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Readers Write: Measuring to Drive Continuous Improvement in Digital Health Management

February 20, 2019 Readers Write No Comments

Measuring to Drive Continuous Improvement in Digital Health Management
By Mohammad Jouni

Mohammad Jouni, MS is is vice-president of engineering for Wellframe of Boston, MA.


As health plans implement digital health management solutions to support the comprehensive needs of people outside the four walls, measurement is an increasing priority in order to quantify every aspect of the business and demonstrate tangible value. But measurement can also enable organizations to continuously identify areas for improvement, implement changes, and measure the effect.

The following examples are tangible ways data-driven improvements can take place from the individual patient level up to the executive board room.

Real-time interventions. A care manager noticed one patient’s falling medication adherence and reached out to ask about the issue. The patient explained she didn’t take her pills when she traveled on the weekends. The care manager mailed a new pill box, and her patient’s medication adherence rebounded to normal.

Daily improvements. Population reports indicated low comprehension of safe acetaminophen dosage. This finding, combined with the risk of misunderstanding medications, prompted a change in health education delivered directly after discharge to focus on safe dosing, resulting in an increase in patient-reported level of understanding.

Weekly staffing optimizations. Supervisors reduced the number of care managers focused solely on outreach for gaps in care when they noticed low patient satisfaction compared to a population in which care managers worked with patients more holistically, closed gaps more effectively, and saw higher satisfaction.

Monthly outreach adjustments. Claims and patient self-reports revealed falling attendance at PCP appointments. Care managers addressed this issue by switching to mobile channels to contact members before appointments and increase the frequency of reminders. Attendance rebounded to a higher rate than the baseline.

Quarterly care team reassignments. With newly-implemented technology, supervisors recognized tech-savvy staff early on and embedded them among less adept peers to share their tactics, bringing the whole group up to speed faster and with more camaraderie.

Yearly reinvestment in health management. After showing thousands of dollars in cost savings per member, executives increased the budget for health management to support increased recruitment efforts and extend health management services to more members in order to double down on those results across a broader population.

When your organization measures rigorously to demonstrate effectiveness and to continuously improve, executives will pay attention. Leadership will be able to not only justify increased investment to grow digital health management programs even further, but also apply the same data models to effectively predict the return on additional funding.

Ultimately, measurement allows health plans to make data-driven decisions that elevate the stature of care management from baseline requirement to strategic value center. In doing so, health plans will be able to amplify the effect of their programs and extend services to more members, doing incrementally and continuously better by each member.

Achieving these goals creates new opportunities to focus on member support by strengthening provider partnerships, differentiating to employers on service and outcomes, and driving retention and new sales. Through rigorous measurement and continuous improvement towards these goals, health plans are poised to quantify impact and capture significant value from the powerful data of digital health management.

Readers Write: Why Integrated Behavioral Healthcare is More Important than Ever

February 20, 2019 Readers Write No Comments

Why Integrated Behavioral Healthcare is More Important than Ever
By Christopher Molaro

Christopher Molaro, MBA is co-founder and CEO of NeuroFlow of Philadelphia, PA.


The pieces are starting to fall into place. Mental health is becoming an integral part of the overall conversation around health. Mental health is discussed in sync with physical health.

It makes sense, too. One affects the outcomes of the other dramatically and the extra costs associated with mental health co-occurrences is staggering.

The question remains: how do we effectively integrate appropriate behavioral healthcare for individual patients when they need it and do so in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner? In other words, how can we align the interests of patients, providers, and payers?

The market is indicating that now is the time to integrate mental and behavioral health into the patient journey. Physical health and mental health are merged into just “health,” patients get the holistic care they need and deserve, and providers are empowered with the tools to improve outcomes and payers save in costs. The triple win is attainable.

Multiple leading commercial payers are reimbursing for certain collaborative care CPT codes released in 2017 and 2018, highlighting the growing awareness around the importance of mental health. As we shift towards a value-based care system, a focus on patient engagement, satisfaction, and outcomes will add visibility to the benefits – and cost savings – of integrated behavioral health.

Also, considering the enormous behavioral health expenses of employees — mental illness costs the US $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year, according the American Journal of Psychiatry — employers are equally willing to find new ways to provide their employees access to tools to address mental health.

The awareness efforts of non-profits, advocacy groups, and healthcare organizations to normalize the conversation around mental health have been invaluable. At the same time, leading athletes and entertainers opening up about their mental health conditions is eroding the historical stigma surrounding those who struggle with behavioral health. Heightened awareness begets healthier, more frequent discussions around treatments and solutions for the one in five Americans experiencing mental illness.

Aetna’s recent “Health Ambitions” study highlights that healthcare consumers recognize the importance of mental health. Over one-third of respondents say digital messaging would make them more likely to communicate with their doctors, and the majority of people ages 18-50 say they would be likely to use a confidential website or app to track health information.

This new narrative around mental health is getting louder, and it will only help to bridge the gap between mental and physical health and the solutions patients need. But numerous studies indicate that we still have a long way to go when it comes to providing digital health technologies that meet the expectations of the modern healthcare consumer.

The digital doctor’s office is no longer a future vision, but a present-day reality. While adoption of these innovative tools can be slow, healthcare providers are rapidly warming up to technologies that can improve patient outcomes while absorbing it into their workflow and existing EMRs.

With behavioral health integration, we’ve arrived at an alignment of incentives and mechanisms among payers, providers, and patients that is rare in the modern healthcare landscape. This is an exciting opportunity for the future of mental health and one that we as a community can’t afford to pass up. The data supports the opportunity as well. Decades of research highlight the effectiveness of collaborative care in psychiatry, and when patients stay engaged with behavioral health treatment, outcomes are improved drastically.

Eighty percent of people with a behavioral health disorder will visit a primary care provider at least once a year, yet we know that treatment and access are still major issues, as nearly 60 percent of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year, according to the National Institute on Mental Illness.

While there is much work ahead, we are encouraged by the progress we’re seeing in hundreds of clinics around the country from pediatric / school settings to geriatric and Medicare populations. Mental health knows no bounds — it can affect anyone. As a health system, our effort in addressing mental health access and engagement should also show no bounds.

Readers Write: Expanding the Horizon of Clinical Surveillance

January 9, 2019 Readers Write No Comments

Expanding the Horizon of Clinical Surveillance
By Janet Dillione


Janet Dillione is CEO of Bernoulli Health of Milford, CT.

Pay-for-performance programs, like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program (HACRP), determine provider reimbursement based on a hospital’s ability to meet key patient safety and performance measures. To reap the financial incentives—and avoid the penalties—of HACRP, more hospitals are “investing in clinical surveillance solutions that utilize real-time patient data to reveal deteriorating patient conditions at an early stage,” according to a report released in November by AGC Partners, a multi-vertical research and investment firm.

Continuous surveillance traditionally has been the near-exclusive domain of hospital departments that care for high-acuity patients with the greatest risks for deterioration, such as the ICU. However, the persistence of preventable catastrophic events, such as post-surgical opioid-induced respiratory depression (OIRD) — which accounts for more than half of medication-related deaths in care settings — suggests that the ability to monitor patients continuously and communicate insights to clinical teams in real-time must extend beyond the ICU.

According to a new KLAS report on the subject, “clinical surveillance tools hold the promise of giving caregivers clinically actionable insights that decrease mortality, reduce readmissions, and improve overall patient outcomes, and clinicians expect these alerts to be embedded directly within their workflow.”

However, successfully broadening the utilization of this technology can be complex and disruptive and can bring new uncertainties to the entire organization.

How Scalable is Continuous Surveillance?

For many health systems, continuous surveillance can be broadly used with existing technology infrastructure, especially organizations with critical care units or ICUs. Optimizing that infrastructure’s capabilities and incorporating it into existing clinical workflows is the real heavy lift, but advances in monitoring technology, use of real-time physiological data and smart alarms, and sophisticated analytics and the ability to route that information to remote clinicians show promise for scaling continuous surveillance to a number of patient care departments, including telemetry, maternity, med-surg, and even beyond the walls of the hospital.

Additionally, health systems exploring the viability of continuous surveillance are using their EHRs as a natural starting point. Multivariate, real-time data from medical devices aggregated with retrospective data from EHRs, provides a holistic and complete source of objective information on a patient that can be used for prediction and clinical decision making.

Does It Save Lives—and Costs?

Hospital investments in clinical surveillance and analytics solutions are driven by organizations that are migrating toward value-based care models and are trying to achieve the objectives of value-based care, including improving care quality and outcomes, reducing clinical variation, and reducing healthcare costs.

Similarly, patient safety in the era of value-based care is increasingly defined as preventing adverse events before emergency interventions or costly escalations are required. However, most common monitoring practices are reactive, not proactive –interventions are often applied only after a patient has deteriorated.

A number of hospital-acquired illnesses (HAI) could be prevented by continuous clinical surveillance. Sepsis and respiratory compromise are among the most costly in terms of resources and morbidity and mortality.

  • Industry costs. Respiratory failure that requires emergency mechanical ventilation occurs in 44,000 patients per year in the United States. The cost to US hospitals for opioid-induced respiratory depression (OIRD) interventions is estimated at nearly $2 billion per year.
  • Hospitalization costs. Respiratory compromise ($22,300), ranks in the top five of 20 conditions that have the highest aggregate costs per stay due to the high frequency of hospitalization.
  • Length of stay. Ventilator-associated complications (VAC) can lead to longer stays in the ICU and greater rates of readmission. VAC complications add approximately $40,000 in costs to each case, $1.2 billion in total costs annually.

Will Clinicians Adopt It?

Technology implemented without proper consideration of impacts on workflow and user ability to fulfill their core responsibilities can have deleterious effects on its overall efficacy.

Involving direct-care staff is critical to the success of any new technology. How will this new technology impact how nurses deliver patient care? What adjustments in workflow and practice need to be made, at go-live and beyond? Starting with these questions fosters buy-in from the staff who will be utilizing this equipment. If end users are not involved in the selection, adoption, and implementation of a technology, then the likelihood that they will become owners of that product is significantly lower.

According to a clinical surveillance report released this year by Spyglass Consulting Group, “hospitals recognize the importance of real-time capabilities to enhance patient safety and improve care quality.”

Ultimately, the ability to safely manage patient populations across the enterprise, reduce the cost of care, and align with reimbursement and regulatory incentives are driving and accelerating adoption. Clinical surveillance has arrived in healthcare and the future looks bright.

Readers Write: Once Retro, Now Current Again: Why Print is Essential to Your Health Education Program

December 12, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

Once Retro, Now Current Again: Why Print is Essential to Your Health Education Program
By P.J. Bell


P.J. Bell is co-chief content officer at StayWell of Yardley, PA.

Smartphones, tablets, computers. You might think the best way to educate patients about their healthcare is electronically. That’s a fair assumption, considering the average American spends nearly 24 hours a week online. With more than 84 percent of folks accessing the Internet from mobile devices (that’s according to a report from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future), you have good reason to think digital is the way to go. But if your practice is considering going all digital, pause for a moment to rethink that strategy.

While digital experiences are critical for engaging today’s savvy healthcare consumer, printed educational materials remain an important part of the care continuum. People still like to receive printed information at an office visit or during discharge from a hospital stay. Both patients and healthcare providers report that printed brochures or handouts are the most effective means of communication. In fact, more than half of patients say that printed educational material about their diseases or the drugs they’ve been prescribed are more useful than other tools available to them. A similar number of providers also indicate that they rely primarily on print collateral when talking to their patients.

Surprisingly, this majority isn’t just older patients. Even Millennials prefer printed materials. Various surveys have shown that more than three-quarters – and in some cases, 90 percent or more – of Millennials said they preferred reading print materials. In fact, if cost was the same for a print or digital book, they’d pick the paper version.

Paper Rules

Healthcare practices and hospitals are faced with the great challenge of ensuring that their patients fully understand their medical conditions and treatment plans. And just as vital, a patient needs to know what to do after leaving the doctor’s office or being discharged from the hospital. More than $73 billion is spent each year on unnecessary healthcare expenses because patients don’t fully comprehend what their medical providers say to them, according to the Institute for Healthcare Advancement.

The fact is, patients face a number of barriers when trying to follow medical guidance. They can be confused by medical jargon or simply overwhelmed by the amount of information—good or bad—that they can access. Some may be embarrassed to seek additional information or hesitant to ask questions. This alone results in about half of all patients leaving their doctor’s office without a solid understanding of what they were told or what they should do going forward.

However, when printed materials are used as a resource, medical staff can go over the information with patients in the office or at the hospital and get a sense of their understanding. This allows staff to determine any additional resources that could benefit the patient. Just as important, when patients are faced with an unexpected diagnosis or new medicine to take, having something in-hand to take home and re-read later enables them to think more clearly about next steps. That way, they can develop questions they may want to ask of their provider via email, phone, or at a follow-up appointment.

In many cases, given the vast quantity of medical information on the Internet—potentially from questionable sources—patients often believe print materials are more official and trustworthy than electronic documents.

The Prescription for a Well-Rounded Patient Education Plan

If your practice is planning to go all digital, let the evidence showing the importance of printed materials give you pause. Going digital can help you deliver advanced offerings. But ultimately, you need to know your audience and communicate in ways that resonate best with them. This may require a multimedia approach.

To develop a patient education program that will deliver greater value to patients and improve outcomes, consider these tips:

  • Don’t re-create the wheel. Your organization probably has a lot of educational content in its archives, whether it is pre-printed brochures or an electronic library from which you can print on demand. Leverage these existing resources to provide customized education that meets individual needs. Give your patients a takeaway that they, as well as family members and caregivers, can refer to later at home.
  • Use technology where appropriate. Every patient has a different learning style, so offer educational content in a variety of formats to help enable comprehension. Also, keep in mind that a large part of health literacy is ensuring your patients have repeated access to information. For some, printed material that they can read and keep as a reference is ideal. Others may respond better to watching a video made available online or as a DVD they can borrow from the office. Some patients may be tech savvy and prefer to access their information from a patient portal, while a few others may lack internet access or be uncomfortable using a computer. Also, consider the primary language of your patient base. Do you need to provide educational content in languages other than English?
  • Review materials with patient and family members. Sometimes just a few extra minutes can make all the difference. When possible, carve out time to talk through the educational material you’re providing, and use common language that most people will understand. Take cues from your patient. If he or she is impacted by fatigue or the shock of a diagnosis, it can be harder to absorb what you’re saying. It’s also important to consider whether patients have physical, mental, or emotional impairments that may affect their ability to learn. Some may need specialized resources if they are vision- or hearing-impaired. Whenever possible, include family members in the education process, since they often play a critical role in your patient’s healthcare management.

Education is key to ensuring that patients understand what they need to do to address chronic conditions, recover from injury or surgery, or improve their overall health. Digital technologies shouldn’t override your practice’s ability to share healthcare information in a way that enhances patient understanding. As you explore new ways of delivering patient education, don’t miss out on the successful communication available when print materials are part of the process. A winning patient education program is flexible enough to deliver content in the format that works best for each patient.

Readers Write: What’s Good for the Dentist is Good for the Medical Doctor as Well

December 5, 2018 Readers Write 4 Comments

What’s Good for the Dentist is Good for the Medical Doctor as Well
By Robert Patrick

Robert Patrick is president of dental at Vyne of Dunwoody, GA.


Medical professionals might be tired of the endless requirements of mailing x-rays or other documentation to the insurance company every time they file a claim. Some of them might simply want the ability to add their supporting documentation to claims electronically for easier adjudication.

While medical professionals continue to wait for developments and guidance related to the use of electronic attachment solutions and technologies, their dental colleague counterparts have no such obstacles. Even though there’s no formalized standardization from an organization like the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for dental, there is a range of solutions that have permeated the sector and enjoy robust use by many thousands of dental practices. Why the disparity?

The simplest reason is that the solutions are readily available in the dental sector, Their use has been embraced despite there being little formal regulation or guidance related to submitting electronic attachments. For example, as long as the solutions are compliant with HIPAA, their use is fair game. Per recent reporting, some on the medical side of healthcare are waiting for a push toward standardization in the way electronic attachments are sent before moving forward with similar solutions.

According to reporting by MedPage Today, Robert Tennant, director of health information technology policy at the Medical Group Management Association — a trade group that represents medical practices — said that HIPAA includes a directive for the federal government to develop standards for electronic attachments. But the HIPAA provision still is not seeing traction or light of day. Even when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, it included a provision requiring the federal government to issue a final rule on standardizing electronic attachments, and a deadline of January 1, 2014, for doing so, but nothing yet.

The delay, Tennant speculates, might relate to how CMS can address “solicited” versus “unsolicited” attachments. Maybe the use of a secure attachment protocol or portal for data submission could eliminate this concern. For example, with dental electronic attachment solutions, providers can simply upload their supporting documentation via HIPAA-compliant software services. The respective payer is then notified that attachments are available for claim processing. No muss, no fuss. 

While there’s no requirement or mandate for dental providers to submit attachments, just like there is not one for medical doctors, dental providers are leading the way having embraced the move to electronic attachments years ago, unlike their medical colleagues. Any care professional can (?) make use of the technology, and there is a market on the medical side of the fence, so why the delay in adoption?

One potential issue is that some believe submitting attachments to be “a fairly complex transaction” for health plans to implement. “Since CMS also controls Medicare and Medicaid, they would be required by law to implement this standard, and maybe there is some pushback in terms of the cost to implement this transaction,” said Tennant in the report.

Is regulation on electronic attachments forthcoming for medical providers? The federal electronic attachment conversation continues and was included in the federal government’s unified agenda — a plan of action issued by the Office of Management and Budget — that might not be considered until later this year.

According to regulatory guidance, the electronic attachments rule must contain data formats to be used for the attachments. In 2016, the National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics, a public group that advises the Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary on health data issues, laid out its recommendations for electronic attachments, including suggested formats, in a letter to then-HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell:

  • For the request for attachments, the group recommended using the ASC X12 format
  • For the response with a submission of attachment, the HL7 format is recommended
  • For the acknowledgement of the response, the ASC X12 format is recommended

For reference, the Accredited Standards Committee X12 (ASC X12) provides standards that can be used for nearly all facets of business-to-business operations conducted electronically. The committee aims to:

  • Develop high-quality e-commerce standards that are responsive to the needs of the standards user
  • Collaborate with other existing standards to make the standards developed more interoperable
  • Avoid any conflict, confusion, and duplication of effort
  • Publish and promote the standards along with their education
  • Drive the implementation and adoption of the standards developed by the committee

Health Level 7, or HL7, refers to a set of international standards for transfer of clinical and administrative data between software applications used by various healthcare providers. These standards focus on the application layer, which is “layer 7” in the OSI model.

The group also recommended that HHS define attachments as the “supplemental documentation needed about a patient(s) to support a specific healthcare-related event (such as a claim, prior authorization, referrals, and others) using a standardized format.”

One thought is that with such guidance and with the backing of CMS, there might be a reduced “provider burden.”

What about the payers? Why not a push by payers for standardized operations? Why don’t payers and providers just decide on standards and implement them without any government help? This hasn’t happened because payers argue that it will cost too much money to implement; no one is going to bother if vendors don’t create products for the providers. Some vendors, of course, are not willing to produce a solution for such without payer’s backing.

In medical care, it seems that everybody’s waiting for somebody else, and no one will do it until the government issues the standard. Perhaps these arguments are valid for physicians, but for dentists, this foundation already is laid. Perhaps infrastructure is the real problem for medical providers. Nevertheless, the technological capabilities exist and have for many years.

If electronic attachments were implemented in medical care, the result could be savings for both health plans and providers, according to the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), a non-profit alliance of health plans and other organizations whose goal is to streamline healthcare administration. The 2017 CAQH Index report found that only six percent of medical attachments were submitted electronically that year, but the report also found that providers could it save 51 cents per claim – 30 percent of their current cost — if electronic submission were employed, while health plans could save $1.64 per claim, a 94 percent savings.

CAQH launched a project under its Committee on Operating Rules for Information Exchange (CORE) division — a group of about 130 organizations developing operating rules for healthcare administration — to scan and discover where the healthcare industry stands in relation to electronic attachments, including use of a standard format. The organization is examining the varying types of use cases for documentation and the products available in the marketplace to support an automated approach to move the industry forward.

While the number of electronic attachments exchanged is quite small in volume, at least for medical providers, there is a clear path in place that can be executed with or without the support of an organization like CMS or others, as we have seen on the dental side of the house. While doctors may have been waiting for some guidance since HIPAA’s creation in 1996, dentists have been successfully using electronic attachment solutions since at least 1997, and with great results.

Thus, if more than 60 percent of the dentists in America who need to send supporting documentation to payers to get paid for their service are doing so electronically, why can’t the medical professionals of America do the same? America’s dental payers have agreed to participate in electronic attachments while America’s medical payers seem to be waiting for a mandate.

Readers Write: Our Experience with Epic’s App Orchard

November 19, 2018 Readers Write 2 Comments

Our Experience with Epic’s App Orchard
By Chinmay Singh

Chinmay Singh, MBA, MSE is co-founder and CEO of SimplifiMed of San Francisco, CA.


SimplifiMed went live last month on App Orchard after several months of work. I believe other startups can benefit from our experience as they pursue integration with Epic.

We integrated with many other EHRs before Epic, including Athenahealth, Centricity, and Drchrono. As I review my experience, there may be a whiff of unavoidable comparison.

1. Epic is the most customer-focused EHR vendor

This became clear to me in my first call with Epic’s App Orchard team. I could vividly imagine a customer in the center of anything App Orchard team discussed — workflow, security, or marketing message. For this reason, I would recommend that startups first integrate with other EHRs, learn from that, and then approach Epic.

2. The App Orchard team knows the customer

Your contact at App Orchard is unlikely to be a mere project manager. He or she will be an active participant and will gently prod and challenge you on your workflows and the selection of APIs. If you don’t have an active Epic customer, this is one of the best resources you have to compensate for the lack of information. Use it.

3. Epic listens to App Orchard members

We all have heard about a certain recalcitrant Midwest company. I was surprised at how receptive the App Orchard team was to my suggestions on the program, pricing, and terms. They listened to my concerns and responded to them in a timely fashion, and I assume that the new program terms were partially influenced by the feedback I provided to them. Reach out to them with your feedback.

4. App Orchard documentation is lacking

The API documentation is very basic, and in some cases, unusable. For example, there is no explanation of the different versions of the same APIs. Or that two different APIs appear to be doing the same thing (they are not) without a good explanation. The advice in #1 and #2 above partially compensates for this. If Epic team needs some inspiration, they should look at Athenahealth’s developer suite. Not only does Athenahealth have more robust documentation, all of their APIs can be tried in the sandbox.

5. No Hyperspace

This is the biggest issue with App Orchard. Without access to Hyperspace, it is difficult to test the product. Moreover, Epic periodically resets the back end, forcing you to re-create your test cases. This is a huge time sink. As we are experiencing now, prospects want to see a demo of SimplifiMed working with Epic. But without access to an Epic instance, we are unable to do so. I would love to hear from other App Orchard partners on how they are overcoming this problem.

Readers Write: Hurricanes Michael and Florence Remind Us Why We Need a Data Backup Plan

October 15, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

Hurricanes Michael and Florence Remind Us Why We Need a Data Backup Plan
By Marty Puranik


Marty Puranik is president and CEO of Atlantic.Net of Orlando, FL.

The immense flooding of Hurricanes Michael and Florence across the Florida Panhandle and southeastern areas of the Carolinas, respectively, is yet another business reminder of the omnipotent power of natural disasters. The devastating chaos and aftermath of the massive storms bring into sharper focus a humbling affirmation of the critical need to safeguard health data.

The data backup plan is a mandatory stage of HIPAA compliance requiring healthcare organizations to create, implement, and maintain a set of rules and procedures to follow when managing the backup and restore requirements of electronic protected health information (ePHI).

The data backup plan encompasses wider contingency planning processes that include your chosen business associate (BA) or managed service provider (MSP). The company engaged to remotely or on-site manage your plan must demonstrate a compliant backup service capable of backing up and restoring exact copies of ePHI. 

In choosing a backup service for business continuity and HIPAA compliance, it is critically important to understand the HIPAA Security Rule requirements. This rule demands a backup solution that adheres to the following criteria:

  • Use of data encryption. Backup data is expected to be encrypted at rest and in transmission. This encryption is achievable by using a storage hardware or operating system-level encryption techniques.
  • User authentication safeguards. Applying unique multi-factor password protection is accomplished using Active Directory and a token-based security key such as PKI.
  • Role-based access rules. Users are restricted access on a need-to-know basis following a least-privileged design. These measures help prevent access to backup data by unauthorized personnel.
  • Offsite storage capabilities. Backups must be stored in a separate location to production services.
  • Secure data center facilities. This measure applies to the facility security processes such as SSAE 16 SOC1 and SOC2 standards.
  • Detailed monitoring and reporting functions. Backups must be reported upon and alerts generated in the event of failure.

Moreover, leaving any best-laid plan involving patient data to chance opens to the door to security risks. Proactively test your data backup plan to ensure the MSP’s systems work harmoniously in any unexpected situation. Testing procedures can include:

  • File-level restore. A file-level restore involves one or several files restored to the file system. This can be set up on the original server or to a different location.
  • VM-level restore. If the MSP deploys virtualization technology, a full virtual machine restore can be performed. The server then can be tested for functionality.
  • Application-level restore. A common application restore is a database from inside a Microsoft SQL server instance or a mailbox from Microsoft Exchange. This test guarantees data integrity and verifies that correct permissions and security configuration are recovered.

I often recommend to providers to delegate the backup and restore responsibilities to a compliant cloud or backup-as-a-service (BaaS) offering. The MSP determines the type of backup media to use, which is usually disk-based storage. Once successful backups are achieved, the next step is the restore process for testing to validate the data’s integrity. The testing also assures the backup engineer’s ability to restore data in tandem with the precise speed of timing to complete the process.

Integration within a wider contingency plan is also essential as a failsafe for the data protection. Most MSPs offer disaster recovery technology capable of failing over data and services to a secondary location almost instantaneously. However, be aware that backups are often considered the last line of defense in the event of a catastrophic system failure. The contingency plan authorizes instant data restoration capability in the worst possible case scenarios.

To meet HIPAA security rule requirements, the BaaS platform incorporates offsite backup technology that will offload entirely the ePHI healthcare infrastructure to an external location. The offloading is most frequently performed through site-to-site replication technology or even by shipping backup tape media to a compliant external location. Since backup data is transferred externally over a network, determining the network security being provided by the MSP is imperative to prevent breaches.

Hurricanes Michael and Florence clearly bring into focus the need for emergency preparedness to protect the security of patient data. Indisputably, losing data has huge consequences for healthcare providers who routinely handle sensitive and private ePHI. For example, if access to a critical pharmacy, lab or EHR system is severed, a medical practice struggles to recover and continue its business operations. Reputations are damaged. More importantly, patient lives are put at risk.

Like insurance plans, a data backup plan is there when you most need it as an integral part of your overall business strategy. Before the next natural disaster strikes, what is your backup plan?

Readers Write: The Compliance Difficulties of Medical Device Connectivity

October 15, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

The Compliance Difficulties of Medical Device Connectivity
By Abbas Dhilawala


Abbas Dhilawala, MS is CTO of Galen Data of Houston, TX.

There are numerous challenges facing the global healthcare ecosystem today, including aging populations that require more healthcare products and services; rising costs across the industry (shared among consumers, insurance carriers, healthcare providers, and taxpayers); growing wait times for medical services; and a growing demand for convenient and personalized care.

To address these challenges, medical device companies are beginning to produce medical devices with cloud connective capabilities that promote the digitization of healthcare and promote better physician-patient engagement while driving down costs. The global market for connected medical devices is expected to increase from $21 billion in 2018 to $63 billion by 2023, an annual growth rate in excess of 25 percent, according to one report.

Still, the path forward for medical device companies that want to design the connected medical devices of the future and get them to market isn’t always clear and direct. Medical device manufacturers are subject to extensive regulations and compliance requirements for the medical devices that they produce. A recent survey of 237 medical technology employees by Deloitte found something important: 67 percent believe that the current regulatory framework will not catch up with what we can do with medical device technology today for another five years.

Medical device companies today face a fractured compliance landscape that can stifle innovation and lead to heavy expenditures in compliance activities at the expense of research and development. Medical device companies that wish to sell their devices in the United States must comply with the quality regulations set forth by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Chapter 21 of the Federal Code of Regulations, Part 820. The regulations include guidelines for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medical devices, including the establishment of detailed design control documentation, the creation and maintenance of processes for corrective and preventive actions when non-conforming products are discovered, and requirements for document control and approval.

Quality system regulations exist around the world in different forms. Canada uses the Canadian Medical Devices Regulations (CMDR), while medical devices sold in Europe must obtain a CE Marking through compliance with ISO 13485, the international standard for medical device quality. Each time a medical device company enters a new market, it must demonstrate compliance with the corresponding local quality system regulations. Sometimes this means conducting a gap analysis and addressing compliance issues internally, but it could also mean hiring a Notified Body to conduct an expensive and time-consuming third-party compliance audit.

To help ease the path to compliance for medical device companies and reduce the cost burden of compliance activities, regulators worldwide are working towards a Medical Device Single Audit Program (MDSAP) that can establish medical device compliance for global markets based on a single audit. While this measure should reduce compliance costs for medical device companies, it remains to be seen how connected medical devices will be regulated under a new system.

As healthcare innovators continue to develop connected medical devices, privacy is a growing concern for regulators and industry professionals. Imagine a future where in-home care is increasingly common and where patients use wearable and implantable medical devices that deliver patient data electronically in real time to a central repository of electronic medical records.

Such a future might not be far off. The EHR mandate already requires hospitals and medical clinics across the United States to use electronic medical records to track patient data, and connected devices with data transmission capabilities already exist. What doesn’t exist yet is a common framework that promotes interoperability between connected devices and patient databases or any kind of privacy and security regulations that would safeguard such a system against malicious attacks that could compromise patient data.

The final compliance issue faced by manufacturers of connected medical devices has to do with changing payment models throughout the healthcare industry. As the industry shifts towards a model that compensates healthcare providers based on the effectiveness of treatments and patient care outcomes, government regulators and payers are increasingly asking for objective evidence that medical devices are positively impacting patient outcomes. Manufacturers of connected medical devices may face additional compliance obstacles when required to demonstrate that their devices actually improve patient engagement, satisfaction, and outcomes.

Despite the compliance difficulties faced by the industry, medical device manufacturers are meeting the challenge head on by innovating new ways of doing business, including funding models that offer data as a service, the adoption of value-based pricing, and the use of real-world patient data to drive business decisions. The medical device companies of today are ready to advance healthcare into the future. Now it’s up to healthcare providers and regulators to keep up.

Readers Write: Recapturing the Best Part of Best-of-Breed

October 3, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

Recapturing the Best Part of Best-of-Breed
By Meg Aranow


Meg Aranow is CEO of Edaris Health of Boston, MA.

Early on in HIT, departmental systems were the only computer-based clinical and business solutions we had. Often built and sold by teams that came directly out of the operational areas and bringing experiential credibility, these solutions spoke the language of the department leaders who were making the purchasing selections. The more relatable they were, the more significant their market share.

Later, with reputations solidified, these vendors began to capitalize by broadening their horizons into related areas, offering suites of applications to handle adjacent functions, such as all labs sections, not just blood labs, or all finance departments, not just AP/AR.

Then came the perfect storm that really engaged us all in the allure of the enterprise systems. First, computerization became the expected standard and big-budget centralized IT departments took root. Second, the market responded with R&D money and new investment capital. Third, healthcare costs and patient safety became everyday news and the idea of health consumerism grew. As timely, accurate shared data seemed the holy grail for both quality and expense control, the lure of single fully integrated systems became irresistible.

The decisions seemed easier 10 years ago. That was when the primary definition of an enterprise was its physical boundaries. There wasn’t much talk about IDNs and integrating freestanding surgery centers, urgent cares, or SNFs.

Now, even as we seek to integrate the data that ensures quality, safety, and expense control within the walls of our institution, we are simultaneously pushing care outside the walls to be handled in places that have less overhead and are easier for patients to navigate. There’s a tightrope to walk. We can’t trample on the very workflows that have created those higher margins and faster throughput at the lower-cost locations. If we make them behave as the rest of the enterprise does, we may lose the very things that made them attractive business assets and popular care destinations for patients in the first place.

As interoperability standards have become de rigor, there are options of where to draw the perimeter of the enterprise system and where to allow – or even encourage – deep support of site-specific workflows without compromise. That is, workflow support as once delivered by narrowly-focused departmental systems.

Customized workflow support is the new best-of-breed. With mature interoperability standards in place, we do not have to sacrifice tailored, intuitive workflow support for the sake of integrated data, decision support, and analytics. There is no reason not to have it all.

Readers Write: The Key to Population Health Management: The Convergence of Data, Technology, and Social Determinants of Health

September 26, 2018 Readers Write 3 Comments

The Key to Population Health Management: The Convergence of Data, Technology, and Social Determinants of Health
By Matt Miller, PhD


Matt Miller, PhD is vice president of behavior science at StayWell of Yardley, PA.

Advances in technology are having a significant impact on the healthcare individuals receive. Patient DNA is used to personalize treatments with precision medicine. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are speeding diagnosis and helping providers determine the best courses of action. The Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling a wide range of remote clinical applications, from medication adherence to monitoring vital functions including glucose, heart rate, and blood pressure to configuring and gathering real-time data from medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators.

While these technologies are powerful on their own, the combination of these various patient-specific data streams can produce an exponential impact on improving patient outcomes when merged with behavioral and environmental insights. Integration of this diverse data, through electronic health records (EHRs) and other critical healthcare systems, will play an important role in creating an ecosystem that enables providers and patients to get the information they need, when they need it. In turn, this integration of data will support the larger goals of improving population health.

Modern healthcare is well positioned to reap the rewards of recent advances in technology. Silicon and graphene at the chip level and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) in semiconductors are in devices used every day for diagnoses and treatment, such as CT scanners, X-ray machines, magnetic imaging, ultrasound, and for monitoring blood pressure, glucose levels, and other vital statistics. These components play critical roles in sensing, data processing, and controlling machines used to monitor and treat patients. Add data science – AI and machine learning – to the mix and the industry can begin to explore new frontiers in healthcare by expanding our ability to detect and interpret patterns.

We are beginning to see this convergence of new technologies emerge in targeted use cases. Computer vision and convolutional neural networks are helping radiologists identify malignant tumors, minimizing the pain, inconvenience, and cost of biopsies. Pharmacogenomics and precision medicine are enabling researchers to identify first-line medications for patients based on their genomes and develop therapeutics based on the unique characteristics of the individual and his or her disease.

These applications are just the beginning of innovations that will redefine healthcare in the 21st century. But there may be a simpler example of how today’s data capture technology can make an equally significant impact in improving population health. This approach involves integrating behavioral, environmental, and social data directly into physician’s workflows, so healthcare professionals can have a more robust understanding of a patient’s risk factors and take proactive steps to help patients remain, or become more, healthy.

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are macro-level factors responsible for influencing health risks and health outcomes. SDOH include economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, level of education, access to healthy food and quality healthcare, available support systems, and stress. These factors contribute to an individual’s life expectancy, mortality, healthcare expenditures, health status, and functional limitations, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Research demonstrates the enormous influence of behavior and SDOH on patient outcomes. Clinical interventions impact only 10 to 20 percent of a person’s health outcomes, while socioeconomic and environmental factors determine 80 to 90 percent, according to The National Academy of Medicine.

Consider the possibilities if a physician had access to social and behavioral information alongside lab tests, imaging results, and other background information about the patient. Not only could the doctor see that his 50-year old female patient’s glucose is high and creatinine and hemoglobin are slightly off, he could also evaluate the impact of her adherence to taking prescription medicine, stress level, and the fact that she lives in an urban food desert and doesn’t have access to regular care.

These types of solutions are already coming to fruition, in a variety of forms and functionality. Consider the offering developed by Proteus Digital Health, which combines ingestible sensors, a small wearable sensor patch, and mobile application to monitor patient health patterns and medication adherence behaviors. The objective information collected by the Proteus system enables doctors to initiate, adjust and measure treatment effectiveness, saving patients and payers money while optimizing care and amplifying outcomes.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was also recently awarded a grant to continue research of the Emocha mHealth app, which tracks medication details and care management for individuals with tuberculosis, a diagnosis where strict medication adherence is essential for positive outcomes. The app connects patients and providers for Directly Observed Therapy (DOT), in which patients record themselves taking prescribed medication. The video is uploaded to a telehealth portal, where providers can confirm the medication was taken correctly and collaborate with patients on care management. Early results show that Emocha app boosted medication adherence rates by 94 percent and saved almost $1,400 per patient in treatment costs.

Using multiple data points to triangulate a patient’s condition enables physicians to deliver healthcare with a more holistic perspective. Understanding the gravitational force SDOH has on health outcomes, physicians not only can address the symptoms of disease, but can also respond to variables known to cause and/or exacerbate illness. With these types of insights, they can make more informed decisions around diagnosis, treatment and the continuum of care.

It can be a challenge for physicians to get insights into social and behavioral factors. But the move to EHRs, plus greater integration and effective data exchange through standardization efforts like Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), are beginning to make these promises a reality. By capturing more data points through EHRs and having access to complete records regardless of where healthcare services are delivered, physicians will have a more comprehensive picture of patients’ background and health, empowering them to provide the care and resources to meet the unique needs of each patient.

Several device manufacturers are already offering remote monitoring tools capable of capturing patient health data at home and uploading it to an EHR for physicians to track.

For example, Boston Scientific’s Latitude Home Monitoring System enables physicians to monitor implanted devices to manage heart conditions. A five-year study of the system showed that there was a 50 percent relative risk reduction of death as compared to patients who only went to the clinic for device checks. Honeywell’s Genesis Touch collects biometric information, such as oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and weight and shares them with physicians. The related mobile app also enables video visits between patients and physicians and offers an interactive teaching tool to demonstrate techniques to manage various conditions and ensure the patient understands the treatment protocols.

Now take this integration a few steps further. Imagine,that through the power of AI and machine learning, a physician could be proactively alerted to key data points about a patient, in real time, outside of a hospital or office visit. Machine learning would identify certain thresholds that trigger the need for the physician to send a message containing educational materials to the patient, change a prescription based on data trends, or even alert emergency services.

Lessons learned from these types of just-in-time, adaptive interventions can be extrapolated to improve population health services by empowering physicians to offer data-driven recommendations to their patients.

For example, many practices may offer a universal stress reduction program to their patients. However, stress can manifest itself in a myriad of ways for different people at different times in their lives. By using the full scope of data available to understand the stressors – physical, social, and behavioral – and other factors impacting each patient, providers can do more than simply and generically “manage stress.” They can develop an intervention that helps specifically manage that patient’s unique stressors.

The future of each individual patient’s outcome is brighter when you combine the nuance and tailoring of personalized medicine with the reach of population health. Advances in science, technology, and use of SDOH brings this future within reach.

Readers Write: Projects and Costs Out of Control? Take a Low-Dose Aspirin

September 26, 2018 Readers Write 3 Comments

Readers Write: Projects and Costs Out of Control? Take a Low-Dose Aspirin
By Frank Poggio


Frank Poggio is president and CEO of The Kelzon Group.

A recent announcement in the news about the lack of effectiveness and risk of taking daily low-dose aspirin triggered my re-thinking about the age old question of, “Why is healthcare IT so far behind commercial industry?” or, “Why is healthcare delivery so costly and inefficient?”

“Experts” always say we can improve costs and quality if we practice evidence-based medicine. OK, I can buy that, but what if the evidence keeps changing every few years? I am willing to bet that in about five years some researcher will say that new data shows daily aspirin is good for you, so hope you didn’t stop taking it. How many times have we seen that with other foods like coffee, red wine, etc.?

And what about classic annual diagnostic procedures like Pap smears, mammography, and PSA tests? Or therapies like angioplasty, tonsillectomy, bloodletting, or frontal lobotomy? The list goes on. All deemed good one day in the past, but not so good or maybe deadly soon after.

This obsession with comparing medicine and healthcare to other industries falls apart if you look at a simple example. Say you are washed up and stranded on a large island. As it turns, out there is an abandoned cabin on the island with a motorized boat left at the dock. You also find a set of mechanic’s tools in a storage area, and lucky you, you happen to possess a little mechanical talent from your high school shop class. What you do not have is any documentation covering the boat or engine, but with your cursory experience with cars, you figure out how to start the engine. But alas, it will run only for a few minutes.

You tinker with it for days, but without any owner’s or repair manuals or other specs, everything you do is hit or miss. Of course you take an evidence-based approach, using trial and error and a little creativity. As you fail to make headway and start experiencing severe hunger pains, you take the engine apart to try to get a better understanding of its engineering and how it should function. Put it back together, try again, no luck, apart again, try again, and on and on.

Wouldn’t it easier if you had some documentation, like maybe a troubleshooting guide? Every boat engine that comes off an assembly line has one. If only the original owner had kept it, you could avoid all the time-wasting reverse engineering. And thank heavens the engine isn’t amorphous or biological, which brings us back to the human condition.

When you were born, didn’t the doctor give your mother your owner’s manual, troubleshooting guide, design specs, and of course a warranty? What, you say, you can’t find them, and the frustration is giving you a severe headache? Too bad, maybe try this aromatherapy — it worked for me.

Readers Write: A Person-Centered Approach for Success in Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services

August 15, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

A Person-Centered Approach for Success in Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services
By Andrew Mersman

Andrew Mersman is senior director at Netsmart Technologies of Overland Park, KS.


It’s no secret that limited resources and funding have historically been a challenge for providers of Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) services. That’s why it’s important for healthcare providers to break down information silos and work collaboratively to achieve the best outcomes possible. With the introduction of value-based care payment models, it will be even more important for providers to find effective and efficient ways to manage resources across the healthcare continuum to deliver the right care for every individual’s needs. The continued evolution of Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waiver plans and emphasis on conflict-free case management also make person-centered care more important than ever before.

To aid organizations in providing the best I/DD services with a person-centered approach, awe’ve narrowed down four key elements to keep at the forefront of managing an individual’s care.

Person-Centered Planning

To deliver the best services possible, it’s important to address it with a holistic, whole-person outlook. Keep the individual at the center of this universe and take in surrounding factors into consideration as you plan and coordinate delivery. Important items to consider in person-centered planning include:

  • Taking direction and considering feedback from the individual receiving services, including from their support system
  • Integrate the person’s strengths, preferences, and desires – example is integrating pictures into the ISP to help an individual be more active in their services
  • Drawing on insight gained from the individual’s relationships within their community
  • Enabling individuals to express satisfaction with service delivery through feedback, allowing for course correction as needed

Care Coordination

Care coordination should focus on the health, social, and personal desires of the individual. When approaching care coordination for a person with a developmental or intellectual disability, it’s important to ensure that a person’s service plans are self-directed by the individual and are aimed toward meeting their personal goals, including day-to-day living and other life factors such as independent living or employment goals. Additionally, modern reimbursement models demand more accountability for care coordination between different services and settings.

Comprehensive Assessment and Planning

Person-centered care requires the ability to plan and provide the right type of services that can result in the best outcome possible. To do that, providers need to assess many aspects of a person’s life when determining the best plan for them. This is essential to determine the kind of services that should be provided along with the method in which they are delivered, and account for any potential obstacles that may prevent the individual from being successful. Factors to be assessed can include things like housing, family support, social skills, personal care, communication, financial stability, nutrition, activity level, and more.

When developing a person’s care plan, it’s critical to ensure that all essential elements of the person-centered plan drive the planning process. This is also the time to determine that tasks based on valued outcomes are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely to make sure that an individual can progress and be successful. Planning should also emphasize community inclusion and participation, independence, and the use of informal community supports when possible.

Data Collection, Measurement, and Reporting

Creating a care plan alone isn’t enough. It’s essential to prove the effectiveness of the support and services your organization provides. The way to tackle that is through collecting, analyzing, and reporting data to demonstrate outcomes. Your organization should be able to look at results and determine if the plan was successful, not just that the tasks were completed.

An integral part of applied behavioral analysis requires the ability to measure an individual’s growth and development. You can’t report progress without any data, so the first step is to gather and collect it throughout their journey. Once they are accessing and receiving the services outlined in their plan, it’s time to record progress. What has been the outcome of the services they’ve been receiving? Are they improving with the method of delivery your organization is providing?

Your EHR should allow your support staff to easily record and track a person’s progress through streamlined, intuitive workflows. And in an age where services are delivered in a variety of settings, mobile functionality is essential for entering important data on a tablet or other portable device. Going mobile is an effortless way to build staff efficiencies and supports the move away from a paper-based system, allowing data to be accessed and retrieved in real time.

Once the data is collected, it’s time to look at what it collectively means in the bigger picture. Here’s where robust reporting and analytics comes in. The ability to display data in a variety of outputs (i.e. raw data counts, compliance or achievement percentage, or graphical representation) is important with respect to who is viewing the data. Also, the ability to provide real-time analysis is important to provide on demand.

No matter what care setting, keeping an individual and their needs at the center of their care plan is essential. Remembering these factors while establishing, assessing, and achieving an individual’s personal goals, care providers across all settings – not just I/DD – are sure to provide the best services to meet the unique needs of everyone.

Readers Write: Capturing Patient-Reported Outcomes for Population Health Management Yields Dividends

August 15, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

Capturing Patient-Reported Outcomes for Population Health Management Yields Dividends
By Gary Hamilton

Gary Hamilton is CEO of InteliChart of Fort Mill, SC.


As the industry pushes towards value-based care, a greater emphasis has been placed on listening to patients, particularly regarding how they view their own health status and quality of life. These patient-reported outcomes (PROs) are essential to help identify obstacles to effectively manage chronic conditions. Patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs), of which there are many across numerous specialties, are also increasingly important to payers under value-based care payment models.

Capturing PRO information can occur in the exam room or hospital, but it is often time-consuming and may be sidetracked if the patient has an acute condition they prefer to discuss. Fortunately, the ubiquity of the Internet, smartphones, and the increasing sophistication of data analytics technology is helping healthcare organizations obtain PRO data and analyze associated measures efficiently so they can improve performance.

PROs are defined by the National Quality Forum (NQF) as “any report of the status of a patient’s health condition that comes directly from the patient, without interpretation of the patient’s response by a clinician or anyone else.” These outcomes are, in some cases, more important to the patient than the clinical outcome because it reflects how they are feeling and their ability to pursue daily activities. For example, how many times has a patient told you that they stopped taking a medication due to its perceived side effects and now feel “better than ever?”

Learning about medication side effects and how a patient feels about other elements of their care plan aligns with many value-based care goals. After all, if patients are not achieving their personal health or quality-of-life goals, they may not perceive any value for their care. A treatment then cannot be considered fully effective, even if clinical indicators of health improved along the way.

Listening to patients’ goals is key to designing a care plan that will yield health status improvements or eliminate symptoms, but also improve quality of life. When a patient notices and reports these improvements, they are likely to engage in their care plan or follow through with a recommended procedure recovery regimen.

Capturing PROs can be tedious and not always accurate, especially when the patient is distracted by another condition or other factors, such as being discharged from the hospital. This is where advanced population health management (PHM) technology helps providers save time while improving the patient’s experience.

At discharge, for example, a patient who underwent a procedure may be so concerned about how they will resume their activities at home, they may not be aware a medication prescribed at the hospital is giving them intolerable side effects. After they adjust to the care transition, an automated survey would be sent from the PHM platform to their smartphone to learn about the recovery from the procedure, as well as the new medication. Based on patient preferences, PROs could be captured through an automated interactive voice response (IVR) phone call or a secure electronic message, both initiated through the PHM technology.

Although automated methods are most efficient, a live phone call with a clinician is just as effective at gathering crucial patient information. The PHM technology assists in these situations by automatically reminding the care manager to conduct the interview and offering to create the electronic questionnaire form to be completed. Based on responses from any of the PRO outreach methods, the physician can then decide to adjust the prescribed treatment.

For patients with chronic conditions, here again, a survey can be sent to a mobile device or patient portal periodically to ensure associated care plans are helping them achieve their goals. Electronic surveys or interviews using an IVR or live phone call would include quality-of-life questions concerning physical function, mental health, sleep, or the ability to participate in daily activities. An analytics platform would then flag and compile negative responses for follow-up.

Remote-captured PRO can also support many elderly and rural patients who may have transportation challenges. Instead of these patients coming to the office for routine consultations regarding their chronic conditions, an automated survey, secure portal message, IVR, or live phone call can capture PROs and allow them to avoid unnecessary travel.

The benefit of using a mobile device or a computer to capture PROs is that patients can report their perspective at the right moment, when they have time to reflect away from the distractions of a busy practice, hospital, or workplace. Surveys or automated interviews delivered on a consistent schedule prove to patients the organization is focused on their care, nurturing engagement, and motivating them to improve their outcomes.

For the provider organization, identifying PROM trends among these populations is easier when the PRO module is part of an advanced PHM platform that is integrated with the electronic health record (EHR) system, other information systems, and fed by comprehensive and aggregated data from around the care continuum. When a physician reviews a patient’s chart, they can view PROM trends at a glance to support their decisions.

PRO insight, in conjunction with other data included in the EHR, can help the physician design an effective treatment plan that achieves clinical objectives as well as the patient’s quality-of-life goals. Combined, improving performance on these outcomes can secure greater reimbursement under value-based care payment models while building stronger engagement from patients throughout the year.

Readers Write: A Smart Telehealth Strategy Creates Great Value While Meeting Myriad Needs

August 8, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

A Smart Telehealth Strategy Creates Great Value While Meeting Myriad Needs
By Ray Costantini, MD

Ray Costantini, MD, MBA is co-founder and CEO of Bright.md of Portland, OR.


Friction is the enemy of efficiency, whether it’s an automotive engine clogged with grime or an athlete’s muscles slowed by lactic acid. Our healthcare system is stymied by high levels of friction throughout. Fortunately, for hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare providers seeking an edge in today’s highly competitive healthcare environment, a smart telehealth strategy presents an opportunity to slice through much of this friction and create great value in the process.

Telehealth is a broad category. At one end of the spectrum, it involves managing complex, high-risk conditions such as stroke through remote monitoring and consultation. At the other, it entails providing high quality, on-demand convenience care (or virtual care) for a range of acute, episodic, and non-emergent conditions in an effective, rapid, and cost-effective manner. There are many points across this spectrum to create and capture value for health systems and their patients. Telehealth services hold the promise of unlocking that value and now is an excellent time to think about integrating them into practice.

Several converging trends are contributing to this window of opportunity. One is the shortage of primary care physicians. Did you know that a patient in Boston typically has to wait up to 66 days to see a doctor through a traditional in-clinic visit? If you’re lucky, you’ll get sick in San Diego, where the elapsed time from scheduling to care is just seven days.

Another contributing trend is the consumerization of healthcare. Patients today are increasingly savvy. Empowered by technology, they expect on-demand access to care, and if they don’t get it or don’t like what they get, they’re all too ready to take their business elsewhere. This is one reason we’re seeing a proliferation of independent “retail care” locations, which by the way exacerbate the shortage of providers and add to the friction in the system.

What’s a provider to do to seize the telehealth opportunity? First, you’ll need to come up with a telehealth strategy. There’s no “one size fits all” approach here. For example, one system may be struggling with access issues, while another may face the challenge of serving a specific population group or demographic. The right solution with a tuned operational plan behind it can solve either of those issues. Start by taking an inventory of the pain points you want to solve. Also helpful: stop thinking in terms of return on investment or revenue created and instead begin thinking about the value created by your telehealth strategy and virtual care solutions. There are many different ways to create value, but you’ll have to decide on the right mix for your particular needs.

A smart telehealth strategy entails a comprehensive set of solutions, what I call a “ladder of care.” This could include options such as self-triage, nurse advice, and asynchronous virtual care for common ambulatory conditions. For higher-acuity issues, it could include video visits. In-person visits would be reserved for conditions where multiple comorbidities exist (diabetes and flu, for instance), or when a physical procedure is required (a minor procedure such as wart removal).

How does such an approach unlock value? First, it creates access and capacity in the system. Asynchronous virtual care visits can take less than two minutes of provider time and can be delivered from a smartphone with even a 3G connection from wherever the provider happens to be. One full-time equivalent of physician or Advanced Practice Clinician can deliver more than 20,000 of these virtual visits per year. Compare that with just 2,000 20-minute in-person or video visits for an in-clinic provider. This approach also attracts new patients and retains existing ones, which in turn drives downstream revenue and adds to your brand bank, building loyalty and positive word of mouth through innovation and patient-centered service delivery.

A ladder of care approach also ameliorates provider burnout by giving providers time to focus on higher-acuity patients (and generate associated reimbursement) in clinic and top-of-license practice. If the telehealth solution can automatically generate a chart-ready SOAP note, that dramatically cuts down on clerical work.

The value created pays dividends at the system, clinician, and patient levels of the healthcare ecosystem. At the system level, in a FFS (fee-for-service) world, a smart telehealth strategy can unlock downstream revenue through both patient acquisition and retention. In a capitated model, it helps keep the patient population healthy while preventing minor ailments from becoming major ones due to a lack of treatment or access.

A smart telehealth model can help cut your losses on primary care while also shifting fixed costs to variable costs. Instead of building or leasing and outfitting a two-clinician clinic, you would instead spend a fraction of that cost to provide a far more efficient usage basis. Integrating the staffing of your telehealth with existing retail or urgent care efforts would help fill the more than 30 percent of idle provider time that’s all too common in those settings. The list goes on.

For your patients, there are savings in time, money and more. Patients regain the hours it takes to schedule, wait for, and be evaluated by a physician, also avoiding lost wages, childcare costs if they have to visit the doctor, and so on. Telehealth patients report getting healthier sooner, recovering 1.5 days faster. For clinicians, a tele-visit can turn a 20-minute low-acuity visit into a higher-value visit with a patient who really needs it.

Meanwhile, the barriers to telehealth are quickly coming down. According to a 2016 Medscape study, both patients and physicians have improved their attitudes when it comes to embracing telehealth, with nearly two-thirds of patients surveyed expressing comfort in virtual care, diagnoses, and treatment plans. Add to that an increased availability of telehealth services from providers and a growing sense of patient trust versus privacy and security issues. With so many tech companies turning their focus to healthcare, many of the technology challenges associated with telehealth (bandwidth, availability, etc.) are a thing of the past.

Bottom line: this is no time for hospitals and doctors to retreat into traditional, friction-bound approaches to healthcare delivery. Your patients are already moving to a technology-enabled future of on-demand access to timely, convenient care. A smart, well thought out telehealth strategy is your ticket to join them and ride the next wave of patients and value-creation opportunities.

Readers Write: Augmented Intelligence: Virtual Assistants Come to Healthcare

July 11, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

Augmented Intelligence: Virtual Assistants Come to Healthcare
By Andrew Rebhan

Andrew Rebhan, MBA is a health IT research consultant with Advisory Board of Washington, DC.


Natural language processing (NLP) techniques allow digital systems to streamline user interactions allowing machines to read text, understand meaning, and generate narratives from existing information. Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have accelerated progress in a broad range of NLP applications for healthcare, including digital assistants for clinical staff, concierge services for patients, and digital scribes to streamline documentation processes.

For example, last Fall Nuance Communications released its Dragon Medical Virtual Assistant to help health care providers interact with clinical workflows using NLP and other conversational AI functionality. Nuance announced at HIMSS18 that it will integrate its virtual assistant technology into Epic’s EHR.

According to the news release, the new partnership allows physicians to use the virtual assistant to ask for information from a patient’s chart, retrieve labs, medication lists, and visit summaries using Epic Haiku. Nurses using Epic Rover can use the assistant to conversationally interact with flowsheets to enter and confirm patient info and vitals. Finally, scheduling staff using Epic Cadence can converse with the assistant to check physician schedules and create or modify patient appointments. Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently announced it is leveraging Nuance’s technology to build a prototype voice assistant called “V-EVA” (Vanderbilt EHR Voice Assistant) to help caregivers navigate the hospital’s Epic EHR using natural dialogue.

A number of other healthcare providers have started piloting voice assistants. Northwell Health is testing Amazon’s Alexa across multiple use cases, including one that helps users determine the wait time at nearby emergency rooms and urgent care centers in Northwell’s system. People can ask their Alexa-enabled home devices to either search for the shortest wait time based on their ZIP code, or can ask for the wait time for a specific location. Once the user asks for this information, Alexa queries Northwell’s database of wait times (which analyzes check-in data every 15 minutes) for the best option. The Alexa feature can respond back with the location’s name, address, and wait time.

In another example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is collaborating with Microsoft to create an intelligent scribe called EmpowerMD. The project is part of Microsoft’s Healthcare NExT initiative, which aims to use AI to accelerate healthcare innovation. The virtual scribe listens to conversations doctors have with patients, analyzing speech for clinically relevant concepts to make suggestions in the medical record. The goal is to allow doctors or other staff to engage with patients face to face, without the need to divert their attention to a computer screen. The scribe can make suggestions or take notes for follow up, which the doctor accepts or modifies after the encounter. Staff can also view a transcript of the conversation for greater context on the assistant’s suggestions. Using machine learning, the virtual assistant improves its performance as suggestions are accepted, rejected, or modified by the user.

Patients are also interested in AI-powered virtual assistants. Accenture recently released the findings of its 2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health, which polled 2,301 US consumers on topics such as wearables, virtual care, and AI. Among the findings, the survey showed that roughly one in five consumers has experienced health-related AI, and in particular, showed an openness to using intelligent virtual assistants:

  • 61 percent said they would use “an intelligent virtual health assistant that helps to estimate out-of-pocket costs, schedule healthcare appointments and explain benefit coverage, bills, and payment options”
  • 57 percent would use an intelligent virtual coach
  • 55 percent would use “an intelligent virtual nurse that monitors your health condition, medications, and vital signs at home”
  • 50 percent would use “an intelligent virtual clinician that helps to diagnose health issues and navigate you to the right treatment options”

Is your team interested? Here are some considerations to get you started.

Identify your Goals

Virtual assistants can perform a variety of tasks described above. In addition, they can set reminders, answer basic patient questions, call for a nurse, or even address loneliness. However, virtual assistants may not always be the best solution for a given problem, particularly complex tasks that may benefit from visual displays (such as on a computer or tablet). Make sure your team is specific about how the technology will improve processes and where it fits into existing workflows.

Explore What’s Possible

The major technology companies such as Google and Amazon are trying to make their software development kits and APIs as open and user-friendly as possible – which means your organization can build new skills into these virtual assistants to better suit your needs, assuming you have the right staff skills to code these features. As you evaluate options, ensure that potential solutions are properly evaluated for HIPAA compliance, as natural language interfaces in a healthcare setting may capture sensitive information whether or not that is not part of their intended use.

Expect Change

The healthcare industry is starting to see rapid advancements in NLP, computer vision, and other subsets of AI, but the use of virtual assistants in hospitals is still nascent. The technology will likely continue to evolve as more organizations adopt and test these devices, and the broader industry forms new ways to implement and regulate their use. Early adopters will have an advantage in getting to use and gain experience with these tools, but may also have to update them more often as vendors release new editions with enhanced capabilities.

Readers Write: Why It’s Time to Make Clinical Documentation Clinically Valuable

July 2, 2018 Readers Write No Comments

Why It’s Time to Make Clinical Documentation Clinically Valuable
By Jay Anders, MD, MS

Jay Anders, MD, MS is chief medical officer of Medicomp Systems of Chantilly, VA.


“I love documenting patient encounters,”said no clinician ever.

Clinical documentation is a time-consuming source of frustration for physicians and nurses, yet a necessary evil for any hospital and health system that wants to keep its doors open and its lights on. Clinical documentation drives the billing process, maintains the details for diagnosis and procedure coding, and provides the required justification for reimbursement.

The whole “billing and getting-paid” stuff is obviously important, but what if we could transform the clinical documentation process to make it more valuable to the physician and the patient? In other words, why not “fix” clinical documentation so that it helps clinicians deliver better patient care?

Consider the typical clinical documentation process for a patient encounter. The doctor sees a patient who, for example, is complaining of an irregular heartbeat. The physician pulls up an arrhythmia template in the EHR and begins documenting the patient’s symptoms. Everything moves along smoothly until the patient mentions that he’s recently been having some pain in his right elbow. And, that his A1C levels have been a little elevated.

Suddenly the documentation process gets a lot more complicated as the physician hunts for template options to document the non arrhythmia-related ailments. After a couple of minutes searching unsuccessfully for the right disease templates, the doctor gives up and decides to dictate the rest of the note.

Because of the inefficiencies of most clinical documentation systems, physicians often resort to dictation. The transcription of dictated notes can be expensive and is prone to error. Furthermore, dictated data is stored in a non-structured format that is more difficult to access at the point of care. This means that physicians may overlook critical details hidden within free text, which in turn can impact the delivery of care. In addition, it’s difficult to analyze data in an unstructured format for quality reporting purposes or for any type of analytics.

Physicians and their patients deserve better. Here are my recommended “fixes” to give clinical documentation more clinical substance for the enhanced delivery of patient care.

Clinically-dynamic, patient-specific documentation

More physicians now have access to disease-specific templates, which give clinicians a great head start in the documentation process and help with the capture of structured data for larger quality improvement initiatives. However, because physicians treat whole patients and not a single disease, clinicians also need documentation tools that are patient-specific and clinically-dynamic.

With a clinically-dynamic documentation platform, physicians can easily pull in clinically relevant items without having to call up multiple templates. In the case of the patient complaining of an irregular heartbeat, a doctor can tap in a few keystrokes and quickly add new issues into the existing document. The documentation workflow is not disrupted and the clinician does not need to dictate any details or enter free text. Everything related to the patient, including the elbow pain and A1c concerns, are merged directly into the same note. Each element is logically linked to the relevant section within the note – the problem list or physical exam, for example – so that physicians can quickly access the precise details at any time.

Capturing patient-specific details for quality initiatives

You may never hear a physician say they love documenting patient encounters, but you may be able to convince them that it’s worth the effort if the finished product facilitates better patient care.

When clinical documentation can be leveraged to advance quality initiatives, physicians are less likely to view the charting process as a time-consuming task that turns doctors into overpaid members of the billing staff. With smarter clinical documentation tools, physicians can track more patient data in real time and capture critical information that feeds analytics systems and performance dashboards. Clinicians can then access population-level information or view specific clinical details in a longitudinal format and gain deeper insights into a patient’s medical status.

It’s time to usher in a new era with clinical documentation. With the right technology and a shift in mindset, we have the opportunity to transform clinical documentation so that it’s not just about coding and billing, but instead a vital tool that enhances the delivery of quality patient care.

Readers Write: EHRs Have Not Reduced Paper Usage Yet. Why? And How Do We Change This?

July 2, 2018 Readers Write 1 Comment

EHRs Have Not Reduced Paper Usage Yet. Why? And How Do We Change This?
By Chris Click

Chris Click is senior healthcare solutions manager of document imaging for Nuance of Burlington, MA.


EHRs have numerous advantages. Foremost among them, patients’ health records are readily available and stored securely. Despite these benefits, hospitals report an 11 percent increase in paper usage, driven by Meaningful Use, the Affordable Care Act, ICD-10, and the adoption of electronic record-keeping. This begs the question — why is paper usage increasing as hospitals adopt EHRs?

According to Health IT Dashboard, in 2016, more than 95 percent of all eligible and critical access hospitals demonstrated Meaningful Use of certified health IT, including EHRs. Unfortunately, doctors are not always happy or comfortable with this widespread adoption of health IT. Physicians Practice’s 2017 Technology Survey found nearly 43 percent of physicians cited issues with their facility’s EHR as the most pressing IT-related concern. In the same survey, about 75 percent of respondents agreed that health IT is failing because doctors generally do not like the technology available to them.

Physicians’ dissatisfaction with their facilities’ EHR systems lead them to print out patient records rather than work from the device’s screen. Evidence points to this being the case; according to one recent US survey, 88 percent of respondents said they understood, retained, and used information better when they read general documents on paper as opposed to on electronic devices.

Things do not have to be this way. Healthcare organizations need to supply their medical staff with tools to make EHRs easier to use and eliminate unnecessary printing and paper-based records in general, while also maintaining a high level of patient convenience and satisfaction.

Paper is still prevalent in healthcare facilities. Not only because doctors seem to prefer it over EHRs, but because patients often arrive with a variety of paperwork: admission forms, consent forms, pharmaceutical records, referrals, and insurance forms. EHRs can store all this information, but manually entering the information can be an onerous task that leaves patients waiting. Therefore, it’s necessary for healthcare facilities to equip their staff with tools to streamline the intake process and automatically input patients’ information into their EHRs. Installing optical character recognition (OCR) technology onto office scanners and integrating the device to the facility’s EHR will enable administrative staff to scan documents and have the information automatically uploaded into the EHR, saving time for both staff and patients.

Doctors are also spending more time with EHRs and less time with patients. A 2016 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that nearly 49 percent of doctors’ time was spent on EHRs (updating them, inputting notes, etc.) while just 27 percent was spent with patients in direct clinical engagement. Giving doctors tools to make recordkeeping easier will give them more time to interact with patients.

Hospitals should consider giving their medical staff voice recognition or OCR tools. Both have become practical alternatives to typing and are a much faster, simpler way to transcribe doctors’ notes into EHR systems. A recent study showed that voice recognition software is faster and more accurate than typing, and OCR technology, when paired with document scanners, can convert paper documentation such as patient reports and clinical tests into searchable content for immediate use by the clinician in the EHR.

When EHRs are updated more promptly and accurately, physicians’ confidence levels in them will increase. If physicians know that inputting notes will be significantly easier than in the past, this will encourage them to reduce their reliance on paper and instead leverage more modern, convenient techniques. All of this will help reduce the volume of paper and printing.

Healthcare facilities that do not set parameters at the printer leave open the possibility of staff abusing printing privileges and disregarding resource consumption. Equipping multifunction printers (MFPs) with software that creates an audit trail of print jobs can help healthcare facilities manage costs and resources by allowing them to see who is printing and the associated volumes.

In addition to reducing paper volumes and costs, printers can also ensure a higher level of security for sensitive data residing in paper documents. There is software available that enables including “follow-me printing,” which holds documents in a secure print queue until the user authenticates themselves at any network MFP. This ensures that only privileged users can print certain documents and offers better safeguards PHI residing in paper documents by eliminating the scenario of sensitive documents being left unattended on the printer tray.

The healthcare industry’s paper problem can be solved, but reaching Meaningful Use alone hasn’t done the trick. Transitioning to a paper-light operation will require supporting technologies to augment the benefits of a facility’s EHR while at the same time installing better tools to help both physicians and administrative staff streamline processes and while also keeping sensitive, confidential patient data secure.

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