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Interoperability, Clinical Data, and The Greatest Generation

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As a healthcare IT zealot and wanna-be policy wonk, I find myself mired in acronyms, and surrounded (and indulged) by those who understand my rapid-fire Klingon-esque rants on BETOS and LOINC and HCPCS. The larger concepts of interoperability and meaningful use lose the forest for the trees of IHE standard definitions and specific quality measures. Have we lost sight of the vast majority of the healthcare consumers, and their level of understanding and awareness of those larger concepts? Could you explain HL7 ORUs or CCDs to your great-grandma?

I recently visited my 90 year-old grandparents, both remarkably healthy multiple cancer survivors who show no signs of slowing down, and have maintained enough mobility to continue bowling 3 times a week. After an evening of pinochle, my grandma asked me to please help her understand what it is that I DO for a living. We’ve had this conversation before.

“I’m a healthcare technology consultant, Grandma. I work with insurance companies and doctors to help them get all your information.”

Puzzled look.

“When you go to the doctor, Grandma, do they write anything down on paper, or are they using a computer when they talk to you?”

“Oh, they’re always on those computers! Tap-tap-tap. Every question I answer and they tap-tap-tap.”

She illustrates by typing on her lap, and I confirm that she’s a hunt-and-peck person. She stops only after I finish asking my next question.

“Do you have private insurance, or do you use the VA?”

“I have Blue Cross. Your grandpa uses the VA.”

“How many doctors did you have to see for your blood infection?”

“FOUR! Sometimes two in one day!”

“Did they all have to ask you for your history?”

“No – they already had it, on their computer. They even knew about my mastectomy, 30 years ago. One corrected me on the date; I’d thought it was only 20 years ago.”

“Well, Grandma, when you booked your appointment with the first doctor, their computer system automatically requested your medical records from your insurance company. And the insurance company automatically sent your records back to the computer. After the first doctor made notes on your visit, just after you walked out the door, the computer sent an updated copy of your medical records back to the insurance company, and it ordered the lab tests you needed before you went to the next doctor. Then, the lab automatically sent your results to the insurance company AND the doctor who ordered the tests.”

“But the other doctors had the test results.”

“Yes, ma’am. Each time you made an appointment with a new doctor, that doctor’s computer requested your medical records from the insurance company, and the insurance company sent out the most recently updated information. It only takes a minute!”

“Goodness. So, do you build the computer programs that make all that work?”

Eyes wide. THIS impresses her.

“No.”

Puzzled look again, so I quickly continue.

“But I make sure those computer programs can talk to each other, and that the insurance company can make sense out of what they’re saying.”

“Because if they couldn’t talk to each other, I’d have to haul a suitcase from doctor to doctor with my chart?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s called ‘interoperability’. There are new rules for how doctors’ computers should talk to each other, and to the insurance companies. And I get to work with the insurance company to do other really cool stuff. I take a look at LOTS of people’s medical records to find patterns that might help us catch diseases before they happen.”

“And what’s that called?”

“Clinical informatics. It’s my favorite thing to do, because I get to study lots and lots and LOTS of information. That’s called ‘big data’.”

“Sweetheart, you lost me with the computer words. But I’m just so happy you’re happy!”

She hugs me and grins, and I finally feel like I’ve found the right way to talk about my passion: through use cases. Although, Grandma would call them stories.

And there you have it: the importance of interoperability and clinical data, through the eyes of The Greatest Generation. Check in next year for an update on whether my definitions stuck!

February 21, 2013 I Written By

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

Compelling Case for Personal Health Records (PHR)

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I recently read an article (which I can’t find now) that said, We don’t log in to check our health data as much as we do our financial data. This was a pretty interesting statement considering a few days back I posted this tweet about PHR and being an active patient:

Figuring out the right motivation for someone to use a PHR has been something that’s been on my mind for quite a while. You may remember my post about requesting an appointment and sending your medical record using a PHR where I was asking some similar questions.

There’s certainly a place for software that connects patients with their doctors for things like scheduling an appointment, paying their bills, requesting prescription refills, and even doing e-visits. In fact, one of my advertisers recently launched an enterprise patient portal that has these types of features (check out this video which describes their feature set).

There’s no arguing that these types of connections to doctors are valued and something that patients would love to have. Many doctors are still on the fence about them, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more of these types of services over time. However, while being really great features they still don’t solve the problem of a healthy patient wanting to log in to this portal regularly.

I think one game changer when it comes to PHR will likely be around an emerging set of devices which track our health. For example, over on Smart Phone Healthcare I recently wrote about Tracking Fitness and Activity Levels on Your Smartphone. These devices will track your steps, calories, heart rate, and sleep data and upload it to a centralized location where you can see all that data and watch your fitness and activity levels change over time. Plus, I believe we’re just getting started with collecting this type of data. You can easily see this moving to blood sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.

Now imagine that all of this data was available in your PHR. This type of data would be constantly updated and seeing the graphs of this health data over time is something that I’d login to check as much as I do my financial data.

Previously, I’d always been a bit down on these types of tracking devices. I’ve argued that we’re missing that link for doctors to be able to do something with the data that patients are collecting. I still think this is the case, but just because your doctor might not use the data a patient collects doesn’t mean it can’t be valuable to the patient to collect and see that data regularly. Plus, once EHR software and doctors are ready to digest the data, you’ll be ready as well.

March 4, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John 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.