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HIStalk Interviews Penny Wheeler, MD, President and CEO, Allina Health

January 6, 2015 Interviews 5 Comments

Penny Wheeler, MD is president and CEO of Allina Health of  Minneapolis, MN.


You’re a brand new health system CEO, unusual in that you’re female, you’re a practicing physician, and you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty digging into IT and data issues. What are the challenges Allina is facing and how does IT fit into those?

The challenges aren’t atypical to other healthcare organizations. Our biggest challenge is that what we want to accomplish for our mission isn’t necessarily the way that our incentives are lined up right now. Our financial success doesn’t always equal the success for our patients.

For example, right now we’re having, unfortunately for the community, a bad flu season. A lot of people are getting sick. That’s meaning good things for us financially. That’s not the way it should be. We want to help drive an incentive system that rewards us for good health for the community. That’s our biggest challenge. 

The challenge to get to that is the second biggest challenge … to transform into a whole different business model. What we have to do to reduce costs and have the right information to do that.

The third thing would be to have the infrastructure set up to be able to do that successfully, which is why this information and turning data and information and consolidating that and organizing that in a way that actually can move towards better better outcomes is so important.


Regarding the announcement that just came out (Allina Health and Health Catalyst Sign $100 Million Agreement Creating Model for System-wide Outcomes Improvement), most people would see Health Catalyst as an IT tools and services vendor. What gave you the confidence to let them get so involved in quality projects going beyond the technology?

We have a history with Health Catalyst. We were their first customer out of the chute when they were a two-man shop, then known as Health Quality Catalyst. At that point, I was leading the quality agenda for the organization. I saw that we had insufficient information to know what outcomes we were getting at what price for the patients we served. 

We had to integrate dozens of databases to be able to show what that looked like, to show our outcomes. The electronic medical record was not enough. It was one source input, but it wasn’t nearly enough for us to do what we needed to do to get all the — you can call it big data, you can call it whatever you want — integrated in a way that it allowed us to focus our resources correctly for patients.

We engaged the two founders of the Health Quality Catalyst, now Health Catalyst, Steve Barlow and Tom Burton. We were their first customer because we realized we wanted a way to set up a data in an integrated way akin to what Intermountain Health had done, and they came from Intermountain Health.


There’s the question of whether organizations don’t have enough data or whether they don’t have the willingness to act on the data that may already have available to them. How do you quantify an organization as to whether they’re ready to be data driven?

I’d say it’s neither of those two things. We have tons of data, but our previous data was just dumped, like a dumping ground, into what was a data warehouse. There was no way to get it out in any meaningful ways nor have it be actionable on the back side.

I would say that it’s actually the integration of the data in a way that’s usable and meaningful for the people who know the work the best. That is the biggest challenge for folks. Everybody and their mother might say they have a data warehouse and they do. We had one before, too. It was a big dumping ground and we couldn’t get anything meaningful out of it.

Now we have a data warehouse that actually integrates over 27 different databases and shows us an outcome of what our variation is in the way that we’re caring for people. What outcomes at what cost. It puts an overlay on it that gives us a dashboard so that people can make some use out of the numbers.

For example, through all these databases, we were able to develop using hundreds of factors a predictive model that told us who was at greatest risk for readmission. Now we have a predictive model that predicts with about 80 percent effectiveness who’s likely to be at greatest risk. They’re flagged right when they’re in the hospital. We know we can put care management resources right to those people because they’re flagged as being high risk for readmission.

It’s those kinds of things that we can do. Our caregivers can use that information directly.


Other than readmissions, what impactful results have you seen from the use of data analytics?

A lot of its success has been cultural. We’ve been able to engage physicians much better in better care improvement activities because they know that we have measures of performance that are meaningful and accurate. A huge part of this has been cultural and engagement of physicians and caregivers because they’re the ones who really can improve care process, which is where most of the wasted cost is now is … on care processes. A lot of it’s been on the engagement because they know it.

I’ll give you an example that shows you about an initiative and shows you about that engagement. We had an early initiative about reducing, like many organizations have, early inductions of labor. We had integrated all the data that shows us where they were happening, by what physicians, at what gestation, for what reasons. We could get it in moments where other health care organizations were taking months and months to get that information. We could get it in moments.

Then I was at a conference table where somebody said to another doctor, "Well, that can’t be right. That can’t be what my induction of labor is." The other person looked at them and says, "Nope, I’ve looked at the data. I trust the data and it is right." We were able to, in that case, reduce our elective inductions of labors from 14 percent — which it should be next to zero — to about 1 percent. We have maintained that for the last two and a half years. That results in about 250 fewer women having Cesarean sections per year and many fewer babies being in the intensive care unit.

That’s an example of where we’ve been able to engage the physicians. They believe the data. We’ve been able to drive towards an outcome that has meaning in terms of better health for the individuals at a lower cost.


For a health system that doesn’t have a physician CEO, what would you recommend as a structure to take that information and convince physicians to act on it?

We try not to invent what has already worked well other places. The structure we’ve used is looking at our clinical service lines across the organization for specialty care and also our primary care base. Then having content expert groups around a particular care conditions of the patients focus on what they wanted to measure and what data and information they needed to make sure that the care was the best.

For example, in the oncology clinical service line, we have a breast program committee. That breast program committee decided the 31 things that they wanted to measure around quality. That breast program committee includes doctors, but it also includes administrators and nurses and radiation folks and all kinds of multidisciplinary physicians from oncologists to surgeons to radiation oncology people and general medicine. I think focusing around a condition of the patients was important and getting the multidisciplinary team together to do that and to find what was important.

One other thing I’ll add is in the best of our groups, adding some patients to it also has helped. The patients — I’m just thinking about that breast program committee — said, "You’re measuring how long it takes me to get a diagnostic mammogram done. That doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is when you find a problem, how long it takes me to get in for the next test, because that’s when I don’t sleep at night."

That’s where we’ve been able to connect that dot with the patients in our best forms. We don’t have that everywhere, but that’s been best. That changes the conversation and makes it assured that it’s patient focused because, as I said when you were talking to me about challenges right now, right now one of our biggest challenges in healthcare is that the waste that we’re trying to reduce in healthcare is somebody’s revenue these days. That’s where it gets very difficult.


The agreement with Health Catalyst must have been complicated to negotiate since Health Catalyst is taking financial risk along with Allina, but then Allina gets partial ownership of Health Catalyst. Is the agreement that you’ve signed going to be difficult to manage and measure?

We spent a lot of time on that part. I think it’s a great partnership because Health Catalyst has incredible tools, but most people like them just hand you the software tools and they say, "OK, now here do." Through this partnership, we can have these incredible tools, but then we have the arm that shows us how to implement those and how to engage caregivers around implementing them in the right way for the right reasons for the right patient. We think it’s a good marriage that marries the knowing and the doing in a big, important way, so that’s huge.

We spent a lot of time, to your point, about what do we each look at as measures of success. We spent just painstaking time saying, “What looks like success in this? What key process indicators do we have? What do we have to make sure is maintained in this agreement to make sure it’s successful?” I think we’ve done that enough up front so that it won’t be very difficult to administer now that we’ve defined it on the front end of these negotiations. We’ve aligned our interests in a very profound way.


There’s a lot of discussion about the need for patient empowerment, getting patients involved in their care and having some control over their care episodes. Are there any projects that you’re working on that address that?

That’s a really great question. That’s where we’ll have to evolve to. Right now we’re evolving in ways that we can have trusted outcomes information and an implementation arm in terms of management to move those outcomes in a better way.

But you’re absolutely right. The holy grail is, how can we make patients the principle agents in their own health so that we move even further upstream instead of just reacting to how we can better care for those who are ill? How can we better support them to be well? I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but we’re talking about tools and ways in which to do that better.


How do you draw the line between the healthcare system and social services delivery, where the health system has responsibility for managing populations but can only go so far into the community? What are the challenges or opportunities?

That’s another really great insight and question. There will surely be partnerships and walls broken down in ways that we never envisioned them to be broken down. I certainly don’t think that we as a healthcare organization can do things like fixing the cracks in the sidewalk. We need partnerships with social services agencies. But a lot of what we do will become more an more analogous to social work services and partnerships with those social service organizations than we do today.

I’ll give you an example. We did actually merge with a organization called the Courage Center for people with disabilities. We had all the acute care services for those people who had had a recent stroke and needed physical rehabilitation. We had some sports and PT clinics. But we didn’t have the in-betweens of having post-acute care for those patients, transitional care. What the Courage Center brought us was vocational training, activity-based training, and sports and activity programs where they were able to see how they could drive, where they could do some of those community-based programs. That’s the full continuum.

In this case, we did it through a merger. In other cases, we’ll have to do it through partnerships. But you’re absolutely right to ask that question because the continuum is becoming much broader than we ever thought of in the past.

HIStalk Interviews John Gomez, CEO, Sensato

December 22, 2014 Interviews No Comments

John Gomez is CEO of Sensato of Asbury Park, NJ.

Tell me about yourself and the company.

Security has been a huge passion for me. It’s something that I was involved in earlier on in my career and then drifted away from and most recently got back into. Sensato is an outcome of that passion. 

The unique part of Sensato is that it focuses specifically on healthcare cybersecurity and privacy, the entire ecosystem of healthcare and healthcare information technology.


How would you characterize the current state of security in healthcare?

It’s scary overall. People are trying, but healthcare is unique. I’ve talked at industry events outside of healthcare in finance and telecom, and when I talk to people about healthcare, they are often shocked about the challenges that a CIO faces.

When I put it into context for people, the average hospital has 300 to 400 systems between HR, finance, and clinical systems. Then you lay on top of that security like webcams and remote door controls and patient access systems and things like that. 

It’s just such a huge attack surface for security that for it not to be overwhelming to any CIO would be surprising. That translates into what many would consider a target-rich environment, which translates into a lot of fear.


The Sony Pictures breach proved that any organization is vulnerable if someone decides there’s incentive for them to get into your systems. The FBI had already called out healthcare as being specifically targeted because PHI is valuable. Does that raise the stakes or the level of urgency to do something?

It does in some. If we step back, there’s multiple layers of cybersecurity and cyberterrorism. One area that we don’t talk a lot about is cyberwarfare. The challenge, and I think we’ll probably hear more and more about this from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, is that PHI is very valuable and very important. The challenge we have seen with Sony it that it’s almost cyberwarfare, where a foreign state attacks a corporation.

It opens your eyes to the fact that what if through cyberwarfare, hospitals, physician practices, labs, clinics, or retail pharmacies were attacked? What could be done there? It is scary when you think about the amount of systems in healthcare that are Unix-based and how many hospitals still run XP. Sony becomes wake-up call to what can happen if a foreign state decides to target the infrastructure of another country.


If someone wanted to cripple a hospital’s systems, what are the odds they could do it?

I would say it’s extremely high, whether it’s cripple the system or compromise it. The challenge of hospitals is to embrace patients and provide access to family members, that sterile vs. community-and family-oriented-environment. It does open them up to threats.

Also the entire concept that somebody that is disgruntled, whether that be a patient that feels that they were done wrong, a family member who was treated wrong, or an employee. In many communities, hospitals are the largest employers. That opens them up to a lot of challenges. 

I get worried about stating things like this because I don’t want to give people ideas, but hospitals are extremely vulnerable in my eyes. I don’t think it would take much to compromise most hospitals, whether that be through electronic attack or a physical attack that leads to an electronic attack.


Physician practices don’t have a lot of security resources or corporate support, while hospitals have richer data but are better secured. Which is the bigger target for hackers?

If you step back for a moment and you look at the dynamics of what’s occurring in our industry, as physician practices are becoming more involved in patient engagement and putting patient portals out there, they’re suddenly going to become much more vulnerable. In the past, they didn’t have exposed systems. You had to get in the office to launch an attack in most cases. Maybe they’re doing some faxing and things of that nature, but today a lot of physician practices either have hosted systems or patient portals.

The challenge there is a lot of these practices also have affiliations with the hospitals and pharmacies. As we start to increase the concept of population health and coordinated care, we’re having more and more of the healthcare population touching electronic systems. The vulnerability of going after a small physician practice and that launching into an attack inside of a hospital is becoming very real and very possible. It’s a scary thing that as we’re doing the right things to provide tools to our caregivers to help them do much better quality care for patients, we’re also vastly increasing the vulnerability across the spectrum of care.


Are the tools sophisticated enough, even if employees themselves aren’t, to prevent someone from clicking a link that installs malware that compromises entire systems?

Probably the biggest weak link is the employee or the user. They click on something or download something and it becomes an exploit. There are tools out there, but the reality is that as we learned long ago, a good offense is your best defense. Educating employees, making sure they’re up to speed, and putting policies in place that hopefully restrict them make a ton of sense.

The challenge in this industry is that we do things to make things easier without realizing the ramifications. For example,a lot of hospitals use a “bring your own device to work” or “bring your own device” policy for the physician. That’s probably one of the easiest, fastest ways to become compromised. You have devices that you don’t know what’s on them. You have no clue what that clinician has loaded on their personal device and what that can do to your network.

It becomes scary when you start thinking about other secure environments. No other real secure environment with so much at stake like healthcare would allow a “bring your own device” kind of strategy, but yet we do it. That translates into a weakened posture overall.


Sony Pictures failed to enforce basic security steps, such as not allowing massive data downloads or remote, anonymous e-mail logins. Is the average hospital prepared?

The challenge to hospitals or Sony or whoever it may be is that there are a lot of myths or a lot of beliefs that “this is good enough.” There are a lot of myths about security and a lot of things that people believe make them secure, when in reality, they don’t make them secure or they don’t truly provide the coverage blanket that they need.

For example, many hospitals will hide the name of their wireless access points, their SSID. They think if you can’t see my SSID, you can’t see my wireless access point, so I’m secure and people can’t get to my wireless unless it’s a guest wireless network. That’s a myth. The reality is that within 5 to 10 minutes you can figure out a hidden SSID or a hidden wireless access point. From there, you can launch a “man in the middle” attack. 

People take the basic steps and don’t realize those basic steps don’t do enough for you. In many cases, they don’t even take the basic steps, like not blocking anonymous email accounts or blocking or whitelisting certain websites or IT addresses. People just don’t know. They believe that they are doing everything they can and they don’t realize that it’s just not enough.

The attacks against Sony weren’t as sophisticated as everybody thinks. They were basic attacks. That’s scary because that continues to show that Sony just didn’t do enough to harden the environment and could have done some very, very simple things to get a much better return.

For many organizations, especially in healthcare, you feel more secure if you put things like DLP, firewalls, and intrusion detection in place, but then you forget that there are some really basic things you need to be able to deal with and do. If you don’t do them, you are susceptible to attacks.


How does the security exposure change if a hospital moves its EHR to a hosted system? Is it good, bad, or just a different set of issues when not running servers in a local data center?

It’s different issues. A lot the insecurity we see originates with the vendors. A lot of the products that have been developed in healthcare are old products — 10, 15, 20 years old in some cases — and never had to deal with these threats. Suddenly the base code, base logic, and approaches are moved to different environments, such as the cloud. We find that now they’re susceptible to attacks. The issues are a little bit different because we now are placing systems into environments that they may not ever been designed to support or designed to secure.

Certainly I don’t think you are more secure one way or the other.  It’s a whole bunch of different issues. You really have to step back and start thinking about how is this designed and am I exposing something new or not exposing something new.


Heartbleed and the Sony Pictures breach were calls to action. How are healthcare users reacting?

Things are being divided into two battle lines. There is one group of people that are thinking that Sony’s an example of if somebody wants to get to you, they’re going to get to you. There is nothing you can do about it, so why bother? Which I think is absolutely the wrong approach, especially in healthcare, because ultimately a bad enough breach could cost somebody a life.

The other side of the equation, which I think is understandable and more appropriate, is that Sony is creating a very serious wake-up call for a lot of people in the industry. They are saying, I think I’ve done everything I can, but what more can I do? Because obviously there is always a way in. How do I continue to close down those opportunities to people? 

There is a distinct parting of the ways. My hope is truly deep down that more and more people take the “what else can I do to protect the people that I’m responsible for, my employees and my patients” and less and less people take the “there is nothing I can do — eventually they’re going to get to me if that’s what they want.”


How does a provider make the decision as to where to focus knowing they can never be 100 percent secure?

There are some clear strategies and best practices around, how do I keep myself on top of things? How do I continually refresh my intelligence so that I can minimize the attack surface and the threats? What I would tell people — and we don’t do some of these things – is go to managed care. Think about outsourcing your security team.

The reason for that kind of stuff is that the space is so complicated that you want people who are continually the best of the best looking at your systems and looking at your security strategy on a continual basis and looking for things that digital protection strategies can’t capture.

The other thing is rotating who is doing your assessments and penetration tests. If you’re always using the same organization to do your assessments and your penetration testing, chances are your going to get the same results or very similar results over time. Mix things up. Try to use different assessment organizations and strategy consultants around security. The more you can do to get different people, different organizations to look at what’s going on in your environment, the more perspective you’re going to get.

There are a lot of people out there who are doing these kinds of things. There are a lot of good people and a few great people. The more you can change up the people that your working with and partnering over time, the better chance you’re going to find great people who can say, here’s something that you didn’t think about and you need to address it because it’s a big, big problem for you.

The other thing is as organizations are looking at their security strategies is there seems to be a separation of church and state in the hospitals. The CIO is looking at technology systems and then you have the physical security people who are looking at things like cameras and remote monitoring of infrastructure. Those two teams need to come together. 

We need to learn that from a hacker’s perspective, the hospital is one big target, whether they are coming from a physical attack and place a USB drive on a machine and gather things or hack your remote cameras or directly go after your patient portal, EMR, or lab system. To the hacker, it’s all one thing. Within the hospital, it’s important that cybersecurity and physical security worlds come together and think about a cohesive and holistic strategy.


Health systems worry about international hackers, yet run unencrypted laptops. Would you focus more on employee and guest defenses that are based on physical security?

I would take a leapfrog strategy where I would try to cycle through things if I were the CIO responsible for hospital security. I would try to cycle through things where there’s a period of time where we focus a lot on end user education, minimizing end-user disturbance of systems, and thinking about how do we minimize that threat. Doing things like we need to encrypt our laptops. We need to or catalog our data at rest because we don’t know what’s really out there and scan for data at rest. Because that is a big vulnerability and that’s something that an employee is going to walk away with and now we’re at risk.

The second cycle is to keep thinking about is there a external threat that’s going to compromise this, and if so, how is that going to happen? The challenge to a hospital system is that it’s such a big target compromising so many different areas. 

You’ve got to continue to look at both sides of that equation. If you could cycle back and forth and say, look at the human element of this and what’s that threat from inside the four walls and what’s the external threat, it probably would pay dividends over time.


Do you have any final thoughts?

Some short, quick hit strategies. Educate boards let them know what’s going on. Don’t be scared of what’s occurring. Like anything else that’s big and scary, it’s better off to face it and be very aggressive about it and deal with it. At the end of the day, nobody is ever going to regret trying their best. The only thing that you’re ever going to regret is not having tried your best.

In this world, given the stakes of patient lives, it’s something that’s important that those in charge of cybersecurity and physical security in hospitals do everything they can to try and minimize that risk.

HIStalk Interviews Frank Fear, VP/CIO, Memorial Healthcare

December 17, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Frank Fear is VP of ancillary cervices and CIO of Memorial Healthcare of Owosso, MI.


Tell me about yourself and the health system.

I’m the vice president of ancillary services and the chief information officer at Memorial Healthcare in Owosso, Michigan. Owosso is about 20 miles from Lansing, 25 miles from Flint, and 25 miles from Saginaw. We’re a 150-bed hospital with 1,100 employees and a medical staff of about 120. Employed physician offices totaling about 15 offices and 50 providers that are sprinkled throughout about a 20-mile radius from the hospital. 

Although we’re considered a community hospital, we have a lot of competition with hospitals in Lansing, Saginaw, and Flint. We’ve leveraged technology as a differentiator for us. Utilizing IT to approve efficiency, quality, safety, and frankly, trying to attract doctors. It’s very competitive for not only patients, but also attracting good doctors. I think we’ve been really successful. We’re very proud of our ability to recruit physicians. We haven’t had a lot of challenges there.

I really enjoy working here. We’re a size where we have some resources to get things done, but we’re not so big that it takes time to get things done. There’s not a lot of bureaucracy. It’s a lot of fun to work with our executive team and board. They see IT as a strategic asset and not an expense. The ability to go right to the exec team and the board and say, hey, I want to do this new, next idea that I think will have a positive impact, work with them. Apple Health integration is an example of that.


How will you use Apple Health integration?

We’ve had a patient portal for a while and we’ve attested for Meaningful Use Stage 2 in the hospital. As we all know, patient portal is one of those requirements. We’ve seen some mild success there, but it’s one of those things where we’re asking the patient many times to go out and access that. It’s almost passive patient engagement. We’re putting your data out there it’s available for you to better manage your care and and be more informed as a patient. But we’re really looking for the patient to go out and get that data.

We’re trying to figure out, how can we be more actively engaged with our patients? I like to think that there was some like grand, great vision that goes into this stuff. [laughs] I started thinking about and working with Frank Fortner, president of Iatric Systems, and said, you know, we’re always looking down at our phones. It’s almost embedded in our work flows now that you look at your smartphone. People are using Fitbits and they’re using different apps on their phone. Is there a way that, instead of us building an app or developing something and asking the patient to go look at it like we build a portal, can we somehow engage patients actively and leverage what they’re already doing and making it a richer experience?

We’re in the beginning phases of it. There’s no fully developed product or anything. I don’t want to give any misconception there.

Ever since I upgraded my iPhone to the 6, I pull up how many steps have I had today and say, I have to put a few more thousand steps in to keep myself at that average. How can Memorial Healthcare get in that workflow and enrich that experience for the patient?


The doctor can’t really do much with step counter information. Do you see the Apple Health-powered patient engagement going beyond that?

That’s our vision. [laughs] If a patient’s looking at that app on a regular basis to do steps, could we push vital signs to it? Could we push blood pressure to it? Diabetes is such an epidemic in our country. Could we push blood sugars to it and not ask the patient have to type that in? We’ve already captured some of that information at their office visit. Could we enrich that Apple Health application to make it more valuable for the patient and connect them or tie them back to their care provider? 

That’s how we’re envisioning Apple Health. Enriching that app so it’s more useful for the patient.

We look at Apple Health as just a starting point. We want to leverage that the tool that we’re developing with Iatric to push data to the next app. Let the patient choose what apps that they’re going to want to utilize. Apple Health, we thought, was a natural starting point. It’s already on the phone. You don’t have to install it. Apple’s done such a good job with usability.

Whatever comes next, we have this integration tool that would push data to these apps to make them more useful, more valuable. That’s our vision. We want to push data that we think that will make that application more usable, more valuable for them. If they’re already actively looking at it, we’ve somehow dealt with that hurdle of getting people to utilize it. They’re seeing some value there at some level. How can we extend that?


When you look at your IT capital budget over the next few years, where will you be making investments?

Next year we’ll be focused a lot more on real-time analytics to improve quality at the point of care. We’ve got dollars budgeted to look at data in real time as patients are in the hospital or an office visit to say, we know you have an office visit. We know you have certain chronic conditions. We see that there are certain labs being done, certain meds. Start prompting providers to query the patient or suggest something that they need to order.

On the hospital side, with Core Measures, value-based purchasing, clinical quality metrics, it’s looking at the data and then suggesting actions to providers. Starting to alert them as the discharge comes near. Or some sort of time parameter … certain antibiotics need to be given so many hours before a surgery. We start suggesting.

We’ve built a lot of that stuff into order sets, but now we want something that’s a little more dynamic that is notifying a nurse or notifying a doctor. Sepsis is a big focus for us. Having some automated tools that start looking at different data elements and notifying the nurse of potential sepsis and then notifying a physician as it escalates that they take certain actions. 

For us, the analytics is going to be more of a real-time nature. We’re already doing some stuff with population health and tools there that look at a population and look at risk stratification, identifying higher risk patients and engaging them. We’re doing some stuff there already. I don’t know if we’ll continue that investment, but when you talk about net new, it’s going to be more of that real-time actively engaging patients based on data that we already have in our systems.


You’re feeling good about your Meditech and Allscripts systems?

We’re on Meditech Magic. It’s a tool that we’ve had for going on 21 years at Memorial. We know we’re going to need to do something with it. But we’re spending quite a bit of time trying to understand what value will be created and what business problem will be solved by upgrading our Meditech Magic system to the latest and greatest Meditech platform or another platform.

It’s a significant capital expense, but it’s also a significant resource drain on the entire organization. It pulls us away from other projects that we could be doing that are non-IT related. We’re spending a lot of time understanding the value proposition for us before we decide to go down that road.

Meditech has not announced the end of life of Magic. There’s been some recent announcements I think that actually extend the life of our Meditech Magic system. We’re trying to leverage third-party systems to do some of the analytics that our Meditech system is challenged with since it’s a 20-plus year platform for us.


Which health system priorities and challenges will have the most impact on IT?

There’s a laser focus from our board all the way down to the frontline staff on clinical quality. It’s critically important that we provide the safest care, highest quality care, and frankly, the most efficient care that we can provide. We’ve hired a vice president that’s focused on process improvement and efficiency. We’re seeing cuts in reimbursement. We’re heavy Medicaid and Medicare in our region, so we need to figure out a way to be able to be sustained on that Medicare or Medicaid type of reimbursement. There’s a real focus there.

There’s a definite role that IT plays there and can play a big part. We have played a big part up to this point, but we need to elevate our game to another level and try and move away from so much implementation mode and spend a lot more time in optimization. Then when we are in implementation mode, that it’s clear to us that there’s going to be an impact to an outcome measure that’s going to improve quality and efficiency. We’re going to play a big role there. 

Employee engagement, physician engagement, and leadership development are three key strategies for us. They all center around people and engaging people. These systems that we’ve implemented directly impact our day-to-day physician workflows, directly impact our employee workflows. Really, truly engaging those folks to understand how we can improve those tools and improve their quality of life at work.

Not have the tools be an annoyance factor, to be something that enriches their work and they feel strongly about it. I’m not suggesting that they don’t feel that way, but there’s more work we can do there to ensure that we’re enriching the patient experience and not causing frustration. 

When a physician is frustrated and struggling using a system, it impacts their overall engagement. It impacts their satisfaction and ultimately impacts how they deliver care. Spending a lot of time with our physicians and staff and engaging them and improving and optimizing these tools. Making sure that we truly hear their concerns, respect them, and are sensitive to them. That doesn’t mean we can fix everything or make every change they request, but a two-way engagement where they’re bought in and they understand the limitations.


What should vendors know about your job and your challenges as a CIO that perhaps they don’t?

For our vendors, as much as I have a love-hate relationship with them, they’re critical to my success and the organizational success. If our systems don’t perform well and work well, it’s very difficult for an organization to be successful. It’s just the reality of it. They have a huge responsibility for being just good for basic things — good support, attentive. 

I know they’ve been tremendously pressured with Meaningful Use to deliver applications in such a short turnaround time. But it’s critical, beyond just being responsive and providing good customer service, that in that partnership that truly is a strategic partnership, that they spend some time understanding not just Meaningful Use, but what some of the key drivers or key focus areas that the executive team is focused on and that our board is focused on. Then working with us to try and develop applications or optimize applications to try and move whatever outcome measure that we’re focused on, that our board is focused on, our community is focused on. That takes time.

We’ve had a wonderful relationship with Iatric and I think this is an example. Frank will come up and sit down with me and we’ll have conversations about what are the main things that you’re focusing on right now. We’ve built tools in the past with them to address our strategic priorities. That’s so important, that they stay in touch and in tune with what’s going on with our organization and providing solutions that will address some of those challenges. 

Easier said than done. I know they’re under tremendous pressure to deliver regulatory compliance functionality, but if we focus just purely on the regulatory stuff, we’re not going to be successful. We need to be able to make sure that we’re addressing some of the strategic priorities that go well beyond Meaningful Use and ICD-10. That’s so tough with limited resources, but we have to find ways to address that stuff. That’s what this Apple Health thing is that we’re trying to do. Actively engage our patients to keep them connected to organization to improve quality and better care.


Do you have any final thoughts?

Behind the Apple Health piece, we’re spending a concerted amount of effort on the security side of the tool. Part of this implementation is going to be educating our patients on what it means to use a tool like Apple Health or any other application where they’re sharing their health data and what that will mean and implications for that. It’s tremendously powerful tools, but we’ve got to make sure that our patients understand some of the potential risks with pushing that data to a centralized repository. 

We’re developing goals for the project right now with Iatric and ensuring that the application that we’re going to leverage to push data to Apple Health that is SSL encrypted, that data isn’t stored on the actual device. Of course, once it gets pushed to Apple Health, it’s going to be stored at some level on the device, but making sure that the rigor is done there to educate patients on the risk and then do everything in our power to secure the application and ensure that the transmission process and the review of the data process is done securely.

Another piece that I feel very strongly about as we go down this Apple Health path is that data isn’t necessarily just automatically pushed. A patient is notified that, hey, there’s new data available, evaluate it and determine whether you would like this data in Apple Health. Having the patient be more actively engaged in making decisions about the data that they own. Having it notify them goes beyond that passive engagement where they have to go out to a patient portal. There’s new data there.

They may not even be sometimes be aware of it. You go to the physician office, they take your vitals, your blood pressure. Sometimes the doctor may not share the vital information or they may not share all that information with you. This is notifying the patient, here’s your data, take a look at it, and you may decide to push it to Apple Health or whatever app. Having them be more involved in the process and not just having it all push to different tools and not understanding those risks. 

Great concern and care is being placed on the sensitivity of this data and the security of it. It’s really important as anybody explores some of these commercially available tools.

HIStalk Interviews Peter Kuhn, CEO, Influence Health

December 15, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Peter Kuhn is CEO of Influence Health (formerly Medseek) of Birmingham, AL.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I was employee number three. I’ve been with the company since 1996. I’ve had a variety of roles — sales and marketing, product management — and became the CEO in 2008.

At Medseek, our original business model was essentially building physician- and hospital-based websites. Then as the web became more and more interactive in the early 2000s through 2005, the websites moved from online brochures to far more transactional-based websites, where we were connecting to a lot of different back-end systems, credentialing systems, call center software, HR-related software for job postings, etc. 

As the web evolved to being more personalized and more transactional, our business evolved from building those kinds of websites, but also building more customer-facing websites. Some of our earlier clients started building enterprise patient portals in 2004, so we could allow people to look at their lab results, message their doctor, and do an e-consultation with a physician. We’ve evolved as the marketplace and the demand for this kind of technology has evolved.

Most recently, in the last 10 years we’ve made a significant investment, more on the clinical side, through a couple of acquisitions that we’ve made. The most recent one being a year ago, where we acquired a population health management platform from a company called Symphony, a corporation up in Wisconsin. 

The new name Influence Health reflects a different company that’s doing what we think are very different things in the marketplace, although a lot of people claim to be in the space of population health these days.


I wanted to ask you about the Symphony Care acquisition and also the relationship with Sage Technologies, where you added a population health management capability. How are those technologies integrated and how are customers using them?

Sage is a great partner of ours. They offer an outsourced or managed solution for population health management. They will supply actual care managers to assist health systems and actually manage populations of patients. 

They’re using the Navigate product that we acquired from Symphony Care to make those people more efficient. They use it for analytics to identify who in a population would be low-rising and high-risk patients. Then we have a very specific platform that allows a care manager to perform very specific tasks on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how much attention those patients need.

Sage is using it in that way, and out in the marketplace, we’re getting a lot of traction with accountable care organizations and larger IPAs. Our traditional base of hospital customers are already starting to show a lot of interest in population health analytics, but also in the actual care management capabilities associated with the platform.


How would you distinguish the overlap and the differences between population health management versus customer relation management?

They’re blending together quite rapidly. Our larger, more sophisticated customers are starting to see that they need a holistic view, not just of their highest-risk patients or their rising-risk patients that are potentially going to cost them the most amount of money. They need to be able to manage and have a view of the entire patient population, including those that are healthy. 

One of the products that we offer is Predict, consumer analytics — a lot of hospitals call it CRM — where we can tell the hospital marketer at the household level who’s in the household, what the household income is. We can tell them what kind of insurance they have. We also build a behavioral profile of that household and predict for the hospital marketer the likelihood of their household leveraging specific service lines at their facility. It’s used for preventative care. 

Hospitals today that are still in the fee-for-service world use that to drive service line revenue. More and more, as our clients move into population health, they want to combine the capability of understanding what’s going on in their marketplace with their existing patients, but also prospective patients who might be in their ACO, along with very specific tools like care management platforms that allow them to reach out to those patients in an automated way. Something that marketers do quite well, but a lot of people on the clinical operations side don’t have a lot of experience with.

We have a combination of both. We have a CRM platform. We have a population health platform. We’ve combined those platforms so that a hospital marketer or a clinician that might be in charge of the care management program can have a complete view of the entire population, whether that be the rising-risk patients, the lowest-risk patients, or the highest-risk patients, something we think is pretty unique.


What are hospitals learning as they start to move into that role of establishing and maintaining a customer relationship versus just completing an episode of care?

[Laughs] Boy, how much time do you have? I think hospitals are learning that this is difficult. Switching from a fee-for-service world where they are responsible for their patient regardless if they are in one of their facilities or not takes a lot of mindset changing. A lot of operational changes.

We’ve been in the enterprise patient portal business for close to a decade. Just the basic interactions where a patient can now email a physician. Whether it’s a basic question, whether it’s an online consultation, whether it’s scheduling an appointment, these have created significant upheavals as it relates to clinician workflow. There’s a lot of anxiety around clinicians, some of it warranted and some of it being proven not to be so warranted.

Population health takes that to another level. How do you manage these patients across all these different settings where you may or may not control the technology in their doctor’s office? The physician may or may not be employed by you. How do you put true standards of care across all of those settings? It’s not just obviously companies like Influence Health that are providing solutions there. There’s a lot of dependencies on source system vendors, a lot of dependencies on the quality of data that’s in those source systems. 

People are learning that data is critical. Movement of data is critical. The ability to coordinate various groups across multiple specialties is critical. The ability to have the right platform partner that can sit on top of a lot of different systems and be good at extracting data out of those systems is another important function.


We’ve moved beyond the era where putting up a billboard was considered hospital marketing. Do you think hospitals or health systems will ever get as good as Amazon or even a grocery store chain at segmenting and engaging their potential customers?

We’re seeing a lot of our larger health system customers starting to hire chief experience officers, chief strategy officers, chief marketing officers, and chief innovation officers who come from outside of healthcare. Those people are applying a lot of experience that comes out of retail, travel, banking, and other industries that have figured this out. 

Healthcare’s got a long way to go. Everybody says healthcare is different and in a lot of ways it is. However, in the end, you still have a prospect, a qualified prospect, and a paying customer. 

There are companies like us that believe that leveraging traditional marketing techniques, leveraging marketing automation, leveraging CRM, leveraging multi-channel marketing across multiple channels like social, web, mobile, etc. that as these customers get more involved in their own healthcare because so much information is now available, that the ability for a hospital marketer and clinical operations –because we believe those two areas are going to have to come together to truly manage a full population — that the tools exist and you can create a highly individualized and personalized experience for these consumers that have come to expect it because we’ve been taught by other industries to expect it.


Where do you see the EHR fitting in among the technologies that are needed for success in a model that’s changing?

The EHR is obviously a critical component. There’s so much data that’s being collected inside of those tools. It’s critical for clinicians from a workflow standpoint, from a billing standpoint, to have these systems in place.

We also think it’s critical that in any kind of accountable care setting where there are multiple providers banding together to take care of a population of patients, there’s going to need to be a layer that sits on top of multiple EHRs. Where there’s an accountable care organization that’s being formed across multiple physician practices, we always find that there are multiple systems where patient data resides. It’s not just the clinical systems. It might be four or five different EMRs where we want to get a single patient identifier, a CCDA, or a set of claims data to get a holistic view of that patient, but there’s also data that’s sitting in the call center that’s highly relevant.

There’s data sitting based on these people visiting various websites of their credit profile in your website, and registering for an educational event, and they’re enrolled in a care program, and they’re enrolled in the patient portal, and they might have seen multiple physicians across multiple specialties. You need this holistic view of the patient that we don’t think the EHRs are architected to do today. 

What we’ve tried to do as a company over the last 15 years is architect our system where we get this holistic view of the patient, including data that’s sitting in these EHRs, but also data that’s sitting in a variety of other systems that the EHRs may not think about. Including device data, for example, being collected at the home. With all these wearable devices and blood pressure cuffs and Bluetooth weight scales, there’s a comprehensive set of data that’s being collected in the home that we think is very, very important to build that holistic profile of the patient. 

We’re architecting our systems to collect all of it. The EHR to us is one important component, but not the full picture.


A lot of health systems have exhausted their IT budgets and their IT capabilities buying EHRs and then chasing Meaningful Use money. Now they’re being asked to invest in analytics and customer-facing technologies. Will they be able to do that?

In a lot of ways, I don’t think they have a choice. I agree with you that Meaningful Use has driven some interesting buying behavior –  often very, very tactical — that has very little benefit to the patient besides giving them basic access to their data. But again, as I look at the leaders in healthcare, some of the larger IDNs or even the large single-hospital systems that we have as customers, they often get well beyond Meaningful Use at this point in time.

The Meaningful Use dollars are important to them, but perhaps they’ve launched a patient portal or maybe they’re got multiple patient portals. We see a lot of these systems reaching out, asking for deeper analytics, deeper engagement tools for their low-rising and high-risk patients. They’re asking for marketing automation tools where they can touch these patients on an automated way, but also in a personalized way on a regular basis across multiple channels, whether that be web, print, or targeted emails. If they’re a member of the patient portal, can we send them a personalized message?

I think as part of an IT spend, these kind of tools are going to be a cost of doing business over the next five years. Hospitals are going to have to reallocate money towards these kinds of tools in order to remain competitive in the new world.


What is the current state of patient portals and how are systems and providers in general using them or boosting participation among their patients?

We’ve got several customers that have already attested for Stage 2. They’ve been able to get the adoption. Quite a few of our customers have been able to attest successfully. 

I put patient portals in three different categories today. There’s the category of, "Let’s get speed to market," so I see a lot of folks just flipping on their EMR portals. They might have six or seven, and in some cases I’ve heard of eight different portals where a patient might have to register multiple times across multiple portals depending on whether they just had an inpatient visit or what specialty of physician they are visiting and what EMR is in place. Those folks want speed to market. They’re not very concerned about the overall customer experience. They just want to get their Meaningful Use dollars and they’re doing the bare minimum to check that box.

Another category would be folks that recognize that they’ve got a best-of-breed environment with multiple systems in place and have chosen to go down probably a harder part of deploying an enterprise patient portal, which might give that patient, if they have three or four EMRs in place, one logon. Again, we have a category of customers, even there, that are doing the bare minimum. They don’t want to do too much because operationally, it’s difficult, so they’re doing the bare minimum to achieve their Meaningful Use dollars.

Then we have clients that really want to change the entire customer experience. They want to create an experience that allows them to be differentiated. They want to use patient engagement as a competitive weapon in the marketplace against other facilities in order to create patient loyalty. We see customers doing that quite successfully as well, doing things like online consultations, real-time scheduling, deploying mobile applications that engage the patient in the way they’ve come to expect from banking, retail, and travel.


Where do you take the company from here?

Step One has been to integrate these technologies together. In the next two years, the marketplace for enterprise patient portals and care management are going to blend together. Hospitals are starting to realize that having a patient portal and a care management platform that are separate, that don’t engage the patient or the care team — and the care team is not just the clinicians, it might be supporting family members that are helping the patient in the post acute care environment — these two things have to blend to truly engage the patient in a cost-effective way. We see that over the next couple of years.

Our focus has been taking the acquisition and integrating that acquisition with our existing enterprise patient portal, but also integrating it with our CRM and marketing automation platform so that we can provide hospitals with an automated and cost-effective way to reach out and touch these patients. Our focus right now is around continuing to integrate the platform, because as I said earlier, we believe hospital marketers and clinical operations are going to need to cooperate tightly in order to engage an entire population. They’re going to need a comprehensive platform that includes marketing automation, CRM, enterprise patient engagement tools, and care management. We have all those pieces in place. Our job now is to integrate them and deliver them to our clients.


Do you have any final thoughts?

I really enjoy reading the blog. It’s a great source of information. 

We’ve got some very interesting times ahead of us over the next five years. Influence Health is excited to be in the middle of a fast-moving but exciting space where we think we can make a big difference.

HIStalk Interviews Lou Silverman, CEO, Advanced ICU Care

December 3, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Lou Silverman is chairman and CEO of Advanced ICU Care of St. Louis, MO.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

The company has been doing tele-ICU work for the past seven or eight years with clinical founders. We’ve been growing steadily ever since.

I’ve been at the company for just a little bit under a year. My experience spans healthcare IT, revenue cycle management services, and clinical services. I’ve also had some exposure via being a board member to pharmaceutical companies as well as home care companies and data and analytics companies.


What are the key issues hospitals have with delivering ICU services?

The ICU units happen to be a place where a disproportionate percentage of dollars is focused and spent. ICUs typically have the very sickest of patients for the hospitals.

The staffing in ICUs can be challenging for a number of hospitals. The ICU obviously should be staffed 24x7x365. The gold standard for staffing includes 24×7 intensivist involvement. The supply — and therefore the ability to recruit intensivists — is variable across many hospitals, many markets, and in fact many geographies.


How many hospitals meet that 24×7 intensivist monitoring standard, and of those, how many do it using a remote service?

It’s a relatively small percentage of hospitals that have the gold standard of 24x7x365 bedside intensivists. The number of hospitals that are using tele-ICU services to supplement that is growing fairly nicely, but we are still in the very early stages of adoption of tele-ICU services.

I think it’s fair to say that those hospitals that have elected to adopt tele-ICU services have developed a keen understanding of, and keen appreciation for, the benefits that accrue to a hospital across many different parameters for making that selection. Recruitment of intensivists is difficult. Retention, just by the very nature of the job, can be a little bit difficult. Some markets are far easier to recruit from than others. 

In addition, just getting to uniformity of care, implementation of agreed-upon best practices … there are just many, many elements that hospitals are dealing with in their ICU.

We try to organize our thinking around focusing on outcomes, patient outcomes, implementation, and sustained use of clinical best practices. Doing all of those things in a ROI-appropriate manner.

You can group virtually all issues that hospitals face in the ICU into those one or more of those three areas. A good tele-ICU partner will help address in a compelling way each and all of those key areas.


What is the regional span or the geographical span of the services that you provide or that you could provide? Could it be a global service like radiology nighthawking with appropriate licensure?

Our company specifically is in 20 states today, but that’s just simply a nod to the fact that we’re growing and we’re adding states in a rapid way. The answer to your question from a U.S. perspective is that this is a model that would work in any state.

We focus on having  U.S. board-certified, U.S. board-eligible clinicians working with and for us and with and for our partner hospitals. Historically at least, that has kept the focus of our recruitment on U.S.-based physicians.

It is fair to say that there are some small companies that are starting up in other geographies outside the U.S. and trying to get into the business. Some of those, in fact, also are using U.S. trained and board-certified clinicians to staff their operations. Historically, I’m not aware of any situations where U.S. companies are providing services to hospitals in other geographies. I am certainly aware that tele-ICU services are starting to start up in countries other than the U.S.


How much of the care that’s delivered to ICU patients is driven by formal protocols and accepted evidence? How does the technology take that and turn it into your service?

At a high level, the technology that we are using is driven toward having excellent access to the patients and the relevant patient health data. We have in the technology that we use algorithms that give us advanced alerts when certain patient trends are moving in a negative way. That gives us a way for us to be alerted and for us to also work in partnership with the bedside teams that we collaborate with to ensure a rapid attention to deteriorating patient conditions.

In terms of clinical best practices, that is very much a collaborative approach that we engage in with our partner hospitals. We have developed, over time and over the 60 hospitals that we have under contract, a very good understanding of what clinical best practices are and how they’re best deployed in an ICU. But it’s also fair to say that in some cases, there is perhaps more than one opinion on what the best practice is or the timing for implementing that best practice. 

It is at some level not a “one size fits all” approach that we take. It is much more of a collaborative approach that we take with partner hospitals to establish an agenda of best practices that we want to collaborate and implement together. Once we have agreement on what we’re going to do and in what sequence, we work collaboratively to execute on that plan.


If a hospital has its own local intensivists but needs coverage assistance, can you do that and how is the technology used in that case?

A significant percentage of the hospitals that we partner with do in fact have some level of intensivist staffing. All of them have some level of bedside staffing. We’re not at the bedside. That’s an obvious condition of the partnership.

In terms of collaborating when there are intensivists in place, that is a regular practice for us. We are a 24x7x365 service. We provide is a robust and always-on data capture practice, where we are able to take data across all of the patients that are coming through the ICU. We are able to convert that data into actionable and informative reports that we provide to our clients and collaborate with our clients to understand exactly what’s going on with their patient flow in the ICU. How the ICU patients are faring across a variety of metrics in terms of outcomes and utilization of best practices.

That is a value-added service, even in the context of a collaboration with a hospital that has a certain number of intensivists at the bedside. ICUs historically have been not really robust in terms of the modern data that they’re able to pull on what’s going on within the ICU itself. That’s part of the service that we provide for all of our clients.


The deal that you signed recently with Adventist Health System — are they seeing results yet?

It is still relatively early days. We’ve had a very robust and on-time implementation process across all of the pilot hospitals that we have been working with at Adventist. I’m not prepared to share specific results publicly, but I can tell you that even though it is relatively early days, the returns thus far, both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective, have been extremely positive and extremely well received across all aspects of the partnership.


Do you have any final thoughts?

The whole notion of tele-ICU is a very timely idea. It’s certainly one we’re seeing increased interest as an industry. We’re seeing increased interest in us as a company. 

When you look at trends that are impacting the overall healthcare ecosystem — with people having much more to do than they have time for, budgets are strained, outcomes are a clear increasing focal point — what we do as a tele-ICU provider is very consistent with all of the directional trends that are going on in healthcare, going on in hospitals, going on in the ICU. It is still an emerging market.

Our own company, without making this an advertisement, is the largest player in the space. It’s a very interesting company. The cliché is being in the right place at the right time, but it’s not a cliché for us. We are at that place at that time.

HIStalk Interviews Ken Graboys, Managing Director, The Chartis Group

December 1, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Ken Graboys is managing director of The Chartis Group of Chicago, IL.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

Every firm is, to some degree, at its outset a reflection of the values of the motivations of its founder. I started in the Peace Corps, opening feeding centers and health centers in the drought areas of Africa back in the mid-1980s. When I came back to the US after several years, I knew that in my life, healthcare was where I wanted to try to elevate the human experience. In our country alone, there were enough challenges to keep me busy for a while. 

I began work with a gentleman named Ira Magaziner, who at the time had a small consulting firm. It was a public policy and industrial policy firm that did some work in healthcare. After a couple of years, he was brought into the Clinton White House to help with healthcare policy. He asked some of us if we wanted to go to Washington. 

I really loved consulting because I thought it created the opportunity to make change happen in real time in a customized, localized way. And that if you do it the right way with forward-thinking clients, it has the chance to create solutions that would be a beacon that the rest of the industry could look towards and take their direction from. While I believe that public policy and regulatory influences can do a lot to drive healthcare towards a better place, I also think there’s a place for real-time development and prototyping of solutions. It is something I enjoy immensely.

He went to Washington and I went to work for a company called APM and worked there for 10 years, ultimately leading a large part of that firm. When APM sold to CSC to go into the space of IT outsourcing, myself and another individual named Ethan Arnold decided that we would start Chartis under a dual proposition. One, that a consultancy could exist that could help advance healthcare, predicated on thought leadership and conducted in such a way that we work side by side with our clients. Kind of like a great doubles team in tennis, where we work with folks who are the best at what they do where we both love what we do and together we can elevate each other’s game and make something wonderful happen.

The second proposition was that as a mission-driven firm built around improving healthcare, we could influence the industry and enrich the experience of those who are the recipients of healthcare, those who work in healthcare, and those that support it.

Those two sets of values were the cornerstones of the firm. We had no idea what we would be working on. We just knew that on our deathbeds we wanted to say we tried. 

Thirteen years later, we’ve been very, very fortunate. We work in an industry filled with visionaries, filled with incredibly smart, thoughtful folks who are also about enrichment. There’s been a resonance between what we try to do and our clientele. This made for a wonderful experience, and I think in many cases, real advances for healthcare and the communities that have been served.

Today we’re about 130 people pre-Aspen. We have offices in Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Our principal area of focus has been strategic planning, accountable care solutions and network development, and clinical transformation.


Which of the projects you’re working on show the most promise in making healthcare and society better?

I’d like to believe that every one of our projects has in its way contributed to advancing the state of healthcare. Some have been from large national systems, thinking through, what does it mean to be a national system? What does it mean to provide care in respective communities across the country? How can that model bring more benefits to bear? 

In some cases, we work with large regional health systems and help them move in a material way from their being volume-based to value-based, being based around care of a population, care of a defined group, care of a community in ways where the business model, the clinical model, and the overarching health and wellness model are intimately combined. 

We do a lot of work with rural hospitals, metropolitan, urban hospitals that are challenged. Their world may be 10 blocks, or in some cases, it could be a 60-mile radius, underserved populations that are rethinking how care is delivered and with whom access is improved and outcomes are enhanced.

Everything we try to do is built upon our mission and our clients’ mission. Those are the things that endure. Those are the things that are material in their impact.


What led to the acquisition of Aspen Advisors and how do you see that organization fitting into your mission?

Beginning about three years ago, it became very clear to us — and it should have, if you’re a halfway decent strategist — that the role of information technology in the future of care delivery was evolving at a hyper rate. From a historic role as an enabler –  the downstream to-do list for a health system or provider — to a business tool, to the future of care delivery. Information technology as defined in its broadest terms becomes the means of taking care of a community’s health. Your capabilities around aggregating, re-imaging, and employing information and the means by which those data are relayed and transmitted and applied is going to become central to what it means to be a healthcare delivery provider and to be a patient or a consumer of those services. 

The  role has evolved very quickly. If we were to continue to be at the vanguard of the advisory services for our clients and making big things happen, we had to be able to provide our clients leading edge thinking on that front and do so in a way that’s fundamentally integrated with their strategy, their clinical models, and their financial models. 

We knew we would have to bring that to bear and began a process of saying, who would be the right organization to work with? Is there another organization out there that is similarly mission-driven whose values and culture are around enrichment and around impact, and around the collective. Is there another organization out there? This is really hard to do, bringing two organizations together like this. We also need one that’s intellectually compatible and thinks about the world the way that we do and wants to do the same things and is seen by clients the same way that we hope we are. 

We felt incredibly fortunate to have crossed paths with Aspen at a couple of different clients. Dan Herman and I spent time together. Our world views, our organizational aspirations, and our missions were aligned. After about eight or nine months, it entered our minds that we can maybe do something really special in the industry. Life’s too short not to try.


What technologies or what use of technologies do you see as most promising and what will you work on with the talents that Aspen brings to the table?

Aspen brings the magic of thought leadership to bear that we think marry it well to where the industry is headed. Chartis, historically and now with a combined organization, hopes to provide some relative contribution.

At the broadest strategic level, we have clients that are asking the question, as we think about our next five- to seven-year strategic plan, it’s not enough to think about traditional growth. I had one CEO of a $10 billion-plus system ask me, how do I get our care delivery platform in the palm of one-third of this city’s population? That’s where I believe healthcare’s going and I believe that’s going to be the first visit in the future. We may not be able to provide every element of care along the way, but we want to be that guide, we want to be that starting point, we want to be that to the patient.

That’s emblematic of the belief that the relationship between the patient, the consumer, and his or her health data and his or her health management and the means by which that occurs through technological tools and capabilities are going to fundamentally change. The nature of that relationship will change, the relationship between the provider and the consumer and provider and physician and the underlying business model. Helping our clients think about that has become an increasingly important question and Aspen has great strategic thinking about that.

There’s a second set of questions around how we apply the business model to our population health capabilities and what’s the underlying information technologies associated with that. But again, it’s like a missing bridge for some of our clients, and to some degree the industry itself. It’s another area where Aspen is incredibly helpful.

The third area is that for the organizations that have made major investments at this point in the EMR, how do we take it to the next step in terms of how an EMR can help us transform our care delivery platform and the alignment amongst our caregivers across the continuum and do so in a way where outcomes are much better and the underlying processes more efficient and safer? This has been an area where Aspen really shines.

For a lot of our clients, the CFO is concerned that as as the economic model shifts and the clinical model shifts for the organization, can we make sure that our revenue cycle technology manage a divided reimbursement? This is again a center of excellence for Aspen.

Finally, I think where Aspen started and the core of its strength is that for a lot of organizations, you have this huge blueprint of things that have to be done. You have an information technology platform, department, and set of capabilities internally that is left with the incredible challenge of getting it all done. The best means of doing that and how to do that, the sequencing that’s most effective at furthering that, can be a significant piece of work for an organization. It’s an area where we can be helpful as well.


You mentioned the health system that wanted to have their presence in palms everywhere. That made me think of the retail drug chains, which are way ahead of the average health system in putting out technology that not only captures more business for them, but also captures the engagement with their end user and provides them a lot of entry points along with their physical entry points — stores, retail clinics, that sort of thing. Are the technological capabilities of health systems up for that competitive challenge?

I don’t know that any particular segment is ideally situated to own that future component of the care delivery landscape. There’s an obvious real advantage that the retail space and those that put capital behind it, be that Walmart or CVS. 

If you spend time out in California and you see where the venture dollars and private equity dollars are going in terms of healthcare technologies and what they’re trying to do for access, they want to be everywhere. Some have prognosticated–and I’m not saying this is an informed prediction by any stretch — that they can imagine a day where a vast majority of private care business will occur through WebMD and will be paid for through insurance.

I don’t know that anyone knows where the data revolution will end and who will own what, except that the end state will be that the patient will have a different relationship with their own data and what they can do with it that where they are today. To that end, certain providers will have the opportunity to have a meaningful role in that, be that because they have enough scale or capability or because they’ve decided to participate in the commercialization of some of the required technologies outside their own house or because they’ve formed an appropriate consortium to do that. But I think we will see organizations emerge — and mixed partnerships we’ve seen in the past — where providers will do this, to play in that space in a meaningful way and not be downstream from it. 

These are these the questions that we try to help our clients answer on a strategic basis. We’re even better at it now that we have Aspen as a part of the thought leadership around the solutions.


You experienced during your time in Africa the perception that public health projects are exported from countries with highly developed healthcare services delivery to those with less-developed healthcare services delivery. Do we understand in the US that we can’t ignore public health?

I don’t know that anyone would suggest that public health can be ignored. I think there’s a belief that it’s essential. I think the strength of that belief is opposed by some economic realities of our superstructure that challenge the ability to place resources against the merits.

When you look at the dollars in Massachusetts, for example, that over the past decade have been spent to support interventional care delivery today for those who are underinsured or uninsured, they directly offset the dollars that have historically been spent on not only public health, but the socioeconomic programs that actually influence the health of the public, such as education, economic development and employment programs, housing programs. All the factors that contribute to the public health.

The challenge we have is that public health is well believed in, but the resources are increasingly drained from being applied against it. That burden, that unfounded mandate of shifting the economic superstructure towards health, falls upon the providers. They have to manage and capitalize and fund that cost of change. It’s a real challenge. 

Sociologists define problems as discrete problems and wicked problems. Discrete problems are those that have normal inputs and outputs. You just want to build a bridge across the Hudson. You know the inputs, the distance, the amount of traffic that will go over it, the weight requirements, etc. You can define a discrete output.

Dealing with the health disparities in this country and the underlying economics — that’s a wicked problem. The inputs are multi-variant and some of them are latent.  The best we can all do together – providers, physicians, advisors, public health officials – is just work our best to advance the ball down the field as far as we can get it and just keep making it better.


You are an altruistic person whose primary business is helping big health systems that are economically motivated to act in their own self interest. If you can help make them successful, is that enough to satisfy you that you’re helping humanity in general?

I have two thoughts if you’ll let me share them both with you. The first is that we feel very fortunate because the clients we work with are similarly mission-driven as we are. It’s about improving healthcare and it’s about swinging for the fences. The folks we work with want to make meaningful change happen for their communities in big ways. We feel very privileged to work with those types of clients. I feel not only very, very good about the impact our clients are having that we play some small part in, but I feel very good about what it means from a mission and social perspective.

When I was in Africa back in 1986, I opened a feeding center in the Sahara on the Malawian border. Every day we would give out several metric tons of food, mostly raw grains that would come in these big burlap sacks. On the burlap sack, there would be a shield symbol representing USAID – US Agency for International Development. Coming in with the food supply shipments would be a report showing where the source dollars came from that provided that food. Often there would be workers in various factories and plants that were taking part in this African food initiative where they checked the box on their forms and gave a dollar a week to famine relief, back during “We Are the World.” It was a very big social issue.

I’d be there handing out these sacks. On one hand, it felt great to be a part of a solution. On the other hand, I realized the only reason I was there is because someone in Dearborn or Flint, Michigan had said, “I’ll give a dollar.” You realize that we’re all just links in a chain. We’re threads of a fabric that together can do great things, but apart, not much. 

I feel really good about the link in the chain that we are and what we can do, but I feel even better about the chain. We’ve worked with great folks over the last 15 years. There are a lot of good folks doing a lot of great things. We feel very fortunate to be a part of it.

HIStalk Interviews Siva Subramanian, SVP Mobile Products, Zynx Health

November 24, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Siva Subramanian is SVP of mobile products for Zynx Health of Los Angeles, CA.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

My background is in communications technology. I worked as head of product management for Nortel and Avaya, doing their healthcare vertical products, providing communications solutions to hospitals. That’s how I came across the challenges that hospitals faced in coordinating care. Communications was a big piece of this. They needed something more than just phones.

My wife, also the co-founder at CareInSync, was the head of quality improvement and also a hospitalist by training from UCSF and currently at the VA. Her area of research is care transition. That created a perfect storm for me to understand the challenges, understand the customer needs, as well as what the ideal solution could be like, which led to the founding of CareInSync.


Several companies are popping up to offer secure messaging and care coordination, sometimes both. How would you define the broad categories and positioning of competitors with ZynxCarebook?

If you can visualize, I draw a layered diagram. At the very bottom layer are basic communications. Whether they are phone or text messaging, whether it’s a secure text or not secure text, doesn’t matter. That’s basic communications that can connect one to many or one to one, most often one to one.

Above that, the next layer is the patient-centered team communications, which involves not just a formation of the team which is around each patient, but tracking of the work flows associated with each of those team members to keep the team structure integrity as the patient moves from one setting to another. That’s care team messaging and work flow that comes about.

Then on top of that, once we have a team that’s delivering care for a patient continuously connected to a solution such as ours, we can now direct evidence-based interventions based on where the patient is, where they’re going, what the roles of the people in the care team are, based on a set of content that’s been proven out, and work flows that have been proven to be efficient and effective. 

We need to have all three layers to deliver outcomes and improvement through healthcare organizations. If you’re doing just the bottom layer, which is what a majority of the basic secure messaging solutions do, then what you’re doing is trading off a phone for a text-based modality. That is an improvement, but it’s marginal at best.


When you talked about the interventions that are based on content and work flow, tell me what that means and how the acquisition by Hearst brings that together with the other elements that Hearst offers.

In my previous company, Nortel-Avaya, as a communications company, you could only do so much. You could replace modalities or perhaps make a more efficient connection. But that’s where you stopped.

To  go to the next level, you needed healthcare domain experience to understand the work flow of the 15-20 different disciplines of care team members that connect around a patient, depending whether they are in an acute setting, post-acute setting, or even at home. That required us to work through and work with healthcare organizations to understand that. Of course my wife was a key player in all this.

Then we leveraged a lot of existing interventions that have been proven to improve care transitions, like Project Boost and Project Red. We realized that if we were to grow beyond CareInSync, we needed a more sound footing and a credible footing in the clinical domain, which is to be able to leverage a much bigger bank or library of clinical interventions. That way we can direct all this information to the right people who are now captured by our solution.

That’s why the marriage with Hearst/Zynx became very timely for our group and an appropriate fit. It helped us differentiate from the lower-layer players.


What are examples of improving clinical outcomes from tying together communications, content. and work flow?

A very good example that ties all of these three layers together is a patient who is showing up at the emergency department. The patient’s being tracked by a care manager as part of an accountable care organization. The care manager has no idea that this patient has shown up at the ED.

Our solution can automatically alert when a patient tagged as high risk arrives in the ED. The care manager is automatically notified and brought into the team. They can now input into our mobile solutions key risk factors that they are aware of, which are very important for that ED doctor, who is only going to spend probably two or three hours with that patient and then they will either admit them or discharge them from the ED. That information and communication with someone who knows that patient well needs to happen in a matter of seconds, before the ED physician or nurse has taken some action on that particular patient.

Some of our existing customers have made a footprint in navigating the patient away from a high-cost approach to doing what that patient did not ask for versus what is a better approach for the patient preferred based on their choices of being DNR and things like that. They have had very real examples of cost savings as well as improved outcomes for the patient, not to mention better dignity of care for that particular patient.


A study just came out showing what most of us in healthcare already knew, that handoffs and changes in care settings are a big problem. Can technology and content be used to improve the handoff process?

That’s pretty much what we do. When we connect the things together, we provide a very concise set of assessment forms that gauge the barriers that this patient is going to have as a transition. For instance, from an acute setting to home. Those barriers then are married, if you will, to interventions that mitigate those particular barriers.

A good example is, if the patient has no transportation and lack of social support, meaning they live alone, then we automatically trigger a notification and invite a social worker into that patient’s team. This patient requires transportation to pick up medication, transportation to their primary care office. That connection is made in real time.

Normally this would require someone to make several pages and phone calls that may or may not complete and then the receiving person has to dig into the patient’s records to find all this information. We eliminate all that to make these interventions timely and for the right patient at the right time.


You saw the potential impact of mobile technology vs. desktop devices early on. What capabilities do you see in the future for using mobile in a clinical setting?

The two examples I described would be either sub-optimal or at worst not even be possible for a web-based solution, because as you know, they all require someone to be sitting in front of the computer looking at the information. The one thing that care providers lack into this environment — maybe two things, because technology is one — but the other thing is time, because they’re taking care of 20 different patients or more simultaneously. To change context in your mind around who needs what, you need a tool that can dynamically present to you which patient needs what in real time.

That push-based technology is going to become more and more prevalent. This is why physicians, if you’ve seen the stats, are moving to smartphones by the droves. They’re leveraging not just solutions, real-time solutions, but also just any type of content. It needs to be at the point of care, and most of the healthcare providers are rarely sitting down in a conference room discussing with other people.


A lot of the cost and the inefficiency of healthcare is trying to orchestrate the resources to be in the same place at the same time. Surgery is always a good example, where you’re trying to bring together a team, equipment, supplies, and the patient. Mobile brings people together. Are customers seeing job satisfaction improvement because people know where they’re supposed to be and when?

There are two types of scenarios. One is where there’s no other alternative, that the people have to be in the same place at the same time, as you described. Surgery is one.

Another example is where they wish they could be at the same place, same time, but they just cannot, like when you’re rounding on a patient. It’s very important for everybody to write their inputs, get the assessment that is interdisciplinary in nature, and then go back and take care of the patient based on their discipline. That’s very challenging in an acute care environment.

What we enable is a virtual huddle. Essentially, meaning they’re all connected around the patient. Assessments are kind of like a a very simple Google Doc for a patient. They’re real time, shared, simultaneously updated, and interventions are driven automatically. We help, with the mobile devices, alleviate that need for certain types of needing to be together and we make that virtual.

For others, a good example is a physician is talking to a patient. The patient may as a result of the conversation need to talk to some other discipline. With a real-time tool, you can pop open the patient’s page, see who the other provider is. Regardless of what shift or when the time of day is, you can instantly contact that person, and if need be, have them come to the room when the patient needs that.

Just-in-time care is going to become more prevalent. Care is going to become more efficient. Part of the reason is there’s no choice. Hospitals, if they don’t become more efficient, are going to be out of business.


I saw the product offers checklists. What are people doing with those?

Two things. When Gawande published “The Checklist Manifesto,” it made absolutely a very big splash. But if you read this book, he says two things — checklists and collaboration. Unfortunately, collaboration didn’t make the buzz when he published that book.

That’s what we bring together. We bring together a dynamic checklist that is driven based on the patient’s specific needs. We bring that collaboration, because the checklist filled by one person alone in the care team is not of any value if the other people have not read it and used it to influence their care.

By taking what would be otherwise a clickable form in an EMR or a paper form and making it a shared item that multiple people can simultaneously update and then it dynamically changes based on these rules and interventions that I alluded to earlier around that care team — that’s what really brings and makes an effective checklist.


What level of integration do you need to have to get other information sources such as the electronic health record?

At minimum, our product only requires a registration feed, an ADT feed. We require demographics information to identify the patient and to track as they move from different settings in the acute care environment or when they go into the post-acute environment. Beyond that, any other information that our tool uses is all entered into our tool because it’s primarily a very concise and very specific tool aimed at transitions, handoffs, and transfers.

You don’t need the mountain of information that’s in the EMR to make this process effective and efficient. There are specific touch points such as a discharge summary or an intake risk assessment. Certain customers have asked for that to be brought in, which we do on a custom basis. But the majority of our deployments are based on purely just ADT input. It’s a very lightweight input into our system.


Developers who are new to healthcare usually create an easy standalone application that doesn’t touch HIPAA and doesn’t  integrate with anything. What are the challenges when you’re trying to develop and support something that’s enterprise-grade for a healthcare setting and fully connected versus those simple standalone apps that work in their own world?

We went through this dilemma early on. Unfortunately, even the investment world has been caught in that bubble trying to invest in very simple applications, because they feel that that is something that can be understood easily and can grow.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of those type of applications that can deliver strong value and outcomes to a healthcare organization or even to a patient. That’s just the nature of the healthcare beast. If you’re selling to a hospital, you need a solution that is part of the work flow, even if it’s just a single discipline.

Like for instance, nurse. It’s very hard to do one slice of one small piece of a nurse’s work flow and survive as a company or as a solution. You may get few adoptions. No clinician wants to go to one place for certain things, then go to another place for certain other things.

Where some of this is being made easier or the barriers are being lowered is with mobile phones and tablets. Because of the push technology, the user doesn’t have to make a conscious decision to switch applications. The push can automatically present the information that they need to know at a given time. That’s alleviating some of this, but for a large portion of it, the applications need to be quite sophisticated and enterprise-grade with HIPAA compliance and other characteristics which makes it difficult for a start-up to scale without a significant amount of investment or being acquired. We chose a partner that can take us there. Zynx Health is ideal.


It’s difficult for companies to get a foothold. It’s tough to get a pilot. They have to compete for attention on the mobile device. They have to do some sort of outcome study or return on investment. Do you think it’s inevitable that most start-ups will fail and that those do succeed will have to be acquired to get critical mass?

I believe so. There will be many that are not able to even find that initial customer to fully deploy. Those that find it often flounder in the first four or five customers.

Once you’re over 10-plus, then you start getting that mass of implementation experience and references. But getting to 10 customers requires a significant level of runway because sales cycles in this world are … six months is a very good cycle, I would say. You have to have longevity or very significant amount of cash behind you from major investors.

Some start-ups have made it to that point — AirStrip is a good example –  but they’re going to be very few and far. A few of those will be acquired and then there will be many, many of those that just don’t make it.


What do you see for the future?

The direction we started out in fortunately didn’t require too many pivots to arrive where we are. Again, we’re extremely fortunate to find a partner like Zynx Health within the Hearst Health network that’s laterally aligned at the Zynx Health level, because care transitions and care continuum as well as just enabling team-based care for patients is a significant part of the Zynx Health vision as well, guided by evidence which they have gathered and are the market leaders. We are very happy to be part of that.

If you look at the Hearst Health Vision, this now takes us into the home environment, there’s the payer environment … Hearst has made investments into all of these areas. Under Hearst Health, now we’re able to share information across these portfolio companies to become bigger than the sum of the parts.

HIStalk Interviews Joe Torti, CEO, ESD

November 19, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Joe Torti is founder and CEO of ESD of Toledo, OH. 


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started in healthcare IT in 1983 when I got out of graduate school. I worked in healthcare IT for a few years and left the industry. In 1990, I was talking to some people that I worked with for a couple of years and they said, "There’s a need for this."

I felt entrepreneurial at that time and I went for it. I was an HBOC project manager on a few jobs working for myself. Then I slowly started hiring people as I talked to people I knew or met more people in the industry. I started building up the practice one consultant at a time.


The company just announced some layoffs and a restructuring, which is something most companies aren’t as forthright about. What challenges led to that decision and what have you learned from it?

We had increased our sales force to get more exposure to the market. As the forecast got closer and closer, we realized that the market for our products and the consulting industry in general was down. A good majority of the clients that we dealt with that were ripping and replacing systems had already done it.

A major portion of our business is still go-live and staff augmentation, which have slowed down significantly throughout the industry. One of our contracts, a very large one, just moved from April to the end of the year. We did not see that in our sales forecast and our salespeople were not seeing a lot of traction in the market for the next three to six months. That’s what drove our right-sizing, if you want to use an industry phrase. 

We have not closed. We’ve sized for the market we see over the next three to six months. We have kept key people in key positions to move forward in the market that we see.


How has the business changed in the past two years?

Two years ago, everybody was trying to get Meaningful Use dollars. They were putting in systems. The staff augmentation on these projects was huge. The activation part of the business was huge.

Since a lot of the organizations have made the decision, they’ve moved ahead a lot of what we thought was going to be first half 2015 work. They dropped ICD-10 work, spent the money on other projects, and now they’re back to spending it on ICD-10 because they’re trying to get that done.

The market will be very strong again over  the next two to three years. Even though a lot of hospitals have made the call on switching or upgrading, a lot of them are still making that decision.


Where do you see the opportunities going forward?

There will be activation work in the next  18 months, but optimization is the opportunity. Clients have said, “We put in a model system or a vanilla system and now we need to make it work for us better.”

We are uniquely qualified in that area because of our clinical focus. Many of our consultants are clinical, with very good knowledge of multiple installations of certain software . They can come back to a client and help them optimize it based on best practices from around the country.


How will you take the company forward?

Our COO, Kelly Myles, is an RN. We’ve always marched to her saying, "Whatever we do affects the patient eventually." That’s been our guiding force. 

We provide good consultants who are focused on doing the best job so that the patients have the best experience with whatever organization they’re in.


Do you have any final thoughts?

Our business has been successful because of the value of the consultants that we have built relationships with. That part of our business remains unchanged. We’ve spent many years developing those relationships and working with the same consultants over the years. We know their expertise very well.  They’ve worked for ESD on many projects. 

We have multiple clients that we’ve been working with since 2005 or even 2003. They still have confidence in us, every one of them.

Moving forward, we will provide the same level of quality to our clients. We will keep those relationships intact. Our changes will allow us to be there for the consultants and for our clients.

HIStalk Interviews Sam Rangaswamy, CEO, ZeOmega

November 3, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Sam Rangaswamy, MS is founder and CEO of ZeOmega of Plano, TX.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started ZeOmega in 2001. I came from a technical background in the airline industry and realized that the healthcare industry is really far behind in terms of adoption of IT tools.

We started the company to service the needs of payers who wanted to do disease management and care coordination. Fourteen years later, we have 24 or so million American lives on our platform. We are making a difference in the way healthcare is being managed in the country today.


How far along is the industry in the journey toward population health management and the technologies that are required to support it?

It’s an interesting perspective from where we started. What we realized was that getting provider engagement was always a challenge. Providers were never really required to do population health management or focus on value.

We quickly realized what was happening was that the kind of interventions or the care that the provider should  own was pretty much outsourced to the plans, in a sense, since there were no billing codes. There were no real mandates for providers to do this. They were more focused on volume. The payers had to take on this burden, obviously, because of the full risk that they take.

We quickly realized that ultimately providers will need the same kind of capabilities. Today we are starting out with maybe a Medicare shared service program. A lot of tools out there are focusing on the population segmentation and focusing on getting them up to par with measures that are published by CMS.

But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Over the last 14 years, the kind of problems we’ve solved with entities taking full risk … there will be a day of reckoning for a lot of the provider systems that that’s where they ultimately need to be.

The tools that are out there right now are just focused on population segmentation and providing gaps in care alerts. They’re just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, we have to get to a point where these providers can take on full risk, maybe service employers directly. That’s where we would like to see the industry mature.


Insurance companies have had those capabilities for years and now they’re turning the responsibility over to folks who don’t have them. What are the biggest pitfalls for those providers who are just starting to understand the new expectations?

What you saw at HIMSS the last couple of years is a focus on technology and analytics and very nice dashboards for providers and decision-makers to look at. But ultimately it needs to go to the next level, where there’s provider engagement, where providers are really looking at this and have a way to act upon that information without having to build entire care teams that are a very expensive resource.

Also, to a point that when they go on to take on full risk and maybe service local employers, the ability to slice and dice administrative information, not just clinical information, so that you can target people for the right set of programs. That’s where ultimately they will realize the gaps in the current tools that are available in the industry. A lot of the players that have been doing this in the disease management arena or care coordination arena for a long period of time understand these challenges and have those kinds of solutions.


Are patients, especially the most expensive ones, interested in being engaged?

You’re talking of consumer engagement. In our experience, it is probably the 1 percent of the population that are really, really obsessed with their health or taking care of themselves that will engage with all the fancy tools that are out there. The 20 percent that are the sickest that really need access to the physician, that would love to have their personal phone number because access is a big issue for them and they have complex issues, ultimately it is focusing on those individuals in terms of patient engagement that will yield the results.


Amazon uses its databases to communicate with its customers on a massive scale, yet it makes the relationship feel personal. Can that be done in healthcare?

Yes, absolutely, to the extent that you have that patient-centric view. We like to call them members because everybody starts off as a member in a community or in any system until they become a patient. To the extent that you have information about them, you can make it a very personal experience, especially with the advent of sophisticated tools on the mobile devices. You can target interventions and get engagement at that level. It’s definitely the ones that have complex conditions will be more than willing to engage.


Is patient engagement a technology problem or is it just hard for providers who never had to make an effort to keep in touch with patients to change the way they think?

Technology is an enabler, as in any human situation. Ultimately you need a whole set of staff that are trained to address this problem on the provider side. Just simple issues around health literacy or care coordination. I’ve talked to executives of hospital systems who basically think that most of the nurses should be retrained as case managers because that’s the level of intervention you need with some of these members.

As long as a human element is involved, the technology only enables and helps. Clearly the automation for the 80 percent of the population is where the technology will help. The 20 percent need that human touch in order to make that patient feel secure and trusted and participate in the process.


Going back to your early history in the market, not many companies have had both providers and insurance companies as customers. Is it hard to reach and target both sets of audiences to talk about your product?

It’s a traditional sales challenge because there are different markets and how you position the product to address their specific pain points. It’s a different set of vocabulary, if you will, at least at the current time because providers really don’t know what they need.

It is a challenge in telling the story and helping them understand where they will need to be in the future. They’re starting off ground zero with whatever platforms they can purchase today to meet their MU requirements, for example. But eventually they will need to scale up and they will need those kinds of platform capabilities. Obviously it’s the messaging and helping them understand what they don’t know is always a challenge in the new market and that’s what we are also seeing.


Do you think Meaningful Use is driving bad decisions or encouraging providers to make decisions too quickly just to check the box?

Yes, absolutely. Whenever there’s a mandate and when the requirements are a checklist item and how you meet them is up to you, you can cobble together a set of platforms that are really not integrated, becoming more inefficient than what you were without them. Certainly I think there is that aspect as well.


How do you distinguish he company from competitors and get your message out among all the noise in the market?

We have to continue to tell the story like we have. Obviously there’s a education piece. We have to get the ear of the decision-makers and paint the picture of what they will need in the future.

While they may start off with just a little widget on our platform, eventually the benefits of scaling up and going from purely analytics to complete analytics-enabled workflow, where we reach out across the care continuum, especially when you have bundled payments and all the complexities associated with full risk. That’s the message that we are putting out there and we continue to do that.

I think we are probably an year or two away from serious providers who want to take on risk and really understand that. In a year or two, I think the market will finally come around for enterprise platforms like us.


Cerner just said in their earnings call that the population health management systems market will be bigger than the electronic health records market. How do you see that market evolving and what factors will determine which vendors emerge as the leaders?

From my standpoint, it all goes back to the reform that the Federal government is mandating. It goes back to payment reform and the focus on value, which means now the providers will have to get really efficient in their care management processes, redesigning workflows.

In terms of the EMR vendors, they were glorified data collection tools and a lot of static information for humans to process. But when we are talking about large populations to the extent of a million or two million, the kind of sophistication you need to slice and dice the population and target them to the interventions that are specific to the population, that’s where ultimately the providers will have to head. 

Ultimately the EMR vendors, as much as they’re installed in a group practice or in a single delivery system, will quickly realize that healthcare information is fragmented. It’s all over the place. It’s not just about data integration, but then delivering that actionable intelligence back to the stakeholders that may not necessarily be on one EMR platform.

That’s where technologies that can take that actionable information and communicate with multiple systems in the healthcare delivery system and bring all of these payers, especially in the bundled payments scenario, being able to do effective care transitions between all the players involved in that bundled payment … that’s where eventually everybody will have to end up. It’s rules-driven workflows. It’s not just clinical data, but administrative information, information around multiple domains of health, which will ultimately drive how these processes are enabled.

Unless you can handle information across multiple domains and use that in a meaningful fashion, just collecting data and presenting a report is not going to help. I think that’s where you’ll see the industry mature to eventually.


Do you if you have any final thoughts?

Ultimately while the dashboard vendors and the analytics vendors today are getting their foot in the door, it will be interesting to see how much more the federal legislation or the laws that are unplanned or planned will impact how providers take to this. We are focused on major players, dominant players in our market like maybe a hospital system or a payer system, who have the leverage to make change in a certain region or a geography. That’s where we are focused on right now because they are the ones who have the real challenge.

We see that as the foundation. Lessons learned from these players will eventually impact how the legislation and how the laws are designed to truly affect change across the healthcare system in the country.

HIStalk Interviews Victoria Tiase, RN, Director of Informatics Strategy, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

October 22, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Victoria Tiase RN, MSN is director of informatics strategy of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital of New York, NY.


Tell me about yourself and the hospital.

I work as the director of informatics strategy at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. The position reports directly to our CIO, Aurelia Boyer.

My background is a nurse. I’ve been at the institution for almost 20 years. I did my graduate work in informatics at Columbia University. 

My role in the IT department consists of consulting from an informatics point on various projects and initiatives throughout the department and organization. I also serve as the liaison to state and federal initiatives that pertain to health IT, which as you know over the past seven or eight years have really expanded. I work very closely with Greater New York Hospital Association and HANYS and other organizations as well as our internal government affairs department as it relates to health IT.


Is the hospital still using both Epic and Allscripts?

The hospital uses Allscripts. One of the physician organizations that is affiliated with the hospital uses Epic, but not the hospital.


Are you using other Allscripts products?

We use Allscripts SCM and Allscripts Pharmacy. In addition, we have a couple of their care coordination products, Allscripts Care Management and Allscripts Care Director. In addition, our ambulatory areas use the ambulatory SCM product. We also use their ED product in our emergency rooms.


You’ll be presenting on care coordination at  the Digital Health Conference in November. What’s the role of technology?

I see it playing a huge role. It remains to be seen how the technology will be used in the care coordination arena. I think we’re basically sticking our toe in the water at this point.

Most specifically, what I’m going to be speaking about is our involvement in the New York Digital Health Accelerator program last year. It was a partnership between New York eHealth Collaborative and the Partnership Fund for New York City. They initiated a program last year where they find health IT startups that might already have some involvement in New York City and/or are interested in relocating and moving to New York City. They partner them with area hospitals for a mentoring perspective and the hospital has the ability to pilot that company’s technology if interested.

We participated last year and we just kicked off this year’s program, so we’re now in Year 2, but I’m mostly going to be speaking to our experience last year. We were paired with a company called ActualMeds. They have a loosely called medication reconciliation solution. However, the use that we found in speaking with the company and working and mentoring with them last year was that we have community health workers in a number of our programs up here in our Washington Heights area. They go into the home, they have a close relationship with the patients, and are helping us with that care coordination aspect in the community.

Prior to working with ActualMeds, we had the community health workers collecting information on paper while they’re in the home with the patients. They’re bringing that information back to our clinics and our program coordinators. It’s our way of gathering that information about the patient, which is so important for the continuity of their care once they leave our inpatient or outpatient clinics — what goes on at that point in time and how can we collect that information. 

Using the ActualMeds technology, we had our community health workers for the first time using a tablet device to collect medication information from the patients in their homes. They are looking at the medications, talking with the patient, and entering the information in an electronic fashion. It is easier for our clinicians to look at that and then integrate that into the care of the patient when they are seen for their next visit.

It was a great learning experience for us because there’s this idea that health IT is going to help us do all of this care coordination. How do we break that down? How do we test and pilot and ensure that that will definitely make a difference? How do we do it in the best way possible?

We had a lot of learning experiences from just even understanding if our community health workers can use a tablet. There were so many things that we assumed and a number of assumptions that were proved wrong. It’s just some of the basic mechanisms of just operating a tablet. Then there’s understanding the operating system, understanding how to use a browser, understanding how to use an app. So many interesting findings came out of that work. I think it’s important for us to work with our players in the community and understand how technology can best meet those needs.


Are the startups you’re working with connecting to your Allscripts system?

They are not connecting. I assume you mean interfacing. No, they are not interfacing at this time. These are really just usability pilots. We’re continuing to work with ActualMeds. I think eventually down the road, we would love to have some use cases for patient-generated data in electronic medical records. We are certainly not there yet. That is a big topic in HIT.


Are you doing anything to allow patients to be more involved in the process?

We have a homegrown portal in which our patients have the ability to see the information on their visit. We have also just started some pilots on the inpatient side, where we are working with patients to see the medications that they are to be given and have been ordered for them on the inpatient side. We’re allowing them to document their pain level.

We are definitely doing some pilots in that area. We’re very interested in how that would work. Then as I mentioned, I think the trick is how you legally incorporate and safely incorporate patient-generated data into the electronic medical record.


I always wondered why hospitals don’t give patients their own version of the medication administration record so they can follow their therapies. What did you learn from the experience of patients seeing their medication schedules? Did they find opportunities to correct what otherwise would have been a mistake?

Absolutely. We’re finding a huge satisfaction from the patients in knowing what medications are being ordered for them and what medications they’ll be receiving. That’s where we’re finding the value. 

It gives the patient the ability to ask questions, which I think is important. A lot of times, they don’t have the information in front of them, or they’ve been given the medication at a time that is not during rounds, so then they forget when the physician comes in for rounding or the team comes in for rounding. It’s like, oh my goodness, I wanted to ask you something about the medication — I forget what it was. Here they have it right in front of them. The satisfaction piece is the part that we were most pleased with.


Was that transparency threatening to nurses who might get called out for factors beyond their control for not being on schedule with meds or maybe even missing meds occasionally?

We did not find that. We did not receive pushback from our nurses. I don’t have results that we measured, but I think it takes the opposite effect. That makes me feel like, especially as a nurse, like, the patient knows what they’re going to be getting, when they’re going to be getting it. That way, they’re not going to be calling me every five seconds and saying, “Where’s my med, where’s my med, where’s my med?“ 

I think it actually would have the opposite effect. That is my hypothesis, but that isn’t something that we’ve measured per se. I’d be surprised if it was the other way around.


What are you doing with population health and analytics?

There’s certainly a lot in those areas. I guess our initiative that is farthest along is in our patient-centered medical home arena. Our ACN clinics have all achieved PCMH status level 3. We have a number of dashboards and tools that our providers use to see which are our diabetic patients — diabetes is one of our PCMH diseases — and how many of them have an A1C that’s of a particular level, when was their last visit, when was their last foot exam, eye exam. We certainly are doing a lot of work in that area — targeting our diabetic patients, our CHF patients, and also our asthmatics. Those are the big diseases we’ve been targeting.


How is the hospital doing with Meaningful Use?

We are doing great with Meaningful Use. That’s one thing that I work on very closely. I’ve spent most of today working on that, in fact. 

We’re in a great position with Meaningful Use and have certainly met it in the past few years. We are about to attest for Stage 2. Our learning there is that it certainly is a lot more time-consuming. It takes a lot of thought and it takes a lot of resources. It’s a project to not take lightly to make sure you’re doing it in a meaningful way and not just trying to check the boxes.


How about interoperability?

How about it? [laughs] Our nation is on a 10-year plan. Hopefully we’ll be seeing it soon. [laughs]

Meaningful Use, again, it’s just sticking the toe in the water. It’s a really small piece of what needs to be done. But I think we’re headed in the right direction.

I think for those that are attesting to Meaningful Use, you’ve now got some of the standards in place. A small amount, but you’ve got LOINC and SNOMED, so we’re starting to move in the right direction. I think there’s a lot more work to do. But it’s a place that we need to go. I think the CCD is a start. But as you’re seeing in the Times and other publications, we’ve got a ways to go.


What are the biggest issues and opportunities in nursing informatics?

Patient engagement is the biggest one in my mind. Nurses are in a unique position to be the discipline that leads efforts for patient and family engagement. There are some huge opportunities there. Nurses are already engaging the patients, already educating the patients. I think there’s great opportunities to use nursing and health IT to move that forward. That is one huge opportunity.

The second piece involves mobility and inefficiencies for nursing. We’re already seeing with medication barcoding and handhelds. Finding ways to use health IT and informatics and using the data as well in order to create more efficiencies for the nurses. We’re really looking at that.

We are very passionate at NewYork-Presbyterian about creating efficiencies for our nurses. Creating efficient workflows for them. We know they’re busy. We know there are a lot of tasks. How can we make their lives easier in caring for the patients in the best way possible?

That also includes providing real-time data to both the bedside nurses and the nurse managers. How can we get real-time data to them on their metrics on the number of patient falls and the other metrics that they might be tracking on their particular units? How can we get that data in their hands real time so it’s actionable? 

Those are some of the big opportunities for nursing. There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of work to do.


Do you have any concluding thoughts?

I know it’s an overused term these days, but I think engaging the patient in their care and partnering with the patient is going to be important moving forward. Engagement is not only on the patient side. The patients and family are in a place where they’re ready to participate. We also need to foster that engagement on the clinician side, getting the providers ready for that engagement.

There’s going to be a lot more information flowing from the patients in the near future. Being ready to provide that information to the clinicians in the small snippets or nuggets that will help them to take the best care of the patient is going to be an important area to focus on. I’m envisioning this influx of data from the patients and what are we going to do with it and how we’re going to make it meaningful for the providers to help the patients in the best way possible.

HIStalk Interviews Tim Burdick, MD, CMIO, OCHIN

October 13, 2014 Interviews 7 Comments

Tim Burdick, MD, MS is CMIO of OCHIN of Portland, OR.


Tell me about yourself and OCHIN.

I’m a family physician, increasing the amount of my time over the past eight years in healthcare informatics. Currently I’m one day a week in clinic at a rural health clinic as a family physician and four days a week as chief medical informatics officer at OCHIN. OCHIN runs a hosted Epic EHR for 350 clinics. Eighty-four healthcare organizations contract to use our EHR.


Epic gets criticism that its product is a walled garden and it’s not interoperable. What’s your opinion?

I think the interoperability frustrations cross all EHR vendors at this time. I don’t see that Epic is any better or any worse than others.

We’ve had good luck building interfaces and interoperability with other systems, with regional HIEs in and out. We have projects going with the VA, with Social Security Administration, and several HIEs. We do a million CCDA transactions with other Epic shops around the country.

Epic’s increasingly been good about opening their APIs. I’m not sure it’s fair to single out Epic. Certainly with the lack of any kind of national standard on interoperability, there hasn’t been a big push to make it happen.


Will the government every lay down a standard that everybody has to follow?

I think it is changing. Clearly Karen DeSalvo has over and over again said that she’s going to push the interoperability issue, so I see that coming. I think there have been other pressing issues for the HIT community that we needed to address before we could tackle interoperability.

The time has come for us to do it. It just hasn’t happened yet because we just weren’t there yet.


You’ve mentioned the challenge of state-specific interoperability requirements, such as California’s mental health reporting and its requirement that providers review lab results before putting them on the patient portal. Will the states standardize?

I’m not sure I see the states working together to do that. What’s happening, for example, in the case of the California legislation preventing organizations from releasing lab results to patients, as of October 1, federal law allows the laboratory companies to release results directly to patients. As a result of the federal law, state laws like the one in California are now superseded, so that’s no longer an issue for us in California.

It’s going to have to be strong federal lead on this that pulls the states into a common compliance rather than states coming together on things.


Do you have a solution to address the difficulty of connecting to state registries such as those for immunizations?

Again, it’s going to come down to standards. If we have a standard that says, these are the core data elements for an immunization registry. These are the requirements that you need to be able to do to pass that information from the EHR to the registry, from the registry back into an EHR, or from the registry to a patient portal. That will bring everybody along so that we’re not having to individually create 22 different interfaces and standards.


You operate in 22 states, but it could be a 50-state problem.

We could potentially have that problem. OCHIN is expanding. Certainly there are plenty of other large healthcare organizations that are in multiple states and having to deal with this issue as well.

If you look at Meaningful Use requirements around interoperability, if for Meaningful Use Stage 2 and Stage 3, we have to have every single eligible provider using some sort of registry list, immunization registry, or special disease registry, and we have to do one-offs in every single state, that’s not scalable, as I said in the testimony.

If we can build one interface, either to a federal registry or at least build it at the state level or the regional level or the county level, but know that those interfaces are all going to look the same and have a same standard set of data elements and same transactional messaging processes, then we can scale it up as a healthcare system.


You’ve said that some of those registries are run by drug or medical equipment vendors and charge fees as a for-profit company would. Can you tell me more about what you’ve seen?

ONC keeps a list of all the different registries — who runs the registry, what the quality registry is, whether it’s a diabetes registry or heart failure registry, and the costs associated with sending the data to those registries.

There is not good transparency around how the data are going to be used. If you’re sharing the data with that registry, can the owners of that registry then use that information? Some of it Is PHI. Can they use it for their own research purposes, their own marketing purposes, are they associated with a pharmaceutical or device company?

Some of those are fairly expensive. If you’re a larger organization, it’s going to cost you a huge amount of money to connect to one of those registries, and yet at the same time, there’s a federal mandate that we do connect to registries like those. Though we get some money back in Meaningful Use dollars, the cost of connecting to those registries on a monthly subscription basis is enormous, and frankly prohibitive.

The third piece is that healthcare organizations are hooking up to those registries and sending data just as a check box so that organizations can say, we’re sending data to a registry so we can collect our MU dollars. But the value that those registries provide back to the eligible providers is questionable.

As with most of the Meaningful Use stuff, I believe firmly that the intentions for Meaningful Use are good and that it’s pushed the healthcare industry along in the right direction, but we need to get away from doing it for check boxes to doing it to drive clinical improvement.

That means that we need to value back from those registries to the providers. It needs to be integrated back into the EHR rather than just saying here’s a website where you can go log on to a third-party app where there’s registry data about your patient population that are no way tied back to clinical care in a clinical operations.


I got two types of reader comments when I mentioned that some of the public HIEs are charging full participation prices to providers who just need to submit to public health registries. Some said they need a viable business model and a provider is either in all the way or out, while others said public health requirements shouldn’t force an organization to join as a full participant for that reason alone. What do you think?

I see both sides of that. Clearly if you’re a business and you’re going to stand up some sort of data warehouse and provide some quality metric reporting around that, that’s a difficult technology. OCHIN’s been working on it for several years. It comes at a very real cost to employ the developers and to do that work. I’m fine with organizations charging for that.

The difficulty comes when there’s a federal mandate to do this. As I said earlier, the financial incentives to do it don’t cover the cost of subscribing for these services. The transparency is that if I’m going to be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to hook my Eligible Providers up to some registry, I need to know very, very clearly who’s collecting that money, what the money’s going to, and what kind of data use is going to happen with that information. I don’t think we have that level of transparency.

I’m not opposed to organizations collecting fees to cover their costs and even making a profit off of that. But we need to know who they are, what they’re doing with the data, and what their intentions are.

In addition, I think it would be great if the CDC, NIH, Institutes of Medicine, some of the other federal organizations could host some federal registries rather than doing it at the state level. Again, coming back to this idea of Eligible Providers in 22-plus states for OCHIN, if I can’t find a federal registry, then I’ve got to start reaching out to state registries.

The other example here would communicable disease surveillance, infectious disease surveillance registries. Those are largely at the state level. It’s just not practical for me to reach out with interfaces to 22 states. But if I can submit diabetes information, heart failure data, infectious disease surveillance data to a federal agency on a federal program at a cost that is subsidized by the federal organizations – ONC, CDC, etc. – then I can scale it up and there is less of an issue of questions about potential profiteering and lack of transparency.

It’s in the interest of organizations like CDC to start developing those federal registries and being able to collect the data and use those for national healthcare initiatives. I see it as a win-win.


Is Meaningful Use Stage 2 causing other unintended consequences that aren’t in a patient’s best interest?

That’s difficult. Yes, there are definitely unintended consequences and negative impacts. I’m firmly committed to the long-term benefits of Meaningful Use. With the significant earthquake changes that things like Meaningful Use bring along, there’s going to be the unintended consequences that we need to work through. But I don’t think that in any way negates the vision of Meaningful Use and HIT improvement processes.


Is it a short-term problem that patients are confused by having to log in to several patient portals, one for each provider, to look at their own data?

I think it’s a medium-term issue. There is a growing market for vendor-agnostic PHRs. HealthVault, Apple getting back into it, Google getting back into it. There are other third-party companies getting into this. Some of those were represented at the ONC patient engagement meetings a couple weeks ago.

I think there’s going to be a competitive market for that type of work. That’s going to drive it pretty quickly. Karen DeSalvo has mentioned at several meetings that I’ve attended that ONC is interested in supporting that process in some fashion or another. I see this issue being a two- to four-year growing pain problem that will have some solutions in the foreseeable future.


What do you think the business model or overall goal should be for public HIEs, or what we would have called a RHIOs in the old days, beyond just letting providers look at information on the screen?

The idea of having either a pass-through model or a data repository where the data are going to be held for a period of time while keeping the data in some sort of separate system … I think that model has not proven value and doesn’t have any long-term financial viability to it, as witnessed by innumerable failures of RHIOs in the past.

From a Triple Aim perspective, what we really need is for the data about a patient to get pushed through to a provider at the point of care within their EHR — whether it’s in an office visit or a care coordinator working on patient population issues — so that if that patient has had a hemoglobin A1C done by an endocrinologist a week ago at a different healthcare facility, the data are actionable in real time within the EHR.
The patient’s data need to move seamlessly across platforms. Care Everywhere works well and there are other things like that, but it still requires me to go out and look for that information and it still doesn’t move easily back and forth, even between EHR systems that are using the same vendor.

We need to get away from that model that a patient’s data exists in different instances separately and move to a place where the patient’s data coexists simultaneously and in real time in any instance of their care. That’s going to allow us to make it actionable to drive clinical decision support, panel management, and population health. That’s going to get us to Triple Aim.

The other thing it allows is on the patient-facing side of things for the patient to be able to see their information in a collated fashion and not in a siloed fashion so that they understand their healthcare picture not from the perspective of, “This is my cardiologist’s view of me. This is my pulmonologist’s view of me. This is my PCP’s view of me,” but, “This is the healthcare system’s view of me as an individual patient.”


Will the CommonWell initiative will make an appreciable difference in interoperability?

I think that’s to be determined.


Do you think Direct messaging will have a significant role or has it missed its opportunity?

Certainly some folks would say that it missed its opportunity, that the concept is so fundamentally flawed that it can never be executed on a large scale.

I don’t think anybody has shown that Direct is not viable, but I don’t think anybody has shown that Direct will work at a large scale, either. The issue of sharing directories and trust bundles across organizations that don’t have close working relationships with each other is unproven at this point.

At OCHIN, we are building out our Direct address directories. We are starting to share those with outside organizations. The uptake is slow on it. Just the mechanics of how to move the data back and forth, integrating that into clinic workflows on the clinic side, as well as how to set up those address within the EHR.

It’s still an early process technically. We’re facing things like that some organizations that we work with want every provider to have their own Direct address. If they set it up that way, then does an inbound message come through directly to that provider’s in-basket? If so, does the provider know what to do with that information and does that information get processed the right way in clinic?

Some organizations want to take the approach where the organization’s going to get a Direct address and the individual providers won’t. Then it will come in and some staff person will process those messages and move them around.

Even just simple questions like which process are we going to through with that organization address or an individual Eligible Provider address. We don’t even know how we’re going to handle that. Until we try those different things for a month or a year, I don’t think we’re going to know for sure what’s going to work in clinics.


If you were king of interoperability for a day, what would you do?

What I would really like to see right away is for the healthcare industry — healthcare providers, payers, federal government — get together a summit of thought leaders and define 30 clinical data elements that are needed to improve Triple Aim, things like hemoglobin A1C levels and left ventricular ejection fraction. Agree that these are just the basic elements that we need to start with in order to improve our Triple Aim outcomes.

Define those at a national level and figure out for those finite number of elements, how is every single EHR vendor going to really easily make that data flow out? How are we going to really easily make that data move in? What role does the federal government have in helping consolidate a national pass-through model that will at least make those common data elements available seamlessly across organizations.


Do you have any final thoughts?

The big issue here is patient matching. It really is going to come down to our ability to match our patients. Until we tackle a patient matching issue, we can come up with standards all day, but if the patient match rate is 20, 30, 40 percent, then we’re not going to get there.

I doubt there’s a political willpower to bring back to the table a conversation about a national healthcare ID. If we’re not going to do that at a federal level, then healthcare organizations and patient advocacy groups need to tackle this issue on a non-legislated fashion.

One of the things that I mentioned in my testimony would be developing a grassroots organization that allows patients to have an interoperability member card. It’s going to have on there the patient’s name the way they want it spelled consistently, down to capitalization and hyphenation. It’s going to have a date of birth, and in the case of patients who were born outside of the United States, we can’t continue to just randomly assign January 1 to tens of thousands of patients whose birthday isn’t documented.

If we use a phone number for patient matching, even if the patient’s no longer using that phone number for communicating with the clinic, we can at least continue to have them use that same phone number for patient matching.

It becomes a proxy for a standard ID, but that patient’s going to carry that card with them year after year. Those elements aren’t going to change. They can voluntarily take that card to registration at a hospital, lab, radiology facility, outpatient clinic, or the ER. The data for that patient are going to get populated in registry systems at every healthcare organization that that patient touches. That’s going to allow us to do patient matching at a much, much higher percentage.

HIStalk Interviews Paul Roscoe, CEO, VisionWare

October 6, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Paul Roscoe is CEO of VisionWare of Newton, MA.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m the CEO of VisionWare. Before VisionWare, I was the CEO of Crimson. I’ve been involved in healthcare technology for the past 25 years in both Europe and the US.

VisionWare was a company I’d known for many, many years, founded by Gordon Cooper, a friend of mine. While I was tracking the company, I also got a chance to see VisionWare from a customer’s perspective because while I was at Crimson, the technology team decided to deploy VisionWare’s master data management solutions to help the Crimson platform.


What’s the definition of master data management?

Master data management is a well-understood genre of technology tracked on a horizontal basis. Gartner has a magic quadrant for master data management, for example. From a healthcare perspective, people may have looked to master data management in terms of technology like EMPIs, or enterprise master data indexes.

Master data management as we define it is the ability for VisionWare particularly to provide an effective and a single perspective on integrating the various different disparate data sets that exist from a healthcare organization — matching, verifying, governing, visualizing that data across these different data silos to provide a 360-degree view of the healthcare data.

The most obvious one of that is patient data, but it could be a 360-degree view of a provider, a facility, or an entity of any description. Patient is the most obvious one.


If you look at the competitive landscape of analytics, where would you position VisionWare?

VisionWare’s technology enables a lot of the analytics solutions that are out there in the healthcare domain at the moment. I know that coming from Crimson that one of the challenges for a lot of the analytics, population health, and care management solutions that are out there is accurately identifying the patient and accurately identifying that patient across the various different care venues in which those types of solutions are being deployed. They are very sophisticated. They have great insight. But only as far as the lowest common denominator, which is accurate patient information or accurate physician information.

We don’t see ourselves as competitors to analytic solutions per se. We have a lot of those analytics and population health vendors that approached VisonWare recently and are looking to integrate our master data management technology to enable a more effective view of the patient information within their solutions.

The obvious example is to look at situations where there are multiple systems. If you look into any health system — never mind an accountable care organization — you will find lots of disparate clinical and financial systems. Organizations are increasingly looking to link those two domains together, so the recipe for mismatched or inaccurate patient data is there.

Now you expand that as you look at the complexity of a health system, not just an inpatient setting, but also inpatient ambulatory. Then you expand that even further to affiliates, employed practices, long-term care, and skilled nursing facilities. You’ve got a very complex picture where the patient’s information is being held. At every one of those venues, there’s opportunity for that patient information to be inaccurate. When I want to lift up and look holistically and longitudinally at that patient, it’s very difficult unless I’ve got accurate patient information.

Clearly disparate systems and the disparate nature of healthcare delivery is promoting this challenge. But even in situations where you’ve got a single EMR system … there was some research done not that long ago relative to the Epic deployment at Kaiser, where it talked about a single deployment of an EMR, but different instances of Epic across different regions. It reported that just within the Epic domain that the rate of patient identity matching fell to somewhere around 50 or 60 percent when they were sharing information across different regions, even within the Epic world. Clearly a single system doesn’t always mean that you’ve also got a handle on effective patient matching.


What’s the cause of mismatched patients within a single system?

You’ve got a number of challenges. The data that’s being collected at these various different registration points is not necessarily conforming to a standard of data governance. How information is collected at Point A on a patient may be very different than the way it’s collected at Point B. How we might use a simple thing as a surname field may be very different from system to system.

There’s really for many of our clients not a lot of data governance standards in place. That’s promoting the challenges of dirty data coming in. You can have the most sophisticated matching algorithms, but if you haven’t sourced the issue at the point at which the data’s being entered, then you’ll always have challenges.

We believe that master data management can be solved to a degree with technology, but it should be part of an overall information governance strategy that health systems are starting to embrace. We are realizing that in this post-EMR era, they’ve got amazing digital assets, amazing data that is locked up in these systems. But without being able to accurately identify that data and to be able to normalize and harmonize it, it starts to lose its value.

When people think about interoperability being the Holy Grail, sharing an IHE profile, HL7 document, or CCDA in itself will not solve this problem because there are still challenges where technology can help probabilistically and deterministically matching these patients together. That’s what we do at VisionWare.


What customer base do you have or seek?

The company was based historically out of the UK. Over the last couple years from the UK, we have been focused on selling to two primary constituents, the HIE landscape and also with technology companies who are looking to provide a master data solution within their own product portfolios. We’ve been successful in both of those areas. We have a large number of HIEs and a number of different technology companies.

Increasingly over the last year since I joined, we’ve now started to focus our efforts on the provider marketplace, ACO marketplace, and the payers. What we’re finding is that a lot of those organizations have the first-generation EMPI technologies. They’re finding that those are somewhat monolithic. They were developed in an era where you only needed to look at inpatient data. That was the key driver.

In today’s world of healthcare and care coordination across this continuum, those first-generation technologies aren’t really fit for purpose. That’s why we started to see quite a lot of traction in the last six to nine months with a solution that was more designed to operate in this more collaborative environment.

Not to keep going on about this, but one of the things that’s quite unique about VisionWare and was appealing to me when I looked at the company is this notion of what we call a collaborative data model. The ability for us to not say, “This is the definition of a patient or a provider, take it or leave it” as some companies in this space do. It’s more, “You give us the data as you see fit and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we can take that data in whatever format, match it, merge it, and send it back to you in the format that you want.” It’s much more collaborative as opposed to predefined.


Analytics companies that are new to healthcare might have missed the concept of patients coming from different venues and different systems without a single identifier. Do you think they are just starting to see the nightmare of what seems simple in identifying a patient?

I think there’s definitely some aha moments for a lot of those vendors, where they realize that they’re taking the data in from those various customers and that they’re responsible for making sure that they can create meaningful value from it. One of those challenges is being able to accurately identify that patient. Yes, we’ve seen quite a lot of traction there.

What we’ve also seen is organizations that have gone through acquisitions. One of our clients is a very large electronic medical record vendor who went through an acquisition of another vendor in their space and wanted to provide a way of quickly having a single view of the patient across these two assets now instead of a single asset. We see that in a hospital setting, as organizations are increasingly looking to either employ practices or merge with other hospitals. That in itself presents large challenges in being able to identify accurate patient data or provide the data across those various assets. So M&A activities tend to be a big driver for us as well.


People may also miss the need for a master provider index and what that means in terms of credentialing or doing any kind of quality work. Is that something that’s also not very state of the art from other vendors?

The first stage of the work that we did with our friends at Crimson was around providing a single provider registry. For any level of quality reporting or performance analytics on a physician, you need to make sure that you’ve got an accurate representation of all of your physician’s activity. Without having a provider directory, that’s challenging. That’s a big area.


What’s the interest in your geospatial capabilities and how that might be used in a public health context?

When you think about data on a patient, we understand data that’s been captured in a hospital or an ambulatory setting. Particularly around patient engagement, there’s a lot of information that is presenting itself on patients – and it will continue to get larger and larger — that might be interesting for a care manager.

The problem you’ve got is that data may be patient supplied or it might be sourced from non-hospital-based systems. Therein lies the challenge. How do you take some of the information from these other areas that a patient’s interacting with that historically hospitals don’t really care too much about? But now as we’re trying to engage the patient or trying to understand how the patient is managing their healthcare, we may take more notice of. There is a challenge there of how you link that information that’s being provided to the hospital information systems.

We have a solution specifically aimed at allowing us to enrich hospital data with third-party data that we’re obtaining or is being obtained by the health system from a variety of different sources. A simple example would be how do you look at an increasing number of self-pay patients? The ability to do effective credit scoring might be important for our health system. How do you link that patient with data that might be in Experian or other credit-scoring system? That’s a challenge. It might seem very simple, but it’s actually quite a big challenge for a lot of healthcare organizations to match that Paul Roscoe with that Paul Roscoe in the credit scoring system without a solution that allows that to happen.


Hospitals have to become more interested in what happens to patients who aren’t having an encounter using more of a CRM-type system instead of just waiting for them to show up. Are organizations interested in using your tools to do outreach for at least targeted groups of patients?

Yes. Not only those cases we talked about, but we’ve also created within the VisionWare portfolio a visualization layer that allows us to visually represent a patient in ways that might be interesting to look at, but you couldn’t get from a flat analytics view that you might get through the dashboard, etc.

If you think about it, we’ve mastered all of the data that’s flowed through the health system. We know the patient. We know the relationship with that potential patient’s family. We know the relationship with the physician. We’re in a great position to be able to then provide a visualization layer that allows you to explore the data in meaningful ways.

You might put this in the hands of a care manager who’s looking at a particular small panel of patients and wants to understand as much as they can about their interactions with the health system regardless of where they are. That’s particularly relevant in an HIE way. You might have access to data now across this broader network. This visualization layer allows you to visually explore the data, potentially on a patient-by-patient basis, and see correlations and data that might not have been obvious to you before.


With ACOs or acquisitions, hospitals are suddenly getting access to data from other systems. Do they have to figure out how a given patient fits into the new grand scheme?

Absolutely. You’ve got situations where you might have a small fragment of the patient record, but the patient is being seen in another facility. Without knowing the connection between that sliver of Paul Roscoe and the broader Paul Roscoe that might be in a medical record that’s being held somewhere else, you may be missing an opportunity from an engagement perspective.

It may be more fundamental than that, maybe patient safety issues. I’m treating this Paul and I don’t really have the longitudinal view of Paul because I don’t have that complete medical record because it’s been duplicated or mismatched. There’s significant impacts to that.

I believe it was the CHIME survey not that long ago in which a fifth of respondents said that there were adverse events happening from mismatched patient information. This is fundamental, not nice to have. There are patient safety concerns that can be addressed by having a more effective handle on your patient and integrity of your patient data.


Where do you think the company’s future lies?

What we are focused on at the moment is building out a larger install base in the US. We think there is a lot of difference between what we do and what the incumbent vendors are doing.

Our job at the moment is to get our name out there. Doing the work that we’re doing with your organization helps. And help health systems understand how our approach is different than the incumbents that are in the marketplace — speed to deploy, the price point that we can offer to our customers in the US, and also just the sophistication of the solution.

Our goal at the moment is to build a strong base in the US. We have a strong UK organization already behind us. That platform allows us to build out our US organization and continue to deliver value for our US healthcare customers.

One of the other areas that we can do is innovate. You’ll see us shortly coming out with a solution which allows us to look at, for example, biometric data on a patient and link back to a patient’s identity. This is a potential Holy Grail of patient identity, which is the linkage of a patient’s biometric signature with the information that’s being stored in the health system. We think we’ve got a really effective way of doing that.

HIStalk Interviews Mike “The PACSman” Cannavo

October 1, 2014 Interviews 4 Comments

Mike Cannavo, aka “The PACSMan,” is founder and president of Image Management Consultants.


You recently spent time working for a major vendor after years of solo consulting, but now you’re back on your own again. What was it like on the dark side?

I was always curious on what it would be like to work for a vendor again, but I didn’t want a job that required me to be away from my kids while they were growing up. My father worked three jobs during my own youth and I really didn’t get to know him until after my mom passed away in my mid-30s. As tempting as some of the offers I had from major companies were, I swore there would not be another “Cat’s in the Cradle” scenario in my own life, so I chose instead to balance my own work life with fatherhood. My youngest son graduated high school in May 2011 and I accepted a position with a major vendor in July 2011.

The market had changed a lot since I last had a real job with a steady paycheck. Some things, like corporate politics, remained the same. I stuck it out almost 2.5 years until I looked in the mirror, didn’t like what I saw, and then played Roberto Duran and finally said “No Mas.” Besides, I had at least 50 bets out there that I wouldn’t last more than two days in a big company setting.

On the positive side, I learned the value of service, how important having a good project manager really is, why managing expectations is key, why you need to get everything in writing, and the importance of a strong IT department. On the minus side, I learned that simply doing your job often isn’t enough. The blame game is alive and well and people often rise to the level of their incompetence.


How has PACS changed in the last four years since we last spoke in an interview?

PACs is no longer an independent system, but is instead looked at as a crucial part of the EHR. Vendor neutral archives, once considered a central data repository for radiology images only, have been expanded out to included cardiology, medical records, and numerous other ‘ologies. Large healthcare systems are either planning or implementing the sharing of images and images locally as well, both on a regional and even national basis with establishment of HIEs. Interestingly, private HIEs are growing at the rate of three to one over public ones, with over one-third of all hospitals and about 10 percent of all private practices sharing data.

We still have a very long way to go, but as we both know, all progress in healthcare is slow.


You mentioned in an article I read that the PACS sales process has changed as well.

For all intents and purposes, large-scale capital doesn’t exist. What little does exist is being used to replace things that should have been replaced years ago. The name of the game is finding ways to implement new technologies by either offsetting costs from operating budget or showing a return on investment out of the box by obtaining either increased reimbursement or decreased costs.

As controversial and possibly upsetting as this statement might be, improving patient care, while important, can’t be done at increased cost. You have to somehow show an ROI for the facility or it’s usually a no-go.

Healthcare profits are getting eaten alive by the need to implement federally mandated programs, from MU to shoring up internal security. Nearly all of these involve IT departments that have their own staffing and budget cuts to deal with.

What’s funny in a not so funny way is that MU encourages hospitals to share data with a laundry list of people, yet it also needs to be secure enough that no unauthorized access happens lest you incur a $10,000 per event HIPAA penalty. Look at the Community Health Systems breach. This will cost them a fortune if the feds don’t take into account they did all they could from a security standpoint, assuming they really did do all they could to prevent the breach. This will take years to sort out, all the while with the organization having the sword of Damocles dangling over their heads.


What would you do differently as a health system?

Implement solutions that make sense, recognizing that many solutions don’t have to involve technology at all, but instead require workflow or process changes. I can’t begin to tell you how much trouble employing a common sense approach to problem solving has gotten me into over the years working for companies that sell technology-based solutions. Sometimes you just need to step back though and examine the problem before throwing hardware and software at it in the hope that solves the problem.

Companies typically sell products instead of solutions. End users buy products they hope provide solutions. Never the twain shall meet. End users need to be more educated before they make decisions because those decisions will last a lot longer than expected. For the most part, companies sell products and services and do not necessarily ensure that what you are buying or have already bought is what you need or is being properly used.


What’s the status of the PACS marketplace?

There is lots of interest in VNAs, especially those that can be used as an enterprise solution that takes images from all the ‘ologies as well as the EMR. Medical image sharing, where images are securely transferred between sites and patients as a cost-effective alternative to CDs, is also hot, especially after Nuance’s purchase of Accelarad.

Software add-ons such as radiation dose management, peer review, critical results reporting, and ED discrepancy are also hot. So are PACS dashboards, although most sites want the dashboards for free stating it’s like a speedometer in the car. For that matter. most sites want everything nearly for free, but it’s simply not going to happen. Data analysis is smoking hot right now, but finding time to review the analysis remains to be seen.

What’s not hot are upgrades for the sake of upgrading without a distinct advantage or improved feature/functionality. All the big companies want you to do this. Solutions that have anything proprietary in nature. Solutions that doesn’t interface easily with the other clinical systems in use. Anything that doesn’t show a value or ROI out of the box.


What about the cloud?

Depending on whose survey you believe, up to 80 percent of all hospitals have at least a few cloud-based applications running. Adoption is much slower than expected, but that is because there are so many unknowns, including security.

As was pointed out in a recent HIStalk article, running a data center isn’t the strength most providers have. Cloud providers can offer higher reliability and redundancy at a better price point than a facility maintaining its own hardware. Cost-effective high-bandwidth networks have also eliminated most of the barriers to using the cloud as well.

Once we are comfortable with the security aspect of having images and information stored in the cloud, usage should take off. Sadly, HIPAA penalties and the limits of business associate agreements in protecting the end user have made providers gun shy.


Has radiology embraced Meaningful Use?

With few exceptions, not at all. The vast majority of clients I am dealing with are taking a wait-and-see approach to MU before investing money due to the never-ending changes in the rules. This reflects the general population as well, where only 4 percent or so of all eligible providers have attested to Stage 2 so far.

The cost to implement MU has, in many cases, exceeded any return on investment that a group or imaging center will see. When you add the aggravation factor, you are definitely in the red.


What will we see in the future?

No one really knows what is going to happen with Meaningful Use, ACA, HIEs, and a whole lot more. Vendors are pulling their hair out trying to get any decisions from end users — positive or negative — while end users take the Holiday Inn approach — where the best surprise is no surprise — and choose to remain in limbo doing nothing. In the mean time, IT stands at attention waiting for something to happen so it knows what resources need to be dedicated when and where.

What is frustrating is that even if something shows a ROI right out of the box, a lot of end users are still afraid to pull the trigger. If we can’t overcome the paralysis by analysis, you are going to see a lot of companies go belly up, and soon. Add to this the market consolidation that is going to happen in the next few years with at best a few dozen companies left to provide PACS solutions and it’s a scary time, especially since all of those will need to be integrated into the EHR as well.

HIStalk Interviews Matt Scantland, Co-Founder, CoverMyMeds

September 24, 2014 Interviews 2 Comments

Matt Scantland is principal and co-founder of CoverMyMeds of Columbus, OH.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

My partner Sam Rajan, who’s a pharmacist, and I started CoverMyMeds to address prescription abandonment. We learned about the problem when we built a prior authorization system for a health plan. 

The idea for CoverMyMeds came to us when we looked at the fact that from the perspective of a doctor, it really doesn’t matter how good the prior authorization process is for any one health plan. It’s just one of dozens that the doctor needs to navigate. The idea of CoverMyMeds was, let’s create one-stop shopping so that the doctor can use one process to submit a prior authorization for any drug to any health plan.


Your Inc. 5000 numbers are pretty impressive with $19 million in 2013 revenue and 73 employees. Did you plan for that or did you just happen to hit on a niche that took off?

We’ve been thrilled with how things have gone. We’re growing over 100 percent a year since we started. We’ll do about $50 million in sales this year and have about 130 employees.

I wouldn’t say it’s any genius on our part. The prior authorization process is just incredibly painful for everyone that’s involved. The doctors and also the health plans have been looking to improve this process for decades. Working for them, we were the first to be able to create an electronic process that scales.


It seems you would have competition from someone like Surescripts if business is that strong. Do you have competition?

Surescripts launched a product at the beginning of the year that’s a little bit different than ours. Whereas our process works for any payer, whether the payer participates electronically or not, Surescripts is launching something that works just with payers that connect to Surescripts.

So far, because the PA process has not been something that’s electronic in the past, the value proposition of our service has tended to be much stronger for the participants, where with one integration in the electronic health record or in the pharmacy dispensing system, the PA can be submitted to any payer. We also lead the industry in connecting electronically to the payers, but the process works across the board.


It’s a fascinating business model that drug companies to pay for the service, which they fund from the revenue of what otherwise would have been unfilled prescriptions. Nobody who uses the service pays for it. How do you get the word out to doctors and pharmacies that it’s available and it’s free?

Being free helps. [laughs] You’re right, the drug companies and now the health plans pay for our service. This is a business that has what we call network effects, which means that the more people that use it, the better it gets for everyone.

We have a huge pharmacy network. Almost every pharmacy in the country, including the big chains, uses our service. When they initiate a PA, if the doctor’s office isn’t already a user, we invite them to become a user. Over time, we’ve built that physician network to more than 100,000 distinct providers. It creates that viral process that allows us to grow quickly as a network business.


You’ve connected electronically to EHRs and pharmacy systems. Is that work finished?

That’s really the future of our company, but it’s pretty new. We started in the pharmacy, which is where the PA process begins today. All over the country, the first time anyone tends to think about the prior authorization is after a claim rejection in the pharmacy. 

Today, we’re integrated into almost every pharmacy in the country, right inside the pharmacy management system. We’re looking to do the same thing in the electronic health records, although that’s a new area for us.

We announced a partnership with DrFirst, where we’ll make the PA process available at the point of prescribing. We’ll also connect those pharmacies into the DrFirst system so that PAs initiated in the pharmacy can be sent to DrFirst’s doctors electronically. We’re also working with most of the other electronic health records, so I’m trying to do that same type of an arrangement. We’ve come up with a financial model where we can actually pay the EHRs to do that work. One integration is something that works across the board for every payer.


You offer APIs and also widgets for web pages of both health plans and manufacturers, which is pretty smart to get people to have access to your service through the other sites of the companies that you work with. How much technology is involved in what you do?

CoverMyMeds is really a software company. We don’t do any actual PAs ourselves. Instead, we provide the tools that let providers automate their process in a self-service way.

We provide the APIs. That’s been the main driver of our growth for both the pharmacy management systems to do the integration and then also for the electronic health records. All of those systems can integrate using NCPDP standards or a REST API that can reduce the work effort needed to actually do that integration.


It will surprise people that there’s a company in a very specific, almost obscure niche that has grown so large and is still growing. Do you think you’re under the radar?

Yes. We absolutely are under the radar. But when you look at prior authorization, this is a problem that happens 200 million times a year. This is daily life in a pharmacy or a doctor’s office — 200 million patients that get their claim rejected and potentially will go untreated if this prior authorization process isn’t handled.

While it’s under the radar, it’s really contributing to that $350 billion or so problem of medication non-adherence. In a lot of ways, automating the PA process is the missing value proposition in e-prescribing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have an electronic prescribing process if the doctor is just going to then go deal with a fax or a phone call with the health plan. This has become something that’s much more top of mind as life goes on here.


A lot of software startups are trying to find a pain point they can resolve without competing with big companies like EHR vendors. What advice would you have for them?

Listen to customers and solve a big problem. Ideally, do that in a way that doesn’t involve taking a dollar from someone else.

What has really worked well for CoverMyMeds is that this is a way to remove administrative waste from a process without cutting reimbursement to a doctor, pharma company, or health plan. Because it’s truly a win-win for all participants in the market, we have alignment and the help of large companies to make this thing get big.


Your website says you have a chef that creates lunch for employees every day, which is a kind of a Silicon Valley move, but you’re in Ohio. What’s it like working there?

[laughs] We think we’re one of the best places for technology and business people to work in Ohio. We consistently are winning these best workplace awards.

As a software company, we’re nothing without the people. We look at both how do we give a lot more value than our customers expect, and then also how do we give our employees a lot more than they expect? That as a result of that has let us get some great people and then they stick around with us.


As companies grow, there’s always that decision about what comes next – do you acquire somebody, do you get acquired, do you roll out other offerings. Where do you see the company going from here?

Prior authorization seems like a very niche thing. It kind of is, but at the same time, it’s also right at the intersection where a doctor is making a decision about the tradeoffs between the cost of a treatment and its efficacy. We think that that’s a fundamental problem in healthcare.

We have built both the network and the connectivity and then also the relationships with pharma, payers, pharmacies, and providers. We think we can help doctors make more intelligent consumption decisions. We think is a very large opportunity, starting with drug, but helping to get to more personalized medicine in terms of prescribing, and then also other procedures as well.

Because of the growth of the size now, we have a lot of interest from the financial and strategic partners. We’re always willing to listen. We think this is a very big standalone company on its own.


What else could be done with the network you’ve created? You have an athenahealth-type model.

That’s right. We look at athena as a great big brother of the direction that we’re looking to go.

There are very obvious applications. First of all, we’re fundamentally solving the first step in patient adherence, which is get the patient on their drug. The next challenge then is keeping them on the drug. That’s an adherence angle that many of our customers are asking for help with. That’s something that that both pharma and health plans are interested in. We think there are interesting collaboration opportunities there.

The other thing that we’re very focused on right now is helping the electronic health records make this PA process something that happens at the point of prescribing. Right now, if you think about e-prescribing, what you basically have is a shopping cart. The doctor orders a drug and the patient may or may not end up being able to actually get that drug. We think that putting this PA process at the point of prescribing allows it to move from what’s an exception process to something that’s much more decision-supporting for the physician. We’re very focused on helping the doctors and the EHRs achieve that.


Do you have any final thoughts?

I’d really like to thank the HIStalk community and you guys. You’re a huge part of my daily reading list. I don’t think there’s a more credible and important intelligent source as HIStalk in the whole industry. I’d just like to hear from people about what they think.

We’ve been thrilled with how things have gone. In a lot of ways, this business looks a lot more like a consumer Internet company than a traditional enterprise software company because of that network effect. We’re solving something that for a frontline healthcare person is a huge struggle. That’s been one of the most fun things, really, something that truly can impact hundreds of thousands of providers that make their life better. We just celebrated that 10 million patients have now gotten the drugs they needed that they wouldn’t have otherwise. At the end of the day, that’s what keeps us coming in in the morning.

HIStalk Interviews Michael Oppenheim, MD, CMIO, North Shore-LIJ Health System

September 22, 2014 Interviews 3 Comments

Michael Oppenheim, MD is CMIO at North Shore-LIJ Health System of New York, NY.


What is North Shore-LIJ doing with interoperability and HIE?

I’ll start at the end and then I’ll back up and explain the thinking that led us in this direction. 

We are making a huge investment — time, personnel, and focus — into developing an internal HIE, health information exchange. The reason we’ve done that — and I think a lot of other large integrated delivery networks have come around to this way of thinking — we were very eager participants when New York state initially put out the request for proposals to develop a number of RHIOs within the state. They’ve since consolidated — the HIEs, the RHIOs from across the state — into a single structure, SHINY, the State Health Information Network of New York. 

In the beginning, when you talked about doing internal HIE within an organization, everyone assumed that you were somehow trying to be exclusionist or not participate in the HIE. That’s far from the case. I think the state has come around on that, and many other IDNs have come to the realization that the kind of interoperability that we want to do goes much beyond what the mission and goals of the RHIOs are. 

The RHIOs are very, very much focused on getting as broad a look at patient information as they possibly can. That’s great because they help broker the politics and provide a common playing field for organizations that may be competitors in the marketplace, but are willing to jointly share data through the third party of the RHIO. You create a huge, consolidated record that people can go to and get a comprehensive look at the patient beyond just what they know from their four walls.

But there are a couple of things that HIE has come to mean to some of us that is beyond the scope of what the RHIOs or HIEs are focusing on today. One is around actionability of the data. The second is around not just aggregating and displaying data, but actually literally moving data from point to point without human intervention. 

The user experience with the standard type of HIE implementation is that the clinician first goes to the HIE or the RHIO to look up what history is there about this patient who I’ve never seen before. Then you go and you actually do your clinical documentation and order entry and everything else, in whatever transactional system, whatever EMR you happen to be using for your environment where you’re caring, whether it’s an office- or a hospital-based practice. 

There are two limitations to that in my mind. One is the intrinsic dissatisfaction with having to go to two places to look at data. The second being that the data out in the HIE is not necessarily actionable. I’m ordering a medication in my EMR and there’s a lab test that hasn’t been drawn in my office or hospital, but it’s known in the RHIO. Based on that lab test, I need a dosage adjustment or there’s a contraindication to the medication. My decision support engine doesn’t see that external data. 

Our focus has been on looking at how an HIE can bring data right to the clinician so that he or she can have one place where they do all their work, as well as have more of that data available for a decision support engine or for any rules or analytics or other things that you want to do on your data set, and have it all consolidated. 

We look at the HIE opportunity because internally, we can do a lot more. There’s a lot tighter integration and have a lot more actionability of the data by having an internal HIE that we control, that’s covered by our consents, and any number of other things that are facilitated by having an internal HIE.

We’re an Allscripts shop. We’re using Allscripts TouchWorks in the practice environment and  Sunrise in the hospital environment. We made this decision before the dbMotion acquisition and before some of the newer interoperability tools that they produced. Let’s put that off to the side for a moment.

The workflow that we wanted to enable was what we built so that when a patient comes to the emergency room, we pull a summary from the ambulatory environment. We place it into the Sunrise record, so it’s available and visible to the docs in the hospital. They don’t have to go out and look somewhere else. They don’t have to look at the HIE’s viewer, don’t have to look in the ambulatory record. It’s right there in the hospital environment.

At the same time, we use the data in some actionable ways. We’ve certainly done more sophisticated things than this, but even on the most basic level, we can fire off a notification. We can put a task notification in the task list of the primary care doc to say, do you know your patient is in the emergency room? If and when that patient gets admitted, we fire off a second notification saying, by the way, not only were they in the emergency room, they have been admitted to the hospital.

We begin to start to getting into what’s really business process management around the transition of care and moving the data for the user. Not requiring them to push it via Direct or something else — by sending off alerts and notifications to the primary doc so they can communicate with the hospitalist. That’s just one of the more basic examples.

To us, the HIE is much more of a process orchestration engine, not just simply a repository of data that someone can look at. It’s actionable. It’s delivered to the clinician when they need it, where they need it. That’s been the driving philosophy behind having an internal HIE rather than simply rely on RHIOs or outside entities.

The example I gave involves an ambulatory practice and a hospital. Certainly in some environments where you have a consolidated platform, maybe that’s not the most important use case. But even in hospitals that are using systems that share a record with their ambulatory facility, there’s always going to be other facilities in a large, integrated delivery network that’s not going to be on the common platform. We have nursing homes. We have a home care company. We have numerous other types of business entities that are relying on this flow of data so that their providers can work most efficiently in what we call the home system.

Whatever you’re used to work in, that’s where we want the payload delivered. That’s where we want alerts and notifications and things to arrive. That will be orchestrated through our HIE.


Will HIEs be challenged to provide business value to offset the cost?

If you look at where our future revenue opportunities are going to be, we’re moving away from our fee-for-service world and very much moving to the risk-based contract in a capitated world. We have numerous risk contracts with commercial partners. We’ve just launched our own insurance company, North Shore-LIJ CareConnect.

To us, orchestrating business process, eliminating redundancy by making sure that everybody’s got full access to the full corpus of clinical data, having a decision support engine that sits and looks at data and reacts to data across the entire health system … I couldn’t hand you a document today that says, “Here’s the amount of dollars I expect to improve my pay-for-performance and here’s how much I expect to cut my readmissions and here’s how much I expect to XYZ.”

But conceptually, we are all bought in that our entire financial success of the health system depends on the successful conversion to be able to do capitated and risk-based contracting. We don’t think we can do that without an HIE to coordinate the transition to healthcare managers and care navigators who identify patient activity, figure out who’s been where, get notifications when things happen that shouldn’t have happened, or get notifications when things that should have happened didn’t.

The HIE, for example, has in it the full ambulatory providers schedule. We can find if a patient has an appointment that’s been missed. We can fire off a notification out of the HIE. The HIE is so much more than information exchange.

The HIE platform also has registry function that allows us to load programs into it. If we have a heart failure program, we can either manually or automatically load in that these are all patients with heart failure that are part of this program. Or patients coming in with a certain payer. We can go into that payer registry and then we can make sure we do the right notifications to the right coordinators of those programs as either activity that should happens but doesn’t happen, or activity that shouldn’t happen but does happen, like unexpected specialist visits or ED visits or things like that. 

As an article of faith, we fully believe that in order to truly be able to coordinate care as an integrated delivery network and provide population health and be able to be financially and clinically successful in capitated arrangements or among our own insured population, the HIE has to be a critical enabler of that. I don’t have a specific financial ROI sheet that I can wave and say, “This dollar is going to be offset by that dollar,” but absolutely the direction of how the health system expects to care for patients in a longitudinal way and a holistic way requires this kind of technology.


Do you think the demands of population health management have turned the expectations for HIEs upside down? I’m referring to the RHIO-type organizations.

I’ll answer that in two ways. We’ve always had this intrinsic discomfort, as I started off by saying, that I’m going to look in point A and then point B and then point C, which is why we use the HIE as central consolidation point  to create a single, consolidated, comprehensive record which we can then push forward to the provider just in time as an encounter is about to happen. We anticipated that that kind of clinician reaction had to be overcome. That’s exactly why we did the things we did — get it in their face and not make them go hunt for it.

But how and when will the RHIOs retool? I think they have to. It’s really not as much their onus as it is the onus of the providers who are going to be held to different types of accountability standards to take on the responsibility to go search and find all of that data. That really is putting a tremendous burden on your providers. The value proposition goes up, but it’s on the back of the provider more than it’s on the back of the RHIO to do anything different.

The one thing, though, that I will say … I’ll editorialize a little bit … is that the RHIOs are being fundamentally pulled in the wrong direction on a lot of this stuff. Because at least in New York state, the privacy concerns around the RHIOs are, if anything, driving more and more and more restrictive rules around access to the data, sharing of the data, then sending us data. Within the context of a single organization that we control, we manage the consenting process end to end. There’s a lot more we can do.

When you get out into the state level or eventually the national level, a lot of the good intentions and the good clinical opportunities are potentially going to be stymied by the restrictive practices and policies that are being built around the RHIOs because of the patient privacy concerns. I don’t mean to minimize the privacy concerns. They’re certainly real and legitimate. But what they ultimately translate into from a regulatory statutory perspective, at least in New York state, runs a little bit counter to what we’re trying to accomplish by saying, hey, wherever this patient goes, we’ve got to be able to assure that everyone’s on the same plan of care. Everyone knows what’s already been done. It’s going to be very tough in the governmental RHIOs because of the privacy concerns and what they’re driving from a policy and practice perspective at the RHIO level.


You mentioned your Allscripts implementation earlier. I’m curious about how that’s going, especially now that they’re retooling into a population health management company.

It’s going well. We made this decision before they came forward with their dbMotion acquisition and some of the new tools that they’re bringing forth, which we’re very excited about. We just met with a number of them a few weeks ago. We have a whole bunch of folks coming on site.

We’ve been talking about population health management, trying to understand the respective roles for our internal HIE for what they’re trying to do to bring their products together. The newer front end that they have been talking about which fuses dbMotion with their front end products to make the community data and the local data appear seamlessly to a clinician look like a very, very attractive set of work flows. We are in detailed discussions with them about how we merge some of the things that we’ve done or are doing internally with some of the things that they’re doing, because we did set off on this track a little bit ahead of them.


What are your biggest challenges and opportunities as a CMIO over the next several years?

The HIE is probably one of the biggest. People think of it as a technology — and there is a lot of very, very valuable technology – but the HIE alone, just simply “data comes in, data goes out,” doesn’t accomplish the mission unless you build lots of clinical workflows over it and around it. You’re supporting any number of clinical programs or any number of potential patient flows or workflows. I have a big team focused just on that, which is working on how we take the power of the HIE and apply it to all the various different programs that are growing up around the system. That’s probably one of the biggest.

The other major area for us as a health system is the development of a data warehouse, which we don’t have today. We have a lot of individual analytic tools and products attached to our various EMRs, plus other types of warehousing — cost accounting, things like that.

We still have work to do with our EMR rollout. We still haven’t put physician documentation out beyond the inpatient space, beyond the admission and discharge documents. We still have to build out progress notes, consult notes, and a couple of other things. We still have about 30 percent of our medical group to whom we still have to roll out our ambulatory EMR. Those are all still in progress.

But my overall goal is to look at, as we make this transition to a different model of care, how do we orient everything we’re doing in the EMRs, align it with everything we need to do in the data warehousing space to provide the analytics that are needed to support these programs, and align all that with all of the clinical workflows that we’re building in the HIE to support the population health types of initiatives that we’re doing with the HIE? Making sure that all these three things work together properly, that they don’t overlap each other in what they’re doing, that we don’t leave gaps where I thought the HIE would do that or the other warehouse would do that. To make sure that all of these things align together to support all of the population health programs that we’re engaged in.

HIStalk Interviews Marc Grossman, Principal, WeiserMazars

September 15, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Marc Grossman is principal with WeiserMazars of New York, NY.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in the healthcare IT industry for 30 years. I’ve worked on the provider side as a hospital administrator and have been doing healthcare IT consulting for about 25 years.

I work for WeiserMazars. It’s an international consulting and accounting firm. I head up the healthcare national practice within the United States. Our clients are all provider-side clients in healthcare IT.


How are hospitals selecting and implementing systems differently now than they were five or 10 years ago?

There’s really not been that much change in how they’re selecting core systems. Hospitals typically keep systems for 10 to 20 years, which is a lot longer than most people would expect. I think it’s due to financial reasons.

We’ve gone through a lot of clinical selections recently. Our emphasis was on clinical systems due to Meaningful Use. There’s a cycle that I see the industry going through in the type of system, whether it’s financial, patient accounting, clinical lab, radiology, and so forth. But the process is basically still the same. That hasn’t changed.


The pendulum always swings back. People are paying more attention to revenue cycle and even talking about customer relationship management systems. What systems do you think are poised to make a comeback?

Patient accounting is going to see a big shift. That also has a lot to do with the fact that Siemens is being purchased by Cerner. Lab systems are starting to go through a cycle again.

People have in the past three or four years started looking at systems that haven’t taken off significantly yet. Systems related to population health management, data analytics, data warehousing, business intelligence. Those types of systems will cause a shift in purchases.


What are you seeing with lab systems? 

We’re seeing a push for an integrated approach, getting away from best of breed. You see it with Epic. You see it with Cerner. Those are probably the two biggest right now that I see people moving to. If they already have Epic, they’re moving to Epic’s lab. If they have Cerner, they’re moving to Cerner’s lab. 

We have seen that in lab systems, there seems to be a cycle about every seven years. I’d say about half of organizations are replacing. They keep it for about 14 years, typically, and about every seven years, we seem to be doing a lot more lab system selections than we have in the past. I’m talking about replacement of whatever they have — best of breed or some kind of niche vendor system.


How do you see Cerner’s acquisition of Siemens unfolding?

A lot of it’s going to depend on where the Siemens client is. Are they live on Soarian or in the process of implementing Soarian? Cerner has been much more successful with their patient accounting system recently. They’ve changed the name because it had such a bad reputation – they no longer call it ProFit. 

I believe Cerner is buying Siemens for intellectual property. On the patient accounting side, I think they’re also looking at the RCO base that Siemens has, which is a great revenue stream for them. 

Given Cerner’s history and the industry’s history over the last 20-30 years, Siemens Soarian and Invision product support is going to go downhill. I think they probably won’t sunset it officially for at least 10 years, just because I know Siemens does have numerous contracts which are going out 10 years. I also hear Siemens’ sales guys are really pushing to provide great deals right now, to get people to sign up or extend their contracts for 10 years. 

Like we’ve seen with many other vendors that purchased other systems, Cerner is clearly not going to put R&D money into two patient accounting systems and two clinical systems if they have an integrated system now. I just don’t see any indication that Cerner is going to continue the development of any of the Soarian or Invision products.


What are you seeing with population health management and analytics?

We’re seeing a lot of disappointment because the systems are so early in their life cycles. People are hearing a lot of promises from various vendors, both the major players like Cerner, Epic, and Allscripts and down the line. They have products in their infancy.

Then you have the niche players, which definitely have more mature systems, but there’s still a lot of disappointment even with those. Difficulty with interfacing issues and difficulty with the depth and breadth part of the applications.


Is there a mature enough process in place in hospitals that even if the systems could give them what they want, that they could follow through on the promise of either population health management or analytics?

I’ll say eventually we’ll get there. I don’t think we’re there yet.

Some of the larger academic medical centers that have large IT shops, are more sophisticated, and have a lot more money to spend have gotten their feet wet, some of them 10 years ago. But a lesson we have to learn is that vendors and consultants set false expectations. It’s a multifaceted challenge that we’re dealing with in our industry.

The biggest problem we have is that our industry is the only industry that I know of where the revenue side of the financial equation is heavily regulated, but the cost side is totally unregulated. We have a ton of regulations, a ton of incentive programs, but the money isn’t there to pay for all the wants and the needs.

We also as an industry need to accept responsibility for the fact in that we don’t have real standards when it comes to interoperability. Each hospital thinks that it’s unique. I’m not suggesting that they’re not different in some ways and some have certain specialties that others don’t. But the reality is that they’re in competition with each other, so they’re not willing to share things where they should be sharing.

The other issue is that each individual hospital’s incentives are not in sync with the government’s incentives and drive. The government can save money by having hospitals operate in a certain way. Each hospital doesn’t necessarily benefit from it. The desire of where we’re going to put our money at each hospital is not consistent.


Is the era of hospitals running applications from their own data centers fading as they move to the cloud?

We’re at least five to 10 years away from that. I’m hearing from a lot of our clients – they want to get out of the data center business. I don’t know if it’s going to necessarily be the cloud. There’s definitely a push to move more to RCO-RHO kind of approach like Siemens and Cerner have been doing for many years.


When hospitals negotiate agreements with companies to host their applications in whatever form, what’s important for them to look at contractually to protect their interest?

Service levels, to make sure that response time and downtime is going to be sufficient. Address areas related to growth and the impact on fees. Also, the whole issue of who really owns the data and how do you access that data if and when the arrangement ends. It sounds like a simple thing, but the reality is that it’s often very difficult for hospitals when they’re trying to pull out of an RCO arrangement to easily get their data.

Those are probably the biggest issues in my mind — cost, access, and availability.


What are the top issues that are challenging health system IT departments?

What I’m hearing from most of our clients are four or five big issues. CIOs expressing concern that they have too much on their plates, not just individually, but as an organization. They have too many high priorities and don’t have the necessary resources in most instances. ICD-10, Meaningful Use, the related offshoots from all of that, population health, changes in reimbursement, growth in terms of hospitals buying up physician practices or buying other hospitals or merging.

A second category is lack of strong IT governance. A lot of what relates to that unfortunately at many hospitals, especially at smaller hospitals, CIOs still do not have a full seat at the table. They’re often viewed as not being strategic. A lot of the hospital executives still view IT as a necessary evil rather than a strategic enabler. It becomes an uphill battle for CIOs.

There’s a lot of frustration and lack of trust among a lot of the executive leadership at many healthcare providers due to the history of false promises and expectations that were not met in the industry over the many years. Look at how many failures we’ve had with just EMRs alone and how organizations have had to replace systems.

Even in this day and age, I find a lot of executives don’t understand what systems are going to really give them and that systems are not going to solve all their problems. It’s just an enabler as opposed to the solution itself.


Do you have any concluding thoughts?

We’ve actually grown a lot as an industry. I think we still have a lot of growing to do.

An HIT Moment with … Travis Bond

September 10, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Travis Bond is founder and CEO of CareSync of Wesley Chapel, FL.


Consumers have voted with their feet in failing to adopt personal health records platforms that require them to maintain their information manually. How is CareSync different?

Traditional PHRs have failed for a lot of reasons, but it ultimately boils down to the fact that gathering and organizing health information is a lot of work. A complete hassle, actually. Let’s face it, unless it’s out of necessity, it never becomes a priority for most people.

We recently did some interviews with a handful of our users and almost everybody said the same thing: “I knew that I needed to get my hands on this information, but just the thought of getting it overwhelmed me.”

We obviously love technology and I believe that the ball is moving in the right direction in HIT, but we’ve got a long way to go before technology solves the data, communication, and care coordination problems that plague healthcare. Collecting medical records from various providers is a hassle, the data is fragmented across various health systems and providers, and even if you manage to get them all together, the information isn’t particularly meaningful.

We often have internal debates whether or not we are a PHR. We are in many ways, but our approach is completely different. It’s not just the high tech, but rather the combination of great technology and high-touch concierge services to connect people and data and truly redefine the role of the patient in healthcare.

We have a team of people who gather all of a user’s available medical records from all of their providers. They enter data such as health conditions, medications, and allergies into structured, codified fields. They build a digital record of each past medical visit, including the provider’s assessment and plan. This comprehensive Health Timeline is easily filtered and electronically transmitted to providers directly from the app.

Users add family, friends, and other members to their care team. We believe in the “it takes a village” concept when it comes to managing healthcare, so family and other caregivers can help with tasks, appointment prep, and medication compliance. They receive notifications and alerts to help their loved one stay on track.

Our latest release includes tracking and measurements. We’re layering clinical data with patient and family-generated data in the form of journals and pain scales, vitals, and behavioral data with integrations with tracking and wearable devices.

We make the data accessible, useful, easy-to-understand, and even easier to share with the people who need access to it.


How do you sell subscriptions to consumers without spending a fortune on marketing?

We focus our marketing energy and dollars on targeting the population where our solution meets a true need today. That’s primarily people who have a chronic illness and the people who help take care of them. We’ve been successful with social media engagement, speaking at events, and doing some targeted advertising. We have partnered with some chronic and rare disease organizations as well.

We also sell CareSync to businesses, including hospitals, payers, employers, pharma, and even universities. Each use it a little differently, but everybody benefits when people are healthier and engaged in their care. Employers are offering it as an employee perk and to reduce their healthcare costs. A specialty hospital is relying on our newly released Pro version that functions as a communication layer between their organization and the patient and caregivers.

Very satisfied customers, word-of-mouth, and people adding family members and other caregivers who quickly become paying customers helps, too.


What’s different about creating technology for patients and families instead of for doctors?

This is somewhat hard to say without sounding harsh, but we believe the biggest difference has been how appreciative patients and caregivers are. We get calls and letters every day from our users who are thankful for how we helped them better understand their condition, prepared them for an important visit with a super specialist, and helped carry the burdens that come with being a patient or caregiver. It’s very satisfying knowing that what you’re offering really does make life better for the people who use it.

All that said, doctors are really benefitting from CareSync, too. One doctor I recently talked to told me that it was a breath of fresh air to, for the first time in his career, have access to information from his patients’ other doctors. Like patients, doctors are also really frustrated by the system and truly do want to help their patients.

We have seen CareSync reignite the fire for a lot of doctors by giving them data and engaged patients. One user shared that her doctor hopped up to sit next to her on the exam table to go through her CareSync data. She left the visit with a long-awaited diagnosis and a high five from the doctor.

It’s a refreshing reminder that healthcare can be better.


Healthcare is the only industry in which its ultimate customer has had little voice and is almost lost in the business model. Can that be changed and can technology help?

The only way that healthcare will really improve is to get patients and their families involved, equipped with information and tools to manage and share it, and enough convenience to make them want to participate in what has traditionally been a frustrating and often overwhelming experience.

We have to redefine the role of the patient and give them a voice and unprecedented confidence in choosing what’s right for them.

It’s not just about cost. It’s about decisions around quality of life and personal preferences. It’s about helping the healthy stay that way and not making people feel so vulnerable when they are sick.


You’ve been in healthcare IT for a long time. What are the most positive aspects of it that you are seeing compared to a few years ago?

In 2003, I actually said, “How hard can it be to build an EMR?” It didn’t take long to realize that doing anything in healthcare is more of a challenge than it should be. I believe we’ve made a ton of progress in creating standards. We are starting to move toward accessible, cloud-based solutions.

There are a lot of really intelligent innovators and entrepreneurs tackling the inefficiencies of healthcare, building really great solutions. Change is happening. Technology and the power of the Internet are finally starting to help healthcare like they have in just about every other industry.

Patients are starting to wake up and say, “Enough is enough.” They are equipped with always-on smartphones. People are starting to apply the age of consumerism mentality to their healthcare. Once we get there, that’s where we’ll see the tide shift.

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