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HIStalk Interviews Charles Corfield, CEO, nVoq

April 18, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Charles Corfield is president and CEO of nVoq of Boulder, CO.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started off life as a mathematician. The company that we’re talking about today is nVoq, which is based in Boulder, Colorado. It is a tech company. It does voice-assisted workflow, or voice-automated workflows.

 

Did you find that you had an aptitude for entrepreneurship that you didn’t expect, or is it truly related to your mathematical training?

If I may quote someone, when I was a teenager, I had the good fortune to observe a couple of entrepreneurs in action in the UK. John McNulty was his name, one of those entrepreneurs, who said, “The reason most people become entrepreneurs is because they’re fundamentally unemployable, so they have no choice.” [laughs] 

If you’re one of these people who is a constructive troublemaker, that you’re always poking at things and asking questions, then entrepreneurship is a fairly natural thing to do, even if by personality traits you may not be the most obvious candidate for it.

For example, mathematicians are notorious for being somewhat shy, retiring, and socially awkward. I certainly plead guilty to being something of a social retard myself. The joke used to be that you can tell an extrovert mathematician because he or she stares at your shoelaces instead of his or her own. [laughs]

What you figure out as a mathematician is that there’s a pattern to all these things. Go learn the pattern and go figure it out. It’s really actually not that strange for a mathematician to become an entrepreneur.

 

What characteristics about yourself, other than being rebellious, would you say have been important in your career as an innovator, investor and now running nVoq?

At least willing to ask awkward questions, if you can characterize rebelliousness somewhat more charitably.

Two attributes which I think are key in this are, one, the willingness to sink your teeth into something and just stick at it. One of the things that I have observed over the years as I applied my trade in technology is that many people have folded their hands far too early. They’ve just sort of given up. Somehow they didn’t in the end have the courage of their convictions.

That brings me to the second point, which is, mathematicians can often have insights into the way things work and see things which are not always easy for other people to see. If you have the good fortune to have the right insights, then that’s probably more important than having a big VC backing you. In other words, good insights can make up for a shortage of dollars.

 

You were an investor in BeVocal that was sold to Nuance a few years back for a pretty good chunk of change. That became Siri, right?

That I could not comment on. [laughs]

 

I wondered if I’d get a “yes” out of you on that.

I think I shall refer you to Nuance to comment on matters of Siri or otherwise. [laughs]

 

How did you get involved with speech recognition?

The story behind it was that I met up with several would-be entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who wanted to do something with speech recognition. They were not ready for prime time as far the VC community there was concerned.

However, I liked what I saw, and so I worked with them in formulating the business. I invested in at as well, as did eventually a number of VCs once they got to a stage where they were a candidate for taking funding from the VC. 

It was an interesting model, because before we had the term "cloud," they were actually doing a cloud-based IVR. This was also one of the not very common times when you could do a gain share model and control enough of the levers to make it work.

In that environment, it was well known in the industry what percentage of your incoming phone calls to customer care you could automate, or not as the case may be. If you couldn’t automate it, it had to go to an agent and that’s really what drove your expense. The approach at BeVocal was that we would use a judicious amount of speech recognition to increase the — as some people call it — call deflection, meaning deflection away from an agent, or call automation or containment within the IVR. 

The deal we would make with the customer is that for every percentage point we can increase that automation, you pay us X cents per minute. That turned into a very good business model. The reason that type of model is not very common is because often technology companies can’t control enough of the levers to influence the outcome in their favor. Gain share models are often very good for the client and lousy for the technology company.

 

Nuance is probably the name people people think of most often when they hear the term speech recognition. How are NVoq’s offerings different and how do you compete against Nuance?

We take a different approach. As you said, Nuance is the brand name or the 800-pound gorilla that is known in healthcare. Their primary offerings are back-end transcription as they have absorbed transcription companies and put that on to their back-end speech recognition. Then the front-end product, hich is more widely known, the medical version of Dragon. That is a desktop product. It’s what is called a fat client. All the functionality has to be installed either on the enterprise server or the user’s desktop. 

Our observation is that by taking a different approach, which is to supply functionality out in the cloud, we are able to meet the needs of people who are more cost conscious and need a very simple and portable access to speech recognition. By simple, meaning it’s very easy for them to learn what they need to learn. By portable, it respects the fact that they are working in multiple locations. They’re going from offices to clinics to hospitals and so on and they really need just one account that can follow them around. 

The cloud, as long as they have Internet connectivity, allows them to hook up to their account wherever they are. Then from a user experience point of view, what we have focused on is to make that process upon boarding the user — that is, training them up from ground zero — very simple for the user. The process of supporting that user in their daily use is to make that very simple as well. 

Let me give you a for instance. Because the functionality is in the cloud, we or the reseller can see exactly what the user is doing during the early days and can make judicious interventions to true things up for that user: introduce vocabulary items or tweak the system in a way that meets the user’s actual usage. What is nice for the user is that the system seems to be proactively addressing their needs without them having to pick up a phone and ask for help. 

This brings us to, I think, one of the big opportunities of using speech recognition in the healthcare space, which is to get a higher adoption rate. Nuance has in effect set the standard, so you will see roughly 50 percent of people who have started on Dragon end up abandoning it. Not because Dragon is a bad product. Dragon is a perfectly good speech recognition product. The issue is that when they need support, it’s not convenient to get it. 

We make a very strong push in that direction of delivering good customer service and timely customer service that makes the difference for these users. Because to be blunt, they’re all far too busy to pick up manuals on speech recognition or wade their way through indexes trying to figure out, what did I get wrong? Why isn’t this working for me? Far better that before they even realize they’re having issues, someone can intervene behind the scenes and make the system do what it needs to do.

 

How do you see the market for voice-operated commands in healthcare or the use of speech recognition by non-physician clinicians for something other than dictation?

If you consider the numbers, there are 800,000 physicians, plus or minus, in America. But the total number of people working provider side in healthcare is closer to 16 million. There is clearly a large, unserved market or potential market of people who need something which can speak to their needs, speak to their workflows, if you will. It’s simple. It’s affordable. It can automate their rote tasks. 

Providing a solution for these people is something we are very interested in and are already doing. We look at it as being ultimately that we should see millions of people who are working on the provider side who are able to benefit from driving the EHR or whatever application they’re using for scheduling or some other type of documentation where they can use voice where appropriate.

 

I don’t mean to ask too many Nuance questions, but companies that have been successful in anything vaguely related to speech recognition usually end up being bought by Nuance. Is that a concern of clients or an interest that you have?

Well, the future’s always very hard to predict, isn’t it? So I shall defer on that one. We’ll stay focused on providing a very attractive user experience and also financial experience for the users. Where that takes us in the future, who’s to know? [laughs] We’re not courting Nuance, nor are they courting us.

 

Talking about those potential non-physician users, how do they find you or how do you make your presence known in ways for something the average hospital hasn’t thought of?

There’s nothing like word of mouth that you make something easy for someone who had no idea it’s possible. The fact is that Nuance has invested heavily in creating awareness of speech recognition. So people have thought about potential applications, but they may not be able to implement those applications using what’s available from Nuance. 

As much as anything, that’s just a fact of life. It’s very hard for one company to cover all possible eventualities. We focus on the ones which are probably not in their sweet spots. But we are in a sense down market from where they are pushing with natural language recognition, the coding engines and what have you. We are much more focused on bread and butter and workflow, and in a sense, a  more mass market offering.

 

I don’t know how you distribute your product or who your customers are, but who’s doing something really interesting with it that would be a notable name?

First of all, how people are getting their hands on the product. The approach we take is it’s channel based. We will work people in the reseller community who, over the years, they know a lot about end users in their neck of the woods. They know where to go hunt, so to speak. 

I think in respect to people whether or not they want their names used, we do have end users who are some well-known names and who certainly appreciate the fact that there is an vendor out there who is taking an attractive approach both for support and also financially. Budgets are under pressure and it’s a very low-risk way for them to use speech in their applications, because for example, we are a subscription base, which means the financial risk is fairly low. If you really don’t like the product or it doesn’t work for you, well, stop paying. [laughs] It’s a monthly subscription, as simple as that. On the other hand, if it works for you, the fact that it’s now a monthly expense rather than a large capital outlay is for a number of users a very attractive proposition.

 

Other than BeVocal, one of the other big successes you had business-wise was Frame Technology. You sold that to Adobe for $500 million a while back. You’ve had a lot of success in creating and selling these companies. What kinds of investments would you be looking for today in healthcare?

Everything around workflow. There’s opportunity here to look at a script we have seen before, which is with the ERP software or database software that took place in the enterprise world. You had companies like Oracle and SAP and Powersoft and others rising out of that technology wave, if you will. 

The big databases are in a sense the equivalent of the big EHR systems going in. Now that we are probably most of the way through adoption of EHR, that big data repository is now in place into the hospitals or clinics. The opportunity is now for a second generation of applications to come along which can ride on top of the big iron EMR and they can then address particular types of workflow. 

I think we will see a wave of companies emerging in the next five years who build on top of the EHR and go and address some of these point workflows that are hard for the big manufacturers to address because they already have their hands full with Meaningful Use and a list a mile long from their clients about the other things they need.

 

What are you priorities or strategies for the company for the next few years?

It’s really all about customer service. We are in the business of productivity, taking cycles out of people’s workflow. Anywhere where we see inefficiencies that we can address, we go after that. 

The thesis in high tech is that it’s really an arbitrage game if you will, because you’re always taking an existing process and re-implementing it, leveraging technology to lower the cost point of that process. The difference you’ve opened up between what it costs today versus what it will cost once you put in the technology – that’s the arbitrage that you can then take your cut of and run a business on. So for us, it’s all about productivity.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

For anyone reading this interview, if you would like a very friendly and approachable and high-impact customer service approach to using voice recognition in a workflow, come give us a call. I’m sure we can make you happy.

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April 18, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

HIStalk Interviews Jim Prekop, CEO, TeraMedica

April 16, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Jim Prekop is president and CEO of TeraMedica of Milwaukee, WI.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in health IT for about 30 years. The last 10 have been with TeraMedica. Before that, I was in the EMR space and companies like PeopleSoft and Dun & Bradstreet software.

TeraMedica is middleware. The industry term is vendor-neutral archive. We collect clinical objects and are responsible for making them available to the source system, but also making them available in a patient-centric view to additional consumers of that data, whether they’re outside in institutions, exchanges, or new technology that gets adopted by the provider. We perform that role in the healthcare architecture.

 

How has the unbundling of PACS from single-solution vendors changed the demand for vendor-neutral archives and what’s the end result for the provider and the patient?

It’s a natural progression. With systems, historically, the new idea is a more or less a closed-loop answer. It’s the same way with accounting systems going back decades. 

What was a box has now become a layer in the architecture, the process of acquiring and managing an image and then making it available down the road to new consumers or later in my lifetime. The solution has had to evolve. The VNA, or the ability to seamlessly have the interaction with departmental activity but yet be the conduit into the enterprise, it’s a natural progression. It’s not to say that PACS is bad, just that the focus going forward on PACS will be different, just as the responsibility for the VNA will change over time as well.

 

What about universal viewers?

The universal viewer is interesting. They’re approaching this through the lens of the physician, whereas the VNA approaches it from the infrastructure up. 

The advantage for the enterprise viewer is that they can combine data from multiple sources. But the other thing that has to be kept in mind is that there is response time and there is certainty that is needed in what is delivered to the enterprise viewer. You get into a federated discussion of going after 20 different data sources, combining that answer, and then delivering it in one view to the clinician versus the ability to have all of that patient matching resolved by the VNA. It’s one-stop shopping. It goes to any consumer of the VNA.

We see the consumers being an EMR. We see the consumers being an enterprise viewer. Going forward as more adoption comes into the United States, it will be different exchanges that imaging will become part of. So to us, it’s just a consumer. We optimize its ability to be confidently assured that they’ve asked for and gotten the right information and that all the information is there. If you have a federated view and make a request and one of those systems is down, you might not get the answer.

 

Enterprise viewer implies that there’s behind the scenes fetching going on that then presents a unified view, as opposed to the VNA where it’s actually stored in a single system.

Yes. It’s already stored and normalized and you’re having one conversation behind the scenes. 

Unless somebody’s invented something new in IT that I haven’t seen, you pretty much have to ask the same question across multiple systems or go to some sort of index and find out all the Jim Prekops and then go and find out where they’re located, go get them, and then present it to me in an organized way. Can those enterprise viewers do that? Absolutely, and we have great partners in that space. Is it the best experience for the provider or the clinician? Maybe not.

 

What are the optimal ways to integrate a variety of images into Epic or Cerner?

I call it a landing page. EMRs address all the departments in the organization and rightfully so. But if I want to go look at all the different clinical objects that Jim Prekop created in a facility, chances are the links to that information are within various locations within the EMR. 

One of the advantages that TeraMedica brings to the table to leverage the investment that the provider has in the EMR is to give a patient-centered view of all the clinical objects, should they want that. That’s an option in our system. We can be tied to a report and just show that image, or we can present a complete inventory of what we have in the VNA, so that in one location, a clinician can see things that might be related to other departments. I don’t necessarily have to navigate over to that section of the EMR to see those objects.

 

It’s probably important to note that all images are objects but not all objects are images. Are you seeing demands for new object types?

Absolutely. When I first got here, I had to get an education on DICOM and all the nuances and it was a big education. But not everything is DICOM when it comes to clinical objects. 

Our customers asked us very early to not just manage DICOM. It’s a wonderful thing and is the heavy lifting in our business. But to be truly patient-centric, you have to address all different types of file types, whether it be JPEGs, MPEGs, PDFs, a Word document, or in the case of cancer care, lots of calculations are done using Excel and other types of planning systems.

To represent that an image is just a DICOM object is not fair. It’s usually one of the arguments when you try and decide what a VNA really is. There are lots of folks that manage DICOM and they do a good job, but they declare themselves as the VNA. That doesn’t meet our definition of a VNA.

 

What’s the distinction between storing non-DICOM data in its native format instead of using a DICOM wrapper?

Unlike other industries where you can create data marts and if there’s a problem you just snap another copy of the data, we’re into terabytes and hundreds of terabytes of data. As you acquire that information as the VNA, you have to be clinically responsible to the source system. If I go get a PDF of Jim Prekop from a clinical system and I wrap it in DICOM and that system wants it back, I either have to create duplicate storage — which is not cost productive — or I have to be able to unwrap it from that DICOM and enter that as a PDF to that source system.

The overhead of doing that simply doesn’t work and it doesn’t scale. To believe that you have to wrap everything in DICOM so it follows how your system works … I would suggest you have the wrong system if it only works with DICOM.

A well-known VNA consultant who comes from a PACS mentality is adamant that everything should be wrapped in DICOM. We needed to get him to sign an updated non-disclosure agreement, so I had my engineers wrap our NDA in DICOM before I sent it to him. His asked me what I had sent him since he operates on a Macintosh that doesn’t understand the file type, which is a .UCM. He didn’t even recognize that I had sent him a DICOM file. He didn’t understand that he was essentially justifying the reason why we believe that it’s DICOM and non-DICOM.

 

Who are your main competitors and how do you differentiate your product from theirs?

Since the VNA term was adopted — I prefer Vendor-Neutral Architecture — lots of folks put their hat into the game. As you would expect, a lot of PACS vendors have begun to open up and allow multiple DICOM systems to enter data in there.

It’s usually TeraMedica and Acuo that end up being the finalists in any evaluation. There are some other ones that are out there that do some of the things that we do. There’s some newcomers — Mach7 is out there, but I think they have more activity outside the US than they do within the US. But there are others that are coming into the space, and rightfully so. It’s a competitive market.

 

Hospitals acquiring medical practices and each other have left them trying to figure out how to get their systems to talk to each other. Is that true of imaging systems or other systems that would populate a VNA?

There’s two aspects of that. We’re having organizations that are buying us because they’re strategically positioning themselves to acquire other entities. They know that they can’t rip out those clinical systems, so they will use us as part of their strategy to get control of the data and share it across the enterprise.

As far as the other way, we have sites that are established either because of acquisitions or because of differences on campuses that have multiple EMRs. Our technology allows, again using myself as the example, Jim Prekop to be referenced, and if I know the request is coming from Epic, I’ll behave one way to put it properly in Epic. At the same time, I can put it into Cerner. There’s one source of the truth.

One of the value propositions that we bring as a VNA is that we can identify consumers and react accordingly. We can also respond to multiple consumers, but yet give them the exact data that they’re looking at, whether they come in through the physician’s office with one EMR or they come in through the hospital with another EMR. It’s one source of the truth with multiple consumers.

 

Where do you see the company going in the next three to five years? 

I think it’s based around being a good partner with our customers and bringing to them more use cases, more managing the data. As you would expect, we can sit behind a PACS, but the thing about VNAs is we’ve had to come around the curtain. We’ve always considered doing the plumbing behind the scenes. But now we’re very active in different departmental workflows.

We’re getting involved with our iPad app, as an example, in departments like wound care and dermatology, where the clinicians are actually interacting with our software and we are part of the EMR, but the clinician doesn’t even know we’re there. A lot of times when someone says, “I didn’t know you were there,” that’s a bad thing. For us, that’s a good thing, because we want seamless integration into these different systems. I can see us doing more of it.

I can see us taking responsibilities for more functions of a generic nature in the provider space so that they can optimize the platform that they’ve invested in. Clearly the leading investment is the EMR. But the VNA is also a strategic investment, and we need to do more for them when it comes to clinical workflow.

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April 16, 2014 Interviews No Comments

HIStalk Interviews Kyle Silvestro, CEO, SyTrue

April 14, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Kyle Silvestro is founder and CEO of SyTrue of Chico, CA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in the world of clinical natural language processing and semantic interoperability for the last decade. My team collectively has been in the industry for more than 45 years. 

As a company, we focus on the world of data. We look at ourselves as an oil refiner, taking all the data that’s being created — transcription, dictation, typed notes, structured order entry, what have you — and creating a refinery process that we put it through. On the other side of that, we get structured data that’s semantically interoperable. 

We focus on that pipeline that allows organizations to create normalized data to drive down to processes like analytics, decision support and population health.

 

People often get natural language processing confused with speech recognition. Describe NLP.

It’s the ability for the computer to go through a written document — a Word document, PDF, or something that is the by-product of speech recognition – and recognize and understand the content. Not only the content, the meaning behind the content as far as it’s something positive, something negative, or something concerning. Beyond that, be able to make decisions as far as how that should be encoded with a terminology or medical knowledge base such as SNOMED, ICD-9, or ICD-10.

 

I’m a huge fan of keeping the clinical narrative and patient narrative and not just discrete data element factoids. Is there a demand for that?

It’s interesting what’s occurred over the last decade and really the last several years. Data has become important and incentives are changing to where they’re making data much more relevant in the chain of care. As organizations are looking at this, they’re looking at a lot of claims data, which gives you an incomplete picture.

Until you start marrying the clinical narrative with the claims data, you are not going to see the outcomes or the population that needs to be managed comprehensively as you would just looking at a single point of data. The market is realizing that the data is important and the data is the key for them to being successful.

 

How good is NLP’s inference capability in reliably turning free text into discrete data?

That’s a question we get asked frequently. My response back is, how accurate is the physician’s note? At times, and depending on where you are across the nation, the note may mean different things. Words may mean different things, context may be a little bit different. 

It’s about being able to create a ability to normalize that information and then continuously learn on top of it. Create a feedback loop of this data to ensure that the inferencing or accuracy gets extremely high. Once it’s extremely high, you can build some rules around that to flag inconsistent actions or items that may not be just exactly right for manual review.

It’s great for a number of different processes, but there are still some situations like Core Measures or others that do require clinical opinion. In that context, it assists organization significantly and it’s highly accurate.

 

Google Flu Trends stopped working because it was measuring indirectly captured data that Google didn’t control or understand as it changed. Is that a risk in using NLP to analyze EMR data of a somewhat uncontrolled origin?

No. You have to put it through a process where you can turn data into semantically interoperable content, to create a process that fits an organization and its work flow.

I’ve been at one hospital and seen 152 different ways that they document the section heading of medications. In one hospital. How do you give organizations the ability to normalize that data and to ensure that the section heading of medications corresponds to the appropriate LOINC code and that all these 152 ways all roll up to a single code of medications, if that’s what the organization desires?

It’s about giving them the ability the look inside a black box that was formerly called NLP and terminologies and being able to use that information in line with the organization’s objectives, work flows, and outcomes. Each document can have a different purpose in life and have a different recipient in life based upon on the data that’s within it. Being able to give organizations that flexibility that they haven’t had in the past to be able to perform actions like this changes the paradigm and maybe the questions that are being asked. 

What can end up is organizations get to highly accurate data that’s interoperable, that drives downstream processes, can identify patients that are at risk for medication non-compliance, and a whole other host of activities that are either going to reduce cost, help alleviate risk, or identify opportunities for revenue.

 

You mentioned that the system can learn. How does that work?

In the case of ICD-10 right now, it’s a documentation issue. A lot of the problems that we’re facing in healthcare come back down to documentation. It may not be as sexy as some of the other topics that are out there, but at the end of the day, if you can get to the point of care with a document or parts of documentation are being created, what you’re doing is able to add almost real-time support into that encounter, or creating something along the lines of a encounter-based analytics. As you’re moving forward in this process, it’s about identifying the points in the work flow that can make a difference to have that impact that you’re looking for. 

I think the answer really is yes to your question. Organizations are seeing that value.

 

How much setup is required to get the information that you need from the EMR and to figure out its structure?

The US government is, I think for the first time, focusing on standards. If the laws around Meaningful Use are still upheld in October, that standard’s going to be Direct over the Blue Button. If you’re able to then able to pull information out of these standards, process it, put it together in a consolidated CDA, you’re able then to hand that off to the next person in the chain.

If organizations start complying with this thought of interoperability and data mobility, we all  — vendors or third parties to the record or to the process – can help move forward this continuous care to increase outcomes and value within the healthcare system. Their thinking, and what we find, is the closer we go to the data, the easier it is, and the further away, the harder it becomes. We end up pretty close to the data source. 

Going forward, we’re anticipating this model where we can get that in real time via a standards-based approach that would allow organizations to create something like a meta layer or meta data of smart intelligence. Then the EMR and HIE that can add value into that record in real time. 

Organizations that work with us are up and running within an hour more often than not, minus some of the interfaces that they have to create.

 

What are some examples of what people are doing with your system?

Organizations are looking to identify populations that may be at risk for heart attack or stroke. They are looking through their more often than not transcribed documents, because these are high-value specialties that use maybe a limited piece of an EMR to identify patients that might have been missed or have not been recalled in a certain period of time to follow up for a visit.

We’re being used to look at site selection for clinical trials, by being able to identify possible patients that would fit within a certain selection. Other areas to alleviate risk, or feed data into third-party systems to assist their predictive analytics, decision support, or business intelligence. We act as a platform across different organizations so they can send data and have it refined, processed, and get that refinement back out in order to add value to what they’re currently doing.

 

You compete with least one or two big companies that offer NLP-based services, including Nuance and its Clinical Language Understanding. Why is your product a better choice?

There’s a very large untapped market. It’s a matter of focus. We’re heavily focused in areas that Nuance isn’t and we’re able to add value along those lines.

As I look at the industry and I look at the last 10 years of being in the business, I’ve probably failed more than most in failure of sales, but I’ve also been quite successful. I think I’ve come to understand the bottlenecks and the impediments and the push-backs that have always been around clinical natural language processing. I think we’ve addressed those and we’ve focused on those points. 

Building that into our pipeline and workflow that will allow both a rapid adoption and a platform-type view of this data, where many people can tap into via a Web service-based approach. It will utilize technology that gives them the ability to do natural language queries and then to be able to bring a refined data set into any one of their processes. 

While there’s a lot of competitors out there the market and a lot of new companies emerging, I think it’s the collective 45 years of experience my team has that give us an advantage in the way that we look at the marketplace and the solution that we’ve brought to bear.

 

Where do you see the company going forward?

We just started releasing the product commercially. We’ve been hand-selecting our clients and beta sites to ensure that we have something that is meaningful that will make a difference in the market. 

When people looked at it, they’d say wow, I’ve never seen anything like that. HIMSS was the first time that we started showing that off. That’s kind of the response that we’ve gotten, at HIMSS and almost every other discussion that we’ve had. 

The company is focused on methodically growing its client base and delivering beyond expectations to our current users. We’ll continue to add clients based on our reputation and our delivery.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

We have a very interesting time in front of us. The world and specifically healthcare is opening up to the idea that clinical documentation is important. It’s the needle in the haystack. If you can look there, you’re able to look across the longitudinal record and add value to the people’s lives who matter, who feel like the forgotten soldiers in this, which are physicians and patients. If you can remove the impediments and barriers to that, everything will go forward and healthcare will be a fundamentally different place.

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April 14, 2014 Interviews No Comments

HIStalk Interviews Ryan Beckland, CEO, Validic

April 9, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Ryan Beckland is CEO of Validic of Durham, NC.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

My co-founder Drew Schiller and I started the company back in 2010. Originally we were a health engagement company doing incentivized weight loss programs. That product was fine. We just needed to expand it in order to make it more interesting for our customer base.

One of the ways we wanted to expand it was by building a bunch of API integrations into mobile health apps and devices. We built this incentivize system that took advantage of API integrations from consumer technologies and took it out to the market. 

People would say, “You’re saying you can take the data from all these apps and devices and deliver it to our database?” We’d say, “Yeah, and then you know, we’ve got incentive programs and assessments and blah blah blah.” They’d say, “But the data … I can put it right in my portal?” I’m talking about health engagement, but they’re talking to me about data.

Drew and I heard that enough times where we finally said, wait a second, what if we just got rid of everything else we‘re doing and just gave the customer a single API access point? It gave you access to all these APIs that we had integrated. That’s when we started to hear people in healthcare say, “That would be great, because we have all these problems with integration.” That was the germ of it in the fourth quarter of 2012.

 

Other companies have jumped in offering tools for developers who might otherwise struggle with healthcare-specific issues such as HIPAA. How are your offerings different?

We’re a very specific niche. We’re not every layer of infrastructure in health IT, nor do we want to be. We’re just a network that connects mobile health apps and devices to the healthcare system. 

Think of Validic as a phone company. You pick up the phone, not because you want to call AT&T, bur because you want to make a call to another person that’s on the network. You connect with Validic in order to get access to data. We just make it really easy to get access to data. 

There are other companies doing things like HIPAA-compliant server architecture, data storage, file storage, stuff like that. That’s not what we do. We grab data from databases and move it to other databases. We just make it really simple for healthcare customers to get access to those data sources.

 

How are companies using your product?

There’s a very wide range. Within the hospital environment, we have hospitals spinning up new models of patient care based on better maintenance of chronic conditions and ongoing interventions. Population health management within the hospital system is a big thing. Patient engagement is huge right now. We fit nicely into both patient engagement strategies.

Outside hospital IT, we have health insurance companies using data to create better risk management models and attract less-risky customers. Everything from pharma companies doing clinical trials to population health management or corporate wellness companies doing different types of health engagement strategies. It really runs the whole broad range of healthcare.

 

What interest are people expressing in collecting information from wearables or other body sensor type devices?

Certainly some of what we’re hearing is exploratory. People are trying to figure out what’s useful about this data.

There’s a couple of things going on. We have a proliferation of technologies in mobile health. To categorize mobile health as step tracking or basic activity tracking is a little unfair. Not that you’re doing that, but I think it’s a little unfair by the industry.

Mobile health runs the range of home blood pressure monitors, glucometry, COPD and asthma treatment devices, the whole gamut. We think of mobile health as being any app or device for the provision of medical care outside the context of the four walls of the hospital. Any device that is used either in the provision of care or in health engagement outside of a hospital has a very difficult time getting data from the device back to the actual provider. That’s where we fit in.

We get interest from a very broad range. Some people only care about blood pressure. Some deployments only care about glucometry. Some only care about fitness and activity tracking. It’s not that people are just grabbing a lot of data to figure out if there’s any value to it. Our customer typically has a clear a strategy about why they’re integrating with Validic, what exactly they want to do with the data they’re going to get, and they’re executing on that strategy.

At the same time, there is a lot of exploration going on as well, where people take that specific use case and say, “If I can also get a bunch of activity data and mash that up with the glucometry data that I really care about, maybe there’s something interesting there.”

 

You must have more than just interfacing since you need the infrastructure to acquire the data and move it out to the cloud.

What we do is mostly a pass-through. We do persist data in our system, but all the data within Validic is de-identified.

The patient will log in to the patient engagement portal. Within that portal, they have the ability to connect apps or devices. When they connect their Omron blood pressure monitor, we facilitate that, grab the data from the online database, and deliver it back to the hospital. But we never actually know who that individual is. We don’t know their name. We don’t know their address. No identifiable characteristics whatsoever. 

In terms of the infrastructure itself, Validic is not designed to be a data storage mechanism or anything like that. We’re mostly just a pass-through that de-identifies everything with regard to the HIPAA safe harbor standard to make it safe to connect this universe of apps and devices back to the hospital without HIPAA risk or data liability risk. 

It’s a robust infrastructure behind the scenes to do that in scale. Our population today is quite large and growing really, really fast. Any time you have an infrastructure technology that’s growing really fast, you can get that there’s a whole bunch of smart technologists behind it, running as fast as they can to keep everything working.

 

You’re sending the hospital de-identified data along with some sort of key that lets them re-identify it?

Yes, exactly. The patient will log into the portal and connect their Omron device. They pass us a token that represents a user. We deliver Omron’s authorization page to give the hospital permission to grab the Omron data. That also provides us a token. We just match the two tokens together. We don’t have to know anything about the actual end user at all.

 

I noticed that you’ve got at least the beginnings of an app store. What kind of an ecosystem do you foresee developing around the companies that use your technology?

We do have a type of an app store. I guess you could think about it that way. Today we have 87 deployed app devices and we’ll be adding roughly 40 more in the coming weeks.

What’s happening today is that we’re in a very, very nascent market in this mobile health space. There’s a lot of apps and devices that are going through trials now. We know this because we sponsor a bunch of health-focused accelerator programs. But we also have good relationships with a lot of big manufacturers. We know that there’s stuff coming out in 2015 and 2016 that is going to many, many steps beyond basic activity tracking. But today, there’s not a ton that’s out there. There’s not a ton of different disease categories you can target through mobile technologies today, but there’s a lot more coming. That’s very exciting for us.

I think what we’re going to see is a lot of work being done in COPD and asthma. We’re going to see a lot done in medication adherence. We’re going to see a lot done in smoking cessation, which isn’t clinical per se, but it’s definitely important. Those are the key areas that we see a lot of activity happening. Frankly, I wish we could find more in smoking cessation. There’s some interesting things happening. I think there’s a lot of work to do there. 

It’s really cool that we have things like the Qualcomm Life X Prize, which is a $10 million prize. It’s a tricorder prize. They’re trying to incentivize teams to create a tricorder, the thing from Star Trek that scans your body and tells you what’s wrong and can even do basic clinical treatment. Qualcomm put up $10 million to say, “Hey, who can build a tricorder or the closest thing we can build to it with today’s technology?“ There’s a lot of teams competing for that. 

I think there’s going to be a lot of interesting technologies that spin out as the result of that big carrot sitting out there. That’s something we’re watching very closely. There’s a great deal of interest to see what comes of it.

 

Where do you see the company’s focus in the next two or three years?

We have a lot of work to do on just integrating apps and devices in the ecosystem. We’re very fortunate that the healthcare community has embraced Validic with very open arms. A lot of people have been waiting for this type of a solution. 

There’s just a lot of work to do still on integrating apps and devices. That’s our primary focus. Improving the breadth of the marketplace that we have. Helping to foster business models for the apps and devices that are out there. These are all core focuses for us over the next couple of years. There’s just a lot of work to do.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

Just to give you a little context on the breadth of the demand for mobile health technologies today, when we launched the market 12 months ago, we had zero people on the platform. Zero population size. Today our population size is about 30 million. Actually, it’s a little more, it’s about 33 million lives. That’s growing by about 40 percent month over month. There’s a huge amount of demand.

This is a very exciting time in healthcare, particularly in mobile health. We’re just honored to be part of the growth in that space.

Validic is committed to helping bring mobile health technologies into the primary provision of healthcare. To that end, we are supporting research projects focused on the utilization of mHealth data in the provision of healthcare, specific disease verticals, population health management, and other innovative areas that drive forward our mission. We are looking for research projects that can make use of our robust set of API connections to help the healthcare ecosystem better understand how mHealth works within the context of clinical care.  

There is still a lot of work to do to help doctors understand and leverage the power of mHealth, but we are excited that Validic is helping pave the way.

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April 9, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

HIStalk Interviews C.T. Lin, MD, CMIO, University of Colorado Health

April 7, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

C. T. Lin, MD, FACP is CMIO at University of Colorado Health.

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Tell me about yourself and the health system.

My title is chief medical information officer of UC Health. We were just University of Colorado Hospital and now we are now a five-hospital partnership.

That role allows me to continue to practice medicine, both inpatient and outpatient. It’s about 20 percent of my job to see patients in general and internal medicine. Then 80 percent of my job is overseeing the deployment of our electronic health record, the physician-computer interface, and the information flow through the organization.

 

Is it important that you continue to see patients to be successful in the other 80 percent of your job?

Yes, both for my own sanity and a reality check. Because I feel like if I stop seeing patients, I become more of a suit and less of a healthcare provider. Also because, as one of my colleagues said,  you have to eat your own dog food sometimes. I find that to be a helpful grounding. I also enjoy seeing patients. So for several reasons, I think it’s important for me to continue.

 

You’ve used the terms “secretive” and “paternalistic” about hospitals sharing patient information with the patients themselves. Is that a challenge in most places and is it changing?

Yes and yes. It’s a challenge in many places. I’ve been talking about opening up the patient’s chart for both online communication as well as release of test results — and soon, opening up their progress notes — for over a decade. We started working on this in 2002.

Even now — perhaps a little bit less so than back then — there’s a lot of resistance from physicians, from administrators, to thinking that, “Why would we? This is doctor’s work. This is not patient information. It’s too hard to explain. it’s going to increase our workload.” There’s lot of potential fears, and unfortunately, there’s very little research data.

It’s a little better. We’re helping to contribute to the data. But a lot of it’s theoretical fear with no grounding in the research data or real-life experience.

 

There’s not a lot of pressure being brought on hospitals and doctors to force the issue. Are there any signs of a growing movement that will increase expectations?

I agree that there’s not a lot of pressure. There’s not a lot of organized patient pressure, aside from the Society for Participatory Medicine. You probably have interviewed Danny Sands or he’s been a contributor before. I really like what that group is doing. In fact, we’ve published in their journal as well, in terms of our views on trying to be more transparent.

But aside from groups like that, which are applying some pressure, hospitals do not feel a lot of direct pressure from their individual patients. Meaningful Use has helped with that in terms of saying that certain fraction of your patients need to receive and be able to download and transmit their own patient information. But that’s viewed as a government regulation, not as the right thing to do just yet. So unfortunately, that’s the case.

 

Describe how the My Health Connection portal supports how patients want the healthcare system to work.

Patients want to be treated with respect. They want doctors to be responsive to them. They want to have convenience of accessing advice. 

We make it so hard for them. We say that our office hours are from here to here. You can then talk to an on-call person, who may or may not know you. We put high school graduates on the phones so that when patients have symptoms, you have to struggle through the first line of defense with the front desk staff. If you’re lucky, maybe you get the triage nurse. And boy, it’s all nearly unheard of that you actually get to talk to the doctor on the telephone.

Part of that is intentional, because we think that doctors are overworked, and part of it is old structure. Allowing us to have online transactions allows patients to bypass all of that. They can get directly to medical knowledge. They can get directly to opinions from others. They can get directly to other patients’ experience, as well as get directly to their doctor.

This improves patient satisfaction, but threatens the hierarchy of the doctor being in the center of the spider web. Sometimes they’re not any more. Sometimes they’re not up on the latest research on Familial Mediterranean Fever, whereas the patient spent 12 hours reading on the latest thing. The hierarchy is being overturned. Physicians who are not ready for this change are being very much threatened by it.

 

Is today’s practice of medicine configured correctly for the expectations of population health management, where instead of seeing patients sitting in front of you, you are managing patients who may not have reached out to you at all?

Boy, that’s an hour’s conversation. Yes, I think that medicine is not configured appropriately for the coming pressure of population health management. 

We have several big things standing in our way. One is the payment structure, which we still are in for the most part fee-for-service. That’s beginning to change and it is changing in the right direction. In some ways, it’s back to the future where we had capitated care and you were paid per-member, per-month. You could be motivated to say, for my 2,500 patients in my panel, it’s more efficient for me to make phone calls. In some cases, my staff to make phone calls, in some cases, me to do online conversations. Then restrict in-person visits to my sickest, most complex patients.

If we were paid for that sort of model, which I think is coming, then online transactions will become a much more attractive option for physicians, who currently look at online transactions as stealing from my mouth because I don’t get to bill for that work at this point.

 

Will motivation change in the right direction under a risk-based or value-based model?

I hope so. Certain organizations have tried this a couple of times before with variable success. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m hopeful that payment reform will push us much more towards online or creative ways of not forcing patients to come see us in clinic.

 

All of us in healthcare are patients ourselves at one time or another and we’re usually just as unhappy as everyone else with the result. Do you hear a lot of those stories?

Yes, but unfortunately less so from the decision makers in the organization. Does that make sense? I mean, you hear it in meetings occasionally, “Hey, I was really frustrated when my mother, XYZ.” But the folks who really need to internalize that need to be the C-suite folks who need to say, you know, this is so important to us that we need to move forward.

We had a CEO, this was a couple of CEOs ago, who really championed and passed for us. He had a saying: “We should not make any changes in our systems unless a patient feels a beneficial impact.” I thought that was a brilliant way of taking a filter towards all of the activities at the hospital and the clinics.

 

Is the health system using patient input for more substantial decision-making in areas that would have been strictly in the medical domain before?

Yes, we’re starting to. We formed a patient and family-centered care group. It’s a 30-member panel of former and current patients who meet monthly. We frequently take topics to them.

For example, when we have concerns or complaints from patients about, “You released this test result too soon,” or, “How come you wait a whole week to give me this test result? I think you need to change that,” it’s no longer a C.T. plus a couple of physician champions making a decision. We take that to the PFCC group and we say, “One of your patient colleagues says this. What do you guys think?” Then they give us feedback on that sort of thing. Increasingly, we’re trying to insert one of the PFCC representatives into many of our committees for hospital decision making in general, but that’s a slow process.

I borrowed John Halamka and CareGroup’s rules on release of test results to patients. To this day, when I go to the Epic meetings and formerly Allscripts meetings and talk about our policy on test results release, people are aghast that we are this aggressive. I think the rules are to release all blood tests with no delay, with the exception of HIV and genetics testing. Then we release all plain film results with no delay. In fact, patients see it the same time as the doctor does, with only a seven-day delay on CAT scans, MRIs, and PET scans, and then a 14-day delay in pathology. That served us well since 2009, so it’s been five years now.

Then we’re moving towards OpenNotes. We were invited to be part of the Open Notes project back in 2011, but it turns out that was the year that we were deploying Epic and ripping everything out from underneath all the doctors’ feet. We did not have an appetite to do that. But we’re looking to get primary care into OpenNotes by summer of this year.

 

Is the primary patient benefit of giving patients access to their results that they can be relieved at getting a normal result, or do they have other reactions?

What we’re seeing from patients is, “Why is there any delay? This is about me. This is not for you to sit on and think about for a week or two. I want to know for myself. And if I have a question, I have Google and millions of hits and pages I can read about, so that by the time I have an interaction with my doctor, I can have an intelligent question.” That was perhaps the biggest push from our patients who value the immediate release.

Secondarily, we insist that our physicians also send an interpretation message along, but we ask patients their forgiveness that it could take up to two business days for our doctors to comment on the test result. Commonly, they’ll get their lipid panel, and then two days later, their doctor will say, “This looks pretty good and here’s what I would recommend next.” 

In fact, one of my patients said, “What I really like about your system is that not only is it on my portal, but my portal’s mobile on my phone. It’s like having my doctor in my pocket. It’s really a very positive loop.” 

The other thing that patients tell us is, “When you show this to us this transparently, it means you have nothing to hide. I don’t often look at my test results in real time, but the fact that I get a ding and know that it’s on its way and you’re not hiding anything from me really increases my trust in the organization.”

 

It has always puzzled me that for inpatients, there’s no patient equivalent of the medication administration record or a daily itinerary. We make the patients sit there in a box and either come to them or wheel them out when we want something. Do you see any pressure to make them feel more in charge during their admission?

Absolutely. In fact, I think it was Tom Delbanco who wrote a nice opinion piece challenging physicians on the inpatient side that just because the paradigm is that we never share anything with a patient, is that truly the best care? He challenges us, and I agree, that having the patient look over their med list allows them to get more educated; allowing a family member to look it over as well. It’s another set of eyes for safety. 

We are striving to move in that direction. The challenge is, even we don’t know sometimes what’s happening with the patient that day. The primary care team comes by and says, we consulted GI, we think you might need an endoscopy. A few hours later, the GI team comes by. They have to decide whether endoscopy is the right thing to do for this patient and whether or not to bump someone else off the schedule so that this patient gets the endoscopy. The plans may change three or four times during the day. 

Being able to show that to the patient in a way that’s comprehensible. The patient wakes up in the morning and says, where’s my schedule that says my endoscopy is at two? Well, five times during the day that schedule plan will have changed. Is that worse or better for the patient to see that you’re on the schedule, you’re not on the schedule, you’re at the end of the day, you’re at 2:00. No, you’re off the schedule again. “What are you guys doing? Are you not talking to each other? This is crazy.” 

We have some practical things we have to solve in order to be able to present something to the patient that makes sense and that doesn’t increase anxiety.

 

Is the system so illogical that to expose any of it to a patient can do nothing but harm?

I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s not a straightforward, obvious answer of, “Let’s just open the kimono, it’ll be great.” That’s not true.

At the same time — I know I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth — I want to push hard for transparency. But you have to leaven that with some realistic expectation that it appears to be chaotic unless you are very familiar with how a hospital works. The first time you see it, you’re like, “What the heck is going on here?”

Releasing test results on the inpatients is something else that we have written about. But if you go to JOPM, the Journal of Participatory Medicine, we wrote a two-page editorial or case study about a patient who we had signed up through My Doctor’s Office and clinic when they were a transplant candidate. This patient underwent a transplant and went into the ICU. When he was unconscious, his wife was using his portal to access inpatient test results because we did not filter them out. 

As a consequence, the patient was telling the nurse, “Hey, that potassium result is back, how come you’re not doing anything about it?” We had an emergency call from that nurse to our office saying, “I didn’t realize that patients could get their own test results. This is a terrible idea. You need to turn this off. You are ruining my ability to care for this patient.” 

That alarmed us. We did not make a change, but we went to investigate. The next nurse on shift, said, “This is the best thing ever. I finally have a way to engage the patient and the family in a way that I could never do before. I could ask them, you know, if you would just let me know when you see that test result — I’m looking as well, but when you see that blood gas come back and I haven’t seen it yet, feel free to give me a buzz. I can come over and we can have a talk about what we’re doing and why.” 

We have completely divergent ICU opinions about whether this is a good idea for test results release on the inpatient. We think fundamentally it’s the right thing, but we have to retrain our nurses and our physicians and our staff, to be able to accommodate that sort of conversation, because in many cases we’re not ready for it.

 

What technology possibilities have the most promise to improve patient engagement in the next three to five years?

Three to five years is a long horizon. Three to five years ago, there was no such thing as an iPhone. 

We’re completely upside down, and I think mobile has really moved along a great way. It would be neat to have patients be able to gather virtual teams to care for them. Moving into the future, personalized medicine is a big catch phrase, but means different things to different people. In some cases, it means being able to use my genetics and customize a treatment for me. That’s been well written about.

What’s been a little bit less written about is personalized medicine, where for a patient can aggregate a group of experts that he wishes to put together, not necessarily what the physician wants to put together, and be able to have a multi-disciplinary conversation. I’m not exactly sure what form that takes, but you could have a primary care-internal medicine input, you could have a cardiology input, you could have a pulmonary input and some way — whether it’s asynchronous or synchronous conversation — get your experts to communicate together about your care.

That would be an astounding way of moving forward using transparent records and transparent communication as a foundation. I’m not quite sure exactly what that looks like yet.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

I wear a couple of hats in addition to my CMIO hat. One of them is on physician-patient communication. I teach a workshop at University of Colorado to our medical students and our residents called “Difficult Physician-Patient Relationships.” There are communication tools that we teach that, unfortunately, many of my colleagues don’t regularly use. What’s worse is that when we move to electronic tools like personal health records and electronic health records, we know that emotional connections between patients and physicians are 60 percent body language and 30 percent tone of voice and pace of speaking. It’s only about 10 percent the actual words that you use.

When you strip away 90 percent of a connection between a physician and patient and leave the words behind, it’s proportionally more difficult to establish a good relationship. I’m not sure many people are looking at that unintended consequence as we’re moving to virtual communication and virtual relationships. There’s probably a need for explicit retraining of physicians to handle an altered relationship in order to continue to derive the most value from it going forward.

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April 7, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

HIStalk Interviews Robert Kahn, MD, Faculty Lead for Population Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

April 4, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Robert Kahn, MD, MPH is professor of pediatrics, associate director of the Division of General and Community Pediatrics, and faculty lead for population health at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati, OH.

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Tell me about yourself and the program.

I’m a professor of pediatrics at University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I’m a general pediatrician, but also with a degree in public health. 

My interests have always been with the broader circles of influence on kids. Not just are they getting the right shots and the right medicine, but obviously kids live in families, families live in communities, and there are a whole lot of other influences that determine how well a child is doing and how they are in their development. 

To that end, in 2010 the hospital developed four county-wide health goals around asthma, injury, infant mortality, and obesity. Because of my interests, they asked me to help co-lead that effort, thinking how does a quaternary care hospital begin to engage more deeply in achieving population health goals? That’s the background to some of these projects that then involve through electronic health record and helping bridge between what a physician would normally do in a day-to-day clinic filled with patients to begin thinking about community and population health.

 

Can you give a brief background on population health management, particularly that involving the public health issues in children that you mentioned?

Population health management refers typically in two different ways. One is, how is my total panel of patients doing? How can I get a high-level overview of everyone I’ve seen? How are all my patients with obesity or with asthma doing? How should I shift my overall care and allocation of resources?

What we’re doing here in addition to that is thinking, what about all the children we’re not seeing who have asthma? How should we think differently about improving their outcomes, even if they aren’t going to walk in our door? For us in Hamilton County in southwest Ohio, with 180,000 kids zero to 17, we wanted to begin a journey to say, what would it take to improve the health of all kids?

I would say we’re very early in that effort. We started in just a couple of neighborhoods to think about population health outcomes for that neighborhood. For example, in the city of Norwood, which is nested within Cincinnati, we know there are about 800 households with children under four. We wanted to think about what would it take to reduce injuries in homes with those kids. Our head of trauma surgery, who typically spends all his time in the operating room or in the emergency room helping these kids, has helped lead a team to think in a population way about injuries in the city of Norwood.

 

Do you feel vindicated in a way that you were early on in something that now everyone wants to figure out?

[Laughs] I’m not sure I feel vindicated. I’m excited that more and more people are interested. I’m really excited to think that maybe payment mechanisms and healthcare reform will start bringing financial incentives to do the prevention-oriented work that could help out in the community.

 

You mentioned that some of your work involves targeting neighborhoods and subsections of neighborhoods. Describe how you use geocoding.

There’s two ways we’ve used geocoding. We use electronic health records and part of that is geocoding. One is around clinical care and one is around population health management. 

In clinical care, we’ve used the electronic health record to help drive key questions about these other influences. We have one of the largest training programs for pediatricians in the country. If we set in front of them a series of questions in electronic health record about the quality of the housing, what school does the child go to and how are they doing there, are they able to make ends meet, what we can do is drive the discussion to these determinants that are outside of the typical exam room or outside of the typical physiology of an individual child. That then leads everyone to say, hey, where does this child live? What is his address? What other resources in the neighborhood we can get to the child? That’s at the clinical level.

At the population health management level, what we can do is take every single asthma admission in the past year. We know the minute they register. We have their address. We can then link that address to a latitude and a longitude, or what people typically call geocoding. We can say hey, that means they live in this census tract or this neighborhood. Then you can begin to look for patterns of where the asthma is particularly high, or patterns of where the injury or prematurity is high. 

The minute you put a dot on a map, it shifts the center of gravity away from just in the exam room in that moment to, my goodness, I didn’t realize I had 15 kids admitted from a 10-block radius, or a 20-block radius. What’s going on there that might lead to such high admissions rates for asthma or a high emergency room visits for injury? Now we’ve gotten to the point where literally on a monthly basis we can chart injury rates, prematurity rates, and asthma admission rates from each of the 70 to 80 neighborhoods in Hamilton County.

 

How do you draw a box around how far you can go being a hospital-based project? Do you put people on the street or link up with social agencies?

That’s a fantastic, very insightful question. People are really excited about it, but the right question is, where does our mission end and another person’s mission or another organization’s mission start?

This is a frontier time. On the journey, we’re out there trying to figure out what is it we can do, and then how do we catalyze new relationships, new missions, shared missions. 

As an example, I do not see my job as improving housing for children, even if they have asthma. I see my job is to know that mold, cockroaches, water damage, or a negligent landlord are important in exacerbating this child’s asthma. But then I really need to find the agency in the community that has a mission to improve that housing. So to me, it’s about building new partnerships. Staying true to my mission about improving health and delivering healthcare, but doing it in a way that engages other people with complementary missions. 

We work very closely with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. One of the great cases we had is a child with asthma, middle of the summer. The mother came to the doctor with the child. The doctor said, tell me about the child’s housing. The mother said, well, I’ve wanted to put an air conditioner in, it’s 100 degrees outside in Cincinnati in mid-summer, but the landlord told me I’d be evicted if I put an air conditioner in my apartment. It turned out we had had three other cases with the exact same story in the past week, all with different doctors. Because of our relationship with Legal Aid, they asked the really simple question I don’t need to ask, which is, who’s this landlord?

It turned out this landlord owned 19 buildings and was in foreclosure doing no upkeep on any of these buildings. Almost 700 units were going into disrepair. Legal Aid took it on, developed tenant associations, started to work with Fannie Mae and the property management, and ended up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and new roofs on these buildings. 

To me, the boxes fit together neatly. We did our job about saying this isn’t just about the kid’s lungs, it’s about where he’s living. They took it on to improve the conditions in where they’re living. But it was only because we had tracking systems through the electronic health record to know who these kids were and what their addresses were that then Legal Aid could go ahead and really understand what the pattern of the housing was and what the problem was.

 

What struck me as admirable in your model is that the hospital didn’t have any way to make money from this and hospitals a lot of times are guided by where the revenue comes from. How do you think hospitals can create a business case for these kinds of public health projects?

Luckily I’m in a place where very senior leadership at the very top has supported this notion and the board itself had endorsed these community-based goals. As our CEO says, our mission is to improve health, not to improve healthcare, or to simply deliver healthcare. It’s to improve health. If this is what it takes, this is what we need to do.

In an era of accountable care organizations in which there would be a global annual payment or a per-member, per-month payment to keep a child healthy, certainly then there’s a financial incentive to move out into the community and figure it out. Then every emergency room visit or an ICU admission for asthma becomes a loss. In that scenario, really beginning to go to the next step where you would say, what would it take? Would it take community health workers on the ground? Would it take hiring paralegals, or simply contracting with these other types of organization that could be effective in the community?

We also have a great collaboration with the Cincinnati public school nurses, who are really trying to think, how do we work hand in glove to help manage these kids? Again, to the extent there’s a huge financial incentive on a per-member, per-month basis to prevent illness, it becomes more and more feasible and desirable to build these relationships.

 

Where do you see information technology fitting in?

I’d say our approach has been relatively rudimentary. We work off the back end of our electronic health records system. There is a huge challenge because the school system or the pharmacies or the Legal Aid Society all have different technologies. It is not seamless right now and I’m sure it will take a while for it to be seamless, to figure out, how do we have shared responsibility for the patient? How do we share consents and get through some of the privacy issues? How can we track over time? 

My sense is, I haven’t seen that kind of technology developed, certainly between hospitals. There’s a lot more health information exchanges that work between hospitals. There’s a few folks, I think Nemours in Delaware, who have figured out how to get electronic health record look capability to the school nurses. But I think we’re a long way from true interoperability between everyone who might be touching a child or a family in terms of health.

I sometimes compare it to FedEx. If we were FedEx, I would know exactly when the patient showed up at the pharmacy, what time they checked in at school, how the lungs were doing there, and when they were going to come back to me. That level of tracking and monitoring to help the family with the family’s permission would be great to try to get to in the future.

 

Have you seen tools or thought about tools that would help what you’d like to do?

I’d like to say yes. [laughs] I’m intrigued by some of the new self-monitoring biosensors that are linked to, say, phones and then back to management software. Propeller Health is one example of a company that’s trying to think, how do you move the information from where the family is, where the child is, and bring it back to a central management point? That notion is a pretty huge advance. 

It’s still a long way off from saying, I’m co-managing these patients with the pharmacy, with the school nurse, with the community development corporation who’s thinking about green space in parks for the kids. We’re moving in the right direction, but there’s a lot of integration and a lot of issues to overcome. With the geocoding software, we’ve only scratched the surface, and even that’s not something hospitals typically use in their health analytics.

 

How would the average academic medical center or their physician practice organization create a model similar to yours?

I would think a health analytics group five years now, whether they’re working in a hospital or they’re working in an accountable care organization infrastructure, would have a geospatial group working with them. With that, they would be understanding where their patients live, what are the key local and regional determinants of health in that region, and then beginning to deploy healthcare resources differently. Being able to almost predict when there would be problems. Even knowing pollution and pollen patterns might be the kind of information that could be brought in, and then more anticipatorily, trying to get medicine out to the community if they know there’s going to be a surge in asthma morbidity.

 

Will be hard to get hospitals to do more public health outreach work instead of comfortably treating people who show up within their four walls with a complaint?

It’s going to take some time. It’s out of the comfort zone of where most hospitals are right now. Schools of public health and public health departments around the country could help healthcare a lot in trying to move the ball further faster. But I think until there’s a real financial incentive where there’s a big loss involved unless we’re preventing illness, it will be relatively slow-going.

The other caveat would be until we truly demonstrate a significant return on investment by thinking this way, it may also keep the work moving slowly. That’s our goal — to demonstrate we can actually reduce morbidity and cost by developing this kind of a platform.

 

Is there existing literature of where that’s been done, or are you finding that what you’re doing so far is promising?

We’re working really hard right now thinking about how to prevent prematurity with this kind of an approach. Every time a baby is born at 24 weeks gestation, it’s a $300,000 to $500,000  immediate cost and probably millions over their lifetime. If we can use a place-based strategy to prevent prematurity, we’ll have a much better argument for deploying the resources necessary, like community health workers, to get the job done.

There are various models of community health workers or home remediation, but I don’t think there’s been an integrated set of interventions put together that would really make the argument at the level of a hospital or an insurance company to push this strategy.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

I’m excited to keep trying to push the boundaries. I see the electronic health record and geocoding is a way to break down the walls. 

I would just add, I have found tremendous, capable, and highly interested partners in the community who are really excited to have these kinds of partnerships, whether it’s the school nurses or the pharmacies or even Legal Aid. We’re now 10 percent of all Legal Aid’s cases in southwest Ohio because of this progress. It’s almost always a win- win-win — a win for the hospital, a win for the organization, and then a win for families that we can break down these barriers using electronic records and geocoding.

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April 4, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

HIStalk Interviews Michael Doyle, CEO, QPID Health

March 31, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Mike Doyle is president and CEO of QPID Health of Boston, MA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

This is my fifth company as president and CEO. I was attracted to this opportunity because we understand the clinical frustration that physicians, nurses, and clinicians of all types are having accessing data in the electronic health record. 

QPID can read both structured and unstructured data. We’ve built a very extensive medical vocabulary and medical ontology that enables physicians and nurses at the appropriate point of the clinical workflow to have access to both structured as well as unstructured clinical data. It solves a major pain point that exists today.

 

What’s wrong with EHRs and what gets better when you install QPID?

First of all, I’m not here to knock EHRs. We partner with a number of EHRs. I think EHRs are necessary, but not sufficient. 

Part of the issue is the way that most of them evolved. They are billing applications that evolved into clinical applications over time. The way the data is organized in the EHR is very, very different from the way a physician practices. As a result, there’s a disconnect with serving up appropriate information at an appropriate point in the care delivery model that exists today in the United States. 

EHRs are forms of data repositories with a transactional chassis built into them. I believe that most EHRs, if not all EHRs, would greatly benefit from applications like QPID that allow easy retrieval of the really important data that exists and resides in the EHRs.

 

Give me two or three examples of what an EHR user can do with QPID that they can’t do without it.

Three-quarters of the record is generally text. It’s almost impossible to report out in any sort of a systemized way textual information and deliver at a point of care that makes sense. As a result, physicians generally look at two or three notes, see a patient, and then either make a diagnosis or do a particular procedure. A lot of information is contained in the record that is never used to render an opinion. You have a tremendous amount of overutilization, duplicate testing, that sort of thing.

Think of QPID as Google plus CliffsNotes, delivered at an appropriate point in the clinical workflow. It allows the physician or the nurse to have relevant and complete information about the patient to render a better medical decision. 

As an example — and this happens all across the country — you go in for a colonoscopy. You go through the awful bowel prep for that. As much as 20 percent of the time, you show up to the GI doc for your procedure and you realize that you have either sleep apnea or you’re on blood thinners or five or six other risk factors that are in your record, but no one chose to look at that information in your record prior to showing up for that particular procedure. As a result, the procedure gets cancelled because the patient would be in undue or unnecessary risk at that particular day.

QPID, two weeks before the procedure, goes into the record and looks for risk factors associated with a colonoscopy. They could be either in structured fields or they could be in free text. To the extent it finds that information, it alerts the nurse administrator or the physician’s office that Mike Doyle is on blood thinners, and then the nurse can call Mike Doyle and say, “Hey, please discontinue your blood thinner, because to the extent we find a polyp, we’re going to want to remove it. We don’t want to have excess bleeding.” 

That’s one small example. Every patient, for example, at Mass General, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital … if they come through the ED and they’re going to have an MRI, QPID goes into the record and looks for any evidence of metal in the body anywhere. To the extent it finds it, it alerts the person doing the procedure that this MRI is likely to cause harm to the patient, so we probably shouldn’t do an MRI.

 

Some might say it sounds like data warehousing or analytics, but those don’t provide real-time clinician feedback. 

Yes, we can actually do it prospectively.

The other thing that is really interesting that we’re doing is we’re eliminating the need for prior authorization of procedures. If you’re a cardiologist at Mass General and you use one of the major health plans in the Boston area, if you use QPID, you do not have to call an insurance company to do a particular cardiology procedure. This is a big deal, because MGPO — the physician’s organization at Mass General – employs 300 people who do nothing but call insurance companies for prior authorization for a particular procedures. The insurance companies have an equal army of people that answer the phone and either accept or deny a particular procedure.

We’re automating that entire process by loading in the national guidelines for how to care for a particular cardiology procedure. QPID is intelligent enough to know the relative risk factors and the health status of the patient, compares it to national guidelines, and recommends or suggests data that will allow a physician to do a particular type of procedure. Ultimately, it’s the physician’s choice if he decides to follow those guidelines, those recommendations, but the insurance companies are finding this compelling enough that they’re starting to eliminate the need for them to physically or audibly speak to the patient, the physician themselves. 

We built up cardiology. We’re now building out a whole series of orthopedic procedures, abdominal procedures. The idea is that over time, Mass General will be able to redeploy those resources that were spent calling insurance companies to get prior authorization elsewhere in the organization, which obviously saves a tremendous amount of time and money and increases throughput of procedures. We think using the power of a natural language processing engine with clinical intelligence and guidelines is the future of medicine. We’ve taken this now to various other parts of the country and talking to other payers as well as providers and it’s resonating with them.

 

Is it used everywhere within Partners?

On an official basis, no. On an unofficial basis, yes. It’s used in eight different hospitals in Partners, including the Brigham, now officially. But Dana-Farber, the Faulkner, Newton Wellesley, North Shore, Spaulding … it’s used in all the hospitals across the spectrum. I’ve never seen a piece of software where doctors have sold it to other doctors. 

We’re doing our Series B fundraising right now. We’ve had a bunch of VCs talking to physicians from Partners hospitals and they have said that it’s the only piece of software they have seen that actually helps them do their job. The validation for that is that we’ve got close to 9,000 registered physicians and nurses using this in the Partners system, all without any sales, marketing, or support dollars associated with that adoption across the different hospitals.

 

Partners developed and is commercializing QPID. How much of its use is mandatory?

Zero mandatory use of it. It’s all voluntary.

 

If Partners developed it and it’s so useful, why don’t they mandate its use?

I don’t think they had to mandate it. It’s done it itself. What’s happening now, though, because insurance and payers are starting to take note of this and are offering essentially an incentive to use it because you don’t have to call in an insurance company, it’s going to have any greater official adoption, probably mandatory adoption among physicians, surgeons, and folks who do procedures. But it’s not mandated right now.

 

How many other hospitals outside of Partners use it?

We’ve sold two, which is what we said we would do last year. We sold it to two hospitals outside of Partners. One, it’s going to be deployed via the cloud, the other one’s going to be behind a firewall. I’m not at liberty at to say who they are right now, but one has a major EHR which is used predominantly in academic medical centers. The other one is an EHR which is the most widely deployed in the world.

 

Neither of those are live yet?

They are not. They will be soon.

 

Was it hard to take that custom built product and then do the translations and all the ontology and the metadata needed to turn a commercial EHR’s information into what you need in QPID?

First of all, Partners is a federation. It’s a combination of well-known EHRs as well as homegrown EHRs. I think we pull data from nine different databases, financial as well as clinical databases. We’ve had to build virtually a whole bunch of different sort of interfaces to be able to enable that to happen.

The medical ontology is very similar by specialty across the United States. We’ve got a vast library of thousands and thousands of hours of ontology that we’ve built. There are some regional differences, but if you’re an internist, you’re interested in certain things which may be different than if you’re a GI doc or an ED doc or a cardiologist or whatever you may be, but very, very similar vocabulary across the country. 

That has not been difficult at all. We’ve got interface experts from most of the major EHRs on our staff, or consultants for the company, so we know how to do that. I ran an EHR company before this, Medsphere. We did a whole bunch of integration work there with lots and lots of different systems, so we know how to do it.

 

Having worked both for an EHR vendor and now for a company offering an EHR add-on, will EHRs will continue to be the center of the healthcare IT universe?

I think for the foreseeable future. They serve a very useful purpose of amalgamating data. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the big data warehouses as well as the HIEs. 

One of the things we’re finding is that in partnering with HIEs, we could create a business model that’s sustainable for HIEs. That’s kind of interesting. I think we could also partner with clinical data warehouses and provide functionality to them as well. 

EHRs are here to stay for at least the next 10 or 15 years. I think they’ve got to morph their business model to some extent and I think they have to partner with companies like ours that add usability and functionality to the user experience.

 

Despite the “big data” buzz, information that’s already available from inside the four walls isn’t always used to make decisions. Is that your selling point when you go in with QPID?

Yes, completely. First of all, if you actually look at how hospitals are built, there’s generally different systems, inpatient and outpatient systems. Those systems generally don’t talk to each other. There’s also a number of IDNs that may have the same inpatient and outpatient system, but they don’t talk from hospital to hospital together. What QPID does today is it bridge between inpatient and outpatient systems and pull data from both systems and present a unified view of the patient. We can do that across hospitals or across different systems when we do that today. 

The real issue, and the interesting thing that’s going to happen in the not so distant future, to your point, is there’s a tremendous amount of useful information in the electronic health record that is either dormant or buried and won’t see the light of day. But it’s extremely useful. You can see a scenario down the road where, this litigation, because something goes wrong with a patient, and the information was contained in the record but the physician never saw the information, didn’t bother to look for the information, or the information was buried or filed in the wrong clinical drawer, so to speak. The physician looked in that drawer, didn’t find anything, but yet the information was there, was just misfiled. 

This idea that there’s important information in the record that never sees the light of day is a big issue. Unless we come to grips with that and use applications like QPID that can read both structured and unstructured data and find that information no matter where it is buried or stored … the only way patient safety is going to improve when information is included in the record and can’t be accessed is with applications like QPID.

 

Is QPID a listener-type application that’s working in the background or do you have to interact with it to receive its alerts?

It’s not an alert system, but if there’s information about the patient, then there’s a little blue Q that lights up during the clinical workflow of the physician. You’re alerted to the fact that there’s information there. You just click on QPID and then the information is presented to you the way you want to see it. 

If you’re an internist, we do 300 simultaneous queries of information. If you’re an admitting physician at Mass General, before you admit the patient, look at 300 different things organized around organ systems. If there’s information in those various boxes of those 300 things we’re looking at, it’ll blacken the area. If there’s new information, it’ll gray out. You can just hover over that information and see exactly what QPID is alerting you to take a look at.

 

Do you log the information the software presented and then track how many times it was acted upon or judged useful?

Yes. It’s all logged, every interaction and every patient encounter. We had 2.96 million clinical encounters last year that the Partners system has logged.

 

The log itself should be useful, either from a product standpoint in knowing how often it provides value or to check the near-misses that QPID caught for root cause analysis.

We’ve looked at it, but Partners also looks at it all the time. One of the things they want to do is look for those near-misses and then change process to prevent them going forward. A number of hospital systems out there are talking to us because of that issue where there’s a bunch of near-misses that are unreported or they’re reported in the EHR but no one sees them. They’re really concerned from a risk compliance standpoint that that information is there but no one’s doing anything with it. QPID can sit out on top of all of this information and it knows what a near-miss is. On a nightly basis, it can report and show them to compliance and they can look at the log files and figure out what happened.

 

What capability has Partners found most useful?

If you ask the CFO, he’ll tell you that we’ve brought in millions of dollars in the area of coding, because the clinical documentation doesn’t support a rejected code. We’ve automated the process by which to the extent that a claim is rejected, QPID automatically knows what that code is and then knows what clinical documentation supports that code and goes into the record to see if there is supporting clinical documentation around that code and attaches it if it finds it. Then the claim gets resubmitted. We’ve brought in millions and millions of dollars for Mass General in particular doing that, as one example.

We’ve taken out tremendous labor through the idea of eliminating prior authorization. Through our Q-Guides application, we’ve increased patient safety by discovering metal in a patient before they go into an MRI machine. We’ve reduced cancellations of procedures because we find risk factors before the patient shows up. We’ve decreased malpractice rates and malpractice claims because we’ve increased patient safety. We’ve proven all that.

We’ve increased clinical throughput and workflow, because it takes about 10 minutes on average for physicians to look at a patient’s record and often it’s incomplete, look at it before a patient shows up for a visit. The time to discover what’s going on with a patient is less than two minutes at Mass General and it’s complete information because we serve it up the way they want to see it, the type of information they want to see. We’ve validated that. We’ve decreased the time it takes to inboard a radiology patient by tenfold. It used to take about 20 minutes, it’s like two to three minutes now because QPID does all the work behind the scenes, it gets all the information they need.

We’ve automated the pre-population of anesthesia forms, which is a laborious process. We’ve got a registry product — it costs about $80 to $200 to populate a registry and it’s all manual labor, nursing and doctor time. Out of the box, QPID can pre-populate about 85 percent of it, so we can reduce the cost of compliance and registry, make it much less expensive and much quicker. It’s a whole bunch of different things that we do today.

 

What are the goals for the next three or four years?

The goal is in the next three or four years to have 20 integrated delivery networks and academic medical centers. We want to complete our Series B, which we’re in the process of doing right now. We’ve got one term sheet and we’re about to get another one today. We’ll have probably at the end of the day three term sheets. We’ll have a West Coast office as well as an East Coast. We’re headquartered in Boston; we’ll also have a San Diego office. We’ll have a sales organization, a marketing organization, which we’re building right now.

All this has been done with Mike Zalis, the founder; myself; and Rick Toren, who is the founder of CodeRyte and Active Health. We met with 30 IDNs and academic medical centers to understand what their needs were. We’ll really change and improve patient safety and healthcare across the country. We’ll actually generate a return on investment on hospitals’ EHRs, which I would argue they’re not getting today. At the end of the day, we’ll be pleased because we’ll have made a difference in a lot of people’s lives for the better.

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March 31, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

HIStalk Interviews Bill Anderson, CEO, Medhost

March 17, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Bill Anderson is chairman and CEO of Medhost of Franklin, TN.

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Tell me about yourself and the company. 

I’ve been in business a long time, more than 40 years now. This is my first foray into the healthcare IT business. My background has generally been in the financial area and financial technology. I was about 20 years in consulting, went to be CFO of a large public company, and ended up doing the Internet with a company called Bankrate.com. As I got into technology, I got more and more interested in different types of technology and ended up in healthcare.

We’re a diversified technology company, an HCIT company with enterprise software and some innovative new products. We’re just finishing up our audit, but we think we’ll be around $180 million this year. We’re really proud of the fact that we’ve grown in excess of 20 percent a year over the last five years. We have about 1,000 customers, about 60 percent of in general acute care, but with significant market share in some specialty areas like LTACs, inpatient behavioral, and inpatient rehab.

 

Even experienced industry people were confused about HealthTech’s multiple product brands until the names were changed to Medhost in December. What took so long to consolidate?

We realize the importance of consistent branding. We had a couple of choices, and so we had to sort through the situations where we could actually get good title to names as well as having the URLs and all the other type of connectivity that you’d like to have. We settled upon the fact that Medhost was the best choice for us. We’ve been very happy with the reception from that so far.

 

I don’t think I ever noticed HealthTech’s booth at previous HIMSS conferences, but with the Medhost name this year, it was a nice presence and the booth had a lot of activity every time I went by. Did you notice a change?

We did, and thank you for the compliment on the booth. I think that many HCIT buyers did not realize what a comprehensive line we had. When we pulled our different product lines together in the Medhost booth and did some promotion around the new branding, we got some much higher response rates or levels of interest than we had in the past. We were very pleased with the HIMSS conference.

 

I would assume most people know the company from the EDIS product line that provided the company’s new name. But you have a variety of products, many of them from acquisitions. How do you portray the company’s identity now and how hard is it to support a fairly diverse and extensive product line?

We do have a diverse and extensive product line. It’s come about principally through acquisition, but also some significant organic growth.

We acquired a company called HealthCare Management Systems, which was an enterprise software business, because two of the most important departments in a hospital are the perioperative and the ED. We acquired a company called Acuitec, which essentially was selling the Vanderbilt surgery and anesthesia system. And Medhost, with EDIS.  Today we think we’ve got leading products in these very important areas. Those came in by acquisition, as three pieces.

There are also two product lines that you may have noticed that we’ve built internally. One being our YourCareCommunity platform with our first app that runs on that platform, which is our patient portal. Also, our profitability solutions.We call those solutions because they’re a combination of our patient flow product, our business intelligence product, and a consulting group. We have the full range of the products necessary to deliver a higher profitability to our customers.

 

Is there sales synergy across these products or do they each have to be sold on their own?

Oh, absolutely. You know, we view ourselves as a distribution company. One of the things that has characterized Medhost is that about 60 percent of our customers are associated with a multi-facility organization. Over the years, we’ve demonstrated an ability to distribute products into our customer base, who are growing rapidly themselves. We have tried to tailor our products — acquisitions and the parts we’ve developed — to meet the needs of that customer base. That’s been a successful strategy for us.

 

Who are your biggest competitors and what advantages do your products offer?

We view our sales as being a middle market provider in the HCIT business. I would say our principle competitors in the general acute care space would be McKesson’s Paragon and probably Meditech. We obviously see Cerner, who comes down into the middle market with a hosted solution, as well as CPSI, who comes up market with their product line. But as far as direct competitors, we would probably identify those two as the most directly comparable.

 

What are you seeing as the key drivers of the decisions made by that market?

In our customer base, we think we’ve got customers for which ROI really makes a difference. We have a heavy concentration in the for-profit healthcare business. What we view is that for our customers, a combination of market-appropriate features plus ease of use results in a low total cost of ownership. As a result of that, that’s what differentiates us in the marketplace.

 

It’s always interesting that for-profit hospitals buy and deploy differently than the not-for-profits. Why do you think that is?

Our customers are not only good at delivering healthcare, but they are very good at running businesses. As a result, I think they’re looking for the effectively the right product for the facility they have. In many cases, we’re in customers that have segmented their bases, and we tend to be in the hospitals and other facilities where our features match up  with what that facility’s doing. And again, we offer what we believe is a low total cost of ownership.

 

Where does the company’s future lie?

We’re pretty happy with our menu of products for the inpatient world right now. We think we’ve covered bases with that. We would like to do additional acquisitions, because we think our customers have needs, and we’d like for them to be able help serve those needs.

We would be looking at areas like post-acute care. Many of our customers are going to be more and more involved in dealing with patients outside the four walls of a hospital. Also in services, because again those are becoming more and more important to both our corporate customers and our standalone customers. Things like revenue cycle outsourcing, some other types of services like that, we think are going to be very important to these customers as margins are squeezed and they need to be able to control their costs.

Probably the biggest area that we are interested in either building products or acquiring products or partnering with customers is in this YouCareCommunity platform. Essentially what we’ve done is combined an HIE with an enterprise master patient index to allow people to pull records from both ambulatory and inpatient EHRs into the cloud. Using that platform, we’ve launched some initial applications, being our patient portal, and we’re working on a disease management product and some other products. But we’re also looking for partners and acquisitions that add additional applications to that platform.

 

Is this product the answer to the HIMSS buzz around population health management or analytics, or do you have other strategies or do you even want to be in those markets?

Yes, we absolutely want to be in that market. This would be the platform that we use to address the needs of our customers in that marketplace. 

Population health has a number of different facets. The really important thing, though, would be to help manage the patient, or even better to help the patient manage themselves, to prevent things like readmission, disease management, things of that nature. We think that with our cloud-based platform and our strategy to engage the patient on a regular basis, even when they are not currently in the hospital or have recently been in the hospital, will allow our customers to help affect their downstream cost on those customers.

 

What are your customers telling you about their state of readiness or state of interest in Meaningful Use and ICD-10?

Everyone is very focused right now on the Meaningful Use program. I think that’s been a challenge, particularly to our smaller, standalone customers. They’re interested in trying to attest as quickly as possible and move on to other things, one of those things being ICD-10.

We view this as being a very difficult transition for many of our customers, and one that we hope we’ll be able to assist them with. We believe we have the right tools in place for them to do that, but it will be a significant change in training and how a facility has to deal with some of their billing and coding issues.

 

Evidence suggests that smaller hospitals may be walking away from Meaningful Use money after the first couple of years. Do you see that happening?

That’s going to be difficult to do. There will be some in the very small end of the hospitals. We have less than a 100 critical access hospitals in our more than 1,000 customers, and with many of those really small facilities, the economics are not going to work for them.

The cost of attesting and maintaining the Meaningful Use progression is going to be more than the potential penalties or the rewards. That is going to be an issue globally for healthcare, because it is in the best interest of the healthcare delivery system in general for those customers — our customers — of that size to participate, as well as other facilities of that size. That will be an issue that ultimately the government will have to address — how to pool those customers into the system. Because it is going to be difficult.

 

You are emphasizing a touchscreen user experience in the keystroke-heavy world of healthcare. Do you think that is the market changing to now accept and even demand a touchscreen experience?

Absolutely. While we think of our users as healthcare professionals, they’re also consumers. Every day they use mobile platforms. They use consumer software. Healthcare professionals, like other consumers, are going to be more demanding about the quality of their software.

As a result, we’re making and are continuing to make significant investments in things like workflows, usability of the product, and making it mobile agnostic. Our belief is that tablets will be very important in the medical area. We do have some phone apps and some others that are in process, but inherently the phone apps or smartphone apps are going to be more difficult to use.

Tablets, however, will give the clinician much better access to data and the ability to kind of process data without being tied to a particular workstation or having to sign in and sign out. The convenience and the ability to increase productivity will make that important for all software providers.

 

Many of the early claims vendors made about mobile access involved Citrix running a desktop session on an iPad. How is the industry is progressing in creating a true mobile experience?

 

The industry in general has had a lot of demands upon it and has been distracted from some of the work flow and ease-of-use type of objectives that I think are shared by most vendors. Everyone will have to cycle back to that.

Almost four years ago now, we started a renovation of our enterprise systems to put an HTML 5 interface layer on top of it. The reason for doing that is that the combination of wanting to have a more inexpensive hosting solution as well as being mobile agnostic. You can do that an HTML 5 interface as long as you’re paying attention to form factors and how you design a page. Then the same page I can view on a computer, I can view on my tablet and get a very satisfactory experience. Those types of solutions are going to be very important in the future.

 

What are you priorities for the company in the next three to five years?

Our priorities are to continue to grow our base and our enterprise business, but also at the same time, to take these new product lines that we have in our profitability solutions and YourCareCommunity and to try to meet more the needs of our customers in those areas.

We think in particular, our ability to provide a patient portal in both the ambulatory and inpatient area that is certified and can pull together the care community is going to be a really important thing. We are out trying to talk to as many of our customers as we can about the advantages of being able to build this community in terms of improving patient care, giving the patient better ability to manage their own care, as well as keeping revenues within the network.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

There’s a lot of changing coming and has been coming in both the healthcare provider industry and in the healthcare IT industry. With change, there’s always opportunity. Our goal is to try to take advantage of that opportunity and return as much benefit to our employees and shareholders as we can.

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March 17, 2014 Interviews No Comments

HIStalk Interviews Mark Bakken, CEO, Nordic Consulting

March 12, 2014 Interviews 3 Comments

Mark Bakken is CEO of Nordic Consulting and an investor in several healthcare IT startups.

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How’s Nordic’s business these days?

Our business is booming, like everybody else in healthcare IT right now. We’re doing a lot with optimization, helping a lot of Epic customers as they figure out how to leverage their investment in Epic and the EMR to not only improve care, but reduce costs at the same time. 

It’s been pretty fun to be able to send in experts to quickly do an assessment and say, hey, if you enabled all these features and other things, you could most likely make your co-workers very, very happy by saving them some time, and at the same time, get better results or hone in on a cure a little faster, leverage the technology you have while at the same time get more done with less. It’s like the equivalent of robots for manufacturing. It’s fun to do these. 

These organizations are so large. Nobody likes to eliminate positions or let people go if they don’t have to. But since most of them are so big, they can reduce the number of staff they need relative to them growing. If they do acquisitions and mergers, they don’t need to hire as many. The net effect is their efficiency gets better from a cost perspective, or they could do it through attrition if they say we no longer have to do registration, for example. Customers and patients are doing it automatically, so we need a lot of people. That person can then take a new career opportunity within a healthcare organization.

It’s fun to be on the forefront, to see organizations starting to leverage their initial investment into that second wave.

 

The company just moved to a new headquarters location. Epic is known for some interesting and fun buildings. What’s yours like?

[Laughs] It’s nowhere near as Disney or Google-like as Epic’s, but it’s nice and open and airy. We pride ourselves on transparency. We made it nice and professional looking, but within reason, I would say.

 

What’s the overall state of healthcare IT innovation and the business climate in Wisconsin?

Obviously with Epic in Madison — and I’m in Madison — there’s a lot going on here. There’s a lot of really sharp people that either come to the University, work at Epic, and then they have some ideas. Epic’s road map isn’t going to get around to building those into their core products for a few years, so they say, hey, maybe I can do it, grab some friends, and give it a shot at the new American dream — starting your own company and making it big some day. There’s a lot of that going on.

There’s a lot of support around that from the investment community here. Madison, Wisconsin was one of the leaders in the whole biotechnology wave that started taking off with stem cell research and everything else. Not to mention all the providers in Wisconsin were some of the early adopters, especially with Epic in our back yard, where they tried some things and are benefitting from some of those early advances with healthcare IT. We’ve got a lot of the good raw ingredients here.

 

Neither you nor Judy Faulkner would have fit my mental model of what education a founder would have since you both have degrees in computer science. Is there something different about being educated at University of Wisconsin or does Epic just create things that are like Epic?

It is interesting because usually that isn’t the background. We’ve taken different paths. Judy has been at it obviously for a long time. Trying to figure out the right mix and perseverance is a big piece of it and you do find that in computer science people that gravitate towards that. There’s always a problem you’re trying to figure out and there’s many different ways to go about it. 

Maybe there’s something to that. Who knows? It might just be coincidence or maybe it is one of those things, as computers and technology are becoming much more relevant in a services-based economy, where you can use computers to automate things. That’s a good question.

 

What are you doing with your investing and what kinds of things you look for in companies?

What I look for, like most people, is a great management team, leadership, and passion. People that can inspire people, whether it’s people that follow them or just believe in their vision and their dream, whether it’s customers, or potentially investors. Then other employees that have the same desire or vision to do that. 

With healthcare and IT and everything going on right now, all the pressure and all the change and everything else, there’s lots of ways you can use technology to not only get the patient more engaged and more accountable and figure out how to do that from the Fitbits, smart scales, to the whole continuum of care that say, it’s all about responsibility. It’s not just the physician, it’s not just the healthcare organization. Let’s all try to leverage technology to be healthier and live longer and find things sooner so we can find a cure.

Learn from each other. I heard a stat that says something like an average 40 percent of physicians’ initial diagnoses are incorrect. If that’s true, we can definitely do better than that by leveraging data. If we can leverage technology, leverage data to find things, to hone in on things sooner before they’re uncurable or unfixable, that ends up being a good thing. That’s basically what you look for. 

Epic, Cerner, athena, Meditech, McKesson, AllScripts — the list goes on and on. They’ve got a really good platform and a good foundation, but healthcare and driving down costs and improving care is much more than just the clinical data. You got to take everything into account and there’s lots of different ways to do that. There’s a lot of bolt-ons.

I saw a ton of this with the whole Microsoft wave and revolution in 1990s and early 2000s where Microsoft has a platform, and then there’s lots of other companies out there like, hey, we can build on it and we can make something better for what you specifically need. The thing is, the bigger the companies get, they can’t come out with that specific module or niche. It might take them three to five years, and by the time they come out with it, the market may have moved on. They might have a different need or something else came up. 

Young, small startups that are agile and can get things done quickly … it’s fun to be part of that.

 

What are some companies you’re investing in?

I would probably start with Catalyze.io. They’re creating repeatable platforms for healthcare IT. It’s HIPAA compliant. Instead of reinventing the wheel, there’s a lot of things that we could learn from each other. We can share that framework to do quick custom development stuff.

Forward Health is a great analytics company, population health, medical intelligence organization. Great way to slice and dice information easily. Not just clinical data, but when you look at RX data, claims data, consumer data, or anything else that you need in order to make better decisions faster for actuaries and statisticians as well as physicians.

Wellbe.me is another organization. Patient engagement before they come in for a surgery or when they leave, making sure they do all the things ahead of time and they fill out all the forms and all the checklists. They do it in a very easy way that’s a nice wraparound any of the EMR programs out there. Very affordable, works very, very well. Lots of interest from everybody to say, hey, when you come in, if you do all these things ahead of time, the odds of you not having to be readmitted greatly increase. Then afterwards, make sure you do all the follow-ups. It makes it easier for a healthcare organization to manage tons of people before they come in and after they come in and leverage their social network to do so.

Moxe Health, which is the connection and interfaces. Just think of all the different things you have to connect out there. Instead of paying someone to customize all those at the end of the day, maybe there’s 50 different systems that someone has to connect to, why do you have to custom build all those things over and over and over again? They’re making reusable app store type connectors out there.

Healthfinch is another one that makes a great way to save physician time. That’s their whole goal in life is to reduce the number of clicks. Right now there’s a lot of frustration on the physician side saying, hey, I just want to do what I do. Trying to find the best use of their time, finding that right mix without making them all hire scribes to follow them around. There’s some clever things they’ve done with prescription refills, which is interesting. On average, physicians spend seven percent of their time doing that. They have a way they can get it down to one percent. For every 100 physicians, if you can free up six physicians’ time doing things that could be automated, that’s a good thing for everybody.

 

What’s your vehicle for investing? Do you just make a personal investment or do you have a fund of some sort?

It’s all new territory for everybody. It’s either go to friends or family, which is tough because you don’t want to mix friends and family. It’s to try to do a round, or do a convertible note is what they would call it, where you can do a loan and then down the road, if they raise money, once they have more customers and more success than the valuation.

The trick is, you want to make sure the people actually doing the work have some substantial stake in the outcome and some motivation to make sure they can create something that’s creating value out there. If they do, they benefit and that would be good for me, too.

I just am a huge, huge fan of entrepreneurs. I know how tough it is to get going. You need the right mix of everything. You need the stars to all align and a little bit of guidance from “don’t do this” or “how do you do that?” Everywhere from how do you work with large organizations, how do you contract with them, how do you get insurance, how much insurance, to payroll, to taxes, to a lot of little things that everybody needed despite what they’re doing. If I can help point them in a direction that will save them a bunch of time so they can focus on what they really are good at, then I think that’s a good thing.

 

Is there a way the average person can invest now that some of the rules have loosed up, such as for crowd funding, for instance?

Not as easily as you would hope yet. You read all about the crowd funding. Some of the laws in Wisconsin, thankfully, have changed. You can actually get them some equity instead of some kind of token gift or something. It’s going to be easier without having to be accredited and all this other stuff and all these hoops. 

There’s some other things I’m looking at personally trying to do. Change the business lending laws to be more in line with America’s economy, which is more of a services-based economy. The business lending laws that were set up 70 years ago were based on America being a manufacturing-based economy. You need inventory, you need all these other things, assets, you need buildings that a bank could repossess in order to get a line of credit or a loan. If we can make that easier for people so they don’t have to spend a bunch of time trying to get people to invest in their idea and everything else, I think that would be a good thing. It would be good for them, good for America.

 

What do the companies you’re investing in need most, other than money?

They need a mixture of things. You’ve got to have a customer that is willing to work with you, to at least do the pilot, to work out the kinks, to figure out how to price it, how to package it, how to deliver it. That’s one.

They need mentors from every angle, from lawyers, from LLCs or S corp to C corp to some other structure, and then all the other mentor types around like that. In Madison, we have something called 100health, which is geared towards helping people figure out where they can go for different resources and packages to get their idea off the ground in the most efficient manner.

I do have to say, there is a lot of other interest in investment in healthcare IT right now from the venture capital community, even down to the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, whether they’re from Chicago or all over the country. I just was in an advisory board meeting where they said that VC funding has more than doubled in the last four years in healthcare IT space. The rest of the world’s starting to take notice, to say, hey, I think there’s something to this whole EMR and healthcare IT technology wave that will be good for everybody.

 

Money comes at a price and companies give away their equity too early or get taken in a direction that seems to be the quickest path to profitability and not really what their vision was. Do you see that as a challenge?

Yes, absolutely. There are strings attached. Part of it is finding the right way to do that. Typically in Wisconsin and other states around the country, there’s a lot of older money. They don’t quite understand this new world economy; the Silicon Valleys and WhatsApp be worth $18 billion, not to say healthcare IT is going to go that kind of crazy.

It is basically trying to find that right balance. That’s why I think I can, because I know the healthcare IT space. Me personally making some kind of investment of faith at some kind of valuation to at least set the bar that is fair. Then other people can piggyback on that and do things at the same ratio with the entrepreneurs and the people doing all the work feel like, OK, that’s fair, I don’t feel like I’m getting held over a barrel.

 

What are the start-ups most naive about?

Most of them really, really get excited about their idea and their program or whatever they’re going to do without 100 percent going to the market and knowing are people willing to pay for this, and if so, how much, and is it enough where they can actually make a good living by providing that value to a customer. People can think great thoughts, but if the market isn’t ready, if there isn’t a budget, if it really doesn’t make sense, if it’s a nice to have instead of a need to have, then it’s one of those lessons learned type things.

 

How do you think healthcare IT will look different than it does today in five years?

It will be hugely different in a very, very good way. There was another study that came out like one in eight hospitals had an EMR back in 2009, five years ago. Five years from now, I think almost everybody will. With that, hopefully we’ll be able to analyze that data to be able to find other Patients Like Me type thing, where physicians, nurses, everybody in the healthcare world can use that data to hone in on a cure faster or to diagnose something before it’s unsolvable. I think we really, really, really will be using data a lot more so to make care better so people can live longer, healthier, happier lives.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

It’s pretty fun to be part of it right now, the whole healthcare IT revolution that’s going on. The one thing I look at is saying roughly 18 percent of our economy is spent on healthcare and it’s basically flying blind. We’re using data for everything else, so it would be nice to actually use this data to make care safer and better. It’s fun to be part of it.

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March 12, 2014 Interviews 3 Comments

HIStalk Interviews Regina Holliday, Patient Advocate

March 10, 2014 Interviews 11 Comments

Regina Holliday is a Washington, DC-based patient advocate and artist known for painting a series of murals depicting the need for clarity and transparency in medical records. After her husband’s death from kidney cancer in 2009, she painted "73 Cents," a mural showing her husband dying in darkness surrounded by inaccessible technological tools in a closed data loop. The title refers to the cost per page charged to patients to obtain their medical records in the state of Maryland.

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Give me some background about what you do and what The Walking Gallery is.

Almost five years ago, my husband had cancer. He was in the hospital for 11 weeks. We had very little access to his electronic medical record. He died in the 12th week. I  decided I would do everything in my power — speaking, painting, writing — to try to change healthcare and make it become where the patient’s story is front and center, and within hospitals, you can get to your medical record in real time.

That’s why I paint giant murals and that’s why I started a movement called The Walking Gallery, where people have paintings on the back of their business suit jackets and the goal of the patient’s story is front and center.

 

You just spoke at the HIMSS conference. Did you leave it feeling that patient engagement and advocacy are really taking hold or is it just a few folks hoping that it is while the rest are indifferent?

I’ve spoken now at several different informatics societies. I’ve been excited to see how much HIMSS is embracing patient advocacy in a real way. It doesn’t seem to be token and it’s growing every year, which is real exciting to see. I’m sure it’s incredibly frightening for them to watch it take off.

 

HIMSS tries to serve two factions, high-paying vendors who want to sell products and providers who are their prospects and users. But usually absent from those discussion are the patients all of that technology affects.

Before I worked in healthcare, I came from the toy industry. I’m very familiar with Toy Fair, which is gigantic trade show. There’s a lot of similarities, because just like in that world, you’re focused on sales, high-dollar items, and what’s going to move that year. But you’re also really focused on the fact that your customers are children. There’s this wonderful, youthful spontaneity to that product line, the concept of selling toys.

In healthcare, we have somewhat distanced ourselves from the end user, which is patients. I’ve been wanting to see the realization come back that when you’re a vendor, when you’re a provider, whoever you are at HIMSS, inside of you, you are a patient. It’s been really exciting to see people flip and relate to themselves as their patient self before they relate to themselves as their vendor-provider self.

 

Will patients ever have that kind of power where they’re like a customer in any other industry?

Yes. It’s coming. The beautiful thing that happened to medicine was social media. The ability for patients, regular folks who have no organization behind them, to have an equal voice to a company.

While I was at HIMSS, they had trouble getting my hotel room. I was tweeting about it, and within less than two hours, I was talking to Hilton, the national channel. Later that day, I was talking to Hyatt, the national channel. That kind of power didn’t exist before — the ability as an individual to communicate with large organizations. It’s changing everything.

 

Do you think that’s really the case? At Hilton or Hyatt, you’re paying the bill, and if you’re unhappy, you stop using them. But in healthcare, you don’t necessarily get to choose where you receive your care or control what you pay for …

I disagree with that. The model of care is rapidly changing. With the Affordable Care Act and a lot of consumers becoming high-deductible plan payers, they’re determining where they’re getting their care. The ability to make choices about where you’re going to get your care affects the bottom line in institutions. With things like HCAHPS scores, patient satisfaction scores, now being publically available, with transparency in pricing becoming more and more demanded, you have an end-user consumer that’s actually becoming very empowered.

 

What do you see as the impact of the Affordable Care Act?

Major major groundswell change. People becoming very interested in the fact they have choices in policies. 2008 really hurt a lot of this country. People were wedded to a location, a job, and insurance that came with that job. Which meant that, unfortunately, a lot of people who should have been able to move so they could economically better themselves found themselves not in a position to do so.

Affordable Care Act comes on the stage. Now all of a sudden we are getting the ability to untangle our health life from our job life. That allows for a whole bunch of people to work at different organizations, start new businesses, go the freelance, self-employed contractor route when they thought they couldn’t do that before because they couldn’t get insured. That allows us to have a looser economy.

Honestly, when it comes to Americans, we are spectacular at innovation and creativity. Those things are squashed if you’re forced to stay in a job that you don’t want to be in any more. For a long time, the way we set up our insurance in this country, you were forced in that position.

 

Inpatient demand is dropping, so hospitals are using their money and clout to buy physician practices to shore up their protected markets. Will they be able to end run the trend that would place them less at the center of the healthcare universe?

Not if we do a really good job with transparency exposure in social media. You’re opening people up to what’s really going on and then make different decisions. Also, we need to get in the world view wonderful facilities that are the future of healthcare.

I just toured Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis. It’s a safety net public hospital. It’s astounding. They get it. They get where the future’s heading, which is a health and wellness hub where the community is still going to the hospital, but they’re not going to the hospital for the same reasons they used to go.

Hospitals that get it, that see the future as the way it is coming, are going to succeed. The hospitals who don’t get it, there’s a really good chance they’re going to go down.

 

It’s rare anything takes root in healthcare unless someone makes money from it. The right thing to do doesn’t always win. Does patient involvement have a strong business case?

Yes. We in the past have not looked at the potential the facility has. We were all about, “Fill the beds, fill the beds.” That’s not necessarily the future way people are going. 

Videoconferencing, mobile technologies, people wanting to have a health community. Patient communities are really, really skyrocketing. You have to think in a different way. It’s more of like a library hub direction with wellness activities and physical activities. Why can’t there be sick child care? I was in Lawrence, Kansas back when they were doing that back in the 1990s.

There’s different ways that you can make money that are wonderful, legitimate ways to make money that actually helps citizens, as opposed to the system that we’ve had that were incentives for failure. There were incentives for person getting an infection and staying longer. We have to flip that matrix to where healthiness is the incentive.

 

Putting patients at the center of healthcare is, unfortunately, a big change. For those overwhelmed by the long-term vision, what would be some short-term goals you would settle for?

I often look at the intersection of health and art. That’s one of my focuses. We need way, way more realistic visuals of care. Less stock photography, more painting. More involving regular people into the life of your hospital. 

I would like to see patients — not just a patient advisory council at hospitals, which a lot of them have — on every board and council throughout the entire facility. I’m talking like EMR workflows as well as M&M reports. We need to be part of the conversation. Because what is absolutely beautiful if you do this is that patients can say things that staff can’t. Staff may be thinking it, but politically they’re put in a position where they can’t say it. Their job can be affected. We don’t want to rock the boat. 

Patients, not in a bad way, can say the words, since we’re not hired by the institution, that everybody might be thinking but don’t feel the power to say. Once we’ve said it, all of a sudden things break open. Doors break open and pathways change. 

One of the major things I would love to see is truly embracing us as part of the team. Not a token. Don’t have us design your lobby again. But really, seriously involve us in decision-making processes and get our feedback. That’s a great short-term goal, very doable by next week.

 

What do you think would happen if you bought a random patient a HIMSS conference badge and said, “Tell me what you think about what you saw there?”

I think that would rock. We should totally do that next year. Let’s have a scholarship fund. We’ll call it the HIStalk Scholarship Fund. We will just take random people and send them to HIMSS. Let’s do it.

 

I think they would not only feel uncomfortable there, they might actually be angry to see all the machinations that go on behind the scenes that affects them but doesn’t involve them. 

I think you’re right. There’s some people who would be very freaked out. I would recommend a cross section throughout the United States. Since I speak nationally, I do find there’s major regional differences in the way people talk to folks, strangers in crowds and things like that. If we had a good cross section — West Coast, Midwest, South, East — attend HIMSS, that would be spectacular. Since it’s in Chicago this coming year, it can be an entire concept since that’s the middle of the country. I would totally be behind you on that.

 

Did you see any technology in the exhibit hall that excites you in being able to allow patients to get more involved in their care and see their own information?

This year I felt HIMSS wasn’t showing a lot of new product. I thought HIMSS was truly embracing the stuff they were introducing as new products a few years ago. Now mobile health wasn’t like this weird new thing of will it work, but pretty much an accepted reality, which that was really great to see.

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I don’t know if you saw my painting, HIMSS and HERS, that I painted at the event. I was still frustrated by the way larger demographic that is male than female at HIMSS. I even went by a booth where the women were complaining about their heels. I said, “Why don’t you just wear sensible shoes?” They were like, “Well, you know, we have to wear nice clothes because somebody could come to the booth and see us not dressed appropriately.” Whoa, is this the 1950s? Do you really think you have to be a booth babe when you’re just as competent at technology as all these guys that are in the space?

 

I heard that HIMSS had some resistance to bringing you this year because of cost even though they’ve helped you out in years past.

Well, they invited me to attend. They said they had no funding for travel or lodging.

 

You’re self-funded, right?

Yes. I don’t have an organization behind me. I started a Gittip fund, a crowdsourcing, sustaining model which is pretty cool. I was very excited. I had never seen that before. To help pay for me being at HIMSS. 

Between my babysitting fees and going there, I spent close to a thousand dollars just getting there. As patients, we aren’t being paid back by our business to be there because there isn’t one. It is one of those things that can be a hardship. That’s why I was really excited to see Chicago’s coming up, because at least it’s in the middle of the country and it’s easier to fly there so it’s not so much of a hardship to be part of the experience.

 

Not that your role wasn’t substantial this year because they at least did put you on the patient engagement stage, but what do you see as your involvement next time?

Hmm. I’d love to be on a main stage. That would totally be great. That hasn’t happened yet. My goal is one day to keynote at HIMSS. I’m sure it will happen. It’s just a matter of time.

 

How did you feel that the opening keynote, the most important speaking slot at HIMSS, went to an insurance company CEO?

It was sort of an odd choice. I think it might have been partially because of the Affordable Care Act kind of year. They thought that talking to someone from the industry, especially the insurance industry, would make a lot of sense in this timeframe.

I tend not to judge necessarily so much where a person comes from, what business they come from, but whether they are they an amazing speaker. Do they get the space and do they inspire people? I was really excited when Eric Topol’s keynote last year because he gets it. He understands the space. He understands how to inspire.

When people come to a convention or a conference, they’re not just coming there for the most current information and to get the good vendor deals. Those are really important things. But they’re also going there to recharge, to have the energy to go into next year and be better than they were the year before.

At times, it seems that HIMSS has lost sight of this. Why don’t we just stay home? We can get good deals from home. We go to an event to network with people and to recharge our soul. I look forward to embracing that more deeply in the future.

 

What would you say to healthcare software vendors?

I want you to think of your parent in that bed or your child or your wife or your husband when you’re designing software. I want you to think of them. Because every single thing you do should be to make sure they get the best possible care. God, I hope you get to that point before it happens in your very own life. If I can do anything or say anything to get you to emotionally that point where you’re thinking about them while you’re designing, then I’ve done my job.

 

An article called you the Rosa Parks of healthcare.

Because I’m a regular person. I was a teacher, a special needs mom, and a wife. I worked in a toy store for 16 years. I was normal. I decided that as a normal, regular person, I’m going to stand up to injustice. That’s what Rosa Parks did. I didn’t come from healthcare, but I will do everything I can to make it better for folks who live within it.

 

What are your thoughts for the future?

One of my major goals is that when we get to Stage 3 of Meaningful Use, we have real-time access to the medical record – nurses’ notes, progress notes, doctors’ progress notes, all labs, all information. That should be available to the hospitalized patient just as much as the discharged patient because the hospitalized patient is spending the most money and they need that information in the most timely fashion. That’s my overarching goal and everything I do is toward that overarching goal.

 

Any concluding thoughts?

This has been absolutely delightful. I look forward to us putting together the HIStalk Scholarship Fund for next year.

 

That would be fun. Unfortunately, it’s become somewhat predictable in how conferences handle patients on the podium. The person tells a moving, compelling story about a something bad that happened to them, everybody in the audience feels embarrassed and gives them a standing ovation, then they just wipe the tear from their eye and go  back to what they were doing before that allowed the problem to occur. The emotional tug is there, but nobody can figure out how turn it into something useful.

Years ago, I was a motivational speaker before lunch at a CMIO boot camp. They said, would you like to stay for lunch? I said yes, I’d love to stay for lunch, so I ate lunch with them. Then they said, now we’re going to go into our work sessions and there was that quiet pause moment. I said, can I go to the work session, too? They said, uh, well, yes, it’s going to be very technical, but you’re welcome to come. 

I sat in this giant hall with 40 CMIOs. They were talking about a specific vendor system that I had actually seen. I had gone to the company and seen it person. They were talking about problems with files where they didn’t know who the person was, like recognition of the correct patient. I said, I’m confused, you’re using so-and-so’s system and I know they have the ability to have a visual avatar. Every field can have a picture of the patient right there on the field. Why are you having this problem?

They said, no, it doesn’t, it doesn’t have that feature. I said, yes it does. The only way it doesn’t have it at your hospitals is that somebody turned it off. Everyone’s head turned to the front of the room where the man was standing in the front who’d been speaking and was in charge of these all of these facilities. He said, yeah, I just turned it off because I thought nobody would want that. 

What was so cool about that moment was that I may have been the motivational speaker of the morning, but I had information to give those individuals that they didn’t have prior to that. That’s the beauty of involving patients. They can often be that little hinge pin that can change things.

 

Did you ever consider developing a checklist of how to make an EMR more patient friendly?

We’ve talked within the Society for Participatory Medicine about concepts like that. I don’t think there’s a uniform thing yet, but it’s definitely something to put on the list of things we need to do.

There’s things about standardization at work and then there’s some things that don’t work regionally, so you want to have an overarching checklist that you can work with. But the really thing that’s important to remember is every institution works a tiny little bit differently. It’s important to catch their unique differences. That’s one of the things that overarching standards often miss.

 

What do you think about the Open Notes project?

Love it! I was on Twitter back in 2010 complaining about not having open doctor’s notes when the Robert Wood Johnson foundation tweeted to me. I was like, what are you doing? They said, we’re just holding. We’re doing this amazing study. Watch what we’re doing for the next two years. And I did. 

I was so excited at the 2012 press conference when they talked about it. I was there. It was really exciting to paint about it and talk about it. I went to Tom Delbanco and was like, you know, your whole concept made me think of the open note within music, the whole note, the patient is everything, it’s part of the communication with the provider. And Tom Delbanco said you know, it really is that. I’m a musician. The whole concept behind Open Notes was a musical note.

Isn’t that beautiful? It’s one of those things that’s the idea of all of us as provider and patient working together in the totality of ourselves.

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March 10, 2014 Interviews 11 Comments

HIStalk Interviews Shane Adams, CEO, Sagacious Consultants

February 17, 2014 Interviews 14 Comments

Shane Adams is Founder and CEO of Sagacious Consultants of Lenexa, KS.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I have to start by giving Epic a lot of credit. It is where I met my wife, but also was the catalyst for starting my company, Sagacious Consultants. They do a lot of things exceptionally well. I wanted to take that and apply it to the consulting industry. 

We focus on our culture and treating everyone like family. I don’t just say that because both of my brothers and my wife works with me, but we put our employees first and they put our clients first. In turn, both our employees and our clients are number one.

 

Epic has a strong reputation for its culture, which is geared around the demographic of employees they hire. Do you have to compete with that or can you take what you learned from Epic and extend it?

No, I don’t think we compete with that much. They obviously have a lot of great benefits. Some of the benefits we offer are extensions of what Epic offered. We took the things they did well and we tried to do even better. We took the things that maybe we didn’t think were the best for our culture and we flipped those and thought of some new things we could do.

 

What’s the secret to getting and keeping the best quality Epic certified and experienced people when everyone is looking for them?

We have a team of people that focuses on retention. I worked at Epic. My wife worked at Epic. Our first employees were friends of ours that worked at Epic. It’s really building a team of A players. 

When we recruit people, they know we’re number one in KLAS and they know we have an amazing culture. They want to be a part of that. They want that work-life balance that we’re able to offer. Frankly, a lot of the other firms out there are just after making the difference between their bill rate and the rate they pay their consultants.

 

What does the Epic consulting market look like and how is it changing?

We see a lot of the market moving from simple staff augmentation to more strategic consulting services. With all the federal stimulus money over the past several years … that was money that was being thrown at these organizations to implement Epic and other EMRs as quickly as possible. 

Now since some of that money is a little bit harder to obtain, organizations are using their own money. They need to see an ROI out of that. They’re now just trying to realize the benefits of an EMR system and squeeze out every dollar that they can. A lot more of our focus is moving from staff augmentation to realizing those benefits through efficiencies, through cost savings, and better use of the system.

 

Do you think Epic itself will run into a more mature market where the implementation work will taper off and optimization will be the most-demanded service?

I see two things happening. Domestically here within the US, I think the services for the clients already live on Epic will be more the maturing type of client for Epic. But there’s a big market for the smaller organizations, the ones where Epic is indirectly expending via their Connect model. We’ve been getting a lot of interest from smaller organizations who are looking to either partner with a bigger institution to obtain Epic or we’ve been working directly with an organization that has Epic to serve as a vendor themselves to extend to these smaller community hospitals their Epic solution. 

The second part is overseas. There’s still not much market penetration for EMRs. I believe that’s where Epic’s major focus is going to be in the coming decade.

 

What’s the market pressure been on consulting rates over the last year or two?

I would say they’ve been fairly stable. There is definitely an influx of consultants, so there’s more supply there. But there is also an uptick in demand over the past couple years. Overall, we’ve seen rates stabilize and we think they’ll probably be in this spot for at least the foreseeable future.

 

Epic limits the consultant supply by who it certifies and by its non-compete agreements. Can they turn out enough supply to meet the demand?

I think they can. There has been an uptick in supply. Epic is getting bigger, therefore there’s more certified people. But there’s also some people with a little bit lower of a skill set who may be credentialed or just have experience. We’ve been seeing a lot of those people turning into consultants. Initially, those are putting downward pressure on the rates. But I believe over the past year or two, clients are starting to realize what it means to have somebody who has that industry knowledge and that Epic certification, that Epic experience.

Over the past couple years, KLAS has noticed that clients are now more interested in engaging with consulting firms that have that direct Epic experience, not just generalists out there. The consultant’s experience really does make a difference.

 

What’s your reaction to Epic going into consulting?

That’s been something I’ve talked with Epic about over the past several months. They’ve done it on and off over the past few years. 

I believe Epic is most focused on the proliferation of their software. They’re most focused with getting Epic out in as many hands as possible. I like to think of it similar to the Google approach — getting the Android platform out to as many mobile phone users as possible. Because what they’re really interested in is their software and the licensing fees, just like Google is with their ad revenue. 

Epic’s interest and our interests are very aligned. All we do is Epic, so we want Epic to remain the best EMR out there and that’s Epic’s same interest. If Epic were to jump into the consulting, I think it would be more of a partnership with firms like us than a direct competition.

 

They haven’t said why they’re doing it, but it sounds like one motivation is that they are losing people who quit, sit out their non-compete, and then make more money by going to work for a consulting company. Do you think that will limit your supply of quality candidates?

No, I don’t, for the simple fact of, if we were to just recruit half a percent of the people that leave Epic, we would still be growing like crazy. There are just so many people that have that experience that I don’t think that will limit our growth. I think that the people that are looking to leave Epic, it’s for a number of reasons. The majority of people do not leave Epic to become a consultant.

 

What do they do after they leave?

I would say the majority of people who leave Epic get into another industry. As you know, Epic hires most of their people directly out of college. They hire without discrimination towards a certain degree. The people who join Epic have various backgrounds. 

Epic’s a great point to get your feet wet in the professional world and use it to launch a career into whatever you might decide to pursue, whether that’s going back to school to get your master’s degree or whether that’s going into another industry that might not be as highly paying. Now you’ve done some time at Epic and you were able to save up some money.

 

Consulting runs in cycles where the companies that rise to the top get bought. None of the Epic-only consulting companies that have sold to a big firm yet, right?

Not that I know of. The way that we’re trying to prepare ourselves is, we want to be agile, but we also have to be in the lean in the way we conduct business. Whether there’s pressure from competition, tightening up our budget and tightening up our processes, or there’s pressure from an industry level with rates going down or if Epic were to start losing some market shares. 

We’re just concerned about continuing to offer relevant services to our clients, broadening out besides just staff augmentation, and looking to the future what our clients are going to need from a consulting partner three, five and ten years down the road.

 

You’ve said that you want to create a brand and not just a consulting company. How do you see that happening?

It starts in-house with the culture, with the people we recruit. We recently won Best in KLAS, but prior to that, we also were listed as one of the best places to work in healthcare. We focus on our employees, and making Sagacious a long-term career option for them and by making sure that everybody shares the same vision as Sagacious, which is to become that brand. It’s lining up our interests with our employees’ interests and our clients’ interests. It’s establishing that long-term partnership with our clients, and ensuring no matter what their need is when it comes to Epic — whether it’s staff augmentation, clinical optimization, AR reduction — we are the first vendor they call for support.

 

How do you see an Epic ecosystem building?

Epic announced that they were going to open up some of their software to outside developers. We see that eventually third-party players that are more so integrated with Epic may start becoming prevalent. We also see a second area is the adoption of the smaller organizations, under 500 beds, adopting Epic via the Connect relationship. We see services such as working with these organizations to increase revenue and decrease AR days. That’s a mix of not just optimizing Epic, but also optimizing their business processes and their operational work flows.

The same thing on the clinical side. Big data is a term similar to what cloud was two or three years ago. Big data is really about, now we have this data within Epic and these organizations have this data at their disposal, how are you going to leverage that to better patient care, better patient outcomes, and to increase your revenue so that you can provide patient care to the community? Those are the areas that we think will be where the industry is moving in the coming years.

 

How do you see analytics playing out for Epic customers?

We’re going to start seeing a lot more of revenue spent on analytics. The first stage of this EMR life cycle is adoption. We’ve seen that in the US, a lot of big institutions now are on an EMR such as Epic. 

The second phase of that is leveraging the EMR to increase your bottom line and improve patient care. You can’t do that without analytics. We think as an industry that healthcare is far behind retail such as Amazon and Google. They are very far ahead when it comes to leveraging that data and using it for predictive ordering or predictive shipping, which Amazon might be getting into. 

We think that the industry as whole has a long ways to go. We think that will be a big market for Epic and the other EMRs in the coming years.

 

What do you want the company to be in the next two to five years?

I see Sagacious transforming to more than simply staff augmentation and taking on more of those strategic-level partnerships with our clients. Going into organizations and assessing them from top to the bottom and seeing where there are inefficiencies. These are things that they may know about themselves, but there’s a lot of inertia when it comes to these projects. They’ve been doing things the same way they’ve been doing them for years. They might have gone live on Epic 10 years ago and taken some upgrades, but have they really leveraged the most they can out of that system? 

We’re that outside driving force. We want to come in, provide them with an independent third-party assessment, and determine what are areas where they could strengthen themselves. What are those opportunities to drive patient care and drive their revenue metrics? That’s where I see Sagacious continuing to advance. I see our partners, our clients continuing to go down that path of optimization.

 

Do you have any concluding thoughts?

As an industry, a lot of people may think that we’re at the peak right now because so many organizations within the US have adopted an EMR and a lot of clients now are live on Epic. But the truth is, that’s just one piece of the overall business cycle. Adoption is just the beginning of it. Next is leveraging the data analytics to optimize. Then, finally, it’s using that data to predict patient outcomes and to make business decisions to drive revenue. 

That’s what I’m most excited about. That’s what we’re most excited about at Sagacious — continuing to partner with our clients and figure out where the future is and help them set some long-term goals to take it to the next stage.

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February 17, 2014 Interviews 14 Comments

HIStalk Interviews Justin Dearborn, CEO, Merge Healthcare

February 12, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Justin Dearborn is CEO of Merge Healthcare of Chicago, IL.

2-12-2014 11-28-34 AM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in enterprise software for approximately 16 years, all at public companies. I joined Merge in June 2008.

Merge has been around since the late ‘80s to early ‘90s. I gave a range because it was a much smaller company that merged with another company a few years after it started and formed what Merge is today. It has been focused on the radiology solution space since its inception.

 

Imaging has become unbundled over the years, with modalities separate from the image storage and software separate from both. How will that play out?

It has. Part of what has driven that is corporate purchasing groups. On the GPO schedules we are on, everything gets line-itemed out and identified separately. The days of bundling an MRI with a PACS solution can still happen, but those are mostly in the past. Purchasing groups want to see what they’re being charged for — each line item. The software’s not free. If it is free, then it’s not worth much. So it has been unbundled.

We’ve integrated with 65 different PACS companies even though we’re a PACS company. We’ll be in multi-vendor situations as well. With the state of integration, that’s not much of a challenge. It used to be a little more challenging, but with standards and with the integration across the board where it is today, doesn’t pose much of a problem. 

We do see buyers looking for best-of-breed across the board. Most hospitals, even if they’re an Epic or a Cerner shop, so to speak, still have numerous, numerous other best-of-breed clinical applications they will plug in.

 

Describe a vendor-neutral archive and how Merge addresses that market demand.

It’s not a very creative name, but pretty descriptive. We would go into a situation and our ROI is to be an essential repository for all imaging. Not imaging data, but heavily the values in imaging data and DICOM data, DICOM being the format of medical imaging.

We would pull in DICOM data. If it wasn’t DICOM data, we’d wrap it in a format that stored it as such. We would be able to pull in from many different styles in a hospital — cardiology, radiology, dermatology, pathology. They can all be local PACS systems in that siloed environment from different vendors and we could pull in all that data, normalize it, and keep track of it. Make it available in a unified format to any other groups within or outside the four walls of the hospital.

That’s been accelerated a little bit. There have been stops and starts in the market, but interoperability and then being able to share information tying into some of the ACO payment models and some other new bundle payment models, and the overall pop health management buzz you hear — it’s all about sharing data and having a vendor-neutral archive that allows for that to happen much easier than if you’re pulling data from six or seven different siloed environments within a single hospital.

 

How important is interoperability to customers and what are the advancements that could be coming that now that it’s available?

It’s very important, but there have been other things in the last few years that have taken budgetary priority, ICD-10 being one of them right now. But putting that aside, there’s always a few speed bumps in healthcare, but interoperability is on every CIO’s road map. They’re being asked to share information with additional constituents. Early on, sometimes it was just to consolidate the data with any hospital or the hospital network. Now it’s making sure the data’s available in a secure, HIPAA-compliant manner to partners. Everybody in every hospital is partnering with outpatient groups and being required to share data and pull data in from other sources. 

Interoperability is extremely important through our vendors that of course just focus on the data flow. We focus on that, but shine in situations where there’s imaging involved. Your file format’s a little more sophisticated routing and that’s where a Merge solution would excel.

Part of that also is not only having the data, but making it available. We make it available in two formats. We can just make the image itself available in a hosted manner, so with any Web browser, a user could log in and access an image and they would just be accessing a piece of the image or the slice that they need to view at that time. Or we can make it available to download. There are different privacy concerns and security concerns. Every hospital has their own policies around that. But either format allows the referring physician or the patient to access a DICOM quality or a diagnosis quality image. 

It is becoming more relevant, absolutely. Where it started as just a way to make the hospital itself more efficient internally because it was fairly siloed, now it’s external or partner facing. Most hospitals and most large groups have these issues. Some of the vendors, the bigger EMR vendors, have solved it if you’re 100 percent on one solution, but we haven’t run across too many situations where it’s Epic everywhere. If it were, they have a nice solution for that. But any other partners you share or other data you’re pulling in, you need to be able to look at in a vendor-neutral manner.

 

Once people have moved their data and images that you described into a vendor-neutral archive, what patient care improvement opportunities are available?

Everyone would agree that having a full patient record, and by that I mean all the priors — and we would focus on the imaging priors, of course – but all the priors, all the radiology reports, all the special reports. We are involved in radiology, cardiology, ophthalmology, and orthopedics. Having all that information available for the next visit is incredibly important. 

As you think about the ACO models and a provider willing to take on total financial and clinical responsibility for a patient, they’re going to want to know everything about that patient, have access to all the prior data, even down to the simple thing — if you had an MRI last year out of network or out of this particular payer’s network, that payer is going to want to grab that and not reimage you.

Part of it is around patient safety as well. If it’s a CT scan, you’re obviously exposed to radiation, so you can limit that. Limit the duplicate imaging that goes on. There’s no ill intent there right now, but there’s a lot of duplicate imaging that goes on in this country because there’s not access to the prior images. I’ve seen the number as high as 30 billion dollars and that’s not lost on the federal government. There are going to be some new restrictions around paying for duplicate imaging. I’m not sure if Medicare or Medicaid will be driving that or the payers themselves, but it’s a hot topic and it’s one that’s the most easily solved. There are solutions to help solve that. Technology will not be the barrier.

 

What technical steps can help prevent over-ordering of images and making sure that previous images are available at the time new ones are being considered?

A couple of items. There’s one self-serving comment. We have a solution called the iConnect network that we rolled out last month. This solution will store images in the cloud. Always assuming proper security and authorization, we will have an archive of all the images that go through our network in a cloud solution, easily accessible from a technology perspective. Once that gets populated, we think that will be pretty powerful. 

There will be constituents that want to query that before they approve the next MRI or the next CT scan. They’ll be going out and asking that question of multiple repositories. Merge iConnect network will be one. The state or local health information exchange. One of the goals of the HIE is to have all the patient data available. There’s different adoption levels there across states and regions, of course. But ultimately, that was one of the goals of the federal government handing out the money — to make patient data available to those authorized to receive it. Between an HIE once it gets up and running. 

There might be a local ACO that has put some tools in place from vendors like us or other vendors that just focus on HIE-like technology or the iConnect network. It will be easy to go and query those and pull in all the prior results because it’s better at clinical care, but also if you did have an MRI or a simple X-ray within a reasonable amount of recent history, grab that, look at that. It helps with the comparisons, as well as it might alleviate the need to have another image.

 

How do you see consolidation, both hospitals buying each other and buying medical practices, changing your business?

Positive and negative. The negative side would be when you’re working with a group and the communication goes silent. M&A is a sensitive topic, so nobody likes to speak about it. Of course they typically don’t share that with the vendor, so we’ll find out about it after the fact. There’s been some fairly significant, large IDN transactions. I’m sure there were a lot of things in the works a year before those big deals were announced and probably filled in a lot of gaps and blanks we had as to why communication ended in some of those. So it’s disruptive.

It’s impacting the hospitals, but it’s more impactful on the outpatient or the ambulatory side because you’re dealing with owner-operators of businesses and it’s very meaningful to their lives. With hospitals, there are incentives to do acquisitions with other hospitals, but it doesn’t hit home as much as when you own the practice. They’re all facing reimbursement constraints and figuring out how to operate more efficiently. Traditional M&A rules apply – synergy, bigger is better, and build better relationships with vendors, and in this case, with payers. It’s impacting sales cycles for sure.

On the positive side, when those do transpire, there are opportunities. There’s a lot of integration and interoperability opportunities, because rarely do the large groups go in and rip and replace the existing systems. They need to be able to connect to it and share information. It plays into the VNA strategy and our iConnect network strategy. But absolutely disruptive on the front end. Again, it’s usually something that they’re not at liberty to share with you for obvious confidentiality reasons. But it does create some opportunities for us. There’s always going to be M&A in this space.

 

What do you see as the market’s biggest opportunities and threats?

Opportunities … I don’t want to keep pointing to the iConnect network, but we think we’ve solved a real problem in report delivery and order delivery. It’s handled pretty rudimentarily right now. We think we’ve solved a real problem in the space. Anything that can help work flow. 

Our core business is around radiology, ophthalmology, and orthopedics. Those are practices that rely on referrals and need to focus on ease of doing business on top of the clinical care they provide. But in addition to that, they are reliant on primary care physicians for referrals right now. It is about ease of doing business and generating additional volume and then having the tools to be able to improve work flow, which we do with our solutions. I think we play into the work flow efficiency. 

Everyone in healthcare’s trying to figure out how to do more with either the same or less. We have solutions that play to that. It’s a trend that’s unfortunately hit radiology probably earlier than a lot of other specialty areas. We started to see it in 2007-2008. Some of the cuts, the results from the Deficit Reduction Act, hit radiology a little harder than other practice areas. Unfortunately, the industry’s conditioned for further reimbursement cuts and I think those are coming. 

It is about doing more volume with the same team you have, and I don’t know of any other way but technology to do that. We have solutions that enable teleradiology in a positive manner. If you own 10 physical sites, you can have less than 10 physicians covering those by using teleradiology. It’s a simple example of how you can handle the volumes more efficiently with software solutions.

 

Merge has had challenges with financial results and share price. You’ve been on the job since last summer. What is the plan and the priority going forward?

Good question. I’ve been at Merge for about five and a half years in different roles. Our challenge over the last few years has been relying on large enterprise license transactions.

We have struggled to change our pricing model. We have per-transaction pricing model and we can deliver our solutions in a hosted manner, but hospitals are not buying that way right now and I don’t know when that will change, if it will change. I think it’s because of the capital budgets. All budgets are tight, but capital budgets are a little bit easier, I believe, so they’re still buying a perpetual license. Pay once, then pay annual maintenance. That leads to lumpy quarters if we have a miss. 

When we’ve had poor quarters, it’s been the result of three, four, five opportunities we thought were going to close in the quarter that pushed out a quarter or two. It looks dramatic because the last deals are usually heavy software, good margin. When you look back over three or four years when we’ve had really good quarters, I could point to three or four deals each quarter and say, those are the deals that really moved the top line and all that dropped to the bottom line.

We have been challenged. We went out with a per-study pricing and transaction model. It didn’t take at all. So with our new solution, iConnect network, we’re only going to price it in a transaction fashion. That has been well received. We’re going to continue to do that. That’s going to build recurring revenue. 

That’s been the issue for the company. We only have about 60 percent recurring revenue. That means every quarter we have to go find 40 percent. If there’s any pauses in the market driven by the sequester or some employer mandate pushed off or what have you that causes a pause in the market for a quarter, we’re left holding the bag. It’s tough to operate that way. The companies that are performing really well have high recurring revenue — and I point to athenahealth as probably the best at that right now — have done a great job and been very disciplined on how they go to market. They built a nice recurring revenue model. 

We’re to some degree emulating that. The market’s accepting of charging to deliver an order and to deliver a report. There’s small fees that will add up due to the size of our installed base. That’s what we talked about quite a bit on our earnings call. We’ve done a couple of great press releases around relationships with athena, Surescripts, and the largest imaging group in the country for the solutions. 

That’s where we need to get to as a company to increase performance. Once we start executing that, the stock price will follow. Obviously we’re cognizant of it, but doesn’t drive the decisions right now. We think we’ve really landed on a great white space opportunity for the company and we’re focused on executing on that.

 

What are your priorities for the next one to three years?

On top of continuing to improve upon on our enterprise solutions, I’ll say non-iConnect network, which we’ve done and we’ve actually overspent in the industry, I feel like sometimes we’re on the bleeding edge, so sometimes we’ve been ahead on MU for radiology and that didn’t really buy us much. But we were out there evangelizing, making sure radiology qualified, making sure our solution was MU1 certified. We were the first one for full certification. Then it quickly became table stakes. 

We’ll continue to do that, to take care of our installed base. We were just named by KLAS as number one in cardiology and number one in hemodynamics. We’re a few percentage points ahead of our competition, we think, in investment on the R&D side. We’ll continue to do that. To grow the business in a repeatable, scalable manner, the recurring revenue has to be there. 

The iConnect network leverages a lot of the technology we’ve built and leverages our installed base. It all plays hand in hand. Growing that recurring revenue stream is the future of the business. Number one product in cardiology according to KLAS, which we do think is a great, great report card. They beat us up when appropriate. They’re very objective, as you know. With the number one product, we didn’t grow that business that much last year. We’ve outgrown the market a few times and a few quarters, but you can’t do that consistently. 

What do you next? We think we’ve innovated a really, really interesting, compelling solution and we’ll continue to invest in those core solutions because they bring the customers and there’s the opportunities for those customers then to participate in the iConnect network. But it’s really driving the transaction revenue of the business. The next one to three years, seeing that 60 percent number I gave you approaching and then eclipsing 70 percent. That makes it a lot easier to run a business when you have a little more predictable revenue.

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February 12, 2014 Interviews No Comments

HIStalk Interviews Mike Merwarth, CEO, Aperek

January 31, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Mike Merwarth is CEO of Aperek of Raleigh, NC.

1-28-2014 12-35-16 PM

 

Tell me about yourself and the company.

My dad was a physician. He went to Duke. My mom was a nurse. She went to Duke. My wife was a nurse. She’s still my wife, but she’s no longer practicing. My older daughter is getting her RN degree in May. My younger daughter is taking the MCAT this Thursday. All of which is to say, I have been immersed literally since the minute I was born over at Duke in a healthcare’s aura. It affected my life and continues to affect my professional life as well.

I was diagnosed with adult onset type 1 diabetes at 41 out of the blue. Every quarter I go over to Duke to see an endocrinologist. Between that and customer visits, I’m in hospitals a lot. The potentially strange thing about that is I feel at home in hospitals. That’s why I bring the level of commitment and passion I do to Aperek.

Aperek is focused on the healthcare supply chain. We do not offer services or product to any other industry other than healthcare, which distinguishes us from some of the other vendors. We changed our name from Mediclick to Aperek this past November.

 

Who’s buying your systems and why do they choose Aperek instead of non-healthcare specific vendors?

In the ‘90s when we were still part of Global Software and in the the early 2000s after we had spun off and formed Mediclick, hospitals were buying ERP solutions. General ledger, accounts payable, fixed assets, payroll, human resources, and last and unfortunately least, materials management. That would be the typical package.

It was largely a financially-driven decision process. The materials management system was what we call in this industry a drag-along, in many cases. In other words, they would — not throw it in for free, that’s a little strong – but they would offer it as part of the package at effectively no additional charge.

It’s also interesting that two of the companies that now have significant market share brought a distribution system into healthcare from non-healthcare markets or industries — specifically distribution and retail — and added some capabilities like par management. Frankly, they were the only game in town and they did an admirable job of capturing market share.

Those systems were OK for a number of years – let’s call it a decade — where the fundamental job was to manage a perpetual inventory of stock items, replenish the par levels on the nursing floors, and do the purchasing. All the clinical areas largely did their own buying.

That limitation of focus on the scope of what they needed to do for the hospital was  fine. Today, it’s not fine because now there’s a cost crisis. There’s a bunch of crises we could talk about, but there’s certainly a crisis of getting costs out of the system. One of the remaining ways to do that is in the supply chain. These systems and companies are not adamantly and singularly focused on doing that, at least in the way I think they should be.

 

In hospitals, the real experts and professionals in materials management are buying tissues and bedpans, while people with no training are buying the most expensive items that represent most of the overall cost.

That’s the irony or tragedy, pick your word. Roughly 80 percent of dollar value is purchased in the clinical areas. These multi-million dollar systems that were painful to install preside over only 18 percent, give or take, of the dollar value of the product that comes in the door. That’s a general statement and there are exceptions, but you are absolutely right.

 

How does your system control those higher-cost items that clinicians buy?

Technically, there are capabilities in these products to manage multiple inventories. You can have pars up in the OR, for example, and they could theoretically be managed by the decent systems out there. But there’s a significant usability issue that comes with the the necessary interaction at certain points with the clinicians. They rightfully resist anything that unnecessarily distracts them from their main job, which is taking care of patients. That’s where the usability of the traditional materials management functionality falls completely apart.

The reason I would advocate buying Aperek supply chain solutions would be, number one, there’s merit to focus. We live and breathe healthcare, specifically the acute care market but we also have several clinics as clients. Our clients span from single 200 bed-hospitals up into the 20- and 30-hospital IDNs.

Second, we recognize that the 80 percent that is spent on the clinical area is where the focus needs to be. I have referred to it as the Wild West, with stories about OR nurses hiding product up in the ceiling tiles and the bottom desk drawers. I know; I’ve actually seen that. It happens because they ran out one time and there are negative consequences to that. Maybe it’s just the surgeon yelling at them. But for whatever reason, they’re not going to run out again. There are millions of millions of dollars of inventory in the clinical areas that, if properly managed, does not need to be there.

Fundamentally, what this company is working very hard to complete is a set of capabilities that allow the supply chain professionals to do their job in the clinical areas. That requires some new tools that aren’t available from most vendors. Most importantly, it allows the clinicians to do the supply chain management they need to do in as non-disruptive a way as possible. We’re obsessively focused on the user experience here in what we’re developing right now.

A specific example is a product that we’re just now installing in two initial sites called Pulse. It’s implant tracking. It’s on the iPad. In my 25-plus years in this business, I have never bonded with clinicians like I have in the last year because of this product. I have never been so gratified by the excitement that I see that they have a visceral attraction to the ways that we allow them to record product.

With another company in the industry, it’s all barcode driven. We’ve got a Bluetooth barcode capability. It’s great. It reads all the bar codes and it’s intelligent and can discern what lets you go where. But the nature of implants is that there are screws and plates, thousands of parts. Those parts are not going to have bar codes associated with them in the near future. It’s going to take a new and cheaper technology to either embed or somehow associate those with a bar code that could be read, or RFID or whatever it is.

Those are three-figure to four-figure items relative to cost. They have to be recorded. Today, they’re often recorded on sheets of paper. They’re recorded on sleeves of surgical gowns. They’re yelled out to the surgical nurse to hand write.

What we have provided is a multitude of ways that they can quickly record the usage of the product that doesn’t have a bar code. Once the tension of the case is over, you can quickly come back and resolve the identity of the product that’s been used. You can have a little Bluetooth headset on and speak a description and the translation software in the iPad writes it out. You can go in and scribble it and hand write it. You can take a picture of it. You can do a combination of those things and move on, but you know you’ve got enough data such that when the case is over, you can come back and capture it.

 

Hospitals that are trying to cut costs, which is pretty much all of them, usually look at labor and then try to do something with patient utilization. Do they pay less attention to supply chain other than just trying to negotiate favorable pricing? Are they missing something?

Tragically, yes. I’m not sure I understand why. It’s not simple,  but it’s doable and it’s a progression. Nobody’s going to reach perfection in my lifetime. It’s going to take some naming standards like GS1 to come into fruition before perfection can even be approached. But there’s a lot of things that can be done.

If you think about the flow of product in the OR, it’s largely driven by physician preference cards, the list of stuff that they want on the case card that goes into the room. Those physician preference cards are maintained in the OR system, when in fact they’re the key to standardization. Elimination of product that goes up the clean elevator and down the dirty elevator every day. Basically 50 percent of the product on case carts is never used. It’s put on there just in case.

There are so many opportunities to reduce SKUs, to standardize on the implant products that cost thousands of dollars, and to lower the cost of the inventories that are managed in these areas if it’s put in the hands of people whose job it is to do that. You can’t expect the clinicians to do it. They’ve got their hands full already. Everything we’re doing is devoted to that.

 

Are hospitals looking at choices they didn’t find politically expedient before now that they’re under the margin gun, such as perpetual inventory and true cost accounting?

Sophistication in areas like cost accounting will continue to be looked at and be increasingly pertinent. But the example that immediately comes to mind is in product standardization. For example, you’ve got five orthopods who use three different knee implants, three different companies, because that’s what they were trained on in school. If they get together and realize that the outcomes of all three are virtually identical and the cost of one of the three is significantly less than the other two, and either through competitive motivation or collaborative motivation they agree to standardize, they’ve certainly simplified inventory management.

But from a purchasing perspective, and this is our product called Ellipse, you can standardize to say a single vendor for total knees. Then you can commit unprecedented volume to that particular supplier. That means a tremendous amount to them and you’ll get better pricing. There are those types of things that can be done with the right tools. The good news is for us, selfishly speaking for the growth prospects of Aperek, it hasn’t been done.

 

As hospitals acquire practices and also each other and take on financial risk, how do you see that dynamic changing supply chain and contract management?

The surgeons clearly have a direct interest in improving outcomes, standardizing outcomes, standardizing treatment protocols, and standardizing product. It’s in their self interest because in the ACO environment, to the degree that ever takes real hold, they will be getting paid out of the pot of money that is left over when the costs are subtracted from the reimbursement.

 

What are the priorities for the company in the next one to three years?

We’ve got a supply chain system today, as well as a GL and AP, that are ranked number one by KLAS and MD Buyline. They’ve been number one for five years. We’ve got that spend analysis tool that I mentioned that can show you volume and market share. We’ve got the Pulse product going in to its initial sites. That Pulse product will in the next six months be expanded into full product capture so you can get a full product cost per case.

As we progress into that, I’d like to take control of the preference cards and manage those. Put those capabilities in the hands of the supply chain professional. Along the way, I want to optimize the management of product inventory in the clinical area. I can do that with much of my existing supply chain system logic.

We’ve got a lot of the pieces, but we want to bring — you could say best practices — harmony, if you will, into the clinical arena and cut significant, millions of dollars out of the expenditure that’s taking place there today. Not just by reducing the price of things, but by standardization of products and standardization of treatment protocols.

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January 31, 2014 Interviews No Comments

HIStalk Interviews Dean Sittig, PhD, Professor, UTHealth

January 30, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Dean F. Sittig, PhD is professor of biomedical informatics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a co-author of the SAFER (Safety Assurance Factors for EHR Resilience) Guides that were developed for the Office of the National Coordinator.

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Describe the SAFER Guides and their purpose.

Following the IOM report in 2012 on patient safety and health IT, ONC promised that they would create some guidance to help organizations improve the safety and utility of their EHRs. The SAFER Guides were their attempt to do that. They contracted with us to develop them.

 

What do the Guides contain and  how would you recommend that a hospital or health system use them?

There are some complex organizational structures, but mostly the Guides have about 10 to 25 recommended practices that are very general. Something like, “You need to back up your mission-critical hardware and software.” The Guides also have examples to help people understand what that means, so for a backup, that ought to be an encrypted, offsite backup taken on a daily basis.

There is also a rationale to help people understand why they would do that particular practice. There are a lot of references to link people to different aspects of the scientific literature from where those ideas came from. If the items on the list were either from the HIPAA guidelines or the Meaningful Use guidelines, we link those to give people a renewed emphasis on why they need to do certain aspects.

As to the answer to how an organization would use them, we think that in a large organization, you would convene a multidisciplinary team with someone from IT, some clinical people, some nursing, some of the ancillary services, maybe medical records people. Try to bring all those stakeholders together. Some people know the answers to certain questions and know the nuances of those. In smaller organizations, you’d probably have to contact your EHR vendor or your IT consultant that’s helping you to get the answers to these questions.

 

It looks like some of the items could be incorporated into an RFP.

While we were doing this, we started out going to a lot of different healthcare provider organizations and talking to them about what they were doing and trying to understand what things were working and weren’t. Some of them, we realized that the EHR vendor really has to do these things. 

When we say something like, “The patient’s name should be on every screen and maybe it should have a picture of the patient,” the EHR vendor has to make that capability available. Then the organization has to implement that capability. You’re right; some of these things are very particular and only the vendors can do them.

 

How do you think the average hospital would do? Are these stretch goals, or would a hospital that’s competent in IT do fine?

Of the leading organizations — I think about the Scottsdale Institute members, for example, IHC, Mayo Clinic, and Partners in Boston, those kind of places –  I would expect they’re doing between 50 and 75 percent of the recommended practices. Of the 25 percent that they’re not doing, probably half of them they’ve consciously decided not to do them for one reason or another.

Some of these things are still a little bit controversial in terms of whether they’re really a good thing to do or whether an organization can really do them. For example, not allowing a user to open more than one chart for a patient on the same computer terminal. Most people would agree that that’s a good safety measure and would reduce wrong patient orders. But most clinicians would say, “I can’t survive if I can’t look at two charts at once.” 

Then it becomes a push-pull at the organizational level of whether the organization’s administration is going to make that kind of a proclamation to make that happen. If you look at a company like Epic, for example, they limit you to only opening five charts on one screen, but that’s a user-configurable parameter. You could say only one chart is allowed to be open on one screen.

 

A parallel would be hiring an external auditor to do a hospital IT audit. They evaluate their checklist of things that are important. You don’t have to do all of them, but since the report goes to your management, you would at least justify why you don’t. Would a rational use of the SAFER Guides be not necessarily checking every box, but at least recognizing that you should have a good reason for not checking them knowing they affect patient safety?

That’s a good way to say it. You need an explanation. If I were a CEO reading over the results and you were the IT person that came to me, I would want an explanation for why you think you should open more than one chart on it. You can say that the clinicians disagreed and we’ve decided to limit it to two. We could talk about that and decide whether that was reasonable or not. 

Intelligent people who are safety conscious could agree to disagree on certain of these items. But it’s something you definitely need to think about and understand why you’re doing it.

 

The beauty of an external IT audit report is the accountability. It seems as though like the audience that would be most interested, from an exposure from a patient care or legal liability standpoint, would be a hospital’s CEO.

I agree completely. We are really hoping that that’s the way they’re used. Either insurance companies will pick these up and ask organizations whether it’s doing this, or someone like the Joint Commission might take these up. 

We’re hoping that this is something that starts a conversation between what I’ll call the clinician, the EHR vendors, and leadership within your organization. That conversation is the key to improving the safety.

 

The IOM’s To Err is Human brought a lot of activity with regard to medical errors. The IOM’s EHR patient safety report was the genesis of the SAFER Guides. Will that make the idea easier to sell?

I would think that reasonable people would agree with these recommendations. The problem is that these recommendations generally are going to cost some extra money and some extra time.

Right now, with everyone thinking about Meaningful Use Stage 2 and ICD-10 coming up, I’m sorry to say that I think patient safety has been pushed to number three on the list. That is going to be the biggest struggle with these Guides and trying to get patient safety moved up to a high level of awareness within an organization.

 

Meaningful Use gets you a check, ICD-10 makes sure you keep getting checks, and patient safety doesn’t get you anything except possibly a lawsuit avoided. Is ONC going to market this like they do their other programs?

We’re hoping they’re going to do that. If they can keep their focus on this, I think that will happen. But like you said, this is really a cost avoidance thing. The organizations that seem to do the best in terms of meeting most of the recommended practices are those organizations that have had the biggest accidents. It’s like you don’t get religion until you need the religion.

In some of the organizations here in the Texas Medical Center after Hurricane Ike, they really got some newfound impetus to make sure they had better backup systems in place. They were ready for bad weather. It was Hurricane Alison that was like around year 2000 where we realized we couldn’t have our data centers in the basements any more in Texas Medical Center when they all flooded. It turned out the first floor of our buildings flooded, too. Now all of the hospitals in Texas Medical Center have their data centers at least on the third floor. 

It was interesting to me that when they had Hurricane Sandy in New York City that New York City still hadn’t learned that lesson about putting data centers and power generators and backup systems in the basement. Because when there’s a really big flood, the basements flood. It seems like we should be able to learn those things from other organizations. You shouldn’t have to experience them yourself. But for some reason, people always think that it couldn’t happen here. Like, do they think that New Orleans was a one-off, Houston was a one-off, and now you think New York City was a one-off? The important points are that these things can happen to anyone, anywhere.

 

What kind of resources would be required to complete the series and come up with a conclusion for an individual hospital?

It depends what you start with. We’ve had some pushback when we mentioned that you ought to have all your hardware systems backed up and you ought to have duplicate hardware. Sometimes that means two servers running in parallel and another one sitting off to the side, so when one of those that are running in parallel breaks, you have one to replace it. Some people say, “We can’t afford to have three of them on site all at one time.” We hear them say, “Our vendor promises 24-hour delivery.” A lot of it are those kinds of expenses and there are a lot of examples in the contingency planning about warm site backups, for example.

That’s just a matter of how much money you want to spend to get the kind of response and get the kind of availability that you think you need. You can always spend way too much money on any aspect of your process. You’ve certainly got to balance the amount of money you spend with the safety that you need. That’s a hard question to answer. 

The other way to answer it is, there are some other guides that would recommend that, for example, when you’re doing physician order entry that you ought to have all of your orders go through the physician order entry system. This idea of trying to get 30 or 60 percent of your orders through the order entry system — we think that sort of partial implementation of CPOE is a real danger because then you have some orders on paper and some on the computer system. 

That’s not really a cost in terms of money. That’s a cost in terms of the political capital of the leadership of the organization, of how much pressure they can put on the physicians — those final holdout physicians who aren’t using it. How much pressure can you put on them to incentivize them to use the system? There’s cost, both financial cost as well as a political cost.

 

If a hospital downloads the Guides, how much effort does it take for them to get far enough into the process to know where they stand?

In our preliminary evaluations, if you have either a very knowledgeable person or a group of knowledgeable people together, you can go through a Guide in under 30 minutes. There are nine Guides, so we’re talking four or five hours. If you took a half day, you could go through and get a pretty good feel for where you stood on these different items.

 

The obvious question without an obvious answer is that the government is paying incentives to get people use electronic health records. Now the government has issued a set of guidelines that says, “This is how you keep them safe,” and yet those factors are not tied to any incentive. Who’s supposed to run with this?

We’re not really sure right now what’s going to happen with them. Like I said, I’m placing my bets on insurance companies. The payers are the ones that can really enforce this. 

In one sense, the federal government is a payer. You could imagine CMS incorporating some of these recommendations in their Conditions of Participation and then making the Joint Commission responsible for looking at them. You could imagine public health departments saying something like this, or insurance companies saying, “We’re not going to approve this, or maybe we’ll incentivize you to use the SAFER Guides and give you a little more money if you have completed the SAFER Guides.”

We’re in the midst of negotiating with a lot of different organizations to try to get them to see who will step up and say, “This is a good idea. The people  we are working with ought to explain to us why they are or aren’t doing these kinds of things that are in the Guides”.

 

Are there other phases planned?

We have work planned, but we don’t have funding to do the work. Most of the criticisms we get fall into two categories. One is that there’s too much stuff on the Guides and they need to be shorter. The other criticism is, you left something out. When they say that we’ve left something out, they say, “We really need a Gguide for clinical documentation that would help people to understand how much copy-and-paste is allowable in a document.”

There’s also a lot of people who have been talking about a Guide for how to do  the patient engagement aspects of it — how should you configure your personal health record and what policies and procedures should go around the patient portal and their access to information. We certainly know there are at least two more Guides that would be very well received and are needed, but right now there’s no funding to develop them.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

I would strongly encourage organizations to take a look at these Guides. They can really help an organization understand where they are and understand what the issues are.

A lot of people think that they’re unique and that things that they hear about don’t apply to them. When they see these Guides, they’ll realize that a lot of people are going through and struggling with these same issues. The leading organizations have pretty well come together and decided that backups are a good idea, for example, or physician order entry is a good idea. An organization would learn a lot by going through the Guides and seeing where they stand.

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January 30, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

HIStalk Interviews Alan Rosenstein, MD, Disruptive Physician Behavior Consultant

January 27, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Alan Rosenstein MD, MBA is an educator and consultant in disruptive physician behavior. He welcomes contact by email.

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Tell me about yourself and what you do.

I’m a physician. I also have an MBA. I still do a clinical practice in internal medicine a couple of days a week. I do a lot of consulting work around care management.

One of my other positions is being medical director for a company called Physician Wellness Services, which is in Minneapolis, although most of my career has been involved on getting physicians around best practice care.

 

You’ve done a lot of work with disruptive physician behavior. How is that defined or evidenced?

I got into this as vice president and medical director for the VHA West Coast. We would always look at how we could help the medical directors focus on the issues that they think are important. The usual span of issues are quality of care, cost of care, and physician relationships with the hospital. 

I started noting that they were putting down disruptive behavior as one of their key issues. This really got exacerbated during the nursing shortage. That’s when I started the original survey on what is disruptive behavior? Are you witnessing it? Who’s doing it? Where is it occurring? That led to all the research about how significant an issue it is and then what we can do about it.

We describe disruptive behavior as any inappropriate behavior that can negatively impact patient care. That’s the simplest definition.

 

When you look at other professions, are physicians more likely to be disruptive, or it just more easily perceived because of the work environment they practice in?

It’s a combination of both. There are certain personality traits that lead people to go to medical school. It’s very competitive. They’re very ego-centric. During the medical school process, you’re taught very autocratic, independent, autonomous types of behavior. Physicians give orders. There is that personality that’s built in. 

Healthcare is a very hierarchical system. Physicians are on top of the totem pole. They’ve usually had their free way in giving orders and not taking any responsibility for their actions, although their actions are really aimed at best patient care. 

That in combination with the fact it’s a really stressful environment. In fact, if you look at where disruptive behaviors occur most frequently, it’s in either stressful areas — such as surgery, the emergency room, or OB — or in very stressful situations where the patient is having a negative outcome or the severity is increasing and they’re taking a turn for the worse and the physician needs to get involved. Sometimes they don’t do that in the most cordial manner.

 

In my experience , physicians who staff perceive as problematic and prone to explosive tempers are often respectful to their patients and even have great bedside manner.

I’m not sure they have great bedside manner with the patients. I think their intent is 100 percent, “I want to do the best for you, and in a crisis situation, I’m the one who knows best and I really need to take control.” That’s all appropriate, but many of these physicians are not good. 

in our research and others, we’ve shown that three to five percent of physicians — and nurses, actually — are truly disruptive. This can have a significant impact on the organization. But what we also found is that 40 to 45 percent of them are ineffective communicators. If you go back to that medical school, you’re trained in technology, you’re trained in knowledge competency, but you’re not trained in personal skill development. 

Now with healthcare being so complex, there’s many physicians in on a case, many other providers who are not physicians. The physician needs to better communicate and coordinate with them and also to present it effectively to the patient. 

I’m not sure that they have the best bedside manner, but they certainly are doing it with the intent of, “I need to take control.”

 

Is that behavior rewarded more readily for certain specialties, like cardiothoracic surgeons versus pediatricians?

Why do people act disruptively? First of all, many people act disruptively and they don’t even know they’re doing it because they don’t understand the downstream effect. A lot of the research has shown there’s a significant downstream effect where patient care is actually compromised.

They’re acting disruptively because they need to take control. They feel like they need to give the orders and get the best patient outcome. They’re doing it to try to provide best patient care, but they don’t realize what they’re doing or how it’s impacting, or most importantly, the long-term impact of what they’ve done. 

Eventually it gets to the point where you antagonize a person so much … in the short term, they’ll hopefully do what you’re asking them to do, but moving further down after the crisis, they don’t want to communicate with you any more. These communication gaps lead to problems with the patient outcomes of care.

 

Does medical training encourage or at least support disruptive behavior? Do you see that changing as newer generations of practitioners emerge who have been trained more as a team member rather than a single player?

Yes, absolutely. What we’re finding right now in medical schools is that they’re beginning to realize how important personal skills, communication skills, and teamwork skills are. 

Three things are happening. One is the MCAT, which is the Medical College Admission Test. They’re now posing more questions on the humanities, not just math and science. Two, as far as the people who are majoring, they used to major in chemistry or biology, now they’re looking for people who major in sociology and philosophy. Three, and most importantly, a lot of the more progressive medical schools are beginning to teach communication, collaboration, and personal skills during the freshman year of medical school to get away from this autocratic or independent behavior.

 

For physicians trained under that different model that no longer applies, it must be difficult when hospitals are acquiring practices, exercising more control in ACO-type arrangements, and mandating use of EHR systems that impose standardized care guidelines and require doctors to document themselves in ways that don’t benefit them. Does that feeling of loss of control elicit disruptive behavior?

Absolutely. One of the things that I talk about is why do people behave the way they do. I talk about the internal things. Age — those different values and attitudes based on your age and your generation. There are gender differences between men and women in how they view stress and how they handle stress. There are differences from culture and ethnicity, power, issues related to gender, issues related to dominance. Then there’s all the stuff from your life, upbringing, what you’ve been exposed to.

Those are the internal factors. Those can be addressed, maybe by sensitivity training or communication skills training. 

The external events — one of them you hit on — is from healthcare reform and initiatives and the electronic medical record. There’s now more and more pressure on providers, not just physicians, to be able to demonstrate and document good value care based on what other people think, not necessarily what they think. More adherence to guidelines telling you what you can and you cannot do. Taking people away from the bedside, spending more and more time on fulfilling all the requirements of the documentation. That gets everybody very frustrated because they just want to practice good care. 

One of the key concerns right now is the significant amount of stress, burnout, and frustration that’s hitting our physician workforce as well as others. A lot of them are trying to change jobs, get out of the profession, or retire early. That’s a real issue right now, because we are — if not currently, tomorrow — going to have a workforce shortage. 

One of the things that organizations need to do as they acquire physician practices and as they get them to adhere and be compliant with their protocols, their electronic medical record — they have to work with them to help them bring them up as a precious resource and not tell them, “This is what you have to do or else.”

 

What tips would you have for CIOs and CMIOs on the most constructive way to deal with physicians, especially those who have a reputation of being disruptive or resistant?

On the global level, physicians needs to understand why you’re asking them to do certain things. You need to raise the business case of why reducing variation and improving efficiency is going to get you the best patient outcome. That’s what you really want in the end, whether it’s a quality issue, whether it’s a cost issue, or whether it’s a satisfaction issue. Our goal is to make the patients get the best value out of a healthcare interaction and no one, no matter where they’re coming from, is going to say that’s not an appropriate goal. So you need to set the business case.

The second thing is you need to talk about what protocols and what enhancements you have, either technological or care management, and explain to them why we’re doing this — the idea that you reduce variation, we’re trying to do best-practice care, this will give you the best practice outcome. 

The most important thing is they want us to sit down and talk to them and listen. One of the frustrations from physicians is, “I have a concern, I have a problem, I have an issue, but no one is taking the time to talk to me about what my individual concerns are.” 

One of the key steps is that you need to sit down and talk to the physicians and find out what their resistance is based on what their barriers are. If you can potentially address some of those barriers, that’s something that the organization really needs to do. 

The last piece is that besides the business case and the support, you want to provide ongoing training. When you implement or you go live, make sure that you have these work groups that are readily available to help the physician get through what they really need to get through.

 

Pushback against systems like CPOE seems to have lessened. Are people learning how to deal more constructively with physicians or are physicians just resigned that they have to do it?

A combination of both. People are being resigned. Remember, for physicians, it’s not just the inpatient record, it’s also the office record. With Meaningful Use and with billing, you need to get into the electronic, so there is a business reason for them. I think the technology is there.

Certainly with the newer physicians who were brought up on technology, this is not an issue. It’s mostly the physicians who have been in practice for 20 to 30 years. They’re very used to their ways of doing things and don’t understand why they need to change. With the growing need that everybody is going to have to be up and running on electronic medical records, the physicians are recognizing that this is something they really need to participate in. 

The organizations do realize this, and as they implement these new medical records, they are very concerned about getting them on board and doing the appropriate training.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

Part of it is the electronic medical record and part of it is the way the physicians behave. Physicians are a precious resource. I really do believe that all they really want to do is to do their job. Everything seems to get in the way, and some of those things are right.

Reducing variation, improving efficiency and productivity, and maximizing best patient outcomes is an absolute right thing to do. But I think organizations need to recognize that physicians are frustrated, they’re angry, they’re burned out, and they’re stressed. They need to spend more time in working with the physicians to prevent the inappropriate and truly disruptive behaviors, which can have a profound, negative impact on the organization.

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January 27, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

HIStalk Interviews John Kass, VP of Healthcare Strategy, Bottomline Technologies

January 24, 2014 Interviews No Comments

John Kass is vice president of healthcare strategy and business development for Bottomline Technologies of Portsmouth, NH.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

Our go-to-market strategy is twofold, both on the direct front and as well working through Tier 1 ECM vendors. As healthcare changes and there’s a lot of consolidation in the market, we’re seeing a movement toward procurement being something that they want to simplify in that supply chain. 

I spent four and a half years at Hyland Software prior to coming to Bottomline. We were taking many people from paper to electronic and linking that information into the electronic medical record. But one of the things that really stood out is that paper has been holding back the power of ECM for quite some time. 

Logical Ink was an e-capture, mobile capture, e-data solution. There was a lot more you could get out of paper and changing the process was key. We signed a private label partnership with Hyland Software. Really being able to go back to customers that I’ve worked with for quite some time and improve the value in technology they’ve already purchased.

 

Describe what Logical Ink does and how you incorporated that acquisition into the product line.

We acquired that technology several years back. It was called Logical Progression. Chris Joyce, who is our director of product development here today, is the developer of the solution.

When Chris invented Logical Progression, the market looked very different. The biggest change is that we’re seeing much more connected healthcare brought on by Meaningful Use. We’re seeing EMR adoption growing. The goal is, how do we create a longitudinal view into the patient?

What’s really changed is, when I came on board, taking the focus around the strategy of… this is something that ECM became a very natural marriage. The product is a much more connected solution today. It’s an enterprise, what we call a standardized one capture platform, any downstream system. In addition to moving and capturing the form, we have the ability to capture discrete data elements in the form and map that downstream. You can have one encounter, capture that information, send it to a Hyland Software OnBase, link that to an electronic medical record, and simultaneously send discrete elements of data down to a population health system or another system discretely. 

The other change is that four years ago, solutions like the iPad did not exist. They’ve revolutionized the way we interact with technology in a way that I can hand my 70-year-old mother an iPad and she immediately gets it. We’ve got a native iPad application. We’re also on Windows. The ability to have devices that are much affordable and usability being much higher has changed the game in the last several years.

 

Can you explain what Hyland OnBase does and how you tie into it?

It stands for “one database.” OnBase is an enterprise content management system. In the patient-related world, there are things inside of that electronic medical record that you’re capturing as discrete data elements, but there are all kinds of things that generate from paper or other people’s systems that have no meaning to it. It’s called unstructured content.

Hyland can quickly bring that content in, capture it, and then put meta-data or key words around that content. Once they add meaning to that content, they have some very slick opportunities to link that contextually into an electronic medical record, or even on the ERP side in the non-healthcare world.

One of the things that we saw was having the ability to not have to scan physical paper into a physical device. There are too many documents going down to HIM to batch scan, so the burden on HIM is still very, very heavy. The goal is, how do we decentralize the capture in a seamless way and how do we optimize the ability to ultimately know what that form type is, because we’re starting electronic in a way that’s very meaningful with the patient?  

We can simplify all of that, the scan queues and hiring people to work and help index that content. We can immediately send that to OnBase through an API and they can immediately place those hyperlinks contextually within the electronic medical record. When you look at it from a workflow and a patient engagement perspective, it’s a game-changer in how you interact with that content.

 

HIM does batch scanning, indexing, and QA to link the scanning of paper. Is electronic mobile capture a better way, and will that process eventually go away?

You’re seeing quite a few trends in the industry. I’ll categorize it in a couple of ways.

There’s always going to be that external content. A patient walks in with pieces of paper that originated in another facility. I call that third-party content. We’re seeing that as an area that you still typically have to scan. If you’re a large IDN, you’re seeing a lot of the banks starting to offer the ability to scan that for you and create an index file as a value-added service. That’s number one.

We’re seeing more things captured discretely as a result of Meaningful Use, tying EMR adoption to reimbursement. But more importantly, certain stages of Meaningful Use are required. In other words, the government said these EMRs need to be certified and they have to do certain things. That’s certainly gotten rid of some of the paper.

There’s that remaining paper. There’s that remaining interaction. Those are things that start inside your own facility. It’s the consents. It’s the patient history. It’s the ABNs. It’s sometimes taking a photo and being able to embed that photo and have the patient or clinicians fill out information about that photo. Prior to Logical Ink, you would have to literally plug a camera into a USB, go out and find that photo, and attach it and attach meaning. With Logical Ink on an iPad, a clinician can take a photo with the embedded camera, embed that photo instantaneously in a form, and fill out information or have the patient fill out information. When we hit submit, it can automatically be linked into the downstream system.

 

Do you think that the increased use of electronic medical records has expanded rather than contracted the content management market?

Certainly it has. There is absolutely no doubt about it that. There was a mandate, there was reimbursement tied to it, and there was a timeline. These were all very compelling events to moving people forward. It’s an impetus to a range of people adopting technology at different times. We’ve seen an industry movement across the board through this mandate that’s been very big. 

Certainly with the enterprise content management piece being a component … I always tell people, your goal isn’t to buy an enterprise content management system and an EMR. Your goal is a longitudinal record of the patient where you can see every action and encounter through one viewer. So Epic becomes that viewer, for example, or Cerner. But what’s great about ECM with the embedded nature of it, when you’re viewing some of that content through the core EMR, many times folks don’t even realize that the ECM portion of that is not just an extension of the actual core system.

 

Thinking about gaps in functionality or gaps in usage that electronic medical record systems have, what can automated or online forms add?

HIMSS came out recently and talked about with so many EMR vendors moving so quickly to try and fill the mandates of the different stages of Meaningful Use, while they focused on the functionality, usability’s probably something that has not taken a front seat given the time.

The other thing we’re hearing is that early productivity reports are showing that with clinicians having to do so much charting in front of the patient, productivity is going down. As you can imagine, part of diagnosing a patient is observing that patient. One of the things that we have been focusing on is the ability to have the patients fill out on an iPad, for example, all of these required forms. That’s unvalidated data at that point.

Now imagine as you walk into your doctor, having the doctor on an iPad asking you questions and updating and editing that information to validate that. Then capturing in that one encounter, moving the form into an ECM solution, but moving the data elements and mapping them discretely into the electronic medical record. We see that that is absolutely key.

The other thing is that while the EMR encompasses probably 80 percent of the overall enterprise technology around clinical and financial applications, there’s all kinds of “ologies” and patient disease management systems. People talk about data silos in healthcare. I would argue that what we really have is vendor silos. We’ve become that unified front end despite where the information is going with a simplified front end that they’re used to, applications like a Windows tablet or an iPad. We’ve focused on those areas to help augment and improve the usability and the optimized workflow.

 

What are some ways that customers are using your technology to improve their core hospital systems?

We’ve got a facility in California that is capturing various forms, but also simultaneously feeding discrete data from Logical Ink right into their disease management system, their population health system. They saw an application that we believe is a differentiator. We’re not just capturing signatures on forms — we’re having a very interactive process with that data. We came up with a concept of you have one encounter, so you capture once with the ability to push to any downstream system.

This is a paradigm shift for them. Before, they were scanning that piece of paper and somebody was entering the discrete information manually into a system. The ability to automate that process in a way that happens very natural with the interaction was a real game-changer from both a workflow time to get information in and certainly from a cost perspective, removing the manual process of having to hire people to manually do that.

 

Do you have some ideas about best practices for improving the satisfaction of patients with the intake process?

There are areas that you’ll go into, a very static patient access area, where there are stations of people working. You literally are going to go in there, check in, and sign all your forms. The fact that our solution can be a desktop solution, can be a web solution or can be a tablet solution means that we offer a very, very compelling licensing model where we don’t differentiate. A device is a device. It gives you the opportunity to use many different platforms for many different uses. 

Where things become very compelling is healthcare – unlike, for example, an accounting job, where you log in and you may not move all day long — many healthcare workers are roaming throughout the facility for different encounters and what have you. The ability to take what used to be maybe a computer on wheels with a scanner on a cart, wheeling that around, physically having to take a packet of 10 forms and physically putting 10 forms through a physical device called a scanner, is a lot of work. Sometimes that gets in between you and the patient. 

If you’re out there wheeling that cart around and your role is to wheel that around all day, changing that from walking with an iPad, scanning a patient’s wrist band, having the ability to pull that patient, pack it up because we’ve got all the integration on the back end with the ECM and all of the different document types and the levels of those document types already being pre-set to the EMR, your ability to walk in very pervasively and have that ability to capture things in a pervasive or untethered way is something that again is a paradigm shift. It allows people to be much more natural and upright and  a tablet doesn’t get in the way between you and the patient.

Most people didn’t see the potential for enterprise use of tablets when the iPad came out, but now everybody wants to use them. WiFi connections are decent and tablets are cheap. Will more opportunities come up?

I think so. Like you said, we’ve got bandwidth today. We’ve got devices. I look at an iPad as a productivity tool, more an appliance than a computer. That’s where you can draw a line in the sand. It really does simplify the way in which you interact with technology, for example. 

Four years ago, you look at where bandwidth was. We had no Meaningful Use. You were talking about a tablet that might cost $1,500 and it really wasn’t enabled for the touch experience. The market wasn’t there to take advantage of the applications.

Fast forward to today, looking at being linked to those Tier 1 vendors, looking at really tying and anchoring into investments that have been made there, and putting the engine behind the ECM in a way that paper has held ECM down for years. If you look at all of those factors, we’re at a time where the market’s there.

People are using these tablets in their personal lives. There’s a very consistent, constant look and feel. People don’t want to use a device at work that’s more of a barrier than the one they use at home to look up an article on the Web. We believe that we’ve bridged that gap in a way that the same simple tools they use in their personal life, they can absolutely start to use in their professional life.

 

What are the company’s plans for healthcare over the next few years?

The timing is right. The market is right. We’ve got the right platform. We think we’ve got the right strategy. We want to be heads-down focused. The company is always looking for potential acquisitions, so that’s something that I would say is ongoing. But we’re looking to do the right thing for the right time and the right reasons. I’ve been on board a year. 

I’ve gotten very, very comfortable in my role and I’m at a point where I feel like we’re optimizing some of the things that we’ve done over the last year. For the time being, we want to keep focused on the opportunity we have right in front of us.

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January 24, 2014 Interviews No Comments

HIStalk Interviews Lyman Garniss, Pathology Project Director, Partners HealthCare

January 21, 2014 Interviews 2 Comments

Lyman Garniss is project director for Partners Enterprise Pathology at Partners HealthCare of Boston, MA. He was interviewed by Lorre Wisham of HIStalk

1-21-2014 9-05-59 AM

Tell me about yourself and the organization.

I’ve been here at MGH and Partners for 25 years this month, primarily working with the clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology folks at the MGH. However, in the past year, I’ve been working with Partners HealthCare, the larger system, to roll out Sunquest lab and some of the blood bank systems and other products across all of Partners and also integrating that with Epic. 

Epic is going in across all of Partners, and everyone’s getting a standardized HIS. We’re also at the same time moving everyone to a standardized LIS.

 

What are your thoughts about the future of genetics and genomics in terms of data and whether it comes from the HIS or the LIS?

The LIS really needs to own that space. It’s where the data is generated today. At least 70 percent of the data in a patient’s medical record in the HIS is coming from pathology, from the labs, from anatomic pathology, and blood bank. There’s some 10 billion lab tests that are performed in the US each year. We produce a ton of that data. 

It’s going to get much larger with the genetic information, proteomics, and all the variant information that goes along with those data points. There’s no easy way to manage that today. The lab owns the specimens and some of the reporting of that, but they really need to own the data itself, the mining of that data, and the curation of the information related to the genetic variance and the proteomic data.

 

You’re saying lab needs to own it, which suggests they don’t now. What has to happen?

It’s a collaboration of the LIS vendors, companies like InterSystems or IBM that manage large data sets well, as well folks from the academic and medical area. A three-way collaboration that has to happen.

The lab information vendor knows the lab space really well and the lab processing and the specimen processing, but their niche really isn’t large data sets and mining large data sets. That’s where they’ll need some help from some of the large database companies, as well as some input and advice and boots on the ground from some of the folks that are actually performing these tests.

 

You mentioned Epic. What do commercial electronic medical record systems have to do long term to keep up with medicine on the lab side?

The breadth and scope of HIS vendors are so large that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for them to be experts or to be best of-breed in every single area or every single domain that they touch. They may have some expertise in specific areas, but they would have to invest a lot of money in the lab space and really be focused on that. It’s difficult for large vendors like Cerner and Siemens and Epic to be experts at the lab and also manage that large breadth and scope. Their domain is huge.

 

Why are you not choosing to implement Epic’s Beaker LIS instead of Sunquest?

There’s a number of reasons for that. The first one is the Beaker product just doesn’t seem mature enough for our needs. That’s one data point. The second data point is we have a rich history of collaboration with Sunquest. We’re working on integration between the laboratory system and the anatomic pathology system. 

The walls between AP and CP are breaking down. The type of work that is happening in the lab information system is starting to look, in some instances, more like anatomic pathology — large, rich textual reports that the CP system doesn’t do well but AP does well. The reverse is true. We’re doing more instrumentation and instrument testing on the anatomic pathology side. The AP systems really don’t manage instrumentation and stuff well, where the lab system does.

Sunquest is moving forward with us on breaking those walls down so that the integration between AP and LIS, the APLS, and the LIS is much more robust and streamlined, much more integrated.

 

What do you think a hospital CIO should know about lab or pathology informatics?

I was invited to speak to several different groups of my peers here at Partners.The message that I was trying to get across to folks in IS and to other areas is that, again, we’re providing 70 to 75 percent of the data that’s in that HIS. The lab information system is large, it’s complex, and we’re producing a lot of data, a lot of rich data. We’re going to continue to produce even more of it in the future.

 

How are you using your EMR for clinical decision support to guide physicians in ordering labs?

Poorly. [laughs] We have a current provider order entry system. It’s a homegrown system. We are able, with that homegrown system, to customize it to some degree to help steer clinician ordering away from expensive send-out tests.

I’ll give you an example. We show dollar signs next to the test. We don’t actually say how much it costs, but we provide alternative tests that would be cheaper to keep the costs down, especially as we move towards that ACO market. We’re starting to look on the lab side how to steer clinicians towards tests that may be just as effective, but may be less expensive. Epic doesn’t really do that today.

 

Clinical analytics for population health management is a hot topic. What is Partners doing to standardized data and enable better reporting?

The first step is moving to Epic. I believe that the folks at Partners are working with Epic to work more on some of those outcome models and patient care models moving forward.

 

How do you see personalized medicine based on patient genomics moving into everyday practice?

It has to start with the discrete data that’s in the laboratory. We can’t possibly send all the genetic information to the HIS. It would be overwhelming for the clinicians. It would be overwhelming for the HIS system itself. 

The role of the LIS vendor is going to be looking at all these rich data sets and mining, looking for patterns for outcomes to figure out both on the CP side for predicting potential disease states based on genetic variance, but also on the anatomic pathology side, looking at outcomes and survivability for specific types of cancer to figure out.

It’s probably best if I use an example. Something like pancreatic cancer, where the survival rates of that are horrific. Once you’re diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, usually you have weeks or months to live. But there’s probably people that survive longer than others, and we have their specimens. We have a rich biorepository of anatomic pathology specimens, where we can look at what’s the genetic variance in a particular type of that outcome versus somebody that didn’t survive as long. Then we can start targeting therapies based on that. 

The example that everyone’s using today is the HER2. There were one or two treatments for breast cancer in women. Depending upon the treatment, sometimes it killed the patient quicker, but sometimes it cured them. But there was no rhyme or reason until folks figured out that we could base the therapy on specific genetic markers in the tumors.

HER2 is a perfect example and more and more of those examples are going to come forward. But the only way to find those models or find those differences is to be able to mine the data. The laboratory owns that data. It doesn’t reside in the HIS. Mining of that data has to happen in the LIS space.

 

How can the average hospital involve the lab people in their EMR decisions and setup?

I have attended the Sunquest User Group for many years. There’s now Epic roundtables at SUG, the Sunquest User Group. Those have been very enlightening. 

What we’ve seen at those meetings are basically two camps of folks. There’s folks that Epic was installed at their site and the laboratory was not involved. In speaking with those lab folks now, Epic has become a nightmare for them because they were not involved with a lot of the decision-making process. They don’t have access to a lot of the way that the system was designed or built. Supporting the lab information system and integration with Epic has been extremely problematic for those sites where lab was not involved up front and early with the HIS vendor with that integration and testing process.

Then there’s the other camp, where the LIS folks — both IT and the actual people that are doing the science in the laboratories — were involved early on with the HIS implementation. Those folks are happy with Epic. They’re happy with their HIS and things are going extremely well. We learned from that at Partners early on. My team and others on the lab side are working really closely with the Epic folks in installing the systems here and doing the integration work. It’s been absolutely fabulous. A lot of decisions are being made that make sense for both sides of the equation. Again, we’re providing 70 to 75 percent of the data that’s in the HIS. The lab has to be involved early on with the design, setup, and decision-making process that goes on with the HIS build.

 

How is Partners exchanging information with other facilities outside of your group?

We’re part of the Mass HIway. That interchange is still being rolled out. I wouldn’t say it’s in its infancy, but it’s in its adolescence. 

We send quite a bit of information to the Mass HIway. We do all of our state and city reporting to the Mass HIway. Data that has to go to the state for state-required reporting, like some of the blood management things and the microbe reporting.

Partners HealthCare provided the seed money for an exchange years ago called NEHI. It was for medical centers in the New England area to exchange information with the insurance companies. We’ve been doing that for years. Instead of just having the Partners facilities manage that, we invited other institutions as well because we thought it would be in everyone’s best interest to share the cost of that insurance exchange with them.

 

What are your biggest challenges and opportunities at Partners over the next year?

There’s a few things that we’re working on. Expanding the LIS into areas that they typically haven’t worked in. One is research and managing the research specimen flow; the second is biorepositories. There’s a lot of rich specimens flowing through our systems, but we’re not able to track cohorts or manage consented patients in the LIS, so we don’t know when their specimens are flowing through the system to be able to move those specimens elsewhere or inform a researcher that specific, unique specimens are available. We’re throwing tons of these specimens away and they’re actually quite valuable in some instances. The biorepository area is something that we’re working with the LIS vendors on and we’ll expand in the future.

And then of course the genetics, genomics, and proteomics, and the rich data set … curating the data that goes along with those. The variant information. It’s a huge challenge for all of the institutions that are doing genetic testing to be able to track and update the most recent information about specific genes or gene variants. It’s a huge challenge for folks. There’s no straightforward tool sets that manage that rich data set today. It’s one of those things that the lab, the LIS needs to own and need to expand their role in.

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January 21, 2014 Interviews 2 Comments

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