I realize this is little comfort to those Americans who are currently out of work, and I’ll be honest with you – new hiring is always one of the last things to bounce back after a recession.

And the fact is, even before this crisis hit, we had an economy that was creating a good deal of wealth for folks at the very top, but not a lot of good-paying jobs for the rest of America. It’s an economy that simply wasn’t ready to compete in the 21st century – one where we’ve been slow to invest in the clean energy technologies that have created new jobs and industries in other countries; where we’ve watched our graduation rates lag behind too much of the world; and where we spend much more on health care than any other nation but aren’t any healthier for it.

That is why I’ve said that even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health insurance reform is central to that effort.

This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It’s about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it’s about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

So let me be clear: if we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate we’re having right now.

I realize that with all the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, “What’s in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?”

Tonight I want to answer those questions. Because even though Congress is still working through a few key issues, we already have agreement on the following areas:

If you already have health insurance, the reform we’re proposing will provide you with more security and more stability. It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you’re happy with it. It will prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you get too sick. It will give you the security of knowing that if you lose your job, move, or change your job, you will still be able to have coverage. It will limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay for your medical costs out of your own pocket. And it will cover preventive care like check-ups and mammograms that save lives and money.

If you don’t have health insurance, or are a small business looking to cover your employees, you’ll be able to choose a quality, affordable health plan through a health insurance exchange – a marketplace that promotes choice and competition Finally, no insurance company will be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade – and I mean it. In the past eight years, we saw the enactment of two tax cuts, primarily for the wealthiest Americans, and a Medicare prescription program, none of which were paid for. This is partly why I inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit.

That will not happen with health insurance reform. It will be paid for. Already, we have estimated that two-thirds of the cost of reform can be paid for by reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs. This includes over one hundred billion dollars in unwarranted subsidies that go to insurance companies as part of Medicare – subsidies that do nothing to improve care for our seniors. And I’m pleased that Congress has already embraced these proposals. While they are currently working through proposals to finance the remaining costs, I continue to insist that health reform not be paid for on the backs of middle-class families.

In addition to making sure that this plan doesn’t add to the deficit in the short-term, the bill I sign must also slow the growth of health care costs in the long run. Our proposals would change incentives so that doctors and nurses are free to give patients the best care, not just the most expensive care. That’s why the nation’s largest organizations representing doctors and nurses have embraced our plan.

We also want to create an independent group of doctors and medical experts who are empowered to eliminate waste and inefficiency in Medicare on an annual basis – a proposal that could save even more money and ensure the long-term financial health of Medicare. Overall, our proposals will improve the quality of care for our seniors and save them thousands of dollars on prescription drugs, which is why the AARP has endorsed our reform efforts.

Not all of the cost savings measures I just mentioned were contained in Congress’s draft legislation, but we are now seeing broad agreement thanks to the work that was done over the last few days. So even though we still have a few issues to work out, what’s remarkable at this point is not how far we have left to go – it’s how far we have already come.

I understand how easy it is for this town to become consumed in the game of politics – to turn every issue into running tally of who’s up and who’s down. I’ve heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it’s better politics to “go for the kill.” Another Republican Senator said that defeating health reform is about “breaking” me.

So let me be clear: This isn’t about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every Member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings. This is about the woman in Colorado who paid $700 a month to her insurance company only to find out that they wouldn’t pay a dime for her cancer treatment – who had to use up her retirement funds to save her own life. This is about the middle-class college graduate from Maryland whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs, and woke up from emergency surgery with $10,000 in debt. This is about every family, every business, and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades.

This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer. They are counting on us to get this done. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down. We will pass reform that lowers cost, promotes choice, and provides coverage that every American can count on. And we will do it this year. And with that, I’ll take your questions.

July-21-2009

15:28

The ONC policy committee on meaningful use has published an updated matrix on the subject. It can be found here.

July-15-2009

11:15

Someone in the GOP needs to learn how to use Microsoft Visio, or the Democrats need to come up with a better plan for improving our healthcare system.

Republicans immagination of Democratic Healthcare plan

Republicans imagination of the Democratic Healthcare plan

If you believe this nightmare chart created by Congressman Kevin Brady’s office (R-Texas 8th District), then you’ll need a PHD in obfuscation to figure out what the Democrats are planning. More likely, however, is that Brady is painting an overly bleak picture of what a government plan might look like.

Jokes aside, as this battle continues to play out, both sides are sticking to their guns; however, the Obama administration believes it has the trump card: 60 votes. Bloomberg News is reporting that “Obama Open to Partisan Vote on Health-Care Overhaul.”

We’ll follow how this plays out, and keep you apprised of any interesting happenings.

UPDATE July 22, 2009:

Corrected Visualization of the Democratic Healthcare plan

Corrected Visualization of the Democratic Healthcare plan (PDF)

A graphic designer, Robert Palmer, took it upon himself to “correct” the republican nightmare chart and made it significantly easier to understand. The updated chart, along with a PDF can be found on Mr. Palmer’s Flickr page. He also penned a note to Representative Boehner:

Dear Rep. Boehner,

Recently, you released a chart purportedly describing the organization of the House Democrats’ health plan. I think Democrats, Republicans, and independents agree that the problem is very complicated, no matter how you visualize it.

By releasing your chart, instead of meaningfully educating the public, you willfully obfuscated an already complicated proposal. There is no simple proposal to solve this problem. You instead chose to shout “12! 16! 37! 9! 24!” while we were trying to count something.

So, to try and do my duty both to the country and to information design (a profession and skill you have loudly shat upon), I have taken it upon myself to untangle your delightful chart. A few notes:

- I have removed the label referring to “federal website guidelines” as those are not a specific requirement of the Health and Human Services department. They are part of the U.S. Code. I should know: I have to follow them.

- I have relabeled the “Veterans Administration” to the “Department of Veterans’ Affairs.” The name change took effect in 1989.

- In the one change I made specifically for clarity, I omitted the line connecting the IRS and Health and Human Services department labeled “Individual Tax Return Information.”

In the future, please remember that you have a duty to inform the public, and not willfully confuse your constituents.

Sincerely,

Robert Palmer
Resident,
California 53rd District

July-1-2009

23:11

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) has responded to the Office of the National Coordinator’s recently released Meaningful Use matrix [pdf]–and responded with a vengeance.

The bottom line: “CCHIT recommends that meaningful use measures be either simplified for 2011, or postponed until 2013.”

CCHIT Annotations to the ONC's Meaningful Use Matrix [PDF]

CCHIT Annotations to the ONC's Meaningful Use Matrix (PDF)


Its recommendation was formed by comparing the CCHIT 2008 criteria against the meaningful use matrix prepared by the National Coordinator’s Workgroup on Meaningful Use and finding that while many of the 22 proposed objectives are fully supported by the current certification, at least 8 have minor to major gaps with the CCHIT 08 criteria.

Why Postpone?

The commission argues that “the lag between a decision to invest in EHR technology and its full, meaningful use in a provider organization is 1 to 2 years at best, and more typically, 3 to 5 years,” and for this reason it recommends postponing the 2011 measures until 2013. It isn’t that some EHRs do not currently meet the standards drafted for 2011 (MTBC’s EMR does), it’s that CCHIT criteria does not currently cover or test for all of the proposed 2011 measures. Additionally, CCHIT does not believe that the marketplace is fully ready to support some of the reporting standards outlined in the draft.

CCHIT has prepared an annotated response to the ONC’s matrix which highlights the actual points in contention for 2011. CCHIT’s letter to the ONC further clarifies CCHIT position on the topic.

As always, we will continue to cover this story as new developments arise and as key shareholders continue to weigh in with comments and responses.

Why don’t you let us know what you think? Should the 2011 measures be postponed until 2013?

June-26-2009

18:04

When you buy a car, the manufacturer usually offers some kind of warranty on your purchase e.g. bumper-to-bumper coverage for 50,000 miles or 5 years, whichever comes first. Or coverage for 100,000 miles for the power train and 50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper. Some are now offering oil changes for life, free car washes, dry cleaning, or the salesman will pick up your kids from soccer practice if you make a purchase now.  Ok, maybe they won’t pick up your kids, but you will please! buy now?

Francois de Brantes

Francois de Brantes

Francois de Brantes, a nationally known advocate of health care quality, is hoping to bring warranties to healthcare. He and a few associates penned an article in Health Affairs describing the benefits of a new payment model for physicians which may inspire physicians to improve patient outcomes by putting their skin (and money) in the game.

The warranties which de Brantes proposes–Prometheus Payment as he’s called it–flip the current medical billing payment model on its ear. Prometheus Payment offers set fees to providers for recommended services, treatments and procedures. However, unlike the current system where all fees are covered by third-party payers, the provider now becomes a party in the payment process by assuming fiduciary responsibility for outcomes–should patients develop an avoidable outcome, providers become responsible for half the costs. The warranty is based on the costs of these avoidable outcomes and is risk adjusted for elderly or frail patients.

de Brantes and his co-authors explain that “the warranty concept has filtered into the self-pay portion of health care, such as corrective eye surgery, general cosmetic surgery, and dental care, which are often based on a global fee that includes any necessary rework by the provider. But it has taken much longer for warranties to appear in the third-party payer system.” They argue that with this global-fee model, overall costs in the healthcare can be reduced while improving outcomes for patients by making (and paying) the provider for any expenses before, during, and after the procedure.

The abstract to the Health Affairs article reads:

How health care providers get paid has implications for the delivery of care and cost control; the topic is especially important during an economic downturn with persistent growth in health spending. Adding “warranties” to care is an innovation that transfers risk to providers, because payment includes allowances for defects. How do such warranties affect patient care and bottom lines? We examine a proposed payment model to illustrate the role of warranties in health care and their potential impact on providers’ behavior and profitability. We conclude that warranties could motivate providers to improve quality and could increase their profit margins.

I find two points interesting.

  1. He named it Prometheus Payment. In Greek mythology Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals–Zeus repaid him by tying him to a large rock and having an eagle eat his liver every day only to have it grow back and be eaten again the next day. Are the insurance companies Zeus? Are the payments the fire? Who is stealing from whom? Do physicians even want this kind of fire?
  2. This plan was developed with the support of the Commonwealth Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a similar plan is already in practice at the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania. These are not exactly small operations.

This whole idea adds a new wrinkle to medical billing. As your billing service, we’d not only be incentivized to help you collect more money but also provide you tools to provide better patient care. Great news for you, we have a CCHIT-certified EMR which provides just the tools you need. Find out more here.

We will keep you posted if this model crops up at any payers near you.

Read more about Prometheus Payment:

June-22-2009

17:57

On June 16 the Workgroup on Meaningful Use presented its recommendations on the definition of Meaningful Use. They prepared a preamble describing their overall path to this definition and a matrix to organize their recommendations for each year. For those who have been under a rock for the past 6 months, “meaningful use” is the defining measure by which the incentive payments included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will be determined.

With this working definition, vendors, physicians, and hospitals can better plan for implementation and delivery of technology and services to achieve the measurable goals outlined by the Workgroup.

HITECH Act Incentives as outlined by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)

HITECH Act Incentives as outlined by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)

Meaningful Use for Whom?

First it is important to note that “meaningful use” will have different meanings for hospitals and for groups in private practice. The preamble states “some features and capabilities will be recommended as required in an ambulatory setting before similar functions are expected to be widely used in the hospital.” This means that proving “meaningful use” will be a more rigorous exercise for private practices than it is for hospitals. However, private practices have a broader range of options and lower barriers of entry (cost, availability of technology, shorter implementation time frames, etc) when it comes to implementing technologies which can deliver “meaningful use.”

The Details

Let’s go over some of the measures which are planned for 2011 and look at some examples of each item. More details for each of the items below can be found in the matrix. John Halamka, MD of the CareGroup Health System of Harvard Medical School and the chairman of the US Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) said in Healthcare IT News that this matrix still needs to be populated with the most up to date standards and an implementation guide. These details will help vendors and physicians alike ensure that their software meets these measures. Expect this in July.

Each of the items below has associated metrics which will need to be reported to verify meaningful use; for example, one of the objectives calls for reminders to patients for preventive/follow-up care. In order to prove meaningful use, the EMR application must be able to provide a reporting of the percentage of patients over 50 with annual colorectal screening. Keep in mind that each of the items below has an associated measure (found in the matrix) which will require reporting to an authorized agency.

Items marked with a Yes! indicate that the MTBC EMR helps your practice meet or exceeds these measures.

  1. Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities.
    1. Use CPOE (computerized physician order entry) for all order types including medications. Yes!
    2. Drug-drug, drug-allergy, drug-formulary checks. Yes!
    3. Maintain an update-to-date problem list. Yes!
    4. Generate and transmit electronic prescriptions. Yes!
    5. Record vital signs including height, weight, blood pressure. Yes!
    6. Generate list of patients by condition to use for quality improvement. Yes!
    7. Patient reminders for preventive/follow-up care. Yes!
  2. Engage patients and families
    1. Provide patients with access to clinical information (lab results, problem list, medications, etc.). Under development! Yes! A bit more information has filtered through on this point. It has to be “electronic” access i.e CD, flash drive, etc and not necessarily web-based access. We have this functionality and we are also working on web-based access to patient information which can be pushed through the EMR. (updated 7/1)
    2. Provide access to patient specific educational resources. Yes!
    3. Provide patients with clinical summaries for each encounter. Yes!
  3. Improve care coordination
    1. Exchange key clinical information among providers (problems, medications, allergies, test results). Yes!
    2. Perform medication reconciliation at relevant encounters. Yes!
  4. Improve population and public health
    1. Submit electronic data to immunization registries. Yes!
  5. Ensure adequate privacy and security protections for personal health information
    1. Compliance with HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and state laws. Yes!
    2. Compliance with fair data sharing practices. Yes!

What Now?

Now that you know the definition of Meaningful Use what should you do now? The answer is simple: get an EMR. Ok it is not that simple, but you will be happy to know that you have plenty of options in the marketplace. Dr. Halamka writes, “Hospitals and Clinician offices now know what is expected for 2011, so the time is now to begin your software implementations.” Never before have there been so many EMRs which provide such a high level of functionality and interoperability. Today’s major differentiators are not function, but price and service.

MTBC Can Help

MTBC’s CCHIT certified EMR (free to MTBC medical billing clients) can help your practice meet the goals of 2011. Click here to find out more about MTBC’s unified medical billing and practice managagement services.

However, if “free” is not your bag, you have plenty of other options beginning at the $1,000 range and your imagination as the only limit. Vendors have become very creative in their pricing with new options emerging such as monthly subscriptions, charges for each fax sent from the EMR, hosting fees for web-based applications, fees for technical support by email, server replacement plans (a la replacement plans sold by big box stores), 50¢ per 100MB of storage, and many others.

MTBC’s EMR rivals those of its competitors because it is implemented, supported, and updated completely free of charge of its premium medical billing clients. To find out more about how MTBC’s EMR can help you meet the goals of Meaningful Use, request a demo today and, if you are not currently an MTBC billing client, find out how you can download a free trial.

Watch this space for more information regarding meaningful use and its impact on the healthcare IT.

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Healthcare IT Weblog

December-1-2011

12:25

Doctors’ adoption of health information technology doubled in two years, according to a new report, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released Wednesday. Sebelius also announced extension of the meaningful use qualification date to 2014. See link for more info – http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/hhs-extends-mu-stage-2-deadline-spur-faster-emr-adoption?topic=01,08


September-13-2011

19:59

The survey I posted earlier has now been completed – here are the results.

http://blog.softwareadvice.com/articles/medical/benefits-of-emr-software-survey-1081611/


September-12-2011

14:53

High physician fees, rather than factors such as practice costs, volume of services or tuition expenses, were the main drivers of higher U.S. healthcare spending and physician income, according to research presented in the September issue of Health Affairs.

The study, conducted by Miriam J. Laugesen, PhD, and Sherry A. Glied, PhD, both of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City, found that in some cases, physicians in the U.S. are paid as much as double their counterparts in other countries. There is also a larger gap between fees paid for primary care and fees paid for specialty care, particularly orthopedic surgeons, in the U.S. compared to other countries evaluated by the study.

Fees paid by public and private payors for primary care office visits and hip replacements were compared in six countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S.

Laugesen and Glied found that primary care physicians in the U.S. were paid, on average, 27 percent more by public payors for an office visit, and 70 percent more by private payors for an office visit, compared to the other countries. The largest difference in fees paid between countries was for hip replacements. Physicians in the U.S. were paid 70 percent more by public payors and 120 percent more by private payors for these procedures as compared with physicians in the other countries.

Across the fees analyzed by the study, the biggest disparities in pay to U.S. physicians existed on the private side. Fees paid by private insurers in six markets in the U.S. averaged about 33 percent above Medicare rates for primary care and 50 percent above Medicare rates for hip replacements.

“Our analysis suggests that policymakers in all countries need to consider how differential prices paid by both public- and private-sector payors to specialists influence specialty choices,” wrote the authors. “Furthermore, this analysis suggests a need for greater standardization of cross-national data on the nature of physician services provided, fees, education and incomes to allow ongoing comparative research on the relationship between prices and healthcare spending growth.”

Incomes were also higher for U.S. primary care and orthopedic physicians compared to their foreign counterparts.

The authors said other factors thought to contribute to physicians’ fees, such as high medical education tuition costs for American physicians or increased work volume, could not fully explain the disparity in fees when compared across the countries.

“Although the tuition cost of medical education in the U.S. borne by individuals is substantial, it cannot fully account for the observed differences between the earnings of U.S. physicians and physicians in all other countries,” wrote Laugesen and Glied.

For the services examined by the study, higher physician incomes did not appear to be due to a higher volume of services, though the authors acknowledged the rates of other procedures not studied may be higher and contribute to the elevated fees and incomes.

One possible explanation offered by the authors for the high U.S. physician fees was the notion that higher fees may reflect the cost of attracting highly skilled candidates. When physician fees in each country were compared to the mean incomes of the top 1 percent of households within that country, the results were broadly consistent, suggesting higher U.S. fees were the result of a “society with a relatively more skewed income distribution,” according to Laugesen and Glied.


September-7-2011

12:40

http://healthpolicyandreform.nejm.org/?p=15235


September-7-2011

12:37

The New York Times (9/6, B1, Freudenheim, Subscription Publication) reports, “Under heavy pressure from government regulators and insurance companies, more and more physicians across the country are learning to think like entrepreneurs.” One result is the rapid growth in joint M.D./M.B.A programs to 65 at present with an estimated 500 students. Some intersperse business courses with medical courses while others have students complete their medical training and add a year or more of business education. “Dr. Barry R. Silbaugh, chief executive of the American College of Physician Executives, a professional society that provides medical education courses and career counseling, said more start-ups were being run by doctors.” He explained that some “are focused on adapting technology to health care, not just electronic medical records,” adding, “The use of social media is of great interest to many younger physicians, and so is health care analytics.”


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Medicine and Technology [part of HCPLive]

January-17-2012

22:59
The ePharma Consumer® study found that 42 percent of online adults agree that pharmaceutical companies should be involved in online health communities for consumers.


January-17-2012

22:22
Do you know how to monitor where your staff may be in terms of resistance or support for a new Electronic Health Records (EHR) system? Learn about the processes to ensure they have proper tools, training and support.


January-11-2012

17:46
To get the New Year off to a healthy start, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is launching the Healthy New Year Video Challenge, the first in a series of video challenges.


January-10-2012

21:15
AMA Insurance Agency Inc., recently announced its “Take a Trip with Timmy Global Health” contest. Two winners will be selected to spend 2-3 weeks with US and developing world medical professionals working to expand access to quality healthcare in Guatemala, Ecuador, or the Dominican Republic.


January-10-2012

7:01
Get ready for the HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) annual conference where attendees will learn about topics like Meaningful Use, HITECH, HIE, standards, interoperability and more.


January-9-2012

7:01
In the New Year, save some time out of your busy schedule. Here are 3 simple tips from Doximity physicians that can help you do that.


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EMR Straight Talk

January-19-2012

11:51

Like the dot-com bubble, the EHR bubble—nurtured by the government incentives—will not last. As I look at what’s happening in the market, it becomes apparent that at some point in the not-too-distant future, the EHR bubble will pop and many vendors will face financial challenges that will lead to their demise.

Several market factors will come into play, including:

  • Physician dissatisfaction with their choice of EHR, which likely was selected in haste to meet the government’s incentive timetable and was delivered by an overwhelmed vendor;
  • Physician disenchantment with the EHR Incentives Program, as financial rewards decrease while requirements intensify;
  • An overabundance of EHR vendors  competing in a market dominated by a small number of major players. (Currently there are 472 EHR vendors offering certified “Complete EHRs”)

To understand how these factors will affect EHR vendors, it is important to understand how such companies typically raise money and what kind of “hockey-stick” growth projections they made to attract investors.

EHR Revenue

Missed growth projections; continued expenses for implementation, support, and ongoing upgrades; and diminishing government incentives will leave many companies unable to find investors willing to fund their future growth.

There will be market consolidation, and financially strong companies will acquire distressed companies for pennies on the dollar.

…To read the full story, see HIStalk Readers Write.

Related posts:

  1. Planning for the Flood
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  4. I am really intrigued by the latest creation from the...
  5. ePrescribing—A Great First Step
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December-7-2011

14:38

HHS has made it official—Stage 2 of meaningful use will be pushed back to 2014. The announcement by HHS Secretary Sebelius came as no surprise, following as it did the recommendation made by the HIT Policy Committee and the endorsement by ONC head Farzad Mostashari. The change only affects providers whose first incentive payment year is 2011, since they are the only providers who would be subject to Stage 2 regulations in 2013 had the delay not been implemented—everyone was already entitled to 2 years of meaningful use at Stage 1.

What I find interesting about all the hoopla that has accompanied the announcement is the spin the government put on the decision. According to the press release from HHS, “To encourage faster adoption, the Secretary announced that HHS intends to allow doctors and hospitals to adopt health IT this year, without meeting the new standards until 2014. Doctors who act quickly can also qualify for incentive payments in 2011 as well as 2012.”

Isn’t it a bit late for a provider to decide to adopt health IT this year? In reality, this announcement is too last-minute to change any adoption-related behavior or to accelerate EHR adoption. The announcement continued, “Perhaps most importantly, we want to provide an added incentive for providers attesting to meaningful use in 2011.” Apparently, the goal is to accelerate attestation rather than adoption—to encourage physicians who were already using certified EHR technology in a “meaningful way” to attest and to collect an incentive payment this year, instead of holding off attesting until 2012. This would create a potential PR benefit for the incentive program, which currently boasts nearly 115,000 registered providers, but reports that only 10,155 (9%), have successfully attested.

The benefit of the schedule delay accrues only to the early adopters, who now can earn 3 years of incentives under the less stringent requirements of Stage 1 (only, however, if they are willing to forego their 2011 Medicare ePrescribing bonuses—not a worthwhile trade-off for high-revenue physicians with large Medicare volumes). In its statement, HHS acknowledged the pushback from providers regarding how challenging even the Stage 1 requirements are. Perhaps, it would truly spur program participation and EHR adoption if all providers—not just the early adopters—were entitled to 3 years of meaningful use under Stage 1 rules. Also, if CMS has so little confidence that physicians will succeed at Stage 2, shouldn’t it reconsider how much it plans to raise the bar?

Related posts:

  1. Meaningful Use Stage 2: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
  2. A preliminary set of recommendations for defining Stage 2 meaningful...
  3. Stage 2 Meaningful Use: What Do You Think?
  4. At this week’s HIT Policy Committee meeting, the Meaningful Use...
  5. Meaningful Use Stage 2–Physicians’ Opinions Count Most
  6. The HIT Policy Committee’s Meaningful Use Workgroup met this week...

November-17-2011

13:29

Last week’s EMR Straight Talk post, “Are EHRs Being Oversold,” hit a nerve, judging by the number of readers and the volume and intensity of comments submitted by physicians. Sadly, for every one of the physicians who took the time to write, there are scores of others enduring similar experiences. The following excerpts from their comments are reflective of their frustrations:

  • We are a year into [EHR] implementation and it has been horrible and costly. What little efficiencies gained have been lost to a decrease in productivity.
  • I now require a scribe to maintain the [same] patient flow that was seen four years ago we began using the system.
  • The trouble with most EMRs is the horrible user interfaces that are designed by committees who have no concept of ease of use for ophthalmologists.
  • The programs are user unfriendly in the extreme, cumbersome and inflexible. The learning curve is seriously long and even when mastered takes a terrific amount of time away from the patient.
  • The joy-killer was encountering the endless barriers to putting my own ideas to work.
  • Training is lengthy, expensive, and markedly disruptive in an office.

Every one of these stories breaks my heart as a staunch EHR proponent—particularly since the situations could have been easily avoided.

The Root of the Problem

The problem lies in the EHR selection process. When it comes to dispensing medications, for example, no physician prescribes without knowing the success rate for that particular drug for that particular type of patient and problem being addressed. Yet, typically, physicians do not make EHR purchase decisions in the same way that they make clinical decisions—using empirical evidence and data to predict outcomes.

I’d wager that for each of the disillusioned physicians above, the EHR selection process was nearly identical:

  1. The group chose 5 to 7 vendors for consideration;
  2. Each vendor demoed their product in front of an EHR selection committee whose task was to narrow down the field to 2 or 3 finalists;
  3. The finalists performed one or more demos to a wider group of physicians and staff;
  4. The vendors each provided 2 or 3 practices as references, with specific contact names;
  5. One or two physicians and staff members spent a day visiting one reference site for each of the vendor finalists; and
  6. They selected an EHR.

Why does such an exhaustive and time-consuming selection process so often lead to failed EHR implementations?

Preventing an EHR Failure in Your Practice

To prevent an EHR failure in your practice, the flawed selection process must be altered. The first thing to understand is that the rosy experience of one or two handpicked vendor references will not guarantee a similar experience for you and your colleagues. If a vendor has sold its EHR to 100 practices and has as few as 5 successful implementations, you will be referred to one of these 5 practices. A visit to 1 or 2 of these 5 successful practices may leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling and the expectation that, because they were successful, your success is virtually assured. In this case, however, your real probability of success would only be 5%.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

So how do you quickly eliminate vendors with lackluster success records before you and your staff waste hours watching slick sales demonstrations of sexy software with “must-have” features? Separating the wheat from the chaff is simple—just ask all your initial set of EHR vendors for lots of references. If a vendor cannot produce at least 2 references for each year they have been in business, run the other way. Do not accept any excuses for being unable to provide you with the number of references that you seek. (A common excuse is that the vendor wishes to protect the privacy of its clients.) If they had lots of references, they would give them to you in a heartbeat—happy customers are always willing to show their successes to others.

Many of the initial vendors chosen will not be able to produce a satisfactory number of references. This should narrow down the number left for you to consider, and it will save a tremendous amount of valuable physician and staff time.

Statistically Significant Reference Checking

At this point, your list of vendors will likely include just the one or two that have provided you with a meaningful reference list. You may have to accept the bias created by the fact that the references are carefully handpicked by the vendor(s), but it is imperative that you do not limit your inquiries to the specific physicians identified by the vendor. Typically, these are the practice administrator and one or two physicians who had spearheaded the EHR purchase for the practice; as a matter of pride, they are more likely to paint a rosy picture of the EHR than to acknowledge its shortcomings. The only way to avoid this trap is to speak with other physicians at the reference practices. This is easy to do. When you get the reference list from an EHR vendor, ask them to include the practice websites, then randomly choose physicians to call from the physicians’ bio pages. These physician-to-physician calls should be short (only 10 minutes each) and you should ask specific questions about cost, efficiency, and number of patients seen. The American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) has an excellent set of questions on page 5 of their EMR selection guide .

  1. When did you install your EMR?
  2. How long was the installation/implementation process?
  3. How would you describe the installation/implementation process?
  4. Was the system as user friendly as the demonstration by the salesperson?
  5. How many patients per hour/per day did you (and your partners) see before the installation/implementation of your EMR?
  6. How many did you see after?
  7. Approximately how much more time do you devote to entering exam data into your EMR now compared to how you documented exams before you began using an EMR?
  8. How do you like the quality of the EMR-generated exam notes?
  9. Have you had to hire scribes to enter data for you? If so, how many and what is their annual cost?
  10. Has your EMR completely eliminated the paper charts in your practice?
  11. Given your practice’s experience with your EMR, would you recommend it to a similar practice?

How much of your time should this type of random reference checking take? Not much! Ten 10-minute calls (less than 2 hours of time) to randomly chosen physicians will yield more valuable data on your chances of success than having a slew of vendors demo their products to your doctors and staff for hours on end. Only after having conducted the due diligence described above will you be able to derive real value from spending your time seeing demos—because you will only be seeing demos of the one or two EHRs that you now know are likely to deliver success.

Related posts:

  1. EMR References: Cast a Wider Net
  2. Client references and site visits can be a rich source...
  3. EHR Success: What is the Reality?
  4. With the constant barrage of meaningful use success stories in...
  5. EMR Selection: How to Uncover the Truth
  6. Why are a growing number of practices considering replacing their...

November-4-2011

14:33

I am a firm believer in the tremendous value that the right EHR can deliver to physicians, so the historic dissatisfaction with the EHR industry—as reported in studies and anecdotal conversations—has long disturbed me. The alarming intensity of this dissatisfaction was brought home by visitors to my company’s booth during the recent AAO (American Academy of Ophthalmology) meeting.

I was truly appalled by the abject frustration and anger expressed by numerous physicians about their EHRs. One visitor described his experience by saying, “It has taken the joy out of practicing medicine.” Another said that he felt like he should put a picture of his face on the back of his head so that his patients could see him—because he was forced to focus on the computer and enter data while the patient provided information. Physicians universally complained about the “productivity-killing” impact.

From AAO - Are EHRs Being Oversold?Why is this so? I know there are good EHR products in the market that physicians enjoy using and that enhance, rather than reduce, their productivity. Why are physicians not more successful in finding these?

The answer is that EHRs are being oversold. There are many EHRs that are marvels of software, capable of doing incredible things, but the selection process that physicians typically employ is flawed, and the sales process capitalizes on this shortcoming. The salesperson dazzles them with a demo, or they take prospective purchasers to see a physician—typically just one or two—who adeptly uses the software. This creates a false sense of ease-of-use, and the physician prospect leaves the site visit expecting that he or she will be able to use the EHR just as successfully. But not all physicians are alike—they may all be very intelligent and have tremendous medical expertise, but they are not all equal in technological inclination or skills. Their success—or lack thereof—with a particular EHR will vary significantly.

This brings us back to the importance of doing due diligence—something I have talked about before. Call and/or visit a variety of physicians who represent a wide spectrum of proficiency. Go to the reference practice’s website and select physicians on your own—don’t rely on the vendor’s selection. Ask the kind of questions listed in the last EMR Straight Talk. This is the only way to increase the odds of a successful EHR experience, and to avoid making a painful and costly mistake.

Related posts:

  1. EHRs: AAO Keeps Its Eye on the Ball
  2. I’ve written frequently about the unique needs of specialists and...
  3. Research Explains Why EHRs Won’t Achieve “Meaningful Use”
  4. A new landmark study on EHRs was published this week,...
  5. Life After De-installing CCHIT
  6. Our recent announcement regarding a practice that has decided to...

October-20-2011

12:28

I’ve written frequently about the unique needs of specialists and how these have been overlooked by the government and by EHR vendors. Since many ophthalmologists are heading off this week to the AAO (American Academy of Ophthalmology) Annual Meeting in Orlando, I thought it appropriate to comment on the proactive advocacy and advisory role that this particular professional society has adopted on behalf of its members, and to encourage other academies to step up their efforts similarly.

EHRs: AAO Keeps Its Eye on the BallAAO has been quite active on the meaningful use front. This week’s HIT Policy Committee’s Meaningful Use Workgroup meeting focused on how make meaningful use more meaningful for specialists in Stage 3. AAO was one of only two specialty societies represented in the public comments at the end of the meeting—the Academy’s representative pleaded that measures irrelevant to ophthalmology be replaced with those that would add value for these specialists, and offered the Academy’s assistance to accomplish this.

In addition to providing its members with otherwise unavailable, ophthalmology-specific direction on how to meet meaningful use, AAO has also offered much-needed guidance regarding the selection of an appropriate EHR for ophthalmologists—meaningful use aside. Recognizing that their unique specialty-specific workflow and data needs are not effectively addressed by most EHRs—because of the typical primary-care focus—AAO charged its Medical Information Technology Committee with the identification of a set of ophthalmology-relevant EHR specifications. A group of authors led by Michael Chiang, M.D., identified a set of features and attributes that ophthalmologists would find particularly valuable, and published their recommendations in an article titled “Special Requirements for Electronic Health Record Systems in Ophthalmology.”

While features and functionality are important, feedback from colleagues who actually use the EHRs is even more critical. The advice that AAO has given its members on how to make the most out of site visits will serve all physicians well, regardless of their specialty, and I am therefore sharing it with you below. It is reprinted from the publication “Electronic Medical Records: A Guide to EMR Selection, Implementation, and Incentives.”

ASK COLLEAGUES THE RIGHT QUESTIONS:

  1. When did you install your EMR?
  2. How long was the installation/implementation process?
  3. How would you describe the installation/implementation process?
  4. Was the system as user-friendly as the demonstration by the salesperson?
  5. How many patients per hour/per day did you (and your partners) see before the installation/implementation of your EMR?
  6. How many did you see after?
  7. Approximately how much more time do you devote to entering exam data into your EMR now compared to how you documented exams before you began using an EMR?
  8. How do you like the quality of the EMR-generated exam notes?
  9. Have you had to hire scribes to enter data for you? If so, how many and what is their annual cost?
  10. Has your EMR completely eliminated the paper charts in your practice?
  11. Given your practice’s experience with your EMR, would you recommend it to a similar practice?

EHRs are here to stay, and will play an increasingly important role in medical practices. A major investment, EHRs can dramatically impact practice operations and productivity—positively or negatively. It is my hope that, like AAO, the medical academies will use their clout and speak out more aggressively to protect the interests of their members.

Related posts:

  1. Specialists’ Societies Speak Up about Meaningful Use
  2. Despite the ongoing and concerted advocacy efforts by medical specialty...
  3. EMR Straight Talk Centennial Blog—It’s Still About Productivity
  4. This is my 100th EMR Straight Talk post, and a...
  5. MGMA Study Reveals #1 Reason Physicians Fear EHRs
  6. The evidence is indisputable: the fear of lost productivity associated...

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Citizen Economists » Healthcare

January-13-2012

10:15

In honor of the first week in our Healthcare Economics class, and the beginning of a 6 week session on healthcare via OLLI, here is an interesting report from The New York Times.

National health spending rose a slight 3.9 percent in 2010, as Americans delayed hospital care, doctor’s visits and prescription drug purchases for the second year in a row, the Obama administration reported Monday.

The recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, reined in the growth of health spending as many people lost jobs, income and health insurance, the government said in a report, published in the journal Health Affairs.

from The New York Timesfrom The New York Times

There are a couple of takeaways from this news.

First, the reduction in spending on healthcare could mean a welcome, albeit temporary relief to those governments and organizations that pay for healthcare….BUT…no real relief for state and local agencies which provide/finance healthcare for poor people. Recessions, of course, result in greater numbers of people qualifying for government-supported care.

The other point is a reminder that some portion of healthcare services are discretionary. When healthcare spending was growing by 10 percent or more each year in the 1980s, that growth probably wasn’t driven by an increase in the need for services. Likewise the slower growth over the last several years is probably not due to the population getting healthier and needing fewer services. Instead, people moderated their demand for healthcare. They put off diagnostic tests, or did not follow through on treatments or prescriptions. Going in the other direction, hospitals routinely see increases in elective surgeries near the end of a calendar year, as people have already met insurance deductibles, and decide to seek care before those deductibles are reset in the new year.

Is this good news? Not necessarily. To the extent the people put off truly necessary tests and treatments, those delays may cost us more in the long run. To some extent, though, tough economic times force us to be more cautious about discretionary spending, and there may be very little impact on long run health status. There is the old saying that if you get a cold, it will take 7 days to go away, but if you see a doctor you’ll be cured in a week! One important element of effective healthcare reform is to introduce that sense of caution in our population. It is a delicate balance – not wanting to interfere with early testing and early, cost-effective treatment, but also discouraging care that has less impact on long term health.

Prices for medical care services and supplies also stayed roughly on par with general inflation during this last year, which is a change from the decades of the 1980s and 1990s where the medical care component of the consumer price index routinely outstripped regular price increases.

I wouldn’t have to polish my crystal ball very much to predict that spending increases for healthcare will pick up speed as the economy recovers. This remains the single most important issue in our nation’s federal deficit struggles.

October-21-2011

12:30

When I went into solo practice of internal medicine in 1981, it was very easy to get a doctor to see a Medicare patient. All I had to do was make a phone call. A courteous receptionist answered. If the doctor couldn’t come to the phone right away, I could count on a prompt callback.

Consultants saw patients quickly, and generally called me to discuss their findings and advice. And very often there would also be a letter in the mail: “Thank you for referring this delightful patient to me.”

How things have changed! Now a doctor gets the phone menu, just as the patients do, and it often ends in voice mail. It might be a few days before a staff member calls back—usually with the news that “we are not accepting any new Medicare patients.” At best, my patient might be offered an appointment in several months.

One very fine gentleman, who had recently moved to a rural area, found it easier to fly to Tucson to see me than to get in to see a local internist. That was in 2009. Recently, he has become unable to travel, so I needed to find him a local doctor.

I tried to expedite matters by ordering him an immediate diagnostic test: an abdominal CT scan. I don’t think anyone could argue that it wasn’t indicated under the circumstances. One little problem: I am not enrolled in Medicare and don’t have the proper government-issued number to enter into the computer. A license to practice medicine is not enough. This National Provider Identifier (NPI) is supposed to protect the system against being defrauded. Without that number, the imaging facility could not get paid by Medicare.

“Why not use the radiologist’s number?” I asked. After all, he was the one who would get paid. Nope, a referral was required. How about a self-referral from the patient? Nope, we can’t allow patients to decide what tests they need. “The patient is willing to pay for his own test,” I said. Nope, if he’s on Medicare, they aren’t allowed to take his money.

They gave the patient 24 hours to find a properly enumerated doctor to countersign my order. Fortunately, he found a specialist willing to do so, and assume potential criminal liability for committing “waste, fraud, and abuse” by ordering a “medically unnecessary” study. (Fortunately for the patient, he turned out not to have cancer, but that could be bad news for the doctor.)

So this is the status of retired Americans. They can’t just walk into a facility and request a medical test, and pay for it with their very own money.

A man may be qualified to pilot a 747 across the Pacific, but once he’s on Medicare, he is unfit to make an unsupervised decision about his own medical care.

I did find my patient a doctor. None of the internists within a 150-mile radius who “take Medicare” are willing to take on a new Medicare patient. But through the website of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (www.aapsonline.org), I found a link to the Medicare carrier’s list of opted out physicians. They don’t “take Medicare,” but many are pleased to see older patients, for a reasonable fee. There was one internist on the list, 150 miles from my patient. She has a courteous and helpful assistant who actually answers the phone, and told me the charge for a new patient visit: $300.
Things could be worse—and already are much worse in Canada. The “soul-destroying search for a family doctor” is described in the Globe and Mail on Aug 21. The Ontario government’s program called Health Care Connect manages to link only 60 percent of patients with a doctor—although you might find a concierge doctor for $3,000 a year.

That’s the cost of medicine when it’s “free”—if you can find it at all. If ObamaCare is implemented, all Americans will be in the same boat. And guess who will get thrown overboard first.

October-14-2011

10:40

Some new data out on Small Area Health Insurance Estimates from the census folks.

They have a tool there you can use to look this up yourself, but what I get is that for children (age 18 and under) in Pennsylania, Allegheny County is tied with Montgomery for the lowest percentage without health insurance at 3.9%.  The highest: 10% in Lancaster County.  Data is for 2009.

Join the forum discussion on this post - (1) Posts

June-7-2011

14:15
Robin Hanson on capping systemic health care costs:

The United Kingdom, where, on average, people live longer than in the U.S., spends only about 9 percent of gross domestic product on medicine, compared with our 18 percent. The British control costs in part by having the will to empower a hard-nosed agency, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, to study treatments and declare some ineffective. Some hope the United States will create a similar agency, but I fear it would be hopelessly politicized and declawed.

My solution: admit we are cost-control wimps, and outsource our treatment evaluation to the U.K. Pass a simple law saying Medicare (and Medicaid) won’t cover treatments considered but not positively appraised by the Britain’s national health institute.

Even better, use clinical evidence evaluations of the British Medical Journal. They’ve classified more than 3,000 treatments as either unknown effectiveness (51 percent), beneficial (11 percent), likely to be beneficial (23 percent), trade-off between benefits and harms (7 percent), unlikely to be beneficial (5 percent) and likely to be ineffective or harmful (3 percent). Let’s at least stop paying for these last two categories of treatments! And to put pressure on doctors to collect evidence, let’s stop paying for “unknown effectiveness” treatments after 10 years of use.

As I’ve said before, and will continue to say until everyone in this world understands, universal health care plans will never work. Resources are limited, and no amount of political posturing will change that fact. As Robin Hanson notes, there will come a point where the government must cut back on providing health care, and that’s because there are simply not enough resources available to make sure that everyone is always in perfect health. Anyone who says otherwise is stupid, ignorant, or lying.

June-6-2011

13:05

Suppose you went into a grocery store, and found no prices on anything. You ask a clerk how much five pounds of potatoes would be, and he asks you whether you are 65 or older. You’re taken aback, but you tell him you are 64, and he asks whether your income is less than $40,000.00 a year. Startled, you say it is more than that, and then he asks whether you have food insurance. Why would the
price of potatoes depend on the buyer’s age, income, and insurance status, rather than on the cost of growing, transporting, and stocking the potatoes? That would be absurd.

Yet that’s how it is with medical care. I would be unable to find out, for example, the cost of an echocardiogram from the hospital where I did my residency. The price is different for different people.  The government instituted this ridiculous situation, in 1965, with Medicare and Medicaid. There is a lot of mythology about these programs, but few people understand them like the physicians who are on the front lines actually seeing the patients. For some of them, it has been a gravy train. They game the system. For others, it has been a disaster to go through medical school and residency, and come out a de facto servant to government programs, but of
course, without “benefits” or retirement. If you are scrupulously honest, these programs will bankrupt you—even while turning you into Public Enemy #1.

Senators Ron Wyden and Charles Grassley have put forth the Medicare Data Access for Transparency and Accountability Act (the DATA Act) to open a database so that everyone can see how much money Medicare has sent to any physician enrolled in it. Regardless of the cost to provide medical services, the price the taxpayers are forced by the government to pay for other people’s medical care has gone down and down per procedure, per diagnosis, per office visit.

The public won’t see that, but it will hear about some isolated cases; for example, an Oregon neurosurgeon who allegedly performed multiple spine surgeries on the same patient, or a Florida physician accused of $3 million dollars in Medicare fraud.

Gaming the system is fraud. But the biggest fraud is the one perpetrated on the working people of this nation who are forced to pay for other people’s medical problems. When Medicare was first instituted, Americans were reassured that it would never cost the taxpayers more than $9 billion a year. It is more like $500 billion a year now.

Patients learn to game the system too. Workers must pay through their taxes for even the most trivial complaint when someone on Medicare makes an appointment for it—; say for a cosmetic skin lesion that has been present for 30 years without causing any problem. Working people are also forced to pay for the consequences of other people’s smoking, excess drinking, or risky lifestyle choices. That’s fraud, perpetrated by the government on taxpayers. It’s hidden behind political smoke and mirrors.

Amazingly, we managed somehow for 189 years after 1776 without Medicare and Medicaid, and things were getting better and better —until Lyndon Johnson came up with a good fraudulent vote-buying scheme, and then a lot of people decided there was money to be made off medical problems with the taxpayers the losers.

So, Wyden and Grassley, open your database. But include a list of all the procedures and diagnoses, and what Medicare and Medicaid actually send the physicians as “reimbursement” so people can see that physicians— who spent years of their life in training while incurring tremendous debt—are paid about the same as auto mechanics. And also account for where the rest (about 80%) of the
$500 billion goes.

That would be a good start for medical price transparency. And a good precedent for another database, one detailing just how much value politicians give taxpayers who pay their salaries.

About the Author:

Dr. Tamzin Rosenwasser earned her MD from Washington University in St Louis.  She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Dermatology and has practiced Emergency Medicine and Dermatology.  Dr. Rosenwasser served as President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) in 2007-2008 and is currently on the Board of Directors.  She also serves as the chair of the Research Advisory Committee of the Newfoundland Club of America.  As a life-long dog lover and trainer, she realizes that her dogs have better access to medical care and more medical privacy than she has, and her veterinarians are paid more than physicians in the United States for exactly the same types of surgery.

May-31-2011

10:50
‘The Taskforce says that prevention is everyone’s business – and we call on the state, territory and local governments, on non-government and peak organisations, health professionals and practitioners, communities, families and on individuals to contribute towards making Australia the healthiest country by 2020.’ (Extract from ‘Taking Preventative Action’, the federal government’s response to the Report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce).

I find the sentiments in the quoted passage objectionable for two reasons. First, preventative health care is not ‘everyone’s business’. Individual adults have primary responsibility for their own preventative health care because no-one is better able to exercise that responsibility than they are. Individuals who are persuaded that preventative health care is a collective responsibility could be expected to look increasingly to the various levels of government, non-government organisations, health professionals and practitioners, communities and families – everyone except themselves – to accept responsibility for what they eat, drink and inhale.

Second, the goal of making Australia the healthiest country by 2020 is being put forward as though it is self-evidently desirable collective good that should be pursued by any and every means available to everyone. The goal is not self-evidently desirable. Individual health is not a collective good. And the end does not justify the means that are being proposed to pursue it.

If you delve behind the spin about making Australia the healthiest country by 2020, the underlying goal seems to be to raise average life expectancy in Australia to the highest level in the world by reducing the incidence of chronic disease. What does this entail? It would be hard to object to the goal of enabling individual Australians to reduce their risk of chronic disease. The problem is that the government’s strategy is more about achieving national goals than providing better opportunities for individuals – more about behaviour modification than about ‘enabling’ individuals to reduce their health risks.

The government claims that analysis of ‘the drivers of preventable chronic disease demonstrates that a small number of modifiable risk factors are responsible for the greatest share of the burden’. The behavioural risk factors led by obesity, tobacco and alcohol apparently account for nearly one-third of Australia’s total burden of disease and injury. The chronic conditions for which some of these factors are implicated include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, depression and oral health problems.

Since these risk factors stem from individual lifestyles it is obviously desirable for individuals to be aware of them. There may be a role for governments in provision of this information. Perhaps governments should also be involved in helping people in various ways to live more healthy lifestyles. It is questionable how far governments should go down this path, but it is difficult to object to modest efforts by governments to improve opportunities for people to live healthier lifestyles.

However, rather than helping people to help themselves the federal government has chosen the path of Skinnerian behaviour modification. It has chosen to drive changes in behaviour through what it describes as the ‘world’s strongest tobacco crackdown’. (This is one instance when I hope the government doesn’t actually mean what it says – some people in Bhutan have apparently been jailed recently for possession of more than small amounts of tobacco products.) The government’s strategy also involves ‘changing the culture of binge drinking’ and ‘tackling obesity’, but in this post I will focus on smoking.

Some of the tactics being used in the tobacco crackdown involve information and persuasion but there is also an element of punishment involved. The tobacco excise has been increased to over $10 for a packet of 30 cigarettes and legislation is proposed to require cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging. It seems to me that this amounts to persecution of smokers and their families. It will reduce the amount of household budgets available to be spent on other products and encourage some to avoid excise by obtaining tobacco from illegal sources.

As a former smoker, I am probably more strongly against smoking than most people who have never smoked. I encourage other people to quit smoking and discourage young people from taking up the habit. But having given up smoking several times, I know how hard this can be. Governments have no basis on which to judge that people are not in their right mind if they consider that the pleasures they might obtain from additional years of life are not worth the pain of giving up smoking.

In my view this question of whether smokers are capable of judging what is in their own best interests is at the crux of the matter. The politicians and bureaucrats who seek to modify the behaviour of smokers may see themselves as enhancing the capability of these people to have lives that they ‘have reason to value’, in accordance with well-being criteria proposed by Amartya Sen. If so, their attitudes highlight a major problem with Sen’s approach. Governments have no business deciding what kinds of lives individuals have reason to value.

Enrolling into a drug rehab program can be the hardest thing to do but it can save a life.

Blog url: 
http://www.citizeneconomists.com/blogs/
All
MedTech and Devices

The Healthcare Information Systems Blog

April-25-2010

22:41
This blog is no longer being updated. I've begun a new blog, Wellness & Technology.

January-12-2010

14:18
It took eighteen months, but my stance on the Bush regime's refusal to accommodate the blind in the midst of numerous coin and paper money redesigns - along with those who were being discriminated against by the regime's callousness - has been vindicated!

In a ruling made today, a federal appeals court concluded that the United States refusal to design its paper money in such a way that the visually impaired can determine its value violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a snarky summation that I wish I had thought of when I first posted about this in December, 2006, the court held that the government's position that the blind should count on the kindness of strangers - and credit card companies - is bullshit.
The government might as well argue that, since handicapped people can crawl on all fours or ask for help from strangers, there's no need to make buildings wheelchair accessible, the court said.
Justice delayed is justice denied; get to stepping, Mr. Snow!

Related posts:

January-12-2010

14:11

Three fiscal quarters into my new role at work I am pleasantly surprised to discover that CDHPs have quietly evolved from a disingenuous cost-sharing scheme foisted on workers by employers (see the Pollyannaish video, below) to a proactive, multifaceted approach intended to achieve “a pluralistic system that empowers patients and demands accountability from individuals and the health system, while adequately supporting the needs of the disadvantaged.”

Moreover, the criteria for determining whether or not these lofty goals are met are both simple and progressive:

  1. Consumer-driven programs must encourage and attract enrollment from the sickest members as well as the healthy.
  2. Consumer-driven programs must work for those members who don’t want to get involved in decision-making as well as for those who do.

Granted, the above is only Wye River Group’s take on the matter, but given that it comes directly from their An Employers’ Guide to Healthcare Consumerism which was published in 2006 I am inclined to take them at their word and note this as a sea change in suppliers’ attitudes towards the healthcare crisis in this country.

What Wye River Group refers to as healthcare consumerism is a synthesis of old and new ideas as well as delivery and payment models in the healthcare market. It encompasses consumer-driven health plans, value-based benefit design techniques, and good old-fashioned managed care (as opposed to managed access and/or managed costs).

Despite its name, healthcare consumerism isn’t mutually exclusive of government involvement. Indeed, the techniques it espouses could go a long way towards making the already superior healthcare model in place for US military veterans that much more cost-effective and efficient – not to mention portable to state and local governments and private industry.

There are few people as skeptical of for-profit payers as I am, but in light of this evolution of thought in the consumer-driven healthcare space I am open to – and hopeful at the prospect of being – proven wrong.

January-5-2010

14:15
Please excuse me while I pat myself on the back over this...
Hi Jeff,

I am delighted to let you know that your submitted photo
has been selected for inclusion in the newly released
second edition of our Schmap Northwest Guide:

Whidbey Island
http://www.schmap.com/northwest/water/p=302080/i=302080_8.jpg

If you like the guide and have a website, blog or personal
page, then please also check out the customizable
widgetized versions of our Schmap Northwest Guide, complete
with your published photo:

http://www.schmap.com/guidewidgets/p=79461431N00/c=SG33032501

Thanks so much for letting us include your photo - please
enjoy the guide!

Best regards,

Emma Williams,
Managing Editor, Schmap Guides
Here's the photograph in question:

Picture 057 by Jeff O'Connor

I am not a professional photographer, or even an amateur photographer except in the most literal sense of the word, so I feel very good about being included in the Shmap!! Guide. Although my photographs are not uploaded to Flickr under a Creative Commons license, I do make use of Creative Commons-licensed images in my freelance Web work; I feel like I've given something back.

Related posts:

February-24-2009

20:56

Last night's historic election of Barak Hussein Obama as the 44th President of these United States isn't just a watershed moment in American history, the U.S. civil rights movement, and world affairs; it also signals the turning of a new page in the realm of U.S. healthcare policy.

How many pages will be turned remains to be seen at the federal level, but here in Michigan two ballot proposals passed that will have immediate implications for those of us with an interest in health and wellness.
  • Proposal 1, legalizing medical marijuana use at the state level passed with more than 60% of the vote.

  • Proposal 2, which would allow the donation of unused embroyos from fertility clinics, passed by a more narrow margin, but passed nevertheless.
Both proposals were met with stiff and frequently hysterical and baseless opposition. Proposal 2 opponents wanted to see Michigan's ridiculous existing laws that punish researchers who utilize discarded human embroyos with a $5 million dollar fine and prison time remain on the books.

Proposal 1 opponents thought they knew better than Michigan's healthcare professionals and the patients themselves about the benefits and risks of medical marijuana use. They were wrong, the prohibition against medical marijuana use was wrong, and last night Michigan voters showed them just how wrong they were.

The era of politically sanctioned stupidity appears to be over - for now, at least. The triumph of reason and rationality over fear and ignorance in Michigan appears to have been replicated around the country. Also worth noting last night:

Still, for the first time in a long time, we have something we haven't had to support us along the way: hope!

February-24-2009

19:20

Just as The Heartland Institute purports to be a non-partisan think-tank, so, too, does the monthly rag it puts out every month purport to be news, specifically, Health Care News.

It ain't so.

Every first-year high school debate student learns about fallacious arguments. It's a requirement and something you had better learn well unless you want your argument to fail, your proposal to lose, and what little social standing there is to be had from membership on the debate team to be negated by having your ass publicly handed to you by an even bigger geek at a public (albeit most likely unattended) public event.

I speak from experience here.

As the saying goes, things change.

In our modern era of corporate media, where a powerful and wealthy few dictate what constitutes both entertainment and news, as well as their bastard offspring - infotainment, the validity and coherence of one's argument doesn't matter; volume does.

Volume can be measured in decibels (talk radio), eyeballs (Drudge Report), Nielsen Ratings (Fox News, Desperate Housewives), circulation (The National Enquirer), or some combination thereof. Health Care News apparently knows how to pump-up the volume: according to their masthead they reach 53% of all healthcare professionals.

I know that healthcare is a business, and that even the most selfless non-profit organization has to figure the bottom line into the equation somewhere, but it is my sincere hope that when most healthcare professionals and the organizations they work for need to get a feel for the pulse of the nation on important questions of the day, they'll keep in mind that Charmin is a better quality paper than The Heartland Institute's propaganda organ is.

Why am I being so hard on Health Care News? For starters, they have a widget on their site that is a consistent part of their navigational structure that declares Crichton is Right! This is a reference to science fiction author and 2006 American Association of Petroleum Geologists Journalism Award-winner Michael Crichton, whose novel State of Fear denies the science of the greenhouse effect and slanders The New Republic Senior Editor Michael Crowley.

With both John McCain and Barack Obama in favor of joining some version of the Kyoto Protocols and enacting some sort of carbon cap-and-trade system, this ranks The Heartland Institute right up there with holocaust deniers and The Flat Earth Society in my book.

Is this unfair of me? Am I painting with an overly broad brush? Am I resorting to unjustified Ad Hominem attacks and throwing the baby out with the bathwater just because I think Michael Crichton is a despicable human being and corporate drama whore who is trading on name recognition in lieu of long-since-gone talent?

I don't think so.

Here's a critique of their three-article, red-letter Single-Payer expose'.

Read it.

Better yet, read the original articles independently of my critiques, and decide for yourself.

Meanwhile, I will be tackling all three of Health Care News' extremely fallacious and biased articles one-at-a-time over three posts. First up:

Russia's Failed Universal Health Care Program Exposes the Perils of Single-Payer Systems

This article attempts to paint a picture of what universal healthcare in the United States will look like by describing in lurid detail what's going on at the bottom of the barrel in Russia's healthcare system.

For this article alone, the fallacies include:

If you look at the subheadings in this article, two of the three read like they're straight out of the tabloids:
  • Awful Facilities
  • Rampant Corruption
  • Proposed Solutions
Now sing along withe me:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Did you guess which thing was not like the others?
Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?
If you guessed this one is not like the others,
Then you're absolutely...right!

The first section, Awful Facilities, is clearly an Appeal to Fear as it describes Russia's hospitals in the following manner:
Many state-run hospitals, particularly in remote areas, do not have hot water, and some do not have running water at all. Even the most basic medicines are often in limited supply.
This is an attempt to form a Post Hoc fallacious argument. It fails in this regard, however. Awful Facilities actually Confuses Causes and Effect - the Russian Federation is the successor to the collapsed Soviet Union and the product of more than a decade of economic decline before its recent economic stabilization. Consequently, it's healthcare infrastructure isn't a shambles because the country's national, single-payer healthcare model is a failure; the country's national, single-payer healthcare model is a failure because the country's healthcare infrastructure is a shambles!

The article then tries to draw a direct linkage between these sorts of conditions and not just healthcare reform in general in the United States, but healthcare reform originating with one particular political party:
Healthcare is far too important to leave to politicians - be the autocrats or Democrats [sic]," said John R. Graham, director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute.
Did you spot the Ad Hominem fallacy? It's tricky because it's also an example of Guilt by Association. In the above statement, the poor state of the Russian healthcare system is the fault of the autocrats, who are synonymous with Democrats! Since all Democrats are autocrats, and autocrats can't be trusted to administer healthcare, then obviously neither can the Democrats.

Finally, with the Democratic Party poised to increase its congressional majority in November and favored to win the White House as well, a Slippery Slope is hinted at: if Democrats are autocrats, and autocrats believe in large, ineffective healthcare bureaucracies, then putting Democrats into power will increase the likelihood and speed at which the U.S. healthcare system will come to resemble the failed healthcare systems in states run by autocrats (i.e.: the U.S. will be just like Russia if the Democrats get their way).

Though I can't imagine why, the author goes on to further develop the linkage between Russia's incredibly corrupt and byzantine bureaucracy and government healthcare by painting the faithfully terrifying picture of government bureaucrats picking the pocket of ordinary tax payers and giving them absolutely nothing in return - a Hasty Generalization if ever there was one:
"The Russian 'free healthcare for all' system is nothing of the sort," said Jeff Emanuel, research fellow for healthcare policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of health Care News. "Instead, it is simply another program built on governmental taking of taxpayer fund and mismanagement of the services it promises to provide."
You see, in the neoconservative fantasy land that Jeff Emanuel lives in, any single failed government program from any government anywhere is proof that all government programs from all governments everywhere will fail! And be sure to take a good look at just who Jeff Emanuel is: the editor of the very publication the article appears in! While this isn't a logical fallacy, it certainly makes him a less than objective - and therefore credible - subject matter expert for this particular piece.

The article fails the Biased Sample test because it holds up Russia's national, single-payer healthcare systems up as the only example of a national, single-payer healthcare system. Moreover, by sensationalizing this small sample, the article is guilty of Misleading Vividness, as the statistical evidence doesn't bear out the original premise.

Despite the fact that there is currently no legislation before Congress to institute a national, single-payer healthcare system, nor a presidential candidate from either party intending to introduce one (a Factual Error), even if universal coverage and a national, single-payer system were the same thing (which they are not), citing only Russia as a representative example of such a system is not only a Biased Sample fallacy, it also grossly distorts the success of the many other national, single-payer healthcare plans of every other industrialized country, all of whose citizens enjoy a comparable or superior degree of health and wellness than the average American does from healthcare systems that universally consume fewer resources and produce comparable or superior outcomes to our own.

(It is also insulting to the intelligence of anyone who has been paying attention since 1991 and knows that for all of our problems, the United States and the keystone republic of the former U.S.S.R. have about as much in common as William McGuire and Mother Theresa when it comes to infrastructure and other assets to bring to bear on their respective national healthcare concerns!)

In fact, according to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2007, per capita GDP in the Russian Federation was $14,600 - less than .33% (one-third) of per capital GDP in the United States of American ($46,000) during the same period!

Despite the enormous differences between the two counties, the average life expectancy at birth for all Russians is 84.5% that of their American counterparts, a difference of only 15.5%. Based on these numbers, if the United States were to adopt the horrific Russian healthcare system in its current form in its entirety tomorrow, but maintain current U.S. healthcare spending levels, median life expectancy at birth for all Americans would exceed 129 years!

Life Expectancy at Birth Russian Federation United States of America
Total population 65.94 78.14
Males 59.19 75.29
Females 73.1 81.13
Life expectancy: Russian Federation and United States of America as of 2007
Source: CIA World Factbook

Now, I know that this is a Misleadingly Vivid example, but then again so is Health Care News' representation of the Russian healthcare system as a legitimate cautionary tale for healthcare reformers in the United States looking to implement some form of universal coverage or otherwise assure care is made available to nearly 50 million of their fellow uninsured citizens.

As I pointed-out above, Rina Shah bases her entire article on a Factual Error when she presents the situation in Russia as an example of a failed universal healthcare system. However , Russia's implementation of universal healthcare is a national, single-payer universal healthcare system; there are no proposals for implementing such a system in the United States from either political party or presidential candidate.

I would argue that the entire article is nothing but a Strawman, but the second section, Rampant Corruption, is particularly egregious. In two paragraphs, the article's author serves up all of the quantified data in the entire piece, but they have nothing to do with single-payer or universal healthcare plans; on the contrary they have everything to the country's overall poor standard of living and lack of effective regulation and oversight of the Russian healthcare market. According to the article:
Research conducted by Moscow's INDEM think tank in 2004 showed Russians spent some $600 million each year on under-the-counter payments to health care providers. The Russian Academy of Sciences' Open Health Institute more recently estimated rampant corruption siphons off as much as 35 percent of the money spent on health care nationwide annually.

Low wages are another problem. Yearly salaries of physicians average $5,160 to $6,120, while nurses average $2,760 to $3,780. This often results in underpaid physicians accepting bribes for higher-quality care.
Do you see the Strawman here? The figures presented above only proves that Russia's healthcare market is inadequately policed; it doesn't prove that universal or single-payer healthcare systems are inherently corrupt or result in substandard wages for healthcare professionals. The average pay of Russian healthcare professionals is also something a Red Herring: compensation of individual healthcare practitioners is not an indicator of the likelihood of an overall healthcare market's ability to function efficiently, as the performance of healthcare markets from Canada to Cuba clearly show.

The article's concluding section, Proposed Reforms, is nothing of the sort. Instead, it merely serves to Poison the Well:
Reforms drafted this spring by the Russian Federal Assembly include placing higher emphasis on primary care, shutting down numerous substandard hospitals, scaling down the scope of free medical assistance guaranteed by the state, and increasing physician salaries by reimbursing doctors according to the number of individual treatments given instead of by the number of hours worked.

"Instead of forcing people to pay into this failed program, Russia's government should allow the market to influence the health care system, which it can begin to do by allowing its citizens to choose how their own health care money is spent," Emanuel said.

So-called "universal" health care does not actually exist, says Graham.
Do you see what's going on here? The reforms proposed by the Russian government are never addressed. Instead, they are summarily dismissed.

That's the the set-up; here's the pitch:
"At best, in a functioning democracy like Canada or Britain, it results in unequal access to health care by government rationing, lack of investment in innovation, and shortage of medical professionals," Graham pointed out. "At worst, in a country with little democratic bona fides, it results in the situation we are seeing in Russia."
The author has taken great pains to paint an unfavorable, ugly, and frankly prurient (from a healthcare policy perspective) picture of Russia's national, single-payer healthcare system. Having savaged the concept generally (i.e.: Poisoned the Well), Rina Shah sees no reason to bother backing up the claims made in the concluding paragraph about the failings of universal healthcare systems in functional democracies, which are better and more realistic models for potential universal healthcare solutions in the United States. Which was clearly her intention all along.

Next up: My adverse reaction to Universal Health Care is the Wrong Prescription
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