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E-Patient Update:  You Need Our Help

Posted on January 20, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

I just read the results of a survey by Black Book Research suggesting that many typical consumers don’t trust, like or understand health IT.

The survey, which reached out to 12,090 adult consumers in September 2016, found that 57% of those interacting with health IT at hospitals or medical practices were skeptical of its benefit. Worse, 87% said they weren’t willing to share all of their information.

Up to 70% of consumers reported that they distrusted patient portals, medical apps and EMRs. Meanwhile, while many respondents said they were interested in using health trackers, 94% said that their physicians weren’t willing or able to synch wearables data with their EMR.

On the surface, these stats are discouraging. At a minimum, they suggest that getting patients and doctors on the same page about health IT continues to be an uphill battle. But there’s a powerful tactic providers can use which – to my knowledge – hasn’t been tried with consumers.

Introducing the consumer health IT champion

As you probably know, many providers have recruited physician or nurse “champions” to help their peers understand and adjust to EMRs. I’m sure this tactic hasn’t worked perfectly for everyone who’s tried it, but it seems to have an impact. And why not? Most people are far more comfortable learning something new from someone who understands their work and shares their concerns.

The thing is, few if any providers are taking the same approach in rolling out consumer health IT. But they certainly could. I’d bet that there’s at least a few patients in every population who like, use and understand consumer health technologies, as well as having at least a sense of why providers are adopting back-end technology like EMRs. And we know how to get Great-Aunt Mildred to consider wearing a FitBit or entering data into a portal.

So why not make us your health IT champions? After all, if you asked me to, say, hold a patient workshop explaining how I use these tools in my life, and why they matter, I’d jump at the chance. E-patients like myself are by our nature evangelists, and we’re happy to share our excitement if you give us a chance. Maybe you’d need to offer some HIT power users a stipend or a gift card, but I doubt it would take much to get one of us to share our interests.

It’s worth the effort

Of course, most people who read this will probably flinch a bit, as taking this on might seem like a big hassle. But consider the following:

  • Finding such people shouldn’t be too tough. For example, I talk about wearables, mobile health options and connected health often with my PCP, and my enthusiasm for them is a little hard to miss. I doubt I’m alone in this respect.
  • All it would take to get started is to get a few of us on board. Yes, providers may have to market such events to patients, offer them coffee and snacks when they attend, and perhaps spend time evaluating the results on the back end. But we’re not talking major investments here.
  • You can’t afford to have patients fear or reject IT categorically. As value-based care becomes the standard, you’ll need their cooperation to meet your goals, and that will almost certainly include access to patient-generated data from mobile apps and wearables. People like me can address their fears and demonstrate the benefits of these technologies without making them defensive.

I hope hospitals and medical practices take advantage of people like me soon. We’re waiting in the wings, and we truly want to see the public support health IT. Let’s work together!

Healthcare Industry Leads In Blockchain Deployment

Posted on January 19, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A new study by Deloitte concludes that healthcare and life sciences companies stand out as planning the most aggressive blockchain deployments of any industry. That being said, healthcare leaders are far from alone in paying close attention to blockchain, which seems to be coming into its own as corporate technology.

According to Deloitte, 39% of senior executives at large US companies had little or no knowledge of blockchain technology, but the other 61% reported their blockchain knowledge level as broad to expert. The execs who were well-informed about blockchain told Deloitte that it would be crucial for both their company and industry. In fact, 55% of the knowledgeable group said their company would be at a competitive disadvantage if they failed to adopt blockchain, and 42% believed it would disrupt their industry.

Given this level of enthusiasm, it’s not surprising that respondents have begun to invest in blockchain internally. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said their company had invested $5 million of more in blockchain tech to date, and 10% reported investing $10 million or more. Not only that,  25% of respondents expected to invest more than $5 million in blockchain technology this year.

While the level of blockchain interest seems to be pronounced across industries studied by Deloitte, healthcare and life science companies lead the pack when it came to deployment, with 35% of industry respondents saying that their company expects to put blockchain into production during 2017.

All that being said, aggressive deployment may or may not be a good thing just yet. According to research by cloud-based blockchain company Tierion, the majority of blockchain technology isn’t ready for deployment, though worthwhile experiments are underway.

Tierion argues that analysts and professional experts are overselling blockchain, and that most of blockchain technology is experimental and untested. Not only that, its research concludes that at least one healthcare application – giving patients the ability to manage their health data – is rather risky, as blockchain security is shaky.

It seems clear that health IT leaders will continue to explore blockchain options, given its tantalizing potential for sharing data securely and flexibly. And as the flurry of interest around ONC’s blockchain research challenge demonstrates, many industry thought leaders take this technology seriously. If the winning submissions are any indication, blockchain may support new approaches to health data interoperability, claims processing, medical records, physician-patient data sharing, data security, HIEs and even the growth of accountable care.

If nothing else, 2017 should see the development of some new and interesting healthcare blockchain applications, and probably the investment of record new amounts of capital to build them. In other words, whether blockchain is mature enough for real time deployment or not, it’s likely to offer an intriguing show.

IBM Watson Partners With FDA On Blockchain-Driven Health Sharing

Posted on January 16, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

IBM Watson Health has partnered with the FDA in an effort to create scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology. The two will research the exchange of owner-mediated data from a variety of clinical data sources, including EMRs, clinical trial data and genomic health data. The researchers will also incorporate data from mobiles, wearables and the Internet of Things.

The initial project planned for IBM Watson and the FDA will focus on oncology-related data. This makes sense, given that cancer treatment involves complex communication between multispecialty care teams, transitions between treatment phases, and potentially, the need to access research and genomic data for personalized drug therapy. In other words, managing the communication of oncology data is a task fit for Watson’s big brain, which can read 200 million pages of text in 3 seconds.

Under the partnership, IBM and the FDA plan to explore how the blockchain framework can benefit public health by supporting information exchange use cases across varied data types, including both clinical trials and real-world data. They also plan to look at new ways to leverage the massive volumes of diverse data generated by biomedical and healthcare organizations. IBM and the FDA have signed a two-year agreement, but they expect to share initial findings this year.

The partnership comes as IBM works to expand its commercial blockchain efforts, including initiatives not only in healthcare, but also in financial services, supply chains, IoT, risk management and digital rights management. Big Blue argues that blockchain networks will spur “dramatic change” for all of these industries, but clearly has a special interest in healthcare.  According to IBM, Watson Health’s technology can access the 80% of unstructured health data invisible to most systems, which is clearly a revolution in the making if the tech giant can follow through on its potential.

According to Scott Lundstrom, group vice president and general manager of IDC Government and Health Insights, blockchain may solve some of the healthcare industry’s biggest data management challenges, including a distributed, immutable patient record which can be secured and shared, s. In fact, this idea – building a distributed, blockchain-based EMR — seems to be gaining traction among most health IT thinkers.

As readers may know, I’m neither an engineer nor a software developer, so I’m not qualified to judge how mature blockchain technologies are today, but I have to say I’m a bit concerned about the rush to adopt it nonetheless.  Even companies with a lot at stake  — like this one, which sells a cloud platform backed by blockchain tech — suggest that the race to adopt it may be a bit premature.

I’ve been watching tech fashions come and go for 25 years, and they follow a predictable pattern. Or rather, they usually follow two paths. Go down one, and the players who are hot for a technology put so much time and money into it that they force-bake it into success. (Think, for example, the ERP revolution.) Go down the other road, however, and the new technology crumbles in a haze of bad results and lost investments. Let’s hope we go down the former, for everyone’s sake.

The “Disconnects” That Threaten The Connected World

Posted on January 11, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

I’m betting that most readers are intimately familiar with the connected health world. I’m also pretty confident that you’re pretty excited about its potential – after all, who wouldn’t be?  But from what I’ve seen, the health IT world has paid too little attention to problems that could arise in building out a connected health infrastructure. That’s what makes a recent blog post on connected health problems so interesting.

Phil Baumann, an RN and digital strategist at Telerx, writes that while the concept of connecting things is useful, there’s a virtually endless list of “disconnects” that could lead to problems with connected health. Some examples he cites include:

  • The disconnect between IoT hardware and software
  • The disconnect between IoT software and patches (which, he notes, might not even exist)
  • The disconnect between the Internet’s original purpose and the fast-evolving purposes created in the Connected World
  • The disconnects among communication protocols
  • The disconnect between influencers and reality (which he says is “painfully wide”)
  • The disconnects among IoT manufacturers
  • The disconnects among supply chains and vendors

According to Baumann, businesses that use IoT devices and other connected health technologies may be diving in too quickly, without taking enough time to consider the implications of their decisions. He writes:

Idea generation and deployment of IoT are tasks with enormous ethical, moral, economic, security, health and safety responsibilities. But without considering – deeply, diligently – the disconnects, then the Connected World will be nothing of the sort. It will be a nightmare without morning.

In his piece, Baumann stuck to general tech issues rather than pointing a finger at the healthcare industry specifically. But I’d argue that the points he makes are important for health IT leaders to consider.

For example, it’s interesting to think about vulnerable IoT devices posing a mission-critical security threat to healthcare organizations. To date, as Baumann rightly notes, manufacturers have often fallen way behind in issuing software updates and security patches, leaving patient data exposed. Various organizations – such as the FDA – are attempting to address medical device cybersecurity, but these issues won’t be addressed quickly.

Another item on his disconnect list – that connected health deployment goes far beyond the original design of the Internet – also strikes me as particularly worth taking to heart. While past networking innovations (say, Ethernet) have led to rapid change, the changes brought on by the IoT are sprawling and almost unmanageable under current conditions. We’re seeing chaotic rather than incremental or even disruptive change. And given that we’re dealing with patient lives, rather than, for example, sensors tracking packages, this is a potentially dangerous problem.

I’m not at all suggesting that healthcare leaders should pull the plug on connected health innovations. It seems clear that the benefits that derive from such approaches will outweigh the risks, especially over time. But it does seem like a good idea to stop and think about those risks more carefully.

FDA Weighs In On Medical Device Cybersecurity

Posted on January 5, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

In the past, medical devices lived in a separate world from standard health IT infrastructure, typically housed in a completely separate department. But today, of course, medical device management has become much more of an issue for health IT managers, given the extent to which such devices are being connected to the Internet and exposed to security breaches.

This has not been lost on the FDA, which has been looking at medical device security problems for a long time. And now – some would say “at long last” – the FDA has released final guidance on managing medical device cybersecurity. This follows the release of earlier final guidance on the subject released in October 2014.

While the FDA’s advice is aimed at device manufactures, rather than the health IT managers who read this blog, I think it’s good for HIT leaders to review. (After all, you still end up managing the end product!)

In the guidance, the FDA argues that the best way to bake cybersecurity protections into medical devices is for manufacturers to do so from the outset, through the entire product lifecycle:

Manufacturers should build in cybersecurity controls when they design and develop the device to assure proper device performance in the face of cyber threats, and then they should continuously monitor and address cybersecurity concerns once the device is on the market and being used by patients.

Specifically, the agency is recommending that manufacturers take the following steps:

  • Have a way to monitor and detect cybersecurity vulnerabilities in their devices
  • Know assess and detect the level of risk vulnerabilities pose to patient safety
  • Establish a process for working with cybersecurity researchers and other stakeholders to share information about possible vulnerabilities
  • Issue patches promptly, before they can be exploited

The FDA also deems it of “paramount” importance that manufacturers and stakeholders consider applying core NIST principles for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity.

All of this sounds good. But considering the immensity of the medical device infrastructure – and the rate of its growth – don’t expect these guidelines to make much of an impact on the device cybersecurity problem.

After all, there are an estimated 10 million to 15 million medical devices in US hospitals today, according to health tech consultant Stephen Grimes, who spoke on biomedical device security at HIMSS ’16. Grimes, a past chair of the HIMSS Medical Device Security Task Force, notes that one 500-bed hospital could have 7,500 devices on board, most of which will be networked. And each networked monitor, infusion pump, ventilator, CT or MRI scanner could be vulnerable to attack.

Bottom line, we’re looking at some scary risks regardless of what manufacturers do next. After all, even if they do a much better job of securing their devices going forward, there’s a gigantic number of existing devices which can be hacked. And we haven’t even gotten into the vulnerabilities that can be exploited among home-based connected devices.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see the FDA stepping in here. But if you look at the big picture, it’s pretty clear that their guidance is clearly just a small step in a very long and complicated process.

Patient Engagement Platforms Are 2017’s Sexiest Tech

Posted on January 3, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Over the last few months, I’ve become convinced that the predictable star of 2017 — population health management — isn’t going to be as hot as people think.

Instead, I’d argue that the trend to watch is the emergence of new technologies that guide, reach out to and engage with patients at key moments in their care process. We’re at the start of a period of spectacular growth for patient engagement platforms, with one analyst firm predicting that the global market for these solutions will hit $34.94 billion by 2023.

We all seem to agree already that we need to foster patient engagement if we want to meet population health goals. But until recently, most of the approaches I’ve seen put in place are manual, laborious and resource-intensive. Yes, the patient portal is an exception to that rule – and seems to help patients and clinicians connect – but there’s only so much you can do with a portal interface. We need more powerful, flexible solutions if we hope to make a dent in the patient engagement problem.

In the coming year, I think we’ll see a growing number of providers adopt technology that helps them interact and engage with patients more effectively. I’m talking about initiatives like the rollout of technology by vendor HealthGrid at ColumbiaDoctors, a large multispecialty group affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center, which was announced last month.

While I haven’t used the technology first hand, it seems to offer the right functions, all available via mobile phone. These include pre- and post-visit communications, access to care information and a clinically-based rules engine which drives outreach regarding appointments, educations, medications and screening. That being said, HealthGrid definitely has some powerful competitors coming at the same problem, including the Salesforce.com Health Cloud.

Truth be told, it was probably inevitable that vendors would turn up to automate key patient outreach efforts. After all, unless providers boost their ability to target patients’ individual needs – ideally, without hiring lots of costly human care managers – they aren’t likely to do well under value-based payment schemes. One-off experiments with mobile apps or one-by-one interventions by nurse care coordinators simply don’t scale.

Of course, these technologies are probably pretty expensive right now – as new tech in an emerging market usually is — which will probably slow adoption somewhat. I admit that when I did a Google search on “patient engagement solutions,” I ran into a vendor touting a $399 a month option for doctors, which isn’t too bad if it can actually deliver. But enterprise solutions are likely to be a big investment, and also, call for a good deal of integration work. After all, if nothing else, health systems will want to connect patient engagement software to their back-office systems and EMR, at minimum, which is no joke.

Still, to my mind there’s little question that patient engagement technologies are going to be the sexiest health IT niche to watch in 2017, one which will generate major buzz in healthcare boardrooms across the country. Whether you invest or not, definitely watch this space.

ONC Takes Another Futile Whack At Interoperability

Posted on January 2, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

With the New Year on its way, ONC has issued its latest missive on how to move the healthcare industry towards interoperability. Its Interoperability Standards Advisory for 2017, an update from last year’s version, offers a collection of standards and implementation specs the agency has identified as important to health data sharing.

I want to say at the outset that this seems a bit, well, strange to me. It really does seem like a waste of time to create a book of curated standards when the industry’s interoperability take changes every five minutes. In fact, it seems like an exercise in futility.

But I digress. Let’s talk about this.

About the ISA

The Advisory includes four technical  sections, covering a) vocabulary/code sets/terminology, b) content/structure standards and implementation specs, c) standards and implementation specs for services and d) models and profiles, plus a fifth section listing ONC’s questions and requesting feedback. This year’s version takes the detailed feedback the ONC got on last year’s version into account.

According to ONC leader Vindell Washington, releasing the ISA is an important step toward achieving the goals the agency has set out in the Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, as well as the Interoperability Pledge announced earlier this year. There’s little doubt, at minimum, that it represents the consensus thinking of some very smart and thoughtful people.

In theory ONC would appear to be steaming ahead toward meeting its interoperability goals. And one can hardly disagree that it’s overarching goal set forth in the Roadmap, of creating a “learning health system” by 2024 sounds attractive and perhaps doable.

Not only that, at first glance it might seem that providers are getting on board. As ONC notes, companies which provide 90% of EHRs used by hospitals nationwide, as well as the top five healthcare systems in the country, have agreed to the Pledge. Its three core requirements are that participants make it easy for consumers to access their health information, refrain from interfering with health data sharing, and implement federally recognized national interoperability standards.

Misplaced confidence

But if you look at the situation more closely, ONC’s confidence seems a bit misplaced. While there’s much more to its efforts, let’s consider the Pledge as an example of how slippery the road ahead is.

So let’s look at element one, consumer access to data. While agreeing to give patients access is a nice sentiment, to me it seems inevitable that there will be as many forms of data access as there are providers. Sure, ONC or other agencies could attempt to regulate this, but it’s like trying to nail down jello given the circumstances. And what’s more, as soon as we define what adequate consumer access is, some new technology, care model or consumer desire will change everything overnight.

What about information blocking? Will those who took the Pledge be able to avoid interfering with data flows? I’d guess that if nothing else, they won’t be able to support the kind of transparency and sharing ONC would like to see. And then when you throw in those who just don’t think full interoperability is in their interests – but want to seem as though they play well with others – you’ve pretty much got a handful o’ nothing.

And consider the third point of the Pledge, which asks providers to implement “federally recognized” standards. OK, maybe the ISA’s curated specs meet this standard, but as the Advisory is considered “non-binding” perhaps they don’t. OK, so what if there were a set of agreed-upon federal standards? Would the feds be able to keep up with changes in the marketplace (and technology) that would quickly make their chosen models obsolete? I doubt it. So we have another swing and a miss.

Given how easy the Pledge is to challenge, how much weight can we assign to efforts like the ISA or even ONC’s long-term interoperability roadmap? I’d argue that the answer is “not much.” The truth is that at least in its current form, there’s little chance the ONC can do much to foster a long-term, structural change in how health organizations share data. It’d be nice to think that, but thinking doesn’t make it so.

CVS Launches Analytics-Based Diabetes Mgmt Program For PBMs

Posted on December 29, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

CVS Health has launched a new diabetes management program for its pharmacy benefit management customers designed to improve diabetes outcomes through advanced analytics.  The new program will be available in early 2017.

The CVS program, Transform Diabetes Care, is designed to cut pharmacy and medical costs by improving diabetics’ medication adherence, A1C levels and health behaviors.

CVS is so confident that it can improve diabetics’ self-management that it’s guaranteeing that percentage increases in spending for antidiabetic meds will remain in the single digits – and apparently that’s pretty good. Or looked another way, CVS contends that its PBM clients could save anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per year for each member that improves their diabetes control.

To achieve these results, CVS is using analytics tools to find specific ways enrolled members can better care for themselves. The pharmacy giant is also using its Health Engagement Engine to find opportunities for personalized counseling with diabetics. The counseling sessions, driven by this technology, will be delivered at no charge to enrolled members, either in person at a CVS pharmacy location or via telephone.

Interestingly, members will also have access to diabetes visit at CVS’s Minute Clinics – at no out-of-pocket cost. I’ve seen few occasions where CVS seems to have really milked the existence of Minute Clinics for a broader purpose, and often wondered where the long-term value was in the commodity care they deliver. But this kind of approach makes sense.

Anyway, not surprisingly the program also includes a connected health component. Diabetics who participate in the program will be offered a connected glucometer, and when they use it, the device will share their blood glucose levels with a pharmacist-led team via a “health cloud.” (It might be good if CVS shared details on this — after all, calling it a health cloud is more than a little vague – but it appears that the idea is to make decentralized patient data sharing easy.) And of course, members have access to tools like medication refill reminders, plus the ability to refill a prescription via two-way texting, via the CVS Pharmacy.

Expect to see a lot more of this approach, which makes too much sense to ignore. In fact, CVS itself plans to launch a suite of “Transform Care” programs focused on managing expensive chronic conditions. I can only assume that its competitors will follow suit.

Meanwhile, I should note that while I expect to see providers launch similar efforts, so far I haven’t seen many attempts. That may be because patient engagement technology is relatively new, and probably pretty expensive too. Still, as value-based care becomes the dominant payment model, providers will need to get better at managing chronic diseases systematically. Perhaps, as the CVS effort unfolds, it can provide useful ideas to consider.

Connected Wearables Pose Growing Privacy, Security Risks

Posted on December 26, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

In the past, the healthcare industry treated wearables as irrelevant, distracting or worse. But over that last year or two, things have changed, with most health IT leaders concluding that wearables data has a place in their data strategies, at least in the aggregate.

The problem is, we’re making the transition to wearable data collection so quickly that some important privacy and security issues aren’t being addressed, according to a new report by American University and the Center for Digital Democracy. The report, Health Wearable Devices in the Big Data Era: Ensuring Privacy, Security, and Consumer Protection, concludes that the “weak and fragmented” patchwork of state and federal health privacy regulations doesn’t really address the problems created by wearables.

The researchers note that as smart watches, wearable health trackers, sensor-laden clothing and other monitoring technology get connected and sucked into the health data pool, the data is going places the users might not have expected. And they see this as a bit sinister. From the accompanying press release:

Many of these devices are already being integrated into a growing Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal and health data in order to influence consumer behavior.”

According to the authors, it’s high time to develop a comprehensive approach to health privacy and consumer protection, given the increasing importance of Big Data and the Internet of Things. If safeguards aren’t put in place, patients could face serious privacy and security risks, including “discrimination and other harms,” according to American University professor Kathryn Montgomery.

If regulators don’t act quickly, they could miss a critical window of opportunity, she suggested. “The connected health system is still in an early, fluid stage of development,” Montgomery said in a prepared statement. “There is an urgent need to build meaningful, effective, and enforceable safeguards into its foundation.”

The researchers also offer guidance for policymakers who are ready to take up this challenge. They include creating clear, enforceable standards for both collection and use of information; formal processes for assessing the benefits and risks of data use; and stronger regulation of direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmas.

Now readers, I imagine some of you are feeling that I’m pointing all of this out to the wrong audience. And yes, there’s little doubt that the researchers are most worried about consumer marketing practices that fall far outside of your scope.

That being said, just because providers have different motives than the pharmas when they collect data – largely to better treat health problems or improve health behavior – doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to make mistakes here. If nothing else, the line between leveraging data to help people and using it to get your way is clearer in theory than in practice.

You may think that you’d never do anything unethical or violate anyone’s privacy, and maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t hurt to consider possible harms that can occur from collecting a massive pool of data. Nobody can afford to get complacent about the downside privacy and security risks involved. Plus, don’t think the nefarious and somewhat nefarious healthcare data aggregators aren’t coming after provider stored health data as well.

The Case For Accidental Interoperability

Posted on December 22, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Many of us who follow #HITsm on Twitter have encountered the estimable standards guru Keith Boone (known there as @motorcycle_guy). Keith always has something interesting to share, and his recent article, on “accidental” interoperability, is no exception.

In his article, he describes an aha moment: “I had a recent experience where I saw a feature one team was demonstrating in which I could actually integrate one of my interop components to supply additional functionality,” he writes. “When you build interop components right, this kind of accidental interop shows up all the time.”

In his piece, he goes on to argue that this should happen a lot more often, because by doing so, “you can create lot of value through it with very little engineering investment.”

In an ideal world, such unplanned instances of interoperability would happen often, allowing developers and engineers to connect solutions with far less trouble and effort. And the more often that happened, the more resources everyone involved would have to invest in solving other types of problems.

But in his experience, it can be tough to get dev teams into the “component-based” mindset that would allow for accidental interoperability. “All too often I’ve been told those more generalized solutions are ‘scope expansions,’ because they don’t fit the use case,” and any talk of future concerns is dropped, he says.

While focusing on a particular use case can save time, as it allows developers to take shortcuts which optimize their work for that use case, this approach also limits the value of their work, he argues. Unfortunately, this intense focus prevents developers from creating more general solutions that might have broader use.

Instead of focusing solely on their short-term goals, he suggests, health IT leaders may want to look at the bigger picture. “My own experience tells me that the value I get out of more general solutions is well worth the additional engineering attention,” he writes. “It may not help THIS use case, but when I can supply the same solution to the next use case that comes along, then I’ve got a clear win.”

Keith’s article points up an obstacle to interoperability that we don’t think much about right now. While most of what I read about interoperability options — including on this blog — focus on creating inter-arching standards that can tie all providers together, we seldom discussed the smaller, day-to-day decisions that stand in the way of health data sharing.

If he’s right (and I have little doubt that he is) health IT interoperability will become a lot more feasible, a lot more quickly, if health organizations take a look at the bigger purposes an individual development project can meet. Otherwise, the next project may just be another silo in the making.