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Measuring the Vital Signs of Health Care Progress at the Connected Health Conference (Part 3 of 3)

Posted on November 17, 2017 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.

The previous segment of this article covered one of the crucial themes in health care today: simplifying technology’s interactions with individuals over health care. This segment finishes my coverage of this year’s Connected Health Conference with two more themes: improved data sharing and blockchains.

Keynote at Connected Health Conference

Keynote at Connected Health Conference

Improved data sharing
The third trend I’m pursuing is interoperability. If data collection is the oxygen that fuels connected health, data sharing is the trachea that brings it where it’s needed. Without interoperability, clinicians cannot aid patients in their homes, analysts cannot derive insights that inform treatments, and transitions to assisted living facilities or other environments will lead to poor care.

But the health care field is notoriously bad at data sharing. The usual explanation is that doctors want to make it hard for competitors to win away their patients. If that’s true, fee-for-value reimbursements will make them even more possessive. After all, under fee-for-value, clinicians are held accountable for patient outcomes over a long period of time. They won’t want to lose control of the patient. I first heard of this danger at a 2012 conference (described in the section titled “Low-hanging fruit signals a new path for cost savings”).

So the trade press routinely and ponderously reports that once again, years have gone by without much progress in data sharing. The US government recognizes that support for interoperability is unsatisfactory, and has recently changed the ONC certification program to focus on it.

Carla Kriwet, CEO of Connected Care and Health Informatics at Philips, was asked in her keynote Fireside Chat to rate the interoperability of health data on a scale from 0 to 10, and chose a measly 3. She declared that “we don’t believe in closed systems at all” and told me in an interview that Philips is committed to creating integrated solutions that work with any and all products. Although Philips devices are legendary in many domains, Kriwet wants customers to pay for outcomes, not devices.

For instance, Philips recently acquired the Wellcentive platform that allows better care in hospitals by adopting population health approaches that look at whole patient populations to find what works. The platform works with a wide range of input sources and is meant to understand patient populations, navigate care and activate patients. Philips also creates dashboards with output driven by artificial intelligence–the Philips IntelliVue Guardian solution with Early Warning Scoring (EWS)–that leverages predictive analytics to present critical information about patient deterioration to nurses and physicians. This lets them intervene quickly before an adverse event occurs, without the need for logging in repeatedly. (This is an example of another trend I cover in this article, the search for simpler interfaces.)

Kriwet also told me that Philips has incorporated the principles of agile programming throughout the company. Sprints of a few weeks develop their products, and “the boundary comes down” between R&D and the sales team.

I also met with Jon Michaeli, EVP of Strategic Partnerships with Medisafe, a company that I covered two years ago. Medisafe is one of a slew of companies that encourage medication adherence. Always intensely based on taking in data and engaging patients in a personalized way, Medisafe has upped the sophistication of their solution, partly by integrating with other technologies. One recent example is its Safety Net, provided by artificial intelligence platform Neura. For instance, if you normally cart your cell phone around with you, but it’s lying quiet from 10:00 PM until 6:00 AM, Safety Net may determine your reason for missing your bedtime dose at 11:00 PM was that you had already fallen asleep. If Safety Net sees recurring patterns of behavior, it will adjust reminder time automatically.

Medisafe also gives users the option of recording the medication adherence through sensors rather than responding to reminders. They can communicate over Bluetooth to a pill bottle cap (“iCap”) that replaces the standard medicine cap and lets the service know when you have opened the bottle. The iCap fits the vast majority of medicine bottles dispensed by U.S. pharmacies and costs only $20 ($40 for a pack of 2), so you can buy several and use them for as long as you’re taking your medicine.

On another level, Mivatek provides some of the low-level scaffolding to connected health by furnishing data from devices to systems developed by the company’s clients. Suppose, for instance, that a company is developing a system that responds to patients who fall. Mivatek can help them take input from a button on the patient’s phone, from a camera, from a fall detector, or anything else to which Mivatek can connect. The user can add a device to his system simply by taking a picture of the bar code with his phone.

Jorge Perdomo, Senior Vice President Corporate Strategy & Development at Mivatek, told me that these devices work with virtually all of the available protocols on the market that have been developed to promote interoperability. In supporting WiFi, Mivatek loads an agent into its system to provide an additional level of security. This prevents device hacking and creates an easy-to-install experience with no setup requirements.

Blockchains
Most famous as a key technological innovation supporting BitCoin, blockchains have a broad application as data stores that record transactions securely. They can be used in health care for granting permissions to data and other contractual matters. The enticement offered by this technology is that no central institution controls or stores the blockchain. One can distribute the responsibility for storage and avoid ceding control to one institution.

Blockchains do, however, suffer from inherent scaling problems by design: they grow linearly as people add transactions, the additions must be done synchronously, and the whole chain must be stored in its entirety. But for a limited set of participants and relatively rate updates (for instance, recording just the granting of permissions to data and not each chunk of data exchanged), the technology holds great promise.

Although I see a limited role for blockchains, the conference gave considerable bandwidth to the concept. In a keynote that was devoted to blockchains, Dr. Samir Damani described how one of his companies, MintHealth, planned to use them to give individuals control over health data that is currently held by clinicians or researchers–and withheld from the individuals themselves.

I have previously covered the importance patient health records, and the open source project spotlighted by that article, HIE of One, now intends to use blockchain in a manner similar to MintHealth. In both projects, the patient owns his own data. MintHealth adds the innovation of offering rewards for patients who share their data with researchers, all delivered through the blockchain. The reward system is quite intriguing, because it would create for the first time a real market for highly valuable patient data, and thus lead to more research use along with fair compensation for the patients. MintHealth’s reward system also fits the connected health vision of promoting healthy behavior on a daily basis, to reduce chronic illness and health care costs.

Conclusion
Although progress toward connected health comes in fits and starts, the Connected Health Conference is still a bright spot in health care each year. For the first time this year, Partners’ Center for Connected Health partnered with another organization, the Personal Connected Health Alliance, and the combination seems to be a positive one. Certain changes were noticeable: for instance, all the breakout sessions were panels, and the keynotes were punctuated by annoying ads. An interesting focus this year was wellness in aging, the topic of the final panel. One surprising difference was the absence of the patient advocates from the Society for Participatory Medicine whom I’m used to meeting each year at this conference, perhaps because they held their own conference the day before.

The Center for Connected Health’s Joseph Kvedar still ran the program team, and the themes were familiar from previous years. This conference has become my touchstone for understanding health IT, and it will continue to be the place to go to track the progress of health care reform from a technological standpoint.

Measuring the Vital Signs of Health Care Progress at the Connected Health Conference (Part 2 of 3)

Posted on November 15, 2017 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.

The first segment of this article introduced the themes of the Connected Health Conference and talked about the importance of validating what new technologies do using trials or studies like traditional medical advances. This segment continues my investigation into another major theme in health care: advanced interfaces.

Speaker from Validic at Connected Health Conference

Speaker from Validic at Connected Health Conference

Advanced interfaces
The compulsory picture of health care we’re accustomed to seeing, whenever we view hospital propaganda or marketing from health care companies, shows a patient in an awkward gown seated on an uncomfortable examination table. A doctor faces him or her full on–not a computer screen in site–exuding concern, wisdom, friendliness, and professionalism.

More and more, however, health sites are replacing this canonical photograph with one of a mobile phone screen speckled with indicators of our vital signs or thumbnail shot of our caregivers. The promise being conveyed is no longer care from a trusted clinician in the office, but instant access to all our information through a medium familiar to almost everyone everywhere–the personal mobile device.

But even touchscreen access to the world of the cloud is beginning to seem fusty. Typing in everything you eat with your thumbs, or even answering daily surveys about your mental state, gets old fast. As Dr. Yechiel Engelhard of TEVA said in his keynote, patients don’t want to put a lot of time into managing their illnesses, nor do doctors want to change their workflows. So I’m fascinated with connected health solutions that take the friction out of data collection and transmission.

One clear trend is the move to voice–or rather, I should say back to voice, because it is the original form of human communication for precise data. The popularity of Amazon Echo, along with Siri and similar interfaces, shows that this technology will hit a fever pitch soon. One research firm found that voice-triggered devices more than doubled in popularity between 2015 and 2016, and that more than half of Americans would like such a device in the home.

I recently covered a health care challenge using Amazon Alexa that demonstrates how the technology can power connected health solutions. Most of the finalists in the challenge were doing the things that the Connected Health Conference talks about incessantly: easy and frequent interactions with patients, analytics to uncover health problems, integration with health care providers, personalization, and so on.

Orbita is another company capitalizing on voice interfaces to deliver a range of connected health solutions, from simple medication reminders to complete care management applications for diabetes. I talked to CEO Bill Rogers, who explained that they provide a platform for integrating with AI engines provided by other services to carry out communication with individuals through whatever technology they have available. Thus, Orbita can talk through Echo, send SMS messages, interact with a fitness device or smart scale, or even deliver a reminder over a plain telephone interface.

One client of Orbita uses it platform to run a voice bot that talks to patients during their discharge process. The bot provides post-discharge care instructions and answers patients’ questions about things like pain management and surgery wound care. The results show that patients are more willing to ask questions of the bot than of a discharge nurse, perhaps because they’re not afraid of wasting someone’s time. Rogers also said services are improving their affective interfaces, which respond to the emotional tone of the patient.

Another trick to avoid complex interfaces is to gather as much data as possible from the patient’s behavior (with her consent, of course) to eliminate totally the need for her to manually enter data, or even press a button. Devices are getting closer to this kind of context-awareness. Following are some of the advances I enjoyed seeing at the Connected Health Conference.

  • PulseOn puts more health data collection into a wrist device than I’ve ever seen. Among the usual applications to fitness, they claim to detect atrial fibrillation and sleep apnea by shining a light on the user’s skin and measuring changes in reflections caused by variations in blood flow.
  • A finger-sized device called Gocap, from Common Sensing, measures insulin use and reports it over wireless connections to clinical care-takers. The device is placed over the needle end of an insulin pen, determines how much was injected by measuring the amount of fluid dispensed after a dose, and transmits care activity to clinicians through a companion app on the user’s smartphone. Thus, without having to enter any information by hand, people with diabetes can keep the clinicians up to date on their treatment.
  • One of the cleverest devices I saw was a comprehensive examination tool from Tyto Care. A small kit can carry the elements of a home health care exam, all focused on a cute little sphere that fits easily in the palm. Jeff Cutler, Chief Revenue Officer, showed me a simple check on the heart, ear, and throat that anyone can perform. You can do it with a doctor on the other end of a video connection, or save the data and send it to a doctor for later evaluation.

    Tyto Care has a home version that is currently being used and distributed by partners such as Heath Systems, providers, payers and employers, but will ultimately be available for sale to consumers for $299. They also offer a professional and remote clinic version that’s tailor-made for a school or assisted living facility.

A new Digital Therapeutics Alliance was announced just before the conference, hoping to promote more effective medical devices and allow solutions to scale up through such things as improving standards and regulations. Among other things, the alliance will encourage clinical trials, which I have already highlighted as critical.

Big advances were also announced by Validic, which I covered last year. Formerly a connectivity solution that unraveled the varying quasi-standard or non-standard protocols of different devices in order to take their data into electronic health records, Validic has created a new streaming API that allows much faster data transfers, at a much higher volume. On top of this platform they have built a notification service called Inform, which takes them from a networking solution to a part of the clinicians’ workflow.

Considerable new infrastructure is required to provide such services. For instance, like many medication adherence services, Validic can recognize when time has gone by without a patient reporting that’s he’s taken his pill. This level of monitoring requires storing large amounts of longitudinal data–and in fact, Validic is storing all transactions carried out over its platform. The value of such a large data set for discovering future health care solutions through analytics can make data scientists salivate.

The next segment of this article wraps up coverage of the conference with two more themes.

Measuring the Vital Signs of Health Care Progress at the Connected Health Conference (Part 1 of 3)

Posted on November 13, 2017 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.

Attendees at each Connected Health Conference know by now the architecture of health reform promoted there. The term “connected health” has been associated with a sophisticated amalgam of detailed wellness plans, modern sensors, continuous data collection in the field, patient control over data, frequent alerts and reminders, and analytics to create a learning health care system. The mix remains the same each year, so I go each time to seek out progress toward the collective goal. This year, I’ve been researching what’s happening in these areas:

  • Validation through clinical trials
  • Advanced interfaces to make user interaction easier
  • Improved data sharing (interoperability)
  • Blockchains

Panel at Connected Health Conference

Panel at Connected Health Conference

There were a few other trends of interest, which I’ll mention briefly here. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) turned up at some exhibitor booths and were the topic of a panel. Some of these technologies run on generic digital devices–such as the obsession-inducing Pokémon GO game–while others require special goggles such as the Oculus Rift (the first VR technology to show a promise for widespread adoption, and now acquired by Facebook) or Microsoft’s HoloLens. VR shuts out the user’s surroundings and presents her with a 360-degree fantasy world, whereas AR imposes information or images on the surroundings. Both VR and AR are useful for teaching, such as showing an organ in 3D organ in front of a medical student on a HoloLens, and rotating it or splitting it apart to show details.

I haven’t yet mentioned the popular buzzword “telehealth,” because it’s subsumed under the larger goal of connected health. I do use the term “artificial intelligence,” certainly a phrase that has gotten thrown around too much, and whose meaning is subject of much dissension. Everybody wants to claim the use of artificial intelligence, just as a few years ago everybody talked about “the cloud.” At the conference, a panel of three experts took up the topic and gave three different definitions of the term. Rather than try to identify the exact algorithms used by each product in this article and parse out whether they constitute “real” artificial intelligence, I go ahead and use the term as my interviewees use it.

Exhibition hall at Connected Health Conference

Exhibition hall at Connected Health Conference

Let’s look now at my main research topics.

Validation through clinical trials
Health apps and consumer devices can be marketed like vitamin pills, on vague impressions that they’re virtuous and that doing something is better than doing nothing. But if you want to hook into the movement for wellness–connected health–you need to prove your value to the whole ecosystem of clinicians and caretakers. The consumer market just doesn’t work for serious health care solutions. Expecting an individual to pay for a service or product would limit you to those who can afford it out-of-pocket, and who are concerned enough about wellness to drag out their wallets.

So a successful business model involves broaching the gates of Mordor and persuading insurers or clinicians to recommend your solution. And these institutions won’t budge until you have trials or studies showing that you actually make a difference–and that you won’t hurt anybody.

A few savvy app and device developers build in such studies early in their existence. For instance, last year I covered a typical connected health solution called Twine Health, detailing their successful diabetes and hypertension trials. Twine Health combines the key elements that one finds all over the Connected Health Conference: a care plan, patient tracking, data analysis, and regular check-ins. Their business model is to work with employer-owned health plans, and to expand to clinicians as they gradually migrate to fee-for-value reimbursement.

I sense that awareness is growing among app and device developers that the way to open doors in health care is to test their solutions rigorously and objectively. But I haven’t found many who do so yet.

In the next segment of this article continues my exploration of the key themes I identified at the start of this article.

More Vendors, Providers Integrating Telemedicine Data With EHRs

Posted on April 27, 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.

One of the biggest problems providers face in rolling out telemedicine is how to integrate the data it generates. Must doctors make some kind of alternate set of notes appropriate to the medium, or do they belong in the EHR? Should healthcare organizations import the video and notate the general contents? And how should they connect the data with their EHR?

While we may not have definitive answers to such questions yet, it appears that the telehealth industry is moving in the right direction. According to a new survey by the American Telemedicine Association, respondents said that they’re seeing growth in interoperability with EHRs, progress which has increased their confidence in telemedicine’s future.

Before going any further, I should note that the surveyed population is a bit odd. The ATA reached out not only to leaders in hospital systems and medical practices, but also “telehealth service providers,” which sounds like merely an opportunity for self-promotion. But leaving aside this issue, it’s still worth thinking a bit about the data, such as it is.

First, not surprisingly, the results are a ringing endorsement of telemedicine technology. The group reports that 83 percent of respondents said they’ll probably invest in telehealth this year, and 88 percent will invest in telehealth-related technology.

When asked why they’re interested in delivering these services, 98 percent said that they believe telehealth services offer a competitive advantage over those that don’t offer it. And 84 percent of respondents expect that offering telehealth services will have a big impact on their organization’s coverage and reach.

(According to another survey, by Avizia and Modern Healthcare, other reasons providers are engaging with telehealth is because they believe it can improve clinical outcomes and support their transition to value-based care.)

When it comes to documenting its key thesis – that the integration of EHR and telehealth data is proceeding apace – the ATA research doesn’t go the distance. But I know from other studies that telemedicine vendors are indeed working on this issue – and why wouldn’t they? Any sophisticated telemedicine vendor has to know this is a big deal.

For example, telemedicine vendor American Well has been working with a long list of health plans and health systems for a while, in an effort to integrate the telehealth process with provider workflows. To support these efforts, American Well has created an enterprise telehealth platform designed to connect with providers’ clinical information systems. I’ve also observed that DoctorOnDemand has made some steps in that direction.

Ultimately, everyone in telehealth will have to get on board. Regardless of where they’re at now, those engaging in telehealth will need to push the interoperability puck forward.

In fact, integrating telehealth documentation with EMRs has to be a priority for everyone in the business. Even if integrating clinical data from virtual consults wasn’t important for analytics purposes, it is important to collecting insurance reimbursement. Now that private health plans (and Medicare) are reimbursing for telemedical care, you can rest assured that they’ll demand documentation if they don’t like your claim. And when it comes to Medicare, arguing that you haven’t figured out how to document these details won’t cut it.

In other words, while there’s some overarching reasons why integrating this data is a good long-term strategy, we need to keep immediate concerns in mind too. Telemedicine data has to be seen as documentation first, before we add any other bells and whistles. Otherwise, providers will get off on the wrong foot with insurers, and they’ll have trouble getting back on track.

Consumers Want Their Doctors To Offer Video Visits

Posted on February 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.

A new survey by telemedicine provider American Well has concluded that many consumers are becoming interested in video visits, and that some of consumers would be willing to switch doctors to get video visits as part of their care. Of course, given that American Well provides video visits this is a self-interested conclusion, but my gut feeling is that it’s on target nonetheless.

According to the research, 72% of parents with children under 18 were willing to see a doctor via video, as well as 72% of consumers aged 45-54 and 53% of those over age 65. Americal Well’s study also suggests that the respondents see video visits as more effective than in-person consults, with 85% reporting that a video visit resolved their issues, as compared with 64% of those seeing a doctor in a brick-and-mortar setting.

In addition, respondents said they want their existing doctors to get on board. Of those with a PCP, 65% were very or somewhat interested in conducting video visits with their PCP.  Meanwhile, 20% of consumers said they would switch doctors to get access to video visits, a number which rises to 26% among those aged 18 to 34, 30% for those aged 35 to 44 and and 34% for parents of children under age 18.

In addition to getting acute consults via video visit, 60% of respondents said that they would be willing to use them to manage a chronic condition, and 52% of adults reported that they were willing to participate in post-surgical or post-hospital-discharge visits through video.

Consumers also seemed to see video visits as a useful way to help them care for ill or aging family members. American Well found that 79% of such caregivers would find this approach helpful.

Meanwhile, large numbers of respondents seemed interested in using video visits to handle routine chronic care. The survey found that 78% of those willing to have a video visit with a doctor would be happy to manage chronic conditions via video consults with their PCP.

What the researchers draw from all of this is that it’s time for providers to start marketing video visit capabilities. Americal Well argues that by promoting these capabilities, providers can bring new patients into their systems, divert patients away from the ED and into higher-satisfaction options and improve their management of chronic conditions by making it easier for patients to stay in touch.

Ultimately, of course, providers will need to integrate video into the rest of their workflow if this channel is to mature fully. And providers will need to make sure their video visits meet the same standards as other patient interactions, including HIPAA-compliant security for the content, notes Dr. Sherry Benton of TAO Connect. Providers will also need to figure out whether the video is part of the official medical record, and if so, how they will share copies if the patient request them. But there are ways to address these issues, so they shouldn’t prevent providers from jumping in with both feet.

An Intelligent Interface for Patient Diagnosis by HealthTap

Posted on January 9, 2017 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.

HealthTap, an organization that’s hard to categorize, really should appear in more studies of modern health care. Analysts are agog over the size of the Veterans Administration’s clientele, and over a couple other major institutions such as Kaiser Permanente–but who is looking at the 104,000 physicians and the hundreds of millions of patients from 174 countries in HealthTap’s database?

HealthTap allows patients to connect with doctors online, and additionally hosts an enormous repository of doctors’ answers to health questions. In addition to its sheer size and its unique combination of services, HealthTap is ahead of most other health care institutions in its use of data.

I talked with founder and CEO Ron Gutman about a new service, Dr. AI, that triages the patient and guides her toward a treatment plan: online resources for small problems, doctors for major problems, and even a recommendation to head off to the emergency room when that is warranted. The service builds on the patient/doctor interactions HealthTap has offered over its six years of operation, but is fully automated.

Somewhat reminiscent of IBM’s Watson, Dr. AI evaluates the patient’s symptoms and searches a database for possible diagnoses. But the Dr. AI service differs from Watson in several key aspects:

  • Whereas Watson searches a huge collection of clinical research journals, HealthTap searches its own repository of doctor/patient interactions and advice given by its participating doctors. Thus, Dr. AI is more in line with modern “big data” analytics, such as PatientsLikeMe does.

  • More importantly, HealthTap potentially knows more about the patient than Watson does, because the patient can build up a history with HealthTap.

  • And most important, Dr. AI is interactive. Instead of doing a one-time search, it employs artificial intelligence techniques to generate questions. For instance, it may ask, “Did you take an airplane flight recently?” Each question arises from the totality of what HealthTap knows about the patient and the patterns found in HealthTap’s data.

The following video shows Dr. AI in action:

A well-stocked larder of artificial intelligence techniques feed Dr. AI’s interactive triage service: machine learning, natural language processing (because the doctor advice is stored in plain text), Bayesian learning, and pattern recognition. These allow a dialog tailored to each patient that is, to my knowledge, unique in the health care field.

HealthTap continues to grow as a platform for remote diagnosis and treatment. In a world with too few clinicians, it may become standard for people outside the traditional health care system.

Galaxy Will See You Now

Posted on May 27, 2016 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.

This post is sponsored by Samsung Business. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

We all know how dramatic our lives have changed thanks to technology. Many of us remember the impact a computer in every home had on our lives. Now we’re seeing that same transformation happening as we all start carrying a smartphone in our pocket. Each of these technologies has opened up new worlds of possibilities in our personal lives and also for healthcare. I think we’ll see a similar transformation with the introduction of voice recognition and AI (Artificial Intelligence).

When we start talking about AI, most of us probably think about the movies they’ve seen where AI was on display. Hollywood’s use of AI in movies often makes it so it doesn’t feel very real. However, if you have a smartphone, then you’ve probably used AI. I know my first real experience with AI was on my Samsung Galaxy S3. I remember my wife and I going on a date and we spent the majority of our date asking “Galaxy” various questions. We got surprisingly good answers including easy access to the show times for the movie we ended up seeing.

Most of us have had this type of experience with AI on our smartphone. It’s pretty magical, but I must admit that I didn’t use it that often when it was just on my phone. There were a few cases it was really useful like when I was driving and needed directions to a gas station. The hands-free access to information was extremely powerful, but it wasn’t part of my daily experience. However, that changed for me when I introduced an always on AI solution in my home. Now it’s become a daily part of me and my family’s life.

How does this apply to healthcare? It’s becoming very clear that the home is the healthcare hub of the future. Think about having always on tablets, smart TVs, and other devices positioned throughout your home where you can easily access your health information, medical knowledge, and healthcare providers. That’s powerful. Plus, those devices and attached sensors are starting to easily monitor you, your environment, and your health. This two way connection creates an extremely powerful combination that will change the way we view healthcare.

Certainly there are practical examples of home health services that exist today including monitoring recently discharged patients, monitoring seniors, connecting patients with doctors, and much more. We’re seeing all of these connected home health services happen more and more every day. Just what we’ve already begun to implement will improve the healthcare we provide dramatically. However, we’re just starting to explore what AI and new technologies can do for healthcare. The best is still to come.

How long will it be before we can sit at home and we can ask our tablet or smart TV “Galaxy, how’s my blood pressure doing today?” Or “Galaxy, can you schedule me a telemedicine visit with my doctor to discuss my prescription refill?” Not to mention Galaxy proactively reaching out to you to motivate healthy decision making.

What’s so incredible is that executing these ideas and many more aren’t that farfetched given the powerful technology that exists today. We still need to connect a few dots, but it’s all extremely doable from a technical perspective.

What’s going to be harder is the cultural shift and change of mindset. However, that’s happening already and it will accelerate over time. I’m sure my kids wouldn’t think twice about asking our TV or tablet for a doctor’s appointment and then having the doctor streamed right to the TV or their tablet. They probably wonder why it’s not already possible.

Even while we wait for this more automated AI future, there are still big home health things happening on smartphones and tablets. Each of those things is a building block to this exalted future. I’m ready for Galaxy to see me now. In fact, in some ways he already does. Are you ready?

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The Future of Healthcare Rests on the Backs of Our Ability to Influence Behavior

Posted on May 19, 2016 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.

This morning I was pondering the future of our healthcare system and the constantly changing and shifting world of healthcare reimbursement. Some observations are undeniable. Our current system is flawed and not sustainable. Something has to change.

As I look at all the changes happening in healthcare, I came to one major realization. Every program to reduce the cost of healthcare rests on the back of our ability to influence patients’ choices.

The future of health insurance companies hinges on their ability to change patients’ behavior. Looking at ACOs and MACRA, doctors reimbursement is going to be tied directly to the choices their patients make (or don’t make). Employers that are looking to lower their healthcare costs are going to invest in programs and technologies that ensure their patients are making healthy choices.

While many healthcare IT companies fall short of this goal, we do see some that are going to play a major role in influencing patient behavior. Take something as simple as a patient portal. Can access to your medical records influence your behaviors? Can access to your doctor or a nurse through a patient portal help influence the decisions you make? Absolutely. Do they go far enough? Absolutely not, but they’re a start.

Take a look at telemedicine. Will easy access to a doctor change our behavior? Could telemedicine mean that we choose to be seen by a doctor earlier as opposed to delaying a visit to the doctor because it’s too painful to schedule an appointment and go into the doctor? Absolutely. Plus, telemedicine is just one simple example of how we’re making a visit easier. Online self scheduling could influence this as well. A whole new wave of messaging apps and provider communities are forming which allow us to get “health care” remotely.

As I’ve written before, my fear is that most healthcare IT companies don’t go deep enough into the behavior change and instead focus mostly on process optimization. Behavior change is a surprising byproduct for some, but is certainly not their intention. In fact, that’s true for most of the examples I describe above.

It becomes more and more clear to me every day that the real breakout companies in healthcare are going to be those who figure out how to influence patients’ behavior. That includes influencing them the 98% (or whatever the correct stat is) of time that patients spend outside of the exam room. Every reimbursement effort is going to be focused around it.

The real challenge for these companies is going to be tracking and quantifying the value they created. It’s hard to track attribution when it comes to a patient’s health. It’s so complex that it’s easy to incorrectly assess who or what is responsible for a patient’s improved health. Plus, it’s extremely hard to quantify the benefit of these behavior changes. A company focuses on influencing patients’ behaviors is also going to have to get really good at tracking the benefit of that influence and attribution of what influenced the patient.

These are extremely challenging opportunities. Healthcare is full of them. I already see some companies heading down this path. I’m excited to see which ones really break through.

6 Questions To Consider When Providing Virtual Visits Using Video Technology

Posted on January 13, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. Sherry Benton, Creator and Chief Science Officer at TAO Connect.
Sherry Benton
Kaiser Permanente Venture, the corporate venture capital arm of Kaiser Permanente, announced in December 2015 that it would strategically invest $10 million Vidyo, Inc., a leader in high-quality visual communications, to increase patient convenience and the improve the overall quality of care. This endorsement of telemedicine technology by one of the nation’s largest health networks is a strong indication that telemedicine has begun to emerge as a go-to strategy for hospitals and health systems.

In addition, a breadth of clinical research consistently shows that virtual visits either by phone or videoconferencing are just as effective as face-to-face encounters. This is particularly true for synchronous “real-time” communications using technology. Such communications not only increase patient engagement, but they also increase accountability, resulting in more positive outcomes.

Kaiser Permanent’s venture into telemedicine is one of many examples we’ll likely see over the next few years as patient engagement continues to take priority. According to research firm Parks Associates, the use of video conferencing to facilitate an encounter between a provider and patient is projected to reach 130 million visits in 2018.

However, as providers embrace telemedicine technology, they must also keep HIPAA privacy and security at the forefront. Kaiser Permanente, for example, has stated its telemedicine solution offers HIPAA-compliant encryption—a necessity for any provider offering virtual visits. Far too often, providers resort to Skype, FaceTime, or a host of other video service providers without thinking about the potential for breaches of PHI.

Ask your potential video service provider whether it meets federal government standards for HIPAA compliance as a covered entity. The TeleMental Health Institute provides additional guidance on selecting a specific video service provider.

Also consider these six important privacy-and security- questions as you explore video telemedicine options:

  1. Will your video service provider sign a business associate agreement as required by the HIPAA Omnibus Act?
  2. Do you and your patient both have a secure/encrypted Internet connection to prevent interception?
  3. Can your video service provider encrypt data” in motion” and “at rest” as per HIPAA requirements? Data “at rest” refers to data stored on the video service provider’s server and can potentially include non-video elements (e.g., exercises, assessments, and logs) as well. Data must be secure and encrypted for the entirety of the time that it’s retained as dictated by state and federal regulations. Data “in motion” refers to data moving from the patient to the server or from the patient to the provider via the server. This requires security and encryption as information flows through routers, load balancers, firewalls, and Ethernet networks. Ask your video service provider how it incorporates HIPAA-compliant security protocols during every step in the process and for its various delivery platforms and applications, including mobile, web-based, and desktop.
  4. How will you define your legal health record? Will it include the actual video recording itself? If so, how will you handle patient requests for copies of this information? Some specialties, such as mental health, rarely store video unless it’s used for supervision/educational purposes.
  5. Have you implemented role-based access to the virtual visit software at the point of logon?
  6. Have you provided sufficient patient education? For example, patients should be in a private place during the actual virtual visit so no one else can observe the conversation. When patients use a mobile device to participate in a virtual visit, we advise passwords requiring re-entry after a brief period of inactivity. Patient education goes a long way toward risk mitigation in telemedicine.

Looking ahead
Many of the HIPAA challenges related to telemedicine are the same ones we face in a non-virtual world. However, telemedicine certainly requires a heightened awareness of the potential for hacking and virtual interceptions. Give careful consideration of privacy and security at all points in the delivery care process. Take your time in searching for the right video service provider and ensure they are willing to meet all HIPAA requirements in writing…and in practice.

About Sherry Benton, PhD
Dr. Benton is the creator of TAO Connect and director of the University of Florida Counseling Center. She is also a fellow in the American Psychological Association and the President Emeritus of the Academy of Counseling Psychology. Dr. Benton has been a psychologist and mental health care administrator for 22 years.

CMS Redefines Telemedicine by Bringing Better Care to 15 Million Patients and Huge Profitability to Medical Facilities

Posted on September 17, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Donald Voltz, MD.
Donald Voltz - Zoeticx
Telemedicine is about reaching out to patients in remote locations, but limited to videoconferencing between patients and health providers. It is similar to a face-to-face service with the exception that the patient and primary care provider are not physically together. Such efficiency is limited in term of scope and only addresses the geographical challenge and scarcity of physician availability, a far cry from what CMS wanted for its Chronic Care Management Services (CCM) which would fundamentally change telemedicine as it is practiced.

CCM services bring the telemedicine definition to the next level – a quiet continuous monitoring and collaboration from all care services to the patient, given the ability to anticipate and engage in care issues. Such ability not only curbs care costs, it would also increase care provider bandwidth, giving them the ability to cover more patients with better efficiency. The challenge is not on the requirements part of CCM services, but the lack of an IT solution to really address all CMS guidelines, including its intent to enforce the concepts through the healthcare industry.

The New England Journal of Medicine has covered the major challenges from the new CCM guidelines, touching on all the major shortcomings in today healthcare IT offerings.  Healthcare providers recognized that the fee-for-service system, which restricts payments for primary care to office-based visits, is poorly designed to support the core activities of primary care, which involve substantial time outside office visits for tasks such as care coordination, patient communication, medication refills, and care provided electronically or by telephone.

The time has come for a paradigm shift to reengineer how we deliver care and manage our patients. To arrive at a new plateau requires rethinking the needs of our patients and how to meet these needs in an already resource constrained system. Unless we develop solutions that both integrate with and enhance the technologies currently available and those yet to be realized, we will not realize a return on health IT investment.  This needs to be an area of focus for hospital CEOs, CIOs and CMOs.

Huge Market Opportunity

According to the 2010 Census, the number of people older than 65 years was 40 million with increasing trends to 56 million in 2020 and not reaching a plateau until 2050 at 83.7 million.  With two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries having two or more chronic conditions while one-third has more than three chronic conditions according to CMS data, putting the number of patients who qualify for CCM services at 15 million. This number is predicted to continue on an upward trend until 2050.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the growing burden this trend in chronic disease places on the healthcare system and addressed the need for innovative solutions in their 2002 report. While the potential market is huge, in the billions of dollars yearly, healthcare organizations have been struggling to address the CMS guidelines with key requirements from CMS. We can no longer afford not to address the needs of patient with chronic medical conditions along with engaging them in their healthcare decisions.

CMS’ CCM guidelines are as follows:

  • 24×7 access to clinical staff
  • Patient care continuum
  • Collaboration, coordination between primary care providers and other care services
  • Electronic management of care transition among care providers
  • Coordination between home and community care services
  • Patient engagement

Here is how these guidelines are now being addressed:

The Patient-Centric Model

While each patient has a primary care provider who is responsible for CCM service, they are not confined to receiving care in a single practice or institution. The primary care provider assumes the role of care coordinator, but care is likely to be distributed between multiple care providers, often across different care locations. In a patient-centric care model, care services can come from any care providers – geographically and organizationally diverse, necessitating an accountable provider to coordinate and orchestrate high-quality care across multiple chronic conditions.

Secure Electronic Care Transition

CMS clearly states these CCM care plans must be electronically available at all times to all care providers who will be delivering care to these patients, not available by faxing, or scanning as patient data is currently shared. The chronic care management plan must be available to all healthcare providers who might take care of these patients 24×7. In addition, the primary care provider who assumes the care coordinator responsibility for a patient is expected to follow-up on the care delivered, additional needs of the patient and changes in chronic condition that may have been addressed by a healthcare professional remote to the patients’ primary practice.

CMS neither authorizes how such a CCM system is designed nor enforces how efficient the implemented care service is. The monthly reimbursement limits the time and additional resources physicians are able to allocate for the development, implementation and daily operations of a CCM program in their practice. The manual implementation of a system that meets all of the requirements defined by the CMS will far exceed the reimbursement recovered. It is also likely to be inferior to one with some degree of automation coupled with messaging when a patient’s condition changes or their chronic care management plan is accessed by other providers. Efficiency along with automated logging of time spent on care coordination are critical requirements for a service to be effective.

A CCM service solution must meet the requirements defined by CMS while integrating into the current operational structure of primary care practice and integrate with current health IT systems and manage the secure documentation flow.  It must also offer a built-in notification system to alert physicians to changes in patient status and/or access to the care plan while maintaining an efficient operation in clinics with a lower overhead and no need for additional infrastructure.

While CMS does not enforce the efficiency of a CCM care service, the monthly payment must represent an increase of revenue to care providers. Care providers cannot implement a new potential code while increasing its cost due to manual labor increase. So, efficiency must be part of the solution requirements.

The answer to CCM service would be a new healthcare application offering secure documentation flow, built-in notification and collaboration services to support a low cost, efficient operation for clinics.

The CCM application must address the following requirements:

  • No disruption of existing services. The application must operate and integrate seamlessly with any existing EHR so to not change provider workflow or disrupt current processes; defining a very stringent requirement to keep the existing EHR systems untouched and unchanged while allowing for this new service to co-exist.
  • Secure electronic care transition with CCM care plan sharing. Patients can engage with this new care service even when the service may not be contained within the same network as the primary care provider. Patients ultimately maintain control of what information and with whom this information is shared. The primary care provider is responsible for maintaining the CCM care plan, as well as the patient, and should expect any information shared will be used for a single care session and not beyond it. Although the CCM care plan is expected to contain the most up-to-date medication information, primary care providers are not interested in opening up their entire system to others, but instead need to maintain control and secure access while allowing for access to these protected documents.
  • Automation, automation and automation. Efficiency of the whole CCM service must be at the core so that primary care providers can enhance patient care without adding expense and resources to implement it. Consider a patient with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) where continuous monitoring of weight is critical for early intervention and the avoidance of hospitalizations. To engage patient’s in their care, they must be given a mechanism to report daily weight to their primary care provider. The primary care provider must have a solution where attention is given if the patient’s condition so it not has exceeded a certain threshold. Automation is required so that primary care providers can be efficient and only given attention when attention is required. Automation must be in place so that no activities such as follow-up would be omitted.
  • An EHR-agnostics solution. Implementation of a CCM service must address the constraints of a non-homogeneous environment. Healthcare organizations and physician practices are not able to control the EHR environments when patients receive care outside of their primary practice. The requirement for electronic document exchange along with the expectation of the latest patient health data being contained in the CCM care plan goes beyond a static solution offered by a data duplicated HIE (Health Information Exchange) infrastructure.
  • Visible value to a patient. A critical requirement for CMS reimbursement is a patient’s opting into a CCM management program that includes out-of-pocket monthly co-pay for the service of 8 dollars per month. A patient must see the value for CCM services which can be demonstrated through enhanced engagement, access to providers and the assurance that their condition is being overseen each month by their chronic care coordinator. Anticipation of an early intervention for potential problems along with the ability to inquire and receive feedback on their condition(s) brings added value to patients and their loved ones. This value can only be delivered if such a service can be developed in an efficient manner with a low cost of operating and a limited expansion of personal to bring it about.
  • Documentation of discontinuous time spent on care coordination. CMS requires at least 20 minutes are spent on care coordination activities each month in order to bill for this for patients enrolled in the program. Without a seamless component to log such activity, the efficiency of the overall process comes into question. A comprehensive CCM application must address the practice management side to account for and generate monthly reports of the CCM activities completed.

Future of Healthcare Impacted by Integration, Patient Data and New Modes of Delivery

The future of healthcare will be impacted by the integration of technology, patient collected data, and enhancement of healthcare professionals’ ability to deliver care in modes not yet imaged. With respect to management of chronic medical conditions, leveraging technology to coordinate the care delivered so these patients can lead productive lives at a reduced cost with less time in the hospital for exacerbations of their disease is a goal that is now possible.

Development of tools to coordinate care without additional health IT expense, in either time spent learning a new workflow or cost of such an application, is now available. Finding such an innovate model that works for patients, healthcare professionals and health systems for chronic care management will likely spread into other areas of healthcare. CCM services and care coordination allow remote, discontinuous, non-face-to-face management of patients with complex health conditions when it meets stringent requirements – a quiet, continuous monitor of health status and interventions, collaboration of all care delivered to the patient, an ability to anticipate, engage and alert patients and care professionals of impending issues, along with the administrative side of billing and logging such activity.

This ability not only changes the direction of the chronic care cost curve, it also increases care provider bandwidth, giving them the ability to successfully manage more patient, with better efficiency while delivering high quality, valuable care.

About Donald Voltz, MD
Donald Voltz, MD, Aultman Hospital, Department of Anesthesiology, Medical Director of the Main Operating Room, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Case Western Reserve University and Northeast Ohio Medical University.

Board-certified in anesthesiology and clinical informatics, Dr. Voltz is a researcher, medical educator, and entrepreneur. With more than 15 years of experience in healthcare, Dr. Voltz has been involved with many facets of medicine. He has performed basic science and clinical research and has experience in the translation of ideas into viable medical systems and devices.

Thanh Tran, CEO of Zoeticx, also contributed.