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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 6/17/21

June 17, 2021 Dr. Jayne No Comments


Today’s big news is the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a major challenge to the Affordable Care Act. This is the third time that the healthcare law has been upheld. This challenge was based on the concept that since the individual penalty portion was eliminated in 2017, the entire law should be struck down. The court voted 7-2 to block the suit, stating that the plaintiffs did not have appropriate standing to bring the case. I don’t think that we’re done with challenges to the Affordable Care Act, but I know that patients who count on its provisions are breathing a sigh of relief.

I ran across a great op-ed piece recently that focuses on how “humans are getting in the way of digital health.” It cites the piecemeal application of technologies as a major barrier to transformation as compared to other industries like banking or logistics, where everyone involved jumped on the bandwagon. Other challenges include a lack of technology education and training for the people who need to use digital health along with teaching stakeholders to assess the value of new technologies so that they can add the right systems at the right time. The author calls for meaningful provider education through structured training, including peer-to-peer training, formal education, and inclusion of evidence-based guidelines. These seem like they would be basic tenets for successful clinical / digital transformation, but there are a lot of organizations missing the boat.


I went to visit a new PCP this week. We used to work together and he knows my informatics background, so he was happy to give me a tour of my Epic chart after I asked if he could see the results of my recent genetic testing. It turns out they are buried as scanned documents. He noted that the governance and quality control on the scanning can be a bit lacking at times. Having done numerous quality improvement projects and revisions to organizations’ document management systems, I know what a pain it can be when documents are filed or tagged in the wrong place. Hopefully, the majority of their results are coming in electronically at this point, but I’m sure there’s plenty of scanning going on with referral letters, consultation letters, hospital discharges, and more.

He happily reviewed the blood pressures I had logged in the Withings Health Mate app on my phone. We both agreed with liked the display because it shows averages in numerical form that can be filtered by month as well as a graphically-based view that gives a red / yellow / green view of the ranges for a patient’s values. That’s the kind of data we need to be incorporating for remote patient monitoring rather than burdening physicians with thousands of data points that need to be sifted through. He agreed with me that my crazily high blood pressure a couple of months ago was likely due to a combination of work stress and too much ibuprofen. I enjoyed watching my lab results arrive throughout the afternoon and all was well, so I’m good for another year.

Business Insider reports that Google is shrinking its health team, reassigning 130 workers from its health division into other areas of the company such as Search and Fitbit. The company restated its commitment that Google Health “will continue to build products for clinicians, conduct research to improve care and make people healthier, and to help ensure all health-related projects at Google meet the highest standards.” The count of those employees has now dropped to 570 from a March headcount of 700.

The publication also reports that Walmart Health has filed documents to expand its virtual care solution to 16 additional states, doubling its count. I don’t know anyone who has used the company’s telehealth offering, but would be interested to share (anonymously, of course) any reader experiences. The company’s brick-and-mortar offices are limited to a handful of states, so we’ll have to see how long it takes them to cover the entire US for telehealth.

Meanwhile, CNBC reports that Amazon Care has signed multiple corporate clients who plan to make use of its telehealth services. They’re holding announcement of those names until later in the summer, but I’m extremely curious – if anyone has rumors they would like to report anonymously, we would be happy to entertain them. The program was launched in 2019 as an internal employee benefit and includes virtual urgent care visits, free telehealth consults, and fee-based in-home visits for testing and vaccinations.

Having been part of the healthcare IT industry for a while now, I’ve been exposed to various company cultures. Some have included some hard-partying aspects and a fair amount of alcohol consumption. One vendor I worked with had an open beer tap in the office on Fridays, while another frequently referred to its staff as “a drinking company with a software problem.” That seems to have become a bit more tame in recent years, but I came across an article mentioning concerns that increased alcohol use could be a secondary consequence of the pandemic. Especially with work from home, juggling household responsibilities, economic worries, and the stress of the pandemic itself, alcohol use is on the rise. Given pandemic precautions, it will be interesting to see what the level of alcohol consumption looks like at HIMSS. Hopefully as things return to normal, consumption will stabilize. Still, let’s look out for each other, and if you see one of your colleagues struggling, offer your support.

Fast Company skewered Epic recently over the rollout of the Deterioration Index clinical prediction tool, which is designed to help physicians determine when patients can be moved into or out of higher levels of care. The authors note that the Index was deployed without independent validation or peer review and that physicians cannot see how the raw data is used to calculate the score. There are concerns about the potential for bias in the model based on the underlying data sets upon which it was created. Other worries involve the risks of medical trainees relying too heavily on the index rather than developing their own clinical intuition. The authors call on Epic to release the underlying logic for peer review along with the anonymized data sets used during the internal validation process.

I’d be interested to hear from clinical informaticists whose institutions use the tool. How do you think it’s working, and have you identified any issues? Leave a comment or email me.

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