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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!

Top 3 Tips for Taking on Digital Health

Posted on January 18, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby, Marketing Strategist of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series. Follow & engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
The other day I deleted several apps from my mobile phone. One I had downloaded when I was traveling, one took up too many gigs on my phone, and the last was one I downloaded to track specific health activities last January probably hoping to achieve one of my many New Year’s resolutions.  This happens to me all the time – I download an app or tool, use it once or twice, realize I don’t have any use for it or haven’t used it in 3 months and end up deleting to free up space on my phone.

This got me thinking about digital technology in the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, every day there is a slew of digital health tools developed that take a lot of time, money and effort and then go unused by the user for a variety of reasons. I picture something like a digital health tool graveyard that exists somewhere in the cloud.

After I got the mental image of a technology version of the Lion King’s Elephant Graveyard out of my head, I began to ask myself why so many digital heath technologies went stale. What needed to change? The time, money, and beautiful design that is put into development won’t draw patients by the masses.  The thing about digital health is that there has to be something in it to evoke a user’s actions.  Below are 3 important strategies I believe we need to all keep in mind when taking on digital health:

1. What does the patient EXPECT?

It’s no surprise that patients want technology incorporated into their healthcare.  However, it’s essential to couple the right technology with appropriate expectation of the user.  What you THINK a patient expects, might not always turn out to be the case.  According to a recent study by business and technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners, 91 percent of healthcare customers say they would take advantage of mobile apps when offered.  However, according to an Accenture report, 66% of the largest 100 US hospitals have consumer-facing mobile apps, 38% of which have been developed for their patients, and only 2% of patients are actively using these apps. When users are met with digital health technology that lacks the expected user experience, they are left feeling disappointed, unfulfilled, and begin looking elsewhere for services.

2. What does the patient WANT?

Patients are longing for a consumer experience when it comes to their healthcare.  New research shows that “patients today are choosing their providers, in part, based on how well they use technology to communicate with them and manage their health,” says Joshua Newman, M.D., chief medical officer, Salesforce Healthcare and Life Sciences.  Patients crave technology, customization and convenience.  There is no doubt that digital health tools satisfy the convenience factor.  However, they are nothing without a customized experience. Limiting your interactions with patients to an out-of-the-box, one-way digital communication strategy can be disadvantageous and could mean you aren’t reaching patients at all.  Digital health that is personalized, optimized, and sent through multi modalities allows you to be sure that you are engaging your patient in a way they want.

3. Where does the patient GO?

It’s no surprise that patients expect a consumer experience when it comes to interacting with their healthcare provider. But mastering digital health must include more than just mobile apps and the doctor’s office.  A digital health strategy that connects with patients across the entire continuum of care will optimize their experience and satisfaction.  In a recent study by West Monroe Partners called No More Waiting Room: The Future of the Healthcare Customer Experience, Will Hinde, Senior Director says “we’re starting to see more providers incorporate the digital experience with their office visit, by shifting to more online scheduling of appointments, paperless office interactions, following up via email, portals, and mobile apps and taking steps towards greater cost and quality transparency.”  Connecting with patients outside of the doctor’s office and in places where they frequent most allows for better changes of engagement, leading to greater experiences.

Tackling digital health can be daunting and unsuccessful if it’s looked at solely from the angle that technology is king. Looking at it from the lens of the patient becomes less intimidating and more likely that your digital health efforts don’t end up in the Elephant Graveyard.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

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.

An Intelligent Interface for Patient Diagnosis by HealthTap

Posted on January 9, 2017 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

HealthTap, an organization that’s hard to categorize, really should appear in more studies of modern health care. Analysts are agog over the size of the Veterans Administration’s clientele, and over a couple other major institutions such as Kaiser Permanente–but who is looking at the 104,000 physicians and the hundreds of millions of patients from 174 countries in HealthTap’s database?

HealthTap allows patients to connect with doctors online, and additionally hosts an enormous repository of doctors’ answers to health questions. In addition to its sheer size and its unique combination of services, HealthTap is ahead of most other health care institutions in its use of data.

I talked with founder and CEO Ron Gutman about a new service, Dr. AI, that triages the patient and guides her toward a treatment plan: online resources for small problems, doctors for major problems, and even a recommendation to head off to the emergency room when that is warranted. The service builds on the patient/doctor interactions HealthTap has offered over its six years of operation, but is fully automated.

Somewhat reminiscent of IBM’s Watson, Dr. AI evaluates the patient’s symptoms and searches a database for possible diagnoses. But the Dr. AI service differs from Watson in several key aspects:

  • Whereas Watson searches a huge collection of clinical research journals, HealthTap searches its own repository of doctor/patient interactions and advice given by its participating doctors. Thus, Dr. AI is more in line with modern “big data” analytics, such as PatientsLikeMe does.

  • More importantly, HealthTap potentially knows more about the patient than Watson does, because the patient can build up a history with HealthTap.

  • And most important, Dr. AI is interactive. Instead of doing a one-time search, it employs artificial intelligence techniques to generate questions. For instance, it may ask, “Did you take an airplane flight recently?” Each question arises from the totality of what HealthTap knows about the patient and the patterns found in HealthTap’s data.

The following video shows Dr. AI in action:

A well-stocked larder of artificial intelligence techniques feed Dr. AI’s interactive triage service: machine learning, natural language processing (because the doctor advice is stored in plain text), Bayesian learning, and pattern recognition. These allow a dialog tailored to each patient that is, to my knowledge, unique in the health care field.

HealthTap continues to grow as a platform for remote diagnosis and treatment. In a world with too few clinicians, it may become standard for people outside the traditional health care system.

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.

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 Health is Like Going from Printed Maps to Waze

Posted on December 28, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

At the Connected Health Summit this year, I had a chance to talk with Chris Nicholson, CEO of mPulse Mobile. I was really impressed with what mPule Mobile was doing and I loved that they were actually doing things and not just talking about things that they could do. Sure was a refreshing experience from many other meetups with startups in this space.

During our discussion, Chris offered an interesting comparison between healthcare before connected health and healthcare after. I wasn’t recording our discussion, but here’s the gist of his comparison.

In the past health tech was kind of like a static map that was outdated as soon as it was printed. New tech is like Waze which is being constantly updated. Waze evolves based on a variety of factors and data to be able to create a custom experience for the user.

For those not familiar with Waze (Now owned by Google), it uses everyone’s driving information in order to make sure you’re taking the fastest route possible. The app has been so successful, it has caused new traffic problems in neighborhoods when Waze would reroute drivers through a neighborhood most people wouldn’t have thought to take to avoid a trouble area. It caused so much traffic in these neighborhoods, a lot of neighbors got really upset.

While there are challenges with any application, I think that Chris’ comparison is a good one. The EHR is essentially a static map of a person’s visit to the doctor. That information is outdated almost immediately after the patient leaves the doctor’s office. It’s great for historical understanding, but certainly isn’t a real time look at what could most benefit a patient’s health.

As I prepare for CES next week, I’m excited to see the slew of health sensors and health applications that will be at the conference. These combinations of technology will get us closer to the Waze of healthcare where our health status and the status of where our health is headed is updated in real time. I haven’t seen the Waze of healthcare yet. Have you?

Oh How Easily We Forget

Posted on December 23, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I was recently playing ultimate frisbee and a pharmacist from out of town came to play with us since they were in Las Vegas attending a conference. After a bit of discussion he learned that I was a healthcare IT blogger and so we had a short discussion about the benefits of technology in healthcare. During our discussion he said the following that really hit me:

“Carbon copy… it’s a nightmare.” -Pharmacist

That’s right. One of the hospitals that sends him prescriptions still uses carbon copy to write their prescriptions. The pharmacist then went on to tell me, “If you think reading handwriting is hard to read, try reading it through double carbon copy.”

For many of us, including myself, Christmas is just around the corner. We’ll be spending time with family and friends. We’ll give and get presents. We’ll eat Christmas cookies. We’ll sing Christmas songs. The break can be an extremely enjoyable time for many. However, so many of us (yes, that includes me) just take it for granted.

I think that’s kind of like the benefits technology can and has provided healthcare. How much easier is it to find a chart in an EHR? How much easier is it to read typed out notes versus the hieroglyphics that some doctors called handwriting? How much easier is it to print 2 prescriptions or just ePrescribe a prescription than to use a double carbon copy? I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Both in healthcare IT and in life, we often take so many things for granted once they become a constant in our lives. This holiday weekend I’m planning to slow down, breathe deeply, and appreciate the good things in life. There are many regardless of your situation or circumstances. Taking a little time to remember will help us not forget all the things we have to be grateful for in this world. Let’s put aside our challenges this weekend and pick them back up on Monday.

Happy Holidays to everyone! Thanks for always helping me to remember all the incredible things in my life.

5 Tips When Implementing a Secure Text Messaging Solution

Posted on December 20, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Matthew Werder, CTO, Hennepin County Medical Center. Thanks to Justin Campbell from Galen Healthcare Solutions for facilitating this guest post for us.

Now twelve months into our secure messaging implementation, and it’s safe to say our transition to a secure-messaging application with the aspiration to eliminate pagers has been quite a journey.  Recently, I answered a couple of reference calls on the selection process from some of my healthcare colleagues and determined it was time to share 5 (of many) tips for implementing a secure messaging solution.  Like most healthcare technologies, what may appear to be simple isn’t and even with the best of the best implementation plans, project manager, and leadership support – the road to implementing a secure messaging solution contains many challenges.

To start, here are five tips that have left me with scars & memories:

#1 – Define Your Strategy.  Are you just adding another technology, enhancing an existing, or just buying into the hype of secure text messaging applications?  In his post dated January 26, 2016, Mobility Solutions Consultant, Jason Stanaland from Spok stated, “secure text messaging should be implemented as a workflow solution, and not simply a messaging product.”  Before putting ink to paper, ensure that your goals are aligned, providers are supportive, and a measureable outcome has been identified.  Just because you can implement a technology doesn’t mean you should.

#2 – Beware of the Pager Culture.  In the words of Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and the same can be said for the pager culture.  This was impressed on me last summer when a physician stopped me in the hallway and had questions about the new text messaging solution we were implementing.  She was very excited and encouraged to hear that we were taking communication, mobility, and security seriously.   What I wasn’t prepared for was her question, “What is your plan to address the 4, 5, and 9-digit callback needs?”

In many institutions, a pager Morse code exists.  Telemediq’s Derek Bolen wrote in December last year that the, “Pager culture’ is real, and extremely persistent, in healthcare.” Judy Mottl, of Fierce Mobile Healthcare, talks about “Why the pager remains a viable and trusted tool for providers.” She wrote that the pager has been a resilient tool and in order for new technologies to replace it, they must overcome the benefits of such a simple mobile device – the pager!  Don’t underestimate #PAGERPOWER!

#3 – Text Administration and Etiquette Policy.  If your goal is to replace your paging system or add a secure text messaging solution in addition to pagers, your paging and messaging policy will need to be archived and a new text messaging/secure messaging policy will need to be authored.  Who authors the policy will be a collaborative effort between the medical staff, legal, IT, nursing, compliance, and operations.  Gentle reminders as written by Dana Holmes, Family Lifestyle Expert of the Huffington Post, in her 2013 blog, “A Much-Needed Guide to Text Etiquette”, highlights the necessary rules and guidelines of texting. Many of these are well known, yet good reminders in the adoption of secure text messaging in healthcare.

#4 – Think Beyond Text Messaging.  Regardless of your strategy, text messaging alone will provide minimal value.  Organizations implementing secure text-messaging solutions should think beyond the implementation and think in terms of “Connection Point” or “Communications Hub” opportunities with the patient/customer in mind.  On August 19, 2015, Brad Brooks, TigerText Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, stated that secure texting not only fosters a collaborative environment, but it also enables users to quickly communicate and coordinate with other colleagues while eradicating the need for multiple devices and tedious communication channels. Unlike emails, secure texting is instantaneous and avoids outside threats or hackers. Secure texting encompasses everything we love about mobile messaging, but with built-in features and tools to help one work faster and more easily with his or her team.  Does the vendor have a roadmap to take you where you want? Intersect it with patients, and make for texting amongst patients and provider. Include the patient, how can they take advantage of the texting platform?  Turn it into an engagement tool.  Drive collaboration and improve the patient experience and family experience.

#5 – Enjoy and Have Fun.  I am amazed at times when technologists don’t embrace the adoption of a new technology that could have a significant impact on their organization.  The secure text messaging industry is rich and deep right now with countless options and innovative solutions at every corner.  You run into unforeseen obstacles and workflows, and despite the promise of a short implementation multiple it by two.  We all know that change in healthcare is challenging and exhausting so enjoy the ride!

Of course there are many more. At last count, about 37 additional lessons and tips should be considered when implementing your new secure-messaging solution, so feel free to comment and share your experiences.

About Matthew Werder
Matthew Werder brings over 20 years of healthcare experience in his position as Chief Technology Officer at Hennepin County Medical Center, a 477-bed Level 1 Trauma Center and Academic Medical Center in Minneapolis. In his role, he is responsible for advancing HCMC’s technology vision and strategy to enable the organization to achieve its critical priorities.  Currently, Matthew is leading the development of an enterprise telemedicine strategy, migration to a new data center, and leading the execution of the organization’s technology strategy.

Prior to his role as CTO, Matthew was the Director of Supply Chain at HCMC, where over the course of 4 years achieved over $12M in cost savings while transforming the supply chain organization whom received recognition by Supply & Demand Chain Executive as Pros to Know.  He also worked as a Supply Chain Manager for Medtronic, Inc. at their Physiological Research Laboratories and in the Global Strategic Sourcing group. Matthew is a certified Master Lean instructor and previously worked as a Lean Consultant with Operational Excellence, Inc. 

Matthew holds a Master’s Degree in Health and Human Services Administration from Saint Mary’s University and graduated from Concordia University with a degree in natural science.  He has presented and been published on several topics focusing on operational excellence, cost management, technology and the patient experience, and strategic sourcing for services in healthcare.