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Consumers Fear Theft Of Personal Health Information

Posted on February 15, 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.

Probably fueled by constant news about breaches – duh! – consumers continue to worry that their personal health information isn’t safe, according to a new survey.

As the press release for the 2017 Xerox eHealth Survey notes, last year more than one data breach was reported each day. So it’s little wonder that the survey – which was conducted online by Harris poll in January 2017 among more than 3,000 U.S. adults – found that 44% of Americans are worried about having their PHI stolen.

According to the survey, 76% of respondents believe that it’s more secure to share PHI between providers through a secure electronic channel than to fax paper documents. This belief is certainly a plus for providers. After all, they’re already committed to sharing information as effectively as possible, and it doesn’t hurt to have consumers behind them.

Another positive finding from the study is that Americans also believe better information sharing across providers can help improve patient care. Xerox/Harris found that 87% of respondents believe that wait times to get test results and diagnoses would drop if providers securely shared and accessed patient information from varied providers. Not only that, 87% of consumers also said that they felt that quality of service would improve if information sharing and coordination among different providers was more common.

Looked at one way, these stats offer providers an opportunity. If you’re already spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on interoperability, it doesn’t hurt to let consumers know that you’re doing it. For example, hospitals and medical practices can put signs in their lobby spelling out what they’re doing by way of sharing data and coordinating care, have their doctors discuss what information they’re sharing and hand out sheets telling consumers how they can leverage interoperable data. (Some organizations have already taken some of these steps, but I’d argue that virtually any of them could do more.)

On the other hand, if nearly half of consumers afraid that their PHI is insecure, providers have to do more to reassure them. Though few would understand how your security program works, letting them know how seriously you take the matter is a step forward. Also, it’s good to educate them on what they can do to keep their health information secure, as people tend to be less fearful when they focus on what they can control.

That being said, the truth is that healthcare data security is a mixed bag. According to a study conducted last year by HIMSS, most organizations conduct IT security risk assessments, many IT execs have only occasional interactions with top-level leaders. Also, many are still planning out their medical device security strategy. Worse, provider security spending is often minimal. HIMSS notes that few organizations spend more than 6% of their IT budgets on data security, and 72% have five or fewer employees allocated to security.

Ultimately, it’s great to see that consumers are getting behind the idea of health data interoperability, and see how it will benefit them. But until health organizations do more to protect PHI, they’re at risk of losing that support overnight.

A Girl, a Fitbit, and an Already Failed New Year’s Resolution

Posted on February 9, 2017 I Written By

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

The following is a guest blog post by Cristina Dafonte, Marketing Associate of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
cristina-dafonte
Have you ever heard the story of the person who makes a New Year’s Resolution to exercise more and eat healthy, buys themselves a cool new gadget to stay motivated, a fresh new pair of sneakers, and then has already failed by February? This person is me – in February of 2017, I have fallen victim to every New Year’s Resolution stereotype in existence.

Last week, after eating half of a “family sized” bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and thinking about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t eat healthy for a whole two months, someone gave me a bit of great advice. They told me to write down what I had learned since January.

Lesson 1:

I love Cool Ranch Doritos and I have no self-control over my hand-to-mouth motion when I am around them.

Lesson 2:

Eating half of a family sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos is guaranteed to make you feel extremely sick.

Lesson 3:

My “stay motivated” gadget is way cooler than I thought.

I bought myself a FitBit Charge 2 so that I could not only monitor the number of steps I took, but also monitor my heart rate while exercising. I had no idea why this was important, but my triathlete boyfriend had a heart rate monitor, so I wanted one too.

After about 1 week with my new FitBit, I was hooked. I was monitoring my heart rate all day, everyday. I wanted to know where my peak heart rate was and how far it was from my resting heart rate. I used the customized “relax” feature on my FitBit, which took me through guided breathing exercises to lower my heart rate. The FitBit also calculates how many hours you sleep and how many calories you burn while running, all based on my heart rate! I was amazed on how much I learned about my body just by watching my heart rate, which led me and my #HIT mind to thinking about how this data could or should be shared with my primary care doctor.

In a recent study by Stanford Medicine, researchers proved how wearables could tell when a person was getting sick. They discuss how healthcare providers can use wearables and the data they collect to help individualize medicine – by establishing a unique “baseline,” providers will easily be able to tell when something is wrong.

The future of healthcare, and personalized medicine, and the interconnectedness of it all is exciting. I know that given the option, I would gladly share my FitBit data with my primary care physician. I trust that something I wear every single day that monitors my activity, sleep, and heart rate knows me better than the doctor I visit once a year. I look forward to the day where this is a reality, and all of this incredible data that wearables are collecting can be used to help advance medicine and enrich patient data.

Learn more about some of the ways Stericycle Communication Solutions is closing the gap between patients and their providers here.

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

Top 3 Tips for Taking on Digital Health

Posted on January 18, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

1. What does the patient EXPECT?

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

2. What does the patient WANT?

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

3. Where does the patient GO?

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

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

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

Connected Wearables Pose Growing Privacy, Security Risks

Posted on December 26, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-Patient Update:  Is Technology Getting Ahead Of Medical Privacy?

Posted on December 9, 2016 I Written By

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

I don’t know about y’all, but I love, love, love interacting with Google’s AI on my smartphone. It’s beyond convenient – it seems to simply read my mind and dish out exactly the content I needed.

That could have unwelcome implications, however, when you bear in mind that Google might be recording your question. Specifically, for a few years now, Google’s AI has apparently been recording users’ conversations whenever it is triggered. While Google makes no secret of the matter, and apparently provides directions on how to erase these recordings, it doesn’t affirmatively ask for your consent either — at least not in any terribly conspicuous way — though it might have buried the request in a block of legal language.

Now, everybody has a different tolerance for risk, and mine is fairly high. So unless an entity does something to suggest to me that it’s a cybercrook, I’m not likely to lose any sleep over the information it has harvested from my conversations. In my way of looking at the world, the odds that gathering such information will harm me are low, while the odds collection will help me are much greater. But I know that others feel much differently than myself.

For these reasons, I think it’s time to stop and take a look at whether we should regulate potential medical conversations with intermediaries like Google, whether or not they have a direct stake in the healthcare world. As this example illustrates, just because they’re neither providers, payers or business associates doesn’t mean they don’t manage highly sensitive healthcare information.

In thinking this over, my first reaction is to throw my hands in the air and give up. After all, how can we possibly track or regulate the flow of medical information falls outside the bounds of HIPAA or state privacy laws? How do we decide what behavior might constitute an egregious leak of medical information, and what could be seen as a mild mistake, given that the rules around provider and associate behavior may not apply? This is certainly a challenging problem.

But the more I consider these issues, the more I am convinced that we could at least develop some guidelines for handling of medical information by non-medical third parties, including what type of consumer disclosures are required when collecting data that might include healthcare information, what steps the intermediary takes to protect the data and how to opt out of data collection.

Given how complex these issues are, it’s unlikely we would succeed at regulating them effectively the first time, or even the fourth or fifth. And realistically, I doubt we can successfully apply the same standards to non-medical entities fielding health questions as we can to providers or business associates. That being said, I think we should pay more attention to such issues. They are likely to become more important, not less, as time goes by.

What Should Coffee Shops and Healthcare Organizations Have in Common?

Posted on December 8, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Bennight, Marketing Strategist of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
sarah-bennight
Several months ago, I failed to get up in time for my normal coffee brew. So on the way to work, I decided to stop at a local Starbucks to grab a latte. The drive-thru was packed. Panicking, I stepped inside where the line was sure to be shorter. It was not. As I waited, I noticed folks walking in and going straight to the barista bar, giving an order, and receiving it immediately. No line. No wait. What was this amazing service and why didn’t I receive it? I felt left out of cool kids club as I waited my turn and finally arrived 3 minutes late to work. After searching my junk email, I found several emails touting a new order in app and pay service. With my busy lifestyle and love of coffee, I thought this was too good to be true.

Next time I was running late, I opened the app and ordered my favorite beverage with one hand while putting on makeup with the other. I felt like a true VIP when I sauntered into my local cafe and whispered my order to the barista, who had my drink ready and waiting. You can bet, if I need a coffee on a hurried morning, I will remain loyal to the pre-order app from Starbucks. It’s just too easy.

With increasingly busy lifestyles and the need to complete more in less time, consumers look for the quickest and easiest goods and services. We are much more willing to adventure into unknown spaces if it promises to give us precious time back. After moving last month, I received a card in the mail from a well-known grocer saying “welcome to the neighborhood, we now offer online grocery shopping.” Busy people in my neighborhood are celebrating an end to their most hated and time-consuming weekly errand. I have yet to try this service since there are rarely timeslots open, but the Starbucks’ model of order online and avoid the wait is becoming the norm.

We are so accustomed to immediate service that we sometimes get frustrated with even small delays. Take, for example, my two very different experiences at urgent care centers. Earlier this year, I had to take my daughter in for possible strep throat. I avoided the trip long enough that her primary care physician office was closed and urgent care was the only option. We took our chances with the local pediatric urgent care and waited for our sick child to be seen for over two hours – 45 minutes of which was spent in the examination room before anyone came in to see us.

When the need arose for me to visit an urgent care clinic recently, I was already well versed in the advantages of ordering online without a wait. Although I had been to the local ER for the same condition and they had all of my labs and records, the thought of a potentially lengthy wait was daunting. So, I searched for a clinic that could accommodate my schedule and decided to try a new clinic because they offered the “online ordering model” for urgent care visits. I signed up online and was called back within 10 minutes of arriving at the clinic. The doctor saw me within 15 minutes of being placed in a room. The experience was so positive the clinic has earned my loyalty for future care needs. Not only do they have a caring staff, they get me in and out in a reasonable time.

This trend is rapidly being adopted across commercial industries, but healthcare isn’t far behind. And health providers that aren’t ready to adapt will soon feel the pressure as consumers demand convenience. Services and tools such as Amazon PrimeNow and Disneyland FastPasses prove one thing: Americans simply hate to wait.

Recently, I spoke with a client who made the decision to implement our online scheduling solution as a result of increasingly consumer-driven expectations. Competition with retail clinics for primary care visits also played a role in their decision. They stated, “We are now competing with Walgreens and CVS for simple clinic visits because we make it too difficult to get the patient in the door.” A McKinsey 2015 Consumer Health Insights Survey found the same, as two thirds of the people surveyed reported they would be comfortable using retail clinics such as CVS or Walgreens for care. When asked why, the major reason cited was accessibility.

With two very different clinic visits shaping my view, I imagine on demand access and appointment scheduling will continue to shape the healthcare access scene in the next few years. Convenience is king in our consumer-minded world, and those who rely on only traditional methods of getting patients in the door could miss potential opportunities – or worse, lose existing patients to competitors who provide easier access. I won’t return to the first urgent care clinic because the more recent visit offered better access and a more convenient experience by significantly cutting my wait time. With my new found love for ordering online and avoiding the wait, I have also recently changed the family eye doctor to one who offers this service. Now, if they could only offer an onsite coffee bar…

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

Are Providers Using Effective Patient Communication Methods?

Posted on December 1, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Cristina Dafonte, Marketing Associate of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
cristina-dafonte
This year at MGMA 2016, the Stericycle Communication Solutions team had the opportunity to survey over 800 providers about their patient communication strategy. Getting to collect our own data, rather than relying on facts and figures from scholarly articles, was truly invaluable. But what was even more exciting was sitting down and analyzing the results.

Many of the statistics weren’t surprising – nearly 100% of providers are sending appointment reminders, 60% of providers are using technology to send these reminders, and 2/3 of providers surveyed love the idea of online self-scheduling. These statistics all made sense to me… it’s almost 2017, of course providers would prefer to use technology when it comes to their patient communications.

But as I dug more into the numbers, I saw a startling trend:

  • Only 1 out of 3 providers who “love” online self-scheduling offer it to their patients
  • While almost all providers are sending appointment reminders, 1/3 are still manually calling their patients
  • Over 60% of providers are only sending appointment reminders via ONE modality

I started to think about other parts of my life where I booked appointments or used technology to interact with a vendor– did these healthcare numbers match their non-healthcare counterparts?

First I looked to my hair salon. When I go to their website, I have the ability to book an appointment with my current hair dresser directly on their home screen. I get an email reminder the day that I book the appointment with a calendar attachment. The day before the appointment, I get a text reminding me what time my appointment is and whom it is with. Four months after the appointment, I get an email reminding me that it’s time to come in for my next appointment… with a link to book an appointment online. Surprisingly, this didn’t match what I was seeing in my survey data analysis. When I looked at scheduling an appointment to get my car serviced, I saw the same trend – booking was conveniently online, the communications were all automated, and I received more than one reminder.

So why does there seem to be such a difference when it comes to healthcare communication? Our survey shows that providers like the idea of technology, so, I wonder, why are most providers only going halfway? What is it that is holding them back from fully investing in automated patient communications? According to TIME, the average person looks at his or her phone 46 times per day. As we near 2017, shouldn’t we reach and capture patients where they are engaged and spend most of their time – on their mobile devices and computers?

For more MGMA survey results and a sneak peak into how Stericycle Communication Solutions can help you adopt an automated patient communication strategy, download the infographic here.

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

Ignoring the Obvious: Major Health IT Organizations Put Aside Patients

Posted on November 18, 2016 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.

Frustrated stories from patients as well as health care providers repeatedly underline the importance of making a seismic shift in the storage and control of patient data. The current system leads to inaccessible records, patients who reach nursing homes or other treatment centers without information crucial to their care, excess radiation from repeated tests, massive data breaches that compromise thousands of patients at a time, and–most notably for quality–patients excluded from planning their own care.

A simple solution became available over the past 25 years with the widespread adoption of the Web, and has been rendered even easier by modern Software as a Service (SaaS): storing the entire record over the patient’s lifetime with the patient. This was unfeasible in the age of patient records, but is currently efficient, secure, and easy to manage. The only reason we didn’t switch to personal records years ago is the greed and bad faith of the health care institutions: keeping hold of the data allows them to exploit it in order to market treatments to patients that they don’t need, while hampering the ability of other institutions to recruit and treat patients.

So I wonder how the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) can’t feel ridiculous, if not a bit seamy, by releasing a 3000-word report on the patient data crisis this past October without even a hint at the solution. On the contrary: using words designed to protect the privileges of the health care provider, they call this crisis a “patient matching” problem. The very terminology sets in stone the current practice of scattering health records among providers, with the assumption that selective records will be recombined for particular treatment purposes–if those records can be found.

A reading of their report reveals that the crisis outpaces the tepid remedies suggested by conventional institutions. In a survey, institutions admitted that up to eight percent of their patients have duplicate records in the institutions own systems (six percent of the survey respondents reported this high figure). Institutions also report spending large efforts on mitigating the problems of duplicate records: 47 percent do so during patient registration, and 72 percent run efforts on a weekly basis. AHIMA didn’t even ask about the problems caused by lack of access to records from other providers.

To pretend they are addressing the problem without actually offering the solution, AHIMA issues some rather bizarre recommendations. Along with extending the same processes currently in use, they suggest using biometrics such as fingerprints or retinal scans. This has a worrisome impact on patient privacy–it puts out more and more information that is indelibly linked to persons and that can be used to track those persons. What are the implications of such recommendations in the current environment, which features not only targeted system intrusions by international criminal organizations, but the unaccountable transfer of data by those authorized to collect it? We should strenuously oppose the collection of unnecessary personal information. But it makes sense for a professional organization to seek a solution that leads to the installation of more equipment, requires more specialized staff, tightens their control over individuals, and raises health care costs.

There’s nothing wrong with certain modest suggestions in the AHIMA report. Standardizing the registration process and following the basic information practices they recommend (compliance with regulations, etc.) should be in place at any professional institution. But none of that will bring together the records doctors and other health care professionals need to deliver care.

Years ago, Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health tried to bring patient control into the mainstream. Neither caught on, because the time was not right. A major barrier to adoption was resistance by health care providers, who (together with the vendors of their electronic health records) disallowed patients from downloading provider data. The Department of Veterans Affairs Blue Button won fans in both the veterans’ community and a few other institutions (for instance, Kaiser Permanente supported it) but turned out to be an imperfect standard and was never integrated into a true patient-centered health system.

But cracks in the current system are appearing as health care providers are shoved toward fee-for-value systems. Technologies are also coalescing around personal records. Notably, the open source HIE of One project, described in another article, employs standard security and authentication protocols to give patients control over what data gets sent out and who receives it.

Patient control, not patient “matching,” is the future of health care. The patient will ensure that her doctors and any legitimate researchers get access to data. Certainly, there are serious issues left, such as data management for patients who have trouble with the technical side of the storage systems, and informed consent protocols that give researchers maximum opportunities for deriving beneficial insights from patient data. But the current system isn’t working for doctors or researchers any better than it is for patients. A strong personal health record system will advance us in all areas of health care.

E-Patient Update: The Patient Data Engagement Leader

Posted on October 20, 2016 I Written By

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

As healthcare delivery models shift responsibility for patient health to the patients themselves, it’s becoming more important to give them tools to help them get and stay healthy. Increasingly, digital health tools are filling the bill.

For example, portals are moving from largely billing and scheduling apps to exchanging of patient data, holding two-way conversations between patient and doctor and even tracking key indicators like blood glucose levels. Wearables are slowly becoming capable of helping doctors improve diagnoses, and patterns revealed by big data should soon be used to create personalized treatment plants.

The ultimate goal of all this, of course, is to push as much data power as possible into the hands of consumers. After all, for patients to be engaged with their health, it helps to make them feel in control, and the more sophisticated information they get, the better choices they can make. Or at least that’s how the traditional script reads.

Now, as an e-patient, the above is certainly true for me. Every incremental improvement in the data I get me brings me closer to taking on otherwise overwhelming health challenges. That’s true, in part, because I’m comfortable reading charts, extrapolating conclusions from data points and visualizing ways to make use of the information. But if you want less tech-friendly patients to get on board, they’re going to need help.

The patient engagement leader

And where will that help come from? I’d argue that hospitals and clinics need to create a new position dedicated to helping engage patients, including though not limited to helping them make their health data their own. This position would cut across several disciplines, ranging from patient health education clinical medicine to data analytics.

The person owning this position would need to be current in patient engagement goals across the population and by disease/condition type, understand the preferred usage patterns established by the hospital, ACO, delivery network or clinic and understand trends in health behavior well enough to help steer patients in the right direction.

It also wouldn’t hurt if such a person had a healthy dose of marketing skills under their belt, as part of the patient engagement process is simply selling consumers on the idea that they can and should take more responsibility for their health outcomes. Speaking from personal experience, a good marketer can wheedle, nudge and empower people by turns, and this will be very necessary to boost your engagement.

While this could be a middle management position, it would at least need to have the full support of the C-suite. After all, you can’t promote population-wide improvements in health by nibbling around the edges of the problem. Such measures need to be comprehensive and strategic to the mission of the healthcare organization as a whole, and the person behind the needs to have the authority to see them through.

Patients in control

If things go right, establishing this position would lead to the creation of a better-educated, more-confident patient population with a greater sense of self efficacy regarding their health. While specific goals would vary from one healthcare organization to the other, such an initiative would ideally lead to improvements in key metrics such as A1c levels population-wide, drops in hospital admission and readmission rates and simultaneously, lower spending on more intense modes of care.

Not only that, you could very well see patient satisfaction increase as well. After all, patients may not feel capable of making important health changes on their own, and if you help them do that it stands to reason that they’ll appreciate it.

Ultimately, engaging patients with their health calls for participation by everyone who touches the patient, from techs to the physician, nurses to the billing department. But if you put a patient engagement officer in place, it’s more likely that these efforts will have a focus.

Patients Want the Ultimate Experience – Convenient, Considerate, and Compassionate

Posted on October 13, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Chelsea Kimbrough, a copywriter for Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Chelsea Kimbrough
For many patients – myself included – braving the doctor’s office can be a difficult, scary task. So, when I moved to a new state, I put off finding a new healthcare clinic. My procrastination recently turned to panic when the time for an annual wellness check arrived.

After researching local providers, reading countless patient reviews, and cross-examining healthcare capabilities, I hesitantly scheduled an appointment. When the appointment finally passed, I was surprised to not only enjoy the experience, but to confidently schedule another. Here’s why:

  1. They offered patient-friendly online self-scheduling. With a majority of my weekdays absorbed by work, I had little opportunity to make phone calls. But with the option of online self-scheduling, I was able to schedule an appointment at a time and in a way that worked best for me.
  2. They ensured I was aware of and prepared for my upcoming appointment. I received a text message prompting my appointment confirmation and an email outlining what I needed for the appointment. Both these nontraditional communications supported my appointment’s success.
  3. My wait time was minimal. From the moment I arrived, I was met with friendly, courteous support. And before leaving the facility, I was able to quickly schedule a follow-up appointment – all of which minimally impacted the remainder of my day.
  4. I received one-on-one, thoughtful attention and service. And for a nervous patient, this was the difference between loyalty and abandonment.
  5. I was able to provide feedback about my experience. Though my feedback was primarily positive, I appreciated that my opinions and experience were valued.

Though online reviews helped me make my initial decision to schedule an appointment, the entire experience is what put my nervousness at ease. From an online self-scheduling option to a post-appointment survey, this organization’s patient-focused approach was both a novel and welcome experience, and is what will ensure I continue trusting my health in their care for years to come.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. 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