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Why You Should Stage Patient Portal Implementations

Posted on August 13, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

In response to a discussion I started on LinkedIn about the 4 Things Your Patient Portal Should Include, Travis Moore, MBA, RN, VP at MEDSEEK, added some really great insight into how to have a successful patient portal implementation:

I agree with your assessment on trying to do too much. While many portals on the market, including MEDSEEK’s Empower Patient Portal offer a variety of features, what we at MEDSEEK have found is that it is best to roll out with a subset of features vs. the “big bang” approach for two major reasons. One, you don’t want to overwhelm patients with too many features, as they don’t end up using the “essential” ones appropriately to better activate them in their care. It’s like buying the SLR camera that does 100 things. Reality is, you use 3 of the features for a period of time to get the job done, but then over time, you get comfortable and want to take on more because you take a class, a friend teaches you, etc., and your photos become even better. Same for patient portals, you have to have the features available for future use to further enhance the experience, but roll them out methodically.

And two, many organizations just can’t handle the “do everything at once” deployment, operationally speaking. It’s not a technology “thing”, it’s an operational and cultural issue. I can say from first hand experience as Nurse on both the usage, and deployment end, you have to deploy these patient engagement tools in chunks because if your front line personnel, nurses, aren’t able to clearly articulate to the patient what value it will bring to them when they access it, patients are less likely to use the variety of features in a patient portal. And to Mike’s point about a comprehensive view, that’s exactly why an Enterprise solution is required to bring all of that data together into one view for the patient….and with ACOs, the importance of the enterprise access is even more critical. Patient’s don’t know or care what EMRs, scheduling, or billing systems an HCO has, they just want the “Expedia or Banking-like” experience to see and act upon the information regardless of the source system. It is also critical moving forward that interactive plans of care are accessible and actionable for the patients, and / or their family members, to better engage and activate patients in their care where they spend most of their time, outside the four walls of the organization.

I like the idea of a staged portal implementation. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not possible since some patient portals are an all or nothing exercise. Plus, meaningful use has accelerated so many implementations. It’s too bad, because there’s real value in staged deployments. The beauty of staged deployments is that once you roll out a few features, then people are interested in what else you can roll out. I’ve seen this same principle work in staged EHR implementations as well. Of course, that provides the added challenge of being ready to roll out the rest of the features as well. Otherwise, you end up with unhappy end users.

Eyes Wide Shut – Patient Engagement Pitfalls Prior to Meaningful Use Reporting Period

Posted on June 30, 2014 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a healthcare IT consultant and a hardcore data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, who fell in love with her PCjr at 9 when she learned to program in BASIC. Individual accountability zealot, patient engagement advocate, innovation lover and ceaseless dreamer. Relentless in pursuit of answers to the question: "How do we GET there from here?" More byte-sized commentary on Twitter: @MandiBPro.

July 1, 2015 – the start of the Meaningful Use Stage 1 Year 2 reporting period for the hospital facilities within this provider integrated delivery network (IDN). The day the 50% online access measure gets real. The day the inpatient summary CCDA MUST be made available online within 36 hours of discharge. The day we must overcome a steady 65% patient portal decline rate.

A quick recap for those who haven’t followed this series (and refresher for those who have): this IDN has multiple hospital facilities, primary care, and specialty practices, on disparate EMRs, all connecting to an HIE and one enterprise patient portal. There are 8 primary EMRs and more than 20 distinct patient identification (MRN) pools. And many entities within this IDN are attempting to attest to Meaningful Use Stage 2 this year.

For the purposes of this post, I’m ignoring CMS and the ONC’s new proposed rule that would, if adopted, allow entities to attest to Meaningful Use Stage 1 OR 2 measures, using 2011 OR 2014 CEHRT (or some combination thereof). Even if the proposed rule were sensible, it came too late for the hospitals which must start their reporting period in the third calendar quarter of 2014 in order to complete before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. For this IDN, the proposed rule isn’t changing anything.

Believe me, I would have welcomed change.

The purpose of the so-called “patient engagement” core measures is just that: engage patients in their healthcare, and liberate the data so that patients are empowered to have meaningful conversations with their providers, and to make informed health decisions. The intent is a good one. The result of releasing the EMR’s compilation of chart data to recently-discharged patients may not be.

I answered the phone on a Saturday, while standing in the middle of a shopping mall with my 12 year-old daughter, to discover a distraught man and one of my help desk representatives on the line. The man’s wife had been recently released from the hospital; they had been provided patient portal access to receive and review her records, and they were bewildered by the information given. The medications listed on the document were not the same as those his wife regularly takes, the lab section did not have any context provided for why the tests were ordered or what the results mean, there were a number of lab results missing that he knew had been performed, and the problems list did not seem to have any correlation to the diagnoses provided for the encounter.

Just the kind of call an IT geek wants to receive.

How do you explain to an 84 year-old man that his wife’s inpatient summary record contains only a snapshot of the information that was captured during that specific hospital encounter, by resources at each point in the patient experience, with widely-varied roles and educational backgrounds, with varied attention to detail, and only a vague awareness of how that information would then be pulled together and presented by technology that was built to meet the bare minimum standards for perfect-world test scenarios required by government mandates?

How do you tell him that the lab results are only what was available at time of discharge, not the pathology reports that had to be sent out for analysis and would not come back in time to meet the 36-hour deadline?

How do you tell him that the reasons there are so many discrepancies between what he sees on the document and what is available on the full chart are data entry errors, new workflow processes that have not yet been widely adopted by each member of the care team, and technical differences between EMRs in the interpretation of the IHE’s XML standards for how these CCDA documents were to be created?

EMR vendors have responded to that last question with, “If you use our tethered portal, you won’t have that problem. Our portal can present the data from our CCDA just fine.” But this doesn’t take into account the patient experience. As a consumer, I ask you: would you use online banking if you had to sign on to a different website, with a different username and password, for each account within the same bank? Why should it be acceptable for managing health information online to be less convenient than managing financial information?

How do hospital clinical and IT staff navigate this increasingly-frequent scenario that is occurring: explaining the data that patients now see?

I’m working hard to establish a clear delineation between answering technical and clinical questions, because I am not – by any stretch of the imagination – a clinician. I can explain deviations in the records presentation, I can explain the data that is and is not available – and why (which is NOT generally well-received), and I can explain the logical processes for patients to get their clinical questions answered.

Solving the other half of this equation – clinicians who understand the technical nuances which have become patient-facing, and who incorporate that knowledge into regular patient engagement to insure patients understand the limitations of their newly-liberated data – proves more challenging. In order to engage patients in the way the CMS Meaningful Use program mandates, have we effectively created a new hybrid role requirement for our healthcare providers?

And what fresh new hell have we created for some patients who seek wisdom from all this information they’ve been given?

Caveat – if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re not the kind of patient who needs much explaining. You’re likely to do your own research on the data that’s presented on your CCDA outputs, and you have the context of the entire Meaningful Use initiative to understand why information is presented the way it is. But think – can your grandma read it and understand it on HER own?

Patient Engagement vs. Patient Education: What’s the Difference?

Posted on June 3, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jamie Verkamp, Chief Speaking Officer at (e)Merge.
Jamie Verkamp
Healthcare organizations often see attesting to the Measures included in Meaningful Use Stage 2 as a burdensome checklist which results in a massive resource drain in exchange for inadequate financial compensation. MU Stage 2 Measure 7 is one such oft-maligned requirement for attestation. This Measure requires that online access to records is provided to 50% of patients and that 5% of patients execute the viewing, download, or transmission of their online health information.  Organizations should not see Measures regarding patient engagement as intimidating or inconvenient. Instead, these Measures seeking to improve patient engagement should be seen as an opportunity to create more loyal, involved, and empowered patients.  The importance of engaging our patients in their own health shows itself in current statistics relating to personal health.  According to a study by TeleVox, roughly 83% of Americans don’t follow treatment plans as prescribed by their physicians.  Adding to that, 42% of Americans feel they would be more likely to follow their care plan if they received some form of motivation to participate.  By giving patients a channel to monitor and participate in their own health, organizations can develop a more educated population capable of producing greater outcomes.

Understanding the reasoning behind the Measures driving patient engagement is the first step; now, we must educate our patient population on the value of logging in and connecting with their information. While the frequency of patients physically visiting their provider’s office is somewhat inconsistent, this is often the most successful way to encourage electronic patient access. Patient facing staff members should be well educated on electronic patient access and be prepared to answer questions as they arise. Physically walking patients through the engagement process of maneuvering their electronic access, or providing video tutorials with simple instructions in the office lobby can increase patient engagement substantially. Consider setting up a station in the waiting room to allow patients to sign up for the service, thus solving the issue of forgotten motivation.

However, organizations must seek to include in their engagement plan the younger and healthier population who may not enter the physical office space outside of unforeseen emergency visits or more often than their annual checkup requires. Looking online to relate with these patients can be beneficial, as this has been found to be where this demographic spends the majority of their time and communication engaging with brands and services.  Providing information and education on an organization’s website, Facebook, Twitter, or even YouTube page through video promotion can assist in sparking an interest with this patient population.  Many times, those likely to engage in a patient engagement offering remain unaware of its availability due to a lack of communication from the healthcare organization.  From the practice standpoint, we must understand our work is not done once the portal is merely completed; rather this is when the real challenge presents itself.

In today’s society, consumers are bombarded with promotional emails and routinely asked for their contact information so further communication can be established.  With this in mind, consumers are more cautious as to what and how much information they provide to companies.  Unfortunately, for the healthcare industry, this includes a cautious nature toward information shared with healthcare organizations.   With this barrier in place, administrators must actively engage with their patients to educate them on the benefits of becoming involved in electronically managing their care.  Before consumers choose to willingly hand over their personal contact information, they will likely need to understand the reasons for doing so and what advantages they will receive.

Convenience has become one of the most desired aspects of communication and buying behaviors in consumers today.  As a society, we have adopted a “need it now” expectation.  With the ease portable technology has brought to our information search, patients and consumers count on service when they desire it.   This is especially true when it comes to customer service; consumers are becoming less patient and beginning to expect service when they desire.  In a recent study, it was found businesses offering a “Live Chat” option online saw a 15% increase in conversions. Explaining to patients the ease of communication with physicians and key staff members through the portal can be a helpful start in creating buy in.  Communication via the portal includes direct messaging, appointment reminders, and more. Informing patients of potential time saving factors in appointments down the road and quicker access to lab results can also establish and pique interest.  In many instances, finding the optimal moment to address the patient portal can create successful outcomes.  Patients burdened by numerous prescription refill requirements or those frustrated with waiting in line to pay a bill can be directed back to the convenience of a patient portal to handle all of these items at their own computer at home.

As a whole, those looking to meet this Stage 2 requirement must focus their attention on creating personalized communication with patients.  Standardized information will not entice patients and may easily be looked over.  Begin to examine which staff members may be the best fit for providing patient education and focus on educating patients on what they will get out of participating, not just simply meeting your Measure 7 requirements.   Potential touch points can be found within your signage, billing communications, appointment reminders and especially on your practice website and social sites.

According to HealthIT.gov, Meaningful Use Stage 3 will continue with the goal of driving patient engagement and improving outcomes.  This will include, “patient access to self-management tools”. The options for healthcare organizations are clear:

1. An organization can meet the bare minimum for the Stage 2 requirements using a patchwork of initiatives which produce minimally satisfying results while have no significant effect on the patient experience. Then repeat the entire process for the applicable Measures in Stage 3.

2. An organization can have a well-articulated and executable plan. In doing so, the practice, hospital or healthcare organization can commit to utilizing technology for the optimization of patient care, get a full return on investment from the Patient Portal, and simultaneously grow their business through the competitive advantage of a successful online presence. Initiating this push now will further develop readiness for Stage 3 as the implementation date approaches and with productive workflows in place, administrators can free themselves to focus on other Measures for attestation.

So which option will your organization choose? It’s not going to be easy, but change seldom is. Every industry experiences social and digital evolution, now it is healthcare’s turn.

About Jamie Verkamp
This article is a result of a partnership between (e)Merge, a medical growth consulting firm and DataFile Technologies, an outsourced medical records management and compliance company. Jamie Verkamp leads (e)Merge as Managing Partner and Chief Speaking Officer, she works shoulder to shoulder with medical professionals the healthcare industry to improve the patient experience and see measurable growth in clients‘ customer service efforts, referral volumes and bottom lines. DataFile Technologies is led by Janine Akers, CEO. DataFile’s passion for compliance allows them to be thought leaders in HIPAA interpretation while executing innovative medical records workflow solutions on behalf of their clients. Our companies produce white papers, speaking engagements, and videos to keep health professionals up to date on the latest industry topics.

Did We Miss the Patient Engagement Opportunity with Meaningful Use?

Posted on May 2, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

One of the most controversial parts of meaningful use is the requirement that a certain percentage of patients engage with the office. The argument goes that the doctor shouldn’t be rewarded or punished based on the actions of someone (the patients) they don’t control. Regardless of the controversy, the requirement remains that doctors have to engage with a certain number of patients if they want to get the meaningful use money.

I’m personally a fan of patient engagement and think there’s a lot of value that will come from more engagement with patients. This reminds me of Dr. CT Lin’s presentation and research on patient engagement. We need to find more ways to make patient engagement an easy reality in healthcare.

The problem I keep running into with the meaningful use patient engagement requirement is that meaningful use requires a certified EHR to meet that requirement. There are a whole suite of patient engagement apps that provide a useful and logical engagement between doctor and patient. However, none of them can be used to meet the meaningful use patient engagement criteria. Yes, I know the patient engagement app could become modularly certified, but that’s really overkill for many of these apps. It really doesn’t make any sense for them to be certified. The software doesn’t get better (and an argument can be made that the software becomes worse) if they become modularly certified as an EHR.

Because of this issue, the requirement basically relegates EHR vendors to implement some sort of after thought (usually) patient portal. Then, the doctors have to try and force patients to use a patient portal just to meet a requirement. Plus, many are “gaming” this patient engagement number in the way a patient signs up and engages in the portal.

Wouldn’t it be so much better to allow the patient engagement to happen on a non-certified EHR? Why does this need to happen on a certified EHR? EHR vendors aren’t focused on patient engagement, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re not creating amazing patient engagement tools. Think about how much more effective the patient engagement would be if it happened on a software that was working and thinking every day about how they can make that engagement work for the patient and the provider.

I’d love to see ONC make an exception on this requirement that would allow patient engagement to occur on something other than the certified EHR. I imagine if they did this, they could even raise the bar when it comes to what percentage of patients they should engage with electronically. If they don’t, we’ll have a bunch of lame duck patient portals that are really only used to meet the MU requirement. What a terrible missed opportunity that would be.

This Geek Girl’s Singing: HIMSS 14 Social Media Finale

Posted on March 14, 2014 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a healthcare IT consultant and a hardcore data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, who fell in love with her PCjr at 9 when she learned to program in BASIC. Individual accountability zealot, patient engagement advocate, innovation lover and ceaseless dreamer. Relentless in pursuit of answers to the question: "How do we GET there from here?" More byte-sized commentary on Twitter: @MandiBPro.

As one of the inaugural crop of HIMSS Social Media Ambassadors, a second-generation native Floridian, and a former Orlando resident, it is my sworn duty to summarize, recap, and perhaps satirize the last group of Blog Carnival posts, to metaphorically sing the HIMSS opera finale. And you folks submitted some doozies! I’m very grateful to the HIMSS (@HIMSS) and SHIFT Communications (@SHIFTComm) team for providing me with links to all entries. Y’all have been BUSY!

A man after my own heart, and a frequent #HITsm participant who weathers harsh criticism with witty aplomb: Dan Haley’s (from athenahealth, @DanHaley5) piece on 3 Takeaways From HIMSS – Policy And Otherwise caught my attention with the line, “Regulators are from Mars…” He stole my favorite blog entry prize with the line: “Orlando is magical when you are a kid. Kids don’t attend HIMSS.”

First-time attendee Jeffrey Ting (from Systems Made Simple) outlined his experiences with some of my favorite topics in his piece, HIMSS Reflections By A First-Time Attendee: HIEs and interoperability. I agree with him: the Interoperability Showcase’s “Health Story” exhibit was one of the best presentations of the whole conference.

Dr. Geeta Nayyar’s perspective as a board member of HIMSS and CMIO for PatientPoint gave her a unique vantage point for her post, HIMSS 14: A Truly Inspiring Event. Take note, HIMSS conference planners – your monumental efforts were recognized, as was the monumental spirit of the closing keynote speaker, Erik Weihenmayer.

HIMSS Twitter recaps permeated the blogosphere, with my favorite being the inimitable Chuck Webster’s (@wareflo) HIMSS14 Turned It Up To 11 On And Off-Line!. Chuck also periodically provided trend analysis results of year-over-year #HIMSS hashtag traffic for each period of the conference, complete with memes for particular shapes: Loch Ness monster humped-back, familiar faces of frequent tweeters.

Health IT guru Brian Ahier’s (@ahier) wrapped up the “Best In Show” of HIMSS Blog Carnival , complete with Slideshare visuals awarding Ed Parks of Athenahealth “Best Presentation” and providing an excellent summation of must-read posts.

Interoperability was one of the most prevalent themes of HIMSS, and a plethora of posts discussing the healthcare industry’s progress on the path to Dr. Doug Fridsma’s (@Fridsma) High Jump Of Interoperability (Semantic-Level) were submitted to the Blog Carnival. Notable standouts included: Shifting to a Culture of Interoperability by Rick Swanson from Deloitte, and Dr. Summarlan Kahlon’s (of Relay Health), Diagnosis: A Productive HIMSS 2014, which posited that, “this year’s conference was the first one which convinced me that real, seamless patient-level interoperability is beginning to happen at scale.”

And who could forget about patient engagement, the belle of the HIMSS ball? Telehealth encounters, mobile health apps and implications, patient portals, and the Connected Patient Gallery dominated the social media conversation. Carolyn Fishman from DICOM Grid called it, HIMSS 2014: The Year of the Patient, and discussed trepidation patients feel about portal technologies infringing on face-time.

Quantified-self wearable-tech offered engagement opportunities, as well. Having won one such gadget herself, Jennifer Dennard (@SmyrnaGirl) gave props to organizations like Patientco and Nuance for their use (and planned use) of wearable tech in support of employee wellness programs, and posited on the applications of such tech in the monitoring and treatment of chronic disease in her piece, Watching for Wearables at HIMSS14.

Finally, if you’re able to read Lisa Reichard’s (from Billians Health Data) @billians) highlights piece,Top 10 Tales and Takeaways, without busting out into Beatles tunes, you probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun as she and I did at HISTalkapalooza, dancing to Ross Martin’s smooth parodies. You also probably don’t have your co-workers frantically purchasing noise-canceling headphones.

I did say I’d be singing to bring HIMSS to a virtual close.

Can’t wait to get back to the metaphorical microphone for HIMSS 2015 in Chicago!

In 2014, Health IT Priorities are Changing

Posted on January 30, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Cliff McClintick, chief operating officer of Doc Halo. Cincinnati-based Doc Halo sets the professional standard for health care communication offering secure messaging for physicians, medical practices, hospitals and healthcare organizations. The Doc Halo secure texting solution is designed to streamline HIPAA-compliant physician and medical clinician sharing of critical patient information within a secure environment.

2014 is a major year for health care, and for more reasons than one.

Of course, some of the most significant reforms of the Affordable Care Act take effect this year, affecting the lives of both patients and providers.

But it’s also a year in which health care institutions will come to grips with IT issues they might have been putting off. Now that many organizations have completed the electronic health record implementations that were consuming their attention and resources, they’re ready to tackle other priorities.

Expect to see issues related to communications, security and the flow of patient information play big in coming months. At Doc Halo, we’re already seeing high interest in these areas.

Here are my predictions for the top health IT trends of 2014:

  • Patient portal adoption. Web-based portals let patients access their health data, such as discharge summaries and lab results, and often allow for communication with the care team. Federal requirements around Meaningful Use Stage 2 are behind this trend, but the opportunity to empower patients is the exciting part. The market for portals will likely approach $900 million by 2017, up from $280 million in 2012, research firm Frost & Sullivan has predicted.
  • Secure text messaging. Doctors often tell us that they send patient information to their colleagues by text message. Unfortunately, this type of data transmission is not HIPAA-compliant, and it can bring large fines. Demand for secure texting solutions will be high in 2014 as health care providers seek communication methods that are quick, convenient and HIPAA-compliant. Doc Halo provides encrypted, HIPAA-compliant secure text messaging that works on iPhone, Android and your desktop computer.
  • Telehealth growth. The use of technology to support long-distance care will increasingly help to compensate for physician shortages in rural and remote areas. The world telehealth market, estimated at just more than $14 billion in 2012, is likely to see 18.5 percent annual growth through 2018, according to research and consultancy firm RNCOS. Technological advances, growing prevalence of chronic diseases and the need to control health care costs are the main drivers.
  • A move to the cloud. The need to share large amounts of data quickly across numerous locations will push more organizations to the cloud. Frost & Sullivan listed growth of cloud computing, used as an enabler of enterprise-wide health care informatics, as one of its top predictions for health care in 2014. The trend could result in more efficient operations and lower costs.
  • Data breaches. Health care is the industry most apt to suffer costly and embarrassing data breaches in 2014. The sector is at risk because of its size — and it’s growing even larger with the influx of patients under the Affordable Care Act — and the introduction of new federal data breach and privacy requirements, according to Experian. This is one prediction that we can all hope doesn’t come true.

To succeed in 2014, health care providers and administrators will need to skillfully evaluate changing conditions, spot opportunities and manage risks. Effective health IT frameworks will include secure communication solutions that suit the way physicians and other clinicians interact today.

Doc Halo, a leading secure physician communication application, is a proud sponsor of the Healthcare Scene Blog Network.

Unlocking The Power of Data Science In Healthcare

Posted on January 29, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is Founder and CEO of Pristine, a company in Austin, TX that develops telehealth communication tools optimized for Google Glass in healthcare environments. Prior to founding Pristine, Kyle spent years developing, selling, and implementing electronic medical records (EMRs) into hospitals. He also writes for EMR and HIPAA, TechZulu, and Svbtle about the intersections of healthcare, technology, and business. All of his writing is reproduced at kylesamani.com

Vinod Khosla, Founder of Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures, recently stated that “in the next 10 years, data science and software will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences together.”

The rise of population health and healthcare analytics companies aligns with Khosla’s claim. There are hordes of companies implementing healthcare analytics and helping providers identify at-risk populations to engage in proactive care. Despite their efforts, most of the analytics companies have been struggling to help providers actually improve outcomes.

Why?

Because data science in and of itself is meaningless. Effective data science can only provide insights. The challenge is in acting on insights provided by data. This is a widely acknowledged problem that every data science / analytics company faces; this problem has been particularly difficult in healthcare where a backwards culture and incentive structure have skewed the system towards complacency and volume rather than proactive care and value.

In healthcare, the actionability and effectiveness of data science hinge on communication between providers and patients, and on patients’ ability to act on those insights. There are a few methods of provider-to-patient communication and actionability:

At the point of care (in person or virtual visit) – providers have been educating patients at the point of care since the dawn of the profession. With advanced data analytics, providers can give more accurate, more customized education during the encounter. But the problem is that patients must act on that information at home when the doctor isn’t looking over the patient’s shoulder. Patients consistently fail to do what providers have asked them to do. The problem here is that the patient education and actionability based on education are intermediated by time and (lack of) context. Patients simply forget or are unwilling to do what their providers ask them to do in order to better care for themselves. Patients aren’t being educated in the right context. Point of care education won’t encourage patients from smoking the next cigarette, taking their meds on time, or skipping cheesecake at the office party.

Patient portals – the federal government has mandated that providers enable patients to engage with providers via patient portals. The basic premise of this mandate is that with access to their own health information, patients will take better care of themselves. Patient portals have some potential to empower patients to learn about their conditions at home and investigate conditions in more depth, but they don’t solve the context problem. Patient portals won’t do anything to help patients order a salad instead of a hamburger.

Messaging and notifications – this is the least explored, least understood, and in my opinion, the most potent communication channel to impact patient behavior. Automated notifications on iOS and Android can be presented contextually provided the device has contextual data to present notifications. Context is king. We live in the age of context. As devices learn more about their owners, devices can present contextual information to help change behavior. If your smartphone (or Google Glass, Jawbone, iWatch, etc) knows that you’re about to smoke a cigarette, it can automatically connect you with your husband/wife so that they can yell at you. If your device knows that you’re out at a steakhouse for dinner with business guests, it can remind you to order grilled chicken instead of a fried steak. The number of opportunities are endless.

To provide a better sense of the power of context, let’s examine Google and Facebook ads. Facebook ads are anything but contextual. When I’m scrolling through my news feed, I don’t care about the latest Hobbit movie, some new workout shake, or Dell’s newest laptop. I logged into Facebook to check out what my friends are up to, not to learn about the Hobbit or a laptop.

But when I Google “flight from Austin to New York January 18th” there’s a huge probability that I’m already committed to spending several hundred dollars to fly to New York, get a hotel, and spend money in NYC. With that search, only relevant advertisers – airlines, taxis, hotels, and local NYC attractions – will bid for my attention; I’m not going to see an ad for The Hobbit when searching for for a trip to NY.

This sense of context is reflected in Facebook and Google’s click through rates (CTR). 1-3% of all Google searches result in the user clicking on an ad. Between .01-.3% of FaceBook ads are clicked on. Google is measurably 10-100x more effective than Facebook. That’s the power of context.

There’s nothing wrong with emailing patients PDFs and interactive digital education tools after an encounter; there’s nothing wrong with patient portals and BlueButton. All of these communication channels fall short in that they don’t take advantage of real-time two way contextual communications. All of these channels are intrinsically one-way and lack context.

Books were the the first few-to-many communication channel. Then newspapers and magazines. Then radios. Then movies and TV. The defining characteristic of the Internet is that it is the first to enable two-way, many-to-many communications. The federal government’s healthcare communication model is fundamentally based on 20th century communication strategies. The power of data science will drive meaningful changes in patient behavior only when communication strategies leverage 21st century communication models.

The Good News About Patient Portals …

Posted on January 14, 2014 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

I recently wrote that it’s not clear whether patient portals do much to improve health care.

Now a new study suggests they help in at least one area: medication adherence.

The research involved diabetic patients who were using cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and had registered for online portal access. Among those who started using the system’s online refill function as their only method of getting the medication, “nonadherence” dropped 6 percent.

LDL or “bad” cholesterol also decreased.

The researchers concluded that “wider adoption of online refills may improve adherence.” No decline in nonadherence was seen in patients who didn’t use the online refill function.

The Kaiser Permanente study was published in the journal Medical Care.

The study included plenty of subjects — 8,705 people who used online refills and 9,055 who didn’t. But if there’s a cause-effect relationship at work in this study, you have to wonder in which direction it might run. Might the people who tend to take their medicine as prescribed be more likely to sign up for online refills in the first place?

Still, the study is an intriguing hint that patient portals might be worth at least some of the attention they’re getting. Nonadherence to medication regimens is a huge issue for health care because of both the human toll it takes and the inefficiency it fosters in the system.

Typical nonadherence rates are in the 30-60 percent range, depending on the condition, the medication and other factors, according to Medscape. It’s especially easy to slack off when symptoms disappear.

The study builds on another piece of good news for health IT. Researchers recently found that EMRs can make diabetes care better by rendering care coordination more efficient, as Katherine Rourke wrote here at EMR and HIPAA.

Portals are, of course, experiencing tremendous popularity because they help health care providers to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 patient-engagement requirements. But, as I wrote earlier, in a review of 46 studies related to portals, researchers didn’t find evidence for much in the way of patient benefits.

Physicians have a major job ahead of them if they’re to make full use of patient portals and receive the available federal incentives. Perhaps this study, modest as its results are, suggests that their efforts will have some benefit for the patients they serve.

 

EMR Can Improve Diabetes Care

Posted on December 16, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke 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.

EMRs can help improve diabetes care by making care coordination of such patients more efficient, according to a study reported in iHealthBeat.

The federally-funded study, which was done by the Western New York Beacon Community, went to one of 17 Beacon Communities funded by ONCHIT, which has handed out $250.3 million in total grants.

In this case, the Beacon Community is a partnership between HealtheLink, Catholic Medical Partners and P2 Collaborative of Western New York. The partnership’s $16.1 million is the largest grant received by any of the 17 Beacon Communities.

To study the impact of EMRs on diabetes care, the partners looked at about 40,000 patients, and 344 primary care physicians working in 98 practices.

To implement the study, participants created diabetes registries that tracked lab tests and results, created personalized reminders and guidance for patients, and generated quarterly reports for physicians underscoring areas where they could cut costs and improve diabetic care, iHealthBeat said.

But the diabetic registry was just the beginning. The Beacon project also implemented preventive telemonitoring to avoid excess emergency department visits and hospital readmissions; medication therapy tools to alert doctors — in real time — of changes ED doctors make medication regiments, and patient portals giving patients access to prescription refills, appointment requests and lab results.

At the end of the study, researchers polled the 57 practices that consistently used the registries, and found that the number of diabetics with uncontrolled sugars levels fell 4 percent, with some practices seeing as much as a 10 percent improvement. Researchers calculated that if project guidelines were followed by 20 percent of patients with diabetes and their doctors in Western New York, savings could be $18 million.

This result echoes results of other studies. For example, last year researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College concluded that when a group of community-based doctors moved to EMRs , they provided better care, particularly in managing chlamydia, diabetes, colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

Are Patient Portals Really Helping Patients?

Posted on December 4, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

One thing’s for sure about patient portals: They’re a hot commodity.

What’s less clear is how much good they’re doing for health care.

The popularity of patient portals stems from Meaningful Use Stage 2 patient-engagement requirements. The market for the products is expected to approach $900 million by 2017, up from $280 million in 2012, according to a report from Mountain View, Calif.-based research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Patients like at least one aspect of the portals — the ability to access their own medical records. In a recent Accenture study, more than 40 percent of consumers who can’t access their own records online said they’d consider switching doctors in order to get access.

But several recent studies suggest that currently available products have a way to go before they can consistently improve care, reduce costs or perhaps even increase patient engagement.

In a review of 46 studies, researchers found little evidence that portals were helping much of anything. The doctors from Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and other institutions wrote that it’s “unlikely that patient portals will have substantial effects on utilization or efficiency, at least in the near term.”

Some of the limitations of the products, they wrote, included “disparities in who accesses these portals and instances of suboptimal patient attitudes of their worth.” The portals typically gave patients options such as looking at their test results, refilling prescriptions and communicating with doctors.

Patient portals likely are most beneficial, the authors wrote, when they’re part of a more comprehensive quality-improvement strategy.

Another study also found that patients, in many cases, fail to see the value of a portal — or at least some parts of it. In questions about hypothetical features, consumers showed interest in “back-office” tasks such as seeing their own medical records. But clinical digital communication capabilities, such as online video consultations with doctors, failed to impress.

The bottom line was that patient portals “may act as a complement to health-care service delivery, while substitution for clinical in-person interactions may not be viewed positively.” In other words, most people just don’t seem to be ready to give up face time with their primary-care physician.

When MU2 starts on Jan. 1, physicians will be required to give their patients electronic access to their health records. The requirement went into effect for hospitals in October.

The U.S. health care system is, with government prodding, investing a huge sum in patient portals. The idea sounds empowering for patients. But given the lack of solid evidence for a benefit at this point, it’s concerning to think the money might be better spent on something else. Let’s hope that vendors and providers are soon able to turn portals into something with tangible benefits for quality care.