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Value-sizing The Patient Experience

Posted on June 8, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Bennight, Marketing Strategist for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

In health IT, we talk about the patient experience all the time. Many of us have dedicated our entire careers to improving the patient experience. It has become so central to improving healthcare that patient-reported experience results determine a significant portion of reimbursement.

But today’s patient experiences do beg the question: are they a pie in the sky dream or something tangible that can be addressed in our organizations?

To tackle the patient experience, we have to audit all contact points to determine areas of weakness. A great way to start is by creating a healthcare consumer journey map. Identifying each point a patient could potentially interact with your organization is key to ensuring their experience will be great. Once you have identified each potential encounter, mystery shop that experience as if you were the patient to test your brand’s current performance. When determining whether or not your organization provides a great brand experience, you may find yourself comparing your performance to the top brands you work with on a daily basis.

For example, I recall a time when I studied abroad in the United Kingdom. Upon arriving in a foreign country after 22 hours of travel with little sleep, I needed to eat. I vaguely recalled passing a familiar restaurant sign on the way to my flat: McDonalds. And though I didn’t really love the golden arches at the time, I chose to eat there. Why? Because I knew what to expect. I knew how to order, what menu items would be available, and what it would taste like.

By focusing on consistent interactions and expectations for their customers, McDonalds has created a strong brand. In fact, when asked about introducing new products during a 2010 CNBC interview, former CEO James Skinner said “[McDonald’s doesn’t] put something on the menu until it can be produced at the speed of McDonalds.”

Can your healthcare consumers count on a consistent experience when contacting your organization? Your brand experience should encompass the entire health system to build confidence and loyalty in your brand. Creating consistency across each encounter begins with simple questions. Was their initial call met with a timely, sincere, and welcoming voice? Was parking convenient? Are average waiting times reasonable? Do Center A and Center B provide the same quality support? Is their bill easy to understand? If your answers are all yes, it’s more likely that patients will continue to choose your organization.

When patients feel confidence about provided services and perceive value in the care you provide, brand loyalty is achieved. What’s more, many studies show that patients who have great healthcare experiences and are confident in the level of care they receive will have better clinical outcomes. Value-based care demands consistent, evidence-based clinical interactions. But we can’t leave out the important patient experience outside the walls of the exam room.

After my exhaustive travels, I certainly had a better outcome by relying on my trust in McDonalds’ brand. I chose to value-size my meals frequently throughout my England journey – not because it was the best tasting food, but because I could always rely on consistently convenient and quality experiences. The healthcare industry can certainly learn a lot more from cutting edge commercial companies when it comes to creating loyalty. To learn more about the patient journey and loyalty, download our e-book.

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

Seven Factors That Will Make 2018 A Challenging Year For EMR Vendors

Posted on May 24, 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.

Unless they’re monumentally important, I generally don’t regurgitate the theories researchers develop about health IT. But this time I’m changing strategies. While their analysis may not fit in the “earth shattering” category, I thought their list of factors that will shape 2018’s EMR market was dead on, so here it is.

According to a report created by analyst firm Kalorama Research, a number of trends are brewing which could make next year a particularly, well, interesting one for EMR vendors. (By the by, the allegedly Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” probably wasn’t Chinese in origin — it seems to have been minted in the 19th century by a British politician named Joseph Chamberlain. But I digress.)

According to Kalorama publisher Bruce Carlton, many forces are converging, including:

  • Frustrated physicians: Physician rage over clunky EMRs may boil over next year. No one vendor seems positioned to scoop up their business, but of course many will try.
  • Hospital EMR switches: While hospitals have been switching out EMRs for quite some time, defections may climb to new levels. Their main objective: Improve workflows.
  • Emerging technologies: Trendy approaches like dashboarding, blockchain and advanced big data analytics will begin to be integrated with existing EMR technologies. Or as the report notes, “the Old EMR doesn’t cut it anymore.”
  • IT staff shortages: It takes a pretty seasoned IT pro to run an EMR, but they’re hard to find, especially if you want them to have a lot of relevant experience. But without their expertise, provider organizations may not get the most out of their systems. This may spell opportunity for vendors offering better service, the report says.
  • Breach of the day: With each cybersecurity breach, EMRs get negative coverage, and the effects of this bad PR are accreting. Tales of ransomware, a particularly lurid form of cybercrime, are only making things worse.
  • Many EMR vendors remain: Despite a barrage of M&A activity in the sector, there are still over 1,000 vendors in the EMR space, Kalorama notes. In other words, competition for EMR customers will still be brisk, particularly given that no one vendor – even giants like Cerner and Epic – owns more than one-fifth of the market (This assertion comes from firm’s own market estimates.)
  • New Administration, new goals: To date the White House hasn’t proposed specific changes to health IT policy, but one clue comes from the appointment of an HHS Secretary who dislikes the meaningful use program. Anything could happen here.

In addition to the factors cited by Kalorama, I’d suggest one other trend to consider. As I’ve noted above, Kalorama argues that customers will demand EMRs that incorporate sexy new technologies, perhaps more so than in the past. I’d go further with this projection. From what I’m hearing, a consensus is emerging that EMR architectures must be completely deconstructed and rethought for today’s data.

With important data flows emerging from wearables, apps, remote monitoring devices and the like, it may not makes sense to put a big database at the center of the EMR platform anymore. After all, what’s the point of setting up an enterprise EMR as the ultimate source of truth if so much important data is being generated by mobile devices at the network edge?

Anyway, that’s my two cents, along with Kalorama’s predictions. What do you think 2018 will look like for EMR vendors, and why?

Employer Health Biosensor Cartoon – Fun Friday

Posted on May 5, 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.

We’re back again with our Fun Friday series of posts A little humor to start off your weekend. Although, we always try to include a simple lesson, insight or perspective with the cartoon as well. This week we tapped into another Dilbert cartoon which highlights the health sensor craze.

The irony of this cartoon is that the reality is the opposite. Most employees think that their employer wants all this data to screw them over (or some other negative thing) and most employers do very little with the data. The most advanced companies are trying to leverage it for lower insurance rates. Not much more from my experience.

I wouldn’t be so generous to employers to say that they do it because they care so much about their employees health either. They do care about their employees health because absent employees hurt business. Plus, unhealthy employees cost employers a lot of money. Too cynical for a Fun Friday? Maybe, but the cartoon is still pretty funny.

Long story short, we have a lot of work to do to make health data tracking something that everyone wants to do.

More Vendors, Providers Integrating Telemedicine Data With EHRs

Posted on April 27, 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.

One of the biggest problems providers face in rolling out telemedicine is how to integrate the data it generates. Must doctors make some kind of alternate set of notes appropriate to the medium, or do they belong in the EHR? Should healthcare organizations import the video and notate the general contents? And how should they connect the data with their EHR?

While we may not have definitive answers to such questions yet, it appears that the telehealth industry is moving in the right direction. According to a new survey by the American Telemedicine Association, respondents said that they’re seeing growth in interoperability with EHRs, progress which has increased their confidence in telemedicine’s future.

Before going any further, I should note that the surveyed population is a bit odd. The ATA reached out not only to leaders in hospital systems and medical practices, but also “telehealth service providers,” which sounds like merely an opportunity for self-promotion. But leaving aside this issue, it’s still worth thinking a bit about the data, such as it is.

First, not surprisingly, the results are a ringing endorsement of telemedicine technology. The group reports that 83 percent of respondents said they’ll probably invest in telehealth this year, and 88 percent will invest in telehealth-related technology.

When asked why they’re interested in delivering these services, 98 percent said that they believe telehealth services offer a competitive advantage over those that don’t offer it. And 84 percent of respondents expect that offering telehealth services will have a big impact on their organization’s coverage and reach.

(According to another survey, by Avizia and Modern Healthcare, other reasons providers are engaging with telehealth is because they believe it can improve clinical outcomes and support their transition to value-based care.)

When it comes to documenting its key thesis – that the integration of EHR and telehealth data is proceeding apace – the ATA research doesn’t go the distance. But I know from other studies that telemedicine vendors are indeed working on this issue – and why wouldn’t they? Any sophisticated telemedicine vendor has to know this is a big deal.

For example, telemedicine vendor American Well has been working with a long list of health plans and health systems for a while, in an effort to integrate the telehealth process with provider workflows. To support these efforts, American Well has created an enterprise telehealth platform designed to connect with providers’ clinical information systems. I’ve also observed that DoctorOnDemand has made some steps in that direction.

Ultimately, everyone in telehealth will have to get on board. Regardless of where they’re at now, those engaging in telehealth will need to push the interoperability puck forward.

In fact, integrating telehealth documentation with EMRs has to be a priority for everyone in the business. Even if integrating clinical data from virtual consults wasn’t important for analytics purposes, it is important to collecting insurance reimbursement. Now that private health plans (and Medicare) are reimbursing for telemedical care, you can rest assured that they’ll demand documentation if they don’t like your claim. And when it comes to Medicare, arguing that you haven’t figured out how to document these details won’t cut it.

In other words, while there’s some overarching reasons why integrating this data is a good long-term strategy, we need to keep immediate concerns in mind too. Telemedicine data has to be seen as documentation first, before we add any other bells and whistles. Otherwise, providers will get off on the wrong foot with insurers, and they’ll have trouble getting back on track.

Patients Message Providers More When Providers Reach Out

Posted on April 26, 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 has concluded that patients use secure electronic messaging more when their primary care providers initiate and respond to secure messages.

To conduct the study, the research team worked a large database stocked with information on health care transactions and secure messaging records on 81,645 US Army soldiers. The data also included information from almost 3,000 clinicians with access to a patient portal system. The dataset encompassed the 4-year period between January 2011 and November 2014.

The data, which appears in a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, suggests that current provider-patient exchanges via secure messaging aren’t that common. For example, during the study period just 7 percent of patients initiated a secure message during a given month. Meanwhile, Providers initiated an average of 0.007 messages per patient each month, while responding to 0.09 messages per patient during a month.

That being said, when physicians got more engaged with the messaging process, patients responded dramatically.

Patients who knew their providers were responsive initiated a whopping 334 percent more secure messages than their baseline. Even among patients whose providers responded infrequently to their messages, the level at which they initiated messages to their clinicians was 254 percent higher than with PCPs who weren’t responding. (Oddly, when PCP response rates were at the “medium” level, patients increased messaging by 167 percent.)

In fact, when clinicians communicated more, there seemed to be spillover effects. Specifically, the researchers found that patients messaged PCPs more if that provider was very responsive to other patients, suggesting that there’s a network effect in play here.

Meanwhile, when PCPs were the ones prone to initiating messages, patients were 60 percent more likely to send a secure message. In other words, patients were more energized by PCP responses than clinician-initiated messages.

Of course, for secure messaging to have any real impact on care quality and outcomes, a critical mass of patients need to use messaging tools. Historically, though, providers have struggled to get patients to use their portal, with usage levels hovering between 10 percent and 32 percent.

Usage rates for portals have stayed stubbornly low even when doctors work hard to get their patients interested. Even patients who have signed up to use the portal often don’t follow through, research suggests. And of course, patients who don’t touch the portal aren’t exchanging care-enhancing messages with their provider.

If we’re going to get patients to participate in messaging with their doctor, we’re going to have to admit that the features offered by basic portals simply aren’t that valuable. While most offer patients access to some details of their medical records and test results, and sometimes allow them to schedule appointments, many don’t provide much more.

Meanwhile, a surprising number of providers haven’t even enabled a secure messaging function on their portal, which confines it to being a sterile data receptacle. I’d argue that without offering this feature, portals do almost nothing to engage their typical patient.

Of course, physicians fear being overwhelmed by patient messages, and reasonably fear that they won’t have time to respond adequately. Even though many organizations including the research of Dr. CT Lin has shown this just isn’t the case. That being said, if they want to increase patient engagement – and improve their overall health – secure messaging is one of the simplest tools for making that happen. So even if it means redesigning their workflow or tasking advanced practice nurse with responding to routine queries, it’s worth doing.

Where HIMSS Can Take Health 2.0

Posted on April 24, 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.

I was quite privileged to talk to the leaders of Health 2.0, Dr. Indu Subaiya and Matthew Holt, in the busy days after their announced merger with HIMSS. I was revving to talk to them because the Health 2.0 events I have attended have always been stimulating and challenging. I wanted to make sure that after their incorporation into the HIMSS empire they would continue to push clinicians as well as technologists to re-evaluate their workflows, goals, and philosophies.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical Health 2.0 event, but I generally see in such events a twofold mission. Sometimes they orient technologists to consider the needs of doctors and patients (as at a developer challenge). Other times they orient clinicians and health care institutions to consider the changes in goals and means that technology requires, as well as the strains caused by its adoption (as in a HxRefactored conference). Both of these activities disturb the cozy status quo in health IT, prodding its practitioners to try out new forms of research, design, and interaction. Health 2.0 was also happy to publish my own articles trying to untangle the standard confusion around health care.

For HIMSS, absorbing Health 2.0 is about as consequential as an ocean liner picking up a band of performing musicians along its ports of call. For Health 2.0, the impact could be much larger. Certainly, they gain the stability, funding opportunities, and administrative support that typically come with incorporation into a large, established institution. But can they keep their edge?

Subaiya and Holt assured me that Health 2.0 maintains its independence as part of HIMSS. They will be responsible for some presentations at the mammoth annual HIMSS conferences. They also hope to bring more buyers and sellers together through the HIMSS connection. They see three functions they can provide HIMSS:

  • A scanner for what’s new. HIMSS tends to showcase valuable new technologies a couple years after Health 2.0 discovers them.

  • A magnet to attract and retain highly innovative people in health IT.

  • A mechanism for finding partners for early-stage companies.

Aside from that, they will continue and expand their international presence, which includes the US, Japan, South Korea, China, and India. Interestingly, Subaiya told me that the needs expressed in different countries are similar. There aren’t separate mHealth or IT revolutions for the US and India. Instead, both call for increased used of IT for patient education, for remote monitoring and care, and for point-of-care diagnostics. Whether talking about busy yuppies in the city or isolated rural areas lacking doctors, clinicians find that health care has to go to the patient because the patient can’t always come to a health care center. If somebody can run a test using a cheap strip of paper and send results to a doctor over a cell phone, health coverage becomes more universal. Many areas are also dealing with the strains of aging populations.

HIMSS leadership and Health 2.0 share the recognition that health happens outside the walls of hospitals: in relationships, communities, schools, and homes. Health 2.0 will push that philosophy strongly at HIMSS. They will also hammer on what Subaiya calls health care’s “unacceptables”: disparities across race, gender, and geographic region, continued growth in chronic disease, and resulting cost burdens.

Subaiya and Holt see the original mission of HIMSS as a beneficial one: to create technologies that enhance physician workflows. Old technologies turned out to be brittle and unable to evolve, though, as workflows radically changed. As patient engagement and collaboration became more important, EHRs and other systems fell behind.

Meanwhile, the mobile revolution brought new attention to apps that could empower patients, improve monitoring, and connect everybody in the health care system. But technologists and venture capitalists jumped into health care without adequate research into what the users needed. Health 2.0 was created several years ago to represent the users, particular patients and health care consumers.

Holt says that investment is still increasing, although it may go into services instead of pure tech companies. Some is money moving from life sciences to computer technologies such as digital therapeutics. Furthermore, there are fewer companies getting funded than a few years ago, but each company is getting more money than before and getting it faster.

Subaiya and Holt celebrate the continued pull of health care for technologists, citing not only start-ups but substantial investment by large tech corporations, such as the Alphabet company Verily Life Sciences, Samsung, and Apple. There’s a particularly big increase in the use of data science within health care.

Some companies are integrating with Alexa to make interactions with consumers more natural. Intelligent decision support (as seen for instance in IBM’s Watson) is taking some of the burden off the clinician. For mental health, behavioral health, and addiction, digital tech is reducing stigma and barriers to those who need help.

In short, Health 2.0 should not be constrained by its new-found partner. The environment and funding is here for a tech transformation of health care, and Health 2.0’s work is cut out for it.

Staying Connected Beyond the Patient Visit

Posted on April 20, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby, Marketing Strategist for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
I see it everywhere I go – heads down, thumbs flexing. We live in an era where our devices occupy our lives. When I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my flight, standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to be called at my doctor’s office, I see it – heads down, thumbs flexing. Although I wish we weren’t always heads down in our phones, it is inevitable, we rely on our smartphone to stay connected.  As it stands today, roughly two-thirds of Americans own a smart phone, meaning they have access to email, voice, and text at their fingertips.

The increase in connectivity that the smartphone gives its user provides physicians a whole new way to communicate beyond the patient visit. Below are some tips that can help healthcare professionals stay connected while improving engagement, behaviors, and revenue outcomes.

Consider the patient’s preferences
Quite often only one piece of contact information is gathered for a patient and it is typically a home phone number. Patients expect to be communicated with where it is convenient for them, and in a recent survey on preferred communication methods, 76 percent off respondents said that text messages were more convenient above emails and phone calls.  If you are looking to connect with patients in a meaningful way, consider asking them their preferred method of contact to help maximize your engagement.

Use a various methods of communication
Recently we surveyed over 400 healthcare professionals to learn about the ways they are communicating and engaging with their patients. Our findings revealed that 41 percent of physicians and healthcare professionals utilize various methods to connect and communicate with their patients.  Long gone are the days when you could reach someone by a simple phone call. Today, if I need to get in touch with someone this is how it goes down: I will email them, then I will call them to let them know I emailed them, and then I text them to tell them to go read my email.  A recent report shows that on average 91 percent of all United States consumers use email daily and that text messages have a 45 percent response rate and a 98 percent open rate. Connecting with patients through multiple channels of communication can show a significant change in patient responsiveness and behavior, including an increase in healthcare ownership, a decrease in no shows, and a substantial increase in revenue.

Automate your patient communication messages
Investing in an automated patient communication solution is a great way to connect with your patients beyond the doctor’s office. It will not only increase patient behaviors, efficiencies, satisfaction and convenience, but will also dramatically impact your bottom-line.

A comprehensive automated patient communication platform allows include regular and frequent communication from your organization to the patient in a simple and easy way.  Consider implementing some of the following automated communication tactics to help you increase your practice’s efficiencies while continuing to engage with patients outside of the office:

  • Send appointment reminders: Send automated appointment reminders to ensure patients show up to their appointment both on time and prepared.
  • Follow-up communication: Patients only retain 20 to 60 percent of information that is shared with them during the appointment. Send a text or email with pertinent follow-up information to increase patient satisfaction and decrease readmissions.
  • Program promotion: Connect with patients to encourage them to come in for important initiatives your practice is holding like your flu-shot clinic.
  • Message broadcast: Communicate important information like an office closure or rescheduling due to severe weather.

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

AMIA Shares Recommendations On Health IT-Friendly Policymaking

Posted on April 17, 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.

The American Medical Informatics Association has released the findings from a new paper addressing health IT policy, including recommendation on how policymakers can support patient access to health data, interoperability for clinicians and patient care-related research and innovation.

As the group accurately notes, the US healthcare system has transformed itself into a digital industry at astonishing speed, largely during the past five years. Nonetheless, many healthcare organizations haven’t unlocked the value of these new tools, in part because their technical infrastructure is largely a collection of disparate systems which don’t work together well.

The paper, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, offers several policy recommendations intended to help health IT better support value-based health, care and research. The paper argues that governments should implement specific policy to:

  • Enable patients to have better access to clinical data by standardizing data flow
  • Improve access to patient-generated data compiled by mHealth apps and related technologies
  • Engage patients in research by improving ways to alert clinicians and patients about research opportunities, while seeing to it that researchers manage consent effectively
  • Enable patient participation in and contribution to care delivery and health management by harmonizing standards for various classes of patient-generated data
  • Improve interoperability using APIs, which may demand that policymakers require adherence to chosen data standards
  • Develop and implement a documentation-simplification framework to fuel an overhaul of quality measurement, ensure availability of coded EHRs clinical data and support reimbursement requirements redesign
  • Develop and implement an app-vetting process emphasizing safety and effectiveness, to include creating a knowledgebase of trusted sources, possibly as part of clinical practice improvement under MIPS
  • Create a policy framework for research and innovation, to include policies to aid data access for research conducted by HIPAA-covered entities and increase needed data standardization
  • Foster an ecosystem connecting safe, effective and secure health applications

To meet these goals, AMIA issued a set of “Policy Action Items” which address immediate, near-term and future policy initiatives. They include:

  • Clarifying a patient’s HIPAA “right to access” to include a right to all data maintained by a covered entity’s designated record set;
  • Encourage continued adoption of 2015 Edition Certified Health IT, which will allow standards-based APIs published in the public domain to be composed of standard features which can continue to be deployed by providers; and
  • Make effective Common Rule revisions as finalized in the January 19, 2017 issue of the Federal Register

In looking at this material, I noted with interest AMIA’s thinking on the appropriate premises for current health IT policy. The group offered some worthwhile suggestions on how health IT leaders can leverage health data effectively, such as giving patients easy access to their mHealth data and engaging them in the research process.

Given that they overlap with suggestions I’ve seen elsewhere, we may be getting somewhere as an industry. In fact, it seems to me that we’re approaching industry consensus on some issues which, despite seeming relatively straightforward have been the subject of professional disputes.

As I see it, AMIA stands as good a chance as any other healthcare entity at getting these policies implemented. I look forward to seeing how much progress it makes in drawing attention to these issues.

Study Offers Snapshot Of Provider App Preferences

Posted on March 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.

A recent study backed by HIT industry researchers and an ONC-backed health tech project offers an interesting window into how healthcare organizations see freestanding health apps. The research, by KLAS and the SMART Health IT Project, suggests that providers are developing an increasingly clear of what apps they’d like to see and how they’d use them.

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that it’s still early in the game for healthcare app use. In fact, the study notes, about half of healthcare organizations don’t formally use apps at the point of care. Also, most existing apps offer basic EMR data access, rather than advanced use cases.

The apps offering EMR data access are typically provided by vendors, and only allow users to view such data (as opposed to documenting care), according to the study report. But providers want to roll out apps which allow inputting of clinical data, as this function would streamline clinicians’ ability to make an initial patient assessment, the report notes.

But there are other important app categories which have gained an audience, including diagnostic apps used to support patient assessment, medical reference apps and patient engagement apps.  Other popular app types include clinical decision support tools, documentation tools and secure messaging apps, according to researchers.

It’s worth noting, though, that there seems to be a gap between what providers are willing to use and what they are willing to buy or develop on their own. For example, the report notes that nearly all respondents would be willing to buy or build a patient engagement app, as well as clinical decision support tools and documentation apps. The patient engagement apps researchers had in would manage chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease, both very important population health challenges.

Hospital leaders, meanwhile, expressed interest in using sophisticated patient portal apps which go beyond simply allowing patients to view their data. “What I would like a patient app to do for us is to keep patients informed all throughout their two- to four-hours ED stay,” one CMO told researchers. “For instance, the app could inform them that their CBC has come back okay and that their physician is waiting on the read. That way patients would stay updated.”

When it came to selecting apps, respondents placed a top priority on usability, followed by the app’s cost, clinical impact, capacity for integration, functionality, app credibility, peer recommendations and security. (This is interesting, given many providers seem to give usability short shrift when evaluating other health IT platforms, most notably EMRs.)

To determine whether an app will work, respondents placed the most faith in conducting a pilot or other trial. Other popular approaches included vendor demos and peer recommendations. Few favored vendor websites or videos as a means of learning about apps, and even fewer placed working with app endorsement organizations or discovering them at conferences.

But providers still have a few persistent worries about third-party apps, including privacy and security, app credibility, the level of ongoing maintenance needed, the extent of integration and data aggregation required to support apps and issues regarding data ownership. Given that worrisome privacy and security concerns are probably justified, it seems likely that they’ll be a significant drag on app adoption going forward.

E-Patient Update: Naughty, Naughty Telehealth Users

Posted on March 17, 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.

Wow. I mean, wow. I can’t believe the article I just read, in otherwise-savvy Wired magazine yet, arguing that patients who access telemedicine services are self-indulgent and, well, sorta stupid.

Calling it the “Uber-ization” of healthcare, writer Megan Molteni (@MeganMolteni on Twitter) argues that telemedicine will only survive if people use it “responsibly” – apparently because people are currently accessing care via direct-to-consumer services because their favorite online gambling site was offline for system maintenance.

In making this claim, Molteni cites new research from RAND, published in the journal Health Affairs, which looked at the impact direct-to-consumer telemedicine services had on overall healthcare costs. But the piece goes from acknowledging that this model might not reduce costs in all cases to attacking e-patients like myself – and that’s where I got a bit steamed.

In structuring the piece, the writer seems to suggest that if consumer behavior doesn’t save the health insurance industry money, we need to stop being so gosh-darned assertive about getting help with our health. Then it goes further, arguing that we should just for-Pete’s-sake control ourselves (apparently we’re either hypochondriacs, attention-seekers or terminally bored) and just step away from the computer.  Why can’t we just say no?

First, the facts

Before we take this on, let’s take a look at the journal article which the writer drew upon as a primary source and see what assertions it makes. Facts first.

In the abstract, the authors note that demand for direct-to-consumer telehealth services is growing rapidly, and has the potential to save money by replacing physician office and emergency department trips with virtual visits.

To see whether this might be the case, the authors gathered commercial claims data over 300,000 patients covered by CalPERS Blue Shield, which began covering telehealth services in April 2012. During the next 18 months, 2,943 of those 300,000 enrollees came down with a respiratory infection, one third of which sought services from direct-to-consumer telehealth company Teladoc.

Once they had their data in hand, the research looked at patterns of care utilization and spending levels for treatment of acute respiratory illnesses.

After completing the analysis, the authors found that 12% of direct-to-consumer telehealth visits replaced visits to other providers, while the remaining 88% represented new care utilization. Net annual spending on acute respiratory illness grew $45 per telehealth users, researchers found.

The researchers concluded that because it offers more convenient access, direct-to-consumer telehealth may increase utilization and healthcare spending.

It should be noted that Molteri’s article doesn’t look at whether increased utilization was excessive or ineffective. It doesn’t ask whether patients who accessed telemedical care had different outcomes than those who didn’t and if those new patients saved the health system money because of the interventions that wouldn’t have happened without telehealth. It doesn’t address whether patients who used telehealth in addition to face-to-face care were actually sicker than those who didn’t, or had other co-existing conditions which affected overall costs. It just notes a pattern for a single group of patients diagnosed with a single condition.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that we don’t know whether Teladoc’s performance is better or worse than that of rivals like HealthTap, MDLive and Doctor on Demand. And if there are meaningful differences, that would be important.  But the piece doesn’t take this on either.

So in summary, all we know is that using one provider for one condition, a health plan paid a little bit more for some patients’ care when they had a telemedicine consult.

Consumer indictment

But in Molteri’s analysis, the study offers nothing less than an indictment of consumers who use these services. “For telehealth to fully deliver on its promise, people have to start treating their health care less like an Uber you summon in a thunderstorm,” she asserts, while citing no evidence that people do in fact access such services too casually.

All told, the piece suggests that the people are accessing telehealth for trivial reasons such as, I don’t know, kicks, or as an easy way to find an online buddy. Really? Give me a break. Even when it’s delivered online, people seek care out because they need it, not because they’re lazy or, as I noted above, stupid.

To be as fair as I can be, the article does note that direct-to-consumer healthcare models have unique flaws, particularly a lack of integration with patients’ ongoing care. It also concedes that some providers (such as the VA, which has slashed costs with its telehealth program) are using the technology effectively.

It also notes that telemedicine can do more to meet its potential if it’s used to manage chronic disease and engage people in preventive care. “Telehealth has to be integrated fully into a total care system,” said Mario Gutierrez, executive director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, who spoke with Molteri. As a patient with multiple chronic conditions, I couldn’t agree more. Anything that makes care access easier on one of my bad days is a winner in my book.

Ultimately, though, the author unfortunately bases her article on the assumption that the real problem here is patients accessing care. Not the gaps in the system that prompt such usage. Not the unavailability of primary care in some settings. Not the 15-minute fly-by medical visits that perforce leave issues unaddressed. Not even the larger issues in controlling healthcare costs. No, it’s e-patients like me who use telehealth to meet unmet needs.

Please. I can’t even.