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HIStalk Interviews Michele Perry, CEO, Relatient

February 24, 2021 Interviews 1 Comment

Michele Perry, MBA is CEO of Relatient of Franklin, TN.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

Relatient is the 2020 KLAS category leader in patient outreach and communication. The company is located right outside of Nashville, TN. We got our start with appointment reminders back in 2014. Since then, we have built an entire patient engagement platform to help medical offices manage all the major touchpoints in the outpatient journey. Our goal is to end phone tag in healthcare.

I’ve been Relatient’s CEO since 2017. We have been growing a lot and we are excited about where we are headed as a company and the work we are doing alongside the health systems, hospitals, and medical offices we serve to improve the patient experience.

How are providers using technology to manage COVID-19 vaccinations?

Medical providers are really grabbing hold of technology right now to solve the daily operational issues related to getting the COVID-19 vaccine distributed on a mass scale.

The first thing we started hearing from health systems like Med Center Health in Kentucky and Warren Clinic in Oklahoma was that they wanted to shoot for zero wasted doses. When they came to us with those conversations, they were most concerned about patient no-shows, because the first vaccine was Pfizer’s and the whole freezer situation meant that once a vial was thawed, mixed, and ready to use, it couldn’t be set aside for another day. A patient no-show could mean doses in the trash, and no one wanted that. After they set up their vaccine departments or clinics and locations, we configured some specific vaccine reminders to help get patients to both the initial appointment and the one following it 21 days later.

Health systems learned really fast that getting the vaccine schedule filled was a huge task. It takes a lot of people to work through lists of patients who qualify and get them booked. We had used our patient self-scheduling module for some customers earlier in the pandemic that wanted to let patients self-schedule for testing. We turned this on for customers who asked for help with vaccine scheduling and then made it available for new customers, too, turning it on very quickly un-integrated for immediate scheduling.

Some other things we’re seeing providers do include the use of messaging tools to send mass communication to their patients and their staff, like when a new phase of vaccinations opens up or a new vaccine clinic. We’ve seen them use short links to maps and directions in case patients are new to their organizations and utilize text messaging for one-to-one patient conversations so they can field questions and make schedule changes without the back and forth of playing phone tag with patients.

Why do patients fail to show up for their appointments and what are the best practices to reduce the no-show rate?

It’s interesting, because we are far enough into a world where appointment reminders are the norm that patients have come to rely on them to remember and plan for their appointments. Healthcare has come a long way in this, but COVID-19 introduced a new layer of complexities to patient schedules and the load of responsibilities patients are carrying. They’ve got kids at home all the time, they’re trying to work from home, they may no longer be close to the doctor’s office during the day because of this. We have heard from a lot of healthcare leaders over the past year that patients who were afraid to come in early on added to no-shows. It kind of all comes down to keeping communication open and clear so patients know that you are open and you’re a safe place to receive care. If something changes, do they have a telehealth option that can replace the in-person appointment?

The other key piece or best practice is the combination of communication methods and the ability for a patient to respond to a reminder. We’re patients ourselves and we get reminders from our own medical providers that either don’t ask for our confirmation or response or only allow a confirmation. If a patient has to call your office to cancel an appointment, they’re likely to hit the phone tree or get put on hold and hang up. This is where a lot of patient no-shows still come from, and there are well-established practices to avoid this.

Patients want self-scheduling and virtual waitlists more than just about any other technology. Has the pandemic affected adoption?

Definitely, and for a few reasons. Part of the increase in adoption has been resource constraints. Medical offices had to furlough employees, like many other industries. When they started to recover from that, they got hit with COVID-19 cases of their own and often found themselves short-staffed. The need for self-schedule and waitlists that can backfill last-minute cancelations is growing as there are fewer resources to do these things manually.

Additionally, Accenture recently reported that two-thirds of patients said they are likely to switch providers who don’t meet their expectations for handling COVID-19, and we know that patient access is a piece of these expectations. More than 30% of patient appointments are scheduled after normal clinic hours.

As I mentioned earlier, managing vaccine and testing schedules has also been a big burden to medical practices. Solutions that can lighten this burden and empower patients to self-select are win-win.

Can medical practices compete with the consumer-facing technology that is offered by urgent care centers, health systems, and chain drugstores?

Absolutely. Medical practices have the potential to offer the most personalized care if they can keep up with the innovation of larger organizations. They can do this with a cohesive digital strategy that works alongside and enhances their portal strategy. When solutions aimed at expanding access and convenience — like self-scheduling, two-way patient-practice conversations, and registration — are only available to portal users, a significant portion of a provider’s patient base never experiences those benefits.

Which health IT sectors will be the winners and losers in the next few years as COVID-19 becomes better controlled?

This is the winning question, right? COVID-19 won’t be a crisis forever, but some of the things we’ve learned during this time will stick around long term and we’re better for it.

Telehealth is one that is here to stay, but it won’t stay at the levels medical providers have used over the past year. Providers are now operating hybrid care models, where patient care is delivered in-person and via telehealth, so they need tools and workflows to help support this model of care delivery. I expect telehealth vendors to continue refining and expanding their technology as medical providers lean away from general video conference platforms that filled the immediate need early on.

The health IT sectors that help answer the question, “How do we get patients the right care, in the right place, at the right time” will be the winners. Interoperability will be a must as care becomes more dispersed, and digital communication tools and patient messaging will be crucial to helping patients navigate the journey.

You kind of hit on this already when you asked about consumer-facing technologies, but it’s key because patients are consumers, and these are the tools and kinds of access they’re looking for. My point is those technology sectors that require a lot of the patient — apps to download, portals to log into, additional accounts to create, and passwords to remember – will find less and less room over the next few years.

HIStalk Interviews Lissy Hu, MD, CEO, CarePort Health

February 22, 2021 Interviews No Comments

Lissy Hu, MD, MBA is co-founder and CEO of CarePort Health, powered by WellSky, of Boston, MA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m a physician by background. CarePort connects hospitals with post-discharge providers, such as nursing homes, home health agencies, hospice, community-based providers, and all of the services that patients need after a hospital stay.

What activity are you seeing around hospitals sending ADT notifications to the patient’s other providers now that the deadline is getting close?

We’ve spent the last couple of years helping hospitals and post-acute care providers navigate that initial transition from the hospital into post-acute. Instead of a fact-based or manual process, where the discharge planner at the hospital picks up the phone and calls around to all the different nursing homes in the area asking if they have a bed, we have a network of hospitals and post-acute providers on our platform that can send these referrals electronically and that can communicate back and forth.

Over the last two years, we’ve seen more interest in closing that loop or that round trip. For the ADT piece that you referred to, not just how to get patients out of the hospital efficiently and share information back and forth in that transition, but being able to understand, when a patient lands in a skilled nursing facility, how long they are there, especially if a patient then goes back into the ED or gets admitted. We are seeing a new level of collaboration between acute and post-acute, especially as folks are starting to realize the importance of post-acute and how much that drives outcomes, both from a cost and quality standpoint.

We’ve learned that open hospital beds aren’t managed like a grid, where COVID-19 patients are moved between hospitals based on individual hospital capacity and clinical capability. Are hospitals showing an interest in sharing open bed information with each other?

On the bed availability piece, you are right. There’s not a centralized information piece out there, and we are seeing more interest in wanting that level of visibility. We are seeing it not only on the hospital side, I would say, but interestingly, on the post-acute side as well.

One of the things that has been so interesting about COVID-19 and the pandemic is that we sit in the middle, in terms of the hospital and the post-acute. We see the impact on both sides. Even in April and March of last year when things were really kicking off in the New York area, what we were seeing was that the hospital capacity and their capacity to take patients is very much tied to their ability to discharge patients into that next level of care, in terms of that post-acute.

People will start to see that it’s not just about the hospital bed — it’s around capacity and that flow across the entire continuum. New York hospitals were having a hard time getting their patients out of the hospital and into post-acutes, because a lot of these post-acute providers changed their admissions policy with COVID-19 in their vulnerable population. That hesitation to take on new patients backed things up from the hospital. What I’ve been encouraging our customers to think about is that visibility into the hospital beds is helpful and it’s necessary, but you also need to think about that next step. Where does that patient go? Because it is a pipe that’s connected.

We also saw in New York a high number of nursing home deaths that were possibly caused by forcing them to accept their residents back into the facility following discharge from a COVID-19 hospital stay. How will that situation change permanently and will technology play a part?

That highlights two things. First, the interdependency between hospitals and post-acute providers. It also highlighted to a lot of people the dual roles that nursing homes play in our society.

On the one hand, they are residential facilities for the elderly, the vulnerable, and those who can’t be in their own homes, so they are these long-term care settings. On the other hand, we rely on them as post-acute settings, where folks who have gotten a hip or knee replacement or are recovering from surgery go for a couple of weeks, almost like a step-down unit, to recover, to rehab before moving on to home with home health or back into the community. That was the challenge of New York and really all across the country — we need places for people to recover that aren’t the hospital.

At the same time, these facilities traditionally have been these residential facilities for the elderly and the vulnerable. How do we balance that? Does that get split apart? The role that technology can play is facilitating that transition as much as you can with high-quality information. In our products, we looked at facilities that could take COVID-19 patients, that had a separate wing, isolation wings, and a separate admissions processes. We tag those in our system so that the discharge planner at the hospital will know. We transmitted COVID-19 results that were pending from the hospital to the post-acute care provider.

Those were all COVID-specific changes that we did in part because we had to help our customers, but also because the market is moving to increased interoperability between the hospital and the post-acute care providers. There is a need to share more and more information, especially as we are seeing sicker and sicker patients going into post-acute because of length-of-stay pressures in the hospital.

Your product helps hospitals and families select a skilled nursing facility, with CMS star ratings being one factor. Were those ratings predictive of which SNFs had a lot of COVID-19 deaths, and will consumers look at different criteria after the pandemic is controlled?

The biggest change we’ve seen is a shift away from facility-based care towards more home-based care. There have always been patients who clearly need to go to a facility, or who clearly can go home. But in the middle ground of patients are those jump ball patients that could go home, but maybe they are just sick enough or frail enough that they need to go to a facility. We’ve seen a lot of this shift, where patients who might have gone to a facility in the past are now going home.

The other change is that going home instead of to a facility is a more difficult discharge. When you go to a facility, you’ve got your dialysis, you’ve got your infusion, you’ve got your nursing care. All of that is set up for you. When you go home, the discharge planner has to set up all of those pieces a la carte.

We saw hospital admissions go down, so we were expecting referral volume to go down. We found that when we looked at 2020, our referral volume went up by almost 20%, even though total admissions to hospitals were down. I think a lot of that can be explained because of the complexity of setting patients up at home and the need to set up more and more services. A lot of people are saying that COVID probably accelerated some of that, but that trend of more patients opting to go home was already there.

That was a  roundabout answer to your question about whether patients are picking facilities differently. The shift to home was probably the number one trend that we saw. But in terms of patients picking facilities differently, I think people are paying more and more attention to the quality of nursing homes. COVID highlighted some of the problems with those ratings that a lot of folks in the industry have already raised. I hope this will push CMS for more transparency, more data on the quality of these nursing homes. Right now, for example, they are considering adding COVID-19 vaccination rates of staff and patients to that rating. That is an excellent idea, given what we know about the vulnerability of that patient population. 

Overall, it has pushed patients and their families to consider that choice with wanting more information and better information. Hopefully that pressure from patients and their families will give us even more transparency than what we have today.

WellSky said when it acquired CarePort that it would invest significantly to expand CarePort’s capabilities. What changes do you expect to see?

Luckily when we went through this process of parting from Allscripts and choosing our next home, we had a choice, which is important. When we spoke with WellSky and we talked about our shared vision, I wanted to be very specific around what that meant, rather than amorphous corporate jargon about synergies. I was impressed with WellSky because they had been thoughtful about the process. Given the price that they paid, it makes sense that they were thoughtful, speaking in the realities of the world. 

Specifically, in terms of the benefits to our customers, there were probably three things that we looked at and valued. The first is, as we are seeing more of a shift towards home-based care, our clients are asking us to connect more and more with these home-based providers. WellSky is in one in four home health agencies in the US. Being able to add those agencies to our network, both as referral partners and to add visibility in terms of that ADT and deeper clinical data, was valuable out of the gate for our customers.

The second piece was that WellSky has a network that goes beyond home health and delivering medical services into the home. They have a huge network in the social determinants of health space. Again, as we are seeing more of a shift home, there are more concerns around how the patient is going to get their meal. How do we think about the non-medical parts of their care that we can support in their home? That was another piece that the WellSky network added for our customers.

The third piece was funding. The deal closed on December 31, 2020. We started the year with 200 people and we are already in the process of trying to hire 50 more people to our team.

You’ve said that you want CarePort to be a place where smart women want to work. How do you make that happen?

It all starts with the culture that you build. When I was in business school and in medical school — and I’m almost embarrassed to admit, even when I was taking classes on corporate culture and team dynamics — those soft classes almost felt less important in some ways than the finance and accounting classes. The hard business classes, if you will. I have to say that my biggest learning in these last eight or nine years since I founded CarePort is that it’s the opposite. Team building, figuring out how to manage, figuring out how to set up a positive culture where women are valued, where you enable everyone to speak up — that’s the hardest part about building a company.

At our scale, the lesson that I’ve learned is that it’s not even just about you and maybe the senior people in the team. You have to be hiring people at the manager level, at the director level, all down through the org, to make sure that those managers embody the competencies that they need to meet the roles and responsibility of that job, but the right culture and the right attitudes as well. That’s how you build a culture at scale. It’s not just from the leader, the CEO, the founder, the visionary. You have to staff in your company at all levels with people who want a positive working environment for women, who value the contributions of women, and who understand some of the complexities and challenges that women face. When you’re building a company and trying to recruit, all those things are difficult to prioritize. But really, that’s how you bake this into your DNA. You have to find people at all levels who embody that.

How did you protect that goal while being acquired twice?

You have to be thoughtful about why you’re doing the acquisition. To be fair, some companies just don’t have that choice. For us, luckily, we’ve always had optionality, because we’ve been doing well and we’ve had supportive backers, first from venture capital, then Allscripts. For me, when I evaluated an acquisition and whether we should do it versus do nothing and continue on our current path — because that was always an option that was available to us — there are two lenses that I always thought about. One is, do I see a tangible benefit to the customer? If the answer is no or it’s amorphous, then immediately we shut the conversation down. Because ultimately, if it’s not good for the customer, it’s not good for the business, end, period, stop.

But the second lens, once you get through that hurdle, is, is it good for the team? What is the feel of the culture of the other organization? What is their leadership like? What is that working environment? Is it a place where I could see my team thriving? Because as a founder, some of these people have been with me since the very, very beginning. They left higher-paying jobs with more security, they had families, and they came to a startup where there was none of those guarantees. I feel a tremendous responsibility to my team to make sure that they are taken care of and that my customers are taken care of. Not every company has this choice, but because I’m still here, because we’ve been doing well, because we have this choice, I wanted to optimize around both of those fronts and I was able to.

Do you have any final thoughts?

I’m excited about the future of acute and post-acute care. We have seen even more so than when we last talked, given the changes caused by COVID-19, the interdependency between acute and post-acute. In the next couple of years, I’m seeing payers become more involved in that relationship as well, as payers are trying to think about post-acute and think about how to work with post-acute. Those are some of the things that I’m excited about. Also, having patients who are more engaged, who have more data available to them. Those things will be important for patients who need post acute-care, a number that will only increase.

HIStalk Interviews Jon-Michial Carter, CEO, ChartSpan

February 17, 2021 Interviews 4 Comments

Jon-Michial Carter is co-founder and CEO of ChartSpan of Greenville, SC.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

ChartSpan was founded in 2013. We were focused on driving patient engagement. Almost everything that happens in healthcare is built and designed for providers, with patients having the ultimate end experience. As chronic care management began to evolve in 2015, we realized — as a company that was very much focused on the patient experience — that this was an area that we would excel in. We started small. My brother and I and one other person founded the company. Within five years, we became the largest provider of chronic care management solutions in the country based on active monthly enrolled patient population.

I come from the technology world as an operator with deep experience in finance operations and sales. My brother, in contrast, was a 20-year practicing clinician. We made a great partnership in that he focused on the clinical side of things and I focused on the operational side of things. It has been a big reason that we have been successful.

How many providers, and what kinds, are offering CCM, and how many of them engage companies like yours for outside help?

Chronic care management is a Medicare program where providers are encouraged to telephonically and/or electronically engage with patients on a monthly basis. You engage with patients on the patient’s terms. You go to them when it’s convenient and you go to them when they’re at home.

The thought is that if a patient has two or more chronic conditions, and they are not yet high acuity, they are not a candidate for case management. We preventatively reach out to them every month. The data shows that we dramatically improve outcomes and reduce costs for those patients. You want to get those patients when they are low risk or rising risk, not when they become high utilizers of the system. That’s the entire focus of chronic care management. If you look at the CMS claims data, it is delivering extraordinary results.

In regards to what type of providers utilize the service, initially it was focused almost entirely on primary care, internal medicine, and geriatrics. That began to expand over the last couple of years. There are few specialty areas that we don’t have as customers providing chronic care management services to their patients.

How do practices market CCM to their patients to convince them to sign up and pay their part of the cost?

With COVID, a lot of Medicare patients are hesitant to go out in public, much less sit in a waiting room with other sick patients. We have seen a 30% increase in enrollments from our legacy customer patients. That’s encouraging, because the value for the patient is convenience. Our job as a turnkey service provider for our physicians and providers is not to practice medicine. That’s what they do. We act as an extension of the provider, dealing with the low-level care coordination activities that are so important to prevent the exacerbation of a patient’s chronic conditions.

For instance, we assist in making sure that they have appointments, that they have transportation to get to those appointments, and that they’re getting their medication refills. We assist them in having those medications delivered, or get transportation to get across town, to get to the pharmacy to get them. We make sure that we have the provider’s care instructions and that we understand exactly what the care goals are for that patient and are, reinforcing those and making sure that the provider’s instructions are being followed.

We have a bi-directional feed with our clients. We are extracting the CCDA out of the EHR. We are agnostic and work with every single EHR in the country. Then we push back our clinical data set wherever they want it in their EHR, whether that’s in a particular file or discretely in a patient record. On the billing side, we do the same thing. We push the billing to the billing department, to the practice management system, so that it’s easy to build those E&M encounters once we have had a compliant engagement with a patient on any particular month.

What issues do providers have when they do CCM on their own?

I have met with hundreds of practices and health systems that have attempted to do chronic care management on their own. I have never met one that was profitable. I have never met one that was able to achieve the volume of enrollment or revenue that they had hoped for. 

Here’s why. Everybody with a nurse and a spreadsheet thinks they can do chronic care management, and they are wrong. The clinical encounter is the most predictable part of CCM, but it’s not the hardest part. The hardest parts are all the operational complexities in the periphery. It includes enrollment. By the way, clinicians are traditionally terrible at enrollment. Compelling patients to be in the program. It’s solicitous in nature, and it’s almost uncomfortable. I know, because in the early days, we tried to have clinicians do enrollment and it was a miserable failure.

Enrollment is hard because 85% of your patients have a co-pay. You have to be articulate about defining what the value is in the program. You need data feeds that show you who the primary and secondary insurer are so you know what the co-pay and financial obligations are for the patient. That alone is one of the most difficult operational processes that you have to deliver with chronic care management.

But there’s many more. You are constantly doing data reconciliation. You have millions of patients churning into Medicare and millions churning out of Medicare every day. Churn is the name of the game. If you don’t know, from a data perspective and from a business process perspective, how to manage the daily churn that occurs in a Medicare program, you shouldn’t get into this business.

That stretches way beyond the clinical encounter. You’ll never get to the clinical encounter if you’re not doing your data reconciliation, churn management, patient marketing, enrollment, quality assurance, and billing support services. The clinical encounter is the depth of what most health systems think about when they think about chronic care management, and they are terrific at the clinical encounter. If that was all there was, then we would have a lot more people doing it and they would be a lot more successful. The problem is all the other operational components around the clinical encounter. Few people understand how to master that.

These Medicare patients with multiple chronic conditions probably have multiple active providers. Who decides which of them provide CCM services to that patients and what happens when the patient changes providers?

Being compliant requires that you consent the patient, and that must be documented. Once the patient has given consent to the provider, then that provider is the chronic care management provider of record. No other provider can come in unless the patient unenrolls and then gives consent to the next provider.

What are the best practices of performing CCM and the Annual Wellness Visit remotely?

From a CCM perspective, we do telephonic, and then we rolled out a multimodal approach last year, and it has been extremely successful. I would say 20% of our engagements on any given month are through SMS text messaging. There’s a fallacy in thinking that portals and apps are the way to go. Those are dead. Apps are dead. You don’t make patients go to your proprietary software to have an encounter. You go to where the patient is.

There are only two places that they ubiquitously are, on their phone and on their phone — telephonically on their phone and texting on their phone. We go to where the patient is. That’s why our engagement rates are off the charts. You don’t want to force them to have to open your app and enter their username and password. We have seen, through Meaningful Use, single-digit engagement rates for View, Download, and Transmit healthcare records. Our focus is doing what’s convenient for the patient.

That started telephonically, and now we’ve extended that to SMS text messaging. A patient has to opt in and give consent. We do it in a secure, encrypted, HIPAA-compliant way. But as Boomers age into Medicare, that youngest cohort in Medicare has a preference for texting versus telephonic engagement. It’s important that we go to where patients want us to go in regards to how they want to engage and communicate.

Does that dispel the notion that older patients are less interested than younger ones in using their phones to help manage their affairs, including healthcare?

Differentiate between phone and what we often think of as a computer. As we age, more and more of us are more comfortable with computers and using smartphones. We certainly see lower engagement levels around technology for older Americans. Data I saw last week shows that smartphone usage in 80-plus people is dramatically lower than 65-plus among ChartSpan’s cohort. It’s still a problem, and it’s a real problem, but it’s becoming less so over time as more and more people age into Medicare. Those people are coming from a world where they had to be able to manage digital tools like smartphones and computers.

You’re focused on a specific Medicare-paid service that CMS could change. How do you position the company accordingly?

We have been working hard on legislation that would remove the barrier of a co-pay. CMS released retrospective claims analysis for two years of CCM billing and it was eye-opening. It showed that for a patient who has been in the program for a year, taxpayers and Medicare save $74 per patient per month. After the reimbursement, they save 41 cents on the dollar, roughly $31 net. Keep this in perspective. There are 63 million Medicare and Medicare Advantage patients, and CMS says 68% are eligible for a CCM program. That’s 43 million patients. Take 43 million times $31 a month and you’ve just cut billions of dollars a year in spending that goes back to Medicare and taxpayers.

Congress is paying attention. There is a bill, H.R. 3436, that we have been working hard on over the last couple of years. We are trying to get this pushed through Congress and we think it has a decent chance this year. It would remove the co-pay. Why are we tripping over pennies to get the dollars? Why are we going to charge a patient $8 when taxpayers save $74? Let’s just save the $66 and move from hundreds of thousands of patients enrolled to millions, and let’s focus on improving at scale outcomes for patients and reducing costs.

We spent the first part of our company’s history focused on one thing, and that was chronic care management. We were deliberate in that. We said until we are truly the best in the world at what we do, we’re not going to expand into any other offering. I don’t know that you ever wake up and look in a mirror, and say, “I’m the best.” But we feel like, certainly from a size standpoint, that we are the largest, and we certainly think we’re the best.

We looked at other opportunities where we could grow the business. Our customers told us over and over that we should focus on Annual Wellness Visits. I didn’t understand that. An AWV seems so simple — a self-reported, 10-minute questionnaire by a patient. There’s no co-pay. How in the world are four out of five Medicare patients walking into the doctor’s office multiple times a year and never getting one of these done? If you look at any ACO, it’s one of their core operational components to do AWVs. It saves, on average, nearly 6% in cost on an annual basis for a typical Medicare patient.

What we figured out was that it had nothing to do with the questionnaire. It had to do with the fact that there was poor technology and poor processes around how AWVs are done. Again, according to claims data, only 19% of Medicare and Medicare Advantage patients got an AWV last year. When we studied that, we saw that there’s a 41% no-show rate for AWV appointments. Candidly, patients come to the doctor when they’re sick, not when they want to prevent something. So if you are scheduling preventative care appointments, you’re going to lose a ton of money in no-shows.

We designed a SaaS-based product that turns a sick visit into a well visit. When the patient comes to the doctor’s office, they’re predisposed while in the waiting room to fill out paperwork. Seize that moment. Give them a ChartSpan AWV. In 10 minutes, they will complete that AWV, which doesn’t interrupt the workflow of the provider and doesn’t put a burden on the practice. They hand it to the front desk. That patient report is either printed or emailed to the patient and the provider report is uploaded into the EHR.

What we also realized around AWVs is that the questionnaire is simple. The thing that’s largely ignored around AWVs is the upstream and downstream data component around that. When I say upstream, I mean that there’s not an AWV in the country that’s checking the HETS database in real time to even know if that patient is eligible. Furthermore, if you’re missing demographic data as so many patients are, there’s no query system that reconciles that missing data and prompts, in real time, the front desk to say, “Hey, we’re missing a Medicare ID,” or, “We’ve got a change of name.” Fix it and then hit the HETS database in real time so that you actually know if that patient is eligible and which AWV code they’re eligible for. We built all that.

On the downside, the real value of an AWV is the aggregate care gap identification data that comes from an AWV. Quality managers are having to figure out, how do I port that into my population health system? How do I make sense of this? We spent a lot of time investing and building the backend data that allows a quality manager to go in and say, “Of all the AWVs today, this week, this month, this year, where do I have care gaps for fall risk assessments?” or whatever the quality measure may be. That data then needs to become actionable at the patient level. We built that as well. It’s a really sophisticated AWV product and we are really proud of it. We don’t think there’s anybody in the marketplace who has anything like what we have.

HIStalk Interviews Kelly Feist, Managing Director, Ascom

February 15, 2021 Interviews No Comments

Kelly Feist, MBA is managing director of Ascom Americas of Morrisville, NC.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started my career as a bedside clinician. I worked for 10 years at a couple of acute care hospitals in Florida in the respiratory care department, covering intensive care units, emergency departments, and neonatal ICUs. I have a strong appreciation for what a clinician experiences each day and their need for not just information, but information that is actionable and easily interpretable.

I joined Ascom on April 6, so my first day was after the pandemic started, which is an interesting way to start with a new company. I was drawn to the company because it is going through a transition and a transformation, moving from capital equipment to  focusing more on workflow, clinicians, and patients. Our healthcare information and communication technology helps clinicians deliver bedside care in an effective way, managing communications between clinicians and from patients to clinicians. We start at the bedside with the patient in the center with nurse call, and then move out to mobility devices. It’s an end-to-end, integrated workflow that becomes increasingly important as we find new ways to manage clinical care while trying to limit contact.

What are the challenges and benefits of collecting and presenting information from hospital monitors to clinicians on mobile devices?

It’s not just hospital monitors, but also ventilators and laboratory test results. A vast amount and a vast variation of information can be presented on mobile devices in the clinician’s hand. It’s not just the information, but the actionable information. We can deliver so much information when we digitize a workflow that was previously analog. We can put a mobile device in the hand of a nurse at the bedside that can receive alerts from all of these different devices — ventilators, patient monitors, lab systems, and so on. A lot of information can hit that handheld and overwhelm the nurse.

The challenge is to identify what information is truly actionable and how that information is escalated so that the nurse can respond in an efficient and informed way to solve the patient’s problem. You can’t overwhelm people with a lot of information and then expect them to decide what’s important and what can wait. The value that we deliver is helping them understand how they should be prioritizing that information so that care providers aren’t overwhelmed by a new workflow that now happens to be digitized. Just because we can digitize it doesn’t mean we should.

Is technology such as AI, which is a term I hesitate to use, improving the ability to automatically prioritize information instead of having each facility or each user set up rules?

I share your reluctance to use the term AI. It is overused, and applying it in a way that makes sense is easier said than done.

I think about whether a hospital already has rules and policies in place. For example, does the facility have a policy for early warning scoring, where they have determined the parameters that can help identify a patient who is at risk for deterioration over time and then raise a flag before they become symptomatic? If that protocol exists, we can program it into the software aspect of our solution. We will raise the flag and create and escalate the communication in an automated way for the care provider to ensure that the patient who is at risk is identified quickly.

Most people don’t realize that the first indicator is typically an increase in respiratory rate. If we see it increase, or see the lactic acid test results increasing, the software can raise the flag, create the communication to the care provider, and escalate it in an automated way. That pays dividends. Healthcare facilities want to spend their capital equipment dollars on something that delivers measurable ROI. That becomes important in making their clinicians more efficient, keeping their patients safe, and increasing their own capacity if they can release patients or discharge them sooner. It’s a lot to say that, but we have done studies that have shown that at the very least, a well-designed, well-executed protocol decreases unplanned ICU admissions, for example.

How much of the nurse’s work can now be performed untethered, working from a mobile device that they carry at all times instead of being tied to a nursing station, a wall-mounted computer, or a computer on wheels?

As we are working with customers who are deploying these solutions, we find that the idea of the nursing station is going away. The push is to move the nurses and the frontline care providers closer to the patient and away from a centralized nursing station. This is the first real change that mandates finding new and better ways to manage that workflow.

It’s easy to think that we can apply technology to a workflow and change behavior because the technology exists, but the hardest thing to do in a clinical environment is to change the behavior of the care providers. Behavior change is always the hardest thing to affect. But if we can take our technology and support existing behaviors and make them more efficient, then we all win. The patient wins, the care provider wins, and the company wins.

That’s what we are focused on. As care and nurses move away from centralized nursing stations to something that is more distributed, it becomes important to have a communication device that pushes alerts to your hand. It allows instant communication to the care provider who knows that there’s a problem. Typically there’s also a secondary escalation path, so if that person is busy and can’t leave what they are doing, they can press a button and move it on to the next person, who can then respond. This allows us to build in safety nets.

I don’t think it’s reasonable at this point to think that all clinical documentation that goes into an EHR, for example, will go through a mobile device. Anyone who tries to type emails on their IPhone or their Android device understands why that is a challenge. But we can support the use of the EHR. Our goal at Ascom is not to compete with EHRs that are in place, but rather to support workflows and behaviors that enable and facilitate better use of the EHR. If we can close some workflow gaps at the clinician level and get the data into the EHR for a continuous health record, that is important. If we support the implementation of the EHR and make it successful, we can affect real change in the clinical process, and ultimately the outcome of the patient.

How can technology replace the continuous communication that occurs at the nursing station?

The mobile device becomes important. How well does it integrate into the overall workflow? How easy is it for the staff to communicate to one another, either voice-to-voice or via secure text message, or to receive alerts? When we think through an alerting process, there’s alerting the primary caregiver. But if that primary caregiver can’t respond, there has to be a secondary alert target, and then even beyond secondary, what we would call a catch net solution. Making sure that there’s a Plan A, a Plan B, and a safety net becomes important, because that central station doesn’t always exist any more. And even if it does exist, it isn’t always staffed 24/7.

We have to make it possible for communication to happen in an expedited way that fits into the workflow and meets the needs of the clinician where the clinician is. We are accomplishing that with mobility solutions, the software that drives the mobility solutions, and even starting at the bedside with the nurse call system so that the patient can communicate their needs as well.

What are the best practices in using technology to enable patients to communicate directly with staff to improve satisfaction, but avoiding overwhelming the employees who have to respond?

A care environment typically has registered nurses who are responsible for a level of care, and then often healthcare technicians or licensed nurse practitioners. If we can segregate the requests that come from the patient — based on need, priority, and criticality — to the right provider of those services, then we can get a faster response to the patient.

Patient satisfaction is incredibly important to our care providers, to the facilities that they work for, and to us. If we can make it a little bit more streamlined so that when the patient has a request — it could be, “I need a glass of water” — there’s a way for that patient to communicate and it can go to the LPN. It can go to a targeted recipient that can provide that service without them taking up time of the nurse who might be working with another patient on something that is more critical. But if it’s a critical need, the communication goes to the nurse. We can filter where the request goes based on priority to make sure that the patient gets the response they need in a timely manner.

What are the company’s goals in healthcare over the next few years?

Healthcare is our biggest growth opportunity. For my region in the US and Canada, it’s where the majority of our revenue comes from. The pandemic has shown how impactful we can be to the healthcare community.

As an example, when I started, field hospitals were springing up all over the place, such as at the Javits Center in New York City and McCormick Place in Chicago. They needed to give all patients in beds access to nurse call functionality. We were tapped to provide a lot of the technology for those field hospitals, and it felt good to be able to serve the community in a way that had impact. A lot of the field hospitals didn’t get a lot of census, but the fact that we were able to meet the needs of the community when those needs occurred was important.

Workflows have changed because of the pandemic and we are trying to decrease contact where we can to keep both patients and staff members safe. Ascom can play a big role in that. Those workflow adaptations aren’t all going to go away when the pandemic is over. We have to keep innovating on how we make communications more streamlined, more effective, how we get them to the right person, and how we ensure that priority items are escalated appropriately. Those will remain important. With virtual visits and other changes, we will need to monitor patients at home effectively. Ascom can play a part in that realm as well.

Do you have any final thoughts?

The workflow changes that we are experiencing as a result of the pandemic aren’t going to go away. Keeping the patient and clinician provider at the center of what we do will make healthcare delivery more efficient, and that will make us successful as a company. Focus on the patient and the provider.

HIStalk Interviews Abhishek Begerhotta, CEO, 314e

February 11, 2021 Interviews No Comments

Abhishek Begerhotta, MS, MBA is founder and CEO of 314e of Pleasanton, CA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I founded 314e in 2004. I used to work as a programmer on a project that IBM had undertaken to create a clinical information system for Kaiser Permanente. In around 2004, I think, Kaiser fired IBM and hired Epic. The rest is history. That’s when I founded 314e to provide services to Kaiser. Since then, we have worked with over 250 organizations across the healthcare value chain, including providers, payers, med tech, and life sciences companies. Our core areas of competence are EHR implementations, cloud, data engineering and analytics, interoperability, and automation. We take pride in delivering high quality at a reasonable price to our customers. 

How are hospitals complying with the requirement to send ADT messages to the patient’s other providers?

We are working with a few customers on this. They all seem to have different issues and challenges, but I am unfortunately not up to speed on all of the details. I know that there are newer healthcare communication platforms emerging that facilitate this. 314e’s Muspell XI tool can also send ADT notifications, and we are working with a customer to integrate our tooling into their enterprise service bus to deliver these notifications to the right providers.

Where do most health systems fall in your eight-level Healthcare Analytics Adoption Model, and how are they prioritizing their next steps?

We think that most are somewhere in the middle, Level 3-5. We certainly have customers that are at Level 7, and we have helped them get there. Most organizations we know struggle with managing complex ETLs and getting data to a warehouse. The processes are brittle and do not support any form of self service or business agility.

We are seeing a trend towards adoption of cloud analytics platforms like Databricks on Snowflake running on Azure / AWS. These systems give the basic infrastructure on top of which high quality BI, AI/ML workloads, etc. can be run. Our customers are tapping us to migrate from decades-old warehouses to such more modern data lake / warehouse environments to get to Level 6 and higher. In fact, we are helping several customers today in collating EMR, imaging, lab, registration, claims, patient satisfaction, and home health types of data into FHIR-based enterprise data lakes. This results in getting to Level 4-5 in under a year.

Will the move to virtual implementation and support services continue even after some degree of normal travel resumes?

The pandemic has really exposed a lot of inefficiencies and waste in the healthcare industry, and one of those is the cost of travel and lost productivity for implementation consulting.  With the shift to virtual, we’re adapting and becoming accustomed to doing things remotely, leveraging modern technologies like Teams and Zoom.  

There are certainly some things lost by not having those face-to-face interactions where you build and strengthen relationships and alignment between IT and operations. So I do believe that some key personnel will start traveling more frequently when normal travel resumes. But overall, my gut tells me this trend of virtual implementations will continue.  

Training and at-the-elbow support, specifically for new implementations, are two key areas that are presenting unique challenges for our clients to deliver virtually. I anticipate, at least for new implementations, that we will see those services resume to more in-person.  We have spent considerable investment developing solutions and a product for our clients to address ongoing new hire training and ongoing on-the-job performance support which can be delivered digitally anytime, anywhere and provides on-demand targeted training assistant embedded in the EHR workflow. That trend is moving to more virtual.

How much interest or potential are you seeing in robotic process automation?

RPA adoption has been turbocharged by the pandemic. Providers and payers have both realized that RPA can make the processes more efficient and reliable in addition to the cost savings it brings. A Gartner report published in the middle of 2020 said that around 5% of healthcare providers in the US have invested in RPA and that this number will reach around 50% in the next three years. However, almost all of our customers have started at least one pilot initiative around RPA in some way, shape, or form, and many have at least one proof-of-concept in place. Most of them don’t have in-house capability to deal with this and are working with partners like 314e. 

As a company, we are very bullish on automation, web automation as well as desktop app automation. We are building products to help customers deploy RPA to automate enterprise workflows. We believe that there is a need for an RPA framework which can allow healthcare providers to quickly and easily deploy an army of bots for different problems and design an orchestration system to manage these bots. We are piloting our bot orchestration system with a customer today. 

How will payer-to-payer data exchange improve member experience?

CMS mandated the payer-to-payer data exchange to prevent fragmented member data from getting stuck in silos with different payers. Members can now have one unified record of all their health data, including claims data. This allows for a true continuum of care, not just across providers, but also across payers as the member switches jobs and possibly moves from one payer to the other. Payers need to use USCDI for this exchange. 314e has invested heavily in FHIR to help payers power such an exchange. 

What 3-5 year goals do you have for the company?

At 314e, we are playing the long game; the infinite game. We started out as a few people helping a large IDN with data conversion. Then we got into staff augmentation on Epic implementations. But today we are true technology partners to customers across the healthcare continuum. Our goal is to become the go-to technology provider of services for cloud, analytics, integration, innovation, and automation for healthcare.

We want to do this by IP-led service delivery and products. We already have multiple products in the market, including one that we call Speki, which means “wisdom” in Old Norse. Speki is a content, help, video delivery platform with a SMART on FHIR launch. It is currently on the Epic App Orchard. We can take instructor-led EHR training, convert it into byte-sized chunks, and make that searchable and viewable from within the EHR.

Similarly we have a FHIR-based enterprise data lake product that we call Muspell. It supports archival and clinical data repository use cases and can be a data aggregation platform used by providers and payers. We run this on top of Databricks and it is available on both AWS and Azure. We have dozens more product innovations that we want to bring to market in the next 3-5 years.

HIStalk Interviews Erik Littlejohn, CEO, CloudWave

February 8, 2021 Interviews 1 Comment

Erik Littlejohn is president and CEO of CloudWave of Marlborough, MA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I joined CloudWave in 2013 out of a desire to be part of a team that served a terrific market, had great potential, and allowed me to continue my career in healthcare IT. One of the things that attracted me to CloudWave is that most of the people there had devoted their careers in and around various aspects of healthcare. 

I was fortunate to join it at a pivotal point in its transformation. I initially led our technology services organization that focused on the resale of on-premise technology solutions, storage servers, et cetera. I got to interact with a ton of customers and serve a ton of customers. Then over the next eight years, we continued our transformation from being a legacy reseller of those solutions to a multi-cloud services, edge, private public cloud that solved numerous challenges faced by hospitals. We are building and continuing to build something special, and we cherish the relationships that we have had with customers going back many, many years.

What does the mix of on-premises infrastructure and cloud computing look like for the typical hospital, and how is that changing?

When I joined the company in 2013, 70% of our proposals were on-prem integration types of deals and 30% were cloud-based, whether that was full hosting or disaster recovery. As we sit here today eight or so years later, it has flipped and completely inverted. I would say that 65 to 70% of our proposals and solutions are cloud-based and the remainder are on-prem, or what we now call edge solutions.

Cerner was becoming more active in hosting its own systems back then as I recall, while Epic and Meditech weren’t doing much of that. What is different now?

Cerner continues with its model and there are no on-prem Cerner solutions. All of that is hosted, and they have been successful at doing that. Epic and Meditech have been similar, in that organizations like CloudWave have provided private cloud hosting operations or solutions. Meditech has certified a number of providers like ourselves to be able to do those, and we go through certifications or testing on an annual or biannual basis. Like everyone else, Meditech has wanted to associate themselves with a public cloud offering, and about a year and a half ago, they launched a partnership with Google. Cerner has launched a partnership with AWS and Epic has certified its platform to run on Azure or AWS as well. Everyone made their claim to a partnership. We are doing the same things and trying to evolve our solutions to be not only private cloud, but to take advantage of public clouds and their evolution.

What are the practical results of hospitals moving some of their data center operations to cloud providers?

Some of it becomes a preference based on financial models, whether it helps them to have an operational expense versus a capital expense, for example. A lot of organizations prefer CapEx, so the cloud may not fit that model very well. However, clouds, public or private, offer a lot of other benefits. Think about hospitals trying to maintain talent and the number of skills that you need for various software vendors, and keeping abreast of those certifications. Complex security challenges are daunting for organizations today, and it has been tough to keep up, particularly if you are a community hospital, with all the ransomware threats coming out of any number of countries these days. Then maintaining all of that talent over time. Healthcare certainly has been slow to adopt cloud solutions over the years, but they are becoming comfortable that that cloud can help them solve some of those challenges.

How has cloud deployment helped hospitals prevent ransomware attacks and recover from them?

First and foremost, it’s ensuring that you have the basics done of clean backups, that you have recover points that you can go to when – not if – someone is impacted by a ransomware or security event. Ensuring that there are multiple copies and multiple restore points and options you can go to so that you know you have a safe recovery point, and trusting in an air gap type of solution. We have multiple sets of data or backups available for customers, and that gets pretty expensive and complex for any organization to manage by themselves. That’s another reason that working with cloud providers makes a lot of sense for hospitals.

Why do attempts to restore from backups fail so often?

We test ours on an annual basis for our customers. That in and of itself is a huge difference. You think your backups are fine and you see that all the saves were occurring, but until you actually restore that and try to run the system, you just don’t know what you have or you don’t have. We feel like doing that annual test is critically important, and it’s a big reason that a lot of customers want to do that and choose a recovery service or a backup service with us. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t do it on their own.

It becomes a good tool for the organization to rally around. They have this recovery test over the span of a week, they get clinicians involved, and they get people to pressure test it and figure out where the kinks might reside or find issues that need to be fixed. Figuring out what didn’t go well is as important as anything else in a test so that we can make sure they have a clean, restorable backup that they can rely upon.

What do hospitals typically need to do to prepare for moving to the cloud?

The funny thing about being a cloud service provider is that your service is only as good as the end user’s perception. Looking at connectivity and service providers in the local area is important, ensuring that you have multiple paths and redundancy in case a provider has an outage, that you have the capability to fail over and have adequate bandwidth when there’s some sort of outage with Verizon or AT&T, et cetera. First and foremost, you need to make sure that’s solid and that you have redundancy. You also need to make you have adequate Active Directory permissions and user access.

It isn’t just flipping a switch and saying, “I’m going to go into the cloud tomorrow.” We spend one to two weeks assessing the readiness of our customers and remediating any issues that may exist. That holds true with any cloud service provider. You need to be thoughtful about assessing anything in the environment that may impact an end user’s ability to use the system successfully, and make sure it’s not going to be slow, that it doesn’t time out, or that you don’t encounter authentication type of issues, because that creates a downstream headache for everyone.

How do you see the company’s business and strategy changing with its recent acquisition by a private equity firm?

We are excited about the Abry Partners investment. They have a great reputation and a ton of experience in our industry. We felt like they would help position us for future growth and enhance our capabilities, grow our team, and provide meaningful strategic input or guidance. Just as importantly, we just liked their team. There is a sense of familiarity, a lack of ego, and a near-perfect alignment about the potential of our business. We couldn’t ask for a better partner, and we know that they are willing and able to invest in capabilities that we need going forward, whether that’s acquisitions or building our organic capabilities.

What were the most useful lessons you learned from being a West Point graduate and an Army officer?

One of the things that I always talk about with the team is explaining why. That may seem counterintuitive if you’re thinking about the military and you think of people just being told to take the hill, salute smartly, and go do it. But in the military, we always concerned ourselves with the commander’s intent. I had to understand what was going on to the left and the right of me, why I needed to take that hill, and how that fed it into a larger objective. It is important as leaders to always provide that context and the “why” to our teams and the people we work with. Because if you just ask a question without context, they may not give you the right answer, or they may not meet the ultimate objective that you are trying to get to.

What will the company’s emphasis be over the next few years?

We will expand our use and footprint of public cloud and make that more accessible and user friendly to our end customers. That’s an important part of our growth in the next three to five years. We will continue to diversify our capabilities and provide more services than we do today beyond hosting and recovery and backup, providing other things like service desk and security services and expanding those. We will also diversify our customer mix. We have been pretty focused on the Meditech space up to this point, or hospitals running Meditech, but we think that nearly all of our solutions translate nicely to hospitals running other EHRs. We are having some success in Cerner hospitals and Epic hospitals, and we are anxious to do that and to serve a wider mix of customers.

Do you have any final thoughts?

CloudWave will continue to be a customer-first business. Our relationships with our customers have always been at the center of what we do, and we are going to continue investing and expanding in those relationships in various ways. We can be a great partner with customers that are looking to transform their operations through the adoption of cloud. We see the whole industry being at an inflection point and more aggressively adopting cloud, and we are in a great position to do that based on our experience. We look forward to helping customers in that journey.

HIStalk Interviews Scott Finfer, CEO, Emerge

February 3, 2021 Interviews 2 Comments

Scott Finfer is co-founder, CEO, and board chair of Emerge of Dallas, TX.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m CEO of Emerge. We offer a solution set that can overlay on top of EHRs. The strength of our company is our people, a unique group that has come together.

How common is it for EHRs to offer a search function and how is it used?

Search can mean different things to different people. In the world of Emerge, when we talk about search and when we talk about what our mission is, it is searching not only the data that exists inside of the EHR that is discrete and accessible, but also information that isn’t necessarily searchable by the EHR unless they are using optical character recognition and natural language processing to use scanned and free text information.

But more importantly, when we talk about search, we stay patient centric. If I search for information about a patient and I’m at an ambulatory facility, in an ideal world, I should be able to have their records available to me if I need to treat that patient inside of the acute world. We’ve made our life’s mission to figure out how that search is not just about searching in records that exist — that’s the easy part — but searching for all the possibilities of where we can bring this information together on a master patient index to have one patient file that can theoretically travel with the patient wherever they go.

Does it make clinicians more efficient or allow them to find the most important information more easily?

I got stuck in healthcare. I’ll be honest about that. I didn’t realize how incredibly difficult the space was. I came out of IT services. Before that, I was doing real estate. I’ve made tons of money doing everything I’ve ever done, but I’ve spent tons of money over the past 10 years to build this business up, because healthcare is way harder than we expected.

But the good thing is that we now have the ability to understand what the problems are. We can document and have engineering problems versus, wow, it’s just not going to work. That’s a big difference. You can say, is it solvable? Well, maybe. Everything is potentially solvable. But what’s better than solvable is that it’s an engineering problem. If we do this, this and this, this allows for this to work.

That’s where we are at this stage of development. The people in the country now – patients, administrators, forward thinkers, caregivers, providers –everybody keeps struggling with these friction points that exist that are self-made. One of the big friction points is that, what is the center of importance in healthcare? I would argue with you that it is often missed, because providers are the center of healthcare. The patient is the center of healthcare. This isn’t against any particular EHR, it’s against every EHR that provides acute services at a bare minimum. Why are the systems developed around hospital beds as opposed to patients? The whole thing is designed for something different than staying focused to patient care.

We have the problem now to fix all these silos. Then it’s compounded by the fact that,  who is the best source? Is it one source or multiple sources? All these things are playing friction. The one thing that has never been delivered, regardless of what belief system you’re of — and I’m a no belief system here, I’m neutral, I just want to help healthcare — is that getting my record in and out and moved around and shared has been a disaster.

One of the reasons is because, most of the time, that’s a manual exercise that happens in the back office. People don’t think about this or don’t know this, but when there’s an official records request, it’s a money-losing proposition for the facility to have to go back through and figure out what the record is. Our technology, because it breaks everything down and starts with the patient at the center, says, I always have to keep it. Wherever it came from, I should break it down and bring it to the patient. That should always be the focus of whatever I’m doing for my flows of information.

When we encounter a situation where a health system is on multiple EHRs, we can come in and they don’t have to make any more investments. We can overlay on top of those systems and not only make them communicate with each other, but we can start to automate and provide smart services. Like, push a button and here’s your health record, because we can define what it is. I can get it for you. That’s what we have with ChartGo. With the push of a button, you’ve got the health record.

If it’s that easy to grab control of the health record with so much more granularity, now we can go to the big health system. We’re talking about big health system in California, and they want Northern California and Southern California to communicate with each other. But even more important than that, they want their patients, when they are traveling on holiday, to have easy access to their records and to share if needed wherever they are. That’s now possible because it’s being patient centric.

Is it difficult to access the information so you can create the overlay?

No. The most difficult thing in working with these facilities is the facilities themselves wanting to work with you. There’s this fear with some organizations about what is going on with the cloud. As you look at a lot of healthcare systems, it’s heavy steel. Man, it’s big money up front. For me, that’s fine. You don’t even have to change what you’re doing, but for pennies on the dollar, I can automatically make you 100% digital in the cloud. Your data, your control. Tell me where you want me to send it. That has never happened before. It has always been under the control of whoever sold you the operating system. We can help change operating systems, make them work better.

We’ve got a wonderful partnership going with a couple of EHRs right now, Athenahealth and Allscripts. Their senior leadership says out loud – which I’ve never heard someone say — we’re not the only thing. We’re part of the infrastructure. We’re part of the ecosystem. I said to myself, wow, they get it. There’s not going to be one — it’s not going to work. It’s got to be able to work together. Part of working together is knowing that some people might be great EHRs and some people might be great this or great that, but at the end of the day, what is needed is glue to make them work nicely together. Forward-thinking people, and there’s a lot of them, recognize that this is an ecosystem play. That’s where we are headed.

We know how to operate in any ecosystem because we speak all languages. Doesn’t matter which EHR, doesn’t matter the versioning, doesn’t matter the age of the technology. Our guys are utilizing state of the art technology and there’s no lift on the back end. I come to you and I say, let me solve your problem for you. The facility says, what’s it going to cost? Nothing. OK, and what kind of resources do I need to provide for you to do that? None. They look at it and they go, it’s not possible.

After surviving being told that for 10 years, we now have successful investment bank software company. The most important part about it is that we did it with our own money, and now it’s making enough money to stand on its own two feet with no venture capital in the deal. We did it to solve healthcare problem because my co-founder, who is a doctor – cardiologist William C. Daniel, MD, MBA — is a humble enough guy to understand that when you’re treating patients as a cardiologist, there’s plumbers and there’s electricians. I love this guy. I’ve known him since I’m 13 years old. I wouldn’t have gotten into this business if it wasn’t for him.

What he said to me was, I’m killing people. I said, what? I’ve never heard a doctor say that before to me. He said, I’m 100% killing people. I know I am. I just can’t prove it. I’m seeing people in my office who are coming to see me because I’m a plumber. I don’t know electricity all the way through the detail. There’s stuff going on that if the EHR record was scrubbed, I would know that this guy needs to see an electrician, and I would get them to the electrician. That’s how this whole idea came up.

ONC pushed EHR vendors years ago to make it easier for users to export patient data from one EHR that could be imported into a different EHR, making switching easier. Has that gotten any better?

There’s no lift. Zero. We literally have converted over 100 different brands of EHR into the systems of our trade partners. They are left with non-usable data most of the time coming out of whatever EHR they’re coming from. Athenahealth is a partner of ours and one of our prime relationships. When Athena signs up a new customer, Athena brings us to meet the customer, because the customer can literally have everything waiting for them inside of Athena. They have access to not only to their old data, they have access to 300% more of their old data. 

But that’s not even the big kicker.They didn’t have to do anything. They turn on Athena’s state of the art system in the cloud, and it’s set up and ready to run. All of a sudden, both the old information and the new information through Athena are able to merge together as they see new patients through Emerge on a go-forward basis. They are always getting the full context view. If we need to add on other feeds from other EHRs, HIE, or API to allow somebody else to pump in a third-party data from a payer, all those things are now possible. That’s what we are building with Allscripts and Athena.

What does it take to sign new partners?

I don’t think you have to sign on new partners. I had a wonderful client and mentor in Oklahoma named John Harvey. He told me that he took a chance on us. He brought us up to the Oklahoma Heart Hospital early on, even before we really had a product. That’s the truth. We thought we had a product, but we didn’t realize what a problem there was in the space. John brought us up there and we were doing great stuff. We were going after every EHR back then. We were going to try and integrate with everybody. 

John said, if you boil the ocean, you’re going to die. You had better pick one and try and make it work. Then if you can make it work in one, you can make it work in all of them. 

That’s exactly what we did. Now we are in four of them — Epic, Cerner, Allscripts, and Athena. When I say having to get a partnership, I’d love to do a partnership with Epic if they want to do one with me. I can save millions of dollars in conversions for anybody switching to Epic. To bring their database from their old system to the new system will cost them $25,000. I mean, this is the digital age, so I have a digital solution. A lot of people are beginning to embrace it, and things are going to change rapidly. But the most important thing is that it works, it’s patient centric, and it’s following how medicine is supposed to work.

What is the direction of the company going forward?

We see ourselves following the same footprint that we started 10 years ago. A lot of companies set out to solve problems, and then they bring the solution to market. They say to the doctors, nurses, providers, staff, administrators, or the quality people –if you would only use my tool how I designed it, it would work for you. There’s a problem with using my tool as I designed it to work for you, and that is workflow. Part of our strategy has always been to make sure that we are directly in the workflow, but not in the way.

We have done that now with over 100 installs. You could literally take our install list and pick anybody on it and ask for a referral and they’ll give you one, a good one. Everybody’s happy. We have this massive retention rate because we’re in the workflow. That is key for where I see ourselves as we move forward.

Our roadmap for the past 10 years was written by my customers. With my subscription model, somebody says to me, I wish I could track proteins on these pregnant women that are coming in from all these facilities. We say, we can help you with that, and we do that for them. Then we turn around to any other OB-GYN who has a subscription with us and we give them that same functionality if they want it. Our subscription gets stronger and stronger, and what we are doing gets stronger and stronger.

We are much much more than search at this point. That’s a small underpinning of what the company is really doing. One of our strengths is the downtime viewer. If your EHR goes down, you can log in through our portal and have a digital version of everything available through our search tools, to be able to search the record while you’re in downtime. We have population health tools that don’t require an SQL search. You don’t need to spend millions of dollars to have a consultant come do this. Tell us what you want. I want to find all the patients that have not had a colonoscopy in the past 10 years and that do not have an appointment scheduled. Give me that list. Oh my God, 10,000 people that should be getting this procedure done. That’s 10,000 times whatever the cost of a colonoscopy is, $1,000, massive revenue from the existing population. And if they don’t do that, the cost of care is going to go up.

We are getting proactive, making sure that we’re hitting large target parts of the marketplace all at the same time. We have a way to find them. More importantly, we have a reverse delivery message available. If you miss something on coding and the only place where it’s appropriate to code like that is between the patient and the doctor at the point of care, it has to be done at that point. I’m inside the EHR and I have dashboards to use it in their workflow. If there is something that that doctor needs to code, adjust, or to change because the customer can now be paid for the work that the doctor’s already done, it’s a very efficient way to put it in the workflow. It can even get caught before the doctor does it, because we’re using our automated tools for the chart prepping process. We can chart for up an entire facility with a push of a button.

I don’t know exactly where it will be 10 years from now, but we’re going to do the same thing that we’re doing, which is, show us the problem, give us your requirements, let us solve it, and help us make our subscription stronger with each new member.

HIStalk Interviews Kevin de la Roza, MD, Anesthesiologist, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children

January 25, 2021 Interviews No Comments

Kevin de la Roza, MD is a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist at The Heart Center at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, and SVP/GM of Vocera’s Ease business unit.

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Tell me about yourself and your work.

I’m a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida. I take care of babies and children that have congenital heart defects when they have heart surgery and any other type of surgery.

How is the Ease app that you developed being used?

It has been quite a remarkable journey for us. We created this from the need that, as anesthesiologists, we are the last person to take family members to surgery and away from their loved ones. We thought it was pretty barbaric the way that families are being ignored, whether they were just getting a phone call once in a while or maybe never when their kids or their adult loved ones were off to surgery, or had a board that they were looking at that didn’t tell any information.

The app is used universally in any location. We made it nimble and user-friendly for not only the families, but also the nurses. It fits in well with their clinical workflow and with the physician’s workflow. It has become an efficient way for us to communicate. You could be communicating with a loved one while I’m talking to you right now — via text or even a photo or a video or something like that — and it wouldn’t disrupt your workflow. We wanted to bring in the modern way of communicating from our world into a HIPAA compliant and secure way to do it in healthcare.

You see that moment on TV or in movies where the surgeon dramatically enters the waiting room full of anxious family members. How is the mindset different for the surgical team when they have the ability, and maybe then the responsibility, to provide regular updates to family members who may not be in the same city or even the same country?

We are all so connected now, whether it’s online or otherwise, that we are ready for instant information and instant gratification with knowing what is happening with our loved ones. We can track our package from Amazon, so why can’t we track our loved one’s progress and know what’s going on? 

When you talk about the care team, there are two aspects. There’s the surgeon and anesthesiologists, then the nurses. Vocera Ease is the modern way of communicating. It is a non-disruptive and it doesn’t bother their workflow. A nurse is used to taking essentially a snapshot or a barcode on the patient’s wristband and scanning it and getting a medication. We created the app to be the same way, so that whenever the patient or the nurse wants to send a communication, they scan a wristband and send off the message. That could be from the surgery or medical floor, because the program is now in the ICUs, medical floors, radiology, the cath lab, and obviously surgery, where it was born.

It’s a non-disruptive way for the nurses to communicate. Previously, if they were able, they would have to stop what they were doing, get on a phone, and call the families. Sometimes they answer, sometimes they don’t. Then have a two-way conversation, which can be disruptive. The surgeon might go out to the waiting room and the families aren’t even there.

You alluded to the fact that we have so many loved ones in other states and other locations who can’t be there. The great thing about Vocera Ease is that it sends one-way messages from the clinicians out to the family members that give them a step-by-step story of what happened, whether it’s on the floor, in the ICU, overnight, or in surgery. It is a remarkable way to communicate and increases efficiency. When those surgeons go out to the waiting room, the families already know what happened, so it’s a short, efficient conversation. The surgeon can move on to whatever is next in their busy schedule.

Do the messages go beyond simply “we’re starting anesthesia” or “we have made the first incision?” I can see where it might be dangerous to convey conclusions early in a procedure.

We reflect milestones. Let’s say your wife or your loved one needs surgery. First, there’s the emotional impact of, “Oh my gosh, they’re going to have this.” Then the surgeon will tell you in their office or wherever preoperatively, “These are the steps of what’s going to happen as it happens.” The day of surgery, you meet your anesthesiologist, who tells you, “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to take you there. I’m going to give you some IV medicine and get you off to sleep,” et cetera. The patient and family members have a vague idea of what there is, and that vague idea can become fearful when you don’t understand, you don’t see what’s happening, and you don’t have that checklist of what’s happening.

Ease allows them to receive these one-way communications, such as “The patient is in the operating room” with maybe a little picture with a thumbs-up before they fall asleep. Then we will send them, “The patient is safely under anesthesia. Bill is now prepped and ready for surgery and Dr. So-and-So is about to walk in.” When Dr. So-and-So is scrubbed and over the drapes, we might take a little picture of him about ready to start. Then if it’s an orthopedic procedure, we might take a picture of an x-ray and say, “This is the fractured hip. This is what’s going to be repaired.” Then we can show after the fact that the implant is in place and the repair is in place. They have a vivid understanding of what’s happening as it’s happening.

Does Ease offer advantages over consumer video tools such as FaceTime to help families communicate with their loved one who they can’t visit because of COVID precautions?

Ease is literally created for something like what the pandemic has brought about, which is communication with people who are unable to be in the hospital. The operating room or the ICU are isolated areas don’t offer much access and don’t have a lot of information coming out of them. Now the entire hospital has become like those areas with COVID and visitor access restrictions. We have put Ease in these locations and added — beyond one-way communication via text, pictures, and videos — a FaceTime or video chat feature, where there can be two-way interaction.

Ease is HIPAA compliant and HITRUST certified. We set the standard for what security should be in this kind of communication, and we were the first to be able to do it. We are proud of what we were and how we could position our solution to help families out during this time of crisis. Out of necessity, hospitals started using Zoom, WhatsApp, and all these non-secure ways of messaging that they never would have done in an era outside of the pandemic. With Ease, they can do that safely and securely.

What IT technologies do you find most impactful or useful to your practice?

It depends on the problem that you are trying to solve. When it comes to communication, which is what we were focused on, anesthesiologists are in the perfect position to solve this communication issue from the operating room. I have to balance the patient’s safety, making sure that the environment for the surgeon is correct for them. I even talk to the nurses a lot to communicate how we send the family about this, that, or the other to let them know what’s going on. It’s quarterbacking everything to give the surgeon the right environment so that they can operate and do what they need to do. In that milieu, I think it was perfect for us to — my partner and I, Dr. Hamish Munro — to come up with the Ease solution for solving the communication problem and using healthcare IT in that way.

We have many health IT initiatives that we are using now in the operating room, whether they be just simple things like timeouts and keeping track of things. The EMR has become such a useful tool to help us with that. But this one problem with communication wasn’t solved until we brought our solution on board.

You created a health IT product and company and then successfully sold them. Will you get involved in other health IT projects?

I would love to be involved in something like that. We created a team. My partner Dr. Munro and I came up with the idea together. Then my brother Patrick became the CEO of our company. He has an MBA, a background in IT, and was an administrator at a hospital before that. These talents came together. We created a team that can foster new ideas. 

With my background in medicine, that would be an amazing thing to see. I don’t have any idea just yet, but I love thinking about different solutions we can find, thinking about problems with the environmental impact of hospitals and how we can help that. That’s where my brain is going, but we’ll see where it goes. It’s an exciting time to help find solutions to problems that have been around for a long time, or that are just starting to come to the surface.

Are you still involved with the product under Vocera?

Yes. I’m a clinical consultant for them and I help them out with anything that they need with regards to the platform.

Do you have any final thoughts?

In the journey we’ve had with what is now Vocera Ease, from eight years ago to today, it was about finding a strong problem and then putting the components together to find a solution for it. One-way communication via text, video, and pictures is the perfect way to communicate outside of healthcare because it’s non-disruptive and gets things out there, so how do we go about this? Let’s go read about HIPAA. Let’s go read about HITRUST. How do we create apps? Everybody downloads apps, everybody knows how to text.

From there, you start creating the solution to the problem, as opposed to creating the solution and then trying to find a problem to fix. It was created from a place of empathy, from a place of need. We saw these poor family members struggling when they weren’t with their kids who were in the NICU for a long time or they were in surgery. It’s important to find that strong problem and then hopefully an elegant solution to fix that problem.

HIStalk Interviews Marilee Benson, President, Zen Healthcare IT

January 18, 2021 Interviews 1 Comment

Marilee Benson, MBA is president of Zen Healthcare IT of Costa Mesa, CA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

My husband Jim and I founded Zen after spending 25 years in healthcare IT. Our goal from that experience was to simplify interoperability, because we had learned how difficult it can be. Zen is our second company in healthcare IT. We sold the first one to WebMD in 1999. We’re one of those rare couples who love to work together and we thrive doing it. A lot of people think we’re crazy, but we love it.

The best part about Zen is that we’re made up of some of the best and brightest people who work in healthcare interoperability. We have a good mix of more experienced folks who have gray hair and the younger up-and-comers. That mix of experience and innovative new ideas is important when working on the kinds of problems that we work on every day.They are smart and dedicated, and we are laser focused on giving our clients the best possible experience. You will frequently hear our clients say that we are their favorite vendor to work with, and for us, that’s one of the most important aspects of what we do. We don’t take that for granted and we work hard to make that a reality.

What kinds of interoperability projects are customers working on?

We’ve certainly seen in the last year or so a big increase in the National Trusted Exchange-type implementations, such as IHE exchange and federated query and response. We’ve also seen an increase in FHIR-related projects, although typically we’re translating FHIR to the older standards. We may do a FHIR to IHE translation, or FHIR to proprietary API.

I’m excited about where we’re headed with FHIR and more API-based exchange, but we might also pick up a flat file and turn that into HL7. That represents where we are with interoperability today – it’s just extraordinarily complex. We have new emerging standards, but the old standards don’t die. That’s our challenge.

What impact are you seeing from ONC and the Cures act?

That will drive better adoption of API-based exchange, but we will need middleware tools that help bridge the gap from where we are today to where we are trying to go. Beyond the technical side, ONC is focused on information blocking, and its rulemaking process is helping push the business side, which is often the bigger problem. We can come up with technical solutions, but we need to have people on both sides of the transaction who are willing to share that data.

The other area is patient access. That has tremendous potential, but there’s been a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt for healthcare organizations to open up for better patient access to data. 

I’m excited about the business drivers that hopefully will once and for all ensure that sharing data is the standard way that healthcare is delivered, as opposed to that project that everyone’s always trying to work on, but never quite gets there.

What happened to the debate a couple of years ago about how vendors will approve who can connect to their systems via APIs, who owns the data, and who makes money from its exchange?

The information blocking rules are helping us get over that problem. I agree with you 100% that it has been a huge problem. It takes time to change people’s minds. But if you aren’t engaging in API exchange of information and opening up, both at a vendor level as well as in healthcare organization level, you’re going to have some explaining to do. You will need to have good reasons why you’re not doing it. That will apply a lot of pressure.

The other thing that will help is the tension that we have between the HIPAA minimum necessary standard versus information blocking. We are starting to get some direction from ONC around not letting minimum necessary be the reason that people aren’t exchanging data and clarifying some of those rules to address some of the legal concerns.

What unusual examples of interoperability have you seen?

We absolutely get to work on some pretty creative projects. Some of those things might include just moving data around within an individual organization’s suite of applications. We often think of data leaving the four walls and going over to another stakeholder. But often organizations are having trouble even moving data around within their own systems to leverage the data they are collecting to create a positive impact on patient outcomes. For example, you might pull data out of an EHR and several other systems and create a dashboard for certain types of patients, such as chronically ill patients. Those are fun projects to work on.

We also do a lot of work supporting health information exchanges across the country, and we’ve seen a lot of opportunity for health information exchanges to make a difference. For example, in the time of COVID, you can leverage the fact that you’ve got a data aggregator regionally that can help providers more quickly see whether, for example, a COVID test has been ordered and what the result was. That will obviously be extended to understanding the vaccine administration process and how we’re doing as a population. So the diversity of use cases for health information exchange is extraordinary.

We also have many great analytics vendors and analytics tools, but many of them still struggle with getting the data. So a lot of our work is in that area, helping get data into a format so that the analytics vendors can take that in and use that data for improved population health.

One theory of why Haven shut down was that it was starved of data by health systems that saw the company and its owners as adversaries. Are companies from outside of health IT surprised that they can’t get data that they thought would be readily available?

Haven was on my list of least-surprising news. I use HIStalk as my primary source of news, and when I saw your headline, I said, OK, that’s not a surprise. The problem is multifaceted. There’s the problem of the sharing of the data, and hopefully some of the new rules will help with that. But then there’s also the quality of the data. Even if you can get the data, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to be able to leverage that data effectively from an analytics and population health point of view. Some of been around for a long time and we as an industry must do better at fixing them.

That includes patient identity and provider identity. Those are key pieces of information in a healthcare message, yet we struggle as an industry to manage them, using expensive tools that have a lot of management and maintenance. The industry is talking about these problems, but we still have a lot of work to do to fix them.

Does bringing in someone else’s data involve constant monitoring for inconsistent editing and storing of what seem like straightforward elements, such as blood pressure?

It has gotten better, but we still have a lot of work to do. ONC recently announced an effort around things like address normalization, which is great, but it sets you back on your heels to realize we’re talking about something as fundamental as that. Some of the clinical data normalization has gotten better with the evolution of the standards. FHIR in particular is doing a good job of being more specific in terms of the sharing of targeted clinical data.

How has the pandemic changed interoperability demand?

The two big things that we saw happening in the spring of last year were public health reporting, particularly with lab results, and telehealth. Telehealth was a big growth area for us last year.

I was a bit surprised that we had as much work to do in the public health side as we did. You might assume that we have public health registries, so data must be flowing, but in reality, there was a lot of work that had to be done. Many of the health information exchanges across the country were helping scale lab reporting, particularly to the public health agencies.

Integrating telehealth with hospital systems and provider EMR systems was a big area. I’m hopeful that telehealth is an area that we’ve proven has a has a bigger role to play in future healthcare delivery in the future and it isn’t just a blip. From an access to care perspective, telehealth has an important role to play.

Tracking pandemic-related hospital status, cases, deaths, and vaccination status is being done in some cases with primitive technology such as emailed worksheets and probably even fax machines. Are you finding that you have electronic provider data that those entities need that they can’t process electronically?

That is absolutely a problem. We do more work at the state level than the federal level, but it was surprising that even in states like California we had problems with the lab registry. Now we’re having trouble with the immunization side, where the right systems are not in place. This is an absolutely critical area that we have to invest in over the next several years. We simply cannot afford to not have that public health reporting infrastructure be modern and ready to tackle the next healthcare crisis that comes along.

Is it easier now that hospitals are using a reduced number of EHRs and other systems?

We still have a lot of ambulatory vendors even with consolidation. I’ve seen that vendor landscape pendulum swing in 32 years in healthcare IT and 40 years in healthcare, but the most important thing we need to do is make sure that our data sources are broader than just what’s happening in a hospital setting. We need better data from long-term care facilities and ambulatory care facilities. Behavioral health has been a big challenge in terms of effective health information exchange. We have a number of initiatives that address those issues, working with some of our HIE partners. If you look at the community and who is really impacting a healthcare consumer, it is a very diverse group of folks, including a lot of social service agencies. All of that data is critical for improving outcomes, particularly with those communities that need it the most.

After all those  years in the industry, what aspects of it are you enthusiastic about?

We are entering a golden age. We are overcoming some of the last hurdles, from a business perspective. Even though I complain about the proliferation of standards, the positive side of that is it gives us an awful lot of tools in the toolbox to address specific healthcare workflows and use cases. We have a lot of talent coming in from an engineering, a lot of younger folks coming into this part of the space who enjoy problem solving. I’m really excited, and while I realize there are problems that have been around for a long time, we have a lot of great minds working on them. There have also been a lot of advances on the infrastructure side that give people options. We are going to be able to accomplish more in the next five years than we’ve accomplished in the last 20.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Zen has been a pretty well-kept secret for years. To help fuel our growth over the next couple of years, we’re going to be working hard this year to share some of our clients’ successes as a testimony to the value that we bring to our clients and to the industry. We’re going to continue to grow and evolve our solutions to keep up with what’s happening in the industry, with a continued focus on FHIR, API, and National Trusted Exchange. But the most important thing we’re going to be doing is continuing that laser focus on making interoperability easier for clients so that they can stay focused on what they do best. Our best day is when one of our clients makes a difference in the life of their patients or in the healthcare consumer. In the last year, that has never been more important. It’s an exciting time to be in this business and we will continue doing the best we can for our customers every day.

HIStalk Interviews Brian Schmitz, CEO, Clinect Healthcare

January 13, 2021 Interviews 1 Comment

Brian Schmitz is founder and CEO of Clinect Healthcare of Charlotte, NC.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I have 20 years in healthcare IT and the company is 10 years young. With Clinect Healthcare, practices and health systems can collect, monitor, measure, and act on their patients’ experience throughout the cycle of care, pre-, during, and post-encounter. We provide an integrated mobile-first and fully automated approach for intake, patient-reported outcomes or PROs, and patient experience, as well as provide the tools to gain insight and to act on patient responses in real time.

What kinds of technology solutions have become important during the pandemic?

People ask me, how has COVID impacted your business? I say that it doesn’t matter. How has it impacted our customers’ business and what technology are they asking for that allows us to help them?

As a case in point, one of our intake and PROs customers is expecting to have north of 20,000 new patients during Phase 1B alone. The same customer will see 832 patients today because of the Pfizer vaccine compared to 184 new patients one year ago today. There is a wave of new patients getting ready to descend on practices. We’re talking about the largest scale vaccination attempt in modern history. A positive patient experience for that new patient could translate into a long-term customer, so I recommend measuring their patient satisfaction and giving them a chance to feel important throughout their vaccine journey. Patient acquisition is in play.

But anecdotally, we’re seeing more and more technology interest to measure the efficacy, measure the side effects within the practice, but oversight of those patients is key. Using a PROs type platform where providing the automation, integration, and outreach to follow the journey pre- and post-injection. A learning based on response thresholds is also  important. But the best part is that we have patients’ clinical artifacts — age, chronic conditions, medications, allergies, et cetera — from the EHR. Marrying up those with PROs feedback for analysis is priceless.

Suffice it to say, healthcare systems and practices will need to prepare for high patient volume with COVID and the COVID vaccine. Intake solutions will be convenient with the influx — I get it, we offer it, too — but PROs are critical to drive value-based change and increase revenue. That is true beyond COVID. It is diagnosis- and specialty-agnostic, but that’s the type of technology that we’re beginning to see from a remote patient monitoring perspective within COVID.

How are providers, especially the smaller and less sophisticated practices, managing COVID-required activities such as selecting patients for the vaccine, notifying them, reporting the injection, and following up for their second dose?

There’s a behavior change and heavy lift that’s going on, both within the electronic health record vendors and working with the providers to ensure that we are able to collect new information within the medical record chart and PM system, as well as report those that fit the criteria for that next phase. Working within those confines, and working with the reportability of those systems, is key for the reach-out of bringing those patients back into the practice.

How will the tracking of vaccine side effects work in terms of patient-reported outcomes?

The PROs, the patient-reported outcomes side of it, is driving the need to measure what’s going on. We are finding that there are a lot of unknowns out there as it relates to the efficacy rate of these particular vaccines. Being able to leverage technology to have touch points post-vaccination throughout the first shot — how are you doing, how are you feeling — past the second shot. Identifying side effect information is very important. Healthcare systems and provider practices are just now understanding that this is an important thing to measure, and they’re looking at technology in order to automate that process and to bring information back to them in real time so that they can act on anything or any threshold that is out of bounds.

What is the state of the industry in using patient-reported outcomes to drive follow-up workflow on the back end instead of waiting for them to call with questions or to make another appointment?

Taking a proactive approach and engaging the patient is the key to getting more real-time understanding of what’s happening with the patient. As an industry, we’ve done a decent job of creating point solutions for interacting with your healthcare providers on an administrative level – portals and online scheduling, web payments, and so on. That’s a reactive approach. It’s time for the patient to have the opportunity to have a discussion with their care providers that is a proactive approach into their world. We’ve shaped our platform to do just that. They will engage at the conversation feedback level, where questions can be asked and responses can be acted on, in and out of the examination and the procedure room.

Is the coexistence between EHR vendors and third party solution providers better defined than in years past?

It is. We have great partnerships, from a data integration perspective, with the top PM and EHR companies that are out there, and the working relationship has been great. In fact, with COVID, we’ve formed a strong collaborative with a top EHR vendor and the health system that we worked with to ensure that the integration is in place and the data collection that we are taking is being consumed by the electronic health records in a meaningful way. I think they know where their space is, and they recognize that our solution complements the ability to reach patients both in and out of the office.

COVID has shown how archaic the process is of stacking up patients in waiting rooms or in the checkout line. How well have we used technology to streamline that?

We have advanced it so much over the years because the nature of what we want to learn and collect is changing. Even when looking at COVID, for example, the waiting room has extended into the parking lot and into the cars of the patients. So the timing in which we collect information has shifted. The nature of what needs to be collected has changed.

This has allowed patients to become more comfortable using their devices. We subscribe to mobile-first, and I personally subscribe to the idea that the lowest common denominator of technology is a button click. Being able to provide an easy approach to documenting your health history and your insurance information, your demographics, as well as PRO information that is meaningful, scored and pushed back to the medical record chart has been adopted very well by patients. We’ve seen that over the years and certainly with COVID, it is becoming more and more accepted by patients to fill things out outside of the brick and mortar of a practice.

Is there a software opportunity in the higher abandonment rate of patients who get tired of waiting for their telehealth visit to begin?

There is. When we talk about telehealth, we’re talking about a remote encounter. We need to focus on is making the patient feel as though there’s an extension of that remote encounter. We want to capture information ahead of the visit that will be meaningful for the provider to have. W want to monitor that patient to follow up with the their diagnosis. A solution that can complement a specific telehealth visit allows us to provide more of a holistic approach for the patient, both pre- and post-telehealth visit, for better care overall.

Who will be the driver of tools and processes for that interaction – primary care doctors, hospitals, or insurance companies?

It falls at the provider level. We are seeing a lot of interaction right now with payers that are interested in gaining insight and learning best practices, best techniques that could then be relayed down to their provider base. But there’s a lot of specificity to what PROs provide. With value-based care, it’s going to be very important at the specialty, practice, and health system level to measure their patients to identify the best techniques and best practices that work for us, that we can then also educate the patient on so that they can be more engaged into their care. A healthy patient is a more profitable patient. It gives us an opportunity to measure that at the local level so that they can act, because that is their patient and the relationship is within that patient.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Given the state of technology, as well as the sudden shift where remote and electronic interaction is acceptable and required in some cases, the cycle of care can be even more continuous and less episodic. Sitting in an exam room isn’t the only place where critical feedback can be received any more, but it needs to be simple for patients and easy to access for staff. The use cases with a platform like this are endless.

HIStalk Interviews Drex DeFord, Healthcare Strategist, CI Security

January 11, 2021 Interviews 2 Comments

Drex DeFord, MSHI, MPA is healthcare strategist for CI Security of Bremerton, WA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m a recovering CIO. I have been a healthcare executive for most of the last 30 years and an independent consultant for the past four or five years. I serve as the healthcare strategist for CI Security. CI Security is a group of world-class security professionals who provide managed detection and response and cyber consulting services, with a mission to secure critical systems. We specialize in healthcare, but also cover other critical infrastructure.

What are the takeaways from University of Vermont Health Network’s month-long downtime from a cybersecurity incident?

This is one of those situations where the breach occurred long ago. The bad actor was in the system for a long time before they ultimately wound up revealing themselves. That’s part of the challenge today.

Historically, we have worked hard to build high castle walls to keep the bad guys out. But what we’ve realized, at least in the last few years since ransomware became prevalent, is that all of your frontline employees are now frontline cybersecurity people, too. One wrong click going to the wrong website and you’ve been breached.

You feel like you have to meet this challenge of building a tall castle wall, but the real opportunity is to find those bad guys as soon as they’re behind the castle walls, catch them, and throw them out. That’s a lot of what managed detection and response is about. Whether you’re in a big place or a small place, rethinking the strategy around security is critically important.

Is it true that human hackers aren’t involved until sometime after the technology back door has been discovered or opened via mass Internet probing?

This is another way that cybersecurity and attacks have evolved over time. You can certainly have nation state attacks, but now there’s ransomware as a service. We often find that health systems or other organizations are hit by ransomware as an accident. They are just collateral damage. Somebody was trying to make a quick buck, punched out a bunch of ransomware, and somebody in the health system clicked on it. It wasn’t directed, it wasn’t intentional, and it wasn’t focused on that health system. It’s just one of those things that the organization found themselves wrapped up in. 

As the types of ransom market and attacks evolve, we will see more and more and more of that, where it’s not really aimed at a health system or hospital, but the cybersecurity posture of many health systems leave them vulnerable to these collateral damage attacks.

How can CIOs convey that threat to board members who might see it as theoretically possible but so unlikely that it doesn’t warrant funding and focus?

A lot of this is keeping your board informed and helping them see the negative results on competitors or other organizations. Boards and other executives are very involved in this now, from what I see as I talk to CIOs across the country. Every time there’s a SolarWinds attack or something like that, board members start sending questions about, are we covered? How are we doing? Is everything OK?

You are right that it’s hard to prove a negative. If you’ve been doing a good job in your cybersecurity posture and you haven’t been breached, there’s still plenty of story to tell about the number of taps you’ve forwarded and the number of ransomware emails that don’t get through. A lot of those things are still happening to you, but you’ve been doing a good job of catching them. Those are the stories you should be telling.

Is healthcare more at risk because the many hospitals that are outside of big cities won’t have a lot of local cybersecurity expertise available and might not have the money to develop it?

That’s a real challenge in most places, especially with small and medium-sized health systems. The talent problem is real. It’s tough enough to try to hire the hire the people and get them to move to these areas. But once you get them there and you start teaching them some of these cybersecurity tools, you’re apt to lose them quickly, too. Retaining good talent is tough.

The other challenge I see over and over is that lots of vendors have silver bullet products that they would like to sell to organizations. The organizations get them, install them, and run them, but then quickly start to realize that it’s going to take more than a fractional FTE to actually get value out of that product. After they have accumulated a whole plate full of these products, they realize they have created a situation where they are more exposed. They know about these things, but they can’t do anything about them, or they don’t have the talent to actually run those products.

Being able to bring somebody in and let them do management section of response for you, 24/7/365, is the other big gap that we see. But being able to do it 24/7/365 — and having wraparound professional services that can help you get started through things like security, risk assessments, and penetration tests and all the other things that can be combined into a single package — makes a big difference to small and medium-sized health systems. They just don’t have the people to handle the challenges that face them. It’s not a core business skill that they would normally have.

Have recent incidents raised an awareness that cybersecurity breaches aren’t just an IT annoyance but in fact could put a hospital out of business?

There’s a cybersecurity and risk continuum that ranges from not very mature health systems to mature ones. There’s an understanding, or lack of understanding, that it’s not just about being hacked, It’s about the impact to the business. Short term, you have to get the systems back up and running and help get patients get back in. But long term, there’s the reputational impact. Especially for not-for-profits that have fundraising arms, being able to instill confidence in your donors that you’re a good place to donate money to because you take good care of patients and families and you never let them down. That’s how cybersecurity is tied to everything else, because it really isn’t standalone.

A simpler, relatively modern infrastructure is way easier to secure than one that has been built haphazardly over a number of years. That includes even infrastructure projects, upgrading switches, and upgrading end-user user devices. It doesn’t have to be bleeding edge, but that maturity and understanding makes the difference between mature organizations and relatively immature organizations.

Attacks in the past were usually focused on widely present misconfiguration vulnerabilities in JBoss servers or Windows Remote Desktop, where if an organization was paying even modest attention it could protect itself. Have attack methods broadened, and how do healthcare organizations share information about their experience and actions?

Trying to protect yourself against yesterday’s attack is a good thing to do, but lots of new types of attacks happen every day. It also comes back to doing simple, straightforward things. If you’re a CIO, you need to make sure that your network, server, and application teams have the time to apply patches to reduce your vulnerability. Cybersecurity is connected to everything else, including operations. Healthcare has gotten a lot better at sharing information through organizations such as CHIME.

H-ISAC – the global, non-profit Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center that crowdsources cybersecurity — has become a critical component in the sharing of cybersecurity information. You do preparatory work, such as doing tabletop and full-blown exercises where you connect to the organizations that you may need help from. You want to have your connections – such as state police, the FBI, or other healthcare organizations in your area – in place and on speed dial so that you are ready to connect. That’s not something you want to figure out after you’ve been breached. More connections and more collaboration puts you in a better position from a cybersecurity perspective.

ISACs exist for different industries and healthcare has a great team there who are always looking and working closely with the FBI, HHS, ONC, and others. They log, catalog, make recommendations, and share information about the kinds of breaches that are occurring.

It’s another reason too think about managed detection and response, because if you’re a standalone medium-sized hospital, you’re working off only the connections that you’ve been able to make as a small shop without a lot of time. A professional service organization like ours has lots of connections, not only in healthcare, but in other industries. This is what we do every day, so we are more likely to be looking for problems or openings for the bad guys that you may not have even heard about yet

What are the security risks involved with vendors and providers making initial moves to the cloud?

A cybersecurity professional company can help you navigate these waters. We have seen health systems, time after time, assume that software as a service means that if I don’t run this on my premises, and instead have it run by a company who does it for a lot of other people, I should be more secure. Generally speaking, that’s probably true, as long as you’re doing all your due diligence with that third party to make sure that they’re doing all the things that they should do to be secure.

When it comes to the cloud, the true cloud, this is another one of those situations where there are opportunities to make mistakes. You’re probably going to be more secure than you are. If you try to do it yourself — especially if you’re a small or medium-sized health system — engage a professional to look at the vulnerabilities and make sure you’re covered for what you’re trying to do.

Do you have any final thoughts?

CI Security is happy that 2021 has arrived and 2020 is in the rearview mirror. Cybersecurity is in front of boards and healthcare leaders.We look forward to supporting the need for critical healthcare infrastructure with easy to understand, easy to consume cybersecurity services and managed detection and response that is packaged up to be delivered in a better, faster, cheaper way.

HIStalk Interviews Diana Nole, EVP/GM, Nuance Healthcare

January 6, 2021 Interviews 3 Comments

Diana Nole, MBA is EVP/GM of the healthcare division of Nuance Communications of Burlington, MA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I run the healthcare division for Nuance. I joined the company in May, but I have known Nuance for about 15 years, which was right around the time when I started my work within healthcare, always being around technology and companies that were transforming their portfolio. This is a great opportunity. Nuance is well regarded in terms of being respected by customers. They have a large installed base, wonderful partnerships with everybody that’s in the ecosystem such as the EHRs and Microsoft, and a lot of great growth opportunities. While I wasn’t looking, it was an intriguing opportunity and time to come to the company.

Where would you place ambient clinical intelligence in your personal version of the hype cycle?

We are in the earlier stages of how it will be used within healthcare. It is focused right now on the particular area of physician burnout and patient experience.

The elements of the documentation burden that is placed on the physician is causing them to feel overwhelmed. They are not being able to produce the type of experience they want with patients, but patients are also feeling disengaged. This is a solution that is going to evolve from not just being the element to fix or to support better clinical documentation, but to expose opportunities that we haven’t appreciated or realized. 

For example, wouldn’t it be helpful to have the complete diarized elements of the conversation between patient and physician for other people that are supporting the patient in their treatment plan, perhaps family members? My specific example is that my aging parents go to the doctor. It’s not always clear what the doctor has asked them to do when they get back home. As a family member, wouldn’t that be great?

We are in the very early stages of how we see the uses and the use cases of this. The technology needs to continue to mature when you think about ambient and conversational AI versus more structured use of voice recognition.

Does a model exist in other industries that healthcare will follow, where software extracts discrete data elements from a conversation between a professional and their client?

Nuance used to be directly involved with conversational AI that took place in an automobile. It had to distinguish between conversations that were going on in a car and the aspects of what should be done with that communication. We have leveraged that a lot within our own organization. We are starting to see other interesting use cases. We also participate in law enforcement, where we can capture the conversation that’s going on and understand where that might be applicable.

How do you see that diarized speech of basically the full transcription of the patient encounter being used?

We are intrigued to see where that area evolves. As I mentioned, there’s definitely a use case where the patient may want to be able to provide that to other people who are of interest. There has always been a bit of a worry about whether that will open up even more concern about what is said and whether that will tamper the conversation and constrict it. There are elements of compliance and concerns about what gets said.

It’s not necessarily the direct clinical elements of the conversation, but maybe more of the conversation that is not directly related to the medical outcome for the patient or the treatment planning. There will be people who will be concerned that, “If I didn’t say this, will it come back to haunt me?” but I believe that we are at a point where the benefits can outweigh those risks.

The industry at large is being more open minded. In our first use cases since the product became commercially available 10 months ago, there is definitely an appreciation, even by the physician, that this is beneficial for them as well. They can’t always remember everything that is communicated, so if they aren’t transcribing or doing something in the course of the actual patient visit, could they have missed something? It is beneficial even for their own purposes to remind them of what was discussed and said. Those users have said that it is helping them to improve the quality of the documentation that’s provided.

We are going to see where it evolves, but I’m definitely pleased that people on both sides, patient and physicians, seem to be open minded about the benefits of the full diarization of the conversation.

What are customers doing with Dragon Ambient EXperience, or DAX?

They have fully deployed it. We have evolution of the maturity levels in particular specialties. Orthopedics is probably the most advanced, but they are fully deploying it.

What’s been interesting in the COVID era is that they also have been deploying it, in many cases, in a telehealth environment in addition to an office environment. Some of them use the mobile app, while some of them actually use the office device that we have. They have typically rolled it out to anywhere between 15 to 25 doctors. They see the process and change management that is associated with it, which is very limited in terms of burden to them. They are up and running right away.

Then we are already into the elements expansion and going into maybe more orthopedics in a particular location, going to the entire department, or they’ll go into the other specialties as we’ve been maturing them. It is an element that continues to include a quality review process as part of that, as that helps the ongoing algorithm in AI and the neural nets that … I can’t describe it to a deep degree, but all of that is continuing to be fed back and making the process more and more accurate. So it’s gone quite well.

What preliminary results have clients seen with regard to physician burnout?

We do data analytics around turnaround times and patient satisfaction. Before DAX, roughly 72% of physicians were feeling burnout and fatigue. After DAX, that was reduced to around 17%. We get quotes that just the thought of taking DAX away is stressful or would make them want to quit.

We are definitely seeing reduction on the physician burnout side and the benefits we offer, but patients are also describing more engagement from the physician. They feel more attended to and feel that they are being listened to. We have also seen patient wait times down, maybe about 10 minutes, which is almost 50% reduction in wait time, so it’s also an element of either being able to have the opportunity to see more patients if a physician wants to do that or to utilizing the time to feel less overwhelmed from an administrative perspective. Early feedback has been quite positive.

I assume the patient’s perception is due to the clinician paying attention and looking at them instead of typing while they are talking.

That’s exactly right. It is an element of feeling like I was listened to — you weren’t distracted. There was feedback that almost all patients are saying that the physician spent less time focusing on the computer. Very high percentages, 90%, said their visits felt more like a personable conversation. The patient elements are also very satisfactory for the physician.

Technology can now make talking to a machine seem like talking to a human, and people are comfortable interacting with virtual assistants in ways that can border on the scary. Does that capability provide new healthcare use cases?

There are a few different cases, so you are exactly right. One of the exciting things that I learned when I was going through my interview process was the opportunity within Nuance to focus on intelligent engagement, as they referred to it. We use that a lot on our enterprise side, but we recently have launched it under the umbrella of patient engagement solutions within healthcare. We have some early wins in terms of customers that we will be announcing soon.

We are focused on exactly that. Customers have reached out, in particular COVID providers, and said, “We are completely overwhelmed with calls coming in with patients wanting to understand their options. ‘Can you just remind me what am I supposed to be doing? If come into the office, where am I supposed to go?’” These basic things potentially restrict a patient from following up for treatment and getting things done if they can’t find easy access to the information that they’re looking for. We are excited to be taking this technology from the enterprise side and doing more with it in intelligent engagement.

People are also thinking about how to use DAX, the ambient clinical intelligence solution, for example, an inpatient hospital room. You could have more interaction and diarize that with multiple providers within a patient room, where the patient could interact with it. They are also asking if it could be viewed as being an ambient opportunity for check-in, where you don’t need so much human-to-human contact and could check in via the ambient device in a particular check-in room.

I don’t know how many of these things will immediately stick, but it’s interesting that people are thinking about where else it can be applied.

Speech recognition is now ubiquitous, accurate, cloud-based, and accepted by consumers. How does that support using it new ways?

We’ve talked about speech, particularly on the healthcare side with the physicians. We’ve also been working on solutions for other parts of the care teams, such as nurses. In many cases, nurses provide the same kinds of things, but in different ways and in a different structure. We have talked about the patients and the intelligent engagement. It’s an element of the environment. What is the setting? DAX has initially been rolled out as an office visit type of setting, where there is a tremendous amount of clinical documentation burden. But obviously the interest would be how to do more of that in the hospital inpatient setting or in other types of clinical settings. People have also asked if it will be more interactive in areas such as mental health.

It will evolve. I don’t want to get over our skis a little too much here, because there certainly is a lot that goes in just with the initial use cases. But certainly as you said, people are now saying, OK, it’s not just hype. It really does work and it is going to evolve. There are opportunities to deploy it into these various use cases, which I’m excited about. Especially in a COVID year, to see the ongoing investment in evolution of has been motivating for me and certainly for our team.

Do you have to evangelize the idea of developers building software with speech recognition as the primary input mechanism instead of just bolting it to keyboard-centric applications?

There is enough evolution that has occurred on the consumer-oriented side that you have to do less. People believe that it’s there, it can happen, and it can work. There is an element of skepticism of how well it can work in a clinical documentation setting where you have to be highly accurate. Not pretty highly, but highly accurate. You’re going to use this not just for coding and reimbursement, but for the treatment of the patient. There is this element of prove it out, prove it out in all of the specialties, and prove it out beyond the structured specialties that we have initially focused on.

People ask, how well does it work in family medicine practice, where you do have such random things that you might be seeing the doctor for? I fell this weekend when I was skateboarding and broke my ankle. How does that relate to all of my past history, and how is it going to interact with all of the various elements of what the doctor needs to think about when they are prescribing treatment or patient outcomes? There is a belief that it will get there, but there is also a bit of skepticism on remembering how difficult it is for some of these use cases with particular specialties, and every patient situation is quite different.

What will be the company’s focus over the next few years?

The heavy focus is on reducing physician burnout from the specific element of clinical documentation. But then as your comments and questions have mentioned, what can you do in the course of hearing something from a conversation? What could you actually do?

For example, three to five years out, could you have the computer help the physician with reminders in the course of that conversation with the patient? Like surfacing things that it may hear that you need to be reminded of. Such as, remember for this patient in their medical history they had XYZ. And coming from a company that I just left in Wolters Kluwer, there’s a new topic in UpToDate that would be applicable for this particular conversation, would you like to look at it?

The elements of how broadly you can take the conversational AI and incorporate it with the information that’s residing either in clinical decision support tools or in the course of the actual medical record for the patient will be intriguing. Then, how you can continue to be better and better at structuring the clinical documentation so you can do more data analytics and predictive analytics and tie it into things that go as far as into the world of life sciences initiatives. It does start to open up the creative ideas of what could happen and what could be out there in the future.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Even during the challenging time that we’ve had with the pandemic, I’m optimistic about what I have seen occur during this time from our customers. They have been able to adapt to this change and take on new technologies, such as those associated with telehealth and beyond. We are going to come out of this a stronger industry.

HIStalk Interviews Luke Bonney, CEO, Redox

December 14, 2020 Interviews 1 Comment

Luke Bonney is co-founder and CEO of Redox of Madison, WI.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

Redox is the world’s leading cloud integration platform for healthcare. We help great healthcare technology companies integrate with thousands of providers on our network. We accelerate the adoption of these tools at healthcare organizations across the country. We are live or installing at 19 of U.S. News & World Report’s top 20 health systems across the country.

I am first a husband and then a father of two. Zeke is our son. He’s two and a half. Leona is our eight-week-old daughter. Our chocolate lab is Leroy. We call Madison, Wisconsin our home.

Large health IT vendors are partnering with cloud services such as those offered by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. What opportunities or challenges does that introduce?

We see that as a massive opportunity. We see healthcare embracing the cloud as a key to the overall realization of bringing technology innovation into this space.

The whole bet of Redox from the very beginning  has been on the cloud. When we got started back in 2014-2015, we had to say “no” 100 times in order to get one “yes.” That was because we refused to compromise on that vision of the cloud being a key component to what healthcare was going to need in the future. We saw that initial inflection point of healthcare as an ecosystem getting more comfortable with the cloud sometime in late 2017 and early 2018. That’s been a big trend that has accelerated Redox and all of our customers.

As provider organizations pick and choose the technology that they see as adding the most value, a a greater and greater percentage of those companies that they work with are cloud native. Whether they are hosted in the cloud or not, they are cloud native. More and more of them are SaaS based, fully managed services that they pay a subscription for. We see that as a massive change that will allow healthcare to catch up to how the rest of the world sees the technology and innovation sector working.

The industry’s news is filled with unfamiliar company names that are creating buzz and investment activity. How much of that was driven by technology advances versus business needs?

Digital health as an investment sector has been growing at an accelerated rate for the past five to seven years. That’s a predictable extension of what we have seen over the past four to five years, with an accelerant being that the world now has a clearer understanding of the importance of technology in healthcare. That’s because so many of us have come face to face with it as part of COVID. How many people have had their first video visit with a doctor, or scheduled online for the first time with their doctor, because of COVID?

The trend has been pretty consistent. The difference in 2020 has been that we’ve seen a lot of investment come from outside of healthcare. People who haven’t historically invested in healthcare and digital health are starting to write pretty major checks. That goes hand in hand with provider organizations being more comfortable purchasing tools, purchasing technology, that is hosted and built in the cloud.

The big EHR vendors don’t get most of the splashy headlines or credit these days, but their decision to open up their systems fueled these other capabilities in allowing these upstarts to connect. How do you see that model playing out?

Redox has always had a vision that healthcare is best served when there’s a thriving ecosystem of technology and tools, whether we’re acting as patients, providers, or administrators. Single, large incumbents can solve many of healthcare’s problems, but they will never be the best at solving a long tail of what those problems could look like.

We’ve always had a vision that the role of the EHR will always be critical. There will always be a core need for data. There will be a core need for closed loop workflows. But we also see what we’ve experienced so far, which is the explosion in third-party applications that add significant value, that have targeted tools, that have targeted workflows. Regardless of the incumbents or the situation, we’ve always seen the demand for this kind of thriving ecosystem.

This is where our vision and that of regulators are aligned. We need an open and thriving ability to integrate data, wherever that data might be. We are excited about where the 21st Century Cures Act and TEFCA, these big pieces of legislation, are pointed. This is what the industry needs and what we have been building towards all along. We see it as a significant accelerant to what we do and to our ability to help a growing number of customers.

What impact will result from the Cures Act’s API requirement?

The exciting thing is that it is already changing the industry. A lot of the major EHR vendors who are at the center of this regulation are moving faster than expected. There are major pushes to enable FHIR endpoints and to help large provider organizations turn them on and start to use them. We’ve seen a number of delays in the enforcement of things like information blocking and some of the API mandates, and those delays make sense given the impact of COVID, but we see some of the major groups in this space leading that instead of lagging behind.

What that means for us as people who focus on integration is that we’re seeing a slight uptick in the total number of integrations that we can support as we embrace FHIR. FHIR won’t be a panacea that solves all the different problems and there’s a ton of complexity that remains, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. We are focused on that.

We’re also excited about looking at the opportunity that the Biden administration has, specifically looking at TEFCA, which is not yet finalized. There’s an opportunity to put some real teeth into TEFCA. How do we build this idea of a network of networks where data can really be liquid? As we look at TEFCA and understand the world that it contemplates, we get excited about how that could accelerate the overall adoption of technology in healthcare.

Where the regulators are pushing the industry is highly aligned with where we think things need to go. We are positioned to be helpful and to continue to provide great service to our customers.

What interoperability shortcomings has the pandemic exposed?

We saw demand for healthcare technology narrow dramatically in March, April, and May. The digital health and healthcare market is like 30 technology categories, and about 25 of those were put on hold, while five had unprecedented demand — telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, anything related to diagnostics, anything related to automation where folks could save money. While there was this extreme narrowing of demand, the urgency was unlike anything we had ever seen. We were putting integrations into place that would typically take six weeks in 3-5 days because of the clear need for those technologies

One of the most amazing things we experienced back in Q2 and Q3 was the sense that everybody was willing to pitch in. Everybody understood how dire the situation was. We brought together 15 applications from 15 vendor customers of ours and offered a free package to healthcare organizations that includes the tools that they could need or would need to combat COVID-19. Everybody was clear on what we needed to figure out with incredible urgency.

We also saw, and this talks directly to some of the current archaic methods of integration, that we had to make a big shift, because there was clear demand to do types of integration that we’d never done. Our historical bread and butter is helping technology organizations integrate with provider organizations and their EHRs. What we got asked to do was to work more with groups like LabCorp to support lab workflows.

We also had customers who needed to be able to report COVID results to public health agencies at the state level across the country, so in about two and a half or three months, we built infrastructure in 48 out of the 50 states to report COVID results. We built it because it didn’t exist. We didn’t want to. We would have used things had they already been there, but we built it because it didn’t exist. For Redox customers that are providing COVID testing capabilities, we are processing 10% of all the COVID tests in the country, looking at the volume of results messages that come back across our platform. That’s number one. It’s super interesting.

We are thinking about whether the same infrastructure that we put in place to support a lot of this diagnostic testing can be valuable or helpful as we look at rolling out this massive vaccine work, which will include administering and tracking vaccine distribution.

We’ve seen a lot of change. We are doing integrations that we’ve never done. We are doing it at scale. It has all been because we, along with everybody else, have felt that we have a role to play in helping the country and the globe come back from COVID-19.

How does the changing demands, employees working from home, and your significant investment funding guide you in planning what happens with the company next year?

There’s an art and a science to that question. This is a big part of what we have been focused on. The first is taking this view of how we can support those different categories of technology. One of the big things we will be doing in 2021 is sharing much of what we’ve learned over the thousands of integrations we’ve done, offering those as packages to our customers so that they can go so much faster. If there’s one thing we learned in 2020, it’s how to do things faster than we’ve ever done them. We want to share that learning.

The second big thing is that we are excited about a couple of our big partnerships. We are working with Salesforce as one of the only certified integrators to help stand up and streamline integration into their Health Cloud product. We recently announced a partnership with Amazon Web Services, speaking of cloud hosting providers. We are making it a lot easier for anybody who is either  using AWS or planning to purchase AWS to use Redox and to purchase it straight off the AWS marketplace.

The third thing is the exciting announcement that we will be talking about in February. I can’t tell you what it is because my marketing team would be very upset with me, but you should come check out our event in February, where we will talk about some product work that we will be releasing.

Do you have any final thoughts?

2020 has been a remarkable year. We have seen a lot of collective pain and suffering, but it is inspiring to see how parts of society have responded. We were inspired by all the work folks are doing as it relates to social justice and Black Lives Matter. We are inspired by the speed at which the global workforce adopted working from home. We are inspired by how quickly healthcare adapted as COVID took hold.

I would just end by saying that 2020 has been a really long year. Here’s to a great 2021.

HIStalk Interviews Robbie Hughes, CEO, Lumeon

December 2, 2020 Interviews No Comments

Robbie Hughes, MEng is founder and CEO of Lumeon of Boston, MA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m an aerospace engineer. I’ve been a computer geek all my life. I was particularly interested in the problem of the computerization of industries versus the digitization of industries. That led me when I was still a student into the law, accountancy, and healthcare. All of those industries were activity-based in their reimbursement forms, and all I saw was using computers as expensive typewriters rather than the way I’d been brought up to use them.

Characterize me as a computer geek who was naive enough to think I could get rid of variability in healthcare delivery and stubborn enough to stick at it for now 15 years. But the thing that interests me, and the thing that got me into this in the first place, was, how do you deliver a common standard of care across a network? That’s the variability problem I’ve been going after all this time.

Lumeon is an agility layer that sits on top of the EHR. It helps providers personalize and operationalize a common standard of care across the enterprise. The people who buy that tend to be interested in doing something different, innovating around an operating model, innovating around a new way of delivering care. That lends itself in particular to risk-bearing entities who want to principally use automation to cut out costs and transform care. That’s a lens that we bring to it.

We started in Europe. We moved over to the US, and obviously there’s a huge amount of difference between those two environments. But there’s also a huge amount that is similar, so we’ve been lucky to be able to isolate a lot of what’s common between the two and bring it from one environment to another in a relatively interesting and different way.

Are providers interested in standardizing care when their patient population is a mix of fee-for-service and value-based care?

Absolutely yes, but we need to be really careful about the language. What we don’t do is standardized care. What we do do is standardize decision-making that results in the personalization of care. So the problem as I see it is not how to do the same thing to every patient, it’s how to apply a common standard or apply the same decisions in the same way to every patient. That results in the appropriate application of the right care to the right patient, which in a fee-for-service construct, very happily is usually reimbursed.

The effect we tend to see is not only in elimination of waste — which is good in both environments — but also an increase in throughput, which tends to increase reimbursement and revenue as well. We’re in the slightly strange position of being able to drive up revenue in a fee-for-service environment as well as cut costs in both the capitated or risk-sharing environment.

That’s the core of what we do. It’s basically ensuring that every case, every patient gets the right care, and because the fee-for-service model reimburses the right activities, generally speaking, you will find the reimbursement goes up.

Is it hard to get enough information from the EHR to allow you to provide the best recommendations for all patients?

It’s very difficult. The way we do it is what we think is a little bit easier. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you don’t try to eat the whole elephant in one go. When we started out, we would go off and do 100-site enterprise deployments that would take two or three years to roll out. Whilst that was, let’s call it educational, I wouldn’t describe it necessarily as fun.

The approach we’ve taken instead is to try to think about what is a digestible version of that problem that can be applied quickly and that can deliver value quickly for the customer, so that you never actually need to solve the problem of, what is the entire universe of care for every patient and every possibility? I don’t believe today that’s a tractable problem. Instead, what we tend to focus on is identify processes where there are gaps or discontinuities or grit in the machine, if you like. Then, how do you apply automation to that to deliver that lift, that personalization, but also that control and predictability to ensure that you are operating at peak performance?

You’ll know that the typical areas that you’ll find this will be around care transitions. For example, that will be around surgery and obviously in population health, where you’re trying to get large populations to do specific things, but each one of those things need to be specific to the individual. Those are the kinds of areas that we tend to specialize and see the most benefit.

Analytics-powered population health was mostly an aspirational legacy software vendor’s overused marketing term a handful of years ago. Has the definition or the expectation around PHM changed?

This was one of the really curious things to me when I came to the US a few years back. I looked at population health management as a category, and I thought, that’s interesting. That should be the application of the appropriate care to the individual at population scale. That’s what we do.

But the reality of the market seemed to be somewhat limited to meeting your quality measure obligations, and most specifically, looking at population health as an analytics and insight problem rather than an action problem. Population health management as a noun rather than a verb.

For us, the analytics are interesting. They tell you where to point the machine, but the problem we’re interested in is, how do you actually operationalize that? How do you solve that last-mile problem so you can drive the engagement, drive the personalization? Anyone can do the analytics with enough horsepower, but actually driving real change in a health system so that you are appropriately intervening with the appropriate patients with the appropriate care at the appropriate time — that’s a hard and interesting problem. That’s the thing that gets us up every morning.

The pandemic has possibly set us back, where we’ve moved to video visits that may be disconnected from the the patient’s usual providers and interrupting their normal health maintenance activities. Has care coordination suffered, or has the pandemic done us a favor to show us what we need to change?

Telehealth is probably the most interesting version of this care coordination problem. Health systems have lurched towards swapping face-to-face visits with video visits, which is a fine and a reasonable thing to do. But what nobody’s really thought about, or at least nobody that I can see has really thought about, is the governance around this.

When is it appropriate to have a telehealth visit that is provided virtually rather than a visit that’s done face-to-face? When is it safe to do so? What are the benefits? What is the standard of care that might be reasonably considered in a remote or in a face-to-face environment, how are they different, and what do you need to do differently?

For me, the orchestration of virtual care and the safety netting of it through the use of a combination of remote patient monitoring, screening, or any number of the other myriad interventions that exist for us today is the ultimate care coordination problem. It isn’t just now a problem of, “this patient is due for their flu shot” or “this patient is overdue for their colonoscopy.” This is now a problem of, for this patient and their presentation, that the next thing that they need to do is share this information, because it’s missing in their medical record. That will then tell us whether they can have the bit after that in this form or the other, et cetera, et cetera.

This orchestration of the fragments of care delivery is going to get dialed up to 11 if we are serious about using… I’m going to use the term virtual care, because I believe that’s different from telehealth in a meaningful way. I think that’s what the consumer wants. The consumer wants something that looks like every other industry, but there is a safety and a governance aspect to the application of these types of interventions in our industry that has not yet been, shall we say, road tested in any meaningful way.

I’ll bet there’s going to be a ton of lawsuits, not just in the US, but globally, next year from patients who have been misdiagnosed, mistreated, or forgotten about because of this very problem. When the dust settles from all of COVID, I think this is going to be one of the more interesting problems for the industry to address.

Much of the value in a visit is simply asking the patient how they are doing and using their answer to guide the next steps. Are we overlooking the value of allowing the individual to electronically document and contribute their own sense of wellbeing, activity level, or concerns?

One of the overlooked aspects of automation is that it should, if done well, enable hyper-personalization. For me, automation is not, at least not in our industry, about doing the same thing for every patient. It’s about looking at the marginal cost of every single activity and trying to reduce that to zero so that you can implement as many different activities as you possibly can to build up the most robust picture and then use that to drive the appropriate intervention.

In your example, I would advocate that the face-to-face consultation could be augmented by tele-triage in advance, whether asynchronously or synchronously, to determine the best use of the face-to-face time that that physician or clinician will have with the patient. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But in the case that it’s not face-to-face, you could apply the same model, but you can also look at other things.

If the consultation is face-to-face, for example, perhaps the patient has a sweaty palm, and as they’re leaving the consultation, they shake the hand of the physician and say, “Oh, just one more thing, Doctor.” That’s a classic pattern that, in a face-to-face environment, a physician would tend to leverage to gain better insight. But in a remote consultation, they can see that the paint is peeling off the walls, that they don’t have a chair to sit on, that they have 13 cats on the sofa, and there are people shouting in the background. You can build up a picture of the patient that is — I don’t want to say more complete or less complete, but suddenly different. The cues and signals that you look for in these environments are going to be different.

Again, not to say that either of these is right or wrong, but the important thing to realize is the expectation and the baseline that we set for care delivery in the “old normal” is completely different to what we might anticipate in the “new normal,” and we need to adjust. We need to design our interventions appropriately, and we need to recognize that the patterns, cues, behaviors, checklists, or whatever that we had previously are no longer going to be as useful. That’s a huge, huge opportunity if it’s embraced.

Again, this is kind of why I got into this. The trick is, how do you bring it together? How do you orchestrate it with precision? Because there is such a thing as the objectively right care for a given patient. It’s just that in this industry we tend to apply a lot more subjectivity to that than perhaps I think we should.

Will hospitals and practices whose capacity is once again being challenged by the pandemic respond by using those technologies that were rushed into service in the spring – such as telehealth and contact-free check-in – or will we see another wave of innovation?

We first need to come to a common understanding about what the core problem that we’re solving, and I don’t know that the industry has necessarily done that yet. People have applied the solution at hand to the symptoms that they see, but there is another level of optimization that needs to take place to create the sustainability and to create from scalability of even those same solutions and those same interventions before we get to another round of innovation. There’s a lot that can and will be done, but we have a lot to fix on the ground first. I’m not convinced necessarily that there is a universal view in the industry about what “good” looks like.

I would say that there’s the reimbursement problem which needs to be addressed one way or another, and obviously that’s going to drive a lot of behavior. Consumer expectations are being set. I think there’s going to be a lot of conflicting opinions around the level of reimbursement anticipated because the standard of care will be different. I think that’s an entirely reasonable debate, but I would advocate for much more freedom in terms of how people think about reimbursement, particularly around service lines and particular outcomes.

A lot of simplification can happen that will create innovation. I see a lot of complexity being introduced in order to manage some of the risks and bridge to value transition. Whereas if you look to other industries like the cosmetic surgery industry, it’s well published that cosmetic surgery and the cosmetics industry more broadly has been publishing a fixed price for a long time. Costs have been driven down there in an environment that is broadly similar to many other surgical interventions in healthcare. If we can get to a place where there is predictable pricing for predictable care, that will unleash a huge amount of innovation, and we will see a lot of adoption of all kinds of both operating models and technology potentially to support them. But everything begins and ends with money, so I would advocate for that kind of approach. I think if we do that, we will see the kind of movement we all want to see.

What changes do you expect to see with the company over the next three to five years?

The core emphasis of the company is on the US market. The core things that matter to us are around being aligned with our customers. I got into this because we have a very firm belief that it is possible to both take costs out of care and to improve the quality of care being delivered, however you define quality. Every time we’ve done this, the quality comes alongside cost reduction. I’ve yet to see a single example, over my many years of doing this, where the cost has increased and the quality has gone up. It has always been that the cost has gone down and quality has gone up.

That’s our North Star. The one thing we do, the one thing that drives us, is, how do we improve the quality and the consistency of what our customers deliver? Nothing else matters, really. If we do that, then our customers will speak for us. If our customers speak for us, then we will have commercial success, and we will create the flywheel that everyone wants.

But the healthcare industry is not one single, homogenous market. It is extremely diverse, extremely amorphous in payment model, operating model, structure, patient population, et cetera. It would be naive to suggest that one approach will work for each different environment. The customer intimacy that comes from the analysis we do, from the deployment work we do, from that strive for quality, is what makes us different and is what allows us to adjust for that. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a straight line path to success.

Anyone who gets into this industry who is trying to do anything, let alone any of the problems we’ve decided to solve for, is going to be in it for the long haul. But it’s nothing more than singular focus on that one thing, driving for quality and taking out waste. I think if we continue to do that in the way that we’re doing, we’ll all be successful, no matter what happens in the broader market.

Do you have any final thoughts?

It’s a fascinating time to be in this industry, and it’s a privilege to be able to work with some of the people we do. If I was to go back and give my 23-year-old self some advice, it would be to pick an easier problem to solve than trying to get rid of the biggest problem in the biggest industry in a country 3,000 miles away from where you’re based. But it is an absolute privilege to be able to do what I do, and if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t still be doing it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk to you and hope to be doing it for many years more.

HIStalk Interviews Kevin Coppins, CEO, Spirion

November 18, 2020 Interviews No Comments

Kevin Coppins, MBA is president and CEO of Spirion of St. Petersburg, FL.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

Spirion is headquartered in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida. We serve the data privacy and data security markets. I joined Spirion just over a year ago. Before that, I spent the previous couple of decades working across a variety of tech companies, both in the cybersecurity space as well as in the networking space. I started way back when at Novell. 

With every role that I’ve held, I’ve had the opportunity to work with healthcare organizations across the US and around the world. Every company you talk to says they are different, their industry is different, or something is different. Healthcare is the only one that gets to carry that badge and actually mean it, because everybody else is much the same. Healthcare is definitely different.

How much information does the average health system have that they don’t know about or don’t realize is unprotected?

I typically start with a question. How much data do you have? Somebody tries to answer the question, and then they stop and say, we have no idea, because you don’t. Think about how fast data flows in and flows out, how it moves. It gets stored in the cloud, and then it gets replicated in the cloud, and you just don’t know. It’s a fair answer now, and people have gotten more comfortable saying that they don’t know. A few years ago, it was a little bit nerve-racking to acknowledge that you don’t know that.

The next question that you ask is, of the data that you don’t know how much you have, how much of that would be considered sensitive, and how do you define it? That depends on the industry, but healthcare will definitely go to HIPAA. Other industries will  go to GLBA or PCI. It depends on where they are regulated, because that’s where their brain thinks. You have to take a step back and say, that might be how regulation defines “sensitive,” but how would your patients define sensitive? How would your clients define sensitive? How would your board define sensitive? People take a step back and say, that’s interesting, we didn’t look at it that way.

First you have to define it. Then the challenge comes to, where does it live? Not just how much do I have, but where could it possibly be? That usually leads down another interesting conversation topic as well.

Is healthcare the worst of two worlds, where you have the legally defined protected health information, but you also have the business data of a health system that could be a multi-billion dollar enterprise?

Privacy is an overused term these days, but when you think about privacy, it’s fluid. How privacy is defined for you might be different than how it’s defined for me. It might be different how it’s defined for a provider versus an insurer. How that data is used or misused can also then help define what privacy means.

While regulations have tried to go ahead and put a fork in it, healthcare data back in February is different than it is today. I didn’t really care if the world knew what my body temperature was in February, but now, you could have a bias against me for having a temperature that’s not within the range that you’d expect. Or if you were to find out that somebody living in my townhouse complex was diagnosed with COVID, maybe then I’m not allowed to go to work the next day. A lot of information that’s associated — a combination of that PHI, but also proximity and demographics, et cetera — can be leveraged to help during a pandemic, but can also be leveraged after that to start doing some things that people might not be as comfortable with.

What is the biggest driver that might take a health system from going beyond being minimally compliant with HIPAA to having some enthusiasm about implementing tools and systems to protect data beyond what is legally mandated?

Every board across the US is waking up saying, how can I spend more money on something that doesn’t add direct value to what I do? [laughs] That’s the challenge of privacy security. CISOs deal with that challenge all the time. Vendors like us walk around and say, “If you don’t do it, you’ll be fined, flogged, and frozen and all these bad things will happen to you.”

Until organizations start making it personal, it doesn’t usually get traction. By personal, I mean recognizing that the data that you’re protecting isn’t some amorphous blob of sensitive data sitting in an Azure cloud store. It’s information about your neighbors. It’s information about your community. A lot of healthcare providers are community centric. Something happens to that data and it impacts the entire community, which includes your kids’ teachers and your own relatives.

A good example is that once your child who is under 10 years old has had their Social Security number compromised and used to get credit card, they begin their financial life in the hole. Then it starts becoming a little bit more real. There’s so many more ways than just identity theft in the ways normal people think about how privacy can be breached and how majorly impactful it can be when you start being impersonated by people online, et cetera, et cetera. Or you start getting discriminated against.

One example that I heard that is relevant today is that we’re supposedly getting closer to this vaccine. Let’s say the vaccine is rationed, and you have to meet a certain set of criteria in order to be to the front of the line for the vaccine. It would be pretty easy to figure out what that criteria are, mine for those criteria, and then sell identities that meet that criteria so people can go buy it and be first in line. Then when you go to get your vaccine, somebody says, “Nope, you’ve already gotten it.” Wait a minute, no I haven’t. That’s when it starts hitting home.

It’s really making it personal and shifting that gear to say, this isn’t just a nice thing to do it. It isn’t just a regulatory thing to do. It’s a critical thing to do. That’s when organizations start to shift.

Are hospitals thinking about security differently after the recent surge of ransomware attacks?

Yes, for sure. One of the first things they are asking themselves is, do I have a secure copy of my data, so that if I am ransomed and they want to shut me down, I can rebuild? The second piece is, how much data do I really need? How much of that is critical to my operations, and how much is non-critical? They are starting to think about data in a different way, because ransomware is either about shutting it down and saying, I’m not going to turn you back on until you give me something, or they will actually sell off your data. I’ve got all your sensitive data, and I’m going to release it if you don’t do something. The idea that data can actually hold you hostage is a new concept for boards to think about. That has started putting a different value on that data.

The unfortunate impact of that is people are paying a lot more attention for the wrong reasons, versus waking up and saying, we should do this because it’s the right thing. People who start solving for the privacy problem because it’s the right thing to do typically don’t have the ransomware and breach issues. They have solved it organically and culturally within the company versus as a by-product of something they think they are supposed to do because their regulator said so.

How does a health system reduce the risk that is associated with the data they discover?

The first thing is to reduce to the absolute optimal the number of copies that you need to have of that data, and then make sure that it can’t replicate itself. With cloud stores today, if you are looking at your laptop right now, it’s probably syncing to a OneDrive, Google Drive, or  Dropbox. When you save something, will save in the three other spots. Getting a handle on what sensitive data is, how that data can move, and how that data can be stored will be a big step in the right direction to solving the problem. We talk about reducing the threat surface of sensitive data, and you do that by understanding where it is and how much you have. You can only do that once you define what it means to your organization.

Healthcare is fairly new to the cloud and we’ve seem some inadvertent exposures because of incorrect cloud configuration. Is that situation commonly or easily detected?

A cartoon shows the son saying to his father, what are clouds made of, Daddy? And he says, mostly Linux servers, son. [laughs] It’s an abstracted version of storage, of a place to store stuff. The challenge is that people don’t recognize that where they are storing it is completely unsecured and it’s completely open.

Being able to say, wait a minute, this is sensitive data is step one. Step two is, how secure is it? Well, it’s sitting on a server that is wide open to the entire universe. OK, that’s a problem. How active is it? Nobody has actually accessed it since the Reagan administration, so we are OK. Actually no, there have been 10,000 hits on it from foreign countries in the last 15 minutes, so it’s a problem. 

It’s not just a matter of knowing that it’s sensitive data, it’s knowing the level of access to the sensitive data and the level of activity around it. You combine those three things together to create a pretty good heat map that would say, I need to shut this down or I have a challenge or issue here. If I can reduce the threat surface and I have fewer locations where sensitive data lives, it gets a heck of a lot easier to manage it.

We had less impact than I expected from GDPR, which could have changed how we think about storing, securing, and using data, especially consumer data. Will we see further effects from GDPR or other legislation?

You see it in California already for sure with CCPA and CPRA. You have the New York Shield Act and 32 other states that are actively debating privacy legislation. With the election behind us now, there’s definitely privacy legislation that’s at a Congressional level as well. So you absolutely will, it will continue to shift. Even CCPA has changed three times since it went into effect last year. It will continue to shift and morph because privacy is fluid.

The wrong lens to look through is, how big have the fines been for GDPR? Well, there’s been some massive ones. How many have been collected on how many have made it through the courts? We’re waiting to go ahead and see.

You have to take a step back and say, what’s the right level of stuff to do from a privacy standpoint? If you show that you are trying to proactively get ahead of the problem, then more often than not, you’re going to be in pretty good stead with the regulators. It’s not trying to keep up with the regulations, but more trying to keep up with the culture, and that usually takes a rethinking of how you move and store data. That wake-up call doesn’t typically come until there’s a breach or something bad that could happen to you that you saw happen to the healthcare organization across town.

Are health systems funding and completing projects related to security, privacy, and data protection?

They are absolutely taking it more seriously. We’ve seen an uptick, even during these crazy times, over the last six months in healthcare because they recognize that it’s a journey that they have to start. They don’t a panacea button that it solves all their issues, but they start saying that they have to get the right processes in place and the right underpinning tools in place to start getting ahead of this problem.

Most healthcare organizations didn’t pop up overnight. They have been around for 50, 100, or 150 years. If you think about the technological age, every healthcare organization that I’ve walked into has equipment and systems that go back to the time the first building was built, that date all the way to the time the most recent building was built. They have a little bit of everything, and across that little bit of everything lies a lot of complexity. For a while, the answer was, we’re just going to throw our hands up because this is too hard to get our heads wrapped around. Now it has shifted into, we have to start somewhere, so let’s put a stake in the ground and let’s start pulling the thread through it.

It’s a hard problem, especially in healthcare. Healthcare is different. A lot of it is because there’s a lot of legacy systems with a lot of legacy information that’s really, really important, but that weren’t designed to protect data the way it’s expected to be protected today.

How do you see that situation changing over the next 3-5 years?

The concept of data and sensitive data is at the core of both security and privacy. The next thing that goes around that is, what is the definition of sensitive as it pertains to privacy? Then also, what is the definition of identity as it pertains to security? I think that recognition is starting to happen, where people say, it’s not a matter of if I’m going to be breached, it’s a matter of when. The perimeter is not going to hold, so when they get in, what are they going to be able to do, and what are they going to be able to find? That gets back to the data part of the question.

People are starting to move in the right direction. They are starting to say, I need to get a handle on my sensitive data footprint so I know what the threat surface is. Then when I am compromised, I know what has happened or is happening and I can minimize the risk. I think you’ll continue to see over the next 3-5 years more and more efforts with a data-centric look at the overall infrastructure and security. That will spawn privacy. You cannot have privacy without security, but you can have security without privacy. We are already seeing that in how people are talking and thinking about how they are leveraging systems. It’s getting more and more prevalent.

Do you have any final thoughts?

When it comes to security and privacy and all the drama and all the noise that you hear about it and read about it, just boil it down to this — am I doing everything I can today to protect what matters most to the constituents I serve? And what matters most to them is their individuality. Recognizing that you hold the digital versions of those physical selves and treating those digital versions as you would treat the physical one is just as important, so make it personal.

HIStalk Interviews William Febbo, CEO, OptimizeRx

November 11, 2020 Interviews No Comments

William J. “Will” Febbo is CEO of OptimizeRx of Rochester, MI.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been the CEO and director of OptimizeRx for the last five years. I have 20 years experience in health technology. More specifically, I always find myself drawn to the challenge of connecting the life science industry with healthcare providers like doctors, both clinically and commercially. I focus on technology, data, and compliance as the key drivers.

OptimizeRx is a digital health platform that focuses on bringing adherence and affordability solutions to healthcare providers, patients, and the life science industry. We are publicly listed on the Nasdaq.

What are the ethical considerations involved with presenting sponsored product information to physicians within their EHR workflows?

We are highly focused on that. Our goal is to help drive positive patient outcomes by supporting patient affordability and overall adherence to doctor-recommended treatment plans. The doctor is driving the bus here, and anything we do is going to be triggered by activity the doctor is doing.

The market is fragmented. Doctors use electronic health records from many companies and spend hours a day on them. The last things we would want to do is add more clicks and distraction that would slow down their day and or bring content that’s just not relevant to that point-of-care experience.

We have a strong filter. Our partners have a strong filter. When you are trying to help patients and doctors with affordability and adherence, it’s really about connecting at the right time with the right people. There are certainly rules that apply. Compliance is a big piece for me when you’re trying to help in this arena. We understand that incredibly well, as do our EHRs who manage all the data. We have several filters layered in there, plus laws, and we respect them all greatly. We are helping the doctor prescribe what they want, then helping the patient afford that based on the insurance they have.

The other piece of the equation is that once people have their medication, how do you help them stay on it? We’re a big believer in SMS text as a way to stay connected to the patient once they have double opted in on that. We see compelling results when they make that choice. They are always given the flexibility to not engage or to stop being engaged.

How do you decide the best opportunities to pursue now that you have created the network and are engaging participants in it?

We have a team that has a lot of depth in terms of the life science industry, as well as the technology around networks. We focus on is the patient journey, the care journey, that we’ve all experienced personally. It sounds like industry talk, but you feel something, you go to the doctor in various settings, you’re then in the system through diagnosis and prescription, and then you pick up medication or have it delivered. We focus on the pain points for our clients, the doctors, and the patients along that journey. If we don’t meet those three criteria, we just don’t do it. 

This is not a pure advertising model. This is a model where the life science industry can bring messages — mostly clinical in nature, mostly unbranded — and give the doctor some information at a time when they’re thinking about a particular disease or therapeutic area. Then as the patient is leaving that setting, we want to be able to stay with them and help them understand and afford the medication treatment and to have the support be there. It’s through a mobile device and chatbot, which sounds like it isn’t real, but it’s better than being alone and often that additional support is what keeps people on the therapy the doctor has selected.

How do you connect your innovation lab to the folks who assess market need?

The innovation lab is really exciting. We partner with our channel partners, which can be an EHR, someone at point of dispense and retail pharmacy, or someone who does digital appointment scheduling. We focus in on those pain points. 

What has been exciting over the last few years for all of us — not just OptimizeRx, but other people in this space — is that we have both sides of the equation, the clients who can finance it and the users, providers and patients who are engaged and open to using these new methods of connectivity.

When I came in about five years ago, this company had one solution, which was focused on basically digitizing the co-pay and getting that to the doctor so they could enable it for a prescription after selection and help the patient. When we looked at all that, and we looked at our partners, we saw that there were just so many other solutions that we could bring that could address a pain point for the client, the physician, the patient, or all three. We focus on those at the innovation lab. 

We have in the recent past rolled out a hub-enrollment forms, which is in-workflow digitized, which is a pain point for physicians, anyone in the administrative side within a physician’s office, and the patient. It simplifies the paperwork process and the signatures required to process hub enrollment for a specialty medication.

We’ve also rolled out something called TelaRep. This came out of the disruption that the life science industry saw with their sales reps. Physicians can, within the workflow of the EHR, reach out to a sales representative with a question. They can do that by text or email, saying give me a call or they can do it actually through a telehealth type of video type interaction. We are really proud of that one because it, first of all, we had the technology, so we went to the innovative lab partners and said, look what we can do. Pharma had a real challenge with reps being at home, but doctors still have questions. If you look at the number of questions doctors had that went through the MyViva program and others, it’s exponentially higher. It showed that reps answer a lot of questions for doctors, around dosage, mostly. 

Those are two examples of solutions that came out of the innovation lab, where we’re close to the partners. We could talk to the clients and we could launch them all within six months, which we are very proud of.

What motivates EHR vendors to give you access to their workflows?

They are focused on their members. Helping doctors deliver care. Having the right tools to do that, to effectively try to spend less time on the EHR and more time with the patient. When we bring solutions like TelaRep and hub enrollment, it’s clear that that’s a tool for the doctor. That’s a pain point.

The other things that doctors have highlighted to the EHR partners is financial burden and any way you can bring those costs down. Patient education is another one. Prior authorization is another pain point that companies like CoverMyMeds address. We focus in on those pain points, and our partners know those pain points even more than we do because they hear from their members, the physicians. It’s a good filter test to not bring things that wouldn’t work for the doctor.

How has the pandemic changed the use of your product?

The life science industry has billions of dollars set aside for co-pay programs. We saw an increase in demand and awareness for that given the disruption in the economy for people. We also focus on specialty medications more than the gen meds, and while gen med certainly dropped because office visits dropped, you can’t go off specialty medications. You really have to stay on them. 

We saw our partners who didn’t have telehealth solutions immediately adopt it any way they could just so that they could keep a sidecar to the EHR, keep that connectivity going. We were impressed with how that was handled by everybody, because that’s a behavioral shift. Adoption rates were relatively low around telehealth and they went immediately high because they had to. The good news for everybody — patients, doctors, industry, and our EHR partners – since it is an efficiency all around. It should save time and money and keep care going through times of disruption.

Are you receiving inquiries about how your platform could help with distribution of a potential coronavirus vaccine?

When this pandemic hit in February for all of us here in the States, we as a team obviously immediately went to no travel and stay at home, like everybody. But we said, let’s make our technology available for doctors and patients for CDC alerts. Let’s just do that. Let’s not charge anything, let’s just do it for free. That’s our way of helping in a small way and it felt really good.

We immediately put those CDC alerts into the workflow for our partners. Doctors were able to see them. We allowed patients to set up an SMS text program for free, which is still active. I view the short term in a similar format. We have an opportunity to help our clients get to those targeted populations of patients that are going to be needing to take the vaccine first.

This is not going to be a rollout for everyone to take it. The CDC will segment the market, find those in need, and go to there first. We think we have a great position to help our clients through that network and we stand ready to do it. Some of those conversations are starting. Obviously we all were thrilled to see the news from Pfizer this week. I think we’ll see others, but there’s still a lot of logistics between today and when they would need to communicate to the HCPs.

This week’s earnings call had a lot of enthusiasm and momentum that struck me as being more genuine that I sometimes hear. You’ve made a couple of key acquisitions, are using your innovation lab, and your product is doing well. Where do you want to take the company in the next several years?

We are small enough to be incredibly sincere. As you get bigger, it does get a little harder, but culture is big and we’re all in it to help outcomes and build a business.

We cited a McKinsey study that found that nearly 70% of US consumers use an online channel to manage health and wellness. Over 50% of US healthcare providers are digital omnivores who use three or more connected device professionally. I think of the network that we have already created and how we are expanding into retail and devices connected to medical professionals and patients. 

I see us as becoming a preferred digital communication platform for life sciences, principally patients and doctors, while being focused on affordability, adherence, and a little bit of care management. We are very fired up to get this kind of behavioral shift, which a lot of marketing dollars can’t even buy. Something has to push the shift.

I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and pharma is incredibly innovative clinically, but cautious commercially. We are at a stage where a lot of the digital solutions combine data-driven insights, compliance, and transparency, and those are matching nicely with the devices we all carry and use and our expectations for them. We do our banking. We do our shopping. Why wouldn’t we manage our health there? It makes for an exciting next three to five years as we try to reach more physicians, reach more patients, and help our clients drive outcomes.

HIStalk Interviews Carm Huntress, CEO, RxRevu

November 9, 2020 Interviews No Comments

Carm Huntress is CEO of RxRevu of Denver, CO.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started RxRevu about eight years ago. I have about 20 years of early-stage startup experience. RxRevu is my first endeavor into the healthcare or digital healthcare space. 

The company has been focused mainly on drug cost transparency to providers for most of its history. It’s an exciting space and a lot is happening, both with our customers and even at a regulatory level.

What outcomes can result when a patient arrives at the pharmacy where their prescription was sent electronically and they’re told it will cost $200 instead of the $15 they expected?

When you look at the data, it’s pretty interesting. About one-third to two-thirds of prescription abandonment, depending on the studies that you look at, is due to cost. That’s only getting worse now with consumer-driven healthcare.

When you think about adherence, when you think about getting the patients on the medications and keeping them on the medications that are so important in terms of driving positive outcomes, cost is the biggest thing. A lot of the work we do is focused on preventing that sticker shock at the pharmacy, which leads to abandonment and the patient not taking their medication.

It’s harder to be a savvy consumer with electronic prescribing since you have to choose the pharmacy upfront without knowing the prescription’s cost, then extra work is required to send it to a different pharmacy that perhaps has a better deal. How does your system improve that situation?

We identify that as a major issue today. If the prescription is already gone to the pharmacy, the consumer really doesn’t have much choice. What we realized is there’s this point of shared decision-making at the point of care between the provider and the patient before the script is sent to the pharmacy. That’s a really important point as they are making that decision.

RxRevu works directly with the payers, pharmacy benefit managers, and insurance companies to bring real-time cost transparency to that point of prescription, that point of shared decision-making between the provider and the patient. As the provider is prescribing, we’ll show the cost of that drug at the preferred pharmacy of the patient. We will show lower-cost therapeutic alternatives.

We will also show drugs that have less administrative overhead, both for the provider and the patient, in terms of time to therapy, such as a drug that requires prior authorization that will take time, but there’s a preferred therapy from the patient’s insurance company or PBM that does not require a prior auth. The provider can simply select that and route the prescription to the patient’s pharmacy.

The last thing we do is show alternative pharmacies. Maybe it’s mail order, or there’s a better opportunity for the patient to save money just by going to a different pharmacy in their network. We will show that as well. 

Our goal is to bring that individual patient cost transparency around their drugs to the provider at the point of care, so both the provider and the patient can make the most informed prescription decision.

Does it benefit the prescriber as well since they can not only prescribe the most cost-effective therapy, but also avoid the extra work of issuing a second prescription or sending the original one to a different pharmacy at the patient’s request?

We are, so far, one of the rare tool that providers really like. Out of all the surveying we do, we get very high marks on, “This is really valuable information that I’ve been looking for.” There’s been a lot of distrust, when this information was static and not real time, and now we can provide it real time on a patient individual basis. The number one reason coming back from providers is that while it takes maybe a few more seconds to look at the cost information and make a better-informed decision, reducing the headache of pharmacy callbacks and patient friction in getting them on therapy and keep them on therapy is a huge benefit to providers.

That saved time means a lot for them and their clinical staff. Statistics show that it costs about $15,000 per year for a doctor or their clinical staff to manage prescription administration, such as prior auths, pharmacy callbacks, and those types of things. It’s a pretty costly administrative thing. We are trying to cut that off by getting this information front of the doctor upfront so that all these issues that we’ve talked about have been sorted out prior to the patient getting to the pharmacy to pick up the script.

What were the integration challenges involved with collecting real-time information from insurance companies and pharmacies and then inserting it into the EHR workflow so that it is actionable?

It’s a challenging two-sided market, and very hard to set up. On one side, you have to set up the direct connectivity between us and the PBMs, the pharmacy benefit managers, to bring real-time cost transparency into our network. There’s many of those that we have to connect to. We’ve connected so far to about 150 million insured Americans and our network continues to grow. Our hope is that eventually we’ll have complete coverage in the US, and there’s some good things coming, from a regulatory standpoint, that will help us achieve that.

On the flip side, once you aggregate all that data, you have normalize it and standardize it so you can provide it to the electronic health records. Today we are partnered with Epic, Cerner, and Athenahealth, which arguably are the biggest ambulatory providers in the US. It’s integrated directly into the electronic health record and the prescribing workflows. That’s a big challenge in terms of making sure that the integration is done well and is part of the workflow.

We have focused heavily on the prescriber experience and making sure that it’s really in line with what they are doing today. If the doctor has to go out to a portal or another service, they don’t use it. They won’t take the time. We wanted to ensure that this is part of their workflow, so that as they are ordering the prescription, they can see this cost transparency information.

It’s occasionally cheaper for the patient to pay cash instead of using insurance, especially if they have a discount coupon. Can you detect those situations where they will pay less by not using their insurance?

We look at all sorts of discount cards, things like GoodRx. What we found in our research is those discount cards are only beneficial about 5% of the time compared to a patient’s co-pay. There are certain situations where the drug is not covered, or other situations where a discount card may be beneficial, but the truth is that while insurance is getting more expensive and co-pays are going up, it’s most beneficial to get on whatever their insurance is. Where there are cost-saving opportunities, there’s usually a therapeutic alternative or lower-cost preferred drug in the same class that would be significant in terms of savings to the patient. They’re just unaware of that, and so is the provider, and that is the information we are providing. That can lead to significant savings to the patient.

Who pays for your service?

Whoever the risk-bearing entity is that covers the pharmaceutical costs. In this case, most of the PBMs and payers we work with cover the cost. We offer this free to providers across our entire footprint. A provider using Epic, Cerner, or Athenahealth doesn’t  get charged for this and it’s part of their workflow. We want to save money for the patient and the insurance company.

How does a physician or group connect?

A small practice might be running Athenahealth, which is a cloud-based EHR, so we are automatically turned on. The providers don’t have to do anything,. We are enterprise deployed across the entire Athena footprint.

In the case of where the health system is running an on-prem instance of the EHR, which has happened a lot more in Epic, we have to come in and do about 10 hours of work to install our network into the electronic health record. It’s not too much overhead and is pretty easy to do compared to the value you get from turning us on.

What role do you see for the federal government in prescription pricing and transparency?

There is now a 2021 Part D mandate to require cost transparency for payers and PBMs that support that market. That has been huge in growing our network as more PBMs provide this as a service. We think those mandates will expand and potentially lead to provider mandates, where they will be required to have this information available to them in the EHR over the next few years.

Our hope is that this will drive a bigger discussion about cost transparency across all services, so that just like any other shopping experience that we have in our life where we know the price upfront, we can get that for prescriptions, but all services. We are one of the leading indicators of the value of this because our payer and PBM partners are seeing significant ROI in terms of cost savings to both them and their members, as well as reduction in administrative overhead in terms of prior auth and other administrative things they face with prescription drugs.

Why did so many large health systems invest in your Series A funding round?

I think there’s a couple of reasons. The first is their identification of the administrative burden and time that their providers spend managing prescriptions and the benefit they saw in having cost transparency at the point of care.

Secondly, this is helping them move into value. If you think about the push in healthcare towards value-based arrangements –ACO, fully capitated, or shared savings — prescriptions are a critical part of that success. If they have to take prescription drug risk, this type of service, in terms of having cost transparency, is critical.

Also, because cost and adherence are so tied, they want to make sure they get the patient on a drug they can afford, because that is the biggest thing that drives outcomes and prevent things like readmissions.

That was a lot of the driving force behind health system interest in working with us and having this type of technology embedded in their health systems as they move to risk and to better manage their labor costs.

Where do you see the prescription transparency movement as well as your company moving in the next few years?

We will see a pretty broad expansion of cost transparency services across all payers. I think it’s obvious that we can’t really measure value unless we know what things cost. We have proved, at least in the prescription drug space, that having this information leads to better-informed decision-making by providers and saves significant money to the payers and PBMs. The cost transparency movement is here, it’s here to stay, and it is only going to expand.

We are focused on helping providers make the most clinically effective decision that is both cost-effective and convenient for the patient. We are going to help providers, as well as patients, get that most cost-effective drug. We will support health systems as they move into value more aggressively and take on risk to optimize costs, especially around prescription drugs. Our fundamental belief is that the whole prescription drug value chain should be based on value and the outcomes that these drugs deliver to the patients who take them.

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