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Looking Ahead to HIMSS19

November 13, 2018 News No Comments


We’re 90 days out from the start of HIMSS19. Notes:

  • Register by December 3 to obtain the early bird discount ($825 for members, $1,055 for non-members).
  • Book a hotel ASAP if you haven’t already. Rooms are available at several close-in hotels at reasonable rates. Or, do as I always do and rent a house or condo through Airbnb or VRBO and then just take Uber or Lyft to the convention center. Do not reply to the shady non-HIMSS emails offering rooms – they’re a scam since HIMSS controls basically every hotel room you’re likely to want.
  • Note the odd dates – the opening reception is Monday evening (February 11),  the opening keynote is Tuesday morning, and the conference ends after a partial day on Friday (that’s going to be a slow conference day for sure).
  • The exhibit hall will be open Tuesday morning and will close Thursday evening.

The online educational agenda is incomplete, with many sessions containing only a placeholder without presenter names (seems a bit late to still be working on that, but it’s not going to change anyone’s plans either way). All keynote speakers announced so far work in for-profit companies – Atul Gawande, MD (of the ABC consortium that hasn’t named itself yet), Susan DeVore (Premier), and Mick Ebeling (Not Impossible Labs). Many of the educational sessions have vendor presenters, quite different from the HIMSS conferences a few years back where the commercial side of health IT was kept separate from the education sessions.

The theme of the conference is the rather dopey “Champions of Health Unite,” perhaps a stretch given that most of the attendees are vendors or IT-related people whose scope and influence in “health” is tiny (we contribute slightly to the work of providers, whose services in turn contribute about 20 percent of a person’s overall health). HIMSS, as usual, proclaims itself an equal partner as we advance information and technology “to meet our biggest challenges head-on and truly transform health,” which you would think would have been accomplished by now since they claim impending “transformation” every year and the US healthcare system is a bigger mess than it’s ever been.



What we’ll be doing there:

  • Our tiny 10×10  booth is #4085. The location is OK (especially since we’re not selling anything) and several of our neighbors are HIStalk sponsors, which is often fun. We’re near the restrooms, of course, since that’s always the case except that one year we were nearly co-located with the Thai food kiosk.
  • Many small booths remain available. I wouldn’t wait long to get on board, though, since latecomers aren’t listed in the printed guide. I’m always skeptical about companies that aren’t organized enough to sign up given a full year’s notice, especially if they’re pitching project management services.
  • Exhibiting isn’t cheap. Non-member booth space costs $45 to $47 per square foot plus $725 for a corner. HIMSS provides five exhibitor or client badges for each 100 square feet purchased, which makes it a better deal for us even though we only use a couple of those badges.
  • The 10th and final HIStalkapalooza was in 2017, so there’s no need to email me asking for tickets (I still get those requests regularly). You can watch the video of the 10th and final one at HIMSS17 in Orlando if you’re feeling nostalgic.

The biggest individual booths in square feet are:

  • IBM (15,300, total space 15,810 – that cost them well over $600,000 at the corporate member rate of $39 per square foot plus extra for corners – maybe Watson made the call)
  • Allscripts (10,800, total space 11,100)
  • Epic (9,900, total space 13,500)
  • Cerner (8,400, total space 12,300)
  • GE Healthcare (7,000, total space 7,400 – I’m not sure what they’ll be pitching since they’ve sold off their health IT business)

Exhibitors get priority choice for booth space given their HIMSS Exhibitor Priority Points, earned by spending a lot on HIMSS stuff (including participating in other HIMSS-owned conferences and throwing down major advertising dollars to its HIMSS Media PR factory).

You might want to review these reader-provided tips if you’re a first-time attendee.


We’re be doing our usual HIStalk stuff at HIMSS19:

  • Having interesting characters and pseudo-celebrities hang out in our little booth. Let us know if you want to participate – my definition of celebrity-hood leans toward the offbeat.
  • Talking up HIStalk sponsors a bit beforehand to let folks know what they’re doing there. We will be too busy after January 1 to get new sponsors on board until after the conference since it’s just 41 days between New Year’s Day and the conference’s start.
  • Giving away stuff in our booth, which ranges from the slightly cool but obviously cheap (when I have to pay for it) or nicer, vendor-supplied swag that is higher quality but potentially less cool.
  • Cruising the exhibit hall to write up what we see — the buzz, giveaways, demos, and booth people behaving badly (see my exhibitor tips to avoid being called out, and for God’s sake don’t dress non-clinicians in scrubs).
  • Covering the 5 percent of vendor announcements (most of them unwisely pushed out Monday amidst the mayhem) that contain something even mildly interesting.
  • Maybe having some kind of DonorsChoose fundraising event if I can figure something out.
  • Posting the HISsies results. Which reminds me that I need to get the voting underway soon given the early conference date.

Morning Headlines 11/13/18

November 12, 2018 Headlines 3 Comments

Veritas Capital Will Acquire Athenahealth for $5.7 Billion

Veritas Capital and Elliott Management subsidiary Evergreen Coast Capital will acquire Athenahealth for $5.7 billion.

FHIR Server for Azure: An open source project for cloud-based health solutions

Microsoft Healthcare releases an open-source project on GitHub to help developers build FHIR-based services and apps in the cloud.

Manatt Adds Prominent Venture Capitalist and Entrepreneur

Healthcare venture fund expert Lisa Lisa Suennen will join Manatt Phelps & Phillips as head of its digital and technology businesses (including its healthcare consulting arm), and the firm’s venture capital fund.

Rapid Escalation of Practice Acquisitions Drives Hospital Systems to Merge Hosts of Physician Technology Platforms by 2021, Black Book Survey

Forty percent of hospital-based respondents plan to replace acquired physician practice EHR and PM systems, with Allscripts being the most recommended integrated solution.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/12/18

November 12, 2018 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I was intrigued by the results of Mr. H’s recent poll results regarding reader attendance plans for HIMSS19. Only 28 percent of respondents will be going, although the sample size is pretty small at 216 readers. Most of the people I’ve asked recently about their HIMSS plans are under substantial budget constraints, with some employers limiting even high-level IT staffers to only one conference per year. Those with limits seem to generally choose their EHR vendor’s user group meeting, or otherwise a meeting that is more specific to projects that they’re going to be working on in coming months.

Since HIMSS released the educational sessions schedule this week, I decided to do a bit of a deep dive to see what is on the calendar that might be interesting to potential attendees or might bring value to their efforts to persuade their employer to send them.

The first place I landed was the subset of Views From the Top sessions, where attendees can “be inspired by compelling stories from high-ranking leaders in a variety of industries.” The first session that popped up was one presented by Jason Cheah, who is CEO of the Agency of Integrated Care in Singapore. I do enjoy the international sessions, often there are some progressive approaches to healthcare IT problems, although it can be tricky to find nuggets that can be applied back home since the healthcare delivery systems might be significantly different from what we have to work with in the US. I recently spent some time with some physicians from Canada and learned that although some of the issues are the same, there’s enough of a different spin on payment and prioritization of initiatives that some of the best ideas I heard would be difficult to apply at my own hospital.

Wednesday’s session titled “Transparency in Prescription Drug Costs to Help Patients Save Money” will certainly address a US-centric topic, given that the presenters are CVS Health Chief Medical Officer Troy Brennan, MD and Surescripts Chief Executive Officer Tom Skelton. They’re slated to talk about drug cost and benefit plan information transparency and how to better expose that information to patients, prescribers, and pharmacies. Price shopping is a big deal for the patients I currently serve – many are using sites like GoodRx to help make medications more affordable. It’s still a patchwork of coverage, though, as one of my patients found out when a local Walmart refused to honor the $15 price listed in the app, telling the patient it would be $50. The patient didn’t fill it at our office due to a $40 price tag in the first place, and with the drive and the confusion ended up in a situation where our office was closed so they couldn’t get it from us for less, so they didn’t fill it at all. Not good news for the teenager with bronchitis and asthma who really would have benefitted from access to an inhaler overnight.

Another Views From the Top session is titled “Defeat Nation State Actors Stalking the Health Care Sector” and covers cybersecurity best practices and risk exposure management. It sounds interesting, but likely more suited to the technical side of the house as opposed to the average clinical informaticist.

Next, I went to the section titled Reactions from the Field, which is designed to feature “market suppliers ‘in the field’ working closely with healthcare organizations to address common issues in cybersecurity, innovation, life science / pharma, or artificial intelligence.” It goes on to note that there will be four sessions with three panelists each, but no details are published. I’ll have to check back in a month or two to see what that’s all about. The Industry Solutions Sessions are also not listed in detail yet but are slated to include vendor-sponsored case studies presented in hour-long sessions.

The HIMSS Davies Award Sessions are listed and include a number of bread-and-butter type sessions covering issues we deal with on a regular basis: improvement of quality scores; reducing urinary tract infections due to catheter use; decreasing falls; improving pediatric asthma outcomes; sepsis management through clinical decision support and virtual care; clinical risk systems; and achieving the Triple Aim. Although some of the session descriptions clearly stated which organization was presenting, others used acronyms or abbreviations that left me guessing. There also were no presenter names included.

The Government Sessions header also failed to include a list of actual sessions, although it promises to help attendees “get answers to your pressing questions surrounding the Trump Administration and its impact on health and health information technology.” I assume the usual players will be making an appearance, but again will have to check back.

From there it was on to the General Education sessions, where a brand-new Blockchain Forum has been added. There are three specific sessions listed out for those of you looking to get the most current information on everyone’s favorite buzzword. I found a couple of interesting sessions interspersed among various forums, including one on counterfeit pharmaceuticals in the supply chain and another on data interoperability across non-hospital care venues such as long-term / post-acute care facilities.

There do appear to be a couple of new formats and venues for sessions. The SPARK Session (Session Providing Actionable and Rapid Knowledge) is designed to be 20 minutes of quick insights. Sessions are also being grouped into “content streams” aligned with the Quadruple Aim and allowing attendees to focus on domains of technology, information, organizational efficiency, care, environment, and societal challenges. There will also be a Learning Lounge with on-demand viewing of live-streamed sessions. I hope the room is large and the chairs plentiful because it might become the hip place to be for those with tired feet and aching backs.

From a consultant standpoint, I’m hoping there will be some good sessions in the Federal Health Community Forum, although no sessions were listed yet. I’m helping clients through a number of governmental initiatives including the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+) program and of course MIPS, so if there’s any easier ways to navigate or advise, I’m hoping to pick up some tips. As with other areas, the details aren’t quite posted yet.

In the email announcing the session listings, HIMSS promised over 400 sessions and there certainly isn’t anywhere near that number posted yet for our consideration. It just goes to show that I should probably go back to planning my HIMSS session attendance like I have for the last several years – at the last minute on the plane while sipping a cocktail and hoping I packed the right shoes. At least by then HIMSS should have all the sessions listed and maybe some presenters.

What’s your strategy for planning your trip to HIMSS? Are the sessions important, or is it more about the exhibit hall, building new relationships, and catching up with colleagues? Leave a comment or email me.


Email Dr. Jayne.

Veritas Capital Will Acquire Athenahealth for $5.7 Billion

November 12, 2018 News 5 Comments


Private equity firms Veritas Capital and Evergreen Coast Capital will acquire Athenahealth in an all-cash deal worth $5.7 billion, the companies announced this morning. The $135 per share sales price represents a 12 percent premium over Friday’s close.

Athenahealth wil be combined with Veritas-owned Virence Health, which sells the former GE Healthcare financial, ambulatory, and workforce management product lines. Veritas acquired that business from GE for $1.05 billion in cash in July 2018.

The combined companies will operate under the Athenahealth brand with headquarters remaining in Watertown, MA. After the transaction is completed, Veritas will restore API Healthcare as a separate workforce management technology company. GE Healthcare acquired API Healthcare in January 2014.

Athenahealth’s CEO will be Virence Chairman and CEO Bob Segert, who was hired by Veritas in September 2018. He has no healthcare experience

Evergreen Cost Capital is the private equity subsidiary of Elliott Management Corporation, the activist investor that targeted Athenahealth and forced the ouster of Athenahealth co-founder and CEO Jonathan Bush in June 2018. Elliott Management offered $160 per share bid for Athenahealth in September 2018 but then backed away, either as a result of due diligence or the realization that Athenahealth turmoil had decreased the price required to buy it. The company says it supports the acquisition and will retain its minority share in it.

Some of Veritas Capital’s previous health IT acquisitions include the healthcare business of Thomson Reuters (now IBM Watson Health’s Truven Health Analytics, $1.25 billion); payments processing technology vendor Cotiviti ($4.9 billion); and analytics vendor Verscend (formerly Verisk Health, $820 million). Verscend and Cotiviti were combined under the Cotiviti name upon completion of Verscend’s acquisition of Cotiviti in August 2018.

ATHN shares rose 10 percent in early trading following the announcement prior to the market’s open. They’re up 5 percent in the previous 12 months vs. the Nasdaq’s 7 percent increase. They peaked in the $145 range in early 2014.


Morning Headlines 11/12/18

November 11, 2018 Headlines 1 Comment

Veritas Capital, Elliott clinch $5.5 billion acquisition of Athenahealth

Reuters reports that Veritas Capital and Elliott Management will acquire Athenahealth for $135 per share.

Corporate America’s blockchain and bitcoin fever is over

Executives of S&P companies are dropping their references to blockchain in earnings calls, with buzzword-dropping down 80 percent as shareholders stopped believing the hype and share prices stopped increasing.

Hackers stole income, immigration and tax data in breach, government confirms

CMS notifies 75,000 customers – mostly brokers and agents – that the recent data breach did not expose financial or personal health information. 

Monday Morning Update 11/12/18

November 11, 2018 News No Comments

Top News


Athenahealth reports Q3 results that had been pushed back a week: revenue up 9 percent, adjusted EPS $1.08 vs. $0.56, beating earnings expectations but falling short on revenue.

The company also delayed its earnings call one week to Monday afternoon after the market’s close.

The unexplained delay might indicate that an announcement about its acquisition interest will be forthcoming. Veritas Capital and Elliott Management were rumored a couple of weeks ago to be close to finalizing their acquisition of the company.

UPDATE: Reuters reports that Veritas Capital and Elliott Management will announce Monday that they will acquire Athenahealth for $135 per share. ATHN shares closed Friday at $120.35.

Reader Comments


From Spam in a Can: “Re: news items. Wonder if you have thoughts on seemingly contradictory recent news item? An anonymous couple donates $2.1 million to RIP Medical Debt, which will use the money to pay off $250 million in debts. Second, a family donates $200 million to Harvard Medical School.” I’m just riffing here, but my thoughts:

  • It’s kind of sad that charity RIP Medical Debt is even a thing. It buys discounted portfolios of medical bills that have been characterized as uncollectible, then pays them off for consumers who meet its need-based criteria. By then, I would assume that the debtor has moved on, has had their credit destroyed, or didn’t plan to pay their bill anyway. Whoever is holding the debt will appreciate having it paid, I suppose.
  • Providers won’t see the money since the accounts were already written off and, as with all other healthcare discounting and contracting, the rest of us are covering their shortfall.
  • RIP Medical Debt estimates that Americans owe $1 trillion in medical debt.
  • Each $1 donated to the charity allows $100 in debt to be purchased and forgiven.
  • Harvard Medical School’s $200 million pledge was from Ukraine-born Sir Leonard Blavatnik, the wealthiest man in the UK at $21 billion. HMS will spend his money on research projects and startups that presumably won’t offer anything free to patients.
  • Neither of these news items necessarily benefit patients or help improve our mess of a healthcare non-system that ignores public health, is left to deal (poorly) with health-harming economic disparity, and is controlled by a politically entrenched industrial complex (including all of us reading here) whose cost is eating up close to 20 percent of our gross domestic product.


From Choosy Mothers: “Re: health IT books. You should write one about HIStalk.” A description of how I fill an empty computer screen each day wouldn’t make a compelling read, but I’ve seen some awful books published since Amazon lowered the bar with self-publishing tools. Some healthcare executives have hired vanity book services, where you pay them to repurpose whatever you have lying around (presentations, blog posts, interviews, etc.) into a “book” that requires nearly zero effort, inspiration, or intent to deliver reader value (and authors can even game Amazon’s system into declaring their crappy book to be a “bestseller.”) The worst thing about the democratization of publishing platforms (blogs, podcasts, social media updates, and even hard-to-fill speaking spots for an excessive number of conferences) is that we’re all being bombarded with lightweight, poorly written, ego-stroking and resume-padding filler that an objective editor would have rejected or at least helped improve. On the bright side, it’s easy to identify who to ignore since they’re laying the evidence right in front of you.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests


HIMSS19 attendance bookmakers might be interested that nearly twice as many HIMSS18 attendees will skip HIMSS19 than non-attendees of HIMSS18 who will go this time around, which on election night would have stoked lengthy analysis and discussion about whether it’s a wave, to whose benefit, and for what reasons.

New poll to your right or here: Who is most responsible for clinician-unfriendly EHRs? Vote and then click the poll’s comments link to explain your vote or the solution you would recommend.

Sunday, November 11 is Veterans Day (celebrated Monday), set aside to honor all US military veterans. You can attend a parade or celebration; fly the flag; visit or volunteer at a VA hospital; ask your employer to honor veteran co-workers; arrange to anonymously pick up a veteran’s check at a coffee shop or restaurant; or I suppose just pay your taxes to support the VA’s $10 billion Cerner contract that hopefully will benefit veterans. Or you do nothing at all because the country they served allows that, too.

Health IT news is uncharacteristically light as everyone in the industry focuses on honoring veterans (OK, maybe that’s not the reason, but I don’t know why otherwise). It’s not a holiday for most of our industry, so you can at least take a mental vacation for the few minutes of saved reading time.


None scheduled soon. Previous webinars are on our YouTube channel. Contact Lorre for information.


  • Parkview Medical Center (CO) chooses Access for electronic signatures and forms.

Government and Politics

Andy Slavitt’s HAMA Forum article enumerates the Triple Threat to the Triple Aim: (a) health disparities associated with income, location, and race; (b) the “single aim” of revenue that overshadows the more important aims; and (c) the weaponization of healthcare by unresponsive politicians and lobbyists.


Executives of S&P companies are dropping their references to blockchain in earnings calls, analysis finds, with buzzword-dropping down 80 percent as its shareholders stopped believing the hype and share prices stopped increasing accordingly.


CNBC notes that alumni of the failed wristwatch-powered blood pressure monitor Quanttus, formed by MIT researchers in 2012 and shut down in 2016, have moved on to Verily, Apple, Google, and other big consumer firms, some of which are working on blood pressure projects of their own.

Sponsor Updates

  • PointClickCare names Liaison Technologies its Partner of the Year.
  • Lightbeam Health Solutions will exhibit at the 2018 Institute for Quality Leadership November 13-15 in San Antonio.
  • Loyale Healthcare examines industry consolidation and closures in “How to Survive the Growing Wave.”
  • Waystar and Surescripts will exhibit at the NextGen One Users Meeting November 11-14 in Nashville.
  • Netsmart will exhibit at the VAHCH Annual Conference November 13 in Glen Allen, VA.
  • Nordic, Clinical Computer Systems, developer of the Obix Perinatal Data System, and The SSI Group will exhibit at the HIMSS GC3 event November 14-16 in Mobile, AL.
  • PerfectServe will exhibit at the HealthLeaders CNO Exchange November 12-14 in Charleston, SC.
  • ROI Healthcare Solutions publishes a new e-book, “Embracing HR Innovation.”
  • Philips Wellcentive will exhibit at the AMGA 2018 Institute for Quality Leadership November 13-15 in San Antonio.
  • Wolters Kluwer Health donates Lexicomp app subscriptions to clinicians working aboard Mercy Ship hospitals.
  • ZeOmega will exhibit at the TAHP Managed Care Conference and Trade Show November 12-15 in Houston.

Blog Posts



Mr. H, Lorre, Jenn, Dr. Jayne.
Get HIStalk updates. Send news or rumors.
Contact us.


Weekender 11/9/18

November 9, 2018 Weekender 3 Comments


Weekly News Recap

  • Google hires Geisinger President and CEO David Feinberg, MD, MBA to develop its healthcare strategy across its business units
  • Bedside patient engagement company GetWellNetwork acquires HealthLoop, a Silicon Valley-based developer of automated messaging for follow-up care
  • A study of EHR-related medication events in pediatric hospitals, of which 18 percent appear to have caused harm, finds system usability as the cause 36 percent of the time
  • Premier announces that it will acquire clinical decision support vendor Stanson Health
  • Microsoft tells users of its HealthVault personal health record that it will shut down Direct messaging on December 27, 2018
  • ResMed announces plans to acquire MatrixCare for $750 million
  • Allscripts says in its earnings call that it will launch a formal sales process for its stake in Netsmart
  • Two nationally prominent articles observe how poorly hospital EHRs handle the end of daylight saving time, as information entered between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. is deleted when the system clock is set back

Best Reader Comments

I feel for providers and their in baskets. I previously worked for a gigantic HMO with a huge amount of virtual care and no support staff and it really was a second job. I am sure it is similar for other community providers. At my current employer, we definitely struggle with Revenge of the Ancillaries (or perhaps just curse of complying with billing). For imaging orders, providers have to enter a coded diagnosis and a separate field for reason for test. It makes me cringe every time I watch them. (Midwest Fan)

No one gives a rip about who was promoted to chief marketing officer or of human resources of a vendor’s firm. (leftcoaster)

[Replying to leftcoaster] As a chief marketing officer who is also a company founder and key member of our executive team determining strategy, providing input for product development, and working with customers during implementation, I politely suggest you broaden your view of what a marketing leader really does. (Not Just Glossy Ads)

Just recently finished applying for life insurance and part of that was an hours-long review of medical history where they wanted every place I’ve had care in the last five years. Had to sign ROIs and personally work with a few providers to get my medical record. Also had to have a few labs done with no existing conditions to call for it. (YoungBuck)

Cleveland Clinic Florida release of records – they do have that option in Epic but choose not to use it at this point. They absolutely should get on board and modernize. No reason not to (other than maybe it’s more profitable doing what they do, which is sad). (FactCheckPlease)

The “dilution” effect on systems is real. A really terrific small system can easily become a meh larger system, which can become a truly hated enterprise system. Chefs will recognize this as the “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. (Brian Too)

Does no one see the issue with having a orthopedic surgeon work as a dictation scribe where the productivity is 30 min visit = 1 hour scribing? Does India have too many doctors and not enough jobs for doctors? I think lot of providers still have the paternalistic view that they know best because they are the smartest and the wisest at all times, and everything in healthcare should be catered to them. That has always resulted in bad outcomes for the patient in the past, and that sort of attitude needs to be checked. (“Ancillary” Person)

Regarding the reported archaic workarounds for daylight saving time. What is truly archaic is that we are still changing our clocks twice a year! I don’t see an easy way to alleviate this problem in the EHR when accurate, timed entries are critical to patient care and also required. (CaveNerd)

Atul’s concerns about the problem list are entirely the fault of using an insurance system that demands specific diagnosis codes before they will pay for procedures. Maybe, if we didn’t have a ridiculous payment system, we wouldn’t have ridiculous software designed to feed a ridiculous payment system. (ItsThePayorsDummy)

Watercooler Talk Tidbits

image image

Readers funded the DonorsChoose teacher grant request of Ms. K in New York, who asked for a document camera (the one they have is shared by four classrooms) and a speaker to replace their broken one so the class can hear the audio portion of videos. She reports, “These supplies went straight from the box to the front of the classroom. Your support transformed our classroom learning environment to where we are now able to hear sound for videos and have students bring work up to have it projected and seen. This has led to more student-led instruction and reflection on their work. By empowering them to use their own work to model through the concepts, give feedback to one another, and be open to how they can be better has been transformational to our classroom culture. Thank you for your continued support!”


My mention of hospitals still requiring faxes resonated with a reader who works in a large radiology practice. They have HL7 integration and many options for sending results electronically, but they still send 100,000 pages each day by fax. Most interesting is that clients ask them to fax, on average, THREE copies of the same result, which as he concludes,” Yes, we are their copy machine!” I joked that someone should develop a healthcare-only fax integration engine that can parse information from fixed form locations and convert it to HL7-compatible data and he said that’s already been attempted, but was thwarted by low fax image quality and trying to convert handwritten data. The fact that it was even attempted says a lot.

I looked at the records request page of several hospitals and found these consistencies:

  • The patient is expected to know which of several listed health system departments delivered care to them (hospital, clinic, private practice, imaging, etc.) and to complete a form for each. So much for the benefit of being treated by a health “system.”
  • The request forms are often lengthy (several pages) and confusing because they try to cover all situations, such as patients requesting their own records, authorizing someone else to receive their data, or requests by providers rather than patients.
  • Most hospitals require the completed form to be delivered to the HIM department in person, mailed, or faxed. You will immediately understand the consumer challenge in the majority of hospitals where HIM is buried in the basement of the hospital’s busiest building where parking is hard to find and not free (although commendably, some hospitals offer patient drop-off parking spots or free valet parking). Why can’t hospitals offer a service desk in a less-congested area where all patient requests can be handled? Kudos to those hospitals that provide an email address for submitting the form, which works if patients have a scanner at home (none of the hospitals I checked provide a form that can be completed online).
  • The forms often refer to “PHI” as though patients should understand what that means (even when the form indicates what the letters stand for).
  • Requests for billing records are not covered by requests for medical records and are not mentioned on the HIM page.
  • On the plus side, some hospitals gave specific instructions for downloading information from the patient portal, offered the option to receive information via secure email, listed their prices for providing copies of records, listed the legal rights patients have with regard to their records, and gave estimates of how long it would take to receive records (although that ranged from days to many weeks).

California voters reject a proposition that would have capped dialysis profits, a measure opposed by hospitals, doctors, and the two highly profitable national dialysis companies that spent $111 million to squash it.

NIH seeks a contractor to manufacture “marijuana cigarettes” for THC-related studies, also requiring the small business it chooses to provide a placebo for control groups (“nicotine research cigarettes.”)

The SEC files insider trading charges against the airplane mechanic husband of a UnitedHealth Group HR VP who spied on her to obtain confidential merger information. James Hengen is alleged to have made $63,000 in profits by taking positions in two companies that were later acquired by UHG and also tipped off his brother and some co-workers to load up on shares.


Someone steals a 10-foot-long inflatable colon used by University of Kansas Cancer Center in its “Get Your Rear in Gear” colorectal cancer public education program. In a happy ending, KC police recovered the stolen colon, moved to action by TV colonoscopy queen Katie Couric, who wittily tweeted, “Does anyone know the scope of the crime?” Hopefully, there’s no obstruction of justice. We need to flush out what happened here and get to the BOTTOM of it.” It was returned intact (no semicolon here) although conspiracy theorists question whether the theft was a PR stunt.

In Case You Missed It

Get Involved



Morning Headlines 11/9/18

November 8, 2018 Headlines No Comments

Google has hired Geisinger’s David Feinberg to lead its health strategy

Google will hire Geisinger President and CEO David Feinberg, MD, MBA to develop its healthcare strategy across its business units.

GetWellNetwork Acquires HealthLoop

Bedside patient engagement company GetWellNetwork acquires HealthLoop, a Silicon Valley-based developer of automated messaging for follow-up care.

Patel to succeed Johnson in Health IT leadership role

Chief Health Information Officer Neal Patel, MD, MPH will replace Chief Informatics Officer Kevin Johnson, MD, MS as head of health IT efforts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (TN) as of January 1.

Tabula Rasa HealthCare Acquires Cognify an Integration HealthCare Technology Company

Medication safety technology vendor Tabula Rasa HealthCare acquires Cognify, which offers solutions to support the federal PACE program.

News 11/9/18

November 8, 2018 News 1 Comment

Top News


Google will hire Geisinger President and CEO David Feinberg, MD, MBA to develop its healthcare strategy across its business units that include search, cloud, AI, Nest home automation, and Google Fit wearables. 


Reader Comments


From Keeping It Real: “Re: NextGen blog post. I guess you get what you pay for in marketing and social advisors since someone was apparently OK with citing a competitor’s opinion piece.” I’m puzzled by the blog post that is attributed to NextGen Healthcare CMIO Robert Murry, MD since it not only cites a blog post of competitor Nextech, the Nextech post is hardly original (a “free” EHR may involve paid add-ons that make it more expensive than a paid system, it basically says). I’m pretty sure this was ghost-written by a NextGen marketing person since Bob has outstanding education and experience (not to mention his esteemed credential as a member of Dann’s HIStalk Fan Club on LinkedIn) and I doubt he’s looking to Nextech for inspiration. I’ll also say that I get puff pieces every day that are supposedly written by vendor C-level executives that clearly were hacked together by a marketing committee who took a quick, “OK, fine, whatever” response from the alleged author as meaning they did great when they clearly did not. 

From Smallie Biggs: “Re: LinkedIn. Is it creepy when people write their entries in the third person or call themselves ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’ in describing how wonderful they are? Absolutely. Stiffly written LinkedIn profiles make me question whether that person has an ounce of creativity or originality in them, and if they applied to work for me, I would be instantly prejudiced into moving on to someone who seems more human.

HIStalk Announcements and Requests

Listening: a good protest song and video from rapper Kap G (whose music I generally dislike) called “A Day Without a Mexican.” Kap G (real name: George Ramirez) proudly wears his Mexican lineage (literally) despite rather light cred given that he was born and raised in College Park, GA. I’m also really, really liking Spain-based Mägo de Oz (Spanish for “Wizard of Oz” with the mandatory metal umlaut thrown in because they have a sense of humor),  which deftly plays an amalgam of heavy metal, Celtic, and 1980s-style power rock, kind of like Iron Maiden, Asia, and Jethro Tull co-creating a Spanish-language metal opera from “Lords of the Dance.” They’re big in a lot of places that aren’t here.


None scheduled soon. Previous webinars are on our YouTube channel. Contact Lorre for information.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock


Bedside patient engagement company GetWellNetwork acquires HealthLoop, a Silicon Valley-based developer of automated messaging for follow-up care. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. HealthLoop, which has raised $22 million since launching in 2009, will work with GetWellNetwork to develop an integrated solution called GetWell Loop in the coming months.

Medication safety technology vendor Tabula Rasa HealthCare acquires Cognify, which offers solutions to support the federal PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) program.


  • ClinicalConnect HIE (PA) selects Fusion, Analyze, and Quality apps from Diameter Health to automate and standardize data exchange.
  • Charleston Area Medical Center (WV), Fairview Health Services (MN), and University of Minnesota Physicians select release-of-information services from MRO.
  • Pacific Dental Services, which provides back-office services for dental practices, will implement Epic to allow practices to coordinate with other clinicians.



Michael Johnson (Community Health Systems) joins Medhost as CISO.


Greenway Health promotes Kimberly O’Loughlin to president.

image image

Chief Health Information Officer Neal Patel, MD, MPH will replace Chief Informatics Officer Kevin Johnson, MD, MS as head of health IT efforts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (TN) as of January 1. Johnson will retain his position as chair of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Informatics. Both men oversaw the hospital’s two-year Epic implementation and optimization efforts.


Anne Hunt (Castlight Health) joins healthcare messaging vendor Medici as VP and head of product following its acquisition of DocbookMD.


PatientKeeper names Barry Gutwillig (Kofax) VP of sales and marketing.


Jeff Miller (The SSI Group) joins AMA-backed Akiri as COO.


Jennifer LeMieux (JRMH Consulting) returns to healthcare consulting and hospital management company HealthTechS3 as COO.


Audacious Inquiry names Keith “Motorcycle Guy” Boone (GE Healthcare) as informatics adept. I had to look that word “adept” up and I like it – it can be used as either an adjective or noun to describe someone who is skilled in a particular area.


HealthStream promotes Trisha Coady to SVP/GM of clinical solutions.


Peter Siavelis (StayWell) joins Waystar as SVP of health systems.


Industry long-timer Brian Graves (Concentra Analytics) joins Hospital IQ as VP.

Announcements and Implementations


Novant Health (NC) goes live on Glytec’s EGlycemic Management System.


Cedar County Memorial Hospital (MO) goes live on Meditech Expanse with consulting help from Engage.


Physicians at Upstate University Hospital (NY) develop a training program using Vocera’s Rounds mobile app to capture data about hospitalist behavior during patient interactions and to provide real-time feedback.


In Maine, the ACO of Northern Light Health (just renamed from Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, which was oddly pluralized, and not to be confused with Northern Lights Regional Healthcare Centre in Alberta, Canada) adopts PatientPing’s real-time admit-discharge-transfer notification services. The name change creates an awkward title for the flagship hospital, “Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center,” which I’m guessing basically nobody will use in favor of the perfectly serviceable old name of Eastern Maine Medical Center or EMMC.

Government and Politics


After a pilot study with Kaiser Permanente, the FDA releases the open-source code behind its new MyStudies app. The app was developed to give patients, providers, and developers an easier way to report and collect health data that can then be used to inform the development of drug and medical devices, and patient safety efforts.



Hawaii Pacific Health VP Melinda Ashton, MD describes the origin and progress of the health system’s “Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff” program, which aims to streamline EHR workflows based on nursing and physician requests. Since launching in October 2017, requests have been submitted and acted on in three main categories – documentation that was never meant to occur, documentation that could be done more effectively, and required documentation that end users didn’t fully understand. Ashton says, “When the campaign was unveiled, it was largely met with surprise and sheepish laughter, then applause. We seem to have struck a nerve. It appears that there is stupid stuff all around us, and although many of the nominations we receive aren’t for big changes, the small wins that come from acknowledging and improving our daily work do matter.”


Mid Atlantic Permanente Medical Group cardiologist and Epic user Ameya Kulkarni, MD posts a thread of tweets reacting to Atul Gawande’s New Yorker piece on the contempt physicians have for their computers, noting more than once that the EHR is not the biggest contributing factor to physician burnout. “To fight burnout,” he says, “we need to think about how our communication systems increase loneliness and reduce agency. These are the key drivers. … And working on loneliness means 1) creating opportunities for real world interaction with colleagues and patients & 2) Simplifying documentation requirements so notes become communication tools again.”


A study of the EHR experience of medical students in Australia finds that they have no problems learning it, using it, or understanding its advantages. They also don’t feel that using the EHR detracts from patient interaction or rapport. They do, however, say that the EHR doesn’t help them learn as much as they expected.

Sponsor Updates


  • HCTec staff volunteer at Hope Lodge, an organization in Nashville helping those undergoing cancer treatments.
  • AdvancedMD employees pack over 900 weekend pantry packs for students in the Granite School District.
  • Agfa Healthcare partners with PACSHealth to implement system-wide radiation dose monitoring at the Veterans Integrated Service Networks 19.
  • Apixio will exhibit at RISE: The 12th Risk Adjustment Forum November 11-13 in Marco Island, FL.
  • Aprima publishes a new guide, “How to Switch EHRs.”
  • Over 50 Florida hospitals now receive data through state-based HIE services, including Audacious Inquiry’s Encounter Notification Service.
  • Bluetree will exhibit at the RCM Leaders Forum November 14-16 in Dallas.
  • CenTrak publishes a new customer testimonial featuring Diane Drefcinski from the University of Wisconsin.
  • ChartLogic publishes a new white paper, “How to Prepare for MIPS in 2019.”
  • CompuGroup Medical will exhibit at the AZ HIMSS Tucson Education Event November 15.
  • CoverMyMeds will exhibit at the ECRM pharmacy technology event November 12-14 in Cape Coral, FL.
  • Diameter Health will exhibit at the NCQA HL7 Digital Quality Summit November 14-15 in Washington, DC.
  • Docent Health is mentioned in a new book on healthcare consumerism, “Choice Matters: How Healthcare Consumers Make Decisions (and Why Clinicians and Managers Should Care).
  • DocuTap will accept submissions for its scholarship program through December 2.
  • Elsevier will integrate the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology with its Via Oncology clinical decision support tool.
  • EClinicalWorks will exhibit at the 2018 NNOHA Annual Conference November 12-13 in New Orleans.
  • EPSi will exhibit at the HFMA Region 9 Conference November 11-13 in New Orleans.
  • FormFast will exhibit at the GC3 Conference November 14-16 in Mobile, AL.
  • Spok notes that it has been ranked #1 by Black Book for secure communications in hospitals.
  • Healthwise and Imprivata will exhibit at NextGen UGM 2018 November 11-14 in Nashville.
  • Imat Solutions will exhibit at the TAHP 2018 Managed Care Conference and Trade Show November 12-14 in Houston.
  • Iatric Systems will exhibit at HCCA Regional November 16 in Nashville.
  • Influence Health congratulates four renowned health system customers for their 2018 MarCom Awards.
  • Black Book Market Research ranks Spok number one in secure communications for hospital systems.
  • Divurgent hires Robert Leahey (Axiom Systems) as principal.
  • Piedmont Healthcare (GA) improves clinical documentation and physician productivity with Nuance’s AI-powered solutions.
  • Meditech releases a new podcast on EHR value and sustainability.

Blog Posts



Mr. H, Lorre, Jenn, Dr. Jayne.
Get HIStalk updates. Send news or rumors.
Contact us.


EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 11/8/18

November 8, 2018 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

There was some chatter in the physician lounge this week about a study published in JAMA Network Open looking at the accuracy of EHR medication lists vs. the substances actually found in patients’ blood. Researchers looked at 1,350 patients and found that while a majority of medications were detected in the blood as listed in the EHR, there were many more medications detected that were not reflected in the EHR. Such incomplete documentation prevents systems from performing drug-allergy and drug-drug checking, placing patients at risk.

As much as some clinicians don’t like it, I prefer when patients bring in all their medications and supplements, even if it takes extra time going through a brown bag, shoebox, or tote. That way we can keep the EHR updated and also physically impound medications that patients shouldn’t be taking, if warranted.

There was also a fair amount of conversation around Tuesday’s elections, and the various positions held by candidates regarding healthcare. Kaiser Health News published a great piece looking at the various terms being thrown around during the election, including single-payer, universal healthcare, and Medicare for all. Gubernatorial candidates in California, Massachusetts, and Florida were pushing for state-run single-payer systems, where others were calling for less specific “universal coverage” or “public option” provisions. Like those mentioned in the article, the physicians around my lunch table didn’t fully understand the different models or what they might mean not only to their practices, but to their families.

There was zero chatter around the announcement by CMS that access to Quality and Resource User Reports and PQRS Feedback Reports will be sunset at the end of December. Since 2016 was the last performance period for those programs and 2018 was the final payment adjustment year, there isn’t much of a need for the reports to remain online. Physicians or their authorized representatives can download them until December 31, but it’s unclear how many providers reviewed the data in the first place or whether they tried to use it to drive practice-level improvements. Reports will be available eon the CMS portal for those of you looking for a little bedtime reading.

As I was getting ready to leave, one of my colleagues asked me what I thought of Atul Gawande’s recent New Yorker essay on “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers.” He takes readers through Partners HealthCare’s journey from homegrown EHR to Epic, and all of the physicians around the table were familiar with that 16 hours of training he leads with. (In our case, it was 17, and let me tell you everyone was counting.)

Having run more than a handful of EHR implementation projects, I loved Gawande’s description of his trainer, “younger than any of us, maybe a few years out of college, with an early-Justin Bieber wave cut” whose technique incorporated “the driver’s ed approach: You don’t want to be here; I don’t want to be here; let’s just make the best of it.”

Gawande walks us through his own thoughts about the rise of computers, including the once-coveted Commodore 64, which brings back memories for some of us who have been on the cutting edge. Having been the second person I knew with a modem (the first being the guy from whom my brother bought the used card from), I felt a little bit of his pride and optimism as he readied himself for training. The last three years have quashed that optimism, however, and he has “come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased work’s mastery over me.”

I appreciated his discussion of “the Revenge of the Ancillaries,” where design choices were considered by constituents from various parts of the organization. He makes a point that was telling: “The design choices were more political than technical: administrative staff and doctors had different views about what should be included. The doctors were used to having all the votes… Now the staff had a say (and sometimes the doctors didn’t even show.)”

I’ve seen that happen during several build decision projects, and it sounds like there may not have been adequate checks and balances in the governance process. For example, requiring stakeholder signoff in addition to participation in the working groups. Requiring user acceptance testing of critical workflows would also have caught some of the issues he cited, such as hard stops and required fields, prior to the go-live. He also highlights issues with the maintenance of patient problem lists that are exacerbated by governance issues, with duplications and lack of specificity in entries. Cut and paste is also an issue, one that could be addressed by governance and consensus among users about the best way to use the EHR.

Gawande does discuss the phenomenon of governance, noting that, “As a program adapts and serves more people and more functions, it naturally requires tighter regulation. Software systems govern how we interact as groups, and that makes them unavoidably bureaucratic in nature. There will always be those who want to maintain the system and those who want to push the system’s boundaries.”

I’m in agreement, but it’s still a challenge to figure out why organizations don’t spend the time needed up front to define some of these goals. What is the vision for the new system? How does it support the mission? What are the expected outcomes? How do we define success? Instead it’s often a race against a timeline, which may or may not reflect organizational tolerance for a particular speed of change. The best implementation I ever worked on had a motto of “go slow to go fast.” We may have spent more months in the design and build phase than other organizations, but when we went live, we hit the ground running and there were very few changes needed to the system in the first few months.

Mr. H has already commented on the Gawande piece, and one reader shared their thoughts on the physician mentioned who admittedly ignores messages in her inbox and deletes them without reading them. I hope there aren’t any patients reading The New Yorker who might have a concern about their care in her practice, because if she is ever called into court about a missed diagnosis, things aren’t going to end well for her. I can’t imagine publicly admitting that I don’t review results and I doubt that the medical staff administration is going to think too kindly of it.

Reading the piece from the perspective of a clinical informaticist, there’s a lot to unpack, and also a lot of opportunity to potentially improve things for the impacted physicians. I’m not sure what I think about it from a patient perspective or a non-IT perspective, since it oversimplifies and under-explains some of the complexities that have brought us to where we are. That’s what I told my colleague, and I ended with a reminder that the one of the EHR subcommittees still has some openings, so if he wants to be part of the solution, there’s a venue available.



I don’t frequently call out companies for wacky marketing, but this one is baffling. The subject line of the email advertises a profitability webinar with “cybersecurity strategies you can use,” but the email itself discusses patient experience and how to “cultivate a loyal base.” Oh yeah, and there’s the part where they sent the invitation out less than 24 hours in advance for a webinar that is in the middle of the work day. For mass marketing emails, I’d recommend peer review at a minimum before sending them out. Get it together, folks.

[UPDATE] Greenway Health was quick to read Dr. Jayne’s comment and apologize that their email preview line displayed incorrect wording (the subject line itself was correct). They also note that this was the third in a three-email series, so those who wanted to sign up had ample time well before this email. They also say their surveys and best practices indicate that 2:00 p.m. ET works best for providers.

Do cold emails entice you to join webinars in the middle of the day? How many do you register for that you end up not attending? Leave a comment or email me.


Email Dr. Jayne.

Morning Headlines 11/8/18

November 7, 2018 Headlines No Comments

Focused on Customer Success, Greenway Health Announces the Appointment of Kimberly O’Loughlin to President

After six months with the company as COO, Greenway Health promotes Kimberly O’Loughlin to president.

FDA launches new digital tool to help capture real world data from patients to help inform regulatory decision-making

The FDA will use data collected directly from patients through its new open-source MyStudies app to inform future drug development and medication and device safety efforts.

Mobile Telehealth Company Medici Acquires DocbookMD

Healthcare messaging and virtual visit company Medici acquires competitor DocbookMD from Scrypts for an undisclosed amount.

A Machine Learning Primer for Clinicians–Part 4

Alexander Scarlat, MD is a physician and data scientist, board-certified in anesthesiology with a degree in computer sciences. He has a keen interest in machine learning applications in healthcare. He welcomes feedback on this series at


Previous articles:

  1. An Introduction to Machine Learning
  2. Supervised Learning
  3. Unsupervised Learning

How to Properly Feed Data to a ML Model

While in the previous articles I’ve tried to give you an idea about what AI / ML models can do for us, in this article, I’ll sketch what we must do for the machines before asking them to perform magic. Specifically, the data preparation before it can be fed into a ML model. 

For the moment, assume the raw data is arranged in a table with samples as rows and features as columns. These raw features / columns may contain free text; categorical text; discrete data such as ethnicity; integers like heart rate, floating point numbers like 12.58 as well as ICD, DRG, CPT codes; images; voice recordings; videos; waveforms, etc.

What are the dietary restrictions of an artificial intelligence agent? ML models love their diet to consist of only floating point numbers, preferably small values, centered and scaled /normalized around their means +/- their standard deviations.

No Relational Data

If we have a relational database management system (RDBMS),  we must first flatten the one-to-many relationships and summarize them, so one sample or instance fed into the model is truly a good representative summary of that instance. For example, one patient may have many hemoglobin lab results, so we need to decide what to feed the ML model — the minimum Hb, maximum, Hb averaged daily, only abnormal Hb results, number of abnormal results per day? 

No Missing Values

There can be no missing values, as it is similar to swallowing air while eating. 0 and n/a are not considered missing values. Null is definitely a missing value.

The most common methods of imputing missing values are:

  • Numbers – the mean, median, 0, etc.
  • Categorical data – the most frequent value, n/a or 0

No Text

We all know by now that the genetic code is made of raw text with only four letters (A,C,T,G). Before you run to feed your ML model some raw DNA data and ask it questions about the meaning of life, remember that one cannot feed a ML model raw text. Not unless you want to see an AI entity burp and barf.

There are various methods to transform words or characters into numbers. All of them start with a process of tokenization, in which a larger unit of language is broken into smaller tokens. Usually it suffices to break a document into words and stop there:

  • Document into sentences.
  • Sentence into words.
  • Sentence into n-grams, word structures that try to maintain the same semantic meaning (three-word n-grams will assume that chronic atrial fibrillation, atrial chronic fibrillation, fibrillation atrial chronic are all the same concept).
  • Words into characters.

Once the text is tokenized, there are two main approaches of text-to-numbers transformations so text will become more palatable to the ML model: 


One Hot Encode (right side of the above figure)

Using a dictionary of the 20,000 most commonly used words in the English language, we create a large table with 20,000 columns. Each word becomes a row of 20,000 columns. The word “cat” in the above figure is encoded as: 0,1,0,0,…. 20,000 columns, all 0’s except one column with 1. One Hot Encoder – as only one column gets the 1, all the others get 0.

This a widely used, simple transformation which has several limitations: 

  • The table created will be mostly sparse, as most of the values will be 0 across a row. Sparse tables with high dimensionality (20,000) have their own issues, which may cause a severe indigestion to a ML model, named the Curse of Dimensionality (see below).
  • In addition, one cannot represent the order of the words in a sentence with a One Hot Encoder.
  • In many cases, such as sentiment analysis of a document, it seems the order of the words doesn’t really matter.

Words like “superb,” “perfectly” vs. “awful,” “horrible” pretty much give away the document sentiment, disregarding where exactly in the document they actually appear.


From “Does sentiment analysis work? A tidy analysis of Yelp reviews” by David Robinson.

On the other hand, one can think about a medical document in which a term is negated, such as “no signs of meningitis.” In a model where the order of the words is not important, one can foresee a problem with the algorithm not truly understanding the meaning of the negation at the beginning of the sentence. 

The semantic relationship between the words mother-father, king-queen, France-Paris, and Starbucks-coffee will be missed by such an encoding process.

Plurals such as child-children will be missed by the One Hot Encoder and will be considered as unrelated terms.

Word Embedding / Vectorization

A different approach is to encode words into multi-dimensional arrays of floating point numbers (tensors) that are either learned on the fly for a specific job or using an existing pre-trained model such as word2vec, which is offered by Google and trained mostly on Google news. 

Basically a ML model will try to figure the best word vectors — as related to a specific context — and then encode the data to tensors (numbers) in many dimensions so another model may use it down the pipeline.

This approach does not use a fixed dictionary with the top 20,000 most-used words in the English language. It will learn the vectors from the specific context of the documents being fed and create its own multi-dimensional tensors “dictionary.” 

An Argentinian start-up generates legal papers without lawyers and suggests a ruling, which in 33 out of 33 cases has been accepted by a human judge.

Word vectorization is context sensitive. A great set of vectorized legal words (like the Argentinian start-up may have used) will fail when presented with medical terms and vice versa.

In the figure above, I’ve used many colors, instead of 0 and 1, in each cell of the word embedding example to give an idea about 256 dimensions and their capability to store information in a much denser format. Please do not try to feed colors directly to a ML model as it may void your warranty.

Consider an example where words are vectors in two dimensions (not 256). Each word is an arrow starting at 0,0 and ending on some X,Y coordinates.


From Deep Learning Cookbook by Douwe Osinga.

The interesting part about words as vectors is that we can now visualize, in a limited 2D space, how the conceptual distance between the terms man-woman is being translated by the word vectorization algorithm into a physical geometrical distance, which is quite similar to the distance between the terms king-queen. If in only two dimensions the algorithm can generalize from man-woman to king-queen, what can it learn about more complex semantic relationships and hundreds of dimensions?

We can ask such a ML model interesting questions and get answers that are already beyond human level performance:

  • Q: Paris is to France as Berlin is to? A: Germany.
  • Q: Starbucks is to coffee as Apple is to? A: IPhone.
  • Q: What are the capitals of all the European countries? A: UK-London, France-Paris, Romania-Bucharest, etc.
  • Q: What are the three products IBM is most related to? A: DB2, WebSphere Portal, Tamino_XML_Server.

The above are real examples using a a model trained on Google news.

One can train a ML model with relevant vectorized medical text and see if it can answer questions like:

  • Q: Acute pulmonary edema is to CHF as ketoacidosis is to? A: diabetes.
  • Q: What are the three complications a cochlear implant is related to? A: flap necrosis, improper electrode placement, facial nerve problems.
  • Q: Who are the two most experienced surgeons in my home town for a TKR? A: Jekyll, Hyde.

Word vectorization allows other ML models to deal with text (as tensors) — models that do care about the order of the words, algorithms that deal with time sequences, which I will detail in the next articles.

Discrete Categories

Consider a drop-down with the following mutually exclusive drugs:

  1. Viadur
  2. Viagra
  3. Vibramycin
  4. Vicodin

As the above text seems already encoded (Vicodin=4), you may be tempted to eliminate the text and leave the numbers as the encoded values for these drugs. That’s not a good idea. The algorithm will erroneously deduce there is a conceptual similarity between the above drugs just because of their similar range of numbers. After all, two and three are really close from a machine’s perspective, especially if it is a 20,000-drug list. 

The list of drugs being ordered alphabetically by their brand names doesn’t imply there is any conceptual or pharmacological relationship between Viagra and Vibramycin.

Mutually exclusive categories are transformed to numbers with the One Hot Encoder technique detailed above. The result will be a table with the columns: Viadur, Viagra, Vibramycin, Viocodin (similar to the words tokenized above: “the,” “cat,” etc.) Each instance (row) will have one and only one of the above columns encoded with a 1, while all the others will be encoded to 0. In this arrangement, the algorithm is not induced into error and the model will not find conceptual relationships where there are none.


When an algorithm is comparing numerical values such as creatinine=3.8, age=1, heparin=5,000, the ML model will give a disproportionate importance and incorrect interpretation to the heparin parameter, just because heparin has a high raw value when compared to all the other numbers. 

One of the most common solutions is to normalize each column:

  • Calculate the mean and standard deviation
  • Replace the raw values with the new normalized ones

When normalized, the algorithm will correctly interpret the creatinine and the age of the patient to be the important, deviant from the average kind of features in this sample, while the heparin will be regarded as normal.

Curse of Dimensionality

If you have a table with 10,000 features (columns),  you may think that’s great as it is feature-rich. But if this table has fewer than 10,000 samples (examples), you should expect ML models that would vehemently refuse to digest your data set or just produce really weird outputs.

This is called the curse of dimensionality. As the number of dimensions increases, the “volume” of the hyperspace created increases much faster, to a point where the data available becomes sparse. That interferes with achieving any statistical significance on any metric and will also prevent a ML model from finding clusters since the data is too sparse.

Preferably the number of samples should be at least three orders of magnitude larger than the number of features. A 10,000-column table had be better garnished by at least 10,000 rows (samples).


After all the effort invested in the data preparation above, what kind of tensors can we offer now as food for thought to a machine ?

  • 2D – table: samples, features
  • 3D – time sequences: samples, features, time
  • 4D – images: samples, height, width, RGB (color)
  • 5D – videos: samples, frames, height, width, RGB (color)

Note that samples is the first dimension in all cases.


Hopefully this article will cause no indigestion to any human or artificial entity.

Next Article

How Does a Machine Actually Learn?


Morning Headlines 11/7/18

November 6, 2018 Headlines No Comments

Identifying Electronic Health Record Usability And Safety Challenges In Pediatric Settings

A review of EHR-related pediatric medication events in three hospitals that use Cerner or Epic finds that EHR usability contributed to 36 percent of the reports, while 18 percent appear to have caused patient harm.

Premier Inc. Agrees to Acquire Stanson Health to Integrate Data-Enabled Clinical Decision Support Capabilities within EHRs

Premier will acquire clinical decision support vendor Stanson Health for up to $66.5 million in cash.

Phonak teams up with Microsoft to improve access to hearing care over distance

In what might be the first use of teleaudiology, hearing aid manufacturer Phonak will offer access to hearing care professionals to perform online fitting and tuning via its remote support app.

News 11/7/18

November 6, 2018 News 12 Comments

Top News


A review of 9,000 EHR-related pediatric medication events in three hospitals that use Cerner or Epic finds that EHR usability contributed to 36 percent of the reports, while 18 percent appear to have caused patient harm.

The most common problem areas were lack of system feedback and confusing visual displays.

The authors recommend that ONC add pediatric safety and usability measures to its certification requirements, that vendors and providers use realistic test-case scenarios, and that Joint Commission include EHR safety in its accreditation.

Reader Comments



From Indigenous Species: “Re: records request. I was a patient of Cleveland Clinic of Florida, which I believe is a big Epic user. They have a fancy patient portal. I used it to request a copy of an operative report and they said I had to contact the medical records department by telephone. I got through the automated attendant to the point I received a message saying I needed to either mail in a request or fax it, after which I could expect something in 10-14 days. Gazillions of dollars spent on Epic and where are we? The same place we were 20 years ago.” Cleveland Clinic Florida’s instructions (above) are embarrassing for any hospital, much less a universally-admired one – in what time warp do patients have a fax machine sitting in their homes (or for that matter, a landline to plug it into)? Why do hospital HIM departments so quickly and firmly reject the idea of printing, signing, scanning, and emailing a completed form (or even better, using DocuSign) in favor of getting their fax fix? Meanwhile, the hospital’s authorization to disclose form is, not surprisingly, a consumer-unfriendly mess for those who just want a copy of their own information. It only covers sending information to someone else, and if that’s not bad enough, the form’s footnote adds, “Cleveland Clinic Florida may, directly or indirectly, receive remuneration from a third party on connection with the use or disclose [sic] of my health information.” That’s an interesting revenue stream – taking a cut of the fees their patients are paying to obtain their own information. I hereby nominate them for my “Least Wired” consumer award, for which they may nose ahead of stiff competition via the form’s outdated reference to “venereal disease.”

From Onion Peeler: “Re: startups. Where can we send our news?” I answered, but this reminds me of a pet peeve. The misused term “startup” should carry an expiration date of maybe 3-4 years, beyond which the defining characteristics — continued outside investment, demonstrably fast growth, lots of industry buzz, and an infrastructure designed to scale — are no longer true. By that point, it’s just a less-sexy sounding small business, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe “startup” should be added to the list of terms that are meaningful only when someone else uses them – innovative, world class, award-winning (preferably detailing who gave the award and for what), and disruptive. Otherwise, it’s just BSaaS. 


November 7 (Wednesday) 3:00 ET. “Opioid Crisis: What One Health Plan is Doing About It.” Presenter: Samuel DiCapua, DO, chief medical director, New Hampshire Health Families; and chief medical officer, Casenet. Sponsor: Casenet. This webinar will describe how managed care organization NH Health Families is using innovative programs to manage patients who are struggling with addiction and to help prevent opioid abuse.

Previous webinars are on our YouTube channel. Contact Lorre for information.

Acquisitions, Funding, Business, and Stock


Premier will acquire clinical decision support vendor Stanson Health for up to $66.5 million in cash. The announcement also notes that Stanson is developing a prior authorization system for medical and pharmacy benefits. Founder Scott Weingarten, MD, MPH, who is also SVP and chief clinical transformation officer of Cedars-Sinai, will remain as leader of the business. Stanson had raised just $3 million in a single Series A funding round in mid-2015.

Alphabet kicks off a two-day, employee-only conference on healthcare on its Sunnyvale, CA campus, featuring outside speakers Eric Topol, MD and former FDA commissioner Rob Califf, MD.

MJH Associates, which runs conferences and magazines such as Pharmacy Times and The American Journal of Accountable Care, acquires Medical Networking, Inc., which operates the Medstro communities and online challenges platforms as well as the Medtech Boston website.


  • Health First (FL) chooses Kyruus ProviderMatch to allow consumers to find providers and book appointments via its website and call center.
  • Renown Health (NV) implements PeriGen’s PeriWatch labor analysis software in its childbirth unit, including its Cues fetal surveillance solution.
  • FQHC Community Healthcare Network (NY) will use Valera Health’s smartphone-based patient engagement solution for patients with behavioral and chronic health conditions.
  • Massachusetts General Hospital chooses CarePassport for patient monitoring and engagement in its research studies. The company’s founder is Mohamed Shoura, PhD, who is also CEO of imaging vendor Paxera Health (formerly Paxeramed).
  • LStar Imaging (TX) chooses ERad for imaging.



Collective Medical hires Kat McDavitt (Insena Communications) as chief marketing officer.


Cantata Health names Tad Druart (ESO Solutions) as chief marketing officer.


Health IT security and patient engagement technology vendor Intraprise Health hires industry long-timer Sean Friel (Voalte) as president.

Announcements and Implementations


Microsoft will shut down HealthVault’s Direct messaging service as of December 27, 2018, according to an email forwarded by a reader. The company did not provide a reason. The company says “other messaging services” are available, but the notice doesn’t list them and I saw no alternatives on its website except for CCD exchange. I’ve emailed Microsoft’s press contact but haven’t received a response.


In what might be the first use of teleaudiology, hearing aid manufacturer Phonak will offer access to hearing care professionals to perform online fitting and tuning via its remote support app. The company’s rechargeable hearing aids can already connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth to provide optimized sound quality for TV, music, and phone calls and its MyCall-to-Text app converts telephone conversations to text in real time. Hearing aids are inherently unexciting unless you need them (or need to pay for them, which is exciting in all the wrong ways), but this seems like pretty cool technology. Switzerland-based parent company Sonova Group is the world’s biggest hearing care solutions vendor (or close to it) with 14,000 employees and $2.7 billion in annual sales.


A KLAS report on how well EHR vendors serve non-US regional needs finds:

  • Epic performed best with no dissatisfied customers.
  • Cerner finished second despite not engaging proactively and often at extra cost.
  • Meditech does well in Canada, UK, and Ireland although with concerns about slow growth and development.
  • No Allscripts customers report high satisfaction and they often feel they’re on their own to implement.
  • InterSystems has trending sharply down in the past two years due to staffing problems.
  • Latin America is led by MV (which is increasing its lead) and Philips.
  • InterSystems has slipped behind Cerner in the Middle East, while Epic has the highest score but just three live sites as prospects would like to see increased regional presence and expertise.
  • Cerner and InterSystems lead in Asia/Oceania, as Allscripts customers express low confidence in the company’s R&D efforts and its acquisition strategy.

China’s Tencent announces an AI-powered smart microscope whose voice interface allows pathologists to issue commands and reports.

In England, East Kent Hospitals University goes live with the Allscripts patient administration system.



Atul Gawande’s piece in The New Yorker titled “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers” makes these points:

  • Computers have simplified tasks in many other industries, but have made enemies of their healthcare users.
  • Partners HealthCare’s $1.6 billion Epic implementation involved less than $100 million worth of Epic software, with the remainder of the cost being lost patient revenue and the cost of implementation staff.
  • Epic SVP Sumit Rana describes “The Revenge of the Ancillaries,” where ancillary departments are given a seat at the implementation table and influence decisions to make their jobs easier while forcing required fields and additional data entry on doctors.
  • A busy internist colleague says Epic has reduced her efficiency, requiring her to finish documentation after going home and to struggle with a jammed Epic in basket to the point that she just deletes messages without reading them.
  • The ability for everyone to modify the problem list has made it useless, requiring a review of past notes that are often excessively lengthy due to copying and pasting.
  • Gawande quotes an author who in the 1970s described how users initially embrace new capabilities with joy, then come to depend on them, then find themselves faced with the choice of submitting or rebelling to the system’s control over their lives.
  • An office assistant notes that much of the work she performed has been shifted to Epic-using doctors.
  • Partners HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, who has been through four EHR implementations, says Epic is for the patients who look up their lab results, review their medication instructions, and read the notes their doctors have written about them. He also notes that the EHR supports population health management and research.
  • Partners uses scribes, but due to concerns about turnover and errors, they chose an offshore service in which India-based doctors create visit documentation from digitally recorded encounters. A 30-minute visit requires an hour to document, with the result then reviewed by a second company doctor as well as a coding expert who looks for billing opportunities. However, as Gawande observes, “What is happening across the globe? Who is taking care of the patients all those scribing doctors aren’t seeing?”


Epic further explains how the recently mentioned New York Life integration works. People applying for life insurance ordinarily have to supply their medical history on paper after obtaining it from their hospital, a slow and expensive process. The integration uses Epic’s Chart Gateway service, which when authorized by the patient and the health system, sends information electronically to life insurance companies. It’s not blanket access to MyChart or to the data of any other patients. This is the first time I’ve heard of Chart Gateway.

The Wall Street Journal explains why smart speakers like Amazon Echo can’t make voice-requested 911 calls, at least for now: (a) lack of GPS precision; (b) inability to be called back by operators; and (c) users would need to pay 911 surcharges as they do for cell service.

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  • EClinicalWorks publishes a podcast titled “How PRM Services Boosted Youth Engagement in NYC.”
  • The Chicago Tribute names Intelligent Medical Objects as a “Top Workplace.”
  • Former Pepsi and Apple CEO John Sculley will deliver the keynote address at MDLive’s user group meeting Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. EST, with his presentation live-streamed.

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Morning Headlines 11/6/18

November 5, 2018 Headlines No Comments

ResMed to Acquire MatrixCare, Expands Out-of-Hospital SaaS Portfolio into Long-Term Care Settings

Connected health vendor ResMed will acquire LTPAC EHR and quality software vendor MatrixCare for $750 million.

Social Determinants Of Health: Holy Grail Or Dead-End Road?

A Forbes article says that addressing social determinants of health can’t improve health outcomes on its own, calling for improving food literacy, enhancing the respectful relationship between patients and providers, and addressing poverty and the lack of economic opportunity that often override health needs.

Exact Sciences signs deal with Epic Systems, hikes sales, widens losses

Madison, WI-based cancer screening test vendor Exact Sciences will implement Epic for “order entry all the way through revenue cycle and customer care.”

Cancer Society Executive Resigns Amid Upset Over Corporate Partnerships

American Cancer Society EVP/Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley, MD resigns after negative reaction to the organization’s commercial partnerships with companies with questionable health credentials, such as Herbalife International, Long John Silver’s, and the Tilted Kilt bar chain.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/5/18

November 5, 2018 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

A reader recently asked for Mr. H’s prediction on what to expect from Medicare’s “Patients Over Paperwork” initiative. Mr. H asked me to chime in, along with readers, with my thoughts on the proposed changes to E&M codes, office visit documentation, and other paperwork.

He noted that, “It’s hard to separate meaningful HHS/CMS announcements from the political rhetoric spouted by its campaigner-appointees, so I’ve quit trying.” I agree that it’s a quite a challenge to figure out what is going on with CMS lately, since there seem to be many announcements talking about how great things are going to be, but with little change for the people actually doing the boots-on-the-ground work.

I’ve been shocked by the level of rhetoric in CMS announcements under the new administration. Everything seems to have been cranked up a notch and things that need not be political are being politicized. Healthcare finance and payment for providers is complicated and divisive enough and doesn’t need red vs. blue overtones applied on top of it all.

As to the initial question, I think that some of the details in finalizing the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) and Quality Payment Program (QPP) rules show that the current CMS/HHS leadership might have bitten off more than they can chew. Physicians were initially excited about a potential move to overhaul Evaluation and Management (E&M) coding, creating fewer “blended” codes that were purported to more accurately reflect the work being done by physicians during office visit encounters. Although there was some positive excitement, the majority of the 15,000 comments that CMS received were negative, according to multiple reports (for those of us who didn’t read all of them). On November 1, CMS responded to that dichotomous excitement by delaying changes to those visit codes until 2021.

It’s important to remember that even though CMS ostensibly only makes the coding rules applicable to Medicare patient visits, because of how things work, they’re pretty much applicable to everyone, including commercial insurance payers and Medicaid. Self-pay patients are impacted somewhat, depending on how practices handle those patients.

The overall sentiment cited in the announcement of the delay was concern by physicians that the planned blending would reduce payments to physicians caring for Medicare patients with complex health conditions and/or multiple chronic conditions. CMS will now plan to consolidate the codes from eight to three instead of the originally-proposed two, preserving the “level 5” code used for the most complex (and most time-consuming) office visits. Another two years are needed to work out the details, apparently. CMS Administrator Seema Verma is quoted as saying, “We know this is going to have a tremendous impact on many physicians in America. We want to get it right.”

I take issue with that comment. If you knew it was going to have such a huge impact, why did you think it was OK to go ahead and put it in the most recent proposed rule? Wouldn’t it have been better to put together some working groups or task forces, etc. including actual working physicians rather than cobbling together something internally and then having to take it back? To an in the trenches physician, this back and forth makes one feel like CMS doesn’t understand us and that it has become reactionary rather than proactively addressing the issues that all of us face. If the wheel was less squeaky, would this have moved along?

The American Medical Association and the Medical Group Management Association are in support of the delay, noting in various press releases and on-the-record comments that the plan was flawed. MGMA SVP of Governmental Affairs Anders Gilberg stated, “Blending payments rates in 2021 won’t necessarily reduce burden, especially with CMS’ newly required add-on codes.” More than 150 various medical societies signed on to a letter opposing the new structure prior to the announcement of the delay.

CMS claims that proposed changes will simplify the way physicians bill for visits, and along with other modifications, are expected to save clinicians $87 million in administrative costs in 2019, ultimately yielding a net savings if $843 million over the coming decade and 21 million hours by 2021.

You know what would also save money and reduce physician angst, possibly slowing the retirement and exodus of much-needed clinicians? Stop harassing physicians with coding audits. Practices constantly receive requests from their Medicare intermediaries asking for documentation to justify the various codes. The practices I work with have gotten responding to these down to a fine science, trying to waste as little of their time as possible. Most of them have a 95 percent or greater success rate in justifying their codes.

I agree that means that five percent of the time they are overcoding or undercoding, but does catching that justify the millions of hours spent dealing with the audits? How about targeting the most egregious offenders and letting the rest of the physician base spend their staff resources managing patients rather than printing and mailing/faxing records to auditors? Burden isn’t just a financial problem – it’s a psychological one and is closely associated with clinician burnout.

Notwithstanding the delay in the E&M codes, CMS is moving forward with other elements of the Rule (and other proposed rules) that are supposed to reduce burden or save money. Physicians can focus on documentation of the interval history since the previous visit, rather than re-documenting previously documented information just for the sake of documentation. Physicians will not have to re-document the chief complaint and history of present illness already documented by their staff or by the patient himself/herself, just because the rules require it. Wholesale acquisition costs for Medicare Part B drugs are supposed to be lowered with the savings passed on to consumers. The so-called “Meaningful Measures” plan should simplify quality reporting for various federal programs that often do not align. Telehealth services and remote monitoring under home health should save money.

As I try to put my thoughts together on this complex topic, my blood pressure is definitely rising. I struggle with the conundrums that we’re facing in healthcare today, at least in the way that I have boiled them down so that I can attempt to understand them:

  • We don’t want universal healthcare, but we want universal control over how physicians and facilities bill and how they are paid.
  • We want to set up complex rules to control payments, but then we get upset when organizations figure out how to game the system (RIP, provider-based billing).
  • We don’t want higher-quality physicians to be able to charge more for their services on the front end, but want to spend loads of administrative money trying to incent them (or penalize others) on the back end.
  • We don’t want to require payers and employers to cover a universally agreed-upon subset of preventive services and money-saving interventions such as birth control, but we want to reduce disease burden and lower the rate of poverty.
  • We want the most high tech services in the world regardless of whether they’re indicated, but we don’t want limits on those services based on ability to pay or overall financial burden to society.

There are many other elements I could cite, but I’d like to preserve some good spirits for the rest of the day and a charity project I’m about to go work on. I wonder, though, as policy-makers debate the solutions they propose for all of this, if they really think about both sides of the various equations or whether we’ve gotten to such a position of polarization that they can only see their own perspective.

What do you think about the Patients Over Paperwork initiative? Leave a comment or email me.


Email Dr. Jayne.

Morning Headlines 11/5/18

November 5, 2018 Headlines 5 Comments

Allscripts Healthcare Solutions (MDRX) Q3 2018 Results – Earnings Call Transcript

Allscripts executives comment on the potential sale of Netsmart and its plan to increase margins for the former McKesson EIS business, but fail to directly answer a question about plans of its biggest client Northwell Health and make no mention of its Avenel EHR that was announced at HIMSS18.

OpenText to Acquire Liaison Technologies, Inc.

Information management technology vendor OpenText will acquire competitor Liaison Technologies for $310 million in cash.

Like clockwork: How daylight saving time stumps hospital record keeping

Users describe how they work around Epic’s inability to handle documentation entries between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. when clocks are moved back at the end of daylight saving time.

Why Doctors Hate Their Computers

Atul Gawande, writing about his experience with Epic’s go-live at Partners HealthCare, says EHRs were supposed to increase the mastery of doctors over work, but have actually increased work’s mastery over doctors. He quotes an Epic executive’s description of “the Revenge of the Ancillaries,” where the go-live allowed non-doctors to influence their workflow in unproductive ways. He also notes that EHRs have made the problem list nearly worthless and that Epic’s In Basket is “clogged to the point of dysfunction.” He also quotes Partners Chief Client Officer Gregg Meyer, who reminds that Epic is for the patients, not the doctors, and is at least mildly enthusiastic about using scribes. 

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