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Morning Headlines 12/6/19

December 5, 2019 Headlines No Comments

Premier considers sale with banks

Premier is reportedly arranging talks with several potential acquirers in seeking a sale of the company.

Stephanie Reel to retire as chief information officer of university, health system

Stephanie Reel, CIO/vice provost for IT at Johns Hopkins University and SVP/CIO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, will retire on July 1, 2020 after a 30-year Hopkins career.

Former Outcome Health employees plead not guilty to felony charges in alleged $1 billion scheme to defraud pharma clients

Two former Outcome Health analysts plead not guilty to charges of felony conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

VA launches National Artificial Intelligence

The VA establishes the National Artificial Intelligence Institute to research and develop AI solutions that will improve healthcare for veterans.

News 12/6/19

December 5, 2019 News No Comments

Top News


RCM vendor Waystar acquires Recondo Technology, which specializes in automated revenue cycle software and services.

Reader Comments

From Foundational Confused: “Re: non-profit hospital donations. You’ve said that sending money to them is a terrible use of it. How do you personally differentiate between a foundation doing good versus one just burning money?” I like supporting organizations that truly need the money and will put it to good use for a directly connected social mission. Health systems stretch the definition of non-profit (and certainly that of a charity) with million-dollar executives, vast real estate holdings, and a can’t-miss business model that allows them to charge high prices and stifle competition on the backs of people in need, not to mention that they are so adept at raking in cash that they, themselves donate to other non-profits. My paltry donation would pale to the amount of money they can print via cranking out via high patient charges and collections. I would rather help a smaller, struggling non-profit that doesn’t have the luxury of sticking it to Medicare and insurers, whose mission is in danger of disappearing without outside help and that doesn’t employ mahogany wings full of power-broking suits who spend their day plotting deeper dives into the healthcare cookie jar (I say that while acknowledging the irony that I’ve been part of that particular problem for a long time). My personal donation choices are animal rescue and sanctuary organizations, food banks, Donors Choose, and Salvation Army, where a few hundred dollars can really make a direct difference instead of covering maybe one hour of the HR VP’s time.


From Party On: “Re: HIStalk reception at HIMSS20. Wondering how to obtain an invite and which evening it will occur.” The tenth and final HIStalkapalooza was at HIMSS17, I’m sorry to say. Maybe we can all schedule a time during HIMSS20 week to simultaneously reminisce by watching the video of that final evening with Party on the Moon and several hundred industry kindred spirits. 


December 10 (Tuesday) 1:00 ET. “Move on from the age of the inefficient EHR.” Sponsor: Intelligent Medical Objects. Presenters: Jim Thompson, MD, physician informaticist, IMO; Obaid Baig, product manager, IMO. The EHR seems more like transactional workflow system rather than an intuitive clinical documentation tool, creating the possibility of loss of data consistency and the need for manual workarounds. The presenters will describe how to turn an EHR into a powerful tool that can help improve workflows and documentation so that clinicians can focus on care, not coding and reimbursement.

Previous webinars are on our YouTube channel. Contact Lorre to present your own

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock


Premier is reportedly arranging talks with several potential acquirers in seeking a sale of the company, with reports of its interest sending share price and trading volume up this week.


Clinical surveillance and data visualization company Decisio Health closes a $13 million Series B funding round.


  • Seminole Hospital District in Texas will implement CPSI subsidiary American HealthTech’s post-acute EHR at Memorial Health Care Center.
  • In England, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust chooses Hyland Healthcare’s OnBase content services software.
  • Integris Health (OK) and Woman’s Hospital (LA) select Health Catalyst’s Corus Suite of patient, departmental, and equipment utilization and cost analytics.
  • Cleveland Clinic London will use Vocera’s care team communication and workflow technology when it opens in 2021.
  • In California, Natividad and the Monterey County Health Department will implement NextGate’s Enterprise Master Patient Index across its 19 clinics and other agencies.
  • American Oncology Network selects PatientPoint’s patient and provider engagement solutions for its community oncology practice network.



Stephanie Reel, CIO/vice provost for IT at Johns Hopkins University and SVP/CIO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, will retire on July 1, 2020 after a 30-year Hopkins career. She says that she’s channeling Elton John in announcing her “Love Mondays World Tour” and sent me her Thanksgiving letter that outlines her future plans to enjoy family, travel, life in general, and a move from Baltimore after 25 years to Falls Church, VA. Few CIOs have had her tenure and breadth of IT responsibility over one of the country’s highest-ranked health systems as well as its correspondingly highly-ranked university through the impressive growth of both as an unfailingly steady hand on the IT tiller. I’m not saying I “know” her personally, but a couple of interviews and some private conversations about personal issues in which she was generous with her time and offers to assist make her #1 in my book.


Change Healthcare EVP/CIO Alex Choy will retire early next year.


Cletis Earle (Kaleida Health) joins Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine as SVP/CIO.


John Halamka, MD will join Mayo Clinic (MN) as president of its Mayo Clinic Platform, an initiative he describes as a “portfolio of new digital platform businesses focused on transforming health by leveraging artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and an ecosystem of partners for Mayo Clinic.” Halamka has spent the past 25 years in various positions, including CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health.


Patient transfer solution vendor Central Logic promotes Barry Dennis, RN, MBA to the newly created position of SVP of clinical operations.


Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will step down from their respective roles within parent company Alphabet as part of management streamlining that will see Google CEO Sundar Pichai take on the additional role of Alphabet CEO.

Announcements and Implementations


PatientPing enhances its collaboration network with Callouts (sharing member information with point-of-care providers using multiple EHRs) and Spotlights (a performance dashboard for readmissions, hospital utilization, and post-acute network management).


PMD makes patient-to-provider messaging and multi-provider group messaging with patients available through its app’s secure messaging capabilities.

Kindred Healthcare (KY) implements Netsmart’s Referral Manager software across its 70 LTAC hospitals.


A Surescripts report finds that the use of EHR-integrated prescription price tools more than doubled in 2019, also noting that prescriptions represent 17% of spending on goods and services that are provided directly to patients and are projected to increase 6.3% per year.


A KLAS report on ERP implementation consulting finds that among software vendors, every Infor consulting services client that was contacted is dissatisfied because the company’s consultants don’t understand the software or how to apply change management. PwC earns high marks from clients; KPMG performs well and Deloitte poorly on Workday and Oracle implementations; and for Infor implementation work, ROI Healthcare Solutions delivers high value while Avaap delivers strong outcomes.

Government and Politics


The American Hospital Association and other hospital groups file a lawsuit challenging HHS’s proposed requirement for hospitals to publicly post confidential pricing information. The plaintiffs say that disclosure of negotiated insurer charges would confuse patients about their out-of-pocket costs, adding that the rule is unlawful anyway because it exceeds CMS’s authority. 



Physician services firm TeamHealth, which was acquired by investment firm Blackstone for $6.1 billion in early 2017, tells the Senate that it didn’t send surprise, out-of-network ED bills to thousands of patients in 2017 to generate revenue – their real purpose was to pressure insurers into signing more lucrative contracts. It also says that most of the public griping about balance billing comes from patients who don’t understand their coverage and mistake their co-pay, co-insurance, or deductible as a balance billing. The company suggests that Congress require insurers to immediately pay out-of-network providers at 125% the average allowed amount; require them to send the provider a check for the full amount that includes patient responsibility and then let the insurer rather than the provider collect the patient’s portion; cap ED patient cost-sharing at $1,000; and offer arbitration for dispute resolution.


UC Davis will offer an online course titled “The Health and Wellbeing of Medical Providers,” which will be taught by UC Davis Health Chief Wellness Officer Peter Yellowlees, MD, MBBS (yes, he did earn both degrees years apart even though they are basically equivalent). The 20-CME, $800 course begins on February 24. The course text, “Physician Suicide Cases and Commentaries,” was written by the instructor.


Cerner loses a $600,000 lawsuit that was brought by an air ambulance company after Cerner’s health plan refused to pay for a toddler’s air ambulance transportation after initially authorizing it.


In Australia, a women is sentenced to 25 months in prison for falsifying her application for a high-paying government CIO role. She lied about her education and work experience, gave herself a glowing recommendation in posing by telephone as a former employer, and used a supermodel’s photo as her LinkedIn headshot. Her attorney blames her actions on being “off with the pixies” due to stopping her weight loss drug.

Sponsor Updates

  • Ensocare will exhibit at the National Veterans Small Business Engagement December 9-11 in Nashville.
  • First Databank’s Meducation medication adherence solution wins Cerner’s first Open Developer Experience Program Member Adoption Award.
  • Glytec will exhibit at the IHI National Forum December 8-11 in Orlando.
  • EClinicalWorks publishes a new customer success story, “Compass Medical: Growing a Practice, Saving Lives.”
  • Gartner has recognized InterSystems as a leader in its “2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Operational Database Management Systems.”
  • Kyruus Executive Assistant and Office Manager Lisa Marie Rosson Guidi wins the Spirit Award from The Admin Awards.
  • PCare leverages cybersecurity services from By Light Professional IT Services as it pursues HITRUST certification.
  • PatientPing adds enhanced member information sharing capabilities and real-time network utilization dashboards to its enterprise care collaboration technology.

Blog Posts



Mr. H, Lorre, Jenn, Dr. Jayne.
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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/5/19

December 5, 2019 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

A recent NEJM Catalyst piece looks at the role of physician gender when looking at EHR usability and clinician burnout. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that female physicians created longer notes, addressed a higher percentage of patient contacts within 24 hours, and spent more after-hours time using the EHR than their male counterparts. Female users were also more likely to use copy/paste and other tools to make documentation more efficient, but spent more time in the EHR. These factors may explain a higher rate of female physician burnout when looking specifically at EHR use. The study was fairly broad, looking at over 1,300 physicians across nearly 90 specialties. It looked at various six-week time periods over the course of a year.

The authors suggested that healthcare organizations could do a better job reducing EHR burden overall, including creating clear expectations for EHR use and timeliness of patient contacts. I’d go further to suggest that they look at the FTE support staff in various practices and whether the physician to staff ratios are equal.

I’ve seen several practices in my recent travels that relatively understaffed some physicians (both male and female) despite equal productivity. Staffing ratios there depended more on physician personality and the fact that some providers demanded more support staff, where others were more likely to pitch in and do staff-level work or didn’t want to rock the boat asking for more help. Although the study controlled for staffing, my experience in non-research environments is that staffing can be highly variable.

Other teams have also looked at this issue. A recent JAMIA article looked at usability and gender, along with age, professional role, and years of experience. Among intensive care physicians, they identified “significant gender-based differences in perceived EHR workload stress, satisfaction, and usability – corresponding to objective patterns in EHR efficiency.” Drawing conclusions based on gender can often create friction among clinicians, but I’m glad they’re looking at the problem.


I’ve been on several vendor webinars this week and have experienced sessions spanning the range of good, bad, and downright ugly. For those of you who have to deliver webinars, I have some tips.

First, make sure you have your content fleshed out ahead of time. You don’t have to write a full word-by-word script, but you need to know what you are planning to say. On the other hand, if you struggle with impromptu speaking or have a tendency to go off track, write a script. Whatever you do, please do not simply read the slides to the audience. You’ll lose them in a flash. If you use a script, practice reading it in a conversational way, not like a robot.

Second, check your slides for visual appeal. Text should not be too bulky in content or too small in font. Use visuals to convey your ideas along with your word track and it will be more memorable to the audience. If you’re including polls for the audience, please show the results as you go – don’t just grab the data for your own marketing purposes. Attendees often want to understand how they compare to others on the call – whether they’re ahead of the game or trending the same as other organizations.

Last, make sure any photos used during introductions are professional or appropriate to the audience. Your hair should be combed, at a minimum, and it would be nice if the background was uncluttered and the lighting was good. Under no circumstances should you crop yourself out of a group wedding photo (yes, I saw this).

Mr. H already mentioned this article about physicians and tech staff clashing at digital health companies. Having been a physician working in digital health including with vendors, I wanted to add my two cents.

The article makes the point that clinical and product teams are “at odds,” which I have definitely seen. I’ve also seen teams where everyone works well together and drives the solution forward because they have a mutual understanding of each other’s experience, goals, and priorities. One of the biggest barriers to successful collaboration is the presence of preconceived notions about the members of the team. If tech team members have had previous negative experiences with physicians, they’re likely to make assumptions based on those experiences. Similarly, physicians may not understand the roles and processes of various tech team members or how an agile process works. Getting everyone in the same room to learn about each other and how they need to work together is a start.

Another barrier I’ve seen is lack of structure – inconsistent sign-off processes that may not fully explain how requirements or other work product should be flowing through the organization and lack of defined processes for clinical and other subject matter experts to provide their feedback. That can result in unpleasant shocks at the end of the process when clinical folks are presented with workflows that aren’t going to work, but could have been better engineered if the clinician input was at a better place in the process.

Physicians also need to have a common framework for how they’re going to make decisions around clinical content. Is the company striving to be evidence-based, or is customer satisfaction or sales the lead driving factor? These elements aren’t mutually exclusive, but there has to be a common goal or physicians may be in conflict with each other. This goes back to governance, including team charters and product charters that make sure everyone is working towards common goals and there is clarity about how decisions need to be made, or how to handle when physicians or other clinical SMEs are not in agreement.

This isn’t just a clinical issue. I’ve seen the same problems in other areas of the healthcare IT industry, whether it’s revenue cycle, billing, patient engagement, etc. Everyone needs to understand the role that team members play and needs to respect the roles and knowledge of others on the team or there is going to be conflict. This goes back to leadership. If the individuals in charge don’t buy into this concept of mutual respect, and either team feels like it’s being marginalized or attacked, the effort is not going to be successful.

Do you have clinicians who are part of your development organization? What advice can you offer? Leave a comment or email me.


Email Dr. Jayne.

HIStalk Interviews Amanda Hansen, President, AdvancedMD

December 5, 2019 Interviews 3 Comments

Amanda Hansen is president of AdvancedMD of South Jordan, UT.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started in the position of president of AdvancedMD in June. It represents my 15th role within the organization over the past 13 years. AdvancedMD provides integrated workflow solutions and services to more than 35,000 physicians and providers in the ambulatory market.

How is that market changing?

We are in a replacement market. We sign a couple of hundred clients per month. The new clients we’re signing are on their second or their third EHR, so they are much more selective. Where historically with EHR it was about meeting regulation and Meaningful Use and driving towards that compliance, now it’s more about usability and workflow. Doctors don’t want a solution that is going to interrupt their workflow and add significant labor and administrative work on the back end.

The need for systems to be integrated and fully connected, that all-in-one, has definitely evolved over the past several years. Specialty-specific clinical records are more prevalent within certain subsets. You get a lot of benefit from having everything connected and working well together.

Is it fair for clinicians to say that the EHR causes burnout?

I do think it’s fair. It is necessary to have EHRs and the data structure and the storage of the information. Hopefully over time we’ll be driving more towards a patient-controlled health record in addition to the clinical records from the physician, and having those work in tandem.

But when you look at the demographic in healthcare, somewhere around 50 to 55% of physicians are over 50 years old. In that segment, it has driven some degree of burnout. The millennial generation, the generation that is rising now, grew up with all this technology at  their fingertips, so those types of physicians and providers are excited about the technology. I think it’s more of a generational issue than additional work that has driven burnout.

How are consumer expectations changing with regard to how technology can allow them to interact with their providers in ways that are convenient for them?

We spend a lot of time thinking about this and building strategies. The consumerism of healthcare is here to stay. I’m the perfect demographic to talk about it. I don’t have a primary care physician. My husband and I have three kids and we have an established pediatrician that we go to. But if I get sick, I go to urgent care. I want the same thing. I want an app that I can use. I want to do telehealth or do a telemedicine visit. I want that immediate gratification, that instantaneous response and result. In the healthcare IT space specifically, vendors have to put more resources on having those mobile applications.

Even at AdvancedMD, historically we’ve focused on patient engagement. But the patient engagement we focused on was more driven about how to help physicians engage with their patients, not to help patients engage with their physicians. We need to flip the switch. It has to be patient centralized, where everything drives from that patient and how they interact with their doctors.

With my pediatrician for my kids, we got a patient portal login. We never used it because it was really complicated. We couldn’t remember it. It was dual authentication, just very complicated. Whereas if I get a simple text message that says, go ahead and fill out this consent form and confirm your visit, I’m much more likely to do that than I am to remember some login. It puts pressure on the vendors to make sure that they’re delivering technology in a way that patients want to consume it.

How should interoperability work optimally when a patient’s records are scattered over multiple providers and there’s no PCP to collect and manage all their information in one place?

This is a huge opportunity. This is the secret sauce to making healthcare IT great, being able to have that interoperability and the connectivity. To make it successful, it has to shift from a clinical record from the physician to a clinical record from the physician that the patient can take with them always. This is something that I’m passionate about.

My dad was a type1 diabetic. He got diabetes when he was 20 months old. He passed away about two and a half years ago after two kidney transplants, two pancreas transplants, thousands of dialysis appointments, and a complete loss of vision. He was a modern day health miracle in many ways. He passed away when he was 60. It’s important to me because my mom would take him to doctor’s appointments and she would literally have to bring a binder of his health information with her everywhere they went. It had the prescription history, his conditions, his ailments, the procedures that had been done. It limited the ability of his physicians – specialists, primary care, mental health, behavioral health — to focus on his care at that moment because they were so focused on what had happened historically.

With FHIR and all the standards that are coming out in interoperability and accessibility of information, it really needs to be a record that is controlled by the patient. It doesn’t mean the patient is the only person inputting information we want. There’s a reason doctors go to medical school. We want it to have that flavor and we want it to be certified in the right way, but the patient should be able to take that information with them. What’s missing in healthcare IT is that patient. Companies are trying to address it, like Apple with the Apple Health Records app, and if you’re on an Epic system, you can get your medical record history. It’s something to assemble all of those records into one place that the patient can take with them

Why hasn’t the Health Record Bank concept taken hold?

There could potentially be a role for it. No one cares about a patient’s health as much as that patient. It is like your job, where nobody cares about your career or your progression at an organization more than you do. You have to own that.

Ideally, that the patient would have access to all of their own information and they could carry it with them and be the quarterback for themselves. Some people are in a situation where they can’t do that, and then their caretaker, spouse, family, or loved ones can help drive that. I really believe that it should be patient centralized, because we care about our own health more than any physician or provider is going to.

What is the mechanism of that patient carrying their data around?

That’s the mystery that that we all need to solve. It goes back to your earlier question, which is, can you have some sort of health data bank? We believe in big data. The challenge that we have had with big data so far is it has helped us to understand risk profiles of patients and to segment different patient bases, but it doesn’t create the action plan. If the information can be assimilated, whether it’s through a data bank or something else, that’s great. But the missing link has been what’s done with the information.

We know that 20% of our patient population has a high risk for adult onset diabetes, but outside of that, there’s not anything to link to what those next steps are. It’s tying that data into proactive tools, like our HealthWatcher solution that automates some of that process.

There are hundreds of EHR vendors and healthcare IT solutions. Unless we have some sort of universal health plan where there is only one vendor, then that can’t be the keeper of everything. We have to rely on something else, whether it’s the patient to control their own fate or if there’s some sort of health data bank. But we need to make sure that whatever information is assimilated, that there are action items and automated processes that happen as a result of the information. That’s the missing piece.

Are EHR vendors backing away from offering revenue cycle management services?

There is high demand for revenue cycle management, especially with the increasing complexity of getting reimbursed. Regulation is consistently changing and it makes it more and more challenging for doctors to get paid for the work that they do.

At AdvancedMD, we’ve seen a big influx in our revenue cycle management demand. Kareo recently divested their revenue cycle management business. I don’t believe that was for lack of demand. It seemed that it was more about the financial profile of the organization, where revenue cycle management is a more expensive business. It’s lower margin. With the exception of Kareo, the main vendors that we see day in and day out all have a revenue cycle management offering.

It has helped that providers and physicians want choice. If they want to do their billing themselves, they can use the software. If they want to have someone else do it, we have billing partners, and then we also have our own revenue cycle management division.

What was the strategy behind payments technology vendor Global Payments acquiring AdvancedMD in 2018?

Global Payments is focused on integrated payment solutions. The philosophy is that if they own software companies that have payments integrated within them, customers will be less likely to switch out their payment vendor for an alternative solution. They have, I think, 10 software companies in multiple verticals. Healthcare is a strong vertical, making up almost 20% of the opportunity in the US. We were their first effort in healthcare to have the integrated payment experience.

How do companies build a development schedule around technologies such as AI and voice-powered user interfaces that may be at various points on the hype cycle?

It’s always a balance. Technologists always want to work on the latest, greatest, really cool things. Sometimes those really cool things end up not being practical, or they aren’t something that’s even needed. A customer would rather you move a button or decrease the number of clicks to do a step in their workflow process. You see that more with startup organizations, where they are developing things that they think are really cool and revolutionary and then the adoption becomes much more of a challenge.

We experienced that historically with a couple of solutions that we put out. One of those was a benchmarking solution that we felt really excited about, paired with our analytics solution. What we quickly learned is that 70% of our client base is practices of fewer than five providers, independent practices, and they didn’t really care — even in a really cool way — to benchmark themselves against their competitors.

The most important thing that companies can do is to make sure that they keep the voice of the customer at the forefront. Not only do market research, but solicit those clients, internal and external, to help drive their roadmaps and make decisions on what to invest in and what to build.

What lessons have you learned in being promoted many times within one company instead of following the conventional wisdom that you have to move out to move up?

I’ve had a lot of friends come and go at this organization since I’ve been here. I can’t point to any of them and say that they are in a better position, or better off than I am, for having worked through the inner workings of an organization to drive my way to the position that I’m in today.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that moving ahead requires taking the jobs that no one wants to do. I’m sure that physicians, providers, and others in the healthcare space understand that sentiment as well. Sometimes it’s not the glamorous things. Sometimes it’s the ones that seem extremely challenging and difficult, but that propel you forward.

We have a great team assembled at AdvancedMD. I am extremely grateful and humbled for all of the people that I’ve been able to work with in my 13 1/2 years at this company. Nowadays, especially, you don’t see a lot of people who are fiercely loyal in sticking with an organization. It requires your own drive and will to do it. It also requires having mentors and advocates who look for opportunities for you. Lastly, it requires raising your hand to do the jobs that that may seem impossible at the time, but they’re not. Anything is possible.

Do you have any final thoughts?

We are excited and enthused about the opportunity to help propel the consumerization of healthcare forward, focusing on flipping the switch and with the patient being central to patient engagement rather than the physician. That’s through mobile applications and various programs to engage patients to play a more active role in their healthcare experience.

Morning Headlines 12/5/19

December 4, 2019 Headlines No Comments

Waystar Acquires Recondo Technology, Gains Best in KLAS Patient Access and Business Office Technology

RCM vendor Waystar acquires Recondo Technology, which specializes in automated revenue cycle software and services.

Kalispell hospital sued over data breach

A former patient sues Kalispell Regional Healthcare (MT) for failing to adequately protect his PHI from a ransomware attack that occurred in May.

Houston virtual health care company receives investment from GE for its $13M series B

Virtual care monitoring company Decisio wraps up a $13 million Series B funding round with an investment from GE Healthcare.

ENT and Allergy Associates® Announces the Formation of QMMS USA, LLC

ENT and Allergy Associates (NY) launches QMMS USA to provide its 46 clinics and other practices with billing, practice management, and health IT, among other back-office services.

Morning Headlines 12/4/19

December 3, 2019 Headlines No Comments

Dr. John Halamka named president of Mayo Clinic Platform

John Halamka, MD will join Mayo Clinic as president of a new initiative that will use technology and data to improve care and extend the clinic’s global reach.

Health System Sues Software Co. For ‘NotPetya’ Cyberattack

Heritage Valley Health System (PA) sues Nuance for negligence that resulted in the system becoming the victim of a ransomware attack in the summer of 2017.

A letter from Larry and Sergey

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will step down from their respective roles within parent company Alphabet as part of management streamlining that will see Google CEO Sundar Pichai take on the additional role of Alphabet CEO.

News 12/4/19

December 3, 2019 News 3 Comments

Top News


Amazon Web Services announces the rollout of Amazon Transcribe Medical, a real-time transcription tool that software developers can use to transcribe speech and then send the resulting text to EHRs and other AWS tools such as the Amazon Comprehend Medical language service.

The company is positioning service as a replacement for transcriptionists, scribes, and transcription software.

It’s a “service” only in the technical sense – despite some sites misinterpreting it as a standalone product, it isn’t. Developers will need to build it into their own products and AWS will charge for usage. 

Reader Comments

From Curious: “Re: Meditech. I’ll l be interested to see if MaaS + Expanse can make Meditech competitive with CPSI, which owns the community and price-sensitive hospital market because they do the billing for their clients. Meditech should get into outsourced billing. The margin isn’t great, but they need it to gain new customers. However, no one who works for Meditech in Boston is going to say it since the people who would be hired to do billing aren’t going to work in Boston.”

HIStalk Announcements and Requests

I’m finding that reading Samuel Shem’s “Man’s 4th-Best Hospital” is more of a chore than I anticipated, which is surprising given how much I liked “House of God” (this one is long and heavy-handed with simplistic cynicism), but I’ll probably finish it despite its tiring anti-EHR diatribes. Meanwhile, I’ve purchased Elizabeth Rosenthal’s “An American Sickness,” which I’ve somehow managed not to read since it came out in 2017.


December 10 (Tuesday) 1:00 ET. “Move on from the age of the inefficient EHR.” Sponsor: Intelligent Medical Objects. Presenters: Jim Thompson, MD, physician informaticist, IMO; Obaid Baig, product manager, IMO. The EHR seems more like transactional workflow system rather than an intuitive clinical documentation tool, creating the possibility of loss of data consistency and the need for manual workarounds. The presenters will describe how to turn an EHR into a powerful tool that can help improve workflows and documentation so that clinicians can focus on care, not coding and reimbursement.

Previous webinars are on our YouTube channel. Contact Lorre to present your own

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock


Agfa is negotiating the sale of its Europe-focused healthcare and imaging IT business to Italy-based clinical software vendor Dedalus for more than $1 billion, excluding expected frontrunner CompuGroup Medical. The business includes enterprise imaging, hospital information systems, an enterprise content management solution, and patient engagement tools. It looks like a done deal since the companies have already said they expect it to close in Q2 2020. The business generates around $200 million in annual revenue, so that’s a pretty rich multiple for a company to pay to acquire a slightly larger competitor.


Cerner names Amazon Web Services as its preferred cloud, AI, and machine learning provider. You aren’t having déjà vu – Cerner named AWS as its preferred cloud provider in July 2019, so this announcement adds the obvious AI and ML components that will be incorporated into the Cerner Machine Learning Ecosystem for creating and deploying machine learning models. AWS called Cerner a “healthcare and life sciences organization” in the announcement rather than a software vendor, which I guess is slightly accurate since a microscopic part of its business involves running a few workplace clinics. As far as I know, its life sciences work is limited to selling patient EHR data to drug companies. 

Allscripts launches a $200 million private offering of convertible senior notes in a transaction that is far too complex for me to understand. 

An investigative report finds that Amazon’s on-site medical unit contractor Amcare is failing to send injured warehouse employees to outside care providers when needed and is also, per OHSA inspections, using unsupervised EMTs and athletic trainers outside of their allowed scope of their practice. Amcare is authorized to render first aid using EMTs, but OSHA’s investigation of employee complaints found evidence that employees are being refused treatment and their injuries are not always reported per federal law.

Heritage Valley Health System (PA) files suit against Nuance for failing to prevent the 2017 malware attack that the lawsuit claims spread from Nuance to the health system, taking down its computer and biomedical systems.


  • Two health systems in Puerto Rico select Health Gorilla’s interoperability solution.

Announcements and Implementations


Change Healthcare offers providers free access to National Decision Support Company’s CareSelect clinical decision support system that meets Medicare’s PAMA advanced imaging requirements, which take effect on January 1, 2020.


KLAS looks at PACS outside the US, noting that in Europe, Sectra and lesser-known regional vendors are tops at meeting customer expectations; Philips and Agfa are seen as best positioned to address future needs; and Change Healthcare, Fujifilm, GE Healthcare, Philips, and Cerner are frustrating customers with their lack of development. Philips has taken the lead in Canada with the decline of Intelerad and Change Healthcare, while Intelerad and Philips lead performance in Asia and Oceania although satisfaction scores in that region are lower and customers complain about poor vendor support. KLAS concludes that some market leaders are lagging as the market is demanding cloud technology and lighter infrastructure over client-server PACS. 

Government and Politics


FDA will hold a public workshop on the use of AI in radiological imaging February 25-26 on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD that will also cover potential FDA regulation. A post-event webcast will be available.



Dexcom confirms that its G6 continuous glucose monitor hasn’t sent results and alerts – most of them intended for the parents of children with diabetes who are managing their conditions – since Friday due to a server overload problem. The company, which didn’t notify users until a Saturday morning Facebook post, experienced a similar one-day outage a year ago. Dexcom’s most recent Facebook update, from Monday, says they are back to “near normal performance.” Users complained that the company didn’t issue alerts by other channels such as text message or even its webpage for customers who don’t use social media and didn’t update its support line with a notice that they were experiencing issues, forcing callers to remain on hold for long periods. Shares of the publicly traded company, which has $1 billion in annual revenue, dropped a few percentage points at Monday’s market open but have since rebounded.


Researchers find that the few mental health smartphone apps that have actually undergone clinical trials – 19 trials versus the hundreds of available apps whose efficacy hasn’t been measured — are not effective when used alone. Apps for depression, anxiety, substance use, self-injurious thoughts, sleep problems, depression, alcohol, and smoking aren’t as effective as web-based interventions, possibly because the apps aren’t used as often, interventions might be less effective due to the casual and impromptu nature of smartphone use, and the form factor does not allow simply translating proven, on-site psychotherapy processes to the screen as has been done with web-based apps. The authors warn that ineffective apps may discourage users from seeking interventions that actually work. They recommend that phone apps be designed to take advantage of that platform’s unique capabilities for context sensing, always-on access, prompting, and the ability to perform physiological assessments.


A researcher’s review of anonymized electronic patient records of cardiac arrest patients who were transported by ambulance to Lifespan Health System (RI) finds that at least 11 patients over 2 1/2 years had misplaced breathing tubes, all of whom died. Rhode Island is one of few states that does not limit ET tube placement to paramedics, but a firefighter’s union killed a proposal to bring the state in line with others, declaring to audience applause in a public meeting, “We’re the experts, not doctors who are doing it when they’re in nice ORs or nice ERs with bright lights and a lot of people helping them.” A misplaced ET tube is considered to be a “never event” in emergency medicine since placement can and should be confirmed. Ambulance services, like hospitals, are required to report such mistakes to the state’s health department, but they would be aware of issues only of the hospital notifies them after the fact.


Kaiser Health News looks at rarely useful interruptive medical monitoring alarms, whose most frequent outcome is disturbing patient rest and burning out clinicians who are forced to listen to their insistent clanging all day long. Joint Commission says 85% to 99% of the alarms don’t require clinical intervention. Bed alarm sales jumped in 2008 when CMS decided to stop paying for hospital fall injuries even as CMS later discouraged their use in nursing homes in considering them a “restraint” as residents remained bedridden to keep the alarms quiet. The article observes that alarm proliferation has created a market for clinical alarm management consultants and software vendors who review alarm-capable device settings and install software that reviews the alerts before notifying employees.


HIMSS will “curate” (there’s a trendy millennial word for you) 12-15 digital health startups to pitch investors at the J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference via its Health 2.0 acquisition, which seemed more appropriate when Health 2.0 was a for-profit company instead of having the non-profit HIMSS choose which companies get in front of potential investors. FYI to HIMSS – it will be 2020 soon, so please fix that date. Also note that the socialism-despising sharks at J.P. Morgan Chase who oversee this investor orgy happily received $25 billion of your tax dollars stay afloat back in 2008, although they had to pay $13 billion for ignoring their own due diligence process in screwing around with mortgage-backed securities. Both numbers are chicken feed to a company whose annual profits are tracking at around $50 billion. Greed is good, at least for the company’s bottom line and for CEO Jamie Dimon, whose net worth is around $2 billion.


The systems of urgent care software vendor T-System are apparently offline, as reported by malware hunters who found evidence of a ransomware attack on its servers. The company’s PR contact didn’t respond to my inquiry and any problems have not been publicly acknowledged, but the company’s website has been down since at least Friday when we last checked. UPDATE: a T-System spokesperson provided this response:

Through proactive monitoring of our systems, last week T-System identified a cybersecurity incident that has temporarily affected the availability of our Advanced Coding System (ACS) services. After learning of the incident, we promptly took relevant systems offline and commenced an investigation with the assistance of external experts who have expertise in the specific type of malware involved in the incident. Over the past few days, we have been working with our internal team and the external experts to restore backups and move back into production the systems that we initially took offline. We are working closely to restore these systems as quickly and safely as possible. Because of our early detection of the incident and our architecture, we do not – at this time – expect the incident to impact unsecured PHI or other personal information. We have been in direct contact with our clients with updates about the incident. The investigation is ongoing.

In Australia, a cancer center’s six-month, small-scale trial of IBM Watson for matching patients to available clinical trials worked well, but the cancer center won’t move ahead pending product improvements and its own EHR implementation.


Weird News Andy channels “Young Frankenstein” in titling this story Abby Normal. A Duke Health surgeon successfully completes the first transplant of a dead donor’s heart into a live patient, a procedure that has been performed for 10 years in the UK and in 619 procedures in last year alone in expanding the potential donor pool. WNA notes that equivalent US numbers would be nearly all of the 3,400 US heart transplants that were performed last year.

Sponsor Updates

  • Avaya names Jon Brinton (Mitel Networks)  as VP, North America channel sales.
  • Bluetree Network names Florid Sau (City of Hope Medical Center) an executive partner.
  • Clinical Architecture will exhibit at the IHI National Forum December 8-11 in Orlando.
  • AGS Health is recognized in the top 75 of “India’s Best Workplaces in IT and IT-BPM 2019” based on a rigorous assessment of the company’s fairness, credibility, respect, pride, and camaraderie.
  • EPSI announces a new advanced analytics product.
  • Hyland Healthcare announces new products and updates at RSNA.
  • CoverMyMeds will exhibit at the NG Healthcare Summit December 9-11 in Amelia Island, FL.
  • Cumberland Consulting Group will exhibit at the AHIP Consumer Experience & Digital Health Forum December 10-11 in Chicago.

Blog Posts



Mr. H, Lorre, Jenn, Dr. Jayne.Get HIStalk updates. Send news or rumors.
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Morning Headlines 12/3/19

December 2, 2019 Headlines No Comments

Amazon Transcribe Medical – Real-Time Automatic Speech Recognition for Healthcare Customers

AWS unveils a healthcare-focused version of its transcription service for cloud customers that converts dictated medical notes or multi-party conversations to text in real time.

Agfa-Gevaert Group enters into exclusive negotiations for the sale of a part of its HealthCare IT activities to Dedalus Holding S.p.A. – Regulated information

Italy-based Dedalus Holding will acquire Belgium-based Agfa’s health IT business, including its HIS and Integrated Care solutions, in Q2 2020.

Cerner Achieves 500th Patent With Voice-Assisted Technology

Cerner’s 500th patent pertains to voice-assisted technology that captures verbal interactions, then extracts relevant information and presents it on a physician’s mobile device.

Dexcom glitch kept parents of children with diabetes in the dark over their conditions this weekend

Blood glucose monitor maker Dexcom recovers from a server overload that has prevented updates and alerts from reaching users.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/2/19

December 2, 2019 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I’m happy to report that I’ve survived the Thanksgiving holiday despite the intersection of bizarre karmic forces that had me working in the clinic most of the week as well as hosting Thanksgiving Dinner. I worked Black Friday and the weekend as well, so I haven’t fully recovered. Next, I’ll have nearly two weeks free of clinical care, then some scattered shifts before the scheduling gods smack me down again with a five day streak of 12+ hour days before we head into 2020.

I don’t know what our schedulers are thinking at times, but I suspect they’re scheduling around the day-off requests of the full time and higher-ranking physicians. I’ve asked for fewer shifts in the new year, so hopefully I can regain my sanity.

Truthfully, I don’t mind working Black Friday and it’s become a bit of a tradition for me. I’m not much of a shopper and value my sleep too much to be getting up at the crack of dawn to hunt for bargains. Most of the patients who come in are actually sick and it’s a privilege to help them. Many of them put off care because of holiday preparations and having family in town and now they’re in bad shape.

Most of the primary care offices in the area were closed, so their choices were limited. One cardiology office I called had a message that they would be closed until January 2, so either something funny is going on with the practice or they accidentally recycled their Christmas out-of-office message from last year.

We started the day with more than a little trepidation. The team that was on for Thanksgiving noted they had issues with our EHR communicating with our drug dispensing system. They were not able to get it resolved due to lack of holiday support from the tech teams. Fortunately for us it was working, and by noon, we had seen more than twice our usual volume of patients. As soon as we would empty the waiting room, another batch of patients would arrive. It was well after 3 p.m. before any of us were able to sneak off to the kitchen to eat the previous day’s catered leftovers.

I have to say that our leadership understands that well-fueled staffers are happy staffers. They had pizza delivered the day prior to Thanksgiving, a full holiday spread on the day itself, and the random arrival of dozens of tacos and burritos on Black Friday.

The holiday patient mix is always an interesting one. We had several hospital transfers for influenza, pneumonia, and out-of-control diabetes. We saw kidney stones, raging urinary tract infections, and a couple of lacerations that should have been taken care of the day before, except people didn’t know we were open. There were even a couple of people who had a little too much holiday merriment and came in for IV hydration. Strep throat, sinus infections, and plenty of lingering colds rounded out the day.

I was glad to see the severity of illness dropping as the day went on since we were all getting pretty worn out by dinner time. We had a brief surge of people who came in after their shopping was done, which always makes me a little aggravated since they were out spreading germs when they should have been at home with some soup and a vaporizer. The rest of the weekend was a different story, with moments of calm punctuated by anxiety-provoking stroke symptoms, head trauma, and a myocardial infarction that was smoothly transferred to the hospital.

On days like these, I’m grateful for the EHR and the ability to have default documentation that works for patients with similar symptoms. We tweak them as we need to, but it’s still fast, and as long as you’ve personalized your defaults, the notes are of good quality.

Of course, there are always providers who don’t personalize their options, which is how you wind up with visit notes that have exam findings that you’re sure the physician in question didn’t do. Or they don’t use the defaults at all, which leads to slow documentation and plenty of physician frustration. I definitely couldn’t document this fast on paper, even when I worked in an emergency department that used paper templates designed for rapid documentation based on the patient’s presenting issue.

People often ask me why I continue to do as much clinical work as I do. The real answer is that I enjoy it. I enjoy the people I work with and the organization I work for. We have an outstanding workplace culture. Frankly, compared to being a CMIO, it’s like being on vacation. Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities and how to work together as a team, despite the fact that we work with different combinations of people and at different locations all the time.

It’s a fail-fast environment. People who can’t get it done don’t last very long. They give people the tools they need to be successful, and if it’s not a good fit, they’re not going to subject the rest of the team to poor performance. I never played on a select sports team, but I imagine it might feel a bit similar. I’m willing to put up with wacky scheduling in order to stay on a high-performing team.

We no longer have an annual company holiday part  since it has been moved to the spring after flu season is over. But this year, the staff has organized their own get-together. Sometimes people just want to get away from their co-workers at the end of the day, so it’s great being at a place where people like each other enough to want to spend time together. We’ll be bowling the night away along with a “rob your neighbor” gift exchange, which based on the sense of humor held by many of my co-workers, should be highly entertaining.

I was honored to be invited since I don’t think all of the physicians were on the guest list. At least we know that if anyone has too much holiday cheer or sprains something during the “crazy bowl” part of the evening, we’ll be well cared for in the morning.

What does your company do to celebrate the holidays or thank the team for its hard work? Leave a comment or email me.


Email Dr. Jayne.

HIStalk Interviews Michelle O’Connor, President, Meditech

December 2, 2019 Interviews No Comments

Michelle O’Connor is president and chief operating officer of Meditech of Westwood, MA.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I took over as president about six months ago. I was previously chief operating officer over operations and primarily development. I am now being reintroduced to a great leadership team that is responsible for our customer experience implementation and client services. We are re-engineering how we look at implementation to improve the physician experience and how we can improve customer experience as we continue to service them moving forward.

It is uncommon for companies to move developers into key executive roles, and Meditech is also different in that most of its executives have spent their entire working lives with Meditech. What is the company’s philosophy as the folks who founded the company and worked early in its 50-year history are handing over the reins to the next generation of leadership?

Part of the preparation for me taking over this role has been succession planning, which has been in the works at Meditech for many years. I’ve been in development, but previously I did work in implementation and worked on human resources with our staff management process re-engineering. I’ve done a lot of work with our staff, how we run the company internally and how we operate everything.

Working in development, I get introduced to the customer fairly regularly. Not necessarily in servicing and implementation, but I do work directly with them. That was especially true when we changed to an Agile development world, which I implemented seven or eight years ago when we started Expanse development. We engage our customers directly into the development process.

The plan for me to take over this role has been very well thought out. I’m prepared for what I need to do to take on more responsibility. That doesn’t mean that we don’t still have Hoda Sayed-Friel working more directly with our business partners and our professional services division and Helen Waters working with our marketing and our sales team. Those strengths help balance my role.

How does Meditech do business differently than competitors whose executives come and go from other health IT companies?

The value that Meditech brings to the table is that we look at what we need to do, we set a direction, and we move forward. Who would have thought that our senior VP of product development would have said in around 2010 when tablets came out that, “This is what we need to do in the future. We need to have mobile electronic health records.” We had just purchased LSS Data Systems. 

Because we are a technology company, we stay abreast of healthcare’s needs. We are able to pivot, move, and make decisions that allow us to do the right thing for the healthcare industry. We’ve been in the industry for 50 years. We have a touch on what customers need. By promoting from within, we allow ourselves to grow, evolve, and change to support it.

Meditech provides systems that go beyond core clinical or EHR functionality into modules that support nearly every aspect of a hospital’s operations in a long list of non-clinical departments. How hard is it to provide that breadth of systems?

I started with the revenue cycle product, which taught me the entire system and how things all come together. I look at non-healthcare technology companies and I can’t think of another industry that has to provide the level of service and the amount of functionality that we do. Meditech is one of the only vendors left that does financials. We are competitive with Cerner and Epic in the EHR, pharmacy, and lab space, but we provide financials and general ledger as well. It helps that we have been in business for 50 years.

It’s difficult for vendors to get into healthcare because our customers expect that level of integration. They expect that when you register in the lab system and populate a document that the pathologist reviews that we also drop a charge that goes over to revenue cycle so that your cost accounting system can deal with it and your general ledger can handle it. Then you send out a check for AP to do an overpayment to a patient. That’s totally expected of any of the vendors right now.

What are the biggest changes or trends you’re seeing across health systems?

Of course there is consolidation, but in terms of technology trends, I see providers who need to outsource their IT services through private clouds or what we’re going to be offering as the public cloud. It has become so complex for our organizations to support themselves. It’s a big change for them having public clouds handling the infrastructure and some of the help desk services. That’s one of the reasons we’re getting into the hosting business in offering Meditech as a Service or through Google.

We’re also doing it because of security concerns. Security is a huge risk. How many healthcare systems have been taken down for weeks and months from ransomware, and how did that disruption affect their overall business operations? A CIO recently told me that security is outside the EHR, but I think security is something that we as an EHR vendor have to do, to provide a system that can be highly secure. How can we do that more effectively and more cost-effectively?

We’re seeing a lot of announcements from health IT vendors who are partnering with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, not just for hosting, but for using their embedded technologies to change the way they design and build their software. How will your relationship with Google change Meditech as a product and as a company?

It has already changed us, to be honest. In January, we’re releasing our first cloud-based product, High Availability Snapshot, where we are providing the ability for a customer to have access to the electronic health record through Google Cloud services. If they get hit with ransomware and their systems are down, they can go directly to the public cloud through a cellular connection and get a snapshot of that patient’s record. They can at least know what was done to the patient prior to their system going down while they recover from their disaster.

We are working on interoperability changes and API changes that will primarily use Google services. In addition, Meditech itself is lifting and shifting – I actually saw that term in a dictionary recently — lifting and shifting our EHR to run on a private cloud or on premise to the public cloud. As we’re doing that, we’re making significant changes to how Meditech systems are architected in order to run in the public cloud.

Our newest app is Expanse Now, which will be coming out early next year. It is voice enabled and it’s a Google services app as well. Creating new apps, building interoperability standards within the cloud services, and re-engineering our entire EHR to run in the cloud are the three primary things that we’re going to be using cloud services for.

How will these cloud services relationships change the health IT competitive landscape?

When we decided to write our product on a tablet and make it mobile, we made a concerted effort to build it based upon web infrastructure and not do direct apps, to allow us to have a cloud-based product working with on-prem. At that particular time, the clouds weren’t ready for us. Our goal was always to get Expanse into the public cloud. Honestly, it’s been a little quicker than I thought it was going to be.

A year ago, Meditech itself moved our entire operations to the cloud. Then we were going to move our EHR into the cloud. We accelerated that. Not only was it something we felt we could do, we found that with our infrastructure, we could do it much more quickly than we originally thought.

Expanse is getting the recognition that it deserves right now. The industry is seeing it as a great mobile platform to run electronic health records and to give our physicians mobility. Our nursing product recently gave them mobility as well. By doing it through the cloud, we’re giving our customers the ability to get there a lot quicker than they might have been able to if they were doing it on-prem.

There’s a lot more hardware and infrastructure needed to run these systems and costs are higher. By providing them through cloud services, we’re able to get them to the customer quickly without the high capital expenditure and to provide it more economically.

You’re sleeping behind enemy lines in being surrounded by a lot of Epic-using big academic medical centers. How would you, as a patient and a competitor, describe the state of interoperability in the Boston area?

You’re asking me a difficult question. I have elderly parents who have been going through the healthcare system pretty regularly over the past year. Interoperability in our industry is not good, the ability to share a record from a physician’s office to a hospital and to be transitioned to a tertiary care center or to a rehab center. We need to do better as an industry.

We believe that through our Traverse interoperability service, through using CommonWell, and by continuing to push upon using interoperability standards, that healthcare can get better if we all play together. We all work well together. We have seen a lot of the industry doing that. You see vendors coming together with CommonWell, Carequality, and things like that to push the standards. I know the government doesn’t think that we’ve been moving fast enough, but we all want to move data along more quickly to make sure that patients can be taken care of more effectively.

One thing you don’t know about me is that I really believe in what we do. Being in the industry for 31 years, we provide a tool that allows caregivers to deliver care to patients. We take that very seriously from a patient safety perspective and from a fiscally responsible perspective.That comes down to who we are as a company and who I am as a person. I truly believe that it doesn’t matter if you’re running Epic, Meditech, Cerner, or Allscripts — everybody has to be able to interoperate. Even if you have two different Epic systems, they still have to interoperate.

Are customers demanding better interoperability and system usability, or have their own internal policies and deployment choices made the EHR what it has become?

A lot of it goes back to the original question. It’s a lack of understanding of the complexity of the healthcare system and the data in which the systems are out there. Vendors are willing to share the data, especially defined data sets. It’s a matter of making sure that healthcare systems themselves understand that they have to share the data. But how difficult is it to share the data when it’s so vast and deep, and what is the actual data that needs to be shared? It’s not debits and credits. It’s not your ATM. It’s a lot more complex than that. If we all continue to work together, we’re going to get through this in the short term.

What population health management technologies are customers using or requesting?

We have a couple of perspectives on population health. There is managing patients that you’re seeing through through our registries within our ambulatory product. We have a robust system for managing the population of patients that you’re seeing. Then there’s the overarching population health, where you’re given the panel of patients that you’re responsible for managing.

We believe that we need to continue to provide the system in which you care for your patients, the system in which you are seeing what care gaps a patient might have, and things like that. But we’re not the insurance company that has the algorithms to figure out which patients are higher at risk. We are using a system called Arcadia to manage that by gathering all the claims, then providing back into the workflows of the caregivers and practice managers what needs to be done to take care of the patients.

Do you have any final thoughts?

After 50 years, Meditech has continued to evolve and change. We are the leading vendor that has been in this industry the longest. We’ve had a number of accolades. We had PCI and we had the first handheld nursing tool. We continue to use technology to move us forward. Expanse is live and people are seeing the difference in delivering care with the mobile platform that we’re providing. They continue to see Meditech provide technology to the delivery of care to provide better service than we’ve ever provided.

Our founder Neil Pappalardo always wraps up all of his conversations with, “The best is yet to come.” I truly do believe that.

Morning Headlines 12/2/19

December 1, 2019 Headlines No Comments

Qld Health risks patient admin system failure after halting overhaul

In Australia, an auditor’s report warns that Queensland Health’s decision to push back replacement of its 30-year-old corporate information system places it at risk since the system hasn’t been vendor supported since 2015.

‘Black hole’ of medical records contributes to deaths, mistreatment at the border

The Department of Homeland Security’s inadequate software and sloppy paper record-keeping has caused treatment delays and lapses of care for migrants in its custody.

Doctors and techies are clashing at digital health companies, and one start-up exec is seeking a fix

A CNBC report finds that doctors working at digital health companies are sometimes seen as the unwelcome voice of reality in calling out product or company flaws that impact health.

Monday Morning Update 12/2/19

December 1, 2019 News 7 Comments

Top News


CNBC’s Chrissy Farr looks at doctors who join digital health companies but then clash with the development side of the house.

Those involved say that doctors are accustomed to making decisions solo rather than being the “token hire” who is expected to rubber stamp developer decisions. They are sometimes seen as the unwelcome voice of reality in calling out product or company flaws that impact health, as “first, do no harm” clashes with “move fast and break things.” 

A diagnostics company CEO “flipped out” when a newly hired doctor questioned the clinical and business wisdom of using staffing company doctors to write testing prescriptions without reviewing patients thoroughly.

A former digital health doctor says she has yet to meet a happy healthcare person in the digital health field.

Developers complain about the black-and-white opinions of doctors who are not used to being challenged, while doctors bristle at the Silicon Valley emphasis on “obsessively delighting” users that doesn’t make sense in medical situations.

Reader Comments


From Jagged Little Pill: “Re: Walgreens. Wasted no time after the story you reported on October 30 about closing many of their owned clinics. It’s curious they didn’t wait until after the holiday rush, when it’s nearly impossible to get into your primary care office. I imagine that the nurse practitioners are running to new jobs as fast as they can.” Retail clinics were the hottest thing going not long ago, and it seemed like a great fit for Walgreens to boost its “health hub” concept by offering medical services. The lesson to learn is that publicly traded companies veer in reactionary fashion from one strategy to the next in a desperate search for quarterly earnings, which are hard for huge companies to find, and Walgreens is considering going private and thus needs to preen its financials to chum the private equity sharks. In the mean time, Walgreens seems happy to lease its back-of-store real estate pop-up style to third-party clinic operators and UnitedHealth Group insurance sales centers while also opening Jenny Craig weight loss centers. Remember, too, that this was the company that jumped with zero due diligence into an ultimately embarrassing Theranos partnership that also vacated its drugstore premises. WBA shares are down 30% in the past year and 13% in the past five. 


From Holiday Journal Time: “Re: hospital EHR alerts. It’s hard for clinicians to argue that alerts are a huge burden when they spend less than one minute per month on them.” Researchers look at how much time Duke University Health System providers spend dealing with the 75 most common interruptive alerts generated by Epic that represent 95% of the alert total, calculating the on-screen time between alert presentation and dismissal (“dwell time.”) Most alerts were closed within three seconds and providers spent just one minute per month dealing with them, leading the authors to postulate that it’s the interruption that alerts create — rather than the time required to manage them — that contributes to burnout. However, the authors excluded drug-drug and drug-duplicate alerts, which are the most common, because they weren’t able to calculate times. It should also be noted that quickly dismissed alerts aren’t necessarily a good thing – it’s likely that users are just reflexively clicking to get rid of the majority of them that are not helpful while missing the critical ones. I also note the financial success of co-author UCSF Department of Medicine chair Bob Wachter, MD,  whose conflict of interest statement in the article includes book royalties, compensation and stock options for serving on the boards or advisory boards of several companies, a royalty stake in one company, and a consulting arrangement with a startup that pays cash and stock.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests


Two-thirds of poll respondents have had their employment forcibly cancelled, but 61% of them said that their long-term career benefited as a result. HappyCIO lost their executive position in a purge, but used the opportunity to relocate for a move up that had been stymied by excessive contentment. An unexpected layoff three years ago forced nurse informaticist Quilmes Boy to rebuild his resume and rush into ill-suited jobs that weren’t good fits, but he’s happy in a new job now even though it pays less. Michael’s pharma employer was set to lay him off after taking paternity leave but instead transferred a co-worker, but he’s sorry he stuck around given the obvious writing on the wall. Marshall was RIF’ed by new vendors at 55 years of age because he was above an arbitrary Excel-sorted salary row, but he used his contacts and knowledge to recover in a different role. Charles took a common path – his vendor employer laid him off, but he took job in a hospital’s IT department.


New poll to your right or here: Does a patient own the data that a provider has recorded about them? TH made a good devil’s advocate argument last week – it’s true across all industries that you don’t own data that’s about you, and without the interpretation and validation of the provider who captured and recorded it, it’s not worth much (try selling a drug company a worksheet containing a list of your prescriptions and your blood pressure reading history). An extension of that argument might be that if the patient owns it, why can’t they insist that the provider change or delete it? Is having a right to obtain your data necessarily synonymous with owning that data? Is it different than credit scoring companies that know nearly everything about every American and make fortunes selling their most private information freely, giving the subject of that information little control or recourse?


Welcome to new HIStalk Platinum Sponsor AGS Health. The revenue cycle management and business process outsourcing company provides billing, coding, analytics, and data integration solutions to healthcare providers all over the US, with $35 billion in annual managed receivables and 24 million charts coded by 6,000 degreed, certified specialists each year. A large academic medical center decreased its denials inventory by 72% by implementing 70 AGS-recommended front-end coding fixes while saving 40% of its outsourcing coding denial management costs, while another major organization decreased its A/R days by 10% and resolved 85% of aged receivables within six months of working with the company. The company recently named industry long-timer Patrice Wolfe (Medicity) as CEO. Thanks to AGS Health for supporting HIStalk. 

I’m struggling to comprehend while still working down the Thanksgiving leftovers that it’s just over three weeks until Christmas and just 98 days until HIMSS20 kick offs.

Speaking of holidays and HIMSS, it’s that slow time of year in which Lorre can work more closely with prospective HIStalk sponsors than in the crazy January and February that follows, when every company is trying to make themselves heard above the vendor din. I suggested she offer inducements of the wacky variety – (a) giving new sponsors an hour or two of Smokin’ Doc standee time in their HIMSS booth for the surprising number of people who want selfies; and (b) providing extra hand-holding for those 10×10 booth-dwellers who, like us in previous years, are questioning the value of their significant investment for the other 362 days of the year.


December 10 (Tuesday) 1:00 ET. “Move on from the age of the inefficient EHR.” Sponsor: Intelligent Medical Objects. Presenters: Jim Thompson, MD, physician informaticist, IMO; Obaid Baig, product manager, IMO. The EHR seems more like transactional workflow system rather than an intuitive clinical documentation tool, creating the possibility of loss of data consistency and the need for manual workarounds. The presenters will describe how to turn an EHR into a powerful tool that can help improve workflows and documentation so that clinicians can focus on care, not coding and reimbursement.

Previous webinars are on our YouTube channel. Contact Lorre to present your own

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock


Consumer Reports observes that the list price for arthritis drug Humira has jumped 78% in five years, but most of the increase went to the pharmacy benefit manager middlemen (CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, and OptumRx) that took a bigger cut of its $5,174 per month list price. AbbVie generates $20 billion per year in Humira sales, but PBMs are pocketing 40% of its 2019 cost.



Analytics technology vendor SymphonyCare hires Brad Case (Estrella Health) as chief strategy officer. He was previously chief development officer for predecessor company Symphony Corporation, which was sold to Influence Health in 2013 and then re-acquired by SymphonyCare’s founder and former CEO Ravi Kalla in 2017.

Todd Helmink (ConnectiveRx) joins secure messaging app vendor QliqSoft as chief revenue officer.

Privacy and Security

Great Plains Health (NE) is taken offline in a ransomware attack, leading it to cancel non-emergency appointments and procedures.


In Australia, an auditor’s report warns that Queensland Health’s decision to push back replacement of its 30-year-old corporate information system – following allegations of conflict of interest within the replacement team — places it at risk since the system hasn’t been vendor supported since 2015. The system was provided by Australia-based ISoft, which sold itself in IBA in 2007 following a newspaper’s disclosure of financial irregularities. A replacement will cost Queensland Health at least $150 million.

Politico reports that the Department of Homeland Security’s inadequate software and sloppy paper record-keeping has caused treatment delays and lapses of care for migrants in its custody. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced plans to implement EClinicalWorks in 2014, but advocates complain that ICE’s information isn’t shared with other government agencies and medical providers.


A travel website author visits Arizona-based MedAire, which provides ground-to-sky advice for airline crews who are attending to distressed passengers. It notes that unlike what you see in movies, airlines don’t usually ask whether there’s a doctor on board, preferring to deal with a known factor rather than checking passenger medical credentials or distressing travelers with a public announcement.

Sponsor Updates


  • StayWell team members in Daly, CA serve meals at the North Peninsula Food Pantry & Dining Center.
  • Zynx Health will exhibit at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement National Forum December 8-11 in Orlando.
  • LiveProcess will exhibit at the National Healthcare Coalition Preparedness Conference December 2-4 in Houston.
  • Health Catalyst will host a patient safety reception at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement December 9 in Orlando.
  • NextGate will exhibit at the HIMSS Southern California Chapter 2019 CXO Symposium December 2 in Yorba Linda.
  • Netsmart consolidates its Ozark and Springfield offices in Missouri.
  • Redox previews its new podcast.
  • SymphonyRM publishes a new case study, “Health System Drives 15% Increase in Patient Visits, 380% Annual Wellness Visit Growth.”
  • Visage Imaging will exhibit at RSNA December 1-5 in Chicago, where it will demonstrate semantic annotations for Visage 7 as a work in progress.
  • The Marketing Trends Podcast features Vocera Chief Marketing Officer Kathy English.

Blog Posts



Mr. H, Lorre, Jenn, Dr. Jayne.Get HIStalk updates. Send news or rumors.
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Morning Headlines 11/28/19

November 27, 2019 Headlines No Comments

Ransomware detected in Great Plains Health computer network

Great Plains Health (NE) cancels some services and reschedules others in the wake of a ransomware attack discovered Monday night.

Sands agrees to meet with Allscripts chief

Allscripts CEO Paul Black will meet with Bahamian Health Minister Duane Sands, MD to discuss the government’s unfulfilled $18 million contract with the software company.

OCR Secures $2.175 Million HIPAA Settlement after Hospitals Failed to Properly Notify HHS of a Breach of Unsecured Protected Health Information

Sentara Hospitals (VA) will pay OCR $2 million to settle potential HIPAA breach notification violations related to its failure to notify all patients impacted by a billing-related breach in 2017.

Morning Headlines 11/27/19

November 26, 2019 Headlines No Comments

MUSC says one of its spinoff companies has saved it millions in pharmacy costs

Medical University of South Carolina says drug purchasing software that was developed by one of its IT network engineers is saving it millions by looking for the best price in the supply chain at any given moment.

Amazon launches medication management features for Alexa

Amazon works with Omnicell to give Alexa users in Ohio the ability to set up medication reminders and request prescription refills from Giant Eagle Pharmacy.

Deep 6 AI Raises $17M Series A Led by Point72 Ventures to Accelerate Clinical Trial Recruitment

Patient-matching clinical trial software vendor Deep 6 AI raises $17 million.

GE Healthcare Expands Intelligent Health Ecosystem with Launch of Edison Developer Program to Ease AI Adoption for Providers

GE Healthcare launches the Edison Developer Program to give developers access to algorithms and applications based on its Edison intelligence platform.

Activist Starboard Value reportedly takes stake in CVS Health

Activist investor Starboard Value takes an undisclosed stake in CVS Health and enters into talks with its management.

News 11/27/19

November 26, 2019 News 7 Comments

Top News


Federal prosecutors charge the two founders and two other executives of waiting room advertising technology vendor Outcome Health with fraud, claiming that the company inflated its revenue over a six-year period to help it raise $1 billion in funding, of which at least $225 million went directly into the pockets of the founders.

Indicted are the company’s former CEO Rishi Shah (33), former President Shradha Agarwal (34), former CFO Brad Purdy (30), and former EVP Ashik Desai (26).

Fascinating claims from the SEC litigation document:

  • A company salesperson warned Shah that company fraud was widespread, to the point that client performance reports were being edited directly in PowerPoint.
  • Desai joined the company as a 19-year-old intern, then became EVP over analytics.
  • Agarwal wasn’t really a co-founder even though the company positioned her as such. Shah’s original co-founder, an unnamed university classmate, left in November 2009. It was apparently Derek Moeller, who resigned as president to buy a Seattle-area company that recycles plastic into garden growing containers.
  • Shah had described the company’s “chicken and egg” problem, where it needed ad revenue to install more waiting room devices, but needed the devices to raise revenue. He decided to start forecasting the number of offices and device and sell that ad space even though it wouldn’t be available for months, which he later admitted in a meeting of entrepreneurs that, “It’s fraud, right, I mean you’re selling something you don’t have.” The company billed and recognized the full amount immediately.
  • The “selling of futures” became such an ingrained part of the company’s culture that its analysts were tasked with producing scheduled “delta report” that tracked the difference between claimed offices and devices with the real, lower number.
  • The company’s controller warned the executives that GAAP revenue recognition is based on actual delivery of ads rather than upfront invoicing, after which they kept the controller in the dark about the “delta reports.”
  • Desai falsified an ROI study in showing that Outcome’s ads boosted prescription counts by 27% in six months with a confidence level of 80%, when the actual figure was a 4% increase with 71% confidence. That allowed the company to claim that the ads generated $2 million in drug company revenue vs. the actual $116,000. For another drug ad, the company claimed that prescriptions increased 35% from Outcome ads when they actually decreased 3%.
  • In a Theranos-like move, a newly hired Outcome COO found himself out of a job within three weeks of warning Shah of the falsified ROI reports. He wasn’t named in the filings, but it was Vivek Kundra, a former White House CIO and Salesforce EVP who is now COO of CRM software vendor Sprinklr. His LinkedIn omits his nine-month stint with Outcome Health.
  • Also Theranos-like was that the company was exposed by a Wall Street Journal investigative report.

Reader Comments


From Dr. Herzenstube: “Re: Exponential Medicine conference earlier this month. I’m wondering if any HIStalk readers went and can comment on whether it’s worth the astronomical price tag?” The Exponential Medicine conference was held early in November at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, with a registration fee of $4,750 and “favorable rates” offered to non-profit and government employees. It’s run by TED-aspiring Singularity University, which despite its name and .org web address, is a for-profit company rather than a real university, offering programs to rich executives instead of poor students. The web page is a thicket of buzzwords (“curate,” “reimagining,” “blockchain,” and “recharging” at yoga sessions and dinners under the stars) and speakers ranged from the mildly interesting to the clearly self-promoting, entertaining the junketeers who lived it up far from the prying eyes of their patients who are being bankrupted by their expense-bloated bills. I’m sure everybody had a good time, though.

From Eriksson: “Re: Cerner in Sweden. See this article.” The ComputerSweden article says that Region Skåne has postponed its Cerner implementation because the company has failed to understand the extend of Millennium changes that are needed to support the Swedish Patient Data Act. The region chose to store its data in Cerner’s cloud – unlike another region that is hosting its own system locally – and US cloud data protection is too weak to comply with Swedish law. Cerner has proposed sending patient data to 12 of its business units across nine countries, but the region wants processing of its most sensitive patient information to be performed within Sweden. The impact of the EU’s more stringent approach to privacy is creating interesting challenges for vendors based in the US, where privacy requirements are often contained in negotiated contractual terms rather than in enforced laws. Some of Sweden’s requirements:

  • Systems must have adequate access control to ensure that only people who need to see a patient’s information for their jobs can do so.
  • The patient has a right to block data from the view of their own provider and from other EHR-using providers.
  • The patient has a right to see their information.
  • The provider must provide a patient with a list of healthcare entities that have accessed their data so they can determine whether it was justified.
  • A provider can see the information of a patient of another provider only if they also have a current patient relationship, if the patient has consented, and if the person accessing the information checks a box to indicate that they understand before proceeding.

From Insider: “Re: KLAS. Changing vendor scores right as we approach final submissions for Best in KLAS. Scores from the question added earlier this year, ‘Does this vendor consistently exceed your expectations?’ will be eliminated from the scoring algorithm, effective today. It will be restored to the algorithm on July 1, 2020 to give all clients who were interviewed within an 18-month window the chance to answer this question before it affects a vendor’s KLAS scores.” Seems reasonable, although you wonder why KLAS walked its decision back and why it didn’t anticipate problems. Timing might suggest that some lesser-performing vendors complained once they saw how their scores would be affected.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here’s an anonymized, excerpted version of an email that a reader  — a former big-time CIO and industry long-timer whose name you would recognize unless you’ve been living under a rock — sent to Lorre this week, which touched her (and then me) deeply in putting life into perspective:

I want to say thank you to Mr. H and associates for this really valuable blog. I became disabled a while ago from a head injury that forced me to retire from healthcare, with a long road to recovery. Your blog helps, as it challenges me to remember stuff (my memory is episodic) and to get up to speed in the never-ending drama we call healthcare here in the US.


I’m distracted today by the sharply divisive debate that has been raised by the AP Stylebook’s Twitter – do you “pre-heat” the oven or do you just “heat” it? I would argue that you do neither and rather “set” the oven and wait until it reaches temperature (since you’re heating the food, not the oven), but given the choices, I’m going with B since I also don’t like the terms pre-authorize, pre-arrange, pre-board, pre-medicate, pre-order, pre-pay, pre-wash, and pre-record for the same reason — “pre” doesn’t modify the word, but rather is a lazy shortcut to what should be a procedural instruction (heat oven to 350 degrees, then put in the turkey). I dislike “pre-existing conditions,” but I don’t have a better replacement unless it would be “pre-coverage conditions,” and but even then you might have had coverage, just with a different insurer.


December 10 (Tuesday) 1:00 ET. “Move on from the age of the inefficient EHR.” Sponsor: Intelligent Medical Objects. Presenters: Jim Thompson, MD, physician informaticist, IMO; Obaid Baig, product manager, IMO. The EHR seems more like transactional workflow system rather than an intuitive clinical documentation tool, creating the possibility of loss of data consistency and the need for manual workarounds. The presenters will describe how to turn an EHR into a powerful tool that can help improve workflows and documentation so that clinicians can focus on care, not coding and reimbursement.

Previous webinars are on our YouTube channel. Contact Lorre to present your own.

Government and Politics

Politico calls out the well-funded effort by healthcare’s profiteers to shut down anything that looks like socialized medicine (such as Medicare for All), including the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, individual insurance companies, biotech companies, Chambers of Commerce, health systems, and trade associations. Their talking points, which omit the real motivation of preserving the patient-funded golden goose, are that Americans would lose choice (like they have a lot of choice anyway), everybody would be forced into a “one size fits all” system, and Americans would pay more and wait longer for worse care. The AMA has pulled out of the group, with the remaining members publicly accusing it of caving in to the liberal left. Healthcare companies spent $568 million lobbying the 535 members of Congress in 2018 alone, more than any other industry, and their bucks seem to be working since nobody is doing much to upend the healthcare cash register.


Google Health posts a video describing the EHR search project it is doing with Ascension. It contains a mock-up of the combined information dashboard, which to my eyes looks little different from the standard tools provided by Epic, Cerner, and other EHR vendors, with the biggest differentiator that it combines information from multiple EHRs for those ever-expanding big health systems that are in perpetual replacement mode. The search function could be useful depending on how much intelligence powers it beyond simple text string scanning. The doctor who’s narrating is Alvin Rajkomar, MD, who is coming up on three years with Google, but also continuing his practice as a UCSF hospital medicine attending.


CNBC reports that medical students and residents are teaching themselves to perform surgical procedures by watching unvetted YouTube videos. The article cites a study of 68,000 videos that show how to perform a fracture procedure, of which only 16 met even the most barebones criteria, such as identifying the on-camera person who was doing the teaching. UCSF’s Atul Butte made a good point on Twitter about potential oversight, however – textbooks aren’t regulated and at some point you have to trust your doctor for choosing appropriate learning material. After all, the surgeon who would have taught them in person could have been incompetent.

A study finds that US life expectancy, unlike that of most wealthy countries, has declined for three straight years after 60 years of increasing longevity, with key contributors being midlife drug overdoses, suicides, and organ system diseases. I suppose the glass half full side of the argument is that this is an indictment of our society, not our hospitals, and even the authors dismiss our dysfunctional health system as a cause and instead point to lack of social and support systems, poor education, and lack of living wages, all of which lead to “deaths of despair.” The largest number of excess deaths occurred in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida.


Medical University of South Carolina says drug purchasing software that was developed by one of its IT network engineers is saving it millions by looking for the best price in the supply chain at any given moment. It has spun the company off as AscendRx, with the former IT employee Jonathan Yantis serving as CEO. I would tell you more, but the company’s Squarespace website returns a “Website Expired” error.


Geisinger says its researchers can predict arrhythmia and death using AI analysis of ECG data, but our HIStalk AI expert Alexander Scarlat, MD provides a critique, which should always be employed before believing any attention-seeking AI headline since it’s never as straightforward as it sounds:

  • Mortality is by definition an imbalanced dataset (since more people lived than died) so area under the curve is not an appropriate metric. F1 score would be better suited.
  • It isn’t surprising that AI performed better in analyzing raw ECG data than humans. It’s like showing a cardiologist the actual ECG rather than a summary of its features.
  • Someone could die with a normal ECG for two reasons – either their cause of death wasn’t cardiac related or the model could be predicting on perhaps a 0.51 chance of being abnormal, barely over the default 0.5 cutting point.
  • The neural network should have been queried on the reasons and features it made it decide on the abnormal ECG.


This is the best “excessive hospital charges” story ever. A three-year-old girl sticks a shoe from her Polly Pocket doll in each nostril. Her mother was able to remove one of them with tweezers, but the urgent care was unable to extract the second one and advised taking her to a Dignity Health hospital’s ED. Mom says the doctor there removed it within one second, having had ample practice with slippery Tic Tacs. She was billed $2,659 ($1,732 for the hospital, $927 for the doctor) and her family is stuck paying the full amount because of her high-deductible insurance plan. The hospital declined to provide the methodology behind its price, but scolded Mom in an emailed response to a media inquiry that she should have understood her plan better and gone to urgent care. Medicare would have paid the hospital $101, which you could argue is either a defense or indictment of why they charged her more. By the way, Dignity’s CEO made $10.3 million last year, the CIO made $2.3 million, and 27 executives exceeded $1 million in compensation.

Sponsor Updates

  • HIMSS names Audacious Inquiry Director Lindsey Ferriss a 2019 Extraordinary Women in Health IT awardee.
  • Datica and InterSystems will exhibit at AWS re:Invent December 2-5 in Las Vegas.
  • Spok earns top secure messaging and clinical communications honors in Black Book’s annual cybersecurity study.
  • ISalus Healthcare integrates prescription price transparency and electronic prior authorization solutions from CoverMyMeds with its EHR and practice management software.
  • Elsevier Clinical Solutions, Hyland, and InterSystems will exhibit at RSNA December 1-5 in Chicago.

Blog Posts



Mr. H, Lorre, Jenn, Dr. Jayne.
Get HIStalk updates. Send news or rumors.
Contact us.


Morning Headlines 11/26/19

November 25, 2019 Headlines No Comments

U.S. charges former Outcome Health executives in $1 billion fraud

Prosecutors charge former Outcome Health CEO Rishi Shah and former president Sharha Agarwal with fraud in a 26 count-indictment related to a six-year scheme during which they billed clients for ads that never ran and inflated revenue.

MD Revolution, Inc. announces strategic acquisition of Falcon Care, LLC to expand Care Management services and appoints Kyle Williams CEO

Medicare care management and patient engagement company MD Revolution acquires competitor Falcon Care.

Former Kaiser Permanente CTO Mike Sutten Joins Innovaccer as Chief Digital Officer

Former Kaiser Permanente CTO and SVP Mike Sutten joins Innovaccer as chief digital officer.

WELL Health to Acquire Trinity Healthcare Technologies, Canada’s Second Largest OSCAR Provider

Canadian primary care and software company Well Health Technologies acquires open source EHR vendor Trinity Healthcare Technologies for $5.4 million.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/25/19

November 25, 2019 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

Clinician burnout continues to be a hot topic, so this American Academy of Family Physicians article caught my eye. It looks at the possibility that being able to better address the social needs of patients might reduce the possibility of burnout. I’m not surprised by this – physicians and other clinicians are trained to do their best to address all their patients’ issues, whether they are purely biological, psychosocial, or somewhere in between.

In many residency programs, we have all kinds of ancillary providers that help us do these things. My training program had PhD pharmacists, social workers, diabetic educators, dieticians, and psychologists to which we could refer our patients for a variety of services. Need a patient to receive education on anticoagulant drugs, their long-term monitoring, and the need for dietary changes? Check. Want to enroll a patient in smoking cessation clinic? Check. Newly diabetic patient who needs supplies and training? You got it. Patient who needs help navigating Medicaid enrollment or applying for supplemental nutrition assistance? Done.

When I headed out into practice, however, I was on my own to try to deliver many of these services. Even referring to subspecialists often became a battle that was made worse depending on the patient’s insurance coverage, ultimately resulting in the patient not receiving needed services.

At one point in time early in my career, only one of the city’s practices was taking new neurology patients who had Medicaid, which made the wait to see a consultant nearly a year long. This led to primary care physicians trying to do what they could to manage complex neurological issues that they weren’t trained to handle. You don’t have to ponder to hard to see where that could cause stress and burnout.

Not much has changed in the last couple of decades, although at times it’s a little easier to get patients in to see subspecialists, or maybe I’ve just built up enough friendships to be able to call in more favors. There are other more complex issues that we can’t solve through a phone call to a friend or classmate. Maybe it’s housing issues, transportation issues, or food insecurity. These are the types of issues that the study mentioned was looking at, along with whether inability to address patients’ social needs was a contributing factor to primary care clinician burnout. The authors went on to note that increasing services in the practice to address social needs tended to reduce burnout and improve clinician morale.

The study noted that participating physicians were concerned about how addressing social needs would impact their workflow. I’m curious about how those physicians went about adding services or training staff to address social needs and how that impacted not only the workflow, but the practice bottom line. Theoretically, some of the new care models, such as Comprehensive Primary Care Plus or Primary Care First, should provide additional funds to cover these additional services. However, it’s still not going to be enough.

A friend’s EHR has the ability to link out to transportation resources for patients, such as Uber. However, the practice has to pay for the transportation, leading to an ongoing internal conflict about which patients should receive those services. Independent physicians can make these decisions locally, but employed physicians are often subject to the whims of their owners, and productivity and case mix determines which physicians (and therefore patients) receive additional support and which don’t.

On the technology side of healthcare, we face similar difficult decisions. We have limited budgets and requests for more projects than we could possibly fund or staff. At one of my large health system clients, decisions often impact broad swaths of patients. Are we going to focus on systems to improve labor and delivery workflows this year, or fund the initiatives that the heart failure program has requested? How many patients would benefit from either approach? What about the community diabetes screening initiative, or the dental care mobile van? Should we look just at patient count, or go further to see how interventions would impact people over time?

At one point, money earmarked for optimization of frontline nursing workflows was diverted to cover consulting services needed to complete a required regulatory upgrade. This led to a relative revolt by some of the staff involved in advocating for projects that didn’t get the nod.

The emotions felt by some of the IT staff were no different than what was probably felt by the physicians in the study. In particular, those whose projects weren’t taken forward felt disenfranchised and often had a profound sense of loss. Some of those whose projects succeeded had something akin to survivor’s guilt as they watched other worthy initiatives wither. It also engendered a sense of fear and concern, with people wondering whether their project would be the next one to be defunded or otherwise not fully implemented. Sure, projects get canceled in every industry, but I think my colleagues in healthcare IT feel it more acutely because they know their work has the direct ability to impact patients’ lives.

The emotions become even more acute when you are working for organizations that are sitting on billions of dollars of resources, but may not be spending as much on patient care as they should. The marble lobby of the tertiary referral hospital is particularly luxurious (and the fountain is pretty darned impressive), but neither of those see patients. They don’t make up for the negative emotions felt by the clinical staff that empties the exam room trash cans every other day because the housekeeping budget was cut and services are only provided on even days. The luxury boxes at the ballpark and the over-the-top billboards are also a visible reminder of the money the health system is willing to spend on non-patient-care activities.

As the old adage goes, you have to spend money to make money, but somehow that spending is becoming less palatable when healthcare is on the line and patients are literally dying due to lack of basic interventions.

It’s easy to see why people in healthcare are burned out, no matter where you work or what your role is. Our inability to meet our patients’ needs is only a proximal cause, with many root causes beneath. I’m cautiously optimistic about new models of care that might help alleviate suffering or reduce gaps in care, but it may take years to determine how successful they really are. In the meantime, we need to support each other and continue to try to come up with innovative ideas to solve some of the most difficult problems humanity faces.

What would make you feel less burned out? Leave a comment or email me.


Email Dr. Jayne.

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