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Care Coordination Tech Still Needs Work

Posted on July 26, 2017 I Written By

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

Virtually all of you would agree that we’ll have to do a better job of care coordination if we hope to meet our patient outcomes goals. And logically enough, most of us are hoping that technology will help us make this happen.  But from what I’ve seen, it isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Every now and then, I get a press release from a company that says a company’s tech has solved at least some part of the industry’s care coordination problem. Today, the company was featured in a release from Baylor College of Medicine, where a physician has launched a mobile software venture focused on preventing miscommunication between patient care team members.

The company, ConsultLink, has developed a mobile platform that manages patient handoffs, consults and care team collaboration. It was founded by Dr. Alexander Pastuszak, an assistant professor of urology at Baylor, in 2013.

As with every other digital care coordination platform I’ve heard about – and I’ve encountered at least a dozen – the ConsultLink platform seems to have some worthwhile features. I was especially interested in its analytics capability, as well as its partnership with Redox, an EMR integration firm which has gotten a lot of attention of late.

The thing is, I’ve heard all this before, in one form or another. I’m not suggesting that ConsultLink doesn’t have what it takes. However, it’s been my observation if market space attracts dozens of competitors, the very basics of how they should attack the problem are still up for grabs.

As I suspected it would, a casual Google search turned up several other interesting players, including:

  • ChartSpan Medical Technologies: The Greenville, South Carolina-based company has developed a platform which includes practice management software, mobile patient engagement and records management tools. It offers a chronic care management solution which is designed to coordinate care between all providers.
  • MyHealthDirect: Nashville’s MyHealthDirect, a relatively early entrant launched in 2006, describes itself as focusing consumer healthcare access solutions. Its version of digital care coordination includes online scheduling systems, referral management tools and event-driven analytics, which it delivers on behalf of health systems, providers and payers.
  • Spruce Health: Spruce Health, which is based in San Francisco, centralizes care communication around mobile devices. Its platform includes a shared inbox for all patient and team communication, collaborative messaging, telemedicine support and mobile payment options.

No doubt there are dozens more that aren’t as good at SEO. As these vendors compete, the template for a care coordination platform is evolving moment by moment. As with other tech niches, companies are jumping into the fray with technology perhaps designed for other purposes. Others are hoping to set a new standard for how care coordination platforms work. There’s nothing wrong with that, but its likely to keep the core feature set for digital coordination fluid for quite some time.

I don’t doubt among the companies I’ve described, there’s a lot of good and useful ideas. But to me, the fact that so many players are trying to define the concept of digital care coordination suggests that it has some growing up to do.

Tips on Implementing Text Analytics in Healthcare

Posted on July 6, 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 us would agree that extracting clinical data from unstructured physician notes would be great. At present, few organizations have deployed such tools, nor have EMR vendors come to the rescue en masse, and the conventional wisdom holds that text analytics would be crazy expensive. I’ve always suspected that digging out and analyzing this data may be worth the trouble, however.

That’s why I really dug a recent article from HealthCatalyst’s Eric Just, which seemed to offer some worthwhile ideas on how to use text analytics effectively. Just, who is senior vice president of product development, made a good case for giving this approach a try. (Note: HealthCatalyst and partner Regenstrief Institute offer solutions in this area.)

The article includes an interesting case study explaining how healthcare text analytics performed head-to-head against traditional research methods.

It tells the story of a team of analysts in Indiana that set out to identify peripheral artery disease (PAD) patients across two health systems. At first gasp, things weren’t going well. When researchers looked at EMR and claims data, they found that failed to identify over 75% of patients with this condition, but text analytics improved their results dramatically.

Using ICD and CPT codes for PAD, and standard EMR data searches, team members had identified less than 10,000 patients with the disorder. However, once they developed a natural language processing tool designed to sift through text-based data, they discovered that there were at least 41,000 PAD patients in the population they were studying.

To get this kind of results, Just says, there are three key features a medical text analytics tool should have:

  • The medical text analytics software should tailor results to a given user’s needs. For example, he notes that if the user doesn’t have permission to view PHI, the analytics tool should display only nonprivate data.
  • Medical text analytics tools should integrate medical terminology to improve the scope of searches. For example, when a user does a search on the term “diabetes” the search tool should automatically be capable of displaying results for “NIDDM,” as this broadens the search to include more relevant content.
  • Text analytics algorithms should do more than just find relevant terms — they should provide context as well as content. For example, a search for patients with “pneumonia,” done with considering context, would also bring up phrases like “no history of pneumonia.” A better tool would be able to rule out phrases like “no history of pneumonia,” or “family history of pneumonia” from a search for patients who have been treated for this illness.

The piece goes into far more detail than I can summarize here, so I recommend you read it in full if you’re interested in leveraging text analytics for your organization.

But for what it’s worth, I came away from the piece with the sense that analyzing your clinical textual information is well worth the trouble — particularly if EMR vendors being to add such tools to their systems. After all, when it comes to improving outcomes, we need all the help we can get.

Big Data and the Social Good: The Value for Healthcare Organizations

Posted on May 22, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Mike Serrano from NETSCOUT.

It’s a well-known fact that Facebook, Google, and our phone companies collect a lot of information about each of us. This has been the case for a long time, and more often than not it’s to improve the user experience of the services we rely on. If data is shared outside the organization, it’s anonymized to prevent the usage of any one individual from being identified. But it’s understandable while this practice has still sparked a passionate and longstanding debate about privacy and ‘big brother’-style snooping.

What is often forgotten, however, or more likely drowned out by the inevitably growing chorus of privacy concerns, is the opportunity within the big data community for this valuable information to be used for social good. The potential is already there. The question, though, is how different organizations, and particularly the healthcare sector, can take advantage of anonymized user data to benefit society and improve the human condition.

When it comes to healthcare, data from mobile networks holds the biggest opportunity for the patient experience to be dramatically improved. To truly understand how real-time traffic and big data, in the form of historical network usage and traffic patterns, can be used for social good, let’s look at a few possible scenarios – two of which can be accomplished without needing to disclose individual user information at all.

Public health – Getting ahead of an outbreak

What a decade ago would have seemed impossible is very much a reality today. The pervasiveness of the smartphone and how people are using it has fundamentally changed our ability to leverage real-time communications data to the benefit of our society. For many people, smartphones have replaced computers as the primary device to search for information. This has value in itself, as when people use a smartphone it’s possible to place them in context of their community and travel patterns.

Zika is a recent example of a parasite spread by mosquitos that produces flu-like symptoms and can have grave consequences on a developing fetus, causing microcephaly. To control the mosquito population, local vector control agencies place field traps to capture mosquitos and periodically test the mosquitos they collect. This approach has value, but it’s slow and reactive.

What we have learned from flu epidemics is there’s typically an increase in Google searches of “flu symptoms” that emerge just before or at the same time as an outbreak of influenza. Since Zika is a mosquito-born pathogen, it will occur outside of times of the normal spread of influenza, but the initial symptoms are very similar to the common flu.

By monitoring mobile searches for any of a number of unique search terms, it is possible to quickly identify real-time locations where outbreaks may be occurring; thus allowing for a more targeted response by both vector control and public health agencies. In addition, it’s then possible to identify the extent to which migration through the area has occurred, and to where that population has traveled.

When merged with environmental data such as wind patterns, temperature, and precipitation, public health agencies can be extremely targeted about where to deploy resources and the nature of those resources to deploy. Such a targeted and immediate response is only available through the use of real-time network traffic data.

Public safety and medical deployments – disaster response

Recent earthquakes have emphasized the potential death and destruction that natural disasters can create. When buildings collapse first responders’ rush in to look for survivors, putting themselves in harms way as a series of aftershocks could cause additional damage to already weakened structures. But it’s a calculated risk. The search for life must happen quickly, which often means first responders are operating with no knowledge of the potential number of causalities within a building.

To ensure the appropriate allocation of response teams, public safety agencies working in tandem with healthcare organizations could leverage mobile network data. When a mobile phone is turned on, it automatically registers to the mobile network. At this point, the operator knows the number of devices in a certain area based on the placement of the cell tower and the parameters of that tower.

By comparing the last known number of registrants against historical network usage, the operator could guide public safety and relief agencies by understanding the number of known mobile phones in an impacted area. If needed, the operator could also assist in the identification of precisely who may still be in a damaged structure, should that level of detail be required.

Pandemic control – removing the guesswork

All major health organizations understand the next major pandemic is only a plane ride away from arriving on their doorstep. For example, when an international flight lands from a country that’s had a recent outbreak of flu or disease, there could potentially be hundreds of infected passengers on board. Those passengers will exit the plane, grab their luggage, and quickly head into the community – travelling far from the airport and growing the transmission radius significantly.

In a situation such as this, the challenge of containing or managing an outbreak is intrinsically tied to knowing where those passengers end up. How far have they travelled, how did they diffuse into the existing population, and how many circles of control need to be established in order to mitigate the risk?

Big data can address this issue. By working with mobile network operators the local healthcare community can quickly react, taking advantage of big data to deploy public health resources more effectively than they could otherwise. Operators already have access to this information, including where subscribers join the network and their current location, and this data is tremendously valuable when placed in the hands of healthcare professionals looking to stem a viral outbreak. The airline involved could also assist by providing any the phone numbers of passengers once the risk was identified.

The future of big data analysis for healthcare

Understanding human movement and social activity, powered by big data pulled from mobile networks, will have a fundamental role to play in more efficient healthcare response in the future. National, state, and local public health officials should all look to implement initiatives based on the use of big data for social good.

When you compare the use of big data against the current approach – where patient zero arrives at hospital and the local healthcare body has to try and identify who else is at risk based on the patient’s travel patterns and limited information they can provide – the benefits of this new approach are obvious.

As the conversation around the use of big data for healthcare purposes evolves, there will inevitably be new questions over individual privacy. While the examples outlined above do take advantage of subscriber behavior and individual insights – be that search terms of location information – the purpose is to understand populations or communities, not to identify any one subscriber. With this in mind, it is easy to mask subscriber identifiers while preserving the information about the population. Ultimately, the goal is to provide a more efficient utilization and allocation of society’s resources as we work to improve the human condition, not to undermine any one person’s right to privacy.

About Mike Serrano
Mike has over 20 years of experience in the communications industry. He is currently responsible for Service Provider Marketing at NETSCOUT. He began his career at PacBell (now part of at&t) where he designed service plans for the business market and where he was responsible for demand analysis and modeling. His career continued with Lucent technologies where he brought to market the first mobile data service technology. At Alloptic, he was responsible for marketing the industry’s first EPON access solution and bringing to market the first RFOG solution. At O3B Networks, Mike headed up marketing bringing to market the first MEO based constellation of satellites for serving internet service to the Other 3 Billion on the planet. Mike’s work continued at Cisco where he helped to define MediaNet (Videoscape) and the network technology transformation for cable operators. Mike holds a B.S. in Information Resource Management from San Jose State University and an MBA from Santa Clara University

Healthcare CIOs Focus On Optimizing EMRs

Posted on March 30, 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.

Few technical managers struggle with more competing priorities than healthcare CIOs. But according to a recent survey, they’re pretty clear what they have to accomplish over the next few years, and optimizing EMRs has leapt to the top of the to-do list.

The survey, which was conducted by consulting firm KPMG in collaboration with CHIME, found that 38 percent of CHIME members surveyed saw EMR optimization as their #1 priority for capital investment over the next three years.  To gather results, KPMG surveyed 122 CHIME members about their IT investment plans.

In addition to EMR optimization, top investment priorities identified by the respondents included accountable care/population health technology (21 percent), consumer/clinical and operational analytics (16 percent), virtual/telehealth technology enhancements (13 percent), revenue cycle systems/replacement (7 percent) and ERP systems/replacement (6 percent).

Meanwhile, respondents said that improving business and clinical processes was their biggest challenge, followed by improving operating efficiency and providing business intelligence and analytics.

It looks like at least some of the CIOs might have the money to invest, as well. Thirty-six percent said they expected to see an increase in their operating budget over the next two years, and 18 percent of respondents reported that they expect higher spending over the next 12 months. On the other hand, 63 percent of respondents said that spending was likely to be flat over the next 12 months and 44 percent over the next two years. So we have to assume that they’ll have a harder time meeting their goals.

When it came to infrastructure, about one-quarter of respondents said that their organizations were implementing or investing in cloud computing-related technology, including servers, storage and data centers, while 18 percent were spending on ERP solutions. In addition, 10 percent of respondents planned to implement cloud-based EMRs, 10 percent enterprise systems, and 8 percent disaster recovery.

The respondents cited data loss/privacy, poorly-optimized applications and integration with existing architecture as their biggest challenges and concerns when it came to leveraging the cloud.

What’s interesting about this data is that none of the respondents mentioned improved security as a priority for their organization, despite the many vulnerabilities healthcare organizations have faced in recent times.  Their responses are especially curious given that a survey published only a few months ago put security at the top of CIOs’ list of business goals for near future.

The study, which was sponsored by clinical communications vendor Spok, surveyed more than 100 CIOs who were CHIME members  — in other words, the same population the KPMG research tapped. The survey found that 81 percent of respondents named strengthening data security as their top business goal for the next 18 months.

Of course, people tend to respond to surveys in the manner prescribed by the questions, and the Spok questions were presumably worded differently than the KPMG questions. Nonetheless, it’s surprising to me that data security concerns didn’t emerge in the KPMG research. Bottom line, if CIOs aren’t thinking about security alongside their other priorities, it could be a problem.

Study Offers Snapshot Of Provider App Preferences

Posted on March 20, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Transformation in Healthcare – #HITsm Chat Topic

Posted on March 7, 2017 I Written By

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

We’re excited to share the topic and questions for this week’s #HITsm chat happening Friday, 3/10 at Noon ET (9 AM PT). This week’s chat will be hosted by Hosted by Murray Izenwasser (@MurrayIz and @AAJTech). We’ll be discussing the topic “Digital Transformation in Healthcare“.

It’s been said that no industry is immune from disruption due to digital technologies. Some ‘experts’ claim that If existing firms don’t undergo an immediate, all-encompassing and rapid digital transformation (Dx), then they’ll be disrupted out of business by those that do transform their products and services; or displaced by new market entrants that built their businesses on a digital foundation. In short, existing businesses that don’t evolve digitally will perish.

But digital transformation can mean different things to different industries; and to the people operating in and impacted by those industries.

The theme of this week’s #HITsm tweetchat is Digital Transformation in Healthcare and we’ll explore what digital transformation means in general and what it means to healthcare in particular. We’ll share important considerations to increase the likelihood of a successful digital transformation, and we’ll exchange information, ideas and opinions intended to enlighten and enhance your understanding of the opportunity digital transformation offers those operating within the healthcare industry.

Be sure to join the #HITsm chat this Friday, March 10th, 2017 at 12:00pm ET.

The Topics
T1: Everyone is talking about Digital Transformation (Dx) – but what exactly do you think Dx really is? #HITsm

T2: What do you think is most important for a successful DX project – technology, people or other ‘non-digital elements?’ And why? #HITsm

T3: What are most important components of a successful Dx effort & why? Interoperability, IoT, Analytics, Mobile, Cloud? Others? #HITsm

T4: What are the roadblocks and challenges associated with digital transformation and are any unique to healthcare? #HITsm

T5: Patient engagement & ‘empowerment’ are popular themes. How would you like to be empowered by digital transformation in healthcare? #HITsm

Bonus: What are some examples of healthcare companies that you feel have digitally transformed themselves? #HITsm

Upcoming #HITsm Chat Schedule
3/17 – How Do We Include Every Generation in our Health IT?
Hosted by Erica Johansen (@thegr8chalupa and @SplashMedia)

3/24 – TBD
Hosted by @MelissaxxMcCool

3/31 – AI and Cognitive Science
Hosted by @HBI_Solutions

We look forward to learning from the #HITsm community! As always let us know if you have ideas for how to make #HITsm better.

If you’re searching for the latest #HITsm chat, you can always find the latest #HITsm chat and schedule of chats here.

Is It Groundhog Day with Population Health? – #HITsm Chat Topic

Posted on February 28, 2017 I Written By

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

We’re excited to share the topic and questions for this week’s #HITsm chat happening Friday, 3/3 at Noon ET (9 AM PT). This week’s chat will be hosted by Hosted by David Chou (@dchou1107) and Lisa Esch (@lisaesch). We’ll be discussing the topic “Is It Groundhog Day with Population Health?“.

Population health seems to be a hot topic in every healthcare IT circle. One of the challenges with population health is that everyone is applying the term to everything. It’s hard to know exactly what is happening with population health and what’s all talk. Plus, in many cases it feels like we’ve been down this road before.

With this in mind, join as at this week’s #HITsm Twitter chat to try and cut through the hyperbole and talk about the population health that’s really making a difference. Plus, we’ll look at how to make sure financial incentives are aligned and where population health is going in the future.

The Topics
Here are the topics to help flesh out the theme of ‘Is It Groundhog Day with Population Health?’

T1: What did you see last week at #himss17 that excited you about population health? #HITsm

T2: Why has this taken so long? We have been talking about value based care since 2011, has any progress been made? #HITsm

T3: Are the financial incentives aligned to moved towards a population health approach? #HITsm

T4: Who are the disruptors that you see so far? #HITsm

T5: What’s next and how do you see this play out? #HITsm

Bonus: Do you think population health impacts your personal health? How? #HITsm

Upcoming #HITsm Chat Schedule
3/10 – Digital Transformation in Healthcare
Hosted by Murray Izenwasser (@MurrayIz and @AAJTech)

3/17 – TBD

3/24 – TBD

We look forward to learning from the #HITsm community! As always let us know if you have ideas for how to make #HITsm better.

If you’re searching for the latest #HITsm chat, you can always find the latest #HITsm chat and schedule of chats here.

E-Patient Update:  You Need Our Help

Posted on January 20, 2017 I Written By

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

I just read the results of a survey by Black Book Research suggesting that many typical consumers don’t trust, like or understand health IT.

The survey, which reached out to 12,090 adult consumers in September 2016, found that 57% of those interacting with health IT at hospitals or medical practices were skeptical of its benefit. Worse, 87% said they weren’t willing to share all of their information.

Up to 70% of consumers reported that they distrusted patient portals, medical apps and EMRs. Meanwhile, while many respondents said they were interested in using health trackers, 94% said that their physicians weren’t willing or able to synch wearables data with their EMR.

On the surface, these stats are discouraging. At a minimum, they suggest that getting patients and doctors on the same page about health IT continues to be an uphill battle. But there’s a powerful tactic providers can use which – to my knowledge – hasn’t been tried with consumers.

Introducing the consumer health IT champion

As you probably know, many providers have recruited physician or nurse “champions” to help their peers understand and adjust to EMRs. I’m sure this tactic hasn’t worked perfectly for everyone who’s tried it, but it seems to have an impact. And why not? Most people are far more comfortable learning something new from someone who understands their work and shares their concerns.

The thing is, few if any providers are taking the same approach in rolling out consumer health IT. But they certainly could. I’d bet that there’s at least a few patients in every population who like, use and understand consumer health technologies, as well as having at least a sense of why providers are adopting back-end technology like EMRs. And we know how to get Great-Aunt Mildred to consider wearing a FitBit or entering data into a portal.

So why not make us your health IT champions? After all, if you asked me to, say, hold a patient workshop explaining how I use these tools in my life, and why they matter, I’d jump at the chance. E-patients like myself are by our nature evangelists, and we’re happy to share our excitement if you give us a chance. Maybe you’d need to offer some HIT power users a stipend or a gift card, but I doubt it would take much to get one of us to share our interests.

It’s worth the effort

Of course, most people who read this will probably flinch a bit, as taking this on might seem like a big hassle. But consider the following:

  • Finding such people shouldn’t be too tough. For example, I talk about wearables, mobile health options and connected health often with my PCP, and my enthusiasm for them is a little hard to miss. I doubt I’m alone in this respect.
  • All it would take to get started is to get a few of us on board. Yes, providers may have to market such events to patients, offer them coffee and snacks when they attend, and perhaps spend time evaluating the results on the back end. But we’re not talking major investments here.
  • You can’t afford to have patients fear or reject IT categorically. As value-based care becomes the standard, you’ll need their cooperation to meet your goals, and that will almost certainly include access to patient-generated data from mobile apps and wearables. People like me can address their fears and demonstrate the benefits of these technologies without making them defensive.

I hope hospitals and medical practices take advantage of people like me soon. We’re waiting in the wings, and we truly want to see the public support health IT. Let’s work together!

IBM Watson Partners With FDA On Blockchain-Driven Health Sharing

Posted on January 16, 2017 I Written By

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

IBM Watson Health has partnered with the FDA in an effort to create scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology. The two will research the exchange of owner-mediated data from a variety of clinical data sources, including EMRs, clinical trial data and genomic health data. The researchers will also incorporate data from mobiles, wearables and the Internet of Things.

The initial project planned for IBM Watson and the FDA will focus on oncology-related data. This makes sense, given that cancer treatment involves complex communication between multispecialty care teams, transitions between treatment phases, and potentially, the need to access research and genomic data for personalized drug therapy. In other words, managing the communication of oncology data is a task fit for Watson’s big brain, which can read 200 million pages of text in 3 seconds.

Under the partnership, IBM and the FDA plan to explore how the blockchain framework can benefit public health by supporting information exchange use cases across varied data types, including both clinical trials and real-world data. They also plan to look at new ways to leverage the massive volumes of diverse data generated by biomedical and healthcare organizations. IBM and the FDA have signed a two-year agreement, but they expect to share initial findings this year.

The partnership comes as IBM works to expand its commercial blockchain efforts, including initiatives not only in healthcare, but also in financial services, supply chains, IoT, risk management and digital rights management. Big Blue argues that blockchain networks will spur “dramatic change” for all of these industries, but clearly has a special interest in healthcare.  According to IBM, Watson Health’s technology can access the 80% of unstructured health data invisible to most systems, which is clearly a revolution in the making if the tech giant can follow through on its potential.

According to Scott Lundstrom, group vice president and general manager of IDC Government and Health Insights, blockchain may solve some of the healthcare industry’s biggest data management challenges, including a distributed, immutable patient record which can be secured and shared, s. In fact, this idea – building a distributed, blockchain-based EMR — seems to be gaining traction among most health IT thinkers.

As readers may know, I’m neither an engineer nor a software developer, so I’m not qualified to judge how mature blockchain technologies are today, but I have to say I’m a bit concerned about the rush to adopt it nonetheless.  Even companies with a lot at stake  — like this one, which sells a cloud platform backed by blockchain tech — suggest that the race to adopt it may be a bit premature.

I’ve been watching tech fashions come and go for 25 years, and they follow a predictable pattern. Or rather, they usually follow two paths. Go down one, and the players who are hot for a technology put so much time and money into it that they force-bake it into success. (Think, for example, the ERP revolution.) Go down the other road, however, and the new technology crumbles in a haze of bad results and lost investments. Let’s hope we go down the former, for everyone’s sake.

Patient Engagement Platforms Are 2017’s Sexiest Tech

Posted on January 3, 2017 I Written By

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

Over the last few months, I’ve become convinced that the predictable star of 2017 — population health management — isn’t going to be as hot as people think.

Instead, I’d argue that the trend to watch is the emergence of new technologies that guide, reach out to and engage with patients at key moments in their care process. We’re at the start of a period of spectacular growth for patient engagement platforms, with one analyst firm predicting that the global market for these solutions will hit $34.94 billion by 2023.

We all seem to agree already that we need to foster patient engagement if we want to meet population health goals. But until recently, most of the approaches I’ve seen put in place are manual, laborious and resource-intensive. Yes, the patient portal is an exception to that rule – and seems to help patients and clinicians connect – but there’s only so much you can do with a portal interface. We need more powerful, flexible solutions if we hope to make a dent in the patient engagement problem.

In the coming year, I think we’ll see a growing number of providers adopt technology that helps them interact and engage with patients more effectively. I’m talking about initiatives like the rollout of technology by vendor HealthGrid at ColumbiaDoctors, a large multispecialty group affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center, which was announced last month.

While I haven’t used the technology first hand, it seems to offer the right functions, all available via mobile phone. These include pre- and post-visit communications, access to care information and a clinically-based rules engine which drives outreach regarding appointments, educations, medications and screening. That being said, HealthGrid definitely has some powerful competitors coming at the same problem, including the Salesforce.com Health Cloud.

Truth be told, it was probably inevitable that vendors would turn up to automate key patient outreach efforts. After all, unless providers boost their ability to target patients’ individual needs – ideally, without hiring lots of costly human care managers – they aren’t likely to do well under value-based payment schemes. One-off experiments with mobile apps or one-by-one interventions by nurse care coordinators simply don’t scale.

Of course, these technologies are probably pretty expensive right now – as new tech in an emerging market usually is — which will probably slow adoption somewhat. I admit that when I did a Google search on “patient engagement solutions,” I ran into a vendor touting a $399 a month option for doctors, which isn’t too bad if it can actually deliver. But enterprise solutions are likely to be a big investment, and also, call for a good deal of integration work. After all, if nothing else, health systems will want to connect patient engagement software to their back-office systems and EMR, at minimum, which is no joke.

Still, to my mind there’s little question that patient engagement technologies are going to be the sexiest health IT niche to watch in 2017, one which will generate major buzz in healthcare boardrooms across the country. Whether you invest or not, definitely watch this space.