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Readers Write: Big Data – The Next HIT/EMR Boondoggle?

September 9, 2013 Readers Write 5 Comments

Big Data – The Next HIT/EMR Boondoggle?
By Frank Poggio

Here we are on the back side of the HITECH wave. EMR vendors can see that the government-sponsored manna will soon end, so IT marketers have been prospecting for the next gold mine. They found it and it’s called “Big Data and Analytics.”

It really makes perfect sense. After they install the deca-million dollar EMR systems that capture and track mountains of healthcare operational data and send it to the government, what else are can they do with it? Analyze it! Analysis for clinical and administrative purposes, analysis for planning, analysis for diagnosis, for prognosis, for best practices, for financial management, growth strategies, market penetration, and more. To paraphrase an old cliché, “There’s got to be a pony in all that data somewhere.”

It is often repeated and rarely challenged that healthcare providers are a decade behind commercial industry when it comes to IT tools and implementation. That clearly is the case when we look at Big Data (BD). But before healthcare jumps into this numerical ocean, maybe we can learn something from commercial industry and bypass many of the hurdles and errors private industry hit during its initial foray into the world of analytics.

First, a little history. Today it’s called Big Data and Analytics, but in the 1960s it was called Operations Research, Management Science, or Quantitative Analysis. Operations research was actually an outgrowth of World War II. The Defense Department asked mathematicians to identify more effective and efficient methods for bombing the enemy. The British used modeling and data analysis to improve submarine warfare.

After the war, these sophisticated mathematical tools were applied to volumes of operational data captured by many business transaction systems of the 1970s. The focus was on optimizing production and improving forecasting in order to reduce the risk embedded in strategic decision making. The former used mathematical models such as linear programming and queuing theory aimed at maximizing throughput and minimizing costs. The latter was typically done with regression analysis, probabilistic models, and Monte Carlo simulation to assess and minimize risk. In the 1980s and 1990s, more sophisticated tools such as random walks, chaos theory, and fuzzy logic were developed and applied to financial and other business problems.

Today the thinking in healthcare is that with our ever-expanding sea of Big Data, we should start applying these same tools to help address the healthcare cost crisis. Not at a bad idea. But before we spend billions searching for our “pony,” we should at least learn something from the sins of our brothers in the commercial world.

During the ’70s and ‘80s, commercial industry spent billions trying to apply these concepts with only marginal benefit. It has only been in the last 10 or 15 years that analytics in commercial industry has really paid off with leaps in improved logistics and productivity, while the jury is still out on management, strategic, and predictive applications. It took decades for commercial industry to see measurable benefits from BD. Here are two of the reasons and their implications for healthcare.

Bad or insufficient data. Thirty years ago when commercial firms crunched big wads of financial data, they found that there were significant problems correlating econometric data with accounting data, and more so with tax and government data. Earlier in my career I worked for GE in one of their OR groups. We found that merging or correlating the data originally captured for the different audiences rendered unusable results. Much time and effort had to be spent reclassifying financial data to make it sync properly with econometric and government data. In addition, we came to realize that volume and statistical data not captured at the source was fraught with errors and misclassifications. Thousands of hours were spent normalizing, scrubbing, and disaggregating data before we could make reliable correlations for decision making.

Healthcare has some very similar challenges. The issue with accounting data versus econometric data is the same, but the disparities between reimbursement data (tax) and business operation or econometric data is far greater. As an example, commercial industry had to invest billions in sophisticated product/service costing systems, while today in healthcare, many institutions still rely on Medicare cost analyses, which any financial manager would classify as nothing better than gross approximations.

Many of the BD analytics will incorporate and be driven by cost comparisons. Medicare cost analysis is a long way from a true product/service cost accounting system.

Merging clinical data and financial data is currently the rage, but another big hole will be using billing documents, charges, or RVUs as a basis for analysis. Provider charges are not related to service cost because they have been warped by decades of government policy and payment nuances. They are as far from financial reality as we are from the sun. In addition, the coding and classifications embedded in billing documents have been twisted to meet the objectives of payors and payment rules. Everybody agrees that ICD-9 coding is inadequate if not inaccurate, yet no doubt it will be a core element in many of the BD analytics clinical  / financial models.

Reality versus the “model.” After several decades, commercial firms came to realize that many of the mathematical models they employed only loosely fit the real world. Models are far simpler representations of the real world and typically model builders fill in the blanks and more complex parts with assumptions.

The real world keeps changing. Yet many of the predictive tools we use such as regression analysis are based heavily on past performance and have limited ability to reflect change. Medicine is in constant change. Hardly a week goes by without a new research report that retires an old protocol and replaces it with a new one, while new drugs, modalities, and technologies are introduced almost every day.

The practice of medicine is both science and art. It is difficult to properly model the science part, let alone the art component. The same can be said for management: science or art? It took decades and millions of dollars before commercial industry realized the limitation of many of the predictive models they applied and how sensitive the predictions were to the underlying assumptions. Correctly modeling the subjective judgment component of management and medical decision making will be a very expensive task.

Clearly the old GIGO rule applies to Big Data as much as it applies to our day-to-day EMR transaction systems. The significant difference will be in the investment needed for BD just to get past level one GIGO. When we implement a transaction system we can see if it works effectively or has bugs in a matter of days. With Big Data and Analytics measuring the efficacy and impact can take years, be very expensive, and a financial boondoggle for vendors.

Next up: five things to check before diving into the Big Data ocean.

Frank Poggio is president of The Kelzon Group.

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September 9, 2013 Readers Write 5 Comments

Monday Morning Update 9/9/13

September 7, 2013 News 6 Comments

9-7-2013 5-53-44 PM

From The PACS Designer: “Re: Apple’s fingerprint reader. With Apple possibly launching several products next week, TPD thought it would be good to give you a glimpse of what’s coming next. The fingerprint reader, if introduced, brings an interesting security solution for healthcare in that lost devices will be unusable as long as the security lock remains active.” Above is a leaked photo of a new iPhone start button with what appears to be a built-in fingerprint reader, from Sonny Dickson.

From IT Guy Turned Patient: “Re: Apple and healthcare. Interesting perspective. I could still argue persuasively for the Windows model. but what I know about the healthcare system could be inscribed on the top of a pin and still leave room there for me to ice skate. From my perspective as a recent user of healthcare, what seems to be the driving factor is simply referrals. I go to a primary healthcare provider who by most standards would be considered way better than average. I am listened to regarding symptoms, then referred to a specialist to whom I give the same answers to regarding symptoms, I am tested, receive boilerplate textbook treatment, and ushered out the door as I hear a receptionist behind me say, ‘Next.’ Meanwhile, five months later, nothing has changed. I am in exactly the same boat as I was pre-visit to either facility except about $1.800 lighter. I’ve never been called to be asked, “How are you? How did we do?” There’s no warranty. No one really seems to care once you’re out the door, which is interesting since the industry that I work in routinely makes that call. Why do people not howl at the moon over piss-poor healthcare the way they do over even mediocre or worse car care or home remodeling? I don’t know what it would take. I don’t know whether the Apple model or the PC model would work better, but from my point of view the entire experience seems so institutionalized and insulated from capitalism and the rest of the world. Something needs to change, but getting government more involved rather than less won’t accomplish that. One thing I know for certain is that we live in the United States of Unintended Consequences.” I’ll say again as I always do — you get what you pay for. More precisely, you get what insurance companies and the government pay for, and that’s patient and procedure volume. Unfortunately for now, nobody’s paid very much to care about how you like it.

From Caveat Emptor: “Re: ethics. Is a sales employee who feels their former employer engaged in unethical sales practices obligated to inform customers instead of accepting a generous severance package that prevents disclosure of those practices” I’ll open it up to readers for comments, but my answer is no. It’s not appropriate (much less an obligation) for a company’s former employee to start calling customers making accusations about company ethics. If the sales practices were all that bad, customers will find out and make their own complaints (possibly legal ones) that would carry more weight than those of someone who didn’t speak up while drawing a paycheck from that company, but suddenly feels moved to do so after quitting. I don’t have specifics about the practices mentioned here, but I’ll ask readers to weigh in anonymously on that issue as well – what are some really abhorrent sales techniques you’ve seen used?

9-7-2013 5-06-26 PM

Half of poll respondents attend the HIMSS conference because they want to see other attendees, while only 15 percent are primarily drawn there by the educational sessions (which is probably a good thing based on my perception of the slide in quality of the education track). New poll to your right: which of John Halamka’s five CIO challenges will be most important?

George Giorgianni, who has worked for HBOC, SIS, DocusSys, and Unibased in his 35 years in healthcare IT, will retire on October 4.

9-7-2013 5-49-21 PM

Cornerstone Advisors names John McGuinness, MD (Meditech) to the newly created position of CMIO.

Baylor Health Care System wins a local technology trade association’s innovation work for its development of add-on modules for Allscripts Sunrise Clinical Manager, including a physician documentation tool.

9-7-2013 6-01-37 PM

Jimmy Weeks posted on Twitter this photo of the Bridgeport Hospital appointment conversion team beginning the move to Epic. They’re part of Yale New Haven Health.

9-7-2013 6-17-52 PM

A business site says that Aetna once offered to buy physician appointment scheduling app vendor ZocDoc for $300 million, but the founders turned the deal down, probably wisely since the company is valued at a lot more than that now.

Vince’s HIS-tory Part 4 on Cerner looks at the company in its early LIS-centric days in the form of a customer’s system search.


Mr. H, Inga, Dr. Jayne, Dr. Gregg, Lt. Dan, Dr. Travis.

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect.

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September 7, 2013 News 6 Comments

News 9/6/13

September 5, 2013 News 8 Comments

Top News

The HIT Policy Committee approves multiple recommendations presented by the FDA Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) Workgroup, including:

  • HIT should not be subject to FDA premarket requirements except when it constitutes medical device accessories or involves certain forms of high-risk CDS, such as computer-aided diagnostics. EHRs, decision support algorithms, and HIE software may be subject to regulation.
  • Vendors should be required to list products that are considered to represent potential risk.
  • Post-market surveillance of HIT should include reporting from users and vendors and also include post-implementation testing.

The committee also called for adoption of existing standards and creating new standards to address specific areas, including HIE. The recommendations now go to the FDA, ONC, and FCC, which are expected to release a proposal for public comment early next year.

Reader Comments

inga_small From Dr. Loredana: “Re: male vs. female physician compensation. A study found that women docs spend more time with patients. Therefore, they see fewer patients and thus make less money. Physicians’ time should be valued and addressed just like any other resource in healthcare. It is finite and scarce and we only have 24 hours in the day like anybody else.” A quick Google search uncovered a number of studies indicating that female physicians spend an average of 10 to 50 percent more time with patients than their male counterparts. Now I am curious if there are any studies tying outcomes with time spent per patient encounter.

From Tallman Letters: “Re: consulting firms and vendors. I’m turning to you, our most trusted source! Which healthcare consulting firms or vendors are most qualified to (a) provide technical consulting to providers about what technical architecture they should use; (b) build a healthcare data model; and (c) implement the tech architecture for full EDW/BI? Keep up the great and amusing work you do for us all!” I’m turn to my most trusted source – readers. Please leave a comment with your thoughts for TL.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests

9-4-2013 3-58-01 PM

inga_small Some of this week’s highlights from HIStalk Practice include: athenahealth reveals development plans for its recently purchased Arsenal complex, including walking and biking paths, an incubator for HIT startups, and a beer garden. Minnesota State Fair visitors are given coupons for free healthcare e-visits. More than half of all medical students use tablets as part of their medical training. The IT administrator at an orthopedic practice accesses a physician’s electronic signature to forge prescriptions. Dr. Gregg discusses the darker side of vendor-provider relationships, including Practice Fusion’s opt-out policy for sending patients emails that appear to come from providers (I also share my view.) Thanks for reading.

On the Jobs Board: Healthcare Customer Advocate, Clinical Applications Consultant, Project Manager.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock

9-5-2013 9-24-25 PM

Agilum Healthcare raises $1.43 million in a debt offering.

9-5-2013 3-31-37 PM

Teladoc acquires fellow telemedicine services provider Consult A Doctor for an undisclosed amount.

9-5-2013 9-08-42 PM

SAIC announces Q2 results: revenue down 12 percent, EPS $0.13 vs. $0.32, missing expectations and cutting its 2014 outlook. Its health an engineering segment did better, but only because of the recently acquired maxIT Healthcare. SAIC plans to split itself into two companies, with its national security, health, and engineering operations to be moved to a new company called Leidos, with headquarters in Reston, VA. Healthcare is the smallest of the three operations with 6,000 employees.


Tenet’s Saint Louis University Hospital selects iSirona’s device connectivity solution.

9-5-2013 9-26-24 PM

Pekin Hospital (IL) selects Interbit Data’s NetSafe business continuance and downtime protection software.

The VA awards AMC Health a five-year, $28.8 million contract to provide telehealth solutions and services.

9-5-2013 9-27-12 PM

Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital (MD) contracts with HealthCare Anytime for its Enterprise Patient Portal Suite.

Community Medical Centers (CA) selects Infor Cloverleaf.



9-5-2013 7-56-11 AM

Cerner promotes Zane Burke from EVP of the company’s client organization to president. Neal Patterson, who covered the president role since former President Trace Devanny left in 2010, will retain the titles of chairman and CEO. Cerner says that Burke’s promotion does not represent a formal succession plan announcement.

9-5-2013 8-46-58 AM

HIT consulting firm Meditology Services names Michael Flynt (Workday) VP of sales.

9-5-2013 8-59-17 AM

Patient engagement portal provide Omedix appoints Shay Pausa (ChiKiiTV/Magnet) CEO.

9-5-2013 10-59-02 AM

Caradigm appoints Joel Ratnasothy, MD (Fujitsu) as medical director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

9-5-2013 3-45-29 PM

Anil Chakravarthy (Symantec) joins Informatica as EVP/chief product officer.

9-5-2013 8-29-06 PM

Diane Cecchettini, RN, president and CEO of MultiCare Health System (WA), announces her retirement next year. She served as a flight nurse in Vietnam, was a troop commander in Desert Storm, was president of the Washington State Hospital Association from 2005 to 2007, and won several IT awards.

Marc Donovan (World Wide Technologies) joins Nexus as sales director for the company’s connected healthcare practice.

Announcements and Implementations

9-5-2013 9-28-06 PM

Virginia Hospital Center will invest five to $10 million to consolidate its 100-plus employed physicians into one multi-specialty group and migrate the currently separate practices to eClinicalWorks.

Cerner will integrate Elsevier’s CPM CarePoints and InOrder evidence-based content solutions into its PowerChart EHR.

Artemis Health Group will add Health Language’s clinical language management tools from Wolters Kluwer Health into the Artemis OB/GYN EHR, PM, and patient engagement solutions.

Carolinas HealthCare System will use aggregated claims and clinical data from Verisk Health to analyze and manage population health.

9-5-2013 9-28-52 PM

Castle Medical Center and Hawaii Pacific Healthcare will join Health eNet, Hawaii’s statewide HIE.

9-5-2013 4-01-35 PM

A new KLAS report on enterprise patient access finds that best-of-breed solutions are common, with the most important functions to users being calculation of estimated patient responsibility, eligibility verification, and preauthorization.

HealthTech’s YourCareCommunity.Com v1 earns ONC-ACB certification as a modular EHR.

9-5-2013 9-32-40 PM

Intelligent InSites adds integration with HyGreen’s hand hygiene monitoring system to warn workers who haven’t washed their hands.

The UHC alliance announces plans for an automated program that will extract clinical and administrative information from the IT systems of its members and transfer it to UHC for benchmarking. NYU Langone Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic will be the first adopters, with the system expected to be available to all UHC members by the end of 2013.

NextGen Healthcare client Willamette Valley Providers Health Authority (OR) deploys a clinical decision support tool developed by the Clinical Decision Support Consortium that takes a request for CDS from NextGen Ambulatory EHR, delivers it to an enterprise clinical rules service at Partners HealthCare for analysis, and immediately returns recommendations within the NextGen application. The “cool” factor here: community-based physicians can access CDS data from a large academic medical center across the county and retrieve recommendations at the point of care. The Consortium aims to establish nationwide consistencies for CDS recommendations and is comprised of members from provider organizations and EHR vendors, including Partners and NextGen.

Government and Politics

9-5-2013 4-11-39 PM

Brian Norris of Social Health Insights LLC  created a cool visualization page for Meaningful Use attestation data using tools from Tableau Software.

Innovation and Research

GE, Under Armour, and the National Football League launch the GE NFL Health Health Challenge, which will award prizes of up to $10 million for concussion-related solutions that can include technologies to detect and measure brain injury.

9-5-2013 9-30-51 PM

Palomar Health expands its Google Glass incubator Glassomics to include smart watch technology in healthcare. For some background on the smart watch market, see Lt. Dan’s post on HIStalk Connect, “A Primer on the Up-and-Coming Smartwatch Market and What It Means for Healthcare.”

A Mayo Clinic study finds that data from the Fitbit activity tracker can help predict the mobility of post-op patients and help clinicians customize their care plans.

Research by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority finds that EHR default values cause quite a few errors in drug doses and times, although nearly none of the errors caused patient harm.


John Halamka’s five biggest CIO challenges for the next few months:

  1. IT requirements driven by mergers and acquisitions
  2. Regulatory uncertainty related to ICD-10, HIPAA Omnibus, and Meaningful Use Stage 2
  3. Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements, particularly at shops like BIDMC that build their own applications
  4. The ability of provider organizations to keep the doors open while trying to meet all the regulatory requirements as revenue declines and risk-based reimbursement increases
  5. Leading in real time

9-5-2013 11-16-06 AM

inga_small I am ashamed to admit that I found this story just a teeny bit amusing, though so pathetically wrong. A patient files a civil lawsuit against Torrance Memorial Medical Center (CA) after discovering that an anesthesiologist had decorated her face with stickers while she was unconscious during surgery. A nurse’s aide snapped a photo of the patient, who was freshly adorned with a black mustache and teardrops. The anesthesiologist and other involved employees were disciplined but not fired.

9-5-2013 8-45-00 PM

Three UK doctors face a loss of their medical licenses after allegations that they copied material from a book to create an iPhone app that helps evaluate clinical evidence. One of them faces an additional charge of posting a positive review of the app on the App Store without disclosing that he has a financial interest in it.

9-5-2013 8-53-09 PM

A Forbes article wonders if Cleveland Clinic can save its home city with its $6.2 billion in revenue, $300 million in operating income, $10.5 billion in assets, 42,000 employees, its own 141-trooper division of the state police, and now its plans to spin off for-profit companies and jump start the local economy with the Global Center for Health Innovation, scheduled to open next month with HIMSS as its largest tenant. Cleveland’s population has dropped 10 percent in the last decade and median income fell 60 percent, with its only economic bright spot being healthcare.

9-5-2013 9-16-03 PM

Anybody see a HIPAA problem with this pre-med student’s Google Docs-based patient tracking solution?

9-5-2013 9-36-49 PM

Cardiologist Eric Topol, MD, who is also editor-in-chief of Medscape as of February 2013, interviews Farzad Mostashari, MD. It’s good. Some snippets and factoids:

  • Mostashari came to the US from Iran at 14, then went to Harvard and Yale.
  • “Ninety percent, probably, of what happens in healthcare today has no basis in evidence. At the very least, I think what we owe ourselves and our patients, what we really want to do is: If we have variation, if we make a decision that is not based on the general guideline, it should be studied so that we learn something from that variation.”
  • “The dream is that with every encounter, you know everything about the patient. You know everything about any medical knowledge that has ever been generated and you know everything about what is happening right now in the community where we are. Because the treatment for a sore throat is going to be different in January with the flu epidemic than it is going to be in September when asthma is peaking. So you have to bring in the 10 to the 6th power, the 10 to the 3rd power, and the 10 to the zero in that encounter. Whatever you do generates and goes back to teaching everybody else what is going on in the community, what is going on in medicine, and contributes to this patient’s knowledge. Right now my visit doesn’t even contribute to my next visit.”
  • On $37 billion in HITECH incentives: “I think doctors would say that they earn it. No one gives out anything.”
  • Mostashari and US CTO Todd Park roomed together when they moved to Washington, DC four years ago in July, sharing a small apartment with no air conditioning.
  • On the jokes that ONC stands for “Office of No Christmas” because of the push to get the work done. “That is what it felt like — that there is this incredible urgency. You have a day, a week, a month, and pretty soon the opportunity to make a difference is gone.”
  • “Meaningful Use, it is a tool. Take that certification, take that decision support, take that quality measurement. Don’t have quality measurement done to you or say, ‘I am going to be paid and judged based on quality. I can’t control that.’ What you can do is make it meaningful; take the tools and make them meaningful. Help your staff make the tools meaningful.”
  • “We are going to solve this path that we have been on towards unsustainable cost growth. One out of every $5 spent in this country is being spent on healthcare. It is just amazing, and it is not sustainable. It is not sustainable for people, for families, for businesses, for state governments, for federal governments. It is not sustainable for anybody. We are going to solve that. I think we are going to solve it not by cutting people back, not by saying ‘You can’t get that,’ but by delivering better care. I really believe that.”

9-5-2013 4-28-10 PM

Weird News Andy thinks it’s cool that a University of Michigan 3D-printed lung splint saved a child’s life. The surgeon says he hand-carves such devices when necessary, but he can’t match the accuracy or speed of the computer.


Sponsor Updates

  • Forrester Research names Ping Identity a leader in its identity and access management report.
  • EDCO creates  a video explaining its point-of-care medical records scanning process.
  • Truven Health Analytics releases ActionOI Practice Insights, which allows hospitals and practices to compare productivity, costs, and utilization.
  • ZirMed partners with EHR Integration Services to provide Allscripts PM and GE Centricity Group Management customers integration with ZirMed’s RCM, clinical communications, and analytics solutions.
  • Kareo tops Black Book’s list of Top 20 Seamless Software Vendors for EHR, Practice Management, and RCM.
  • NYC REACH, the REC for New York City, assigns Aprima the Medical Meaningful Use Champion status in its vendor recognition program.
  • Medseek reports that 10 healthcare organizations are using its Empower enterprise patient portal and another 11 will go live in the next six months.
  • Paul Taylor, MD, CMIO of Wellcentive, outlines the performance and improvement part of the Health Care Network Maturity Model.
  • Vitera hosts a September 25 webinar on preparing for the PCMH transformation.
  • An SiS blog post lists the “Top 6 Things Anesthesia Providers Should Know When Evaluating AIMS.”
  • GetWellNetwork shares data from its healthcare system customers that demonstrate the relationship between patient engagement and improvements in patient satisfaction, quality and safety, and finance and operations.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne

I wrote last week about a Wall Street Journal Health Blog piece. It referenced a survey about what motivates doctors as they make care decisions. More than half felt physicians want to do what’s best for the patient, where the choices of “fear of lawsuit” and “business / financial considerations” each received 21 percent of the response.

Since I covered fear of lawsuits already, let’s talk a little bit more about financial considerations. It’s easy to see a response of “business / financial considerations” and assume that means “what’s in the provider’s best financial interest.” I don’t think the vast majority of clinicians think that way. If we were constructing this survey, we’d have more granular choices. One of the main things I think about (after discussing the clinical appropriateness of a proposed procedure, treatment, or test) is whether there is a way to pay for the test. It was bad enough when all I had to worry about was whether the patient had insurance that would cover it, but today it’s so much more complicated. It doesn’t do any good to recommend a treatment if there is no way the patient can receive it due to financial constraints.

First, we have to think about whether the patient even has insurance coverage or not. If they do, is this symptom or condition related to anything pre-existing that may or may not be covered? If not, do I need to contact the payer for an authorization? How difficult is it to obtain the authorization? Are there tests, documents, or examples of trials of therapies that have to be provided for a medical review board to determine coverage? Does the payer have arcane rules that have been grandfathered into the plan regardless of recent legislation to ensure services are covered?

Should the authorization be obtained, are there limits on where I can send the patient? Does the patient have geographic or transportation issues that would make it more feasible (economically or otherwise) to do it at one facility over another? Does the patient have religious preferences that are in conflict with the mission of the preferred facility? Do I have to write a letter to explain the distress it would cause if allowances can’t be made for a non-preferred facility?

The next consideration is that even though the patient may have insurance and the procedure may be authorized, the out of pocket cost for the patient may be more than he or she can bear. Those under high-deductible plans are electing to defer care to the end of the year in hopes that they will meet their deductibles by then. If it’s a preventive service, we may have the opposite time shift: some plans have yearly aggregate limits on preventive services, so if they’ve already met the limit for the year, they may elect to push it to the next calendar year. Regardless of the kind of coverage, we have to know whether the patient can afford the patient portion of the cost, whether it’s a deductible, co-pay, co-insurance, or something else.

Let’s say the patient does not have insurance coverage. We have to think through whether the patient qualifies for any public assistance programs and if so, how long it would take to become enrolled vs. how acute the need for the test / treatment / procedure might be. If they don’t qualify for public assistance, are there any grant programs? Are there public health resources? Is there a hospital or imaging center doing a free outreach program? If not, do I have any colleagues in my hip pocket who would be willing to perform the procedure with a payment plan or under other medical hardship arrangements? Does the facility make allowances for self-pay patients and do they allow them to negotiate price? If so, what is a reasonable price? Where can the patient get more information?

Once we get through figuring out if we can proceed and how we’re going to pay for it, can the patient afford to take off work to have surgery, complete treatment, etc.? Is he or she covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act? Does he or she have to wait until they are eligible for coverage? Is there a short-term disability policy in place, and if not, does the patient have enough vacation time or other resources to be able to be off work? Or does he or she have to take the time off unpaid? Are there other family dynamics or barriers to care, such as who will take care of small children while the patient is in treatment? (Remember assessing barriers to care is part of being a patient-centered medical home and participating in pay-for-performance and accountable care initiatives. Believe it or not, worrying about the patient’s childcare arrangements has become our problem.)

If you’re not a provider, are you exhausted just reading this? I know I am. The absolute last thing to cross my mind in these situations is whether my practice will make any money ordering the intervention. Looking at the costs in the office for clerks, paper pushing and administrative shenanigans, multiple phone calls, faxes, the patient’s time, and my time to work through all of this, we’ve already lost money before the order even leaves the EHR. When you think about it this way, I’m surprised that business and financial considerations didn’t rank higher in the survey because it seems they’ve become part of nearly every clinical decision we make.

Maybe elements like this roll up under the attempt to do the right thing for the patient. Or maybe the average person taking the survey didn’t think about all these different factors. This wasn’t really a scientific survey, but I bet if you wanted to create one, the qualitative researchers would have a field day. I’d enjoy seeing the comparison between a survey of the general population vs. a survey of healthcare providers.

What do you think motivates doctors as they make care decisions? Email me.


Mr. H, Inga, Dr. Jayne, Dr. Gregg, Lt. Dan, Dr. Travis.

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect.


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September 5, 2013 News 8 Comments

Readers Write: Paper Bills Can Be Hazardous to Your Practice’s Health

September 4, 2013 Readers Write 5 Comments

Paper Bills Can Be Hazardous to Your Practice’s Health
By Tom Furr

Every time I go through a healthcare facility I am struck by all the paradigm shifts, inflection points, and market disruptions glistening under the bright lights alit in examination rooms, labs, and other clinical areas.

It truly astounds me that there is such a yawning chasm separating the business office from the clinical side of the practice. It hits me all the more when I pause to consider most of what’s going on in medical practice management revolves around how a doctor will get paid for services provided.

This is part of the fundamental changes needed in the business office that requires a massive disruption to the way patients get billed, payments are secured, and – yes – the embrace of productivity- and profit-improving technology.

In fact, the MGMA states that today practices need to send out an average of 3.3 paper statements to secure payment. It’s not a great leap of logic to add bill issuance and bill pay to a practice’s online capabilities if it’s already “forced” to make patient clinical information available online. What’s more, the need to issue multiple paper statements that can cost around $0.70 to get paid is reduced, if not eliminated.

So be honest — what’s the hurdle that is keeping you from making a change? Are there several cases of paper invoices sitting on a shelf and you feel compelled to use them for fear someone will call you a money waster?

If you truly want to cut costs and improve profitability, throw away those paper bills and all the time consuming, error-producing manual processes associated with that antiquated and expensive process.

To be fair, the tumult of change is daunting for medical practices, but it doesn’t need to be destructive. Embrace change and employ innovative online patient billing and balance management that can be easily embedded into practice management software.

One key pressure medical practices are feeling which will make the change more palatable is the rise of patient accounts receivables; a reflection of the inexorable march from the simplicity of co-pays to high deductible health plans. One industry expert notes that, “It wasn’t that long ago that health plans covered 87 percent of medical bills. Now they cover 65 percent.” According to Aon Hewitt’s 2013 Private Exchange Survey, growth rates of high deductible health plans (HDHPs) has been averaging 10 percent per year, and as more employers promote the plans, the growth rate is accelerating.

If you still need motivation, let me share with you some research findings on consumer behavior when it comes to paying bills.

  • The people who stack up their bills once or twice a month and write checks are far and few between.
  • Folks who get bills in paper form tend to delay paying them versus those that arrive digitally.
  • Medical bills are often not paid because they are complex and confusing and the hassle to find out what the charges are for and what’s owed translates into…delayed payment.
  • Even the US Postal Service, that organization that depends on your paper bills as the bulk of what makes up first class mail today, has come to realize that 60 percent of consumers prefer to pay bills online, the result of a survey they conducted among people just like your patients.

Take a break from reading of the latest diagnostic breakthrough in a medical journal. Look at your practice’s balance sheet, particularly the A/R line. Before market forces push you to sell or close up your practice, embrace change in patient billing and balance management. Go away from paper and move toward better, more manageable profitability with online billing methods.

Tom Furr is founder and CEO of PatientPay of Durham, NC.

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September 4, 2013 Readers Write 5 Comments

HIStalk Interviews Larry Garber, MD, Medical Director for Informatics, Reliant Medical Group

September 4, 2013 Interviews 3 Comments

Lawrence Garber, MD is medical director for informatics at Reliant Medical Group (formerly Fallon Clinic) of Worcester, MA.

8-30-2013 7-23-09 PM

Tell me about yourself and the group.

I’m a practicing internist. I’ve been at Reliant Medical Group for 27 years. We are a multi-specialty group practice, about 250 physicians, covering big hunk of central Massachusetts. I’ve been working in computers since high school in 1972 with my first computer that had 8K of core memory. I’ve always continued to do computers and medicine at the same time.


You’ve said that the difference in overall cost between the cheapest and the most expensive EHR is probably five or 10 percent of the total project cost. Are practices focusing too much on the licensing cost and not looking at the long-term cost and benefits?

Yes, absolutely. A lot of practices, especially the smaller ones, don’t have time to think of the total cost of care and the long-term picture. A lot of people are just budgeting to get them live. So much needs to be spent on even the optimization that you need to continue to do after you are live.

What are the top two or three innovative ways that you’re using Epic to improve care, reduce cost, or both?

One of the best ones we’ve done is our medication refill smart tool. When our medical assistant receives a request for a medication renewal, they put in the orders for those medications. Then they pull up a smart tool that recognizes which medications are about to be reordered. It pulls in all the appropriate information that I as a physician want to see, including the last appropriate lab tests for monitoring how they’re doing on that medication, what upcoming tests are appropriate for those meds that have already been scheduled or need to be scheduled. It tells me last visits, upcoming visits. It also even suggests to the medical assistant how many refills would be appropriate for that medication.

For instance, some high-risk medication and I haven’t seen the patient for a year, it suggests that we just give them a month and tell them to make an appointment. Whereas someone who is being followed regularly and they’re getting all the monitoring tests, we’ll recommended that they get a year’s worth of refills . It’s really nice. We don’t need to have a pharmacist or a nurse staging the prescriptions. We can have a medical assistant pull it all together and I can see it all in one screen and sign it with one click.


Is that all straight Epic setup? What’s your organization’s level of expertise with Epic that you’re able to make all that work?

That one is pretty straightforward using standard Epic tools. That is why we had gone with Epic in the first place. They’re incredibly powerful and configurable and so that even using their standard tools ,you can do incredible things. We do also do some Cáche programming where we get behind the scenes since Epic does share with us their source code. There are two of us, myself and one of the other physicians, John Trudel. The two of us are able to do Cáche programming. There are about 30 routines that we’ve tweaked to be able to do some stuff so that they work perfectly for our needs.

A simple example is their standard inbasket report. For a lab result, it will show you, here are the new labs. There is a little line that says “previously viewed.” All of the results that you’ve already seen on that patient and that that were previously viewed was tiny. We went in and updated their programming point to make it a big, prominent line so it’s very easy to see what’s new versus what’s old. It’s a minor tweak. It took an hour, but it dramatically improves our usability.


Not many organizations, even hospitals, would have people available to do Cáche programming, although they could hire consultants. Would you have been happy with Epic without that ability, or would you have been happy with other products that don’t allow you to make those changes?

We’ve had a homegrown system for many years for something called Quick Chart. We were used to having the ability to put things exactly where we wanted them and exactly how we wanted them, based on what we felt was important for usability. We would probably not have been happy stepping back to a system where we didn’t have that level of control. 

That’s actually one of the big factors in us choosing Epic in the first place, because we knew we would be able to do that. I don’t know about other EHR vendors as to whether you can get access to the source code, but I would recommend any shop that’s an Epic shop, since it’s mostly large customers, try to get at least get one person who is Cáche certified.


You’ve been on Epic since 2007. Are you happy with the way that the product and the company have progressed since then and the way that you think they will progress in the future?

Absolutely. I feel they really do listen to their customers. They are trying to balance the desire for innovation against regulatory requirements. They did slow down when Meaningful Use came along in terms of their level of innovation. They’ve clearly put a focus on that. They feel now that they’ve got that under their belt they’re moving along with a lot of cool new functionality. That is why we love going to the user group meeting each year to see what’s coming. Then we come back and we say, we need to upgrade now and skip a year. [laughs]


Other than Epic, are you using any interesting technology in the group?

We have a couple of hundred patients now who use home blood pressure monitors. After they do their readings, they plug the monitor into their home computer and it uploads it automatically through Microsoft HealthVault and then loads it right down into their Epic record. We’ve set it up using standard Epic functionality to batch the readings, so that if someone is uploading their blood pressure readings twice a day, we don’t want to generate two messages a day on them. We can pick the timeframe for each patient. We might want to batch their blood pressure readings together, and then at the end of two weeks, one message is sent to my nurse saying, here are the blood pressure readings. Here is the average over this period of time. 

My nurse can decide if there is something that needs my attention or whether they can just let the patient know that they are doing great. With any of their uploads, if there is a critically high or low value, that automatically gets sent right away. It doesn’t wait for the two weeks. That works out very nicely.


You’ve had some thoughts about how to get physicians to use the technology in more than just the minimal way and to get them excited about it. What are your secrets?

Some of it has to do with feeling of ownership. Our physicians, nurses, and the clinical staff – the medical assistants — were all involved in the selection process from Day One. They felt that this wasn’t something that was being done to them, this was something that they had chosen. 

We try to give them as much control as possible. When they come up with an idea saying, hey, why doesn’t it do this or this seems to be wrong, we try to respond to those very quickly and fix things and make them better. We try to make our physicians and staff feel loved and owners of the system. When you feel like it’s your baby, you tend to work better with it.


Your group is financially at risk with 70 percent of your patients and is also a non-profit. What technology conclusions have you reached from being in that position?

That you can be successful. That using clinical decision support is important.

When we first implemented Epic, we looked at our HEDIS measures and other measurements. Not much really changed with just the implementation of the electronic health record. But turning on the clinical decision support with the alerts and the reminders, setting up interfaces to other parts of the healthcare system…  we’re interfaced to several hospitals in our area that we sent our patients to. We’re interfaced to a health plan. We load claims data on those 70 percent of patients. We load those back right into Epic, so that if a patient of mine has a mammogram done across town by some outside gynecologist and they order it, I get that loaded automatically to my record. I know who truly has had their appropriate health maintenance and disease management and who hasn’t so I can target my effort on those people who haven’t.

I think that it’s important — that you can be successful, but you need to do the whole thing in turning on the clinical decision support, getting connected to health information exchanges, interface to the rest of the healthcare system.


One of the black holes is when the patient gets discharged and nobody knows who’s doing what. You have an ADT feed to let you know that’s happened so you can initiate follow-up. What do you do?

When the secretaries see that there has been a discharge, they try to book a follow-up appointment. If it turns out that it didn’t take place, they get an alert three days after the discharge saying, it looks like this person isn’t scheduled for a follow-up appointment and hasn’t had one yet, please make sure you schedule it. Both from the actual discharge instructions that we get immediately followed up by three days later another alert saying that this doesn’t look like it’s taken place, make sure you book it – that that works well.

The nice thing is that we send the message to the right people, so that three-day alert saying this hasn’t been happening, you haven’t booked a follow up — it doesn’t come to me, it comes to my appointment secretary. I also get notices three days after discharge that the patient is on new medications that require some intervention, either that there should be some monitoring test that doesn’t appear to be taking place — whether it hasn’t been ordered or it’s not already resulted — or there seems to be a new drug interaction that I ought to be aware of and that maybe I need to adjust the dose of the medication. We wait three days on that because we use the claims data to let us know what new medications have been prescribed and that the patient went home to the pharmacy and got a new prescription. We get the claims data about a day and a half later. Then we can see what’s new and what the implications are for that.


Where do you think analytics fit in all the things a practice or hospital should be doing?

I think it’s a little bit overhyped. The reality is that analytics running on the back end in the business office or the administrator’s office does not help the patient when they’re sitting in front of me, or help me when the patient is sitting in front of me. It’s really most important to get that intelligence right there at the front line at the point of care. That’s where most decisions are being made and whether they are good or bad. It’s our opportunity to do the right thing.

I am a big advocate for first getting your front-end decision support working. Get the data to the front end, so that when I’m seeing the patient, I know what happened in the hospital, I know what happened with the specialist who saw the patient. Get those ducks in a row. After that, then you can start thinking about maybe doing the analytics on the back end to try to find sicker patients who may need more intensive care. Somewhere in between is doing the registries — finding patients who are falling through the cracks. But again, it’s being hyped as the nirvana, and there’s some very good practical stuff that people should be doing that they are not even doing right now.


Are you mining your Epic data to look for trends or evidence-based medicine opportunities?

We use the data for research studies. We also use the data to identify what we think are our higher-risk patients so that we can set them up with care managers. We are doing that sort of mining. Of course, we do look for trends. Since we are at risk financially, we look for areas where we may be doing better or doing worse financially to try to stay on top of those areas as well.

One of the other cool things I didn’t mention when we were talking about at the hospital discharge. One thing that we’re about to turn on is when one of our patient is seen at our local emergency room, we automatically get one of those ADT notifications that our patient is there. We are going to echo back a CCD summary document right back through the state health information exchange back to that hospital. They’ll be loading that into their emergency room system, so that on the big dashboard that they have in the emergency room that shows which patient is in which bed, there will be a little icon that shows that there is an outside record now available for that patient. Within a minute of the patient being registered, there will be a summary document sitting in the emergency room record and letting them know the latest information on that patient.


The SAFEHealth HIE works differently than the typical HIE. What are the lessons that other HIEs might take from how it works?

Don’t make people think. [laughs] That’s probably the most important thing.

It’s a federated health information exchange, but most important is that Massachusetts is an opt-in state, which means patients have to give consent. We make it simple for the registration person, who is doing what they normally need to do to take care of the patient, to get them checked in. As a by-product of doing that, SAFEHealth checks and sees whether a consent is necessary and whether it’s already been obtained. If it hasn’t been obtained, it just prints it out right next to the registrar. No one actually has to think about SAFEHealth or whether consents are necessary, just the consent form automatically prints. That’s a clue so the clerk can say, oh, wait, let me tell you about SAFEHealth and let me get your approval to participate in it. 

The key thing is that you have to think about workflow. You have to make things happen automatically so that people don’t have to be consciously thinking about how to do the right thing. It should just be easy and automatic to do the right thing.


Even though your group is not affiliated directly with or owned by a hospital, you seem to have a closer working relationship than a lot of practices that are. How did that happen, and what are the lessons learned?

It’s the alignment of incentives. As a group practice with a high level of risk contracts — we’ve always had a high level of risk contracts for 20 years — we’ve been incentivized to make sure that we give high quality, cost-effective safe care. We know that it’s important to get that connectivity to the hospital in order to do that.

From the hospital perspective, they know that we’re going to send our patients to them if we’re happy and we know that we’ve got good connectivity. From their perspective, they want our patients, so it’s in their best interest to keep us happy and do the connectivity. Also in part, we are lucky that we’ve had good partners. These are hospitals that didn’t feel threatened by our physician practices. They had the technological skills to be able to interface with us.


What do you see as the most important thing that you will have to address in the next five years?

As a nation, we’re going to see the evolution of what I call hassle-free HIE. That is going to be a whole new world. We’re good at our silos, but to do health information exchange is a hassle right now. What we all need to work on is making health information exchange something that is easy and automatic and part of the normal care that we give. The era of hassle-free HIE is coming.

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September 4, 2013 Interviews 3 Comments

News 9/4/13

September 3, 2013 News 3 Comments

Top News

9-3-2013 4-32-16 PM

A new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project called “Flip the Clinic” looks for ways to redefine the patient-provider encounter, including examples such as OpenNotes, Blue Button, and the Project ECHO telemedicine program. The program, bring run with a social innovation consulting company and a design firm, will launch a toolkit in early 2014.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock

9-3-2013 3-30-06 PM

Quantia, the developer of physician social networking and learning platform QuantiaMD, raises $10 million in Series B financing, led by Safeguard Scientifics and Fuse Capital.

A Crain’s Chicago Business column ponders “Why is Chicago so bad in health care IT?” saying that at Merge Healthcare and Allscripts, “sales are shrinking and losses are rising at both companies; each has endured upheaval in the executive suite.” It concludes that both companies need to turn around before the HITECH well runs dry and laments that local healthcare IT startups “don’t have have better role models.”


9-3-2013 3-32-31 PM

Jamaica Hospital Medical Center (NY), Catholic Health, INTEGRIS Health, (OK) and about 40 additional provider organizations select Nuance Clintegrity 360’s computer-assisted coding platform.

Long-term care provider Nexion Health selects the Daylight IQ clinical outcomes management system.


9-3-2013 3-57-06 PM

Kristi Syling (Vanguard Health Systems) joins PerfectServe as compliance officer.

Announcements and Implementations

9-3-2013 11-22-40 AM

Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center (NC) will deploy Epic October 5, the first of the health system’s 14 medical centers to go live. Novant’s 1,205 providers are already using Epic across 316 clinics as part of the organization’s $600 million EHR initiative.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health implements the Health Identity Programme, a standardized interoperable platform built on IBM’s Infosphere Master Data Management to identify patients and providers across the country’s health sector.

9-3-2013 9-23-35 AM

inga_small HIMSS names eClinicalWorks customer White River Family Practice (VT), winner of the 2013 Ambulatory HIMSS Davies Award of Excellence for its success in improving quality of care and patient safety while achieving a demonstrated ROI. In its award application, the practice hits on a point too often overlooked by providers unwilling to dedicate the time and money required for EMR success:

“Return on investment is critically dependent on how quickly the practice returns to typical patient-visit volume. To that end, investing time and resources to learn the chosen EHR system up front will expedite the office’s return to pre-EHR patient volumes, obviating the need to spend late nights trying to catch up.”

9-3-2013 3-34-53 PM

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center (WY) will pay about $50,000 a year to participate in the state’s MyWy Health information exchange, which is currently funded with a $4.9 million HHS grant and $260,000 from non-governmental sources.

Allscripts announces GA of Professional EHR 13.0.

9-3-2013 7-47-12 PM

Microsoft shows off sports-related applications that use its products, including the National Football League’s eClinicalWorks EMR and the X2 sideline concussion diagnosis system.

Truven Health Analytics announces that Micromedex NeoFax and Pediatrics now support HL7 integration with EHRs for clinical decision support and CPOE.

Merge Healthcare’s iConnect Enterprise Archive is named the leading vendor-neutral archive solution in the US and the world, accounting for 32.6 percent of all studies stored in a VNA in the US and 22.7 percent worldwide.

Government and Politics

9-3-2013 3-45-11 PM

The HIT Policy Committee will meet Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. in Washington, DC (with live streaming) to review the FDASIA Workgroup’s recommendations and to hear from the Meaningful Use Workgroup on progress toward Stage 3.

England’s Department of Health announces $375 million in funding for information technology for hospitals, surgeries, and EDs, raising the total money placed in the Technology Fund at more than $1.5 billion.


9-3-2013 10-02-45 AM

Nine out of 10 hospitals report they experienced RAC activity in the first half of the year, according to an AHA survey of 12,000 hospitals. Requests from Medicare for medical records are up 47 percent since the fourth quarter of 2012 and complex audit denials by Medicare RACs rose 58 percent in the second quarter of 2013.

9-3-2013 3-40-55 PM

A Missouri orthodontics practice notifies 10,000 patients that their information was stored on unencrypted computers that were stolen from the practice in July.

The CIO of the Marine Corps says, without referencing the source, that 25 percent of surgery liability lawsuits are related to software.

9-3-2013 10-34-23 AM 

inga_small Sign of the times? Mayo Clinic Health System announces the closing of its Blooming Prairie, MN (population 2,000) facility after the resignation of the practice’s sole provider. Mayo says the closing is temporary and encourages patients to travel 15-20 miles to other locations.

Bradford Regional Medical Center (PA) opens the country’s first inpatient treatment program for Internet addiction, which will cost $14,000 for a 10-day stay that insurance won’t pay for.

9-3-2013 12-11-40 PM

inga_small I’ve noticed several eye-catching headlines this week highlighting the continued inequities in compensation between male and female physicians. Research published in JAMA finds that the gender pay gap among healthcare workers has grown over the last decade, with male physicians earning about $56,000 (or 25 percent) more than their female peers. Researchers note that a physician’s specialty or practice type may account for some of the difference, but say more research is required to understand if specialty and practice choices are due not only to the preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities to enter high-paying specialties. The Gloria Steinem in me would love to hear readers’ theories for the compensation gap.

MMRGlobal not only terminates its patent infringement settlement with WebMD and refiles its original lawsuit, it also adds an additional complaint related to its newly issue patent entitled “Method for Providing a User with a Service for Accessing and Collecting Prescriptions.”

9-3-2013 4-22-51 PM

A startup called Handshake lets Internet users broker the sale of their personal data to interest companies, disintermediating market research firms and companies like Google and Facebook that grab it for their own bottom lines and instead allowing the user to negotiate their own deals. The site estimates that individuals could earn up to nearly $8,000 per year. Imagine the possibilities with health-related data.

A report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce urges the Indian government to restrict the importation of medical technology and instead encourage local innovation that will allow making services more affordable for all.

Sponsor Updates

  • Etransmedia highlights a video describing how its Direct Care Coordinator software helped doctors at the Albany Med Faculty Physician Group communicate with other physicians.
  • NextGen Healthcare releases an updated version of its Patient Portal, which incorporates Spanish and two dialects of Chinese.
  • Beacon Partners hosts a September 13 webinar on using data analytics to improve population health management.
  • CommVault reports earning a 96 percent customer satisfaction rating its support services survey.
  • Xerox has processed and disbursed more than $1.7 billion in federal payments to providers for MU incentives through its State Level Registry tool.
  • Jon Hamdorf, healthcare solution manager for Perceptive Technologies, participates in a panel discussion on the challenges of health information exchange at this month’s Health IT Summit in NYC.
  • A Billian’s HealthDATA report lists 112 US hospitals that demonstrate positive net patient margins and 30-day readmission and mortality rates above the national average for heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia, according to CMS.
  • Divurgent co-authors a white paper with Bon Secours Kentucky Health System that provides both a client’s and vendor’s perspective on implementing an EMR.
  • Wellcentive SVP Mason Beard and CMIO Paul Taylor, MD host a September 17 webinar on implementing an effective population health management and data analytics program.
  • Ryan Uteg and Lyndon Neumann of Impact Advisors discuss EHR roadmap evaluation at a September 18 CHIME College Live Session.


Mr. H, Inga, Dr. Jayne, Dr. Gregg, Lt. Dan, Dr. Travis.

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect.


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September 3, 2013 News 3 Comments

Morning Headlines 9/3/13

September 2, 2013 Headlines No Comments

Utilization, Benefits, and Impact of an e-Consultation Service Across Diverse Specialties and Primary Care Providers

In Canada, a virtual consultation service was established for PCPs to discuss patient care with specialists. After a year, providers enrolled in the program were surveyed, with 90 percent reporting that the service was highly beneficial to both providers and patients. Specialists reported that the actual consultations usually took less than 15 minutes to complete, and almost half of the requests submitted would have required a face-to-face office visit if the service had not been available.

Launch of New Electronic Medical Record System Scheduled for September 4

A local paper covers 152-bed Sonora Regional Medical Center (CA) as staff prepares for a September 4 Cerner go-live across all of its outpatient clinics.

Pre-Pregnancy Hormone Testing May Indicate Gestational Diabetes Risk

A retrospective study conducted by searching Kaiser Permanente’s EHR dataset finds that overweight women with low levels of the hormone adiponectin prior to pregnancy are nearly seven times more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

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September 2, 2013 Headlines No Comments

News 8/30/13

August 29, 2013 News 14 Comments

Top News

8-29-2013 10-22-15 PM

HHS and the Illinois attorney general announce that they will investigate the July 15 theft of four unencrypted Advocate Medical Group desktop computers that contained the medical information of 4 million patients, announced last week. An HHS spokesperson signaled the financial exposure the medical group is facing in describing the “high-profile actions that have sent clear messages to the industry that we expect full compliance with privacy and security rules.” Advocate admits that the information should never have been stored on the hard drives. Obviously encryption technology would be throwing off some impressive ROI right about now, which might be something to consider if your organization hasn’t implemented it.

Reader Comments

8-29-2013 10-23-30 PM

From Josephine: “Re: Banner Health. Names Ryan Smith CIO.”Unverified. Smith’s LinkedIn profile says he is still AVP of IT operations at Intermountain Healthcare, but updating LinkedIn is not everyone’s top priority when taking a new job

.8-29-2013 10-24-14 PM

From Ron Mexico: “Re: [executive’s name omitted]. Leaving Allscripts, heading to Fletcher Allen to increase its ROI on Epic.” Unverified, so I left the name off for now, even though it’s obvious because he already works at Fletcher Allen part time.

From HIS Junkie: “Re: Sutter’s Epic downtime. To deploy Epic over a broad environment you have to create a ‘Citrix monster.’ That’s a classic sledgehammer solution to a legacy problem, far more likely to fail than a state-of-the-art system that is truly Web developed and deployed. One would think a competent competitor could really leverage that … but then where’s the competent competitors?” Speaking of Sutter, here’s the official response to our downtime inquires from spokesperson Bill Gleeson:

Sutter Health undertook a long-planned, routine upgrade of its electronic health record over the weekend. There’s a certain amount of scheduled downtime associated with these upgrades, and the process was successfully completed. On Monday morning, we experienced an issue with the software that manages user access to the EHR. This caused intermittent access challenges in some locations. Our team applied a software patch Monday night to resolve the issue and restore access. Our caregivers and office staff have established and comprehensive processes that they follow when the EHR is offline. They followed these procedures. Patient records were always secure and intact. Prior to Monday’s temporary access issue, our uptime percentage was an impressive 99.4 percent with these systems that operate 24/7. We appreciate the hard work of our caregivers and support staff to follow our routine back-up processes, and we regret any inconvenience this may have caused patients. California Nurse Union continues to oppose the use of information technology in health care but we and other health care provider organizations demonstrate daily that it can be used to improve patient care, convenience and access. While it’s unfortunate the union exploited and misrepresented this situation, it comes as no surprise given the fact that we are in a protracted labor dispute with CNA.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests

8-28-2013 3-37-55 PM

inga_small Highlights from HIStalk Practice this week include: Physicians are split when it comes to publicly sharing Medicare payment data. New York physicians are required to consult an electronic prescription database before writing scripts for controlled substances. The benefits of a practice’s ACO participation reach beyond the patients covered by the ACO. MGMA offers online scheduling tools for its annual conference. More than 90 percent of office-based physicians accept new Medicare patients, which is about the same percentage that accept new privately insured patients. The AMA urges CMS to prohibit insurers from paying physicians less than contracted amounts when reimbursing providers with plastic or virtual credit cards. Doximity says it has more physician members than Sermo. I look at the Stage 2 dilemma, highlighting the recommendations of various professional organizations and offering my opinions, namely that CMS should keep the January 2, 12014 start date but extend the deadline for meeting Stage 2 requirements. You won’t find any of these stories – and others – on HIStalk so keep reading HIStalk Practice if you like staying current with happenings in the ambulatory HIT world. Thanks for reading.

8-29-2013 7-12-00 PM

Welcome to new HIStalk Platinum Sponsor InterSystems. The company is a global leader in software for connected care. Its products empower healthcare professionals with the information they need to make the best clinical and business decisions. HealthShare is a strategic platform for healthcare informatics, enabling information exchange and active analytics across a hospital network, community, region or nation. Cáche is the world’s most widely used database system in healthcare applications. Ensemble is a platform for rapid integration and the development of connectable applications. InterSystems has more than 35 years of experience as a trusted partner serving thousands of physicians, hospitals, and health systems around the world, including Johns Hopkins, Kaiser Permanente and Memorial Care; five statewide HIEs; and the national health systems of Sweden and Scotland. The company’s technology is also used by over 100 leading healthcare software vendors in their solutions, including 3M Health Information Systems, Epic, and GE Healthcare. Thanks to InterSystems for supporting HIStalk.

A YouTube cruise turned up this video about InterSystems. I thought I knew the company pretty well, but I learned a lot about them.

On the Jobs Board: Staff Engineer (Java), Clinical Applications Consultant, Project Manager.

HIStalk Webinars

8-29-2013 6-19-55 PM

8-29-2013 6-37-06 PM

CareTech Solutions will present “Using Infrastructure and Application Monitoring to Assure an Optimal User Experience” on Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. The presenter will be John Kaiser, senior director of the Pulse IT monitoring service. The abstract:

It’s time for hospital IT monitoring to mature – from reactive to predictive. Supporting the highly-complex healthcare technology environment with only individual monitoring tools or relying on an application vendor to identify system degradation is not the most effective means to providing users with a reliable, optimal IT experience. A comprehensive monitoring solution includes eyes on servers, network, application performance, and real user monitoring. CareTech Solutions will discuss an integrated approach to comprehensive monitoring of both the infrastructure and applications, with an emphasis on delivering a consistent solution based the hospital’s IT maturity level. The target audience is CIOs, CMIOs, CNO, IT directors, and IT analysts.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock

8-29-2013 10-26-24 PM

The healthcare IT business unit of Tennessee-based Parallon Business Solutions, itself a subsidiary of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), merges with Vision Consulting to form Parallon Technology Solutions, with Vision President Tim Unger taking the CEO role. Parallon Business Solutions has 24,000 employees and provides services to 1,400 hospitals and 11,000 non-acute care providers.

8-29-2013 10-30-05 PM

Carl Icahn boosts his stake in Nuance to 16.9 percent of the outstanding shares, according to an SEC filing Tuesday, saying he may want to talk to the company about adding his slate of nominees to the board. Above is the one-year NUAN share price in blue vs. the Nasdaq in red.


Blessing Physician Services will deploy Phytel’s population health management suite.

8-29-2013 1-29-50 PM

Rideout Health (CA) will roll out Perceptive Software’s Enterprise Content Management solution integrated with its McKesson Paragon HIS.


8-29-2013 1-32-48 PM

McKesson Specialty Health and the US Oncology Network appoints Michael V. Seiden, MD (Fox Chase Cancer Center) CMO.

8-29-2013 1-55-30 PM

Physician RCM provider MedData promotes Ann Barnes from president to CEO.

Announcements and Implementations

8-29-2013 8-38-08 AM

Australia’s Noarlunga Hospital activates Allscripts Sunrise Clinical Manager.

Novant Health (NC) reports that 343 of its physician clinics are now live on Epic’s PM platform and 316 are live on EHR. The five-year project was completed three years ahead of schedule and under budget.

Humana and Centene join Verisk Health as founding members of its pooled data initiative, which uses Verisk’s database of cross-payer information and analytics to identify illicit billing practices.

Hawaii Advanced Imaging Institute upgrades to RamSoft’s PowerServer RIS/PACS/MU radiology workflow application.

8-29-2013 9-10-36 PM

Home device manufacturer Bosch Healthcare and health content vendor Remedy Health Media announce a partnership to develop and sell products for remote patient monitoring.

Government and Politics

ONC opens the Behavioral Health Patient Empowerment Challenge to highlight existing technologies to help patients manage their mental health or substance use disorders.

A Washington Post article says that the Department of Veterans Affairs was paying bonuses to its disability claims employees despite a mammoth backlog, thereby encouraging them to game the system by pushing the tough claims aside to boost their numbers. It does point out that employees were handling high claims volumes even though the number of claims made the backlog grow.


inga_small Skyline Exhibits provides trade show stats that vendors might use to justify for exhibiting: (a) 81 percent of trade show attendees have buying authority; (b) the top reason for attending is to see new products; and (c) building brand awareness is the highest marketing priority for most exhibitors. Marketing execs may very well need to look for justification considering that a 10×10 booth at HIMSS costs about $4,000. Tack on drayage, shipping, travel, trinkets, and personnel and you’re at $20K in no time.

inga_small Coming to a baby shower near you: a smart sock from Owlet Baby Care that monitors a baby’s vitals and sleep position and includes a four-sensors pulse oximeter, an accelerometer, a thermometer, and a transmitter to send data to a smartphone or computer. The company’s cofounder says the device does not require FDA clearance, though a version that includes an alarm system for oxygen levels will. Owlet is seeking $100K in crowdfunding.

inga_small Here’s a story of interest to anyone in charge of their organization’s encryption efforts. UT Physicians (TX), the medical group practice of the UTHealth Medical School, notifies 600 patients of a potential data breach after the theft of an unencrypted laptop. Unlike similar thefts at other organizations, UTHealth has a comprehensive encryption policy that covers more than 5,000 laptops. The stolen laptop was overlooked, however, possibly because it was attached to an electromyography machine in the orthopedics department and is considered more of a medical device than a standard computer. The laptop included patient names, birth dates, and medical record numbers, but no financial information.

8-29-2013 9-18-32 PM

Researchers in Canada find that the use of RFID badges raised the handwashing compliance of nurses from 33 percent to 69 percent. Their study appears in the current issue of CIN (Computers, Informatics, Nursing). I wasn’t familiar with that journal even though it’s been around in various forms since 1983, but it looks decent.

Fourteen-hospital Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. lays off 61 employees, including pharmacists and nurses, but urges them to reapply for 500 open positions, many of those newly created to support its Epic rollout.

If you’re a fan of evidence-based medicine or Coldplay, you’ll like this video, which was tweeted by Farzad Mostashari.

Spectrum Health (MI) fires several employees after one of them takes a picture of an ED patient’s rear and posts it to Facebook with a caption of, “I like what I like.” The health system fired the employee who took the picture and all of those who gave it a Facebook Like, including an ED doctor.

Marin General Hospital (CA) asks the FBI to investigate a possible scam that shut down the phones in labor and delivery and the ED last week.

8-29-2013 9-40-01 PM

Liviam announces its Facebook-like site for long-term hospital patients, which offers the CareStream timeline, a dashboard from which the patient can request help, a blogging tool, and an events calendar.

New York prescribers issuing prescriptions for pain meds must first check an online registry of pharmacy-reported filled narcotics prescriptions as of this past Tuesday, implemented to help curb the abuse of addictive drugs.

Sponsor Updates

  • Truven Health Analytics offers free access to Micromedex iPhone apps for customers outside the US and Canada. Truven also announces enhancements to its Unify Population Health Management solution, which is deployed in partnership with CareEvolution.
  • Iatric Systems announces that its Meaningful Use Manager and Public Health Syndromic Surveillance products have earned 2014 ONC HIT certification.
  • IHS names Merge Healthcare the leading provider of vendor-neutral archive solutions in the world and in the Americas.
  • iSirona adds Singapore-based telehealth services provider myHealth Sentinel as a reseller.
  • The Massachusetts eHealth Institute awards Aprima Medical a $101,000 grant to advance the interoperability of EHRs with the state’s HIE.
  • Besler Consulting releases a review of the FY2014 Hospital Inpatient Prospective System final rule.
  • InstaMed achieves Phase III CAQH CORE certification.
  • EClinicalWorks names HealthNet (IN) the winner of its Improving Healthcare Together video contest. Auburn Medical Group (GA) and Open Door Family Medical Centers (NY) took second and third places.
  • Aspen Advisors shares details of the ICD-10 preparation services it delivered to East Jefferson General Hospital (LA).
  • Dearborn Advisors discusses the need for healthcare organizations to optimize their EHRs in order to thrive in today’s regulatory climate.
  • API Healthcare highlights the importance of meeting the needs of an aging workforce.
  • pMD announces that its mobile charge capture solution will support iOS 7, which has a possible September 10 general availability.
  • Visualutions will resell Wellcentive’s Advance to FQHCs.
  • RazorInsights will showcase its ONE Enterprise HIS solution at the 15th Annual HIS Pros Buyer’s Seminar next month in Rosemont, IL.
  • Medicomp hosts its annual strategy update webinar September 18 and 19 and opens registration for MEDCIN U sessions November 3-5 in Reston, VA.


EPtalk  by Dr. Jayne


It’s quite a challenge to try to keep up with Mr. H and Inga in finding newsworthy items each week for EP talk. Between our day jobs and our staggered publishing schedules, it’s easy to be scooped by another member of the HIStalk crew. In the spirit of mixing things up, we’ll be taking EPtalk in some new directions. I may write up an interesting product, discuss a recent journal article, or respond to something I’ve seen in social media. Since EPtalk runs with the news each week with a slightly different audience than Curbside Consult, I may do some multi-part pieces to allow reader responses to influence the next week’s piece.

Yesterday, @ONC_HealthIT tweeted a recent Wall Street Journal Health Blog piece that asked readers what doctors use as the basis for care decisions: business or financial considerations, fear of lawsuits, or doing what is best for patients. I was gratified that with over 1100 votes, 56 percent of respondents believe we want to do right by patients. The other two options tied at 21 percent.

I’ve spent a good part of my career working in emergency departments and urgent care situations. I have to agree that fear of lawsuits can be an important driver. Financial considerations are also important, but there are many nuances other than what this survey can capture. Case in point: at one of the hospital-owned urgent care centers where I moonlight, the leadership issues a monthly report that looks at our utilization. On the surface, this aims to encourage us to provide more cognitive medicine and perform less defensive medicine.

Although thoughtful practice is a nice goal, I’d be kidding myself if I thought the report was aimed at encouraging us to use our brains rather than tests. The fact of the matter is that our population is largely uninsured, with Medicaid and Medicare closely behind. The hospital has been hemorrhaging money for the last decade despite extremely good management. It’s largely due to payer mix and other external economic factors in the community. Across our department, the Family Medicine physicians have much lower service utilization than do the Emergency Medicine physicians, and I think it’s partly due to the way we see the patient population

As a family doc, I’m used to seeing patients quickly in the office, treating their self-limited problems, and moving on. There’s a relationship between the patient and the physician. We tend to think that if the patient is becoming worse or not improving, they’ll be back. We don’t feel that pressure to try to cover all eventualities while they are in front of us, although it’s become that way with the advent of the Patient-Centered Medical Home, Accountable Care, and other initiatives where every visit has become a preventive/full-service visit as we try to cram as much as humanly possible into each encounter.

I really try not to order tests if I can make the diagnosis based on clinical history and physical examination. Not just for cost reasons, but also because tests are not without risk. Even a simple urinalysis can give false positives that lead to unnecessary follow-up, including not only financial cost but the burden of patient anxiety.

I’m also not afraid to play the bad guy with patients when it’s indicated. I don’t care if your husband’s primary doc gave him antibiotics for his viral illness. Just because you came to the urgent care and have the same symptoms, you’re not going to get them from me. I don’t care if your copay was $50, it’s not the right thing to do. It’s likely you’ll mark me down on your patient satisfaction survey, but I’ve reached a point in my career where I simply care less about satisfaction scores than I do about quality care and antibiotic resistance. You’ll get my empathy, sympathy, and some symptomatic treatment, but no Z-pack for you.

My peers that trained in emergency residency programs tend to order more X-rays for vehicular trauma even if the clinical story isn’t that impressive. Maybe it’s fear of being sued or maybe it’s just the way they’ve been habituated from working in higher acuity and trauma centers rather than the ambulatory office. Maybe because there was that one case where they missed something and it came back at them later. It’s definitely harder to try to help a patient understand why decision support rules say it’s OK to not order an x-ray than it is to just shoot a film, and sometimes I order those films too. None of us is perfect and medicine still has some art to go along with the science.

The most interesting thing about the utilization reports, though, is that over the last year, they have done very little to drive any of physicians at the high end of the test ordering spectrum into a lower bracket. Right now, the only “incentive” provided is seeing your name on the report and where you fall against your peers. Some docs may consider these reports the way I see the physician satisfaction numbers – as something that’s not on the top of their list for the many things we have to worry about when we’re seeing patients. Others may need education or potentially something more tangible before their behavior will change.

The bottom line, though, is that defensive medicine is alive and well regardless of steps towards tort reform, provider education, and other interventions. I’ve been doing some thinking about the other 21 percent as well. I’d liked to have seen the “financial considerations” choice expanded to include other options but you’ll have to tune in to the next post for those thoughts.


I’ll still throw in the occasionally newsy tidbit especially if it involves both shoes and technology. A new CT scan technology by CurveBeam called pedCAT shows what the foot and ankle actually look like when weight bearing. I was fascinated by the YouTube clip from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. Since I was hobbling around this afternoon due to a loose heel on my favorite pair of pointy-toed mules, it’s a sure bet that my scan would have more than one ICD-10 code associated with it. I’m leaning toward “Unspecified soft tissue disorder related to use, overuse and pressure” and “Grief reaction” since I ultimately had to pronounce said mules dead at 6:59 p.m.


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

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect


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August 29, 2013 News 14 Comments

HIStalk Interviews Heather Sobko, President and CEO, IVR Care Transition Systems

August 28, 2013 Interviews 6 Comments

Heather Sobko, PhD, RN is president and CEO of IVR Care Transition Systems, Inc. of Birmingham, AL.

8-28-2013 2-14-28 PM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started out in psychology and sociology. I got advanced degrees in those and I decided that I really did not want to be a psychologist. I went into nursing and ended up getting my doctorate degree in nursing, with a focus on comparative effectiveness and outcomes research.

I lean towards geriatric populations just because I’m enchanted by geriatric patients. I think they’re delightful and I enjoy working with them. Adults with chronic illness became a passion of mine.

After working in clinical settings, both in acute care and then in long-term care, I realized that wow, we can do a much better job helping folks transition. This was long before bundled payment rules came out or before Affordable Care Act was implemented with penalties for readmissions.

Looking at what patients faced going through care transitions, I realized there is a lot that we can do. Using technological tools, we can do a way better job. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be difficult.

That’s where the idea for IVR Care Transition Systems came from. Intentionally, we chose a phone-based system. Alabama is very rural. We have patients who live in sections of our state that just don’t have Internet access. We’re just not there.

We decided to use something really low tech — the telephone. Everybody knows how to use one and everyone has one. It doesn’t require any special training or any special equipment to be able to participate.


The technology folks get excited about smartphone apps, but only a small percentage of patients will ever use them, mostly those who were already motivated anyway. Do you think IVR systems get overlooked because they’re not as cool sounding as an app?

Apps are very trendy. I think that right now there are about 12,000 different health apps available. People download the apps, they use it a couple of times, and then they realize it’s a lot of work to keep up with them and they don’t want to do that. That one falls by the wayside and they’ll just download another one and try that for a couple of weeks. That’s just a pattern, a trend.

There is no research that shows a link between long-term successful outcomes and the use of any of these apps. There are so many available it’s almost like what we go through in the inpatient setting with alert fatigue. I get the sense that there is a trend coming down the pipe that is app fatigue. There is just so much available.

IVR is unique and especially helpful for individuals who are older, who aren’t tech savvy, from a previous generation. Therein lies my passion for geriatric patients. Patients like to get a phone call. Our system is not a computerized voice — it’s a real person’s voice. It’s me, actually, because I’m a real nurse. Who else should talk to a patient than a real nurse?

Because we schedule calls when the patient likes to be called, in pilot testing with 540 patients, we had an 86 percent response rate for patients completing 28 different surveys getting them through that 30-day critical period for risk for readmission and emergency department visits. They like the system. They like it. They look forward to talking to the system or getting feedback from the system. The system’s name is CATHE — your care transition helper.


Did people push back like they might against PBX or telemarketing? How did you get them to participate in a survey that’s delivered by telephone?

Patients know the call is coming. We ask for the patient. We have the patient list for CATHE to address them when she calls. For example, you might like to be called Tim. When CATHE calls, she will say, “Hello, this is CATHE, your care transition helper. I’m calling to speak with Tim,” but it’s Tim voice the way you recorded it.

The person knows who it is. There is caller ID that identifies it that it is part of the healthcare plan you’re participating in, so it’s the hospital or the clinic calling to check up to see how you’re doing. I think that does make a difference.

The system also has built-in empathy. If someone says they’re feeling worse, the system says, “I’m sorry you’re feeling worse today. These next few questions will help me learn more about that.”

We really try to keep it focused on what is meaningful from a clinical perspective. Cold calling patients and having a conversation with them — first of all, it’s hit or miss. You might catch them on a great day, and if you’re lucky you catch them on a day they’re having some problems, you can do some problem solving and a help guide the patients to appropriate steps. But chances are it’s hit or miss. Even if you catch them within one week post discharge, if they’re not having the problem, you’ve lost an opportunity to do an early intervention when it arises.

The CATHE calls less lasts less than four minutes each. They’re all logic-based, so if a patient reports they’re not having a symptom, we don’t ask any more questions about that symptom. We go to another topic. That keeps it fresh.

The questions are not the same every day. Patients learn very, very quickly that a real person is behind this looking at a very comprehensive dashboard. If red flags are triggered, someone in person follows up to help you with your medicines, to help you make that follow-up appointment with your community provider, or to help you with diet and exercise or symptom recognition before it becomes an urgent situation.

If you gained 2.5 pounds in 24 hours as a heart failure patient, for example, that’s an early sign that you’re holding fluid. A quick adjustment in the medication can fix that, and then you can monitor. But if it becomes five pounds, 10 pounds, 15 pounds, which can happen so quickly, now you’re forced to go to the hospital and have an IV drug administered so you can get rid of that extra fluid.

The biggest value of this system in general is that it captures patient-provided data. We’ve spoken to numerous payers. The bundled payment all cause readmissions is really not a very good measure. As a clinician, I could have zero patients readmitted to the hospital, and on paper, I look like superstar. But in reality, what if all my patients died? That’s not a very good measure.

The data does belong to each hospital that uses the system. It’s their patients, so it’s their data, not ours. They can trend and track what’s going on. If a patient on Day 17 needs to come back to the hospital, now they have a whole database full of information that says, here’s what happened with this patient each day. Here’s how we responded, and then it became important that we brought the patient back. We believe, based on this data, that you should reevaluate and perhaps reimburse us even though it’s within 30 days. Insurance companies are saying, well, if you have data, OK then — we’re willing to take a look.

That’s very, very meaningful. Hopefully, over time, we may be able to change that policy and make it a little bit more appropriate, a better measure for what’s really happening with these patients so they’re not all put into the same box for all cause readmission. Some readmissions are appropriate and necessary, and right now, hospitals and doctors and nurses are being penalized for doing the right thing. That’s just the wrong incentive.


Most technologies don’t scale up to the number of patients that need to be monitored. Some just try to predict readmissions or provide analysis after the fact without involving the patient.

Correct. We were gearing up towards looking at Meaningful Use Stage 3, which is going to require patient-provided data. It’s very important that the patient is engaged. Engaged patients, regardless of their level of illness or number of co-morbid condition, simply do better, period. If you have an engaged patient, you can already anticipate that that patient is going to do better. This system is just a tool that allows the patient to engage with you.

The other thing is that it overcomes the barriers to external providers. Within the system, there are automatic links to every external provider that that patient is involved with. It’s a whole team approach. If you have a patient who is triggering red flags and you would like to share that information with a community provider, you can click on a link. The system automatically sends them a message that says, please log on to the system and review patient XYZ for changes.

Now that communication takes place automatically with a click of a button. You never have to log out of the system and go searching for information. Most patients have five, six different providers. You can keep everybody in the loop through one strategy. They have a read-only view and they can look at the information and participate in figuring out what is the best thing for the patient. That’s also very, very beneficial.

Many of our older patients that live in rural communities also have very low levels of literacy, many of them only sixth-grade education. Having something talk with them rather than have them have to read something is also advantageous.

Patients can get a call at five in the morning or eleven o’clock at night. It doesn’t matter. Whatever they want can happen. We’re available through the system 24/7. We don’t have someone sitting and making a telephone call and trying to reach a patient. If the patient would like to be called at six in the morning, it automatically calls at six in the morning and they are ready for that call.

It does leave a nice message if it misses you and will call back in 30 minutes. After two tries of that, it will leave a message saying, “I’m so sorry I missed you today. I’ll try again tomorrow.” A patient who doesn’t respond in three days will automatically trigger a red flag that something is amiss and we can call a family member and find out is everything OK.

But the main thing is lots of patients don’t understand the difference between side effects of their medications and symptoms of their illness. By engaging with a patient over a 30-day time period, you capture the opportunity to teach them and to help arm them with tools to be their own advocates. For example, asking a patient, “What will you say when you call the doctor?”

Shortness of breath is a good example. Patients may believe the main symptom is, “I can’t sleep at night.” They’re going to tell the receptionist at the doctor’s office, “I can’t sleep at night.” That person, who is not a clinician, is going to take down a note: Mrs. Johnson is having trouble sleeping.

That’s not a triage. That’s a priority. Someone eventually will get to that phone call and may recommend a sleeping medication. What the patient probably should have said is, “I’m a heart patient. I’m sleeping with four pillows and I can’t breathe and therefore I can’t sleep.” That’s a whole different scenario.

We try to teach patients how to communicate with their providers to really speak to them about what’s very, very important. We coach them, “This is what you need to say. Let’s practice” and then we follow up with them and see how it went after they make that call.
We don’t intervene. It’s not a rescue system. It’s really designed to help the patients engage and learn how to better manage for themselves, because there’s not enough of us to go around and patients really appreciate the fact that we’re reaching out.

It also doesn’t matter what kind of insurance the patient has. They could have terrific primary and secondary insurance or no insurance. All patients get the same quality of follow-up regardless. That has meaning in and of itself because it’s leveling the playing field. We are very proud of that component –that all patients, regardless of what kind of insurance they have, are going to get the same high quality follow-up care.


As a PhD nurse, informatics expert, and researcher, it’s clear that you get excited about patients, while most of the companies out there are more excited about the technology or the business aspects of what you do. Are enough nurses working in healthcare IT or using the approach that your company is taking?

We have several nurses on our team. Believe or not, the TIGER Initiative and HIMSS and the American Medical Informatics Association — particularly the Nursing Informatics working group — the Association of Nurse Executives, everyone is really starting to catch on to the value of informatics in general. It can never take the place of clinical expertise, but there are tools that can help us do a better job and help us measure what we’re doing so that we have some evidence that shows what’s working, what’s not working, and what are the very best practices.

If we’re not measuring our outcomes, then we’re just playing a guessing game. Informatics is critically important to being able to capture and measure and evaluate what we’re trying to improve with the patient.


Do you have any concluding thoughts?

Our team is very, very diverse. I never, ever could have put something together like this all by myself. There is 40 of us — engineers and business people, lawyers and IT specialists, and physicians and surgeons and social workers. Everyone has something very valuable to contribute. That’s how we put the whole system together — lots and lots of different types of data specialists.

I am sitting in a happy seat that I get to be surrounded by these stellar individuals. But really, this group of people … I just can’t even begin to describe how fortunate I am to work with these folks. It’s just remarkable to me and it’s very synergistic. We don’t have room for egos. There is no chip on the shoulder. There is none of that.

We have a corporate philosophy. We have all read Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment and decided that that would be our mantra. In everything we do, we try really, really hard to be enchanting. That’s our core philosophy of how we conduct ourselves among the team and with our potential customers and collaborators — that we want to be enchanting.

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August 28, 2013 Interviews 6 Comments

Morning Headlines 8/28/13

August 27, 2013 Headlines 2 Comments

The Gap between EMR Vendor Market Share Widens

KLAS releases a new report on large hospital EMR market share changes during 2012. Cerner and Epic took 75 percent of new business in the 200+ bed market. McKesson lost the most customers during the year after announcing their decision to sunset the Horizon platform. Of all vendors evaluated, Epic was the only vendor to retain 100 percent of their customer base for the whole year.

Sutter’s $1 Billion Boondoggle-New Electronic Records System Goes Dark

Another nurses union is publically questioning the safety of its EHR system, this time 24-facility Sutter Health’s Epic system, which went down Monday after a system upgrade.

Deadline looming for state’s patient record exchange

Two competing pay-to-play health information exchanges operating in Kansas have until September 30 to connect their networks or they risk losing $1 million in grants promised to them. The two agencies have successfully tested network connections, but have been at an impasse since May over security policies designed to control for inappropriate secondary use of shared data.

Scoring system could help reduce adverse drug events in hospital patients

University of Florida College of Pharmacy researchers are developing algorithms to help hospitals determine the best pharmacist staffing numbers to prevent adverse drug events and improve patient safety.

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August 27, 2013 Headlines 2 Comments

News 8/28/13

August 27, 2013 News 10 Comments

Top News

8-27-2013 8-23-29 PM

8-27-2013 8-24-07 PM

Two Kansas HIEs, one covering Kansas City and the other serving the rest of the state, risk losing their federal grant money if they can’t agree on data exchange terms by the state-imposed deadline of September 30 (already extended from July 30). LACIE and KHIN could be forced to shut down by the end of the year if they haven’t worked out their differences by then. KHIN doesn’t want the network to share data with insurance companies that aren’t KHIN members, while LACIE says the agreement would prohibit organizations that are connected to an ACO from accessing the network’s data. At issue is aggregated information that could be used for non-patient care purposes. The Kansas HIE board voted to shut itself down in September 2012 and let the Kansas Department of Health and Environment take over its duties, which means the state is in charge. Kansas has no secondary data use policy.

Reader Comments

8-27-2013 8-26-55 PM

From Joyce: “Re: Mission Hospital, Asheville, NC. Laying off 70 workers, which is big news in a small town where healthcare supports the local economy.” The 730-bed hospital will cut the CEO’s salary by 26 percent, slash management salaries from 13 to 20 percent, eliminate merit increases, implement a three-month PTO freeze where time off is not accrued for worked hours, reduce its 403(b) matching, and reduce the employee wellness incentive. The hospital’s CEO made $480K in 2010, while the CIO was paid $349K. That’s the problem with hospitals – they provide growth to their local economy, but much of that is paid for by federal taxpayers in the form of unsustainably rising national healthcare costs. Building an economy based on healthcare won’t work, which politicians seem reluctant to admit since hospitals employ a lot of people and write nice political donation checks.

8-27-2013 5-37-48 PM

From HealthPlans: “Re: WellPoint. AJ Lang is no longer with the company, an internal employee tells me.” A WellPoint spokesperson confirms that Andrew J. Lang, senior VP of application development since December 2008, is no longer with the company.

8-27-2013 6-23-03 PM

From Mennonite Rockstar: “Re: BIDMC IT security after the Boston bombing. I had the impression they rearranged the setup of their homegrown application’s security from reading the Fast Company article. Perhaps Mr. HIStalk can get Halamka to clarify?” John says that his IT shop made no changes to their applications, but did tweak their audit log reports to allow the hospital’s compliance department to monitor the specific situation.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock

8-27-2013 1-34-24 PM

Group purchasing organization Premier Inc., owned by 181 hospitals, health systems, and other healthcare organizations, files plans for an IPO of up to $100 million in common stock. Premier had $869 million in net revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30, up 13 percent from the prior year.

8-27-2013 6-12-32 PM

Merge Healthcare Chairman Michael Ferro, Jr. resigns and is replaced by board member Dennis Bell. Ferro, Merge’s top shareholder, has indicated that he may eventually explore ways to boost shareholder value, including taking the company private. MRGE shares were unchanged on the news.

Federal HIT provider Systems Made Simple projects 2013 income of $260 million, up from $167 million in 2012.

8-27-2013 7-55-39 PM

The strategic venture arm of Canada’s TELUS makes an unspecified investment in Rockville, MD-based Get Real Health, which offers the InstantPHR personal health record. Three of the company’s seven executives came from US Web, while two were Microsoft HealthVault developers.


8-27-2013 1-38-39 PM

Southern Prairie Community Care ACO (MN) will deploy technology from Sandlot Solutions to manage patient health information and give providers access to data  at the point of care.

8-27-2013 1-41-15 PM

HealthproMed (PR) selects eClinicalWorks EHR for its two-location FQHC.

Greenway Medical will develop an HIE for more than 500 physician members of the Denver-area Rose Medical Group, Rose Medical Center, and their patients.

8-27-2013 1-43-04 PM

Grady Health System (GA) selects Strata Decision Technology’s StrataJazz for cost accounting, operating budgeting, and capital planning.

PinnacleHealth will use Care Team Connect’s integration and rules engine to integrate biometric data from Honeywell monitoring devices with other patient health data.

8-27-2013 8-29-51 PM

Palmetto Health (SC) chooses 3M 360 Encompass System for automated coding, clinical documentation improvement, and performance monitoring.

8-27-2013 7-48-52 PM

The National Football League signs a 10-year agreement for the ININITT Smart-NET PACS, which will allow the medical images of players to be viewed remotely or from mobile devices on the sidelines.


8-27-2013 1-47-01 PM

QHR Corporation, a Canada-based HIT company, names Owen Haley (Allscripts) chief commercial officer.

8-27-2013 1-48-08 PM

Tony Scott (Microsoft) joins VMware as CIO.

Cumberland Consulting Group adds Joseph Serpente (McKesson) as director of business development.

Announcements and Implementations

PeaceHealth’s Peace Island Medical Center (WA) goes live on Epic September 1.

inga_small Emdeon launches a self-service testing exchange solution for ICD-10, allowing providers and channel partners to submit ICD-10 test claims and receive claim status feedback. The Emdeon Testing Exchange for ICD-10, which Emdeon purports is the first of its kind in the industry, requires no additional software and is a free service to Emdeon providers, channel partners, and payer customers. Sounds like a great service that would be even more valuable if more payers were ready and if providers already had ICD-10-ready software updates from their vendors.

8-27-2013 12-34-57 PM

Greenway presents Innovation Awards to Boulder Community Hospital Physician Clinics (CO), Regional Obstetrical Consultants (TN), and Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless (NM) at its PrimeLEADER user conference in Washington, DC.

8-27-2013 12-54-01 PM

Sonora Regional Medical Center (CA) goes live on Cerner September 4.

8-27-2013 8-11-45 PM

Vocera announces enhancements to its secure messaging platform that include on-call scheduling, new smartphone clients, an improved Web console, and server enhancements.

8-27-2013 12-58-10 PM

inga_small I came across this tweet today. Ah, athenahealth, I don’t think you can convince me that switching EHRs is as easy as switching from Time Warner to AT&T U-verse.

Innovation and Research

8-27-2013 8-31-56 PM

University of Florida researchers are developing a scoring model that will use hospital EHR information to identify inpatients most likely to experience an adverse drug event, allowing those patients to be more aggressively monitored. The result will be rolled out to 13 hospitals for validation in the study’s second year.


8-27-2013 7-43-43 PM

An Ohio surgeon wearing Google Glass during a surgery broadcasts the procedure over the campus network, also using it to consult with a colleague.



inga_small Apple is rumored to be planning a trade-in program for iPhones in an attempt to increase the percentage of units it sells directly. What Apple is really trying to do is get  more people like me to walk into their retail stores and spontaneously drop $50 on the latest, greatest cool Apple accessory. The speculation is that Apple will tie the trade-in value to the cost of an upgraded iPhone and offer an amount less than the open market value or what third-party companies like Gazelle would pay. I’m not due for a discounted upgrade any time soon, but my 16GB iPhone 5 is almost filled up. Maybe I’ll be one of the nerdy folks queuing up in line at the Apple store the first day the newest iPhone is released, supposedly in late September.

8-27-2013 1-27-55 PM

8-27-2013 1-31-06 PM

Cerner and Epic are winning three-fourths of all new large-hospital EMR deals, according to a new KLAS report on clinical market share. Cerner and Epic dominate in community hospitals, though McKesson Paragon and Meditech are gaining some traction. Biggest net customer losers for 2012 were McKesson and Siemens, while Epic was the only vendor that didn’t lose any customers. Allscripts, GE Healthcare, and QuadraMed had no wins at all.

8-27-2013 11-57-20 AM

inga_small HIMSS opens registration for its annual conference February 23-27 in Orlando. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini will deliver the keynote address bright and early Monday, while Wednesday afternoon’s keynote speaker is still TBA. The Thursday afternoon keynote is “world class blind adventurer” Erik Weihenmayer, who unfortunately may not be enough of a draw to prevent weary crowds from making a mass exodus Thursday morning.

8-27-2013 7-23-01 PM

A California Nurses Association press release claims that Sutter Health’s Epic system went down Monday at its Northern California hospitals following an eight-hour upgrade-related downtime on Friday. A union spokesperson was quoted as saying, “This incident is especially worrisome. It is a reminder of the false promise of information technology in medical care. No access to medication orders, patient allergies and other information puts patients at serious risk. These systems should never be relied upon for protecting patients or assuring the delivery of the safest care.” While the union did not issue an equally passionate press release extolling the virtues of paper charts, it did throw in unrelated shots at management for urging nurses to enter patient charges correctly, apparently preferring that Sutter not bill what it’s owed even though those funds allow it to generously pay unionized nurses.

8-27-2013 8-05-52 PM

The Gainesville, FL newspaper profiles 12-employee RegisterPatient (now using the name Ingage Patient)and its CEO Jana Jones, who was formerly CEO of BCBS of Tennessee subsidiary Shared Health. According to the company’s site, the product offers appointment scheduling, alerts, registration, secure messaging, check-in, health education, a PHR, care plan integration, renewal requests, and electronic referrals.

8-27-2013 5-50-52 PM

This photo by @Nurse_Rachel_ is surely embarrassing Sinai Hospital of Baltimore as it lights up Twitter. Nobody should be surprised that hospitals and doctors do whatever pays them the most; to expect otherwise is naive.

Weird News Andy says, “Nurse, doctor, what’s the difference?” A draft VA policy would eliminate the requirement that advanced practice nurses, including nurse anesthetists, be supervised by physicians. Take a wild guess at how the American Society of Anesthesiologists feels about that.

WNA also notes an AARP report warning  that 20 years from now, aging baby boomers won’t have enough family members to take care of them because of increased longevity, fewer children, and a high divorce rate. Family care is worth an unpaid $450 billion per year

Technical problems with the site Sunday and early Monday forced me (for reasons too hard to explain) to remove Vince’s HIS-tory of Cerner in the Monday Morning Update and simply link to it instead. Here it is again. Meanwhile, the site is now running on a supercharged new server that will better handle the readership growth. I’ll probably appreciate that more after I’ve caught up for all the sleep I lost over the weekend as the web hosting people fixed the inevitable problems.


Sponsor Updates

  • Imprivata introduces OneSign ProveID Embedded for use within virtual desktop environments.
  • GetWellNetwork announces the call for presentations for its seventh annual user conference June 3-5, 2014 in Chicago.
  • Frost & Sullivan recognizes Merge Healthcare with the 2013 North America Award for Product Leadership in Interoperability Solutions for its iConnect Enterprise Clinical platform.
  • Wakely Consulting Group will process data from Truven Health MarketScan Research Databases through its Wakely Risk Assessment Model to help health plans meet HHS requirements for risk adjustment and reinsurance.
  • Jason Fortin, senior advisor at Impact Advisors, discusses MU deadlines.
  • The HCI Group is named to the Inc. 5000, coming in at #3 with 24,545 percent revenue growth in the past three years.


Mr. H, Inga, Dr. Jayne, Dr. Gregg, Lt. Dan, Dr. Travis

More news: HIStalk Practice, HIStalk Connect



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August 27, 2013 News 10 Comments

Morning Headlines 8/27/13

August 26, 2013 Headlines 4 Comments

Q&A: OSEHRA CEO Seong Mun on iEHR, future of open source

Leading up to the 3rd annual OSHERA summit, CEO Seong Mun answers questions on unifying VistA under a standard codebase and the odds of VistA coming out on top in the DoD EHR vendor search.

Data Triage for the Boston Bombing: How Beth Israel Deaconess Protected Patient Records From Hackers, Journalists, and Curious Doctors

FastCompany interviews John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess on the IT security protocols used to thwart hackers and journalists from accessing victim’s medical records in the post-marathon bombing hours while its staff treated both bombing victims, and then later that week bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Tony Abbott eager to overhaul e-health system

Leading up to federal elections in Australia, Opposition leader Tony Abbott vows to overhaul the struggling patient-controlled electronic health record program if elected. The PCEHR program has been widely criticized due to cost overruns and dismal patient engagement.

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August 26, 2013 Headlines 4 Comments

Readers Write: Natural Language Processing: Putting Big Data to Work to Drive Efficiencies and Improve Patient Outcomes

August 26, 2013 Readers Write 1 Comment

Natural Language Processing: Putting Big Data to Work to Drive Efficiencies and Improve Patient Outcomes
By Dan Riskin, MD

8-26-2013 6-26-06 PM

Natural language processing (NLP) is increasingly discussed in healthcare, but often in reference to different technologies such as speech recognition, computer-assisted coding (CAC), and analytics. NLP is an enabling technology that allows computers to derive meaning from human, or natural language input.

For example, a physician’s note may state that a patient “has poorly controlled diabetes complicated by peripheral neuropathy.” When notes are analyzed through an NLP system, coded features are returned that can:

  • Suggest codes such as ICD-9 or ICD-10 that may feed a CAC billing application;
  • Classify a patient according to applicable quality measures such as poorly controlled diabetes mellitus, to support a reporting tool;
  • Populate a data warehouse;
  • Feed analytics applications to support descriptive or predictive modeling, such as the likelihood of a patient being readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of discharge.

Healthcare is data intensive from both clinical and business perspectives. While the industry’s transition to electronic data collection and storage in recent years has increased significantly, this has not actually forced physicians to code the majority of meaningful content. Eighty percent of meaningful clinical data remains within the unstructured text, as it does in most industries. This means that it remains in a format that cannot be easily searched or accessed electronically.

NLP can be leveraged to drive improvements in financial, clinical, and operational aspects of healthcare workflow:

For financial processes, automating data extraction for claims, financial auditing, and revenue cycle analytics can impact the top line. NLP can automatically extract underlying data, making claims more efficient and offering the potential for revenue analytics.

For clinical processes, automatically extracting key quality measures can support downstream systems for reporting and analytics. NLP can infer whether a patient meets a quality measure rather than requiring individuals to manually document each measure for each patient.

For operational processes, descriptive and predictive modeling can support more effective and efficient operations. NLP can extract hundreds of data elements per patient rather than the 2-4 codes listed in claims, producing better models and supporting business insight and diversion of resources to high risk patients.

So, NLP is a powerful enabling technology, but it is not an end user application. It is not speech recognition or revenue cycle management or analytics. It can, however, enable all of these.

There is a battle underway that is increasingly recognized in the healthcare space. Individual hospital divisions seek turnkey solutions and frequently purchase NLP-enabled products. But at a broader level, health systems as a whole do not want to pay repeatedly for similar technology. They seek best-of-breed infrastructure, wanting a combination of electronic health records, data warehouses, NLP, and analytics.

This battle will increasingly highlight best-of-breed data warehouses, data integration vendors, and natural language processing technologies as health systems search for a scalable, affordable, and flexible healthcare infrastructure to feed a suite of clinical, operational, and financial applications.

Dan Riskin, MD is CEO of Health Fidelity of Palo Alto, CA.

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August 26, 2013 Readers Write 1 Comment

Morning Headlines 8/26/13

August 25, 2013 News 1 Comment

The CIO: Healthcare’s New Million Dollar Man

SSi Search surveys 178 healthcare CIOs on changes to their roles and responsibilities post-HITECH and compares that with associated salary increases. 23 percent of respondents reported a 50 – 75 percent increase in responsibility since HITECH was passed, but reported receiving less a 10 percent salary increase over the same period.

Kaiser Permanente Opens New Information Technology Center in Greenwood Village

Kaiser Permanente opens a five-story, 350-person IT office in Greenwood Village, CO which it estimates will house 700 employees by 2015.

NYC Macroscope Puts Data at the Fingertips of City Officials

New York City public health workers are developing a big-data surveillance program that promises real-time population health monitoring of the city. The program will rely on EHR data aggregated into a surveillance tool that will drive public health decisions.

Class 2 Recall Picis EDIS PulseCheck

Picis recalls its PulseCheck EDIS due to problems with prescription comments being dropped from electronic prescriptions when filed or printed.

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August 25, 2013 News 1 Comment

Monday Morning Update 8/26/13

August 25, 2013 News 1 Comment

From Todd: “Re: FDA security guidance. FDA has published radio frequency guidance for wireless medical devices that includes information about authentication and encryption to prevent hackers from gaining control. FDA has a draft out for comment that includes a requirement that vendors develop a plan to apply operating system updates and patches to address security flaws.” It’s strange (or typical government efficiency) that a document that went to draft in January 2007 finally gets published years afterward. The cybersecurity draft came out in June.

From Digital Bean Counter: “Re: Optimity Advisors. Anyone have experience working with them?”

From Keith: “Re: EHRs. If they aren’t medical devices, why is the vendor reporting to the FDA and recalling its care controlling system?” Picis announces a Class 2 recall of its ED PulseCheck emergency department information system due to a problem printing entered notes along with prescriptions. My guess is that Picis (part of OptumInsight) commendably reports through FDA even though they aren’t required to since I’ve seen their entries in the MAUDE database over the years. Demands for FDA oversight would be reduced to almost nothing if vendors reported and tracked software defects with the same enthusiasm as they do unpaid invoices.

Most poll respondents don’t think the FDASIA report will improve IT-related patient safety since it limits its scope to a user reporting mechanism and other forms of post-marketing surveillance. New poll to your right: when a vendor requires you to register before downloading a white paper you want to see, what do you do? I will, as the poll maker, unprofessionally expose my bias in stating that I think hiding advertising material behind a lead-gathering signup form is both stupid and insulting. We hospital people are smart enough to figure out how to contact you if your material inspires us to further action; we aren’t fans of being cold called as punishment for being willing to give your material a look. Do the sales and marketing people a favor and ignore their faulty advice. I always sign up with phony information, inserting the vendor’s own phone number in the required slot.

I  ran a reader’s question in Friday’s news asking for hospitals that have switched from Cerner to Epic. Readers provided these: Aurora, Legacy Health Portland, Children’s Dallas, University of Utah (underway), Rex Healthcare, Loma Linda, and Lucile Packard (underway). I appreciate the information, which then led me to another question as it often does: have any hospitals voluntarily switched from Epic to Cerner?

XIFIN, which offers revenue cycle solutions for laboratories, radiology,  and pain management, acquires PathCentral, a vendor of cloud-based digital anatomic pathology vendor with big-name customers such as Johns Hopkins, Mass General, and University of Southern California.

A medical assistant / IT administrator at an orthopedics practice is arrested for stealing a pre-signed blank prescription form from the the practice’s EMR and writing himself a prescription for Percocet.

The Washington Post profiles Altruista Health, a 75-employee Reston, VA company that offers predictive algorithms that identify a provider’s highest-risk patients. I ran a Readers Write article by CEO Ashish Kachru in December 2012.

URAC and the Leapfrog Group announce the second annual Hospital Website Transparency Awards, which recognizes websites that portray quality measures honestly and contain information that’s actually useful instead of the far more common marketing BS (stock photo photogenic doctors, community chest-puffing, and unsubstantiated claims that locals are incredibly lucky to have a world-renowned medical facility in a town too small to even have a mall.)

Wisconsin Statewide Health Information Network says it will go live soon, running on the Medicity platform.