Cerner CEO Neal Patterson tells shareholders that the company is transitioning from a healthcare IT company to a healthcare company, echoing sentiments expressed in the company’s most recent earnings call. Cerner executives say the company will dominate areas that include aggregating information across providers, reducing healthcare costs, improving outcomes, and providing consulting services related to population health management.
From Katherine Kroessler, MD: “Re: EMRs and Meaningful Use. The burden is overwhelming for small practices. More physicians will become employees and use systems where someone else crunches the numbers. My small practice’s EMR is fine for MU, but it has increased our overhead and staffing and thus has decreased physician income. We have some electronic lab/DI data and others come on paper. Docs fax paper referrals and we fax back paper consults because our systems don’t talk to each other. Information gets put in folders to be scanned and has to be tracked down when the patient is in the room. However, if you are in a large contained system, all of that works seamlessly. The government should have created an incentive for IT vendors to use the same interface requirements so their systems could talk to each other. Doctors are being reduced to clerks and spend more of their valuable time clicking boxes and coding unless they are part of a large infrastructure that automates that for you. I just hope that new doctors will know how to think about patients and not just how to copy and paste notes. Listening to our patients is our most important skill because, at least in neurology, 90 percent of the time the diagnosis comes from the history. Doctors will become employees of large systems and their thought processes and workups will be governed by those systems. Let’s hope the systems get it right because the MDs phasing out of medicine will all be Medicare patients soon enough.”
HIStalk Announcements and Requests
Eighty percent of respondents think ONC should certify EHRs only if they offer external program access (APIs) for interoperability. New poll to your right: is the Meaningful Use Stage 2 slowdown good or bad?
Announcements and Implementations
KLAS announces that it is developing a myKLAS mobile app.
Epic is named the #5 best company for employee pay and benefits in a Glassdoor review of employee surveys. It’s probably the one company on the list whose name the average American wouldn’t recognize.
Government and Politics
The White House says HHS has passed a cybersecurity assessment that was required by a presidential order, saying its voluntary efforts are sufficient to address cyber risk.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said he fired the director of Oregon Health Authority in March effective immediately over the Cover Oregon health insurance exchange debacle that will end up costing nearly $300 million, but the local paper discovers that he’s still on full-time status and getting paid $14,425 per month, at least until July when his vacation pay runs out. Federal investigators issued several subpoenas last week to people at both the health authority and the insurance exchange, apparent interested in finding out whether state officials lied to CMS about the project’s status to get more federal money.
CMS announces the second round winners of its Health Care Innovation Awards. Among them: $15.9 million to the American College of Cardiology Foundation for the SMARTcare provider feedback and decision support tools for reduction of inappropriate procedures; $7 million to the Association of American Medical Colleges for an electronic consult and referral model in five academic medical centers; and $10 million to UCSF for a monitoring system for dementia patients.
Sam Foote, MD, the retired Phoenix VA doctor who turned wait list whistleblower, says in a New York Times opinion piece that he doesn’t think the current VA investigation will be effective because it’s being performed by Veterans Integrated Service Network office workers who will just ask employees a few questions, while he would rather see an anonymous electronic provider survey. He also says the VA’s VistA system is excellent and second to none in transferring information from one VA facility to another. He concludes by saying that any negative findings will be pushed back because it’s an election year.
Innovation and Research
Researchers at Stanford University develop an externally rechargeable embedded implant it calls an “electroceutical” that may be able to cure specific medical conditions using radio energy.
The CEO of Athens Regional Health System (GA) resigns after problems with its Cerner implementation. A dozen doctors sent a letter to administration complaining about lost orders, medication errors, ED patients leaving AMA after long waits, and an inpatient who wasn’t seen for five days. They also complain that the implementation timeline is too aggressive and the users aren’t ready. The doctors claim that Cerner problems have caused several doctors to drop their hospital privileges and others to send patients to a competing hospital. The health systems foundation VP said in a letter to donors and volunteers, “The last three weeks have been very challenging for our physicians, nurses, and staff … parts of the system are working well while others are not.”
HIMSS congratulates some new EMRAM Stage 6 organizations.
Medical educators say that doctors are losing the ability to diagnose based on a physical examination, instead relying on sophisticated tests. One says he has seen cases where “technology, unguided by bedside skills, took physicians down a path where tests begot tests and where, at the end, there was usually a surgeon and often a lawyer. Sometimes even an undertaker.” Medical schools are going back to basics, teaching students, for example, to use a stethoscope instead of an EKG. A former NEJM editor weighs in after his experience as a patient at Mass General: “Doctors now spend more time with their computers than at the bedside,” with electronic medical records containing only short descriptions of how he felt and looked, but with “copious reports of the data from tests and monitoring devices” that generated few documented conversations. A professor and doctor tells the story of a resident desperately clicking through a febrile patient’s EHR looking for a cause when a short walk to the patient’s room would have made it obvious that his IV site was inflamed. Another says foreign doctors are more competent clinically than their American counterparts because they are either trained to rely less on technology or don’t have much of it available.
Saw screenshots of @VanderbiltU home-grown Electronic Medical Record today. Looks more impressive than Epic/Cerner.
— Pallav Sharda (@Pallavsharda) May 23, 2014
Someone asked me the other day if Vanderbilt was still using WizOrder. I assume so, even though McKesson’s commercialized version of it under the Horizon nameplate is being put slowly out to pasture. Apparently this physician informaticist was impressed.
The Houma, LA paper profiles Objective Medical Systems, started by a group of cardiologists to create a specialty-specific EHR. It captures the output from medical devices, presents a combined view of test information, and can recommend research papers relevant to the patient’s condition.
Weird News Andy says we should fight illness with fist-bumps instead of handshakes according to a JAMA article that urges creating “handshake-free zones” to reduce the spread of pathogens. The article says shaking someone’s hand could eventually become as much of a social taboo as smoking.
Monday is Memorial Day, set aside to honor the one million US Armed Forces members who died while serving. Thanks to them, you are free to decide that you won’t fly the flag, visit a military cemetery, or think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice on your behalf. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be nice for you to do those things voluntarily on Monday.
Where Does It Hurt?
Where Does It Hurt? is an entertaining, punchy potpourri of ideas, just what you would expect from athenahealth’s Jonathan Bush and his professional co-author. The book is breezy and fun, with self-effacing humor and first-person stories about Bush’s experience with the healthcare system as a paramedic, a failed consultant, a failed birthing center operator, and now the successful co-founder of a pretty big back-office services and software provider.
Bush works his readers into righteous indignation by pointing out the fairly obvious things that are wrong with our broken and massively expensive healthcare system. Most of his anecdotal everyman ire is aimed at hospitals, which should be interesting since their fat and happy leadership (in his mind) are the prospects that will drive athenahealth’s planned growth into health systems. (He probably shouldn’t hand out copies of the book as part of the company’s pitch to hospital prospects.)
Where Does It Hurt? delivers on its title, with nicely summarized and fun-to-read examples the maddeningly illogical healthcare system. Consumers rather than healthcare insiders are the target audience for the recitation of issues covered in far more specific and analytical detail elsewhere. As you would expect, Bush travels in circles different from the rest of us, so when he wants to learn something (and share it with readers), he has access to the CEOs and politicians who will tell him first hand.
Where it fails to deliver is on its subtitle: “An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Fixing Health Care.” The book is long on criticizing the system in its 241 pages, but short on offering new ideas about how fix it. He doesn’t fall short on “the vision thing,” but perhaps he could have been more prescriptive, especially given the barriers of government meddling, the political power of organizations profiting handsomely from the status quo, and the disconnect between those receiving services and those who pay for them, all of which have sucked the energy out of most of the good ideas that have floated around.
Early on, Bush declares that “healthcare is the new oil” in urging entrepreneurs to create profitable businesses that target monolithic, protective hospitals and the massive chunk of healthcare spending they consume. He provides fascinating examples such as Steward Health Care and Florida Woman Care, relayed mostly as conversations between himself and the CEO of those companies, and how they found easily picked low-hanging fruit in the inefficiency of their lumbering big-hospital competitors that weren’t adding much value in providing routine services. He suggests that the idea of the Affordable Care Act had promise, but most of what it could have accomplished was neutered by special interest lobbyists into being little more than insurance for a lot more people instead of really reforming anything.
The “what should we do about it” message isn’t as clearly presented. After reading the book, I went back through it twice (it’s not all that big) to manually pick out what seem to be its main suggestions since it’s a bit all over the place.
- The industry should train lower-level people to perform routine tasks, just like the military does in turning an 18-year-old with poor academic achievement into a weapons operator by breaking everything down into simple steps. He wondered in his New Orleans EMT days why there weren’t a swarm of $9 per hour EMTs like himself providing services in the community rather than just hauling patients with routine problems to the ED (in the cab-u-lance, as he refers to it.) He sees retail clinics as a model that works for up to 70 percent of the patients who would otherwise be sitting in the expensive ED’s waiting room.
- Hospitals, especially academic medical centers, should transform into focused factories that offer fixed-priced services for specific, complex treatments in which they have developed notable expertise, leaving routine services to less-expensive providers. Hospitals fund their high-overhead operations by drastically marking up basic tests and procedures without adding any value and that money could be better spent elsewhere.
- Big hospitals should overcome their geographic constraints by employing telemedicine and providing air transportation for patients who need their specific treatments.
- Community hospitals shouldn’t get a free pass to make a lot of money just because they erect impressive buildings, staff EDs, hire a lot of people, and instill community pride. He says they should be reconfigured into providing emergency and high-acuity services and be paid accordingly since inpatient bed demand is already dropping significantly. He observes that hospitals are fighting to keep control of their fiefdoms, buying each other and medical practices to snuff out potential competitors that might undercut them in bidding for insurance company contracts.
- State-specific limitations on provider licensing and insurance sales should be eliminated, as should artificial provider limits such as certificates of need.
- Doctors should realize the power they have and band together rather than selling their practices to hospitals.
- The government should loosen up anti-kickback laws so that providers can pay each other for information, such as contributing data. (Bush adds an interesting note that doctors selling their practices to hospitals is the ultimate kickback given the increase in business hospitals get from their referrals.)
- The government should eliminate the requirement that only providers can run ACOs, opening up the market to entrepreneurs.
- Insurance companies should offer tailored packages instead of the one-size-fits-all type. They should also offer barebones plans for those who don’t need extensive coverage.
- The government should encourage new entrepreneurial insurance companies by backing their risk as it does mortgages through Fannie Mae.
- Patients should be financially engaged in the healthcare decisions they make, should learn from each other, and should demand data.
- Providers should manage populations and offer health management rather than just healthcare services, such as coaching, classes, and exercise.
- Epic is part of the problem because it was designed to do what big academic medical centers want – protect their near-monopolies. Its high price ensures that most independent practices can’t afford it, giving Epic’s big customers the leverage to tell those practices to use their Epic system (at a discount) or risk being left out, giving those hospitals more control of the market and the data needed to protect it.
- Entrepreneurs shouldn’t try to sell software to those big hospitals because the changes they will demand will reflect their inefficiency, turning the entrepreneur’s fresh approach into the same old systems everybody else is selling.
- Data is the key to figuring out which treatments are effective.
I enjoyed the book and recommend it for those not expecting magic answers. It contains a lot more observations of problems than solutions, and healthcare insiders won’t learn very much from the admittedly interesting presentation of what’s wrong with healthcare. If I got my $11.99 worth (Kindle edition) it would probably be because it’s entertaining to hear Bush’s take on what those of us in healthcare see every day as being part of that expensive system that needs to be overhauled. You can hear a lot of Jonathan Bush’s ideas for free by watching business TV shows, so there’s no reason to sit impatiently waiting for the sequel.