Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and HIPAA for FREE!!

Health Data Standardization Project Proposes “One Record Per Person” Model

Posted on October 13, 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.

When we sit around the ol’ HIT campfire and swap interoperability stories, many of us have little to do but gripe.

Is FHIR going to solve all of our interoperability problems? Definitely not right away, and who knows if it ever will? Can we get the big EMR vendors to share and share alike? They’ll try, but there’s always a catch. And so on. There’s always a major catch involved.

I don’t know if the following offers a better story than any of the others, but at least it’s new one, or at least new to me. Folks, I’m talking about the Standard Health Record, an approach to health data sharing doesn’t fall precisely any of the other buckets I’m aware of.

SHR is based at The MITRE Corporation, which also hosts virtual patient generator Synthea. Rather than paraphrase, let’s let the MITRE people behind SHR tell you what they’re trying to accomplish:

The Standard Health Record (SHR) provides a high quality, computable source of patient information by establishing a single target for health data standardization… Enabled through open source technology, the SHR is designed by, and for, its users to support communication across homes and healthcare systems.

Generalities aside, what is an SHR? According to the project website, the SHR specification will contain all information critical to patient identification, emergency care and primary care along with background on social determinants of health. In the future, the group expects the SHR to support genomics, microbiomics and precision medicine.

Before we dismiss this as another me-too project, it’s worth giving the collaborative’s rationale a look:

The fundamental problem is that today’s health IT systems contain semantically incompatible information. Because of the great variety of the data models of EMR/EHR systems, transferring information from one health IT system to another frequently results in the distortion or loss of information, blocking of critical details, or introduction of erroneous data. This is unacceptable in healthcare.

The approach of the Standard Health Record (SHR) is to standardize the health record and health data itself, rather than focusing on exchange standards.

As a less-technical person, I’m not qualified to say whether this can be done in a way that will be widely accepted, but the idea certainly seems intuitive.

In any event, no one is suggesting that the SHR will change the world overnight. The project seems to be at the beginning stages, with collaborators currently prototyping health record specifications leveraging existing medical record models. (The current SHR spec can be found here.)

Still, I’d love for this to work, because it is at least a fairly straightforward idea. Creating a single source of health data truth seems like it might work.

Why Should Patients Control Their Health Data? Here Are A Few Ideas.

Posted on September 29, 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.

Lately, healthcare organizations have begun working to give patients more access to their personal health data. They’ve concluded that the more control patients have, the more engaged they become in your care, which in turn leads to better outcomes.

But patient engagement isn’t the only reason for giving patients the keys to their PHI. In fact, organizational control of patient health data can cause problems for everyone in the healthcare data exchange chain.

An item found on the Allscripts blog does a nice job of articulating issues that can arise.  According to the blog item, those issues include the following:

  • The patient is in the best position to address inconsistencies in their medical record. For example, if one doctor diagnoses the patient with asthma, then another physician conclusively demonstrates the patient is not asthmatic, the patient can reconcile the two physicians’ conclusions.
  • Patients have a better overview of their care than most doctors. When a chronically ill patient sees multiple clinicians, their impressions may conflict with one another, but the patient can provide context on their overall conditions.
  • If a patient consents to multiple uses of their health data, and the consents seem to be in conflict, only the patient can articulate what their intentions were.
  • If the master patient indexing process generates a false match with someone else’s records, the patient will recognize this immediately, while physicians may not.
  • Giving patients control of the record allows them to decide how long those records should be maintained. Otherwise, HIEs — or other entities not bound by record retention laws — might destroy the data prematurely.
  • When patients have control of their data, they can make sure it gets to whomever they choose. On the other hand, patient data may not make it to other care settings if providers drop the ball.

To be sure, delegating control of their PHI to patients can go too far.

For example, if they’re transmitting most or all of their health data between providers, it could pose a significant administrative burden.  Patients may not have the time or energy to route the data files between their providers, assure that data has been received on the other end and make certain that the data was formatted in a way their clinicians can use.

Also, if the patient is chronically ill and sees multiple providers, they may end up having to manage a large body of data files, and not everyone can do so effectively. Ultimately, they may get too overwhelmed to send their records to anyone, or send the wrong records, which can create complications of its own.

Still, on the whole, healthcare organizations are giving patients more control of their health data for good reasons. When patients take responsibility for their health data, they’re far more likely to understand their condition and take steps to address problems. Establishing a balance between patient and provider control may be tricky, but it can and should be done.

NY-Based HIE Captures One Million Patient Consents

Posted on September 28, 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 big obstacles to the free exchange of health data is obtaining patient consent to share that data. It’s all well and good if we can bring exchange partners onto a single data sharing format, but if patients don’t consent to that exchange things get ugly. It’s critical that healthcare organizations solve this problem, because without patient consent HIEs are dead in the water.

Given these issues, I was intrigued to read a press release from HEALTHeLINK, an HIE serving Western New York, which announced that it had obtained one million patient consents to share their PHI. HEALTHeLINK connects nearly 4,600 physicians, along with hospitals, health plans and other healthcare providers. It’s part of a larger HIE, the Statewide Health Information Network of New York.

How did HEALTHeLINK obtain the consents? Apparently, there was no magic involved. The HIE made consent forms available at hospitals and doctors’ offices throughout its network, as well as making the forms available for download at whyhealthelink.com. (It may also have helped that they can be downloaded in any of 12 languages.)

I downloaded the consent form myself, and I must say it’s not complicated.

Patients only need to fill out a single page, which gives them the option to a) permit participating providers to access all of their electronic health information via the HIE, b) allow full access to the data except for specific participants, c) permit health data sharing only with specific participants, d) only offer access to their records in an emergency situation, and e) forbid HIE participants to access their health data even in the case of an emergency situation.

About 95% of those who consented chose option a, which seems a bit remarkable to me. Given the current level of data breaches in news, I would’ve predicted that more patients would opt out to some degree.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of patients gave treating providers the ability to view their lab reports, medication history, diagnostic images and several additional categories of health information.

I wish I could tell you what HEALTHeLINK has done to inspire trust, but I don’t know completely. I suspect, however, that provider buy-in played a significant role here. While none of this is mentioned in the HIE’s press release or even on its website, I’m betting that the HIE team did a good job of firing up physicians. After all, if you’re going to pick someone patients would trust, physicians would be your best choice.

On the other hand, it’s also possible patients are beginning to get the importance of having all of the data available during care. While much of health IT is too abstruse for the layman (or woman), the idea that doctors need to know your medical history is clearly beginning to resonate with your average patient.

The Subtle Signs of Sepsis Infographic

Posted on September 27, 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.

Sepsis has been a major challenge in healthcare for a long time. This was highlighted really well on the Wolters Kluwer Nursing Center website:

Throughout my experience in health care over the past 30 plus years, the diagnosis of sepsis has been one of the most challenging. Sepsis affects millions of people worldwide and one in four of the people affected will die. The way we recognize and treat sepsis has changed over the years, and in January 2017, the International Guidelines for Management of Sepsis and Septic Shock: 2016 was published. This update to the 2012 guidelines, emphasizes that patients with sepsis should be viewed as having a medical emergency, necessitating urgent assessment and treatment.

According to the Advisory Board, the average direct cost per case for a primary sepsis diagnosis is $18,700, yet the typical Medicare reimbursement for sepsis and sepsis with complications is just $7,100-12,000. It’s no wonder so many hospitals are worried about sepsis.

I’ve been impressed with the way technology has been used to address the problem of Sepsis. I’ve seen a lot of companies working to use analytics to predict sepsis or identify it in real time as it’s happening. I recently saw where Wolters Kluwer partnered with Vocera to be able to connect the Sepsis risk analysis data with the providers, carrying Vocera badges, who can make the proper diagnosis and start treatment in the early stages when Sepsis is most treatable.

This kind of collaboration between healthcare IT vendors is the only way we’re going to make a dent in major healthcare problems like Sepsis. So, I applaud these two companies for working together.

For those that don’t know, September is Sepsis Awareness Month. As part of this month long recognition of Sepsis, Wolters Kluwer put together an infographic that shows the subtle signs of sepsis. While technology can certainly help with Sepsis identification and treatment, there’s still an important human element as well. This infographic highlights the signs that healthcare providers can and should look for and methods of treatment.

What efforts have you seen effective in identifying and treating sepsis in your healthcare organization?

Public Health Agencies Struggle To Integrate With HIEs

Posted on September 21, 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.

New research by ONC suggests that while public health agencies might benefit from connecting with HIEs, there are still some significant barriers many need to address before doing so.

Public health agencies at both the state and local level collect information from providers as part of conducting disease surveillance activities and maintaining data registries. Though some of these registries are common – notably those focusing on childhood immunizations, birth defects and cancer—the agencies’ technical infrastructure and data formats still vary. This makes sharing data between them difficult.

One alternative to cumbersome data matching between agencies is for the agencies to integrate with an HIE. According to the ONC report, public health researchers have begun to find that at least some of the time, the data they get from HIE organizations is richer than data from clinical systems. Not only that, when public health agencies integrate their information systems with HIEs, it can help them conduct many of their functions more effectively. However, it’s still unusual to find HIE-connected agencies as of yet.

In its new report, ONC outlines what it learned about what the agencies hoped to accomplish with HIE integration and how they moved ahead with integration. To find this out, ONC contracted with Clinovations Government + Health, which participated in discussions with eight entities and analyzing more detailed information on 10 others.

Virtually all respondents had two goals for HIE integration: 1) Minimizing the number of connections needed to link providers, HIEs and agencies and 2) Helping providers meet public health requirements for Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs. A small subset also said that over the longer term, they wanted to create a sustainable platform for clinical and public health exchange which could support enhanced analytics and quality measurement.

Not surprisingly, though, they face considerable challenges in making HIE integration actually happen. In most cases, technology issues were possibly the toughest nut to crack, and almost certainly the most complex. To connect with an HIE, agencies may confront incompatible transport and messaging protocols, standards problems, data classification and coding issues, inconsistent data quality, and their often-inflexible legacy systems, to name just a few of the many problems ONC cites.

As if that weren’t enough, the agencies may not have the funding in place to take on the integration effort, and/or lack a stable funding stream; don’t have the kind of cross-functional leaders in place needed to integrate their systems with HIEs; grapple with complicated patient data privacy and security issues; and bump up against state laws limiting data sharing methods.

However, through its research, the ONC did gather some useful feedback on how the agencies were coping with the long list of HIE integration challenges they face. For example, to win over the support of policymakers, some agencies have emphasized that they’ll be able to use HIE data for higher-level analytics and quality measures. The respondents also noted that HIE integration got more internal support when they got buy-in from top leaders and second-tier leaders have project management, technical and policy skills.

Given these odds, it’s little wonder that the number of public health agencies successfully integrating with HIEs is still small. That being said, there’s good reason for them to keep pushing for integration, so their number is likely to grow over the next few years.

Will Medical Device Makers Get Interoperability Done?

Posted on September 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.

Most of the time, when I think about interoperability, I visualize communication between various database-driven applications, such as EMRs, laboratory information systems and claims records. The truth is, however, that this is a rather narrow definition of interoperability. It’s time we take medical device data into account, the FDA reminds us.

In early September, the FDA released its final guidance on how healthcare organizations can share data between medical devices and other information systems. In the guidance, the agency asserts that the time has come to foster data sharing between medical devices, as well as data exchange between devices and information systems like the ones I’ve listed above.

Specifically, the agency is offering guidelines to medical device manufacturers, recommending that they:

  • Design devices with interoperability in mind
  • Conduct appropriate verification, validation and risk management to ensure interoperability
  • Make sure users clearly understand the device’s relevant functional, performance and interface characteristics

Though these recommendations are interesting, I don’t have much context on their importance. Luckily, Bakul Patel has come to the rescue. Patel, who is associate director for digital health the FDA‘s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, offered more background on medical device interoperability in a recent blog entry.

As the article points out, the stakes here are high. “Errors and inadequate interoperability, such as differences in units of measure (e.g., pounds vs. kilograms) can occur in devices connected to a data exchange system,” Patel writes. Put another way, in non-agency-speak, incompatibilities between devices and information systems can hurt or even kill patients.

Unfortunately, device-makers seem to be doing their own thing when it comes to data sharing. While some consensus standards exist to support interoperability, specifying things like data formats and interoperability architecture design, manufacturers aren’t obligated to choose any particular standard, Patel notes.

Honestly, the idea of varied medical devices using multiple data formats sounds alarming to me. But Patel seems comfortable with the idea. He contends that if device manufacturers explain carefully how the standards work and what the interface requires, all will be well.

All told, If I’m understanding all this correctly, the FDA is fairly optimistic that the healthcare industry can network medical devices on the IoT with traditional information systems.

I’m glad that the agency believes we can work this out, but I’d argue that such optimism may be premature. Patel’s assurances raise a bunch of questions for me, including:

  • Do we really need another set of competing data exchange standards to resolve, this time for medical device interoperability?
  • If so, how do we lend the consensus medical device standards with consensus information system standards?
  • Do we need to insist that manufacturers provide more-consistent software upgrades for the devices before interoperability efforts make sense?

Hey, I’m sure medical device manufacturers want to make device-to-device and device-to-database data sharing as simple and efficient as possible. That’s what their customers want, after all.

Unfortunately, though, the industry doesn’t have a great track record even for maintaining their devices’ operating systems or patching industrial-grade security holes. Designing devices that handle interoperability skillfully may be possible, but will device-makers step up and get it done anytime soon?

Better Tech is Here for Healthcare

Posted on September 13, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog by Brandt Welker, CTO at MedicaSoft. This is the second blog in a three-part sponsored blog post series focused on new HIT for integration. Each month, a different MedicaSoft expert will share insights on new and innovative technology and its applications in healthcare.

What are some of the common complaints doctors and nurses have about their EHRs?

“I have to click too much.” “Information is buried.” “It doesn’t follow my workflow.” “It’s slow.”

“I feel like a data entry clerk.” “*insert your favorite gripe here*” There is no shortage of commentary on the issues irking clinicians when it comes to technology. What there is a shortage of are ideas to fix it.

Better technology is out there serving other industries … and it can be applied in healthcare. Technology should ease administrative loads and put clinicians back in front of patients! I’ve talked about some of this previously and how we keep clinicians involved in our design process. When it came to building an entirely new EHR, the driving force behind our team researching and adopting new technologies was to imagine a clean slate.

Most of our team came from backgrounds with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA’s) world of VistA. We learned a lot about legacy systems over the years – both beloved and maligned – and asked ourselves what a system would look like if it was unencumbered by the past. How would that system look? What could that system be? What technology choices should we make to simplify things? How could it play nicely with other systems and encourage true interoperability? How could it support users’ clinical workflow?

From the beginning, we decided that the most important thing was to get the platform right. Build the platform and build it right and things will work together. Build it to play nicely with other technology and interoperate. Make it fast. Make it easy. Make it open. Make it affordable. All of these needs were a part of our system “wish list.”

So, how’d we do it? We researched technology working in other fields and also elected to use HL7® FHIR® to its fullest extent. By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about the HL7® FHIR® standard. Many companies are using HL7® FHIR® to build APIs that are doing amazing things across the industry. We decided to use the HL7® FHIR® document data model as the basis of our platform – it simplifies implementation without sacrificing information integrity. We coupled it with a very powerful database and search engine – Couchbase & Elasticsearch. These are two high-performance tools used across industries. When you need a whole lot of data to move fast, you use Couchbase and Elasticsearch.

Couchbase is our NoSQL database. Couchbase is open-source and optimized for interactive applications. It provides low-latency data management (read: lots of data very quickly) for large-scale applications (like an EHR!). It lets us store records as documents and it’s really good at data replication. You might recognize Couchbase  — many other industry giants such as ebay, LinkedIn, and Verizon use it. It is an open-source database optimized for interactive applications. We selected Elasticsearch as our search engine. Some of your favorite sites and services use Elasticsearch – Netflix, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Wal-Mart, to name a few.

On top of Couchbase and Elasticsearch are FHIR APIs. These interactions are managed by type. We also use a Parser/Assembler Service that lets us combine, rearrange, and augment documents. Data is placed in the proper JSON format to be sent through the FHIR API into Couchbase. Our Community Health Record sits on top of this and everything described here is a part of our open platform – the one we built from scratch and architected to be interoperable and easy. Pretty neat, huh?

Once you have the platform, you can build all kinds of things to sit on top of it. The sky is the limit! In our case, we have a Personal Health Record and an Electronic Health Record, but we built it this way so you can use a wide range of technologies with the platform – things like Alerts or Analytics or Population Health or Third Party Applications, even custom built items that folks may have developed in-house will work with the platform. Essentially, using the platform means we can integrate with whatever you already have in place. Maybe you have an EHR with some issues, but you don’t have the time or budget allotted for another huge EHR implementation. No problem – we can help you view your data with a modern interface – without having to buy a whole other EHR. Revolutionary!

There are several other technology choices we made along the way, too – Node.js, NGINX, Angular.js are a few more. Angular.js allows us to be speedy in our development process. We can develop and build features quickly and get changes in front of clinicians for their feedback, which results in less time between product builds and releases. It means folks don’t have to wait months and months for changes they want. Angular is also web-based, which means user interfaces are modern and just like the interfaces everybody uses in their day-to-day lives. Angular.js was created by Google and there are many large companies you’ll recognize who use it to develop – PayPal, Netflix, LEGO, YouTube, to name a few.

I believe healthcare is lagging in adopting new technologies and there are a lot of excuses around why user interfaces in healthcare are generally horrible – they range from the software being written before Web 2.0 to users accepting that it is how it is and finding a way to work around their technology. The latter is probably the saddest thing I see happening in hospitals and clinics. Tech is there to make work easier, not more complicated.

There was a great quote from Dale Sanders, Executive Vice President of Product Development at Health Catalyst in MedCity News last week:

“Every C-level in healthcare has to be a bit of a technologist right now,” he said. “They need to understand this world. If you’re not aware of technology, it puts you … at a strategic disadvantage.”

I can’t emphasize how true this statement is. If you’re not paying attention to where technology is going, you’re not paying attention to where healthcare is going and you’re going to get left behind.

About Brandt Welker
Brandt is a HIT architecture and software expert. He calls Reading, Pennsylvania home. He has architected software systems and managed large IT and innovations programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He’s also trained astronauts at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. He’s currently the Chief Technology Officer at MedicaSoft. Brandt can be found on LinkedIn.

About MedicaSoft
MedicaSoft designs, develops, delivers, and maintains EHR, PHR, and UHR software solutions and HISP services for healthcare providers and patients around the world. For more information, visit www.medicasoft.us or connect with us on Twitter @MedicaSoftLLC, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Health IT Group Raises Good Questions About “Information Blocking”

Posted on September 8, 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 21st Century Cures Act covers a great deal of territory, with provisions that dedicate billions to NIH funding, Alzheimer’s research, FDA operations and the war on opioid addiction. It also contains a section prohibiting “information blocking.”

One section of the law lists attempts to define information blocking, and lists some of the key ways healthcare players drag their feet when it comes to data sharing. The thing is, some industry organizations feel that these provisions raise more questions than they answer.

In an effort to nail things down, a trade organization calling itself Health IT Now has written to the HHS Office of Inspector General and ONC head Donald Rucker, MD, asking them to issue a proposed rule answering their questions.  Parties signing the letter include a broad range of healthcare and health IT organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, athenahealth, DirectTrust, AMIA, McKesson and Oracle.

I’m not going to list all the questions they’ve asked. You can read the entirety yourself. However, I will share two questions and offer responses of my own. One critical question is:

  • What is information blocking and what is not?

I think most of us know what the law is trying to accomplish, e.g. foster the kind of data sharing needed to accomplish key research and patient care outcomes goals. And the examples of what it considers information blocking make sense:

  • Practices that restrict authorized access, exchange, or use [of health data] under applicable State or Federal law
  • Implementing health information technology in nonstandard ways that are likely to substantially increase the complexity or burden of accessing exchanging or use of electronic health information
  • Implementing health information technology in ways that are likely to lead to fraud, waste, or abuse, or impede innovations and advancements health information access, exchange, and use

The problem is, there are many more ways to hamper the sharing of electronic health data. The language used in the law can’t anticipate all of these strategies, which leaves compliance with the law very much open to interpretation.

This, logically, leads to how businesses can avoid running afoul of the law:

  • The statute institutes penalties on vendors to $1 million per violation. How should “per violation” be defined?

    Given the minimum detail included in the legislation, this is a burning question. Vendors need to know precisely whether they’re in the clear, violated the statute once or flouted it a thousand times.

After all, vendors may violate the statute

  • When they refuse data access to one individual within a business one time
  • When they don’t comply with a specific organization’s request regardless of how many employees were in contact
  • When a receiving organization doesn’t get all the data requested at the same time
  • When the vendor asks the receiving organization to pay an administrative fee for the data
  • When individuals try to access data through the web and find it difficult to do so

Would a vendor be on the hook for a single $1 million fine if it flat out refused to share data with a client?  How about if it refused twice rather than once? Are both part of the same violation?

Does the $1 million fine apply if the vendor inadvertently supplies corrupted data? If so, does the fine still apply if the vendor attempts to remedy the problem? How long does the vendor have to respond if they are informed that the data isn’t readable?

What about if dozens or even hundreds of individuals attempt to access data on the web can’t do so? Has the vendor violated the statute if it has an extended web outage or database problem, and if so how long does it should have to get web-based data access back online? Does each attempt to access the data count as a violation?

What standard does the statute establish for standard vs. non-standard data formats?  Could a vendor be cited once, or more than once, for using a new and emerging data format which is otherwise respected by the industry?

As I’m sure you’ll agree, these are just some of the questions that need to be answered before any organization can reasonably understand how to comply with the law’s information blocking provisions. Asking regulatory agencies to clarify their expectations is more than reasonable.

DirectTrust, CHIME Deal Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Posted on September 7, 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.

Recently, CHIME and DirectTrust announced a deal that sounded pretty huge on the surface. In a joint press release announcing the agreement, the two organizations said they had agreed to work together “to promote the universal deployment of the Direct Trust framework and health information exchange network as the common electronic interface for health information exchange across the U.S.”

Their plans include making the Direct exchange network available anywhere they can, including hospitals, medical practices, pharmacies, labs, long-term care facilities, payers, insurers and health departments, and to top it off, on applications. If things go the way they planned, you’ll hardly be able to kick a health IT rock without finding Direct under it.

As I noted earlier this year, DirectTrust is on something of a roll. In May, it noted that the number of health information service providers who engaged in Direct exchanges grew to almost 95,000 during the first quarter of this year. That’s a 63% increase versus the same period in 2016. The group also reported that the number of trusted Direct addresses which could share PHI grew 21%, to 1.4 million, and that there were 35.6 million Direct exchange transactions during the quarter, up 76% over the same period last year.

Sounds good. But let’s not judge this in a vacuum. For example, on the same day DirectTrust released its first quarter results, the Sequoia Project kicked out a press release touting its performance. In the release, Sequoia noted that its Carequality initiative was under full steam, with more than 19,000 clinics, 800 hospitals and 250,000 providers using the Carequality Interoperability Framework to share health data.

In considering the impact of Carequality, let’s not forget that late last year it connected with rival interoperability group CommonWell Health Alliance. I don’t know if you can say that interoperability effort can corner a market– the organizations using the rival health data sharing networks probably overlap substantially—but it’s certainly an interesting development. While the two organizations were both allied with a leading EMR vendor (CommonWell with Cerner and Carequality with Epic), the agreement has effectively brought the muscle of the two EMR giants together.

I guess it’s fair to say that the Carequality alliance and DirectTrust may own interoperabililty for now, rivaled only by the stronger regional HIEs.  That’s pretty impressive, I admit. Also, it’s interesting to see an accepted health IT organization like CHIME throw its weight behind Direct. I wouldn’t have expected CHIME to dive in here.

That being said, when you get down to it, none of the groups’ capacity for sharing health data is as great as it sounds. For example, if Epic’s Care Everywhere exchange only transmits C-CDA records, you have to ask yourself if Carequality is working at a higher level. If not, we’re in “meh” territory.

Bottom line, it seems clear that these organizations are winning the battle for interoperability mindshare. Both seem to have made a fair amount of progress. But between you and me in the lamppost, let’s not get excited just yet.

Why Do We Settle in Healthcare?

Posted on August 22, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Monica Stout, Marketing Director at MedicaSoft. This is the introductory blog in a three-part sponsored blog post series focused on new Health IT for integration. Each month, a different MedicaSoft expert will share insights on new and innovative technology and its applications in healthcare.

Imagine your typical Friday night. You’ve worked hard all week and now you’re ready to watch Netflix. You’ve picked the perfect movie. You’re ready to watch. You hit a button and your movie is right there, available and on demand. But what if it didn’t work? You’d be annoyed. You’d hop on social media to complain or see if Netflix is down. Someone somewhere would hear you.

On Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you might visit Walmart.com to search for some holiday deals. These are the busiest shopping days of the year. What if the website didn’t work? Or, what if you had to enter your shipping and billing data every single time you viewed an item? You’d be outraged. You might hop on social media to complain or see if others are experiencing the same problem. Someone somewhere would hear you.

Now imagine it’s the middle of winter and you’ve caught the latest bug du jour. You call your doctor for an appointment. When you arrive, you’re handed a clipboard and asked to fill out the same repetitive paper form with your health information that you fill out every time you visit. You’re certain they have this information already, but you’re required to fill it out yet again. You might wait 30, 40, or 60 minutes past your appointment time before you’re called back to a room.

Once you’ve made it to an exam room, a nurse comes in to take your vitals. The nurse will ask questions about what medications you are on. Nine times out of ten, the medications the nurse repeats back to you are outdated or entirely incorrect. You wonder where that data came from and are sure you’ve told this particular office the same thing the last four times you’ve gone there, so why is it wrong? Again, you wait in the exam room for the doctor. Your doctor comes in and spends more time looking at a laptop screen and clicking than making eye contact with you. Do you hop on social media and complain? Probably not. Does anybody hear you? No, because you’ve accepted that this is just how it is. In fact, you were grateful to receive a same-day appointment instead of waiting at home in misery.

The technology exists today to make things work and work fast. Other industries have intuitive UIs that people use every single day – we use them so much we don’t think about them. So, why do we settle for what doesn’t work in healthcare? Why do we accept a system that isn’t operating in ways that are beneficial or efficient to us as patients or to our doctors or nurses? Shouldn’t health information technology and the systems that support our health, well-being, and in certain situations, life or death, work more efficiently than our television subscription services or retail websites? Technology can do better in healthcare.

The technology on the back-end of Wal-Mart’s servers was robust enough to handle Black Friday and deploy with over 200 million users online THREE YEARS AGO. Amazing, right? But it’s that way because people won’t accept something that doesn’t work. If Wal-Mart’s website wasn’t available come Cyber Monday, consumers would vote with their dollars and move on to another retailer’s website that did work. That retailer would get all the business. Yet in healthcare, we keep revisiting a system that’s broken – where our health records are disjointed, incomplete, exist in duplicate (or many, many more), and just don’t work well together across practices, hospitals, or health systems. We don’t have a one centralized record with our health information serving as our source of truth. Sharing data across our providers is broken.

I realize that healthcare is more complicated than simply voting with our dollars and moving on, but why is that? The Wharton School Economics Professor Eric K. Clemons wrote a great piece on why healthcare is complicated. The technology is there to help advance healthcare to be what humans need it to be, so when will we stop accepting less? When will we demand more?

There is technology that’s easy to use and access, makes your information available, and centralizes your health information into one record. In our subsequent guest blogs, our experts will talk in more detail about these best of breed technologies and how they can be applied to healthcare to capture, exchange, and share data.

About Monica Stout
Monica is a HIT teleworker in Grand Rapids, Michigan by way of Washington, D.C., who has consulted at several government agencies, including the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). She’s currently the Marketing Director at MedicaSoft. Monica can be found on Twitter @MI_turnaround or LinkedIn.

About MedicaSoft
MedicaSoft  designs, develops, delivers, and maintains EHR, PHR, and UHR software solutions and HISP services for healthcare providers and patients around the world. For more information, visit www.medicasoft.us or connect with us on Twitter @MedicaSoftLLC, Facebook, or LinkedIn.