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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 3/9/20

March 9, 2020 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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I’m beyond aggravated at the lack of communication from HIMSS regarding hotel cancellations and refunds.

All of the FAQ entries on the conference page say they’ll provide a notice within 14 business days. I called my hotel on Friday and tried to cancel and inquire about a refund, but was told that, “Our GM is handling it and we’ve been instructed not to speak with you.” I emailed the HIMSS refund email address with a formal request instead. (Did I mention I still haven’t received a notification that the conference was canceled?) Today, I was reading Mr. H’s Monday Morning Update and saw the link to an OnPeak refund. Although the link is no longer live, it instructed me to call the hotel directly.

After multiple calls and being rolled over to Marriott’s corporate reservation line, I was at least given a cancellation number, as well as the direct phone number for an assistant GM at the hotel. We’ll see if she returns my call. I’ve stayed at the same hotel eight years in a row and have status with Marriott, so I hope they at least make an effort. I don’t expect a full refund, but anything at all would be appreciated for those of us who pay for our trip to the show out of pocket.

Many of the folks I was scheduled to meet with at HIMSS just rolled our already-scheduled appointments into ones by phone, which made things easy. I’ve decided I’m still going to keep other pieces of my conference schedule, including starting to drink wine, whisky, or other cocktails at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, depending on which vendor events I was scheduled to attend. I’m going to be sure to eat seafood on Monday night in honor of Nordic Consulting’s elegant (but canceled) event at The Oceanaire Seafood Room. Tuesday’s dinner will be Italian in honor of the canceled Citrix event at Maggiano’s, and Wednesday will be contemporary Southern cuisine in honor of Red Hat’s event at Itta Bena. Thursday night I was most likely to be eating some kind of granola bar on the plane while flying home, so I don’t plan to replicate that evening.

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I’d like to invite all our readers to participate in my own virtual “Shoe-A-Palooza” and “Sock-It-To-Me” competitions. Send me your photos of the shoes and socks you planned to wear this week and I’ll pick my favorites. Be sure to let me know if you want to be added to the history books using your real name or if I should pick a kicky pseudonym to keep you anonymous.

COVID-19 has made it to my community, leading to considerable angst as patients panic and community physicians struggle to understand how we are supposed to care for patients. The biggest point of contention is the fact that we can’t even protect ourselves. Outpatient physicians who aren’t employed by big health systems have either no access to simple surgical masks or access that is intermittent at best. An informal survey of close friends reveals that 10 out of 10 of us don’t have access to gowns.

I’ve had to call the state epidemiologist several times for suspected patients. It’s an arduous process that hasn’t led to testing for any of the patients involved. Due to the shortages, we can’t care for flu patients properly by having them wear a mask when they’re diagnosed, which might be contributing to a bump in flu in our area despite numbers from the CDC that it should be waning.

I never thought I’d have to start thinking about whether to quarantine myself when I come home from work, emerging from my room only to run out the door and head to the office. I’m fortunate in not having small children or childcare issues. Many of my physician peers are struggling to figure out how they’re going to be able to see patients if more schools close. Right now it’s just a handful, but only time will tell.

It’s unclear how the recently-passed $8.3 billion in funding will impact the efforts of frontline providers. I’m monitoring news sources from across the country as well as around the world to see how our local response compares to that of others. Kudos to the Washington Post for offering free access to their articles covering the novel coronavirus. You have to subscribe to an email newsletter to get the access, but it’s good to have multiple sources of information. I’m heartened by the decision of some insurers to cover coronavirus testing, but the devil will be in the details as far as how it actually works out. Some payers are considering policies to waive co-pays for testing, but most patients won’t know how their coverage is until they get the bill.

In positive news, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend a pre-exposure vaccine for the Ebola virus. It’s at least some comfort for the healthcare providers who work at federally designated Ebola treatment centers in the US, for those who work at Biosafety Level 4 labs, and for the genuine heroes who volunteer to respond to Ebola virus outbreaks across the globe. The single-dose vaccine has been shown to be 100% effective when used in a ring vaccination strategy, which basically means that everyone socially connected with a patient within 21 days of their illness must be vaccinated. Ebola virus outbreaks have taken a back seat to COVID-19, but the virus is still classified as a “public health emergency of international concern” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The focus on vaccines is also good news for biotech firm Moderna Inc. whose experimental coronavirus vaccine is being tested on a small group of adults. The study is only a test of the safety of various doses of the vaccine and whether the subjects produce an immune response. Actual vaccines are likely to be more than a year away. Participants will receive two vaccines over the course of a month and will have to complete 11 face-to-face visits and four phone visits during a 14-month period. Those completing the entire trial will receive $1,100. I would say the real value of participation is priceless, should the vaccine progress to a full recommendation. My medical school is also working on vaccine research, so I’m eager to follow the developments.

I’ll be reporting later this week on my at-home virtual HIMSS efforts, so be sure to send those shoe and sock photos along. I’ll be glad to have something else to focus on than the reality of counting the days until I’m personally exposed to COVID-19.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 3/5/20

March 5, 2020 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

I’m grateful to Mr. H for posting the list of companies who have decided to cancel their attendance at HIMSS20. I think it’s useful for people to be able to plan their activities for the meeting and decide whether it will be valuable for them to attend.

Like Mr. H, I’m still planning on attending. I’m curious about the panel of medical experts that HIMSS has supposedly convened to advise them on the issue and whether they would even consider cancelling given the announcement that President Trump will be delivering a speech. HIMSS has clarified that the speech is not a HIMSS event but a White House event that happens to be occurring at the same place as HIMSS. This is a bit disingenuous since HIMSS controls the convention center for the whole week and had to agree to it.

A reader reported that the planned security protocol includes “no bags allowed in the keynote room,” which should be interesting. At least at the Daytona 500, I could bring a cooler containing up to 24 adult beverages along with a 17-inch backpack to see the President. We’re only a few days away, so we’ll have to see how things play out.

I still find it somewhat unthinkable that many healthcare organizations can’t get masks but HIMSS said they would be handing them out, although mention of masks was missing in the March 3 HIMSS Coronavirus update email.

The organizers of the Redox / AWS / PointClickCare party reached out asking registered attendees to confirm whether they would still be there or if their plans had changed. The sheer scope of potentially unused (but paid for) alcohol that won’t be appearing in glasses at HIMSS is staggering. I’d be interested to hear (anonymously, of course) about HIMSS-related contracts and when the deadlines are to lock in headcounts versus what kinds of refunds might occur for a cancellation.

From Gentle Reader: “Re: HIMSS. I’m attending on my own dime as well. If canceled, I like the idea of going anyway, to lounge poolside. My wife might object. Maybe there could be a spontaneous conference, flash-mob style, of unrefunded, self-paying attendees. I’m resigned to getting the virus eventually from my kids, if not in the clinic, so maybe I’m less concerned about going.” Ditto here. I’m exposed to everything in the clinical trenches and agree with the sentiment that it’s likely only a matter of time. See you in Orlando!

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I’m not looking forward to the upcoming spring time change. A recent Current Biology article notes an increase in the risk of fatal traffic accidents in the week following the time change Researchers looked at data on over 700,000 motor vehicle accidents from 1996 to 2017, finding a 6% increase in accidents during the week immediately following the clock change compared to the weeks before and after. My outlook calendar is still messed up, so I’m curious what it will look like after 2 a.m. hits.

Lots of chatter about the role of telehealth as it relates to COVID-19. Vendors are positioning themselves to handle increased utilization while they create the policies and tools necessary to handle potential cases. Payer and provider organizations are also beefing up their infrastructures.

In some ways, it may be easier for telehealth organizations to ramp up their capacities than brick-and-mortar practices. Telehealth vendors who are providing direct-to-consumer services don’t have to worry about the time it takes to credential providers with payers. They can also tap vast pools of physicians looking make extra money in their off hours. Many non-telehealth practices, even large ones, are reluctant to even pay for providers to be on-call or in a float pool, so it’s more likely that they’ll try to just pass increased volumes onto existing physicians rather than thinking outside the box with new models.

From the specific vendor perspective, American Well has a webinar planned for March 5 and I plan to be on it. The topic is “How to use telehealth as a key element of your infection control and prevention strategy.” InTouch Health is extending a couple of offers to help support organizations in their preparedness. They can opt for use of the technology free of monthly fees for up to six months with minimal charges for shipping, network setup, and decommissioning. Another option is a software-only offering using an organization’s existing devices. Additionally, refurbished telehealth devices can be shipped to existing customers. They were also hosting an informational webinar but it conflicted with my schedule, so I didn’t make it.

My next post should be from beautiful sunny Florida, unless something changes drastically. I’ll spend the rest of today trying to figure out my wardrobe and of course which shoes I’ll be taking, this year with a focus on comfort. Since Sunday and Monday look to be low-key with fewer meetings than planned, I hope to get some nice walks, in which will be a welcome break from the chill I’ve been in for the last several months.

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I flew yesterday with the Honor Flight Network, which was truly a remarkable experience. From the moment we stepped off the plane to be greeted by the welcoming team at the Baltimore airport to the final goodbyes from the send-off team at Reagan National, it was well organized. I didn’t see any travelers behaving differently due to coronavirus – no masks, no one (except me due to flu concerns) wiping down airplane tray tables, and plenty of people touching magazines and other goodies at the airport gift shops.

I did, however, see one traveler behaving badly in general because our group of wheelchairs slowed him down by approximately three minutes at the Reagan National checkpoint. Perhaps karma will catch up with the guy that was dropping f-bombs under his breath and giving our veterans dirty looks. To use his words, the only “ridiculous BS” that was happening at the security checkpoint was his failure to pay proper respect to a group of octogenarians and nonagenarians who risked their lives (many as volunteers) to answer their country’s call to service. To the ladies and gentlemen that I had the privilege of assisting, it was truly an honor to spend the day with you.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 3/2/20

March 2, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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We’re definitely in the pre-HIMSS doldrums, with very little going on and even less news about it. Anyone who has a major announcement is going to hold it for the big show, even though odds are it will get lost in all the noise. Or the silence, if HIMSS chooses to cancel the event.

Most of the non-IT news out there in the healthcare realm is about the novel coronavirus and its transition to community spread within the US. Lots of chatter about how organizations are gearing up to identify and track it, but there are still serious challenges as far as how healthcare organizations are actually going to manage the patients especially given shortages of masks, gowns, and other critical supplies.

We finally had some surgical masks appear in our workplace this weekend, although it’s not clear if the supply will hold out or if the office will be replenished if we run out again. Most of the time we’re using them to help reduce the risk of flu transmission.

I was glad to see the most recent CDC numbers show a sharp decrease in positive flu tests. However, I think some of that downturn might be driven by people who aren’t coming in to be tested because they know just about everyone they’ve come in contact with has flu, so they’re just assuming a diagnosis and staying home. Several local schools have closed for deep cleaning as well, so at least they will be well practiced when coronavirus arrives. Our practice is as busy as ever with multiple providers covering extra shifts to make up for those who are out with flu.

Mr. H mentioned in his Monday Morning Update that Cisco is canceling, and there are plenty of rumors about other companies that are bailing out but haven’t announced it yet. HIMSS has been uncharacteristically slow in sending out invites (or “sorry, you’re not invited” notices) for many of their breakfast and lunch events, which is annoying both to the attendees who tried to register for them as well as the vendors who are paying for them. I’ve heard of many companies that had previously decided to downsize their exhibit hall presence and were planning on sending fewer employees than past years, so it would be less of a loss if they decide to cancel.

For those of us who aren’t being subsidized by a vendor or employer and who attend out of pocket, it’s not a small financial hit. Even if it is canceled, I have half a mind to go anyway and just enjoy being somewhere warm with a pool. On the other hand, I could stay home and catch up on all the things I haven’t been able to do since flu season has been so exhausting. I have some Maintenance of Certification questions I need to do for my boards and I would no longer have an excuse to dodge them. There’s also taxes to file and a shower to re-caulk, so the possibilities are endless for fun and excitement.

In the event that HIMSS goes forward, and a good chunk of exhibitors decide to show, I always get the question about what I’ll be looking for or what I want to see at the event. Here’s a short list of things I’m interested in:

  • Ambient intelligence, smart exam rooms, and the like. How close are they to being able to make this work for in-the-trenches primary care practices? Are the solutions able to handle the scenarios where anything could walk through the door, and most of the time patients present with multiple and complex problems? Are they able to integrate with multiple EHR platforms or just the big ones? There are thousands of physicians across the US who are in need of such solutions but who don’t have Epic or Cerner.
  • Telehealth. What do consumer-facing organizations have planned for the next five years? Will hospitals and health systems continue to try to do internal programs, or will they partner with some of the national players? Will the institutionally-focused vendors merge or partner with the consumer-facing ones? Will they be able to thrive financially, or will they continue to run on thin margins?
  • Patient engagement. Are vendors really able to drive the needle for deliver patient outcomes, or is it all flash? Do the apps have staying power for patients or are they like fitness trackers and other solutions that patients use for a few weeks or a few months and then abandon?
  • Helping the “little guys” succeed. What solutions are out there to help small practices or organizations that aren’t in the 800-pound gorilla range? What’s out there for people that don’t have half a billion dollars in the bank ready to spend on IT solutions?
  • And finally, one of the least provider-facing but very important topics. What’s new in terminology, taxonomies, and all the “guts” that make the systems run while trying to facilitate interoperability and data exchange? I’ve heard that there may be some cool things on the horizon that could be transformative from the informatics perspective. I do love the logic and organization of a well put-together system, and if there are tools that can make that better, I say bring them on.

We should know soon whether HIMSS is a go or no-go and people can start adjusting their plans accordingly. If you’ve already decided you’re not going to attend, how do you plan to spend your time? Will you play catch-up on projects or are you so busy that staying home will just keep you from falling behind? Leave a comment or email me.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/27/20

February 27, 2020 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

I’m always on the lookout for good outcomes from all the work that goes into EHRs. I enjoyed reading about an EHR “nudge” that was shown to reduce inappropriate testing for the nasty C. difficile infection. The system flags patients with contraindications to testing and the authors looked at data across four hospitals ranging two years before and after the intervention. The percentage of inappropriate orders fell by 2% with the intervention, and overall orders were down 21%.

I attended a medical seminar this week and was surprised that no one is modifying their behavior in response to flu season or even fears of coronavirus. Still a lot of hand shaking going on and a couple of people gave me the side eye when I declined to shake hands. I guess everyone has forgotten the pandemic flu of 2009 when everyone was doing elbow bumps instead. CDC has raised their level of dialogue around coronavirus preparedness and HIMSS has followed suit by announcing it will be a handshake-free meeting. I anticipate some other behavior changes around whether people will accept samples of food or candy and whether people will even want to travel to such a large event. HIMSS notes that registrations are up over 2019 and the cancellation rate is below 0.05%.

Still, HIMSS has announced its preparedness plan, including collaboration with ED physicians, onsite support from the Florida Department of Health, onsite screening and isolation as needed, and more. They plan to have three medical offices at the convention center, with one of them dedicated to flu-like symptoms. There will also be an increased number of hand sanitation stations, increased wipe-down of commonly used surfaces, and the availability of medical-grade face masks at the information booths.

That’s more masks than I currently have at my office, which makes me sad. I’m a bit of a prepper already, so making sure I have enough personal supplies stocked in wasn’t a stretch, and I’ve warned my younger colleagues who rely on DoorDash and GrubHub for every meal that they might want to consider having at least a small ramen noodle supply at home. The next couple of weeks should be interesting.

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CDC is also circulating their infographic about the proper fit for high-end masks. I had no idea some of these facial hair styles even had names.

Anyone who has ever worked in hospital IT knows the fear that an upcoming visit from The Joint Commission strikes into the hearts of coworkers. There are many accrediting organizations out there, and often they are cited as the source of rules and regulations that don’t actually exist, leading to frustration for operational and technology teams alike. A recent report notes that CMS plans to strengthen oversight of accrediting organizations due to concerns about conflicts of interest. Some of the organizations provide both accreditation and consulting services which can be an issue, and CMS Administrator Seema Verma also called out accrediting organizations that use standards that are different from the CMS conditions of participation. The Joint Commission is one such organization that has created requirements above and beyond the CMS standards.

Verma also mentioned the upcoming Meaningful Measurement 2.0 program, which is a follow-up to the 2017 Meaningful Measures program. (Language nerd side note: Why did they have to change it from Measures to Measurement? That’s going to be annoying.)

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There are strong feelings out there about the way that technology is escalating the medicalization of things that were previously “normal” physiological process. From smart toilets that analyze stool patterns to diet and nutrition trackers, technology is everywhere. I’m part of an online group that mentors young mothers and nearly everyone either has or wishes they had a multi-hundred dollar smart bassinet to help their babies sleep better. A recent Washington Post article looked at the impact of AI baby monitors on nervous parents. It’s gone beyond the walkie-talkie style units of the past, with camera systems that transmit data to parents while they are away and also those that process the video to determine whether infants are in risky positions or getting tangled with blankets. Privacy advocates are concerned about the sharing of such private data and clinicians are worried that monitor companies are promising a level of safety that is not supported by research.

I’ve definitely noticed a heightened level of anxiety in the moms in my group, although I recognize that to some degree it might self-select anxious mothers since they’re participating in the group in the first place. Some of them are desperately trying to track and quantify every element of their babies’ existence, from feeding to diapers, sleep, and developmental milestones. I’ve seen mothers who have lost the ability to trust their instincts and are relying too much on data.

It’s similar to when physicians are in training and have to learn to “treat the patient, not the numbers.” The privacy issue is certainly a big one, with parents having no control over the images of their children once they’re transmitted to the vendor. Definitely food for thought.

Speaking of the quantified self, approximately a third of fitness trackers are abandoned after a while, winding up in nightstand drawers or the landfill. Recycle Health, affiliated with Tufts Medical School, has collected more than 5,000 wearables for redeployment to exercise and nutrition programs for low-income patients. Vendors have gotten into the act, with Fitbit, Fossil, and Withings sending excess inventory. Apple has not donated. In addition to individual donations, they also gather unclaimed lost devices from theme parks and tourist sites, which is a novel approach. Corporate wellness programs donate as well.

In other wellness news, recent research shows that odd-shaped parks may be better for public health. The authors used satellite imagery, cause of death statistics, and residence near a green space larger than 900 square feet as indicators. They found a decrease in deaths for every percentage point increase in green space. They found that irregular parks were beneficial because they might be more appealing to be in, or might be easier to stumble upon compared to formal parks with limited entrances. Complex-shaped parks were also linked to reduction in chronic health conditions. Recommendations for civic planners include finding ways to connect small or fragmented parks via greenways or other natural features.

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I always enjoy when a scholarly publication has a sense of humor, and a recent article in the Journal of Surgical Education did not disappoint. In “The Sorting Hat of Medicine: Why Hufflepuffs Wear Stethoscopes and Slytherins Carry Scalpels,” the authors surveyed surgical coordinator and residents to score various personality traits that tend to define medical specialties. There were more self-reported Slytherins in surgical subspecialties, particularly in orthopedic surgery. Family medicine had no Slytherins, which is not surprising. I don’t think students are going to start selecting their specialties based on their Hogwarts sympathies, but it was an amusing read.

Lots of chatter among the scribes in our office this week as the folks at Mayo Clinic Medical School mistakenly sent acceptance letters to 364 applicants. The school is blaming it on a technical glitch and said that as soon as they knew about it they withdrew the offers via email. Everyone affected has also been contacted by phone. The letters went to everyone who had interviewed, and there are typically only 46 actual spots available for students, with initial offers usually being made by phone.

The medical school admissions process isn’t something I would wish on anyone. It’s an emotional roller coaster and it’s expensive. Based on the fact that they were invited to interview, the applicants affected are generally qualified to attend, and I feel bad for them.

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I got a chuckle out of reader Matt’s comment on my post about HIMSS shoes. He recommends HOKA, but notes that “they’re not inexpensive so you may have to add laser hair removal to your practice, add retail vitamin sales, or go into orthopedics.” You have to love a company that has a shoe named “Speedgoat” and their color combinations are certainly appealing.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/24/20

February 24, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

A new report from the UPMC Center for Connected Medicine finds that only four in 10 providers feel that digital technology is being successfully integrated into the overall patient experience. The team at UPMC surveyed more than 130 health systems and found that many of them are experiencing challenges around the costs associated with purchasing, implementing, and maintaining digital tools. Integration remains a concern due to interoperability issues with third-party applications. Unsurprisingly, organizations are ranking patient engagement tools as high priority projects and hope they will assist with major clinical initiatives such as chronic disease management.

According to Katie Scott, vice-president of digital strategy and innovation, UPMC Enterprises, “Patients now assume they’ll have the same digital experience in healthcare that they get everywhere else in their lives, and they’re dissatisfied when we don’t deliver. Increasingly, if hospitals and health systems can’t provide a feature-rich and seamless digital experience for their patients, those individuals are going to look elsewhere for care.”

Based on recent experiences with two patient portals, I can’t say I disagree. One of the portals took me in circles as I tried to figure out what was going on with a bill for a date of service that occurred more than eight months ago. Apparently the organization’s Division of Ophthalmology follows billing rules from some other universe, and according to the folks I had to call for help, these delayed bills are pretty much routine.

The other one allowed me to access data from two practices, both of which had different access settings for my information. While one practice had shared full office notes and lots of discrete data to the portal, the other only had lab results, but there were no annotations on the results. I ended up clicking dozens of links trying to figure out what my blood pressure might have been running over the last couple of years, and ultimately wound up with two useful data points and a lot of frustration. Although more than 80% of organizations cite the patient portals as one of the top three currently implemented technologies, it’s unclear how much benefit patients and practices are truly receiving from them.

The UPMC Center for Connected Medicine is a joint venture between UPMC, GE Healthcare, and Nokia. Other findings of the survey include: more than 75% of organizations are offering at least one digital health tool to patients, with 25% offering four or more tools; of the quarter of organizations who haven’t deployed digital health tools, 97% of them have plans to do so; half of respondents labeled digital tools as critical or high priority, with larger organizations more apt to call them critical; and less than one-third of organizations agreed that their organizations are able to deliver a digital experience that is “on par with the best digital consumer experience.”

There have been a couple of articles discussing the results of the report, and all of them focus on the perceived advantages held by organizations that are leading with digital health tools. They also predict that organizations that don’t embrace digital tools will be left behind as patients vote with their feet to move to organizations with a more seamless experience.

This reminds me of how hospitals were behaving years ago as they all competed based on their beautiful birthing suites, on-demand dining, and bedside entertainment systems. They may have gotten people to look twice, but I’m not sure it really made a difference in how patients selected their hospitals,since often that decision is driven by insurance contracts or where physicians have chosen to be on staff.

As patients have become consumers and people are increasingly sensitive to the cost of healthcare, I’d like to propose a new paradigm in hospital competition. Rather than pushing for just price transparency and infection rates, let’s get some real competition. Let’s get hospitals to publish their data on accurate billing, clean claims, and responsiveness to patient inquiries. In addition to your wait time in the emergency department, what is your wait time when you have to call about a bill from six months ago that finally dropped? How quickly can you deliver medical records upon request? How do your score on the ability to deliver those records in the format patients want?

Let’s create some metrics for care team communication with families, adequate discharge planning, and appropriate end-of-life decisions and get them circulating in the community. As far as other metrics, how quickly does someone answer the patient call light/bell, and how efficiently can someone help an elderly or immobilized patient to the bathroom? Let’s get that metric up on a billboard just like the emergency department wait times.

For anyone who has ever been an inpatient or had to closely take care of a hospitalized family member, let’s add some other ones like timeliness of medication administration, the percentage of time that handwashing is done properly, and the speed with which staff can silence or otherwise address the alarm on an IV pump.

I’m now at the point in my career where I’ve spent more time as a clinical informaticist than I did as a “regular” physician, and trust me, I do love the technology side of things. But as we are with so many things in our society, we’re focused on the wrong things. Is digital technology just a distraction from other issues? Are we trying to use it as a proxy for the actual healthcare that our patients deserve? Do patients really want an interactive, immersive experience or do they just want to get out of the hospital without a hospital-acquired infection? Do they really need online bill pay or would they be much happier with a bill that was simply understandable and accurate?

I’m curious what others think about this and what your organization’s relative spend is on digital patient engagement versus what many of us would consider the staples of running a healthcare organization. Do you spend more on technology than infection control? How does it compare to salaries for nursing staff and other critical patient care resources? Are we just experiencing the healthcare equivalent of bread and circuses? Leave a comment or email me.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/20/20

February 20, 2020 Dr. Jayne 6 Comments

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I’m all about the data, but I’m not happy to have been faked out by this year’s influenza numbers. We were lulled into a sense of hope by what appeared to be an early peak followed by a decline in flu cases, only to have a second (and higher) peak.

To date, there have been 26 million cases of influenza and 14,000 flu-related deaths, including 92 children. We’ve been seeing a lot of influenza pneumonia in the practice and I’ve just about washed all the skin off my hands. I hope we start to see the end of this soon. Everyone’s keyed up about COVID-19, but few average people are aware of how many people influenza kills each year.

I had a chance to connect with a colleague who lives in Taiwan and who was looking for in the trenches commentary on what people in the US think about COVID-19. He and his family have battened down the hatches for the most part and his children’s school is closed until the end of the month as a precaution. Fortunately, he telecommutes to a job in the continental US, so his livelihood hasn’t been impacted. He’s going to keep me posted from the man on the street perspective as the situation unfolds.

It’s definitely starting to get interesting at work, as we are having difficulty with supplies that typically originate in China, including masks, gowns, and other disposable sterile supplies such as staple remover kits. Fortunately, we have a good stock of standard surgical instruments that can be autoclaved for sterilization, so it’s just a question of shifting to that workflow. Nothing beats a good pair of precision surgical scissors from Germany, so I’m not complaining.

Based on the flu and COVID-19, I expect to see an increase in vendors at HIMSS selling supplies to keep the workplace safe, including washable keyboards, touchscreen covers, sterilization carts, and more. I haven’t received any mailings from them or invitations to any booth events, so if you’re in this part of the industry and you’re not strutting your stuff, you might be missing out. I enjoy touring all the booths that have practical items to promote and aren’t just full of buzzwords and the stuff of pipe dreams. If you have something cool for us to check out, drop us a line and let us know your booth number. We’ll do our best to make it by.

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For a while, I was doing quite a bit of consulting around Patient-Centered Medical Home, so I spent a lot of time on the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) website. That business kind of died down and I drifted away, so I was happy to be drawn back by their involvement in the pursuit of Natural Language Processing. Their recent blog covers NCQA’s efforts to convene a NLP working group to help them explore how the technology can be used for quality measurement and reporting. The group includes representatives from Apixio, UPMC, and Wave Health Technologies.

The working group is focused on approaches to ensure that data generated from NLP is accurate. It plans to work toward developing a standard for validating NLP data. Since the working group is vendor focused, NCWA will be running parallel meetings with an independent advisory panel that includes NLP experts and researchers who will also weigh in on the potential validation model. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on their work and how it might impact frontline clinical organizations.

I recently caught up with a vendor friend to talk about their strategy for the new Evaluation & Management coding guidelines that will come into play in 2021. The guidelines are designed to allow physicians to be paid without the onerous documentation they had to do in the past, which theoretically would allow vendors to tailor their clinical documentation to the actual clinical scenario rather than allowing physicians to bill at the highest level possible. I’m looking forward to not having to do more of a Review of Systems than is actually relevant for the visit and to writing notes that are closer to “Strep: Penicillin” than to the multi-page nonsense we generate today. I hope multiple vendors are looking at ways to make documentation easier as well as more coherent.

Time to “Ditch the Disk” in healthcare. Various tech leaders are encouraging the healthcare industry to move beyond CD-ROMs and make sharing images as easy as sending a text message. The task force meets every few months and looks at ways to improve the process. My organization burns an incredible number of discs every month and I’m sure they wind up in piles at patients’ homes, so I’m all for it.

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I’m excited to report that readers are responding to my plea for pre-HIMSS shoe shopping tips. Apparently Jeffrey Campbell boots come highly recommended, with one reader noting “I have three of these…  I can even wear them with a broken toe.” That’s high praise indeed. I’m disappointed they don’t have them in my size in the red and blue snake pattern, because they’d be perfect for my upcoming trip to Washington, DC. A little bird told me you can sometimes find them on third party sites, so I’ll have to check them out. I definitely need something comfortable because I’m going to be hitting all the military memorials with a group of Honor Flight veterans.

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Another reader recommends Irregular Choice, saying, “My artist sister is obsessed, and I am tempted to peruse their men’s section for the show floor.” I was completely blown away by their creations, especially the Muppets and Disney options. If I had an endless shoe budget, I could definitely go crazy there.

Good luck on your HIMSS prep. As usual, I’ll be on the lookout for the best reader footwear (both shoe and sock varieties). Will your shoes make the hall of fame or the hall of shame? What are your other favorite sites for awesome shoes? Leave a comment or email me.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/17/20

February 17, 2020 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

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It was a wild and crazy weekend, as I got to experience what it was like to get rained on with 100,000 of my closest NASCAR friends. The race was postponed, so I get to do it again Monday, minus the presidential visit and military flyover since I doubt they’re going to send Air Force One and the Thunderbirds again.

I’ll be spending a lot of time in airports trying to get home due to the changes. When I fly, I usually try to catch up on continuing education or read something for my book club, because it doesn’t matter as much if I get distracted versus trying to do actual work. Most of my continuing ed journals are in the realm of emergency medicine or primary care, so I was happy to run across an interesting read in the healthcare IT arena.

A couple of days ago, a “published ahead of print” manuscript authored by some prominent clinical informaticists made some waves. Appearing in the online version of the journal Academic Medicine, it addresses the idea of commercial interests in continuing medical education, and how electronic health record vendors play a role.

Looking back 20 years, there was a great deal of continuing education that was sponsored either directly or indirectly by pharmaceutical companies. During medical school, pharmaceutical representatives would bring breakfast to a session with the not-so-subtle title of “Drugs and Donuts.” They would talk about their products and when they should be used, and I don’t doubt this led to heavy prescribing of the products.

A few years later, this evolved to a more subtle sponsorship of our Grand Rounds lunchtime lectures, where it was obvious who was paying for the steaming pans of sweet and sour chicken and what drug they sold. The reps no longer addressed the crowd, but were available to detail folks afterwards and hand out promotional items. At my school, some of these sessions were accredited for formal continuing education credits and the objectivity of the program was addressed, but others were much looser.

As the authors note, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) won’t give accreditation to commercial entities that produce, market, resell, or distribute health care goods or services used by or on patients. However, they will accredit academic institutions and other bodies who want to provide credit for courses they sponsor, and those institutions can accept pharmaceutical funding.

For now, ACCME doesn’t categorize EHR vendors as commercial interests and thus provides them accreditation to deliver continuing medical education. The authors note, “Like pharmaceutical company-sponsored CME events, EHR vendor activities, which inherently only focus on use of the sponsoring vendor’s EHR system despite its potential intrinsic limitations, can lead to physician reciprocity. Such events also may inappropriately influence EHR system purchases, upgrades, and implementation decisions. These actions can negatively influence patient safety and care.” They continue to “call on the ACCME to recognize EHR vendors as commercial interests and remove them from the list of accredited CME providers.”

I’ve had the opportunity to attend CME sessions put on by multiple vendors. They vary greatly in their content and how much general education is given versus how much it is really just a veiled training session. Some of the best sessions I’ve been to revolve around newer models of care delivery such as Patient-Centered Medical Home, Chronic Care Management, or Transitional Care Management. A good session will include an in-depth discussion of how the programs benefit patients, what they entail, how to bill for them, and what outcomes you might be able to glean from using them. Only a small percentage of the session is actually learning how to document the program in a given EHR. Bad sessions are little more than click-by-click directions for how to use the EHR, with CME provided to entice providers to attend when they otherwise didn’t participate in training.

I fully agree that being able to execute a workflow well in the EHR is beneficial to patients, as their data is more likely to be documented accurately and comprehensively. That doesn’t necessarily make a class worthy of continuing education credits, but I’ve seen it done.

The authors go on to explain why EHR vendors should be considered commercial entities. They note, “Even though the 21st Century Cures Act excluded EHR systems from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) oversight they should be considered medical devices similar to pacemakers, insulin pumps, and CT scanners, which are all under the purview of the FDA. No other commercial device or technology is used more often by physicians and other health care professionals than EHRs.”

One of their major points is that when EHR vendors sponsor CME sessions, they focus only on the vendor’s system and its benefits without mentioning competitor options. “Because every EHR system has intrinsic limitations, attendees are not adequately trained on alternate ways to solve problems… Instead of learning best clinical informatics practices and challenging the vendor to improve its product, attendees are presented with only the vendor’s worldview, which may result in their suboptimal or inappropriate use of EHR products or services on patients.”

One of their comments particularly resonated with me: “EHR vendors focus physicians’ attention on future enhancements to their systems so physicians may miss opportunities to implement available solutions that are more congruent with the needs of their patients, organizations, and the community.” I’m still waiting for an enhancement I requested back in 2006, despite the fact that other vendors include the request in their core functionality. Because the vendor kept promising it, there was no way my employer was going to fund an alternative solution.

The authors made some outstanding points, which was to be expected since several of them are leaders in the American Medical Informatics Association. This fact prompted a statement from AMIA noting that the article wasn’t reviewed or endorsed by the AMIA board of directors. Regardless, the AMIA statement calls on the ACCME to “recognize and consider the potential for bias when HIT vendors offer education to health care professionals” and goes further to urge ACCME to define EHR vendors as “commercial interests” in the same way that pharmaceutical or device manufacturers fit the definition.

AMIA states that although education on the use of EHR products is appropriate and relevant, it may not be appropriate for continuing education credit. The AMIA board asks CME organizations to “establish rules and processes by which they may support certified CME in a manner that is independent and unbiased,” just like drug and device companies must.

Knowing what I know about the ACCME, it will likely be some time before they respond to these calls to action. I’ll be curious whether they make a decision or whether they take it under advisement for further review. For many physicians who stay current in their specialties, it’s not hard to accrue all your required CME hours without relying on vendor-sponsored hours. Many of my colleagues have two to three times the number of mandatory hours simply but doing what they’re already doing to further their knowledge for patient care. I’ve got a couple of friends on vendor CME committees, and I’ll reach out and report back on what they have to say.

What do you think about EHR vendor-sponsored continuing medical education credits? Leave a comment or email me.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/13/20

February 13, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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My HIMSS schedule planning is being hampered by some kind of bug in Outlook, where the time zones aren’t displaying correctly for HIMSS week. They are accurate the weeks before and after, but the week of the 8th is a mess. I suspect it has to do with the time change to DST, but it’s weird. I’ve asked a couple of other Outlook users and they’re not having the issue, which leaves me doing all kinds of shenanigans with my calendar to make sure I know when and where I need to be. If you have any tips on this, or are seeing it yourself, let me know. I doubt too many people run three time zones on their calendars, so it may be a fairly limited problem.

Signing up for events at HIMSS is becoming more complicated. Gone are the days when you could just attend vendor events as a mere HIMSS attendee. Citrix is requiring people to be “qualified” to attend and will get back to me in 48 hours to let me know if I’m on the list. Others such as Capital One / Ziegler are a little more accessible. One of the things I loved about HIStalkapalooza was that everyone was invited – there was a great mix of people which led to lots of interesting conversations. I respond to invitations with my real name and credentials, so I’m getting a feel for how the average attendee is handled.

I worked some unscheduled clinical time this week in order to cover a colleague with influenza. I was surprised that the EHR had been upgraded with no notification or explanation. Although the changes were minor, it created an unsettled feeling as you wondered what was different that you might be missing. Although some of the enhancements were nice, a few missed the mark in that they were only partial fixes to issues. Our vendor is going through some growing pains and I’ve heard good things are coming, so I’ll remain optimistic.

The lack of notification may be part of an overall change in communication patterns for the practice, and not necessarily for the better. I’d love for them to hire me to put on my standard “Effective Communication Strategies” workshop because they’re not doing a great job. In order to prevent people’s email from being inundated, they’ve gone from a “push” communication strategy to a “pull” one, and unfortunately, it’s not working.

When I do my workshop as a consultant, I walk organizations through the creation of a communications matrix, where they define the different kinds of communications, the audience, and how they should best be delivered. For some critical communications, such as how to handle the novel coronavirus (now named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization), you might want to communicate in multiple channels and blast the important items to people via text or email.

Instead, our practice leadership sent an email that essentially said, “So that we don’t send you emails that would quickly become outdated, we’ve put everything on a website that you should check daily.” Unfortunately, the website doesn’t have a clear section that spells out “what’s new,” which means providers have to read through the whole thing and try to figure out what has changed since the last update. It’s not a terribly effective way to communicate key information in a rapidly evolving situation. I can pretty safely predict that people will just stop looking at it, much like they stopped looking at a quality improvement website that worked in the same way.

Several of my clients have reached out for advice on how to handle various aspects of the COVID-19 situation. If you’re not already freaked out about being exposed to germs because you’re part of the healthcare IT infrastructure, you might be when you hear the latest data. According to the Journal of Hospital Infection, coronaviruses can survive on surfaces for up to nine days, although the majority die after four or five days. Low temperatures and high humidity increase the lifespan. I wonder if vendors whose products include solutions for disinfection and sanitation will see an uptick in foot traffic at HIMSS.

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I was glad to see that National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Don Rucker called out the hospitals that signed Epic’s anti-interoperability rule letter. He notes that only three in 100 academic medical centers signed it. He went further to criticize one of the signers, saying, “One of the signers of the letter is known for taking thousands of patients to court. If you take someone to court, that information becomes public discovery. Their medical care is now public. It’s part of the court record… Looking at protecting privacy, we need to walk the walk here as we look at who is saying what and letter-writing campaigns.” It’s always good to look below the surface – sometimes what you find is pretty interesting.

In other news from ONC, the Health IT Advisory Committee (HITAC) is launching a new task force, the Intersection of Administrative and Clinical Data Task Force. It will focus on connecting data standards to improve interoperability, reducing clinician burden, and improving efficiency. Additional information on task forces is available on the HITAC website.

A recent article noted that little news has come out of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase’s Haven since its founding. It last issued a public statement in March 2019. We’ll have to see if there’s any buzz around or after HIMSS. If anyone has anything to share, feel free to reach out and we’ll keep you anonymous.

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If you’re still doing your Valentine’s Day shopping, there’s always the Samsung Galaxy X Flip phone, which launches on February 14 in the US. It’s got a slick one-inch OLED display on the cover that shows notifications when the phone is closed, and when the phone is open, you can use it as a full-screen or split-screen display for different apps. The screen is rated for 200,000 folds, which based on the phone habits of some teens I’ve seen lately, might last a year. Is $1,380 too much to pay for someone’s undying love and affection?

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/10/20

February 10, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks working on a big project that finally reached a major milestone. Now I feel like I’m operating in a bit of a vacuum. I’m taking a break from the clinical trenches for a while and will be doing some traveling.

I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about having a couple of weeks where I’m not operating under multiple timelines. I do pretty well with work-life balance, keeping track of how many hours I actually work compared to my capacity. It started as a way to make sure I could stay afloat financially without an actual employer, but I discovered it was also a reflection of how much non-productive time I had so that I could better reflect on what I was doing with that time.

When I applied for medical school, the majority of applicants went straight through from their undergraduate institutions to medical school. There were a handful of people in my college class who did research or something else for a year before applying, but often that was because they weren’t sure they wanted to go to medical school. The students I work with now typically take at least a year off between college and medical school applications. Many are doing research or looking for ways to distinguish themselves from the growing pool of applicants. Others are studying and prepping for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) that they didn’t take as undergrads because they didn’t feel they had enough time to study. Still more are taking post-baccalaureate courses to make themselves look more competitive.

Most of my scribes fall into the “study and prep” group. We’ve had some thoughtful discussions about what it was like back in my day (I never thought I’d be saying that, but here I am) versus how it is for them now. Initially, I thought that having time before they went to medical school might make them more rounded and less stressed when they finally got there, but I’m finding that the extra year or two might be adding to the overall stress level as admissions become more competitive.

Many other things have changed in medical education. For example, work hour limits and other protections that were designed to try to make the process more humane for learners. Additionally, students are much more digitally enabled and technology savvy than we were when I was in school. I wonder what kind of impact the combination of changes will have on physician burnout down the line. Will they see the EHR and other systems more as tools or mere annoyances rather than as their arch enemies? Will technology be able to evolve with their expectations?

Expectations are so important when we consider how we perceive things. I recently had a phone interview with a potential clinical employer. He’s someone I know from a past employer and perhaps that made him a little too comfortable as we were chatting. He made some comments about some of the other candidates he had passed on interviewing, generally around what he considered a relative lack of work ethic compared to physicians of his age group. I’m a little younger than him training-wise, but not much.

I was floored by the fact that he was only offering two weeks of vacation plus three days of continuing education for his potential new partner, regardless of their experience. In our area, most of the health systems are offering new grads three weeks of vacation plus a full week of continuing ed time. He seemed unaware of the competition’s benefits, which again had me thinking about expectations and how they influence our thinking.

It was in that frame of mind that I read the recent JAMIA article on metrics for assessing physician activity using EHR log data. The authors believe that reporting standardized efficiency measures would help experts understand the environments in which physicians practice. I don’t disagree that data is important, but it doesn’t take into account data about the practice patterns that physicians had before and to which they continuously compare their current experience, whether consciously or unconsciously. We don’t have many measures of total charting / message time for each eight hours of scheduled patient time, except in practices that were forward-thinking and performed time studies and optimization exercises.

I’ve done operational efficiency projects for the better part of a decade, whether as part of an employed CMIO role or as a consultant. Many of the measures that the authors hope to manage are often best addressed by non-technology solutions. These have been around a long time, but practices continue to be resistant to implementing them:

  • Time spent prescribing and managing refills. I still see physicians who only prescribe medications a month at a time, or who won’t even give enough refills through the next anticipated office visit. Experts have long advised year-long refills for stable patients, yet this is still a struggle for many. I also see people unwilling to delegate refill authority to other clinicians, insisting on reviewing each request themselves.
  • Inbox time per eight hours of scheduled patient time. This is another area where operational issues can have an impact. Is the inbox overloaded because patients want appointments and can’t get them? Is the schedule double booked, or has the practice taken steps to manage its panel size so that those who want appointments can get them and aren’t forced to leave or send messages? Does the inbox contain remote patient monitoring information that could be handled by ancillary team members?
  • Time spent writing notes. I often see physicians who used paper templates or dictation macros in the paper / dictation world who won’t spend the time to create provider-specific defaults or templates within their EHR. I still do not understand why it is so difficult to convince these providers that spending a little time will benefit them later.

Even though we may not have data on legacy work patterns, the authors pose some excellent research questions that are important for future research, including the impact of staffing ratios on various endpoints. They also note challenges with implementation of the measurements, including EHR idle time-outs, variable definitions of “work outside of work,” and the variability of prep work done prior to clinic sessions. They also noted that not all work is done in the EHR – clinicians spend time on the phone with patients and colleagues, have family meetings, complete FMLA and other paperwork, and otherwise interact with patients and the care team.

The authors are careful to note that data capture may lead to “unintended negative consequences” as physicians change their behaviors because they are being monitored. Perhaps they will write briefer notes or otherwise be less comprehensive than they might otherwise have been because they will be concerned about the appearance of inefficiency. They also are clear that they “do not suggest that these new measures be included as requirements in any federal reporting programs.”

As much as quantitative research is important, I’d love to see a greater focus on qualitative research with regards to clinicians’ perceptions and expectations. Do their past experiences and biases inordinately impact their use of technology? What level of impact do other forces have, such as documentation requirements, payer constraints on diagnostics and treatment, and government regulations? How much do various stressors impact our performance and our level of compassion for our patients? It would take time and resources to examine these questions.

What do you think about standardized metrics for assessing physician EHR activity? Leave a comment or email me.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/6/20

February 6, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Apparently some Advanced APM payments are going to be slowed for some providers as CMS is missing the banking information it needs to send the payments. The profiles of nearly 2,800 physicians are lacking, but I doubt those folks are likely to see the entry in the Federal Register that includes links to documents where providers can verify if they are on the list. Providers have until February 28, 2020 to submit updated banking information. The bonuses are for the 2017 performance year, so some of those providers may have retired or otherwise left practice.

Missouri is apparently going to try to get it in gear this year, as the state legislature has introduced bills to finally try to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. It’s the only state in the nation without such a database, although the St. Louis County database is used by a good chunk of the state in an attempt to provide better care for patients despite the actions of previous legislatures. Several state senators have said they’ll try to block it with a filibuster, and if they do, I hope their constituents think twice about voting for them again.

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My practice’s “just in time” ordering habits have bitten us, as there has been a surge in mask purchases due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Masks are apparently on backorder and our supplier isn’t sure when they’re going to be getting any, so we’re no longer giving them to patients and some offices are out completely.

I find our administration’s response to the issue to be lackluster since influenza is still a big issue in the community, having killed more than 10,000 people in the US. Some leaders act as if contracting the flu is just a given, and many of our employees are allowed to stay at the office working even though they should be at home resting. Yet another reason I’m keeping my eye out for a new clinical gig. There’s always telehealth, where my risk of being coughed on by a patient or colleague is zero.

Speaking of telehealth, some of the opposition I hear with regard to that particular care delivery paradigm revolves around “giving Z-packs like water.” The telehealth organization I work with is very particular about antibiotic stewardship and providers are monitored to ensure that antibiotics are given appropriately. I was glad to see some recent analysis on how traditional practices fare in this regard. The study looked specifically at Medicaid claims data over a 10-year period and found that nearly 45% of antibiotics lacked a clear indication for their use. Almost 28% of prescriptions had no associated office visit. The data was from 2004 through 2013, before the rise of telehealth and long ago in the dim ages when patients simply called the office and relayed their symptoms. Of those prescriptions that had an associated office visit, 17% of them had a diagnosis that was not infection related.

The authors note that current strategies to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are targeted at the office visit level. However, I would argue that EHRs could augment this by flagging visits where providers prescribe antibiotics with no associated visit. Although an actual warning might be annoying, it would be fairly easy to report on the data and present it for clinicians to review and see how they compare to their peers. Of course, as virtual visits occur, there would need to be further sub-categorization to review those virtual visits specifically for rates of antibiotic prescribing. Other feedback could include in-visit alerts that an antibiotic has been prescribed with no corresponding appropriate diagnosis.

Other beneficial interventions fall in the realm of public health, which as we know is underfunded. Greater patient understanding of when antibiotics are indicated and how to take them appropriately would be the best intervention. I still see too many patients who “took a couple of leftover amoxicillins” before coming to the urgent care for evaluation, which is a failure not only in the current situation, but also in the previous episode of care. Providers also need to know how well they are performing in this regard. I know many physicians who don’t have a clue what their metrics are for antibiotic treatment of respiratory infections, and that’s a shame.

As a blogger, I read a lot of other blogs and the best one I saw this week was Jacob Reider’s, titled: “When sponsored CDS is a crime.” His commentary on the Practice Fusion debacle sums up what he calls “the tension between better health and better profit.” Apparently he had a ringside seat for some initial exploration of the slippery slope of sponsored clinical decision support that led to specific elements of the 2014 Edition of the Certification Criteria for Health Information Technology. He recalls a lunch meeting with Practice Fusion’s then-leader Ryan Howard where they discussed some of the ethics around clinical decision support. Reider is clear that he doesn’t think the opioid situation happened on Howard’s watch, and gives us some visibility into the CDS that was actually in the application. It’s well worth the read.

I also enjoyed this brief Bloomberg Law summary of the HIPAA-related issues that prevent physicians and patients from texting one another. The reality is that it’s time to update HIPAA. The world has changed significantly since the law was passed in 1996. The internet was just a baby then (Netscape Navigator, anyone?) and many people could barely dream of email, let alone APIs and Netflix. In case you’re wondering, other notable things from 1996 include the debut of the Motorola StarTAC flip phone, Dolly the cloned sheep, Nintendo 64, and Tickle Me Elmo.

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From Longtime Reader: “Re: app data. Concerns about what happens with our data as we sign up for apps are worthy. That being said, with respect to the big corporate health systems (whether ‘not-for-profit’ or not), the cat has long been out of the bag. We sign away our rights to control our data under duress or blinded by bureaucracy the moment we cross the threshold. Indeed, my primary care doc’s front desk has a signature pad, with no visual presentation of what one is signing for, that memorializes the act, with only some mumbling by the lovely front desk staff about its significance.” I’ve taken to signing those signature pads with something that either only vaguely resembles a signature, or is fully legible but not my name. I’m still waiting for someone to notice.

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My HIMSS prep is in full swing as I continue the quest for cute shoes that are comfortable as well. They have to work from day to night as I transition from the expo hall to the afterparties, which is a tall order for any footwear. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/3/20

February 3, 2020 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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I’m in the middle of a rough clinical stretch, with Super Bowl Sunday in the middle of it.

Most of the team members I am working with are young and relatively green. None had worked a Super Bowl shift before. I explained that we would be super busy until the game started, then it would get quiet, and then we would have a rush before closing for the people who stuck it out through the halftime show and then realized that they were sicker than they wanted to be and didn’t want to wait overnight.

I don’t think they believed me initially, but their worst dreams came true when we had seen nearly 60 patients in the first six hours of our shift. Influenza and strep throat were the main diagnoses, along with a smattering of strains, sprains, falls, and lacerations. As predicted, the patient flow dried up 45 minutes prior to kickoff, allowing us to catch up on the many incomplete charts that had accumulated.

I saw an interesting mix of patients, and for the first time, I had a patient who wanted to search my diagnosis on the internet right in front of me because she didn’t believe what I was telling her. I’ve had enough encounters with Dr. Google that it didn’t phase me, but she seemed surprised that what I was telling her was the same as what was on the internet. Eventually she came on board with the treatment plan, but we’ll have to see what she gives me as a rating or whether she leaves a review. I think she was expecting some other kind of care than what we deliver for her condition, but she didn’t say as much explicitly.

I much prefer when patients are clear with their expectations, and if they don’t agree with what you are proposing, that they say so. I asked my scribe for feedback and she said I seem accessible to patients and I am patient with their questions, so she’s not sure either why the encounter went the way it did. We want to empower our patients to be part of their care, but it’s difficult when there is a hidden agenda or when you don’t have all the parts of the story.

Speaking of patient engagement, I had several patients today who were trying to tell me about medications they had taken in the past and referenced their MyChart accounts. The medications were nowhere to be found, with only the current medication list displaying. The patients all said that they could see the older medications previously, which makes me wonder if the health system made a change to their display settings. The health system doesn’t include visit notes in the patient-visible record so that wasn’t an option either, and I couldn’t figure out the medication from what they described.

Regardless, it was frustrating for the patient. Trying to call the pharmacy on Super Bowl Sunday to validate a list of old medications just wasn’t going to happen. If this was the result of a software change, it would be nice for the health system to let patients know that the app would no longer display non-current medications so that they could adapt accordingly.

This is one of the core issues of interoperability. It’s not enough just to exchange the information, but if patients are to make sure of their health information, it needs to be in a format that is not only clinically useful, but understandable. Some of the things we as clinicians have learned to differentiate – such as the SNOMED-based problem list vs. the ICD-driven diagnosis list – are confusing to many non-clinical people. Information needs to maintain the original documenter’s clinical intent.

This is one of the reason I truly love the Intelligent Medical Objects solutions. They allow the clinician to document in words that they (and the patient) understand while still checking the box for the required underlying codes. Patients understand costochondritis a little better than they understand Tietze syndrome, which is just confusing. There also needs to be a way to differentiate episodic conditions that are relevant in an ongoing way (such as recurrent strep throat when parents are adding up the number of episodes that need to happen before their child’s tonsils can be removed) from episodic conditions that can often be just noise in the chart, such as occasional sinus infections, sore throats, or viral illnesses.

Some EHRs have made provisions for this. Providers can flag episodic conditions to move them from the diagnosis list to the problem list if they are pertinent, but that involves human intervention, reducing the likelihood that it will actually happen. Other EHRs require providers to retire diagnoses that aren’t ongoing, which is another step that may or may not actually occur.

Another favorite solution is Quippe from Medicomp, which allows users to highlight a finding and use it to identify encounters across the chart where related findings were documented, which is really cool. Maybe we can combine functionality like that with developing artificial intelligence solutions, marry it to a bot that will parse the chart intermittently and look for patterns that will identify what is relevant for ongoing documentation and what isn’t, and then display the data accordingly.

These kinds of solutions are what innovators should be looking for, not just creating better user interfaces for providers to mark up data. We need to be armed with great tools that look at our usage patterns and predict what we want to see next and how we want to see it. They need to understand our ordering patterns and dynamically create order sets that meet institutional rules, but that also allow us to do our work quickly and with a minimum of distraction. They need to look at how we’re prescribing and ordering and alert us if our behaviors are deviating from evidence-based best practices, especially if our organizations are scoring us against them, which many employers are. They need to be able to predict which patients are trending to higher risk and which can be managed in a more relaxed fashion, without us relying on potentially biased clinical experience or the Han Solo-like “bad feeling” about something going on with our patient.

As for me, the halftime show is wrapping up and we have zero patients on the board, so I’m headed to grab a snack and get ready for the rush.

What’s on your innovation wish list? What would really make your clinicians’ work lives better? Leave a comment or email me.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/30/20

January 30, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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CVS continues its transformation by opening Health Hubs in 13 of its Philadelphia-area pharmacies. The model was piloted in Houston and claims to “put patients at the center of their care” by offering services focused on health and wellness. Nurse practitioners staff the Hubs, along with pharmacists, to offer personalized care.

Although CVS leaders expect this to provide “integrated healthcare,” it remains to be seen how nurse practitioners who may have a limited scope of practice and pharmacists who are already in short supply will be able to effectively coordinate with primary care physicians and subspecialists. If they truly want to focus on controlling costs and delivering effective care, I’d like to see the focus on offering evidence-based treatments and avoiding nebulous “wellness” products, such as aromatherapy offerings. CVS plans to offer the model in 17 states by the first part of 2020. If you’ve had a chance to experience the Health Hub, let me know.

Elizabeth Holmes is in the news again as she represents herself in civil litigation, phoning in for a hearing in Phoenix. Attorneys apparently expect to be paid for their work, and since Holmes hasn’t paid her team in more than a year, her attorneys withdrew from the case. This litigation involves alleged personal injury related to faulty blood testing, with either missed diagnosis or unnecessary treatment as the outcome. Walgreens is a co-defendant in the case, and as the hearing began, Holmes stated that she will rely on the arguments made by her co-defendant’s legal team.

HIMSS is around the corner, and I’m missing Las Vegas. Even though I wouldn’t choose it as a personal travel destination, I much prefer it to Orlando for conferences. The access to restaurants and entertainment is much better in Las Vegas, and frankly, I’m just tired of Orlando. Las Vegas is mixing it up with a change to its marketing tagline, with “What happens here, only happens here” being the latest iteration. Supposedly the marketing agency has spent several years working on the new campaign, which seems like a long time.

I’m always looking for the next cool thing to see at HIMSS, and apparently Epic plans to debut “ambient voice technology” from Nuance at the show. I hope the Epic virtual assistant has a sense of humor like Alexa does, when she chides people who say sassy things to her. Supposedly the assistant, called “Hey Epic,” is being used by 20 organizations. If you’re using it, I’d love to report on your experiences (anonymously and confidentially, of course). Drop me a note if you have information to share. At HIMSS, they’re supposed to debut “conversational capture” along with automatic note creation, so it’s definitely on my booth list.

I’m starting to put together my HIMSS social schedule and have an opening due to one major vendor eliminating its client event this year. I haven’t gotten the backstory on why that happened, but it was always a fun party, with all the executives hanging out with the clients, so it will be sorely missed. I’ve already scheduled some lunches and meetings, so if you’re interested in having the HIStalk team report on your event, send the details our way. We’ll do our best to drop by, anonymously of course.

The Food and Drug Administration is warning healthcare providers and consumers about vulnerabilities in telemetry servers and clinical information stations that monitor patient vital signs. Security flaws can allow tampering with the devices to generate false alarms or silence genuine alarms on patient monitors that are connected to the systems. GE notified clients about the issue back in November, but posted additional information on its website this week. Although the FDA isn’t aware of any adverse patient events, GE is recommending that providers restrict access to the workstations, change default passwords, and isolate the affected devices from the wider hospital network. The interesting tidbit of this story is that the vulnerabilities were reported to GE by a third-party organization (CyberMDX) rather than by a client. It is unclear whether GE engaged them for routine vulnerability testing or how they came to be involved.

Precision medicine is a hot topic, but a recent article shows how difficult it can be to translate those results from the realm of research to the real world of patient care. From a panel discussion at the Precision Medicine World Conference, it appears that although the National Comprehensive Cancer Network offers guidelines on genomic testing, they are not regularly followed outside academic settings. Additionally, physicians and patients struggle to interpret the results of some tests. The results can impact not only the patients, but their potentially at-risk family members. Comparing what happens in community settings to the guidelines, only 8% of non-small-cell lung cancer patients and 40% of colorectal cancer patients received testing according to the guidelines. Panelists call for access to genetic counseling, along with a universal EHR, as potential ways to improve outcomes.

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I’m intrigued by a new MyAnalytics feature from Microsoft that purports to give me visibility into my work habits. This week’s focus is on “wellbeing,” which it defines as the ability to “disconnect and recharge” as further quantified by “quiet hours” where I don’t have meetings, chats, or calls outside my working hours as set in Outlook. Apparently it knows that I worked on some documents outside my published work hours. Since this account belongs to a large health enterprise and I’m a contractor, I really don’t have work hours, but it’s fascinating to know that Big Brother is monitoring my work habits. I’ll have to see what the rest of my weekly reports reveal.

From Noteworthy: “Re: another tragedy in California. A vineyard spills 100,000 gallons of red wine. That could have satisfied a lot of thirsty HIMSS attendees.” It’s not only an oenological tragedy but an environmental one, as the wine contaminated the Russian River with the potential to damage water quality along its 110-mile route. The amount of cabernet sauvignon lost would fill eight tanker trucks. Officials note that about 20% of the spill was contained with the vineyard using vacuum trucks and a makeshift dam, but the effort ultimately failed.

What’s your favorite HIMSS beverage? Leave a comment or email me.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/27/20

January 27, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

The healthcare IT universe is atwitter (both figuratively and literally) about Epic’s opposition to the proposed HHS rules regarding information blocking. Although the rules are designed to speed sharing of patient data among hospitals, medical practices, and other care delivery entities, there are concerns that they don’t go far enough to protect patient privacy.

Opponents are claiming that relaxed rules will allow sharing of data with third parties that aren’t bound by HIPAA, resulting in patients losing control of their protected health information. HHS counters with the assertion that they “want the public to have computational right of access to health information so they can have control over apps of their choosing.”

Although choice is a lofty goal, the reality is that patients (and consumers in general) aren’t going to read the disclosures of how their data is used or what permissions an app might need to operate, which could open the floodgates of information sharing in ways they might not fully appreciate. On the other hand, data sharing is important for better healthcare – improved coordination of services, reduced duplication of testing, greater understanding of the patient’s whole condition, and more.

I see patients who regularly pull up their patient portal accounts and just hand me their phones, hoping I can make sense of their medication lists or what lab testing has been done recently. They know that the big health systems in town refuse to play nicely with independent providers, but they want us to have the whole picture.

It’s the digital equivalent of what the military did with charts for years. The patient would pick up their chart and take it with them to their appointments so that everything was at the provider’s fingertips. I used to love seeing those recently discharged military members in practice because it meant continuity in a way that I couldn’t get via fax or mail in the olden days before electronic data sharing.

I think it’s important for patients to understand that if they share their health information with third party apps that their data is no longer protected. This is the current reality for a good chunk of health data. Patients are giving their PHI freely to apps tracking fitness, fertility, calorie intake, sleep patterns, biometric factors, lab data, and more. They’re giving away their genomes to commercial testing providers without a second thought, mostly because they haven’t read the fine print.

I’ve heard the call for protection of health information regardless of whether it’s in the hands of a HIPAA-covered entity or not. That is starting to look like a good idea. Maybe it’s time to broaden the definition of PHI and hold everyone who handles it accountable for keeping it protected.

Maybe it’s also time for HHS and other agencies to fight information blocking in ways that don’t involve vendors. My state’s HIE is one of the most pathetic in the nation, with high costs to hook up to it and other barriers to participation. Although the big health systems are feeding it data, it’s cost prohibitive for small organizations or independent providers to connect. How about some grants to eliminate those barriers? Or how about tax breaks for providers who want to connect for better patient care? How about allowing individual providers to go through a credentialing process to be able to log in to see whatever patient data they need to get the job done, just like they do now for prescription drug monitoring programs? Why all the mystery about having to have a practice or institutional login? It drives me crazy, because when I moonlight at the hospital I can access the HIE, but when I’m out at the little practice on the prairie where the data would be most beneficial, I’m in the dark.

There are more pieces to the puzzle then just requiring vendors to jump through interoperability hoops. We need to require healthcare providers to actually comply with existing laws regarding records release and data sharing. Right now, there is little enforcement and little recourse for patients who are caught without their information.

Let’s also spend some money educating patients about their health and the importance of keeping track of their data, even if they have to do it manually. Sure, it’s cooler to do it on your phone or with an app, but even just keeping a file with copies of important labs is better than nothing. Three-ring binders aren’t sexy, but they’re cheap and you can still access the data when you forget to plug in your phone.

Patients don’t realize how important it is to keep track of their health when they’re healthy. I routinely have to restart people’s hepatitis vaccination series because they’ve lost the records of their immunizations and the pediatrician has long since retired. People become sick and realize they need “the binder” or “the spreadsheet” or whatever mode of data gathering they arrive at, but it’s too late.

Some argue that we shouldn’t put the onus on the patient. I would say that’s the only way to make sure their information is accurate.

I did a little View Download Transmit experiment on my own medical records at several different practices and found upwards of two dozen errors. There were diagnoses I’ve never had, medications I haven’t been on in years, and even a couple of lost pathology specimens. Managing that shouldn’t be entirely the patient’s responsibility, but there could be a better partnership between patients and providers to ensure that everyone had the information they need. There are simple workflows that enable this that very few practices do, such as sending the patient a copy of their health summary prior to the visit and asking them to bring any corrections to the visit. You could even (gasp) give the patient a printout of the information when they check in for their visit, ask for a markup, and then review it together. Seems easy, but there’s too often a lack of resources or lack of will to even make these small changes.

Although this is a hot topic for HIStalk and Politico and others, many people in the trenches have no clue. I had lunch with a CMIO friend today and she wasn’t even aware of the situation with Epic despite her role in an Epic-using organization. She works for the biggest information blocker in town, whose staff often refuses to talk to me after I refer patients to their hospitals. Go figure. I guess she wasn’t in Judy’s contacts list. Similarly, no one is fired up in my forums for women physicians or medical school alumni.

It has been interesting to educate people about this issue. I hope they start following what’s going on in healthcare beyond their daily survival routine.

Let’s put on our patient hats for a minute and reflect on what we think about the proposed HHS rule. Do you give it a thumbs up or down, regardless of how it impacts your working world? Leave a comment or email me.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/23/20

January 23, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

IBM has proposed measures to reduce concerns of bias in the use of artificial intelligence solutions. Critics have noted that AI technologies use data that can reflect past discrimination and may not accurately reflect health factors for women, minorities, the elderly, and disabled persons. IBM is urging industry and governmental agencies to work together to create standards to measure bias and prevent potential discrimination. It also calls on companies in the AI space to appoint ethics officials and to assess whether AI systems can cause harm.

I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of useful AI systems in my clinical practice, since we perform primary readings on all of our so-called “plain film” radiology studies. (It’s been decades since I’ve seen any film, or smelled the delightful chemicals, and I certainly don’t miss it.) It feels like we sometimes over-call findings on chest X-rays, but without truly crunching the data it’s hard to tell, since we have an inherent bias because everyone who has a film is already pretty sick. It would be great to have AI backup or pre/post screening to make our lives a little easier and a little more evidence-based, while we wait the 30-45 minutes for a radiology overread.

I enjoyed reading this op ed piece about renewed efforts to combat medical errors. I’ve worked with a handful of systems recently that still struggle with the basics, including ongoing use of so-called “do not use” abbreviations. Some vendors seem to think that just because their product isn’t certified EHR technology that they don’t have to respect the standard conventions for safety and usability. The piece does treat a couple of issues too simplistically, blaming EHRs for physician burnout (I’d argue it’s not only EHRs but the mounds of regulations and data collection requirements that EHRs were designed to satisfy). There is also a lack of citations for key data points, such as the allegation that radiologists at one organization are viewing images at a rate of one every four seconds. I wonder if that state’s Board of Healing Arts has anything to say about that.

Applications for the CMS Primary Care First program closed this week, and I’ll be interested to see how many organizations signed up and ultimately what payers end up participating in the program. The initiative didn’t excite any of my clients, despite their detailed evaluation of the program’s different tracks and comparison of it to existing programs. The application process ran so far behind that they had to shift the program by a year, so I’m not sure anyone has too high of hopes for it.

I missed this newsy tidbit last week: The US International Trade Commission will be investigating Fitbit, Garmin, and other wearable devices following a patent infringement complaint by competitor Koninklijke Philips. At least in my community, interest in fitness trackers seems to have waned – no one talks much anymore about their steps or jumps up based on a prompt to MOVE! like they used to. I still use my Garmin watch to track my runs in addition to telling me the time, but I turned off the activity prompts and the display of texts from my phone, as I found them too disruptive.

My inbox has been overstuffed for the last couple of months, so I also missed this item: Hims & Hers telehealth is partnering with Ochsner Health System for coverage of conditions not usually treated through the Hims & Hers platform. They’re fairly small as a telehealth vendor with only 200 physicians, so I’m sure broadening their network will be a benefit. I’m not a fan of their sale of nonmedical consumer products such as beauty and skincare formulas, nor their sale of various supplements and alleged sex drive boosters. I’m not a fan of those in face-to-face practice either, as I think it’s hard to remain objective about pushing products if you profit from them, and I think the evidence on some of their products is thin at best. Apparently Ochsner isn’t worried about being on the slippery slope and they plan to launch the service first in Florida.

A good friend of mine has done significant work for tobacco quit-line services, so I was glad to see this article looking at EHR-based versus fax-based referrals to the quit lines. Long study short, the availability of EHR-based referrals produced referral rates at three to four times that of the current fax-based standard of care. EHR-based referrals were also more numerous for underserved populations. The key takeaway is that the easier the process, the more likely that clinical teams will do it – and if launching referrals from screens where the staff is already working does the trick, that’s a win for patients.

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HIMSS is hosting a webinar on Monday, February 3 that caught my eye: “Monitoring Grandma: Adoption of Connected Health Tech by Seniors.” The objectives are to explore current tech trends in the older population, along with real-world experiences from clinicians using technology with geriatric patients. They also plan to discuss attitudes toward health technology at the community level along with how it should impact design and adoption. I’ve struggled occasionally with getting my Amazon Echo to do what I want it to do – maybe it’s my accent or maybe I’m just not using the right words. Or perhaps as I head farther away from the tender age of 29, I need to embrace the mythical Amazon Echo Silver.

Informaticists are discussing the recent surge in China of a novel coronavirus that has killed 17 people with more than 540 cases confirmed. Health systems in the US, especially those in major points of entry, are debating the addition of EHR screening questions similar to past outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Ebola virus. The city of Wuhan, with a population of nearly 12 million people, has shuttered local transportation systems, suspended outbound flights, and is asking residents to stay home. The new flu-like virus is suspected to have jumped to the human population from illegally traded wildlife at a Wuhan market. The World Health Organization will decide this week if this outbreak qualifies as a global health emergency, although airports are already screening travelers. Meanwhile, the United States has already seen over 9.7 million cases of influenza with 87,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 4,800 deaths (including more than 30 children) this season. Just something to think about.

Has your hospital added coronavirus screening questions to the EHR yet? Leave a comment or email me.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/20/20

January 20, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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On occasion, I’ve done consulting for groups who are trying to drive clinical outcomes through better patient engagement. Both vendors and healthcare delivery organizations have an interest in this, as they try to help providers capture incentives with value-based payment models or try to prevent unnecessary care. I’ve seen some unique and compelling apps that they expect patients to use, some of which try to gamify the healthcare experience. Other organizations are betting their money on patient portal functionality, and some are leveraging text-based solutions.

There’s a fine line, though, between trying to converse (whether electronically, face-to-face, or virtually) with patients versus using social medial platforms to try to reach specific clinical goals. I was interested to see this article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looks at the potential role of social media in preventive health care. The authors start by noting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that indicates that more than 100,000 lives could be saved annually if patients in the US received clinical preventive services. These include basic elements such as vaccinations, tobacco use counseling, cancer screening, and blood pressure screening. They note key barriers such as access, cost, and awareness as factors that lead to inadequate delivery of services.

The authors note that “social media and other digital platforms that enable connectivity have unprecedented influence,” which to me is an understatement. The rise of social media “influencers” in many facets of life is somewhat surreal to those of us who have dedicated our lives to being expert in a field and trying to use evidence to guide what we say and do. In the world of social media, you can know fairly little about something, but if you present yourself well and have something catchy to offer, you can get thousands of people to begin following your every word. Sometimes notoriety is more important than knowledge or experience, and often consumers fail to understand the difference. With that in mind, I was skeptical about how social media could positively impact healthcare delivery. Not to mention, there are obvious privacy concerns where social media and personal health information intersect.

The authors specifically discuss the Facebook Preventive Health tool, which is available only in the mobile app. The app consumes sex and age data and matches it with guideline-driven preventive health services, also offering locations where users might want to receive them. The app uses a variety of guidelines from the American Cancer Society, American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In looking at the app myself, they seem to pick and choose some of their recommendations, particularly where there are discrepancies between bodies such as the CDC and ACS. It’s also not very clear who is behind choosing the recommendations, and how they decided which set of guidelines to follow for any given condition. It’s also not clear how they decided what conditions to include or exclude in the tool. The app isn’t totally benign, as Facebook gathers user data about how individuals interact with the tool. Although the company claims they’re not sharing it with third parties, I’m skeptical.

The authors note that the Facebook Preventive Health tool suggests that users can share it with their networks. Although this can theoretically raise awareness of screening measures, it’s not clear whether such sharing actually drives health behavior change. They do cite a study on voting that showed that among 15 million Facebook users, direct messages encouraging voting influenced the behavior of individuals and their networks. However, they note that “a better understanding is needed in regard to whether information about preventive health propagates across users and how new users and influencers affect dissemination.” They also note some previous research that shows that “fact checking declines when information is presented on social media compared within an individual setting.” They cite the number of anti-vaccine “influencers” online and how misinformation can impact vaccine delivery. They go on to note that “for any health intervention on a social media platform, it will be important to determine how to assess the success of an intervention that includes vetted health recommendations on the same platform as misinformation.”

The authors note that privacy is an issue. While patients easily offer their personal data to apps, fitness trackers, and other platforms, they may not be aware how that data is used or that it can be combined with other data sources to personal data profiles that are beyond what they might normally share. I had a “wow this is scary” moment with one of my clients recently when they did just this – combining publicly available data that used only a name and email address to bring in demographic data, address information, and more, and ultimately created psychosocial profiles with specific predictions of income, educational status, political leanings, and other potentially sensitive data.

They go on to discuss the challenge of engaging populations that struggle to access health services – uninsured patients and those without primary care providers. Just making these patients aware that they need screening isn’t going to make family physicians create more openings for Medicaid or uninsured patients. The retail clinics mentioned in the app don’t offer a wide variety of services and the federally qualified health centers that are recommended might not have capacity to care for these patients either.

In the end, the authors leave us with more questions than answers. They note that it has always been a struggle when technology crosses paths with healthcare and there is typically skepticism of things that are new. Miasmas versus germ theory, anyone? They note the need for careful evaluation of the use of social medial platforms in driving public health needs, and the opportunity for partnership among healthcare delivery organizations, researchers, and the social media industry. These groups need to work together to enable studies of the interventions and definitions of a successful result.

This leaves me wondering, though – what would happen if specific social media influencers teamed up with reputable healthcare organizations to promote healthy behaviors? What if the Kardashians were hawking the concept of “eat less, move more” rather than “waist trainers,” which are essentially corsets? What if Goop sold “wellness” products that were actually based in science? What if famous rappers talked about taking their lady friend to get her pap test versus taking their daughter to get a “virginity test?” (Google it if you missed it in real life.) It has to go beyond getting former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Sesame Street.

What do you think about the role of social media in health promotion? Leave a message or email me.

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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/16/20

January 16, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Support of Windows 7 came to an end this week, and many organizations seem to be willing to take the risk that comes with not having security updates. My practice waited until the last two weeks to upgrade all the clinical workstations, resulting in countless hours being spent by end users rebuilding bookmarks, re-saving passwords and logins, and rearranging desktops as people try to get their computers to look and work “like they used to.” All of our staff rotates among a dozen or so locations, meaning they have to repeat the process multiple times because user profiles don’t sync across the organization. I think the most annoying piece was they didn’t announce they were going to do it, or which locations were going to be impacted, so every shift has been a little bit of a surprise.

The providers would have definitely preferred this be done in September or October, before the busy flu season hit. If I was wondering why I felt so beaten down after my last few clinical shifts, the month-end data explained it. My “patients per hour” metric was the highest it’s been since I’ve worked in the practice. Interestingly, even though patients had longer wait times and I had a couple of patients give me low ratings this month, my patient satisfaction score was the highest it’s ever been. I do enjoy being able to see data that explains what we’re feeling in the trenches, and being able to use it to improve how we work.

I’ve been reading reports from the recent Consumer Electronic Show. Many offerings have been over-hyped (“swim like a mermaid” had no tail) but others are kind of cool – the Mateo Smart Bathroom mat can track weight and evaluate posture while integrating with your phone, but the $179 price tag seems a bit steep. Withings has been in the health tech business for a while, and brings its clinically-tested ScanWatch, which is pending FDA approval. The cool part is its 30-day battery life. Kaiser Permanente is expanding its investment in a program using Samsung smart watches as part of a remote cardiac rehab program, with current technology showing promising results, so we’ll have to see what the next generation of tech brings.

Not all the technology that caught my eye was tech-related – the Juno Chiller can chill a bottle of wine in three minutes, but for $299 I think I’ll plan ahead instead, or just keep a bottle perpetually chilled. Other products on display are a bit much – such as Kohler’s line of Moxie showerheads, which include a magnetic Bluetooth speaker that fits in the middle. I shouldn’t be surprised, as Kohler already has a Bluetooth bathtub that features lights and vibration in addition to actual water. The LuluPet litter box uses images of feline stool and urine to monitor cat health, and can distinguish between different cats as well as weighing them. Get ready to have a discussion with Alexa about your cat’s waste, because it’s integrated.

Technology doesn’t always make things better and I’ve found that for many people, it has resulted in significant time-wasting as they struggle to keep up with multiple social media channels. The concept of “time affluence” being at an all-time low in the US was addressed in a recent Dropbox blog, which noted that 80% of 2.5 million people surveyed felt they did not have the time to do everything they felt they needed to do. According to the piece, people who feel like they don’t have enough time are more likely to be depressed and anxious than those who feel they have adequate free time. That’s been my experience in real life – you can tell the people who thrive on deadlines from those who feel overwhelmed.

The blog cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows that people have more free time than they did 50 years ago, but for many people it doesn’t feel like it. It attributes this feeling to “the digitization of society,” along with information overload, and the fragmentation of time. Feeling distracted increases the perception of time stress. The blog also calls on companies to set protocols that enhance available free time, and practice them. I still see companies that don’t set appropriate rules for meetings and that fully support time-wasting practices such as double booking of meetings and not allowing people enough control over their calendars so that they can actually get work done.

Time is running out for anyone interested in the Primary Care First payment model and who hasn’t yet applied. Practices have until January 22 to apply. Modeling by the American Academy of Family Physicians “indicates that it should consistently work better than the Medicare Quality Payment Program’s Merit-based Incentive Payment System, even for those getting the maximum MIPS bonus.” They go further to say that the ideal successful practice will have at least 600 Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries and should already be involved in value-based programs with Medicare Advantage or managed Medicaid.

Time is also short for those who are awaiting the ONC final rules on interoperability, which are expected late this month. The rules went to the Office of Management and Budget for review in September. The ONC annual meeting takes place January 27 and 28 and might be an opportune time for an announcement. CHIME recently wrote to members of Congress noting that the proposed rule doesn’t adequately address concerns about health IT security for third-party apps that are not created by organizations covered under HIPAA. They are concerned that without protections, third parties will be able to share or sell sensitive patient information.

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From Jimmy the Greek: “I know you enjoy the outdoors, did Santa bring you one of these?” He had me at the headline: “This Floating Tent Offers You A Cool New Way To Die While Camping.” I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my arsenal, given it’s hefty $1,999 price tag or its equally hefty 75lb weight. The tent has a graphic of a campfire on its floor – although it’s the manufacturer’s logo, I hope no one gets the idea that it’s an indicator that you should build a fire on the base of the floating dome that is your home. I think I’ll stay with my standard issue REI on solid ground.

What’s the wackiest gadget you’ve seen, from CES or anywhere else? Leave a comment or email me.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/13/20

January 13, 2020 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about market consolidation. Mr. H always captures the movements: Teladoc Health is acquiring InTouch Health, SCI Solutions is acquiring Tonic Health, and MTBC is buying CareCloud.

Sometimes competitors buy each other, but the strategy can be somewhat murky. Are they trying to get better technology to improve their core product? Or are they trying to consolidate market share? Other times companies are buying specific pieces of technology that they lack in an attempt to stop the bleeding of customers going elsewhere for a more complete offering.

I’ve consulted for vendors during these acquisitions. My favorite type of engagement is helping the potential buyer to perform the due diligence around the potential purchase.

Usually the target company is keen on being purchased, so they are reasonably willing to get you dig around as much as needed. Sometimes, though, they may occasionally put obstacles in your way to keep you from figuring out how weak their product actually is compared to its marketing.

I worked with one vendor who thought they were getting a niche EHR that would complement their existing offerings. Unfortunately, they missed the part where that niche EHR really didn’t have a practice management system. Without the ability to bill for services, providers aren’t going to be thrilled with the fact that they’re going to have to buy a separate billing system and then try to mesh them together.

I say they “missed” the part where there was no billing system with some sarcasm. Of course they knew it was lacking, but chose to ignore it and hoped they could find enough gullible customers to come on board. Along with other members of the due diligence team, I was able to convince them they should take a pass, which hopefully saved them (and their potential customers) a good deal of heartache.

I’m interested to follow along as Teladoc Health purchases InTouch Health. I do believe that given our current culture and people’s desire for convenience, along with the need for providers to try to manage more patients more efficiently, virtual care is going to move to the forefront of healthcare.

The existing paradigms will continue to evolve. Hospitals that don’t have experts in a given subspecialty can contract with providers hundreds of miles away to provide care for their patients. Intensive care units can hire virtual teams to not only help manage patients after traditional business hours, but to review treatments and care plans as an extra set of expert eyes to make sure the best care possible is delivered. Patients can interact directly with their providers in a more efficient manner, saving the time needed to drive to an office and wait for care. Although these service lines already exist, more organizations are going to embrace them, and those that are already working in this manner will continue to evolve.

Teladoc Health already has the direct-to-consumer piece, and InTouch Health has a pretty solid institutional platform. The announcements focus on this, calling out the new company’s ability to manage patients longitudinally from the home setting to the intensive care unit. Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, there will have to be a great deal of digging by teams on both sides to figure out exactly how their technologies might be able to work together vs. how much work will be needed to bring them together.

I worked with one vendor who had an EHR and a practice management system built on the same database platform but using different programming languages. As they tried to bring them together, they ended up halting all development on one side of the house while they rewrote the application to play nicely with the other side. The budgetary impact was significant, and it also caused the project to lose momentum. Eventually they got everything on the same page, but the product still died on the vine.

Many who have never been through the process of trying to bring disparate products together don’t realize what a long road it will be to seamless interaction between the direct-to-consumer offering and the in-hospital solutions. I love that kind of work – figuring out what can be kept, what needs to be refactored, and what might just need to be started over again from scratch in order for everything to work as intended.

In order to be successful, the various teams need to leave their egos at the door and focus on the end result, creating something new that will be greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, though, there isn’t enough budget allocated and the organization fails to address cultural issues, so what results is a shadow of what it might have been.

I have friends working at organizations that have struggled while trying to bring acquisitions together. One team worked for nearly two years to try to integrate the solutions, only to finally give up and demand that customers of the smaller vendor migrate to the larger vendor’s platform. Another team hurried to bring customers live on a shiny new tool they had purchased, not realizing that it wasn’t HIPAA-compliant until they started seeing unanticipated outcomes for what should have been routine workflows.

Of course, there is a negative impact on customers and their patients. These scenarios are also accompanied by declines in morale for the people doing the work. Sometimes key players will even leave because they don’t feel their opinions are being respected and they see their pride and joy being dissected during the process.

I hope that the companies involved in these acquisitions reach out to professionals to help manage the “soft” issues involved in bringing large teams together. From experience, they would likely benefit from an objective analysis and guidance in how to make everyone feel appreciated and to reduce the fear of being downsized or pushed aside. Most companies don’t do this, and they ultimately reap what they sow as the integration becomes increasingly difficult and the conversations more contentious. Some of the recent mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare IT world seem to be healthy, but others seem to be under a bit of duress.

Have you been through a merger or acquisition? Do you have advice for the impacted employees? Leave a comment or email me.

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  1. No, their message talks about billing the insurance company. Actually, they say that most messages will be free, but responses…

  2. "Drop charge, submit claim, see who pays, write off anything that would otherwise reach patient financial responsibility," is not a…

  3. I may have missed it, but did the Cleveland Clinic announcement make it clear that they plan to bill patients…

  4. I live in NE Ohio and have had mixed thoughts on Cleveland Clinic's announcement that they will start charging for…

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