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Readers Write: Bench, Bonus and Bondage: The Sorry Side of IT Consulting

July 23, 2014 Readers Write 3 Comments

Bench, Bonus and Bondage: The Sorry Side of IT Consulting
By Mike Lucey


If I could lose 20 pounds, I would be ready to model swimwear. That’s a nasty image for those who know me, but if I were serious, hiring a personal trainer would make sense. Or better yet, a personal exerciser!

Why not both? One person to tell me what to do and another to go and do it. I might not get the results I want, but much less effort. Think of what I would save in sneakers and tee shirts!

This wacky logic seems to be in play in our industry when it comes to hiring consultants. When I moved into consulting, it was because I figured I had some unique smarts and skills that a hospital would need. Once my smarts became their smarts or my skills were no longer needed, off I would go to the next guy. For this I would get a nice rate and the fun of doing new projects.

But what I am finding is hospitals have some consultants who offer guidance, and then other “consultants” who do the work, work that hospitals really need to be doing themselves. Part of why this happens can be found in the way consulting companies can market their services.

Bench: To start a consulting company, scrape up a pile of resumes, format them nicely, and throw them at every hospital problem you hear about until some of them stick. Now you have consultants working. As these consultants roll off projects, they go to the Bench. Yikes! Good news: you now have consultants ready for the next project. Bad news: every hour they sit on the bench they cost money (until you pull the bench out from under them). A way companies can lighten the bench is to give bonuses to the consultants that are still working to find work for the benchwarmers.

Bonus: Let your working consultants know that they will get a bonus for every benchwarmer they place. This is where the worm turns. Now those consultants you hired to solve a problem are to some degree degraded or distracted by the incentive to be a sales guy. The inclination to teach a hospital employee how to solve the next problem conflicts with an inclination to pull in a colleague from the company. Good for these companies, maybe not so good for the hospital.

Bondage: With each additional placement, each incremental bump in the billable hours (and bump in that bonus income), the idea of ending the engagement becomes more ugly and the motivation to extend more attractive. It is stressful to see a project end and face the uncertainty of the next job, stress that is magnified with the addition of each colleague and the bonus income they represent. Suddenly maintaining my value as a smart guy may depend on maintaining a certain amount of client ignorance and so client dependence – knowledge bondage.

This is how you end up with a consultant who is not just the captain of your hospital softball team, but the batting champ three years running.

We consultants have a great part to play as our industry continues to change. We bring real value helping hospitals make decisions, helping them act on those decisions, and providing resources when big projects need extra hands. That value is based on smarts, skills, and experience that hospitals don’t yet have, but can gain with our input. 

When that value wanes, not to worry — I’m off to the next project. Or I always have the modeling gig to fall back on. (note to self: find my Ab-Master.)

Mike Lucey is president of Community Hospital Advisors of Reading, MA.

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July 23, 2014 Readers Write 3 Comments

Readers Write: Is DIY Network Security a Good Idea?

July 23, 2014 Readers Write No Comments

Is DIY Network Security a Good Idea?
By Jason Riddle


Patients and clients count on healthcare providers, payers, and business associates to protect their electronic health records. For optimal care, patients need to feel comfortable divulging personal information that could cause them injury—financially, emotionally, and/or physically—should it be illegally accessed or corrupted by hackers or malware.

Additionally, covered entities are required by HIPAA/HITECH laws to maintain a certain level of network security. Violation of these regulations could result in stiff fines, a disruption in operations, and a general loss of goodwill among the people who do business with them.

Many small to medium-sized organizations are managing some if not all of their network security on their own. Here is one question they often ask:

Do we have enough protection for our patients’ data, or do we need to hire outside professionals to do the job for us?

While there is no right or wrong answer to this, there are a few factors that need to be considered.

HIPAA/HITECH was designed with built-in flexibility so that organizations could make their own decisions about their level of investment in network security. For example, a large organization may choose to hire an outside cyber security firm to monitor their networks around the clock, but a three-person doctor’s office might be hard pressed to put such an aggressive solution in place. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) auditors who are responsible for monitoring HIPAA compliance recognize that organizations of various sizes make decisions based on practical restraints.

As covered entities make decisions for (or against) increasing security, the reasoning and conclusions should systematically be written down. OCR auditors generally take into consideration all well-documented justification.

One way to think about whether or not to hire an outside vendor to assist with network security is to recognize that a solution doesn’t have to be all or nothing. For example, some companies will hire an independent third party to conduct an initial security risk analysis. This gives them the objectivity where it counts—identifying vulnerable areas and obtaining guidance on how to address them.

Once the fix-it plan is set, the internal IT team can assume the responsibility of maintaining the network’s security from there on out. This hybrid solution can oftentimes save money. Cyber security professionals will likely identify problems faster and provide guidance to tools that are both free and/or low cost.

If an organization is committed to a DIY network security solution — whether starting out with the help of professionals or taking it all on independently — it takes more than someone who is just an IT whiz to manage a network security program. There are six main areas that a security officer must be well versed in to carry out the required responsibility:

  1. Understanding HIPAA compliance. A security officer must understand the HIPAA/HITECH regulations and what compliance really means. This includes (but is not limited to) regular security risk analyses, documenting all security measures. and reporting any breaches that may have occurred.
  2. Securing the data. Firewalls and antivirus software are a must, but that’s just the minimum. Some of the other areas to be addressed are data encryption, regularly scheduled reviews of all logs (on the firewall and the server), restricted access, and regular data backups.
  3. Securing the facility and equipment. Physical access to computer equipment must be controlled at all times. Doors to the server room should be locked. When appropriate, screens should be protected from nosy passers-by. The security officer should have an eye for the logistics of the facility and areas that might pose a risk to keeping patient data secure.
  4. Monitoring mobile access. Decisions need to be made about how employees are able to access data from mobile devices. Types of data that can be obtained wirelessly might need to be limited, and employees will need to be aware of the whereabouts of their mobile devices at all times.
  5. Training the staff. A lot of security breaches are the result of human error. Everyone in the organization needs regular reminders that they are handling sensitive data and to be aware of actions they might be taking to jeopardize it.
  6. Understanding relationships with business associates. Responsibility for protecting client and patient data extends to everyone that has access to it. If a third party does the billing, for example, it’s critical that they are compliant as well.

A DIY network solution for healthcare organizations is not necessarily a bad idea. But it does need to be a well thought out one. Patients and clients are counting on it.

Jason Riddle is practice leader with LBMC Managed Security Services of Nashville, TN.

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July 23, 2014 Readers Write No Comments

Readers Write: EMR vs. EHR

July 23, 2014 Readers Write 2 Comments

By Steve Blumenthal, JD


HIStalk has asked me to explain the difference between an EMR (electronic medical record) and an EHR (electronic health record). Clearly, HIStalk needs to get out more. But I’m a nerdy lawyer and analyzing defined terms ranks up there with reading blogs about who’s being cast in the “Star Wars” reboot.

Let’s start with the source of most healthcare IT terminology, the feds—specifically, ONC. ONC’s website ( says that an EMR is “a digital version of a paper chart that contains all of a patient’s medical history from one practice.” On the other hand, an EHR is “a digital version of a patient’s paper chart.” So, clearly an EMR and EHR are differ…. Wait a sec. Is it me, or do those definitions look remarkably similar?

I think I’ve figured it out. An EMR and EHR are both a digital version of a patient’s paper chart, but an EMR only has one practice’s patient chart. So, if I never see a physician other than my internist at Vanderbilt, Vandy’s electronic record system is an EMR with respect to me. However, my daughter has seen two doctors in different practices within Vandy’s health system, so Vandy’s electronic record system would be an EHR (not an EMR) with respect to her. No, that can’t be right.

Wait, ONC has more to say. An EHR is “more than just a computerized version of a paper chart in a provider’s office.” Whew, that clears up everything. An EHR is more than an EMR. Now I can go home and finally hang the curtains in the guest bedroom.

On second thought, that didn’t clear up anything. The curtains will just have to wait another year.

“EHR systems are built to share information with other health care providers and organizations—such as laboratories, specialists, medical imaging facilities, pharmacies, emergency facilities, and school and workplace clinics—so they contain information from all clinicians involved in a patient’s care.” I think we’ve found something. “Built to share information” is the key. I feel an analogy coming on.

An EMR is an earthworm, a useful creature that burrows into the earth, carrying organic material down into lower levels, breaking down dead plant material, and aerating the soil. But an earthworm is not transformative. Its life is spent toiling in the soil as an earthworm (and usually ending underneath a person’s shoe or in a bird’s gullet). On the other hand, an EHR is a caterpillar, a worm-like larva that will eventually transform into a beautiful butterfly (or somewhat less attractive moth or fruit fly). An EHR is designed for great things—collecting and distributing data from EMRs and other sources like butterflies cross-pollinating fields of flowers.

The difference between an EMR and an EHR isn’t what they are today. Let’s face it, given the interoperability issues with most EHRs today, they’re pretty much toiling in the same soil as EMRs. The difference lies in what an EHR is designed to become. That’s why the “Base EHR” definition in ONC’s EHR certification regulations says that an EHR must, in addition to including patient health information, have the capacity to do more—to provide clinical decision support, support physician order entry, capture and query information relevant to health care quality, and exchange electronic health information with other sources.

It’s actually kind of inspirational when you think about it. If you’ve got a kid, you’ve read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Sure, the caterpillar eats a couple tons of food that could otherwise have been used to feed impoverished children, but then he spins a cocoon and, a short time later, becomes a beautiful butterfly. So maybe we’re spending a lot of resources on EHRs right now, but the payoff will be amazing in the end.

Unfortunately, the process of changing from a caterpillar into a butterfly is, well, disgusting. As “Scientific American” puts it, “First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out.”


(For those of you wanting to double-check me on my quotes from ONC’s website, see here and here.

Steven E. Blumenthal is an attorney with Bone McAllester Norton PLLC of Nashville, TN.

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July 23, 2014 Readers Write 2 Comments

Health IT from the CIO’s Chair 7/23/14

July 23, 2014 Darren Dworkin 1 Comment

The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Enterprise IT Says “No” (again…)

Nobody really likes to hear “no” as an answer. Unfortunately, I think it may be part of my job to give it. That does not mean I have to like it.

The role of enterprise IT differs across large healthcare organizations, but likely also has a few common threads. Here are three I would guess to be constants.

  1. To manage total spend on IT capital and operating budgets required to maintain the operations of dozens of existing applications (most of which are mission critical).
  2. To prevent any breach of security or privacy and ensuring adherence to a growing number of regulatory obligations.
  3. To be accountable to a wide range of diverse stakeholders with many ideas on how to do more with IT.

None of these things on their own drives IT to say “no,” but together they can create enough pressure to want to leverage “no” as the answer to slow or to temporarily stop the chaotic pace that many enterprise IT groups face.

This post is not meant to be a complaint about enterprise IT. I lead an enterprise IT organization and I think central IT groups can be integral to the core of any business. But IT is changing. It’s time we challenge how we approach the IT department itself. Here are some crazy ideas to try.

Problem: IT budgets are either constrained in growth, frozen, or expected to drift down year over year.

Idea: Reduce the central IT budget to cover just the basic shared services and infrastructure — help desk, user security, dial tone, and the data network. IT should be pushed to make this part of the budget more efficient. It should be subject to the same budget expectations as, say, plant operations. Everything else should live in a line of business operating cost center or a cost center dedicated to the initiative. For example, put the lab system in the lab cost center and the expenses for that new ACO initiative in a dedicated ACO cost center.

Enterprise IT Challenge: Without budget authority, IT will be included at the table with influence. IT will need to educate many on the challenges of not just the cost to acquire and implement, but the ongoing costs to manage and support.

Benefit: Less frequent need to say “no.” More stakeholders will be involved in the shared budgeting and fewer will ask for new toys when they are still helping to find ways to pay for their own existing ones.

Problem: New solutions must be secure and avoid introducing risk.

Idea: Approach risk like an auditor evaluates risk. Health systems are filled with some of the smartest people around. Someone can always come up with an obscure edge case to represent why it might not work, but that does not mean the whole idea is bad.

Auditors understand that risk is everywhere. The objective is to manage and mitigate high risk and to prioritize focus. Enterprise IT should start to evaluate the risk of a solution based not only if risk is possible, but if it’s likely. Some problems are so big that solutions are welcome even if they don’t solve all the issues.

By way of example, using a consumer cloud storage service is better than a USB drive and probably more secure than many laptops, even if the cloud does not meet every IT requirement.

Enterprise IT Challenge: Get comfortable with incremental improvements to pave the way for the big wins. Understand that a less-secure, easy-to-use approach that will improve what is used today is better than the higher-friction perfect one we are waiting on for tomorrow.

Benefit: Faster iterations towards solutions, more “yes” answers, and a greater appreciation and understanding when a less-frequent “no” is delivered.

Problem: IT has become part of so many pieces of the healthcare delivery system. Instead of celebrating this win, IT gets caught up in the constant stream of new demands for new things. IT just can’t do it all.

Idea: Decentralize more of IT and stop asking IT to do it all. If delivering care is more efficiently done in a team setting, why can’t IT be approached the same way? This will take work in establishing guidelines, tools, and governance, but it may just be time to reimagine enterprise IT. Reporting, clinical content, workflow optimization, and new products to pilot are all great candidates to experiment with decentralization.

Enterprise IT Challenge: Three things: change, trust, and infrastructure. Like most hard things to do, sooner or later it may just come down to trust. The goal of decentralizing IT is not to let everyone just do whatever they want, but rather to work as a larger team with shared responsibility to the same outcomes. This change takes careful planning and focus. If that is not hard enough, our IT systems are probably working against us in that we lack some of the tools and infrastructure to adequately matrix our work.

Benefit: Shared goals, shared outcomes, deeper penetration of IT in the organization, and over time, the best people working on each solution (some from IT, some from the rest of the enterprise). Maybe in the end there aren’t fewer “nos,” but fewer from just IT.

The role of IT should be to enable and encourage IT. It’s time to turn enterprise IT into more of a team sport.

1-29-2014 12-54-46 PM

Darren Dworkin is chief information officer at Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles, CA. You can reach Darren on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

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July 23, 2014 Darren Dworkin 1 Comment

Morning Headlines 7/23/14

July 23, 2014 News 2 Comments

Hazards tied to medical records rush

The Boston Globe reports on the sometimes tragic results of the nation’s hasty implementation of EHRs, and the anti-regulatory message being broadcast by vendors.

Swiss Walgreens? $4 Billion Tax Cut Considered At Corner Of Happy, Healthy & Tax-Free

Walgreens considers moving its headquarters to Switzerland through the acquisition of Swiss-based Alliance Boots, a move that would save the company $800 million in taxes annually.

Characteristics Associated With Post-discharge Medication Errors

A small study examining post-discharge medication errors finds that 54 percent of cardiac patients reviewed had at least one error on their discharge medication list.

Hospital trust makes ‘biggest investment in IT for more than a generation’

In England, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust signs a $44 million contract with CGI to update the IT infrastructure of its 600-bed hospital, Watford General, which came under scrutiny last year when its EHR was blamed for a scheduling issue that resulted in the death of two cancer patients.

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July 23, 2014 News 2 Comments

News 7/23/14

July 22, 2014 News 7 Comments

Top News


A Boston Globe article says that HITECH has pushed EHRs into clinical settings, but “staunch resistance to any regulation by the politically influential health records industry” has sidestepped the reporting and tracking of medical errors they cause. It cites a malpractice study that found that the most common adverse event to which EHRs contributed – of which 46 caused patient death – was often due to providers that straddle both paper and electronic records. The study also cited problems of incorrect data entry, inappropriate use of EHR copy and paste instead of entering fresh daily notes, and computer downtime.

Reader Comments


From Anonymous Tipster: “Re: Siemens acquisition. I heard from a highly placed Cerner executive that the deal will be done for $1.2 billion. It will probably shake up Cerner’s stock price, but leave it with better financial capabilities and a bigger customer base.” Unverified, but the rumor that Cerner will acquire the Siemens healthcare IT business seems to have legs and the non-anonymous folks who are telling me have well-placed sources.

From Recognize This: “Re: Nuance. I heard a rumor about major layoffs and closed job requisitions.” Unverified.


From Desai Arnaz: “Re: HITPC. I looked at the HITPC schedule and every MU Committee meeting is cancelled the rest of the year. They have met faithfully every two weeks for the past several years. What is going on?” I think the old Meaningful Use Workgroup has been replaced by Advanced Health Models and Meaningful Use under Paul Tang, and since that group was just formed, they probably haven’t put their meetings on the calendar yet. But my already-slim interest in ONC’s doings is lessening by the day, so maybe someone more attuned to HITPC’s workings can jump in with an explanation.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests

The LinkedIn Police Department has decided that my Carl Spackler photo and my use of “Mr.” as a first name makes them unhappy, so I need suggestions for alternatives. I’m at least impressed that someone at LinkedIn recognized the Cinderella boy’s photo on my profile even though it means I have to replace it.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock


HealthEquity, which offers an online health savings account management system, announces plans for a $100 million IPO. I’m intrigued by co-founder Steve Neeleman, MD, who played Division 1 college football, ran the airport services division of an airline, wrote a book on HSAs, and still practices as a surgeon. I’m not impressed by wealth or self-importance, but I like people who are interesting in multiple ways.


PM/EHR vendor Azalea Health will merge with competitor simplifyMD, although “merge” sounds like an acquisition by Azalea Health given that the new entity keeps its name and executive team. Azalea Health got its start with a $1,000 business plan prize from the local chamber of commerce. Its founders all graduated from Valdosta State University (GA). The company will now have 70 employees with main offices in Alpharetta and Valdosta, GA.


“Smart clothing” vendor Sensoria (formerly Heapsylon), whose tagline is “The Garment is the Computer, gets a $5 million first-round investment. The Redmond, WA company was founded by former Microsoft executives, as you might suspect given its location.


England-based HealthUnlocked, which calls itself “LinkedIn for Health” in connecting people with a given condition to each other and to providers, announces plans to expand globally and its release of a new mobile app. 


Canada-based Privacy Analytics, which offers data de-identification and masking products for healthcare organizations using data for secondary purposes, gets $3.5 million in seed funding.


Epion Health, which offers a patient check-in app, receives a $4.5 million first funding round. It announced last week its participation in athenahealth’s More Disruption Please program.


Forty big US companies, some of them drug manufacturers, have recently bought small foreign firms and declare their new headquarters to be at that company’s overseas location, a loophole (“tax inversion”) that allows companies to avoid paying US taxes on their foreign profits. The latest rumored possibility: Walgreens, which has an option to buy the remaining 55 percent part of a European drug wholesaler that it doesn’t already own.


GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt says GE Healthcare is facing US market challenges as hospital admissions decline and the Affordable Care Act makes hospitals wary of buying new medical equipment.



Parkview Medical Center (CO) selects the Emma clinical communication system from PatientSafe Solutions.

Community Hospital Corporation (TX) chooses the HCS Interactant EHR for its long-term care hospitals.


Fauquier Health (VA) chooses TigerText secure messaging.


In England, the trust running Watford General Hospital signs a $44 million contract with CGI to update its IT infrastructure and services. The hospital blamed its outdated IT system earlier this year after an internal review found that at least two cancer patients died when the hospital failed to send them appointment letters. CGI had a software-related problem of its own –



Population health management vendor Aegis Health names Chuck Steinmetz (Emdeon) as CIO.


Systems Made Simple elects its CMIO, Viet Nguyen, MD, to its board.

Announcements and Implementations

Coastal Healthcare Consulting announces a Meaningful Use mock audit service.

New York eHealth Collaborative announces the first seven healthcare startups selected to participate in the 2014 New York Digital Health Accelerator. They are AllazoHealth (predicting medication non-adherence; Clinigence (care gap identification); Covertix (protection of confidential information); iQuartic (analytics); Noom (weight loss app); Quality Reviews (hospital patient feedback and online ratings); and Sense Health (connecting with Medicaid patients).

Lifepoint Informatics introduces a patient portal for lab results and diagnostic imaging reports.


MemorialCare Health System’s Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center (CA) goes live on the Aventura Roaming Aware Desktop.

East Jordan Family Health Centers (MI) goes live on Forward Health Group’s PopulationManager.

Vocera releases Alarm Management and Alarm Analytics, patient safety solutions that address alarm fatigue. The company also releases the latest version of Vocera Care Experience, with enhancements to its Care Rounds, Care Calls, and Business Intelligence modules.


Ping Identity announces PingID, a smartphone-based user authentication system for what it calls the “post-password era.” Any application or person requesting authentication sends a push message to the phone of the user, who then simply swipes the message to verify their identity.

Government and Politics


NPR covers Mini-Sentinel, a $116 million FDA project that will churn through medical claims data provided by 18 insurers and health plans to look for adverse drug events.

Mary R. Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, tells a House subcommittee that for-profit companies should be given access to federal health databases to help work on disease and population health problems.

Innovation and Research

A small study finds that half of post-discharge hospital cardiac patients were taking at least one medication not listed on the discharge medication list or vice versa, a problem more commonly found with patients with low health literacy.


An Illinois-based ambulance company is testing Google Glass units from Pristine, Inc. to allow paramedics to transmit live video to the ED for real-time consultation, saying the $1,500 units are a low-cost entry to telemedicine. The test will determine whether the consumer-grade technology and available bandwidth are reliable enough for treating critical patients.

Amazon announces a limited preview of Zocalo, a fully managed cloud-based storage and synchronization service for enterprises that will compete with Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive, and many others. Zocalo costs $5 per user per month for 200GB, offers administrative and signup tools, and integrates with Active Directory. It runs on and is managed from Amazon Web Services. That’s bad news for the hugely money-losing Box, which focuses on the non-consumer market and has targeted healthcare as a key vertical.


The New York Times profiles NovaSom, which just released a wireless, at-home sleep apnea test that costs $300 (a tenth of what hospitals charge) and eliminates the patient inconvenience of being wired up and put to bed under the watchful eyes of camera-monitoring sleep technicians.


A Minnesota TV station covers Ambient Clinical Analytics, which is commercializing Mayo-developed ICU dashboard technology.



Eight-hospital UNC Health Care (NC) says it expects to bounce back this year after financial losses it attributes largely to the cost of its Epic implementation. The system delayed its approval of its new budget until the Epic rollout was further along.


The Johns Hopkins Hospital (MD) will pay $190 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by 8,000 patients stemming from the actions of a former employed gynecologist who used a secret camera worn around his neck to record his examinations. The doctor committed suicide in early 2013 days after he was fired.

A Texas doctor says her EHR is “only a little better than a fax machine” because nobody requires that EHRs communicate with each other even though the government rewards their use. The chair of the Texas Medical Association Practice Management Council says the government has failed to set standards and wants medical societies to get involved. “Had we when this all started said we need open databases … that any EMR can understand, then the EMR vendors would have to compete on workflow and features. If we could somehow organize to say this is the way databases need to work, so that we can have this data exchangeability, then we’ll have competition on the presentation layer and the workflow.”


The CEO of Henry Ford Health System (MI) says she’s disappointed that Moody’s downgraded the health system’s bonds because of poor operating results and its $356 million Epic system, admitting that it had “two or three tough years for us with increasing uncompensated care, Medicare cuts, and the Epic impact to us that caused productivity issues.” However, she adds that the use of Epic is producing $50 million per year in savings.

Patent troll Uniloc USA files lawsuits against Cerner, CPSI, e-MDs, Epic, GE Healthcare, Greenway, Medhost, and other vendors for violating its patent, which involves displaying clinical data in a spreadsheet-type format. One of the company’s idiotic lawsuits was against Rackspace, which it said violated its patent because Linux rounds a number before performing a calculation. The judge told Uniloc to hit the road before its case even came to trial.


New York-Presbyterian Hospital (NY) is renting space at the Blueprint Health accelerator, installing its own computers and servers at the accelerator’s SoHo offices to create an “innovation space.” It will work on projects that include a system that allows inpatients (presumably pediatric ones) to play games and message each other and another involving tablet-based bedside communications. The hospital says it is also open to commercializing technologies developed by Blueprint’s startups.

The American Osteopathic Association passes a resolution urging patients not to use symptom-checker apps and websites as an alternative to an office visit, saying that such self-diagnosis tools don’t take their medical history into account and often miss drug interactions.


The husband of a pregnant woman who started early contractions three hours from the nearest hospitals uses the First Opinion app to text a doctor, who walked the couple through delivering their healthy baby. The 24-hour-per-day service offers one free consultation each month or $12 for additional ones and guarantees a doctor’s response within nine minutes. The company announced $1.4 million in new funding in May 2014, raising its total to $2.6 million. The founder and CEO intended developed the app for pregnant women, but saw an opportunity in the 85 percent of family doctor visits that he says involve five-minute conversations that end with the doctor saying, “Come back if it gets worse.”

Weird News Andy titles this story as “Getting Screwed.” A former California hospital owner admits to bribing surgeons to implant counterfeit spinal surgery hardware, some of it made by local machine shops, into patients. The bribes included cash and flights staffed by accommodating prostitutes.

Sponsor Updates

  • Besler Consulting offers a free version of its Readmission Analytics tool for hospitals to manage their 2015 QualityNet Hospital-Specific Reports, covering number of days to readmission, a summary of discharge destinations, the presence of clinical contributors, and a breakdown of facilities to which patients are being readmitted.
  • Gartner positions Perceptive Software in the Leaders Quadrant for enterprise search solutions.
  • Black Book names Nuance the #1 vendor for end-to-end clinical documentation improvement.
  • Extension Healthcare will exhibit its next generation clinical alarm management and care team collaboration solution, Extension Engage, at the Siemens Innovations ’14 conference August 10-12.
  • TeraMedica announces that seven of the top 17 hospitals on the “US News & World Report Best Hospitals” list use its image archive and management system.


Mr. H, Lorre, Jennifer, Dr. Jayne, Dr. Gregg, Lt. Dan, Dr. Travis.

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect.

Get HIStalk updates.
Contact us online.



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July 22, 2014 News 7 Comments

Morning Headlines 7/22/14

July 22, 2014 Headlines No Comments

HealthEquity Sets $100 Mil IPO Terms

HealthEquity announces IPO plans that will raise $100 million through the sale of 9.1 million shares valued at between $10 and $12. The offering is being underwritten by JPMorgan and Wells Fargo Securities.

UNC Health Care bounces back from operating loss

UNC Health Care is forecasting a $53 million profit next year, up from last year’s $12.2 million loss which CFO John Lewis attributes to expenses related to its system-wide Epic implementation.

Big Data Peeps At Your Medical Records To Find Drug Problems

NPR covers the FDA’s $116 million mini-sentinel project, a data analytics initiative aimed at uncovering unknown side effects in post-market drugs and medical devices.

iEHR redefined: DOD’s top 3 tactics in VA turf war detente

Government HealthIT traces the remaining funding allocations for the defunct iEHR program, highlighting the various modernization and interoperability projects now being pursued instead


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July 22, 2014 Headlines No Comments

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 7/21/14

July 21, 2014 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

A lot of people are talking about the recent JAMIA article that looked at whether Stage 2 Certified EHRs are ready for prime-time interoperability. It concluded that four key areas need to be addressed to improve CCDA quality. One area is “terminology vetting” for the multiple vocabularies used including SNOMED, LOINC, and RxNorm. Another area is reducing the amount of data that can be “optional” with a product still receiving certification.

I agree with both of those, as well as the paper’s assertion that document quality needs to be assessed in “real-world clinical environments.” However, it’s highly focused on the technical aspects of document exchange rather than the actual intellectual quality of the document being exchanged. I wrote about the quality (or lack thereof) of some physician notes a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, there are more elements besides the provider’s narrative and abbreviations that are problematic.

My health system is the ultimate best-of-breed nightmare, so I can attest to the fact that some vendors’ incorporation of the clinical problem list into the CCDA reads like one of those “choose your own adventure” novels. Is it an active problem, chronic problem, recurrent problem, or something that just happened once in the past? With some of our documents, I just cannot tell what it is trying to depict. I often feel like I have chosen a path to nowhere, just like the books.

There are fundamental differences between how physicians and other clinicians are trained to sort information. When I trained at a fairly “classical” medical school, we were taught that all of the patient’s problems were part of the Past Medical History, even those that were not truly past such as chronic hypertension, diabetes, obesity, etc. When I helped bring our organization into the EHR universe more than a decade ago, it took while for providers to get used to the idea of a chronic problem list being different from the PMH because many providers still wanted to include everything in the PMH.

Now we’re at the point where we have to educate them on the SNOMED-codified Problem List and how it differs from the ICD-10 Assessment List, even though there may be two codes that represent a single disease. I have finally gotten over it, but many of our physicians are still struggling with the concept despite having been trained two or three times.

Some of the CCDAs seem to comingle the two. It’s maddening. I’m tired of opening vendor support tickets to try to figure out if they’re functioning as designed or just messy. They must meet the letter of the law to receive certification, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good for patient care or educating the patient on the conditions noted in his or her record.

Whether or not Eligible Providers are meeting the letter of the law or the spirit of the law with Meaningful Use is another hot topic. Lately, my running habit has been taking a toll on my feet, which prompted a trip to my favorite foot specialist. He’s a good friend of mine and part of a husband and wife team practice. They’re fiercely independent and have successfully deployed a Certified EHR over the past couple of years. We always chat about EHRs and where they stand.

I knew they were getting ready for attestation when the rooming technician came in with a wrist blood pressure cuff. In practice, I’ve found those kinds of cuffs to be notoriously unreliable, so I asked him if he wanted me to just self-report some numbers that would be accurate. He declined my offer and proceeded to document the 141/87 that the cuff read out. My blood pressure hasn’t ever been that high, but now it’s in my chart. When my colleague came in, I asked him what he thought about it. He wasn’t thrilled and said it sounded like some coaching was in order.

We talked a little bit about integrated vital signs monitors that would make things easier. He then he admitted that they’re thinking about throwing in the towel on MU. Their vendor has been doing a good job helping them dot the Is and cross the Ts, but the thought of an audit scares them. With all the points that must be perfect for an honest attestation, they are wondering if it’s worth the risk. Right now their patients are happy, their staff is happy, and their practice is running well enough from a business standpoint, so why upset the apple cart?

I don’t disagree with them. At times it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. A lot of practices are just operating out of fear of future penalties or fear that commercial payers will adopt the CMS standards. Fear isn’t really a healthy way to run a business, however.

Since we’ve been friends for a long time, I offered to do a peer audit for them using my knowledge of MU to see how close to compliance they are. There are plenty of professional consulting firms that will do practice audits and they may want to ultimately do that, but are interested in seeing where they sit from a friendly point of view.

In the olden days (or in a truly free market economy) we could have traded some consulting for a free cortisone shot or something like that, but the insurers would take a dim view of that, I’m sure. Given my CMIO role, I also have to be careful about doing anything that could be interpreted as a donation from the health system so I don’t run afoul of any anti-kickback rules. When all is said and done, it will be interesting to see how many providers end up opting out of MU and what percentage of them are independent physicians.

Are any of your providers opting out of MU? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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July 21, 2014 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

HIStalk Interviews Amy Abernethy, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Flatiron Health

July 21, 2014 Interviews 3 Comments

Amy Abernethy, MD, PhD is SVP/chief medical officer of Flatiron Health of New York, NY.


You’re going from ivory tower research and patient care to work for a start-up run by a couple of twenty-something Internet millionaires who have no healthcare experience. What do you hope to accomplish at Flatiron Health that you couldn’t do at Duke?

For the last decade or so, I’ve been working under the basic premise that a fundamental challenge in better bridging research and clinical care was the lack of interoperable or real-time data. I’ve been working on this problem from every direction, usually with cancer care and research as my demonstration model. Sometimes my approach was to focus on how to create the data stream. Sometimes I focused on cyber infrastructure. A lot of other times, my focus was from the point of view of, “If you have the data, what would you do with it next?”

In this vein, I thought about the context of clinical use as well as other problems like storing the information for research, quality, etc. in the future. It has been clear over and over again that a key bottleneck to solving the problem has been in creating the right kind of data infrastructure that is large enough and represents a broad enough footprint of the whole population.

About a year ago, I started learning about what Flatiron was trying to do. It’s interesting the words that you described, “Internet millionaires who didn’t know anything about health IT or healthcare.” That’s exactly where I was when I first started talking to them. They would call me and I would give them a hard time on the phone, and then otherwise that was the end of the conversation. But every single time I said to them, “OK, here’s what I think you need to solve and here’s what I think you need to do next,” and then, a month or two later, they would call me back up and they had done it.

Over the course of about six to eight months, they advanced a series of what I thought were critical steps to solving this problem, at least within the cancer space. By March, the convergence of those steps got me to the point where I said to myself, ”If I’m going to truly work on this problem, solving it and taking it to the next level, then I need to not be watching from the ivory tower, but right in the middle of it. I need to help lead it forward.”


It sounds as though you’re buying into their premise that oncology needs to be disrupted.

I am absolutely buying into that premise. From the standpoint of being an oncologist, I have sincerely believed that it needed to be disrupted for a very long time. But I feel like I have been playing around with how to disrupt it and have been more nibbling on the edges rather than getting into the center of the story.

As this year has progressed and I’ve been talking more and more to Flatiron, working with important groups like the American Society of Clinical Oncology, laying out a roadmap for learning healthcare, etc. it became clear that solving this problem was part of the major disruption action.


Oncology is more patient-centered and longitudinal in treating patients for years. In your TEDMED talk, you talked about using data both from providers and from patients themselves more effectively. How do you see all of that feeding together and what’s the patient’s role in creating this data?

I’m going to take that question into two parts. On one side, I’m going to talk a little about why I think oncology is a unique space, then also talk about what I think the role of patients is.

From a standpoint of oncology being a unique space, in 2009 or so there was a paper in Health Affairs by a guy named Lynn Etheredge that set out the premise that if we’re going to solve the Medicare dilemma — in other words, making Medicare sustainable — we need to attack it from the point of view of oncology. My point is that I’m not the first person to say what I’m about to say, but it has started to crystalize and become clear over the last three to four years.

Oncology is unique because of some of what you said, which is there’s a longitudinality to it. We follow patients very intensely and have very close connections over time. It’s also a space where the science and the clinical care meet.

If you want to solve problems in learning healthcare where the science is as visible and as expected to be a part of the clinical space as the rest of clinical medicine, oncology is a good place to do that. Its a place where the conversation around a patient being involved in clinical trials is a given, not an extra conversation on the side. Then there’s an inherent urgency to cancer care and research; an inherent patient and family centeredness to it.

Then, frankly, it costs a lot of money. The expense of cancer care is going up both because it’s now becoming one of the dominant causes of death, if not the leading cause of death, worldwide. Interventions are getting more and more expensive.

We’ve got this confluence of reasons that make oncology a good use case, a demonstration model. It’s not the only place we’re ultimately going to need to solve this problem, but it’s a good place to start.

The other question that you had was something that I really believe in, which is that patients shouldn’t be a sideline in the story, but need to be central to the story. When we talk about learning health systems, it’s as if the unit of goal optimization is the health system itself. But shouldn’t it be that we’re optimizing healthcare because it’s better off for people and for patients? Instead of optimizing healthcare so that the hospital makes more money or the health system is financially sustainable, let’s focus on better care for patients, with improvement of the health system as a byproduct. That’s a much better model.

I always start off my thinking about how to tackle these problems with the patient at the center of the model. An interesting thing happens when you do that. One of the big issues in learning health systems is data linkage — the ability to take care of populations, the ability to follow people longitudinally over time. When you center the conversation on the patient first, it is much easier to think about how to solve some of those problems.

I have found that by disrupting even our way of thinking about learning health systems so that the patient is the central unit of what we’re thinking about as opposed to the health system being the central unit of what we’re thinking about, we approach solving a lot of problems much differently and smarter.

We’re also in an interesting place where the kind of data sets that we’re going to have in the future aren’t just going to be, for example, electronic health record data or administrative data. It’s going to be data generated by patients, by people, wherever they are.

I started off doing this work in patient-reported outcomes and thinking about how we ask about their symptoms, their quality of life, what is meaningful as it relates to health and healthcare. It turns out that technology enables us to imagine a world where you can ask a patient about symptoms sitting in the clinic waiting room or you can ask about symptoms when the person is sitting in their home in Asheville, North Carolina. You can follow people in between the visits, etc., gathering a much clearer picture of the longitudinal story and implications of different health interventions. 

The land of patient-generated data is getting more and more interesting. The ability to use biometrics and sensors and understand what our world looks minute to minute and day to day from an individual person viewpoint really changes the landscape of how we use big data to solve problems in healthcare. The ability to think of glucose data not just as a data point being generated by the hospital lab, but as glucometer-based data that’s coming from the home.

We’ve been collecting these kinds of data for a long time. The home glucometer is nothing new. Pain became the fifth vital sign in the 1990s. But we haven’t really systematically thought about how this is a part of our national data set in order to solve the problems of learning healthcare. When it comes to patient centricity, it shouldn’t just be a byline, but part of the way you think about designing and developing our systems.


When people think of oncology data lately, they’re probably thinking about applying genomic information to treatment decisions or sharing protocols from major cancer treatment centers. How do you see all that fitting together, particular on the genomics side?

The genomics side again is a really nice use case. I don’t think you or I believe that genomics is going to be the only scientific story in the future. There’s going to be a lot of other ones. But if we can start to get our head around how we merge what’s happening within the context of life sciences and basic sciences with clinical annotation of basic science data putting biological discoveries into context of what happens for individual patients, our science will be much better.

Those two pieces need to come together. In order for that to happen, we need to do a lot of things. One is we need the cyber infrastructure that allows that to happen. It’s the combination of bioinformatics as we’ve classically thought about it plus clinic informatics and applied informatics and the emerging combination of these, including dealing with everything from the storage, data quality, and data use issues. Also starting to think about how much information do you really need to store for this particular patient, how do we analyze it, what is the right research to conduct, and what should that look like.

Another example of what we’re going to need to deal with is trying to get our heads around if we did have a cyber infrastructure, how do we thoughtfully manage the security, confidentiality, and privacy issues? If we are bridging between questions in clinical research and healthcare quality, how do we deal with questions of permissions, consent, and human subjects protections? These pieces are starting to crystallize, but we have a long way to go.

The genomics use case also takes us into the clinical applications side. As we start to have more genomics-informed cancer care, for example, how do we help clinicians and patients make snap, very quick, well-informed decisions at point of care so that we’re surfacing in real time the right combination of this person’s genomic profile, coupled with what we know are the right drugs for that particular clinical scenario, and understanding that there are limitations to what’s possible depending on reimbursement scenarios? It needs to be the complete complement of data in order for clinical decision support systems to be truly useful and not annoying. As a very basic example, if we surface genomics plus drug information independent of reimbursement, we’re not doing anybody any good.

Ultimately, solving these problems for genomics and, along those lines, next-generation sequencing, within the context of cancer care, presents us with a great use case that’s going to be replicated multiple times.


Oncology is a lightning rod is from a societal perspective. Hospitals that suddenly start treating oncology patients as outpatients because they mark up their visit higher than oncologists in the office, for-profit cancer chains, oncologists paid to administer or incented to administer more expensive drugs, a lot of pharma influence, the pharmacoeconomics of expensive drugs versus what benefit the patient gets. All those are issues interfere with the pure science and medicine of how cancer is treated. Do you see that being something that Flatiron will help resolve?

This is the reason why data is the bridge. All of those problems have as a foundational or fundamental underpinning — the need for discrete, interoperable data that can be reused to address each of those things simultaneously. Whether or not you’re actually trying to get the science smarter or you’re trying to optimize reimbursements, you need essentially the same data points to do so.

One of the reasons that I made the jump from academia to industry is to try and figure this out. Resolving all of these problems means that first you’ve got to deal with the data bottleneck. But at the same time, you need to be doing R&D work, imagining a world when the data bottleneck is solved and answering the question of “and what do I do next.” You have to be ready to work through all of those different, as you said, lightning rod questions, which is going to take a lot of work and practice.

While ultimately the data are substrate and producing the data streams that can be analyzed to solve those different problems is a fundamental underpinning, after that you still need to advance the work in the analytics space, align culture, sand out processes including scientific methods in order to pull all of the pieces together, etc. I have this one talk that I always give on the convergence of personalized medicine, comparative effectiveness research, healthcare quality, healthcare optimization, and patient centricity. If you take all of those, the one common element is interoperable data.


Along those lines, along with the announcement of the Google Ventures investment in Flatiron was its acquisition of Altos Solutions and its oncology EMR. Was that done as a way to get quick access to a lot of oncology information without having to do individual integration with the varieties of EMR systems that are used by oncologists and hospitals?

There’s a couple of pieces of an answer here, so I’m going to take it separately. First of all, the way that Flatiron is doing its work is EHR independent. The idea is essentially to extract the data from the back end use a process of technology-enabled chart abstraction and other techniques to make it to a common data model. This dataset can then be integrated with other data feeds like the Social Security Death Index. It doesn’t matter if it’s Varian or iKnowMed or Epic Beacon from an oncology EHR standpoint.

The addition of Altos revved the engine, because at least now there’s one cloud-based oncology EHR that has essentially a single instance and doesn’t require a different setup for every single site. But is really essentially one additional extraction to an overall model. That’s the first point of efficiency.

It also catalyzes or adds a jump to the next level in terms of acceleration of footprint for the number of oncologists and therefore their patients represented in the national footprint for Flatiron. Those two things are important and near-term wins for why Flatiron bought Altos, but now you’re going to hear Amy’s part of the story.

If you take what I just said — and I love the way you said it was a lightning rod – oncology is a lightning rod for all these pieces coming together, not just solving the science and genomics, but it’s the comparative effectiveness research, figuring out how to optimize healthcare, etc. As I mentioned, data is the fundamental substrate, but then you have got to learn what to do with it next.

A lot of that also is clinical decision support for personalized medicine and other interfaces directly in the clinic at the right time with doctors and patients to make healthcare more efficient, patient centered, and of better quality. For example, better allocation of care along predefined evidence-based pathways and monitoring of whether the care provided actually aligns with the evidence. The availability of real-time education.

Altos as a cloud-based EHR will provide Flatiron with a beautiful, national scale living laboratory to try out all the different ways of using and reusing data in the context of what EHR can do for you. It’s a near-term win in terms of data sets and efficiency, but the real big win here is in terms of a national living laboratory where Flatiron and clinical partners can work together to use technology tools to make cancer care better. Now that’s a use case.


Other than that acquisition, $130 million is a pretty big investment for a startup. How will that money be used?

A key aspect of the focus of Flatiron for the next two years or so is going to be making sure that the corporate philosophy is well attended. This includes building the tools that are needed, making sure that clinical practices are well served in terms of having their data extracted and getting them meaningful processed data back that’s actionable at point of care, and the scale from the technology development side in order to support key data partners like the life sciences. We need to ensure that this happens efficiently and with the right kind of engineering focus. That’s going to be a big piece of it.

There’s also ongoing work on how we surface this information, optimal data visualization solutions, how to help clinicians and practice administrators understand the information as efficiently as possible, how do we optimally interface with patients. There’s already a current product, OncoAnalytics, that allows practices to see their data in a dashboard format. It’s really good and certainly much better than anything they’ve already got. But how do you really rev that engine up for data users of all types? That’s going to be a place of substantial investment as we think about how we can get more and more information to practices, life science partners, health systems, researchers, professional bodies, etc.

Why is that so important? We need to see all users of the data, doctors and patients and health systems and sponsors, as key constituents. To create a national data set, it needs to be sourced from many, many places and those different contributors need to see value as to why they want to keep participating and contributing. And it needs to be used. Data quality improves when data are used, not hoarded. Servicing those places is a critical focus.


Do you have any final thoughts?

One of the things that’s been interesting to me and for me is personally making this jump. I haven’t left academia entirely. I still have a 20 percent footprint at Duke, which I maintain so that I can keep working with clinicians and others on solving the problems that we will be able to solve when the data bottleneck is resolved, on mentoring, on other aspects of R&D.

While it’s clear to me that Flatiron is the right vehicle with the scale and talent needed solve this data bottleneck, it was also important to continue to develop the future talent that will be needed to support the next steps in the vision. That’s where my Duke job comes in. Academia offers a unique place for growing the next generation. We all must keep our eye on the big vision, hammer home hard on the key tasks that have to be sorted out, and prepare for the exciting future.

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July 21, 2014 Interviews 3 Comments

Morning Headlines 7/21/14

July 20, 2014 Headlines No Comments

The Leapfrog Group: Hospital Survey Report

The Leapfrog Group publishes its annual hospital report which says that while CPOE adoption is on the rise, the systems being implemented are failing to alert physicians far more often than expected, with “ the proportion of all orders that did not receive an appropriate warning remaining at 36% and the number of potentially fatal orders that did not receive an appropriate warning falling from 14.2% in 2012 to 12.5% in 2013.”

New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Selects QuadraMed  for QCPR Meaningful Use Eligible Professional Software

The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which selected Epic last year and was subsequently sued by Allscripts over the decision, announces that it has selected incumbent QuadraMed to provide software to its practice offices.

GE Healthcare 2Q profits increase slightly

GE Healthcare announces Q2 results: revenue fell 0.7 percent closing at $4.48 billion for the quarter, however, profit climbed one percent to $730 million up from $726 million for the same quarter in 2013.

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July 20, 2014 Headlines No Comments

Monday Morning Update 7/21/14

July 19, 2014 News 13 Comments

Top News


The Leapfrog Group’s just-released 2013 survey finds that 43 percent of the 1,400 responding hospitals entered at least 75 percent of medication orders in a CPOE system with clinical decision support. However, a third of the CPOE systems tested by 931 hospitals failed to failed to warn physicians of serious ordering problems.

Reader Comments



From Veteran SQ Vendor: “Re: Sunquest. I just returned from SUG and Matt Hawkins was a brilliant choice by Roper. The culture change is discernible and Hawkins is approachable, involved, listening, and leading – which have been missing for a long time. I hope it’s not too late.” Sunquest previously violated one of my key predictors of success – its top executive refused to move to its headquarters city (Tucson). The company also had some defective Misys DNA in its gene pool, put quite a few inexperienced aptitude hires in jobs they’ve failed at, runs a questionably integrated office in India (was that redundant?), and in typical lab analytical fashion thinks everything important can be measured and managed from a spreadsheet. Sunquest’s overall problem is that it’s a market leader in a saturated niche in which Epic and other vendors are nibbling away at some of the decreasingly sexy core LIS business and its lab customer has to take one for the (integrated) team, which makes it an expiration-dated cash cow unless it can figure out how to innovate again. Also, hungrier companies are going after the genomics and personalized medicine business where the company should be strong. All of that is fine as long as Roper doesn’t expect a lot of future growth for its $1.4 billion investment — you can only squeeze the existing base of cash-strapped customers so much. Matt needs to take a firm hand in re-establishing the connection between his office and the troops, try to compensate for all the private equity BS the remaining employees have had to deal with, clear out the management deadwood, articulate a position of where the company is going beyond the comfortable box in which it works, and put together a team that can handle an acquisition or two in the not-too-distant future. That’s the unsolicited advice I would give most new CEOs, and at least Sunquest doesn’t need to make reactive changes quickly since Roper seems patient.


From NP: “Re: NantHealth. SVP and former iSirona CEO Dave Dyell is the latest in the ranks of departing execs. He was working to integrate Patrick Soon-Shiong’s myriad acquisitions and deliver on the good doctor’s immense (but confused) vision for healthcare, but fell victim to Nant’s micromanagement and acquisition indigestion.” Dave verifies that he has left NantHealth, which will probably be concerning to iSirona users who don’t care about PSS’s grand plans as long as their medical device connectivity keeps working.

From Sugar Sister: “Re: vendor demos. I viewed several lately. Epic may not have a marketing department, but they must have a showmanship department given their slick show with Wisconsin jokes. Their software is also slick – it reminds me of Apple in its attention to detail. You only get a product to that level if someone in authority demands it. Athenahealth is not a cloud-based solution. ‘Cloud’ means your data can be stored anywhere and your instance could be running anywhere. Athena knows exactly which specific database server has a particular customer’s data and which server it will fail over to. That works, but investors are right to question the cloud marketing spin. Athena has so many customers that have attested to MU2 compared to other vendors because those other users haven’t upgraded their systems yet. Epic has way below 50 percent of customers running the latest production version. Athenahealth is like a Greyhound bus – if you don’t want to worry about anything but seeing patients, leave the driving to them. Epic is a Cadillac limo – a beautiful ride if you hire a driver who knows the roads.”

HIStalk Announcements and Requests


Poll respondents said their success comes from hard work and building relationships rather than education, luck, and planning. New poll to your right: do you own stock or other equity in a healthcare IT-related company?

I hit an internal buzzword-and-hype limit the other day after reading too many overwrought press releases. I was thinking that if a hospital report writer wrote a cool list of diabetic patients who hadn’t been seen in six months, a vendor’s marketing team would be announce it as, “Cloud-based business intelligence and population health management analytics, powered by a comprehensive, scalable patient engagement and clinician workflow platform whose real-time alerts and actionable insights support the Triple Aim of improving patient experience, advancing health, and reducing costs.”

Listening: new Finnish operatic metal from Amberian Dawn, with new singer Capri and without (thankfully) the background grunting often found in so-called “Beauty and the Beast” female-led Northern European metal. I explain the genre thusly: ABBA backed by Black Sabbath.

BOSS Award Winner – Amy Thomas


Our first Beacon of Selfless Service award winner is Amy Thomas, interface architect at Edward Elmhurst Healthcare, Naperville, IL. VP/CIO Bobbie Byrne commends Amy for leading a conversion of 120 physicians from NextGen to Epic, using NextGen CCDs from three separate database instances as summary documents and writing extracts to copy patient demographics, future appointments (which Bobbie says “sounds easy but is really hard”), lab and rad results, progress notes, immunization histories, and vital signs. Amy did this while supporting live hospital interfaces and working on ICD-10 and population health management projects. Congratulations to Amy.

You are welcome to nominate a non-management individual for BOSS Award recognition.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock 


From the athenahealth earnings call:

  • Athenanet added 2,500 providers in the quarter, raising the total to 55,000.
  • Half of the company’s transaction volume is still paper-based.
  • The Epocrates acquisition has created new leads, but its revenue is dropping and the premium version is struggling because it’s too hard for subscribers to renew online. According to Jonathan Bush, “We’re hammered pretty hard by Epocrates which had a very big miss … Epocrates is about half what we thought we would get by now.”
  • The company has high hopes for the upcoming Epocrates secure messaging functionality
  • Bush says that hospitals have 40 percent unused capacity that could be used to offset their cost of fixed assets. The company has partnered with Accenture to help hospitals open up that capacity with the goal of selling athenaCoordinator Enterprise, which now has three customers.
  • Bush says it failed last year in its goal of having its account managers bring in 1,000 new leads, saying, “We knocked out a good, solid 78 leads during 2013, so we had to retrain and reorient our account management teams.”
  • Asked about promises to inpatient prospects about athenaCoordinator, Bush said, “Nobody wants to be the first guy on athena’s inpatient thing and nobody wants to be the last guy to drop a quarter billion dollars on Epic, so they’re sitting and trying to figure out which wolf to feed when they come out of their tepee. I pity them. It’s a hard decision.”
  • Asked about the company’s More Disruption Please program, Bush described it as, “The leading edge, the exciting new bubbling up from the primordial venture capital ooze is of generation of companies that are performing on the cloud across many clients in a single instance, activities that used to sit in a hospital information system. So suddenly entrepreneurs are saying, ‘These giant enterprise software companies, these single-instance software companies, actually won’t make it and they are old and there’s going to be an opportunity to sell into the nurses and the pharmacists and the inventory management people at the hospital.’ So you’re seeing a collection of cloud-based athena architecture, but more like a Salesforce business model, a monthly user rent type business model community of apps that represent in total kind of 80 percent of the surface area of a complete hospital information system in API connected independent little cool apps.’”
  • On fitness tracking and related personal health apps, Bush said that 91 percent of people aren’t patients until some event happens, calling it “100 million conscientious objectors” who care about their weight, body, love life, and people they’re are caring for. He adds that athena looks forward to connecting to Apple’s Health “despite Apple’s decline” and “the quickly rising Samsung stuff.” 
  • Bush says that people are recognizing that Obamacare  is “a huge rise in deductibles” and the company will focus on helping its users get the “love and money in equal measure” from their customers.


Above is the one-year performance of athenahealth (blue) vs. the Nasdaq (red), which it trails after a nearly 50 percent ATHN haircut in a two-month period starting in March 2014.


Your money would also have been better off invested in an Nasdaq index fund (red) a year ago than in Allscripts (blue), but at least MDRX shares are moving back up over the past month.


GE Healthcare’s Q2 results: revenue down 0.7 percent, net profit $730 million vs. $726 million.


New York City Health & Hospitals Corporation chooses Constellation Software’s QuadraMed Affinity QCPR. I assume this is just a renewal since they’ve been running Affinity and then QCPR since the early 1990s. Toronto-based Constellation Software, which sells all kinds of unusual vertical market software, acquired QuadraMed from Francisco Partners in June 2013. It put QuadraMed under its Harris Operating Group, which sells public utility and public safety software. Its other healthcare IT company is ERP software vendor MediSolution.



I missed this from a couple of weeks ago: the private equity fund of former National Coordinator David Brailer, MD, PhD has flopped and its biggest investor, California Public Employees’ Retirement System, reportedly wants to cash out its investment. CalPERS pledged to invest $700 million in Brailer’s Health Evolution Partners seven years ago after he promised returns of 20-30 percent despite his zero experience in private equity and the marginal success of the one company he formed and sold, CareScience. Instead, their money is dead with a 2.6 percent annual return and the only company HEP has sold was for a loss. CalPERS also put $200 million in a money-losing HEP “fund of funds” focused on healthcare. Some of CalPERS’ board members questioned in 2012 the decision to put hundreds of millions of dollars into no-experience company that didn’t actually invest their money until 18 months later. CalPERS also paid $5 million for a 15 percent equity interest in HEP and paid it $52 million in fees in its first five years. Despite Brailer’s stated investment focus in healthcare IT, HEP shows no active investments in healthcare IT companies among its seven portfolio positions. Calpers was initially  HEP’s only investor and the company has declined to say if it has obtained others.

A Stanford biophysicist develops an easily shipped microscope made of folding paper that’s as powerful as a desktop instrument yet can be produced for $1. The Gates Foundation-supported FoldScope project hopes to get the devices to third-world countries for faster diagnosis of infectious disease. It’s one of few TED talks in which the audience breaks out into applause at several points and gives a standing ovation at the end.


Weird News Andy notes that 20-bed Three Rivers Hospital, a Critical Access Hospital in Brewster, WA, has been evacuated due to the 169,000-acre Carlton Complex wildfire that has destroyed 100 homes and shut down power to most of the Methow Valley.


Mr. H, Lorre, Jennifer, Dr. Jayne, Dr. Gregg, Lt. Dan, Dr. Travis.

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect.

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July 19, 2014 News 13 Comments

Morning Headlines 7/18/14

July 17, 2014 Headlines No Comments

CVS Caremark Announces New Clinical Affiliations with Four Major Health Care Providers

CVS announces that its MinuteClinic services will partner with ProHealth Physicians in Connecticut, Texas Health Resources in Texas, Palmetto Health in South Carolina and The Baton Rouge Clinic in Louisiana to bring additional chronic disease management services to the population, and to collaborate on medication adherence initiatives.

athenahealth, Inc. Reports Second Quarter Fiscal Year 2014 Results

AthenaHealth announces Q2 results: revenue is up 27 percent to $185 million but  Epocrates-based earnings fell 23 percent to $11.3 million. Adjusted EPS $0.32 vs. –$0.08, beating expectations for both.

Subcommittees Team Up To Learn How 21st Century Technology Can Improve 21st Century Cures

During a joint hearing between the Subcommittees on Communications and Technology and Health focused on the future of technology in healthcare, Rep. Phil Gingrey, MD (R-GA) called out Epic for its resistance to interoperability, saying that the company has indirectly collected billions in incentive payments but is still selling closed platforms.

Starting to Evolve Our Organization and Culture

Microsoft will layoff 14 percent of its workforce, or 18,000 workers, primarily from its Nokia division, as it works to rebrand itself as a “productivity and platform” company.

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July 17, 2014 Headlines No Comments

News 7/18/14

July 17, 2014 News 8 Comments

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CVS Caremark signs a clinical affiliation agreement with four healthcare providers (ProHealth Physicians, Texas Health Resources, Palmetto Health, and The Baton Rouge Clinic) whose patients will gain access to clinical support, chronic disease monitoring, and wellness programs at CVS drugstores and MinuteClinic retail clinics. MinuteClinic will send electronic medical histories and visit summaries to each patient’s PCP and CVS will share messages and alerts. CVS announced in February 2014 that its MinuteClinic division would move from its homegrown EHR to Epic’s EpicCare, saying it needed a platform that would allow it to share information with other providers more quickly and give it patient portal and analytics capabilities.

Reader Comments


From Pop Counter: “Re: EHR vendors counting patients. Epic touts 50 or 60 percent coverage of the US population. How do they arrive at that number and how does it align with market share?” It’s an arguably flawed SWAG that doesn’t have a lot to do with market share, but it is a great marketing point from a company that claims to employ no marketing people, where huge marketing billboards magically appear on its HIMSS booth walls without human intervention. The “percentage of the US population” claim is also being used to impress the Department of Defense in its EHR selection. I’ve heard that Epic simply asks its customers (even the non-live ones) to estimate the number of patients they serve, applies some mysteriously derived percentage of potential overlap with other Epic sites, and then just adds it up. But let’s look at it from the point of view of an EHR company engineer being asked by the marketing department to arrive at such a number. Being objective and pedantically pragmatic as engineers often are, you would point out these challenges:

  • We don’t host every client system, so we can’t just run some super-query of unique medical record numbers. We have to ask the hospitals to report the number back to us.
  • Even though an individual health system may have successfully applied the one-patient, one-record rule, there’s no easy way to de-dupe overlapping patients across multiple clients without some kind of master person index algorithm. As a vendor with multiple health system clients in the same geographic area, we can’t easily account for patients who have information in all of them.
  • We would be counting imported CCD record from someone else’s system. Should we really count that as a complete patient record in our system when it wasn’t even created there?
  • We have a massive number of old patient demographics that we imported from our legacy system during conversion and we haven’t seen some of those people for 10 or more years.
  • Some patients in our database have died, quite likely elsewhere so that we don’t have a record of it.
  • Since we have an ambulatory system, we get an easy “credit” for a patient who merely drops by for a one-time ophthalmology consultation or lab test with no plans to return. The “record” in our system is minimal, containing (if we’re lucky) allergies, chronic conditions, and medication reconciliation. Almost everything of value is stored by other providers.
  • We as a vendor who sells primarily to large academic medical centers can boast of more patients because of higher churn from referrals, specialty clinics, and large ambulatory practices, all of which see patients who are also in the EHR databases of many other providers. Ambulatory visit patients greatly outnumber hospital inpatients, so the numbers are artificially skewed to favor vendors with many active sites in both, and in fact a large ambulatory EHR vendor may have more unique patients than any hospital vendor.
  • It’s not a zero-sum game. The market-leading system might claim 50 percent of US patients, the runner-up could have 45 percent, the third-place vendor might count 40 percent, and so on. That doesn’t mean we’ve sold more systems, have more users, process more active patients, or house complete data on more patients than anyone else.
  • As an engineer, I think we need to be careful about implying that having a high percentage of the population covered reflects attributes of our system or our company that are important to prospects. It’s more accurately a reflection on the size and patient diversity of our existing customers.


From The PACS Designer: “Re: BlackBerry. It’s not seen much in the healthcare setting, but that could change if it becomes a takeover candidate. With its shares selling below $10, BlackBerry might soon become a division of Apple since consolidation in the mobile space is starting to happen. The real question is would that be practical for Apple to pursue.” BlackBerry’s market capitalization is down to around $5 billion after a big drop following the Apple-IBM enterprise announcement, which threatens BlackBerry’s one bright spot of mobile device management revenue. However, the company has $3 billion in cash, an enterprise user base that has no instantly appealing alternative, and a bunch of patents, so someone should be interested.


From Point Taken: “Re: GE Healthcare. Any idea of substantive outcomes from the bold 2012 aspiration from GE, saying that it will invest $3 billion in R&D in the Healthymagination program to foster at least 100 innovations to lower healthcare costs by 2015?” I will leave it to GE to respond if they like. I know they’ve done a lot specifically to develop lower-cost medical technology (not IT) in India, but I haven’t heard otherwise. The few press releases on the Healthymagination site are old, the most recent annual report posted is from 2012, and the newest video on their YouTube channel is from 2012.


From Sext Machine: “Re: doctor sexting during surgery. Thanks for the post – we got a kick out of that at our company. Do you know of other physicians who have gotten in trouble for using SMS messaging to share patient data?” I will defer to readers since the “trouble” involved is likely to be more related to internal discipline rather than being formally charged with violating HIPAA. I will say that I talked to a CIO today who implemented a secure messaging system to avoid users sending PHI via text messaging, but then found additional benefit in using the system to coordinate care among physicians.

From CEO: “Re: social media. We’ve been writing a weekly company blog but haven’t gotten Twitter and LinkedIn followers. How can we get better social media visibility?” I should mention that this was an actual (paraphrased) question I received today from the CEO of an HIStalk sponsor. Here was my excerpted answer, which I figured I might as well share in case anyone else is interested:

Company blogs rarely say anything fresh or insightful, often being cranked out by a marketing person or ghostwriter. They also try to appeal to every kind of reader, from newbie to old pro, programmer to CEO, with content that nobody hates but that nobody loves either. As a result, they aren’t going to get a lot of social media attention because they don’t say anything new. I don’t think your tweets will be all that compelling to Twitter users since they are infrequent, mostly link back to company material on your website, and don’t have much personality. People with big Twitter followings tend to be passionate about a subject other than their employer and that enthusiasm shines through. However, the question is whether that even matters. Companies tend to get wrapped up in the number of followers or retweets without having any idea whether that translates into more business.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests


Reminder: you can nominate a non-management employee, co-worker, or vendor person for the HIStalk BOSS (Beacon Of Selfless Service) award. It’s for people who went above and beyond during a specific incident, such as downtime, an IT crisis, bug fix all-nighter, or anything else in which your nominee sacrificed their own self-interest to fix a problem.



We like Niko Skievaski, the former Epic guy who produced “Struck by Orca,” an entertaining book about ICD-10 (he dropped off autographed copies at our HIMSS14 booth). He’s working on a new book, MU2i (MU2 Illustrated), which will ship in September. Artistic types who are willing to contribute a picture can contact Niko.

This week on HIStalk Practice: Mostashari’s Aledade venture works to set up an ACO in Arkansas. Healthcare IT sees its first billion-dollar acquisition quarter. CVS announces new clinical affiliations and a $1.5 million community health center grant program in partnership with IBM. A new independent practice study finds EHR workarounds are used for three main problems. Takeaways from the recent eHI webinar on ONC’s 10-year vision for interoperability. Providers and consultants are welcome to share an “Idea of the Day” with the HIStalk Practice audience. Thanks for reading.

This week on HIStalk Connect: Dr. Travis covers the growth of ZocDoc, benchmarking its success against his early predictions for the company. Google announces that it will commercialize its glucose monitoring contact lenses through a partnership with medical device manufacturer Novartis, which hopes to have the non-invasive glucose reading lenses on shelves within five years. Apple teams up with IBM to target the enterprise mobile markets. 

Listening: new from the 60-something metal gods Judas Priest, who sound great even with the album’s horrible production. Also: new Linkin Park.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock


Athenahealth announces Q2 results: revenue up 27 percent, adjusted EPS $0.32 vs. –$0.08, beating expectations for both.


Microsoft announces that it will cut 18,000 jobs in the next year – 14 percent of its workforce – with the former Nokia unit taking most of the hit. Like all companies desperately ditching headcount to keep Wall Street happy, the Bill-less and Balmer-less Microsoft says it will simplify processes, increase accountability, reduce management layers, and make itself faster and more agile. I don’t recall hearing the announcements when it made processes more complicated, reduced accountability, added management layers, and let itself get slower and fatter. Microsoft paid $7.2 billion for Nokia in September 2013, which was probably the polite thing to do given that Nokia’s demise was hastened by hitching its teetering wagon to Windows Phone.


Behavioral EHR vendor Valant Medical Solutions receives an $11 million private equity investment.


Medical image exchange platform vendor DICOM Grid gets $6 million in funding from Mayo Clinic and Canaan Partners.


Online doctor search vendor BetterDoctor closes $10 million in Series A funding.


Texas Health Resources (TX) chooses LogicStream Health’s Intelligence Platform to manage and optimize its clinical decision support. I’ve pored over the company’s site for several minutes and I still can’t figure out how its product works given the maddeningly high-level non-detail it provides in abundance.

Desert Imaging (TX) chooses IDS AbbaDox RAD to manage its radiology workflow.


Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CA) and Wisconsin Statewide Health Information Network sign four-year contracts for Orion Health’s Rhapsody integration engine.

The FHP Health Center (Guam) selects the eClinicalWorks EHR.


University of Kansas Hospital selects Health Catalyst’s data warehouse.



Susannah Fox (Pew Research Center) is named as an entrepreneur in residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


Informaticist and former ONC Deputy National Coordinator Charles Friedman, PhD is promoted to chair of the Department of Learning Health Sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School. 


Paient satisfaction and physician reputation vendor SayAh names Warren Dodge (Creekside Healthcare Consultants, Altos Solutions) as CEO.

Announcements and Implementations

TeraMedica completes the implementation of its Evercore VNA for the public health system of New South Wales, Australia, saying it’s one of the world’s largest VNAs in covering 7 million patients, 110 facilities, and nine PACS that process 3 million imaging procedures each year.


The Central Texas division of Baylor Scott & White Health goes live on API Healthcare’s ShiftSelect.

Government and Politics

Two subcommittees of the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a joint meeting Thursday to discuss the use of technology to advance medicine. Above is Rep. Phil Gingrey, MD (R-GA) calling out Epic for selling a “closed platform” whose users have received more than half of the $24 billion in HITECH payouts, asking if taxpayers should be subsidizing the purchase of products that are supposed to be interoperable but aren’t. Gingrey says it may be time for the committee to look at the practices of EHR vendors, saying “fraud may be perpetrated on the American taxpayer.”


Three Arkansas Medicaid patients sue the state for refusing to pay for a cystic fibrosis drug that costs $300,000 per year. The patients meet FDA’s treatment criteria, but the state says the patients must first prove that older and cheaper drugs don’t work for them. According to the executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, “We have this public health mentality that all people have to be cured no matter what the cost, and also let the innovators charge whatever they want. Those are fine theories independently, but when you combine them together in a finite budget environment, it’s not sustainable.”

Innovation and Research


In Canada, Telus Health opens an innovation center in Toronto.



A physician reviews a $3.99 iPhone app that claims to measure blood pressure using only the iPhone, with the developer suggesting it’s a Johns Hopkins product. The physician reviewer  talked to the CEO (who graduated from Hopkins but is otherwise unaffiliated) who says the app is “for entertainment purposes only” and shouldn’t actually be used to measure blood pressure. He says he’ll consider adding that disclaimer, which should not exactly boost sales.



Medscape surveys 18,000 self-selected physicians about their EHRs. My observations:

  • The survey asked, “Are you using an EHR?” which is a horrible question given that (a) it doesn’t distinguish between a practice EHR and a hospital EHR and most physicians practice in both settings, and (b) it doesn’t define “using.” All but 7 percent of respondents said they’re using an EHR or planning to do so within two years.
  • The most widely used EHRs (again subject to the limitations of failing to distinguish between practice vs. hospital) are Epic (23 percent), followed by Cerner, Allscripts, eClinicalWorks, and NextGen. Three percent or fewer reported using well-known systems such as Practice Fusion, the VA’s VistA, athenahealth, Greenway, and McKesson.
  • The top-rated system was the VA’s VistA, which also had the highest reported user satisfaction. However, the VA’s physician users are all employed and use only that EHR, so they’re probably going to be happier than a community-based doctor who has an EHR in the office plus different EHRs at each hospital in which he or she sees patients.
  • VistA and Epic were top rated for connectivity.
  • Only 42 percent of respondents said they are satisfied with their EHR vendor, and 16 percent say they’ll be replacing their system (it’s not clear how the hospital-based doctors could have answered this since it’s not their call).
  • Overall, the survey’s results are questionable in its failure to distinguish among the multiple settings in which the average physician uses EHRs and its lack of definition of “using” (Entering orders? Having a clerk create a bill? Looking at a hospital rounds list on an iPhone?) For that reason, I would characterize its conclusions as entertaining but hardly authoritative. However, I doubt that will stop vendors and lazy writers from crafting clickbait headlines and swaggeringly wordsmithed stories about the results.


In the UK, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust goes live with RFID technology that will track the movement and location of paper charts within the facility. The hospital says it won’t even bother to file patient notes alphabetically since they can just be shelved and located later by RFID. Paper records were tracked previously using Cerner Millennium.

An article in Health and Human Rights Journal profiles New York City’s jail system, which tweaked its eClinicalWorks EHR to help protect the rights of high-risk inmates (the article fails to note the difference between jails and prisons, the former being local facilities housing both those awaiting trial as well as those serving short sentences, so calling their occupants “prisoners” isn’t correct). EHR templates were created to identify injury patterns in vulnerable populations (LGBT, mental illness, injured, held in solitary confinement) consistent with inmate wrongdoing, officer misconduct, sexual assault, and self-harm.

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Weird News Andy simply titles this story as “Smile.” Police arrest an upstate New York man for flying a $1,300 video-recording drone in front of the windows of a medical facility’s exam rooms. “Front Row Dave” says he made a mistake but won’t stop “droning.” His Facebook page has a picture of his drone, which appears to be a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter with FPV HD Video Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal. The video above was made by a guy on a cruise using that same drone, which must be a voyeur’s delight. I’m thinking about flying one over HIMSS conference airspace in Chicago, or perhaps in the exhibit hall.

Sponsor Updates

  • Orchestrate Healthcare posts a blog entry, “Healthcare Business Intelligence: Harness the Power.
  • PerfectServe’s VP/Chief Clinical Officer Leigh Ann Myers, RN writes a blog post, “Changing the Culture for SBAR Communications.”
  • Kareo opens an operations center in Las Vegas, NV.
  • Regenstrief Institute joins ConvergeHEALTH by Deloitte’s real-world evidence and analytics consortium.
  • AirWatch by VMware opens registration and lineup of analyst speakers for the Airwatch Connect Global Tour 2014 in Atlanta, London, and Sydney.
  • McKesson launches Benchmark Analytics, which provides reports and consulting services to optimize performance.
  • GetWellNetwork’s CEO Michael O’Neil discusses the CDC Morbidity and Mortality report on the cost of cancer survivorship with a local journal.
  • Kareo and Falcon EHR partner to provide cloud solutions to nephrology practices.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne


HIMSS15 is looking for proposals for preconference symposia. We’re returning to Chicago this year, so dig out your winter boots and scarves. I’m not convinced that moving to April is going to allow the meeting to escape winter’s wrath. I seem to be cursed any time my travel remotely involves Chicago, so I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it.

Continuing the Open Payments saga from earlier this week, I was finally confirmed as a real, live physician so that I could access my data. I don’t have any data listed for the 2013 program year and that’s probably accurate, plus or minus a martini. I know I provided my NPI to one device manufacturer when we had drinks, but the reporting threshold is $10 and I’m not sure I topped that even though the cocktail in question was good.

Speaking of money, AMDIS released its annual report on CMIO salaries. There were 120 respondents and average compensation was up, according to the report. Based on the compensation of CMIOs I know well, the range isn’t terribly reflective of our reality in the trenches. The report also noted that although salaries have increased, job satisfaction is on the decline. I would agree that job satisfaction is an issue. It could be that my role has matured or perhaps it’s all the government regulations, but the job isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I’m the kind of CMIO that enjoys rolling up my sleeves and digging into cool projects, so every time I have to sit on another committee or address another regulation, it sucks a little bit of my life away.

I was surprised to see that more than 70 percent of respondents maintain a clinical practice. It’s getting harder and harder to do so. I’m one of the CMIOs whose own organization doesn’t support administrators who want to continue seeing patients. My clinical opportunities are cobbled together at a variety of facilities, which makes scheduling a bit of a challenge.

It’s hard to interpret the data with the relatively small sample size, however. I’m not sure how many CMIOs there are in the US, but there are many more people doing CMIO-type roles without the title and often without the compensation. Of respondents, 25 percent are certified in the subspecialty with another 25 percent considering it. Unfortunately many of my strongest colleagues are unable to sit for the exam since they didn’t maintain a primary board certification. I’m somewhat ambivalent about that personally and hope that those physicians who are certified but don’t see patients any more aren’t required to keep up a primary certification for no reason.

On the other hand, I had an email this week from a recruiter looking for a board certified physician to fill a locum tenens job in the US Virgin Islands, so maybe that primary certification is a good thing after all. They actually said “soaking in the sun with beverage in hand” in the opening paragraph, so they get full credit for that one. Doubtful that the actual experience would live up to the hype, like so much in healthcare these days.

I love some of the headlines I see: recently “MU drives patient savings” has been my favorite. Based on the duration of the program and what was actually involved in Stage 1, coupled with the relatively small numbers of providers attesting for Stage 2, I’m not sure we can arrive at this conclusion. Did they factor in the time cost of visits running late because providers were playing catch-up with the ever-increasing and burdensome requirements? Interestingly, the study in question had data provided by HIMSS.

Another great one cited Stage 2 EHRs as not being ready for data sharing. I don’t disagree with this one, although I think they focused too much on the technical problems of CCDA exchange and not enough on the philosophical problems. Some of the documents I see coming into our system are technically correct, but really don’t tell the clinician what he or she needs to know. For example, a patient who was seen in the emergency department for a laceration. I’d rather have the physician’s pen-and-ink sketch of the wound than any syntactically correct description, but there’s no room for that in the game of data exchange.

It’s probably a good thing that I can’t keep up with all the news that hits my inbox because it would just aggravate me. If I’m going to be aggravated, I’d rather be annoyed by the challenges of my latest pastry therapy project. For those playing along at home, this week’s specimen is the Blueberry-Lemon Bundt Cake from my good friend Martha Stewart. And thanks to YouTube for videos on how to zest a lemon without going insane. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but I loved the cake pan.

Got a favorite Bundt cake pan or recipe? Email me.


Mr. H, Lorre, Jennifer, Dr. Jayne, Dr. Gregg, Lt. Dan, Dr. Travis.

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect.

Get HIStalk updates.
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July 17, 2014 News 8 Comments

Morning Headlines 7/17/14

July 16, 2014 Headlines 1 Comment

Acting head of VA says agency needs $17.6 billion to fix problems

Interim VA Secretary Sloan Gibson testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today, reporting that the VA would need $17.6 billion in additional funds over the next three years to fix the departments problems.

Program Evaluation of Remote Heart Failure Monitoring

A study published in Telemedicine and e-Health finds significant reductions in overall hospitalization rates followed the implementation of a remote patient monitoring system, but equivalent drops in hospitalization were also seen within the studies control group, leaving researchers with little choice but to conclude that remote monitoring seems promising, but additional research is needed.

States shirking Medicaid fraud reduction: report

An OIG report finds that 14 states are still not reporting enrollment data used to fight fraud within the Medicaid Interstate Match program.

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July 16, 2014 Headlines 1 Comment

Readers Write: Medication Electronic Prior Authorization, the Next Big Thing for EHRs

July 16, 2014 Readers Write 3 Comments

Medication Electronic Prior Authorization, the Next Big Thing for EHRs
By Tony Schueth


Electronic prescribing (ePrescribing) has surpassed the tipping point, where more prescriptions are being written electronically than on paper. Now the industry must start thinking about the next big thing that will take ePrescribing to the next level and address one of healthcare’s most inefficient processes: prior authorization (PA) of prescriptions.

With ePrescribing considered table stakes in an electronic health record (EHR), software developers should be thinking about innovations that will take ePrescribing from a humdrum utility to a must-have. Electronic prior authorization (ePA) for the pharmacy benefit offers that innovation opportunity.

EPA is the #1 ePrescribing capability desired by physicians, according to market research conducted by NCPDP’s ePA Task Group. In order to foster a standardized approach to satisfy this demand, NCPDP approved an electronic data interchange (EDI) standard for ePA last year.

By design, the ePA transaction can be integrated with the EHR ePrescribing work flow, enabling prescribers to complete the prior authorization process within two minutes as compared with the manual process, which involves many phone calls and faxes that can take days to weeks to complete (15 days, on average). Considering that specialty medications dominate the drug pipeline and require prior authorization up to 95 percent of the time, the need for ePA is urgent.

Seven states have mandated the use of ePA beginning in late 2014 and eight others are engaged in ePA regulatory activity. In May, the National Committee on Vital Health Statistics (NCVHS) recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services adopt the NCPDP transaction as the standard for medication PAs. NCVHS recommendations regarding ePrescribing and related transactions often become requirements for payer participation in Medicare Part D.

The coming regulatory mandates afford EHR vendors the opportunity to be ahead of the curve. Rather than scrambling to meet multiple state regulatory deadlines at the last minute, vendors can take advantage of the interval between Meaningful Use (MU) Stages 2 and 3 to begin development of ePA functionality while there is still breathing room to concentrate on work flow enhancements.

The availability of ePA may sway some physicians in their EHR choice. Recently, Surescripts found that 28 percent of physicians surveyed would switch their EHR for one that supports ePA. While this percentage may be exaggerated based upon a single feature, there is no question that a robust replacement market for EHRs exists. Many physicians are looking to transition from early purchases of basic EHRs to more sophisticated solutions.

EDI networks such as Surescripts have begun offering ePA connectivity, while such established ePA services vendors as CoverMyMeds have introduced APIs to ease EHR integration. Some service providers offer connectivity for all ePAs – even if a pharmacy benefit manager or other payer isn’t electronically enabled, electronically initiated ePAs are delivered via fax.

The time is right. EPA is a logical and useful enhancement that physicians desire. A transaction standard that ensures compatibility is in place. Regulators are beginning to mandate its use. The number of PAs is growing. EDI networks and service vendors are eager to ease integration.

With the rare opportunity posed by the MU Stage 2 delay, vendors can roll out a new feature that is a “win-win-win-win” benefit for physicians, patients, payers, and EHR vendors.

Tony Schueth is founder, CEO and managing partner at Point-of-Care Partners of Coral Springs, FL.

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July 16, 2014 Readers Write 3 Comments

Readers Write: Data Exchange with C-CDA: Are We There Yet?

July 16, 2014 Readers Write 8 Comments

Data Exchange with C-CDA: Are We There Yet?
By Brian Ahier


Do you think you have all the interoperability criteria to meet current and future stages of the EHR Incentive Programs? A new study published in JAMIA found that most providers don’t.

The study concluded that providers likely are lacking critical capabilities. It found that some EHR systems still don’t exchange data correctly using Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (C-CDA), which may prevent providers from receiving future Meaningful Use (MU) incentives.

After sampling several platforms used to produce Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (C-CDA) files, the research team from the Substitutable Medical Applications and Reusable Technology (SMART) C-CDA Collaborative — funded by the ONC as part of the SHARP research program — found a number of technical problems and obstacles which prevented accurate data exchange between different EHR systems.

There is already wide-scale production and exchange of C-CDA documents among healthcare providers this year due to the EHR incentive program and for meeting Meaningful Use requirements. Indeed, live production of C-CDAs is already underway for anyone using 2014 Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT). C-CDA documents enable several aspects of Meaningful Use, including transitions of care and patient-facing download and transmission.

Stage 2 Meaningful Use requires that providers be capable of producing C-CDA files, which contain both machine-readable and human-readable templates used to exchange patient data between EHRs during transitions of care. While all 2014 CEHRT must have the ability to create these files, some vendors are unfortunately not using the basic XML and HL7 technology correctly.

To find out how these variations affect providers and their participation in Stage 2, the researchers sampled 107 healthcare organizations using 21 EHR systems. They examined seven important elements of the documents: demographics, problems, allergies, medications, results, vital signs, and smoking status, all of which are required to be included in the C-CDA for Stage 2. They found errors in the XML that conflicted with HL7 standard usages, rendering the document ineligible to meet the Stage 2 rules for interoperability.

One key takeaway from this research is that live exchange of C-CDA documents is likely to omit relevant clinical information and increase the burden of manual review for provider organizations receiving the C-CDA documents. Common challenges included omission or misuse of allergic reactions, omission of dose frequency, and omission of results in interpretation. Unfortunately, only some of these errors can be detected automatically.


The team found 615 errors and data expression variation across 11 key areas. The errors included “incorrect data within XML elements, terminology misuse or omission, inappropriate or variable XML organization or identifiers, inclusion versus omission of optional elements, problematic reference to narrative text from structured body, and inconsistent data representation.”

"Although progress has been made since Stage 1 of MU, any expectation that C-CDA documents could provide complete and consistently structured patient data is premature," the researchers warned. The authors also note that more robust CEHRT testing and certification standards could prevent many of these troubling errors and variations in the technology and that the industry may also benefit from the implementation of data quality metrics in the real-world environment.

The researchers recommended several steps to improve interoperability: providing richer, more standardized samples in an online format; requiring EHR certification testing to include validation of codes and vocabulary; reducing the number of data elements that are optional; and improving monitoring to track real-world document quality.

The researchers make the case for using a lightweight, automated reporting mechanism to assess the aggregate quality of clinical documents in real-world use. They recommend starting with an existing assessment tool such as Model-Driven Health Tools or the SMART C-CDA Scorecard. This tool would form the basis of an open-source data quality service that would:

  • Run within a provider firewall or at a trusted cloud provider
  • Automatically process documents posted by an EHR
  • Assess each document to identify errors and yield a summary score
  • Generate interval reports to summarize bulk data coverage and quality
  • Expose reports through an information dashboard
  • Facilitate MU attestation

"However, without timely policy to move these elements forward, semantically robust document exchange will not happen anytime soon," the authors stated. “Future policy, market adoption and availability of widespread terminology validation will determine if C-CDA documents can mature into efficient workhorses of interoperability,” the report concludes. It would seem that if policy changes are not put in place, there could be risk in the Meaningful Use program not actually being all that meaningful.

This month CMS released the proposed 2015 Physician Fee Schedule. Among other things,it includes proposals to revise the physician supervision requirements for Chronic Care Management (CCM) services and proposes to require CCM practitioners to use EHRs certified to meet at least the 2014 Edition Meaningful Use criteria, which require the ability "to capture data and ultimately produce summary records according to the HL7 Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture standard."

Since this new proposed rule includes expanding the use of the certification program beyond Meaningful Use and specifically mentions the C-CDA standard, I thought I would ask Joshua Mandel, one of the authors of the study, for his thoughts.

"It’s not too surprising that CMS’s efforts to improve chronic care management would build on Meaningful Use requirements," he said. "In the section you’ve quoted, CMS, is simply saying that Eligible Providers would need to use MU-certified systems (just as they must use MU-certified systems to attest for MU incentive payments). And so C-CDA capabilities come along for the ride in that decision. I can certainly say C-CDA is better than nothing; and C-CDA 1.1 is a specification that exists and has been implemented today, so it’s a natural choice here."

While there are challenges in implementing and making good use of C-CDA documents, there is little doubt that HHS is continuing to drive the use of these standards forward through various policy levers. The ability to exchange relevant clinical information for transitions of care is a key enabler in transforming our healthcare system to paying for quality instead of quantity.

Despite these challenges, we are beginning to see success in the marketplace. Building on this success and continuing to improve content standards is critical if true interoperability is to become a reality.

Brian Ahier is director of standards and government affairs for Medicity, A Healthagen Business of Salt Lake City, UT.

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July 16, 2014 Readers Write 8 Comments

CIO Unplugged 7/16/14

July 16, 2014 Ed Marx 2 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Abdication of Authority and the Poets

I used to write a fair amount of poetry in my early teens. I continued writing for about 10 years, but stopped shortly after marriage and after the birth of our first child. Julie remarked one day that my poetry had lost its romantic flair and creativity, reading more like a stuffy business letter. As I re-read some of the stuff I wrote, she was absolutely correct. “Dear Julie,” I would begin, and then end with something akin to, “With all due respect.”

Actually, even as I review some of my earliest material, I become increasingly critical of my writing. I think of how I might rephrase specific stanzas using today’s vernacular. Then again, sometimes when you mix the old and new, the outcome is not all that much better. I finally came to accept that while imperfect with today’s eyes, the poems of old were indeed perfect for the time in which I originally wrote them. A zeitgeist sort of thing, I suppose.

As I rummaged through old online files, I found several presentations I’d done around IT governance. I was shocked to find myself in disagreement with many of my original suppositions. But, as with my retrospective with poetry, those governance models were possibly the best for that point in time.

Or were they? With this historical vantage point, I noticed a disturbing trend that not only led me into a long-term malaise, but many of my peer group as well. Subconsciously, we ceded more and more control of IT to our customers, unknowingly setting the stage for a silent yet unintended overthrow.

Today, we are scratching our heads and wondering where the power of the CIO has gone. As I’ve said before, many of us are downright impotent, and I’m ringing the bell loudly to awaken the sleeping spirit.

My findings were disturbing. At one point, I want to cry, and then in the next second, laugh. We often blame our customers for uncontrolled IT costs and say crazy things like, “There is no such thing as an IT project.” We load governance councils with individuals who are unqualified to help make technology decisions and yet complain about the insufficient funds for infrastructure. Giving away control only doomed us to the Tragedy of the Commons.

From a historical perspective, the pendulum has swung a full 180 degrees. I applaud inviting others into the tent. Absolutely it was and remains the right thing to do. But somewhere along the line, we left the tent. We maintained our responsibility but abdicated our authority. We abandoned our leadership rights.

Many are now outside the tent looking in, running IT by title only. Not influence. Not leading. Just reacting. Yuck!

Do we want to swing all the way back? No! I suspect for most of us we need to shift more toward center. The governance continuum will vary by the culture, organizational challenges, environmental factors, and ultimately our individual leadership capabilities. We need to appreciate the journey, learn from it, and modify.

Let’s reconnect to our mantle of authority and lead governance. Not be ruled by governance.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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July 16, 2014 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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