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When The EMR Goes Down, Doctors Freak Out

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Earlier this month, health IT superstar John Halamka, MD, MS posted a story talking about how network downtime within a hospital has changed over the past 10 years or so. I thought I’d share some of it with you, because he makes some interesting points about end user perceptions and sensitivities.

First, he tells the tale of a 2002 network core failure of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he serves chief information officer. For two days, he reports, the hospital’s users lost access to all applications, including e-mail, lab results, PACS images and order entry, along with all storage. Or as he puts it, “For two days, the hospital of 2002 became the hospital of 1972.”

He then contrasts that failure with a recent one  (July 25 of this year) in which a storage virtualization appliance at BIDMC failed.  Because the hospital was loathe to risk losing data, he and his team chose a slower path to uptime — reindexing the data — which allowed them to avoid data loss. The bottom line was an outage of a few hours.

This outage was a different ballgame entirely, Halamka says. For example:

* In 2002, staff and doctors weren’t incredibly upset, but this time physicians were angry and frantic, with some noting that they couldn’t take care of patients without EMR access.  Here in 2013, end users expect network access to be like electricity, always there short of an act of God. Worse, though downtime simply isn’t acceptable, but procedures for dealing with it aren’t up to that standard yet, he says.

* Doctors are under an incredible set of regulatory burdens, including but not limited to Meaningful U se, health reform, ICD-10 and the Physician Quality Reporting System. They fear they can’t keep up unless IT functions work perfectly, he observes.

* Technology failures of 2013 are tricky and harder to anticipate. As he notes, back in 2002 servers were physical and storage was physical, but today networks are multi-layered and virtualized. While these things may add capability, they also crank up the complexity of diagnosing system failures, Halamka notes.

Halamka says he learned a lesson from the recent failure:

Expectations are higher, tolerance is lower, and clinician stress is overwhelming. No data was lost, no patient harm occurred, and the entire event lasted a few hours, not a few days. However, it will take months of perfection to regain the trust of my stakeholders.

This story does have one ray of sunshine in it — it demonstrates that increasing numbers of doctors depend completely on their EMR, a state devoutly to be wished for by many health IT leaders. But the price of having doctors throw themselves into EMR use is having them riot when they can’t get to the system. Clearly, hospitals are going to have to find some new way of coping with downtime.

August 22, 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.

Why BIDMC Is Shunning Epic, Developing Its Own EMR

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Though its price tag be formidable and installation highly complex, the Epic EMR is practically a no-brainer decision for many hospitals.  As Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka notes, things are certainly like that in the Boston metro, where BIDMC’s competitors are largely on Epic or in the process of installing Epic.

Why are Halamka’s competitors all going with Epic?  He proposes the following reasons:

*  Epic installs get clinicians to buy in to a single configuration of a single product. Its project methodology standardizes governance, processes and staffing in a way that hospitals might not be able to do on their own.

* Epic fends off clinicians’ request for new innovations that the hospital staff might not be able to support. IT merely has to tell clinicians that they’ll have to wait until Epic releases its next iteration.

* Epic is a safe investment for meeting Meaningful Use Stage 2, as it has a history of helping hospitals and providers achieve MU compliance.

* CIOs generally don’t get fired for buying Epic, as it’s the popular move to make, despite being reliant on 1990s era client-server technology delivered via terminal services that require signficant staffing to support. (Actually, it does happen but it’s still rare.)

*  These days, hospitals have moved away from “best of breed” EMR implementations to the need for integration across the enterprise.  As Halamka notes, such integration is important in a world where Accountable Care/global capitated risk is becoming a key factor in reimbursement, so having a continuous record across episodes of care is critical. Epic seems to address this issue.

But BIDMC is a holdout. As Dr. Halamka notes in his blog, BIDMC is one of the last hospitals in Eastern Massachusetts continuing to build and buy components to create its own EMR. He’s convinced that going with the in-house development method — creating a cloud-hosted, thin client, mobile friendly and highly interoperable system — is ultimately cheaper and allows for faster innovation.

In closing, Halamka wonders whether his will end up being one of the very last hospitals to continue an ongoing EMR development program.  I think he’s answered his own question: it seems likely that BIDMC’s competitors will keep jumping on the Epic bandwagon for all of the reasons he outlines.

Will they do well with Epic?  Will they find later on that the capital investment and support costs are untenable? I think we’ll have the answers within a scant year or two. Personally, I think BIDMC will have the last laugh, but we’ll just have to see.

July 31, 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.

BIDMC’s Encryption Program Tames BYOD Security Fears

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has begun what it calls an “aggressive” campaign to make sure every mobile device in use by its staff and students is encrypted. This is interesting in light of John’s recent post about encrypting devices to meet HIPAA.  The following update comes from the GeekDoctor blog maintained by Halamka, a resource worth reading in its own right.

The initiative, spearheaded by the indefatigable CIO John Halamka, MD, MS, is massive in scope, affecting as it does 18,000 faculty members and 3,000 doctors, plus a large student population. Costly and time-consuming though it may be, I think it’s an object lesson in what needs to be done to make “bring your own device” a safe and sustainable part of hospital computing.

“It is no longer sufficient to rely on policy alone to secure personal mobile devices,” Halamka said. “Institutions must educate their staff, assist them with encryption, and in some cases purchase software/hardware for personal users to ensure compliance with Federal and State regulations.”

Halamka and his team already began training staff regarding smart phone devices connecting with the Exchange e-mail system using ActiveSync. Under the new regime, those devices must now have password protection.

Next, the Information Systems team is beginning the massive task of encrypting all mobile devices. They’re starting with company-owned laptops and iPad-type tablets, but expect to move out into encrypting other tablets later.

While the process is understandably complex, broadly speaking the IS department is going to take every device currently owned by the institution and give it a complete going over for malware and vulnerabilities, make sure the configuration meets security standards, then fully encrypt it to meet HIPAA/HITECH safe harbor criteria.

The next phase of the program will extend the checkup and encryption process to any personally owned computers and tablets used to access BIDMC data. I’ll be interested to see if people get squeamish about that. There’s a big difference, emotionally, between letting IS strip your work device naked and sharing your personal iPad.  But clearly, if BYOD is to have a future, initiatives like this will need to go on at hospitals across the nation.

August 14, 2012 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.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Commentary and Resources – Meaningful Use Monday

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For this week’s Meaningful Use Monday, I decided I’d go through the large list of meaningful use stage 2 commentary that’s been put out over the past week. I’ll do my best to link to some of the most interesting commentary, summaries, etc of meaningful use stage 2 and point out some resources that I’ve found useful.

John Halamka on Meaningful Use Stage 2
First up is the blog post by John Halamka about MU stage 2. I really like his recommendation to read pages 156-163 of the MU rule (PDF here). Sure, the rule is 455 pages, but many of those pages are a recap of things we already know or legalese that is required in a government document. Halamka also created a meaningful use stage 2 powerpoint that people can reuse without attribution. Worth looking at if you’re not familiar with MU stage 2 or if you have to make a presentation on it.

Health Affairs on MU Stage 2
Health Affairs has a nice blog post covering meaningful use stage 2. They offer “3 highlights that seem particularly important:”

  1. The bar for meeting use requirements for computerized provider order entry (CPOE), arguably the most difficult but potentially the most important EHR functionality, has been raised: now a majority of the orders that providers write will have to be done electronically.
  2. There is a major move to tie quality reporting to Meaningful Use. We knew this was coming, but CMS has laid out a host of quality measures that may become requirements for reporting through the EHR.
  3. Health Information Exchange moves from the “can do it” to the “did do it” phase. In Stage 1, providers had to show that they were capable of electronically exchanging clinical data. As expected, in Stage 2, providers have to demonstrate that they have done it.

Health Affairs also talks about the timeline for this rule and the feedback that CMS is likely to get on MU stage 2. I’m sure they’re going to get a lot of feedback and while they suggest that the rule will look quite similar to the proposed rule, I expect CMS will make a couple strong changes to the rule. If nothing else to show that they listened (and I think they really do listen).

Stage 2 Meaningful Use by The Advisory Board Company
The Advisory Board Company has a good blog post listing the 10 key takeaways on stage 2 of meaningful use. Below you’ll find the 10 points, but it’s worth visiting the link to read their descriptions as well.
1. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) affirms a delay for 2011 attesters.
2. Stage 1 requirements will be updated come 2013.
3. Medicaid definitions are loosened; more providers are eligible.
4. While the total number of objectives does not grow, Stage 2 measure complexity increases significantly.
5. Information exchange will be key, but a health information exchange (HIE) will not be necessary.
6. Patients will need to act for providers to succeed.
7. Sharing of health data will force real-time, high-quality data capture.
8. More quality measures; CMS’ long term goals—electronic reporting and alignment with other reporting programs—remain intact.
9. The Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC) sister rule proposes a more flexible certification process and greater utilization of standards.
10. Payment adjustments begin in 2015.

AMA MU Stage 2
The American Medical News (done by the AMA) has a blog post up which does a good job doing an overall summary of where meaningful use is at today (post MU stage 2). Meaningful Use experts will be bored, but many doctors will appreciate it.

Justin Barnes on Meaningful Use Stage 2
Justin Barnes provides his view on meaningful use stage 2 in this HealthData Magement article. It seems that Justin (and a few other of his colleagues at other EHR vendors) have made DC their second home as they’ve been intimately involved in everything meaningful use. I found his prediction that the meaningful use stage 2 “thresholds and percentages will remain largely in place come the Final Rule targeted for August, and should not be decreased via the broader public comment phase next underway like we saw with Stage 1.” Plus, he adds that the 10 percent of patients accessing their health information online will be a widely discussed topic. Many don’t feel that a physician’s EHR incentive shouldn’t be tied to patients’ actions. Add this to the electronic exchange of care summaries for more than 10 percent of patients and the healthcare data is slowly starting flow.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 and Release of Information
Steve Emery from HealthPort has a guest post on HIT Consultant that talks about how meaningful use stage 2 affects ROI. This paragraph summarizes the changes really well:

The bottom line for providers is that Stage 2 MU changes with regards to these specific criteria will drive organizations to implement a patient portal or personal health record application; and connect their EHR systems to these systems. Through these efforts it is expected that patient requests to the HIM department for medical records will decrease; as patients will be able to obtain records themselves, online and at any time.

e-Patients and Meaningful Use Stage 2
e-Patient Dave got together with Adrian Gropper MD, to put together a post on meaningful use stage 2 from an e-Patient perspective. This line sums up Adrian Gropper MD’s perspective, “My preliminary conclusion is that Stage 2 is a huge leap toward coordinated, patient-centered care and makes unprecedented efforts toward patient engagement.”

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Standards
Those standards geeks out there will love Keith Boone’s initial review and crosswalks from this rule to the Incentives rule here.

Shahid Shah on Meaningful Use Stage 2
I like Shahid Shah’s (the Healthcare IT Guy) overview and impressions as well. He’s always great at giving a high level view of what’s happening in healthcare IT.

Are there any other meaningful use stage 2 resources out there that you’ve found particularly useful or interesting?

March 5, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

Medicare EHR Incentive Resource and Healthcare CIO on 2011

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A couple quick tweets to welcome your new week. Both tweets stand on their own and link to some good reads for those interested in the topics. The second one is particularly good since it’s John Halamka’s 2011 wrap up across all the various parts of John Halamka’s life. Let me know what you think of both reads.

January 9, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

Guest Post: The Long Term Fate of CCD

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The following is part of an email interaction I had with an EHR vendor about the future of CCD. Of course, I can never let strong opinions go unpublished. So I asked if I could put this on my site. I have a feeling there will be many people who have a different view of CCD and how these standards will play out. I’d certainly be happy to publish an opposing view as well. My contact page is here. I’m interested to hear other view points on the subject.

Stage 1 MU allowed either CCR or CCD. Stage 2, and the short term efforts will require CCD. The jury is still out on what Stage 3 of MU will focus upon. Many at the ONC can see that the CCD will never have the flexibility to deliver. These are largely the same people that facilitated the Direct Project initiatives.

I still predict that it is inevitable that the data will become uncoupled from unwieldy, anachronistic document structures. That will be the only means to get to true information portability that can deliver patient-centric use of the information. The CCD will still be around for a while to come, just as CD’s are still around for music sharing. For now, we have to have the CCD to preserve legacy, industry-centric control of the information.

John Halamka has a couple of recent posts that do a good job of explaining what is evolving…. http://geekdoctor.blogspot.com/2011/09/september-hit-standards-committee.html and http://geekdoctor.blogspot.com/2011/10/cool-technology-of-week.html . Both of these contain links to some very interesting information. When the ONC proceeded to issue an advanced notice of rulemaking, the industry power elites became enraged. http://www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2011/9/22/groups-urge-onc-not-to-include-metadata-standards-in-stage-2.aspx

Technology delivering to patients will eventually win out just as the open-platform WWW won out over proprietary CompuServe. http://www.healthdatamanagement.com/news/onc-metadata-ehr-meaningful-use-43021-1.html Once we have a means to truly exchange the content without the overhead associated with the CCD/RIM crap, we will see a revolution in healthcare similar to the social networking phenomenon.

Again, the whole CCD/CDA will stick around to support legacy information needs, but it will eventually be largely eclipsed by more straight-forward solutions that don’t require a team of consultants and IT engineers to implement.

November 10, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

Guest Post: Overcoming EMR Integration Challenges

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Dan Neuwirth is the CEO of MedCPU, provider of the innovative MedCPUAdvisor™ platform: with applications for decision support for clinical guidelines, Meaningful Use, and care pathways, that captures the complete clinical picture in real time, including narrative text and structured data to deliver the most accurate clinical and compliance guidance.

There’s no question that healthcare needs to adopt new technology that makes us more effective and efficient and curbs costs, like Electronic Medical Records (EMR) solutions and Clinical Decision Support (CDS) systems. In today’s world, providers of all sizes continue to find it challenging to integrate existing HIT systems with EMRs for a variety of reasons. As our industry evolves, technology solutions need to be smarter and empower seamless integration.

EMR and HIPAA guest author Susan White covers in depth how a lack of connectivity standards affects EMR integration. There are no mandated standards for EMR vendors to follow, making it hard to coordinate data sharing between medical devices and other systems (including from one EMR to another), even at the same facility. As those systems operate in disparate fashions, critical clinical information is often lost or stuck in silos. Most importantly, the information is not where clinicians need it most–at their fingertips, in an exam room, with a patient.

This lack of data sharing is a pervasive concern. One Markle report finds that roughly 80 percent of both consumers and physicians demand that hospitals and doctors be required to share information that improves coordination of care, cuts unnecessary costs, and reduces medical errors.

In 2010, more than $88 Billion were spent on developing and implementing EHRs, health information exchanges (HIEs) and other health IT initiatives. When you consider that the average 10-physician practice spends more than $137,000 per year on prior authorizations and pharmacy callbacks alone, you’ll have to agree that the lack of data integration and sharing get very costly. And although I agree with John Halamka, who recently wrote these challenges exist because healthcare is inherently more complicated than other industries, I am a strong believer that a lot of them can be overcome by the use of smart technology.

We need smart, flexible solutions, which capitalize on existing technologies and require minimal integration. Technologies that employ advanced screen extraction, for example, empower several important improvements in the clinical decision support space such as the capturing and analysis of both free and structured text. A lot of time such solutions are rendered ineffective as they either lack compatibility with leading EMR systems or are too hard to integrate.

As the industry evolves, developing robust protocols for capturing both structured and unstructured data along with standards for data integration and sharing will become increasingly important. With all the data points created on patients every day, we will need a consistent, secure, and reliable way to capture and share patient data among all systems and healthcare providers. What is your experience? What are top data capturing and integration challenges faced by your organization? Looking forward to continuing the dialog and hearing your feedback.

September 15, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

ePrescribing Controlled Substances Patient Matching Rate

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I’ve been wanting to write about ePrescribing controlled substances since 9/13/09. In fact, I even did write post about the FDA approving a pilot to do electronic prescribing of controlled substances which I posted on that day. Turns out, it was a press release that was sent to me prematurely, so I hid it from view.

Well, a couple weeks ago, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released it’s interim final rule on ePrescribing of controlled substances (PDF). John Halamka described some of the most important details of this rule on his blog:

(a) To sign a controlled substance prescription, the electronic prescription application must require the practitioner to authenticate to the application using an authentication protocol that uses two of the following three factors:
(1) Something only the practitioner knows, such as a password or response to a challenge question.
(2) Something the practitioner is, biometric data such as a fingerprint or iris scan.
(3) Something the practitioner has, a device (hard token) separate from the computer to which the practitioner is gaining access.
(b) If one factor is a hard token, it must be separate from the computer to which it is gaining access and must meet at least the criteria of FIPS 140-2 Security Level 1, as incorporated by reference in § 1311.08, for cryptographic modules or one-time-password devices.
(c) If one factor is a biometric, the biometric subsystem must comply with the requirements of § 1311.116.

Halamka also suggests they’ll consider 3 approaches to support strong authentication:
*Fingerprints (Bio-Key software?)
*Hard Tokens (such as those provided by RSA)
*Cell Phones (As Gemalto talked about in this video)

I also recently heard someone tell me that the banking has a 6 percent failure rate for matching people. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s high and that the banking industry is willing to deal with that type of failure rate. Of course, that’s not good enough for controlled substances. So, they’re going to have to find some way to lower the patient matching failure rate. Although, I wonder what the failure rate is with the current model. Seems like electronic prescribing shouldn’t make it any worse than it currently is.

April 7, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

Need for additional guidance…The Meaningful Use Mantra

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John Halamka wrote some interesting comments about the various feedback he’s heard on the meaningful use guidelines on his blog. He gives some interesting insight into why ONC’s interim final rule is so vague (basically regulation/rule making mess). However, I couldn’t help but see how many times John Halamka used the words:

Need for additional guidance

This is no news to people like myself who’ve been writing about this since the beginning. There is a great desire for information on how to get the EMR stimulus money.

The real problem is that when things are vague and not well defined, then misinformation starts to take its place to satisfy our need for information and guidance. We want to be informed and so people start informing us even if the information is incorrect.

Today I got an email from someone stating that “We have the EMR already installed by a certified institution” and so they wanted to know how they could get the EMR stimulus money.

I felt so bad for this emailer. Someone (likely their EMR vendor) had either told them a lie about certification or more likely is that this person didn’t understand the details of the “certified EHR” component of the stimulus money. This is going to be a major challenge going forward as doctors who don’t have time to follow all the stimulus money movement get bad information. Plus, it’s only going to get worse if we continue to get partial pieces of information.

Sadly, most of the people emailing me about the EMR stimulus will continue to get the “Need for additional guidance” response from me. At least until ONC provides some additional guidance.

February 22, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

EMR Stimulus Money is All or Nothing

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The wonderful John Chilmark posted a short message he heard from a Keynote address by John Halamka at the PHAT conference put on by the Harvard School of Public Health. Here’s the message:

there will be no partial reimbursement for meeting just part of meaningful use. Its all or nothing folks.

I think we all assumed this was basically the case, but it’s interesting to hear John Halamka say it. Let’s not take this quote too far out of context. I don’t think that John Halamka was saying that if you don’t qualify for one year of EMR incentive, that the next year you won’t have any more chances to qualify. I think he’s saying that either you’re going to get that years portion of EMR stimulus money or you’re going to be stuck waiting for the next year.

Let me repeat my mantra:

Implement EMR because it’s the right thing to do for your clinic (and I tell you that it is the right thing to do for almost ANY clinic) and not in the hopes of getting the EMR stimulus money. Stick with the now proven EMR benefits and use the EMR stimulus money as a possible bonus and you’ll be happy you did.

November 21, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.