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Is FHIR Adoption At A Turning Point, Or Is This Just More Hype?

Posted on October 8, 2018 I Written By

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

Over the last few years, healthcare industry players have continued to experiment with the use of HL7 FHIR to solve key interoperability problems.

Perhaps the most recent efforts to do so is the Da Vinci Project, which brings together a group of payers, health IT vendors, and providers dedicated to fostering value-based care with FHIR. The group has begun work on two test cases, one addressing 30-day medication reconciliation and the other coverage requirements discovery.

This wasn’t big news, as it doesn’t seem to be doing anything that new. In fact, few if any of these projects — of which there have been many — have come close to establishing FHIR firmly established as a standard, much less fostering major change in the healthcare industry.

Now, a new analysis by the ONC suggests that we may finally be on the verge of a FHIR breakthrough.

According to ONC’s research, which looked at how health IT developers used FHIR to meet 2015 Edition certification requirements, roughly 32% of the health IT developers certified are using FHIR Release 2, and nearly 51% of health IT developers seem to be using a version of FHIR combined with OAuth 2.0.

While this may not sound very impressive (and at first glance, it didn’t to me), the certified products issued by the top 10 certified health IT developers serve about 82% of hospitals and 64% of clinicians.

Not only that, big tech companies staking out an expanded position in healthcare are leveraging FHIR 2, the ONC notes. For example, Apple is using a FHIR-based client app as part of its healthcare deployment.  Amazon, Alphabet, and Microsoft are working to establish themselves in the healthcare industry as well, and it seems likely that FHIR-based interoperability will come to play a part in their efforts.

In addition, CMS has shown faith in FHIR as well, investing in FHIR through its Blue Button 2.0,  a standards-based API allowing Medicare beneficiaries to connect their claims data to applications, services, and research programs.

That being said, after citing this progress, the agency concedes that FHIR still has a way to go, from standards development implementation, before it becomes the lingua franca of the industry. In other words, ONC’s definition of “turning point” may be a little different than yours or mine. Have I missed something here?

Look, I don’t like being “that guy,” but how encouraging is this really? By my standards at least, FHIR uptake is relatively modest for such a hot idea. For example, compare FHIR adoption of AI technology or blockchain. In some ways, interoperability may be a harder “get” than blockchain or AI in some ways, but one would think it would be further along if it were completely practical. Maybe I’m just a cynic.

Number Of Health Data Breaches Grew Steadily Over Last Several Years

Posted on October 5, 2018 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.

New research has found that while the number of patient records exposed per breach has varied widely, the number of health data breaches reported grew substantially between 2010 and 2017.

The study, which was conducted by researchers with Massachusetts General Hospital, was published in JAMA. Its aim was to look at the changes in data breach patterns as EHRs have come into wider use.

The authors analyzed 2,149 reported breaches over the previous seven years. The number of records breached for incident varied from 500 to almost 79 million patient records.

Researchers behind the study put breaches reported in three categories: those taking place at healthcare provider sites, within health plans, and at business associate locations.

One thing that stuck out from among the data points was that over that seven-year period, the number of breaches increased from 199 the first year to 344 in 2017. During that period, the only year that did not see an increase in incident volume was 2015.

Another notable if unsurprising conclusion drawn by the researchers was that while 70% of all breaches took place within provider organizations, incidents involving health plans accounted for 63% of all breached records.

Overall, the greatest number of patient records breached was due to compromised network servers or email messages. However, the top reasons for breaches have varied from year-to-year, the analysis found.

For example, the most common type of breach reported in 2010 was theft of physical records. The most commonly breached type of media that year was laptop computer data storage, followed by paper and film records.

Meanwhile, by 2017 data hacking or other information technology incidents accounted for the largest number of breaches, followed by unauthorized access to or disclosure of patient data. In addition, a large number of breaches could be attributed to compromised network servers or email messages.

The number of patient records exposed differed depending on what media was breached. For example, while the total of 510 breaches of paper and film records impact about 3.4 million patient records, 410 breaches of network servers affected nearly 140 million records.

Patient Billing And Collections Process Needs A Tune-Up

Posted on October 1, 2018 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 study from a patient payments vendor suggests that many healthcare organizations haven’t optimized their patient billing and collections process, a vulnerability which has persisted despite their efforts to crack the problem.

The survey found that while the entire billing collections process was flawed, respondents said that collecting patient payments was the toughest problem, followed by the need to deploy better tools and technologies.

Another issue was the nature of their collections efforts. Sixty percent of responding organizations use collections agencies, an approach which can establish an adversarial relationship between patient and provider and perhaps drive consumers elsewhere.

Yet another concern was long delays in issuing bills to patients. The survey found that 65% of organizations average more than 60 days to collect patient payments, and 40% waited on payments for more than 90 days.

These results align other studies that look at patient payments, all of which echo the notion that the patient collection process is far from what it should be.

For example, a study by payment services vendor InstaMed found that more than 90% of consumers would like to know what the payment responsibility is prior to a provider visit. Worse, very few consumers even know what the deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximums are, making it more likely that the will be hit with a bill they can’t afford.

As with the Cedar study, InstaMed’s research found that providers are waiting a long time to collect patient payments, three-quarters of organizations waiting a month to close out patient balances.

Not only that, investments in revenue cycle management technology aren’t necessarily enough to kickstart patient payment volumes. A survey done last year by the Healthcare Financial Management Association and vendor Navigant found that while three-quarters of hospitals said that their RCM technology budget was increasing, they weren’t necessarily getting the ROI they’d hoped to see.

According to the survey, 77% of hospitals less than 100 beds and 78% of hospitals with 100 to 500 beds planned to increase their RCM spending. Their areas of investment included business intelligence analytics, EHR-enabled workflow or reporting, revenue integrity, coding and physician/clinician documentation options.

Still, process improvements seem to have had a bigger payoff. These hospitals are placing a lot of faith in revenue integrity programs, with 22% saying that revenue integrity was a top RCM focus area for this year. Those who would already put such a program in place said that it offered significant benefits, including increased net collections (68%), greater charge capture (61%) and reduced compliance risks (61%).

As I see it, the key takeaways here are that making sure patients know what to expect financially and putting programs in place to improve internal processes can have a big impact on patient payments. Still, with consumers financing a lot of their care these days, getting their dollars in the door should continue to be an issue. After all, you can’t get blood from a stone.

Healthcare AI Could Generate $150B In Savings By 2025

Posted on September 27, 2018 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.

Is the buzz around healthcare AI solutions largely hype, or can they deliver measurable benefits? Lest you think it’s too soon to tell, check out the following.

According to a new report from market analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, AI and cognitive computing will generate $150 billion in savings for the healthcare business by 2025.  Frost researchers expect the total AI market to grow to $6.16 billion between 2018 and 2022.

The analyst firm estimates that at present, only 15% to 20% of payers, providers and pharmaceutical companies have been using AI actively to change healthcare delivery. However, its researchers seem to think that this will change rapidly over the next few years.

One of the most interesting applications for healthcare AI that Frost cites is the use of AI in precision medicine, an area which clearly has a tremendous upside potential for both patients and institutions.

In this scenario, the AI integrates a patient’s genomic, clinical, financial and behavioral data, then cross-references the data with the latest academic research evidence and regulatory guidelines. Ultimately, the AI would create personalized treatment pathways for high-risk, high-cost patient populations, according to Koustav Chatterjee, an industry analyst focused on transformational health.

In addition, researchers could use AI to expedite the process of clinical trial eligibility assessment and generate prophylaxis plans that suggest evidence-based drugs, Chatterjee suggests.

The report also lists several other AI-enabled solutions that might be worth implementing, including automated disease prediction, intuitive claims management and real-time supply chain management.

Frost predicts that the following will be particularly hot AI markets:

  • Using AI in imaging to drive differential diagnosis
  • Combining patient-generated data with academic research to generate personalized treatment possibilities
  • Performing clinical documentation improvement to reduce clinician and coder stress and reduce claims denials
  • Using AI-powered revenue cycle management platforms that auto-adjust claims content based on payer’s coding and reimbursement criteria

Now, it’s worth noting that it may be a while before any of these potential applications become practical.

As we’ve noted elsewhere, getting rolling with an AI solution is likely to be tougher than it sounds for a number of reasons.

For example, integrating AI-based functions with providers’ clinical processes could be tricky, and what’s more, clinicians certainly won’t be happy if such integration disrupts the EHR workflow already in existence.

Another problem is that you can’t deploy an AI-based solution without ”training” it on a cache of existing data. While this shouldn’t be an issue, in theory, the reality is that much of the data providers generate is still difficult to filter and mine.

Not only that, while AI might generate interesting and effective solutions to clinical problems, it may not be clear how it arrived at the solution. Physicians are unlikely to trust clinical ideas that come from a black box, e.g. an opaque system that doesn’t explain itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of healthcare AI and excited by its power. One can argue over which solutions are the most practical, and whether AI is the best possible tool to solve a given problem, but most health IT pros seem to believe that there’s a lot of potential here.

However, it’s still far from clear how healthcare AI applications will evolve. Let’s see where they turn up next and how that works out.

Going from Paper-Based Consents to eConsents in Healthcare

Posted on September 24, 2018 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.

For years we’d talk about the “paperless office” that would be created by the adoption of EHR software. Years later, that paperless office still doesn’t exist. One of the big reasons this hasn’t come to fruition is because EHRs can print massive reams of paper with the click of the button. Another reason the paperless office still alludes us is paper-based consents.

For years, there wasn’t a good way to replace paper-based consents with eConsents. However, that’s not the case today. To help us move towards the paperless office and to learn about adoption of eConsents in healthcare, I interviewed Robin McKee, MS, RN, Director of Clinical Informatics Solutions at FormFast. In this interview, Robin offers a lot of great insights into consents in healthcare and the value of healthcare organizations moving towards eConsents.

What are the main reasons people are still doing paper-based consents?

I see two big reasons for this. First, it’s a case of “it’s what we’ve always done.” When EHRs were first implemented, mobile was not a part of the strategy. This meant that getting a consent in front of a patient still meant paper and a clipboard. Today, the informed consent workflow is difficult if you don’t have a mobile solution.

Another reason is the sheer magnitude of the project. Over the years, each department, even each surgeon, may have their own version of a paper form, adding up to hundreds of variations of paper consent forms stuck in drawers of offices and nurse’s stations. It is a daunting task to try and tackle the conversion, standardization, and consolidation of the plethora of paper consents without a concrete path forward.

FormFast addressed both of those issues with our mobile eConsent solution.  We digitize all of the organization’s consent forms and make them available in an online eForms library.  The forms are delivered at the point-of-care on a mobile tablet for the patient to review and sign.  Once completed, they’re automatically archived in the EHR.  It’s a much more streamlined process.

Are electronic consent forms as legally binding and effective as paper-based consents?

Yes. When you take the stylus and sign your name and submit it, an eConsent electronically dates and time stamps your signature. It also locks the content on the form to prevent it from being modified post signature.

Are there ways that electronic consents are more effective than paper-based consents?

Definitely. In addition to the benefits I mentioned in the previous question, there are several more to add.

From a maintenance standpoint, you have one form to modify and it is instantly available to all staff. Templates can be created to ensure standardized statements on all consents and provide the means to add procedure specific content. Clinicians cannot submit consent forms that have required fields left incomplete. This helps guide the process and ensure consents are completed.

Our eConsent forms also allow for links to your organization’s educational content, right on the form, so it’s easy to link out to approved content for further education while having the informed consent discussion.

What are the biggest misconceptions around electronic consents?

What I have seen most often with our customers has been the idea that the consent is not modifiable, that it is a fixed document. We provide dynamic content based on procedure selection, or editable fields, as well as areas to add content via free text or speech recognition.

Our customers appreciate having a combination of standardized, dynamic, and free text content. Every patient is unique; providers must be able to account for the specific risks, benefits, and alternatives of any procedure for each patient.

What are the costs and savings associated with implementing eConsent?

We see both direct and indirect impact on B organization’s financial landscape. The direct impact is, of course, the savings from eliminating paper. We’ve seen estimates from $3 – 6 per page due to the following factors:

  • Supplies – paper, ink, etc.
  • Materials – copiers, scanners, faxes as well as maintenance on the hardware
  • Staff – to perform printing scanning and indexing functions
  • Storage of paper records
  • Secure shredding of scanned documents

More indirect costs include the loss of productivity of procedures or operating rooms, due to the delays caused by missing or incomplete paper consent forms. A JAMA Surgery article estimated over $500K per year is lost simply on this factor. Also, while less common, malpractice claims that site a lack of informed consent comprise 2/3 of total claims, opening organizations to costly legal proceedings.

One also needs to consider the value of better forms, workflow and communication via eConsent which improves both patient and clinician satisfaction.

Many of the consents are needed in the EHR.  What’s the process for integrating eConsent into the EHR?

Electronic consent forms are superior to paper in this regard. While paper consents get lost or have to be carried around in a paper chart until they are scanned into the EHR, eConsent forms are instantly archived into the EHR. This ensures the document is archived correctly every time.  Plus it is easy to access the form in pre-op, as well as confirm in the OR during timeout. We utilize a variety of methods, including HL7 and FHIR, to integrate with any EHR or document management system.

Are eConsent forms secure and trusted?  Could a digital signature be inappropriately replicated?

There are a couple of ways we prevent signatures from being inappropriately or inaccurately added.

When a clinician chooses to digitally sign a consent form, the login user’s name is applied. Additionally, our solution provides audit logs to track who has been in the system.

We also require that the patient sign each signature field.  This helps ensure that their informed consent is accurately documented.

What are you looking at next when it comes to eConsent?

FormFast recently introduced a great feature that launches and pre-populates the right consent form for the patient by scanning the patient’s wristband.  It’s another way that we’ve tried to make the consent process more streamlined.

We continue to refine our eConsent solution based on customer feedback. No one knows better than the end users what a successful solution should look like, what it should contain, and what makes for an optimal workflow.

We look toward updates, such as enhanced notification processes, more OS compatibility, and further improving the user interface, that will continue to improve clinician and patient satisfaction.

About FormFast
With over 25 years exclusively focused on healthcare needs and 1100+ hospital clients, FormFast is recognized as the industry leader in electronic forms, eSignature, and document workflow technology. FormFast’s enterprise software platform integrates with EHRs and other core systems to automate required documents, capturing data and accelerating workflows associated with them. By using FormFast, healthcare organizations achieve new levels of standardization and operational efficiency, allowing them to focus on their core mission – delivering quality care. Learn more at formfast.com.

FormFast is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Will The Fitbit Care Program Break New Ground?

Posted on September 21, 2018 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.

Wearables vendor Fitbit has launched a connected health program designed to help payers, employers and health systems prevent disease, improve wellness and manage diseases. The program is based on the technology Fitbit acquired when it acquired Twine Health.

As you’ll see, the program overview makes it sound as the Fitbit program is the greatest thing since sliced bread for health coaching and care management, I’m not so convinced, but judge for yourself.

Fitbit Care includes a mix of standard wearable features and coaching. Perhaps the most predictable option is built on standard Fitbit functions, which allow users to gather activity, sleep and heart rate data. However, unlike with individual use, users have the option to let the program harvest their health data and share it with care teams, which permits them to make personalized care recommendations.

Another option Fitbit Care offers is health coaching, in which the program offers participants personalized care plans and walks them through health challenges. Coaches communicate with them via in-communications, phone calls, and in-person meetings, targeting concerns like weight management, tobacco cessation, and management of chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and depression. It also supports care for complex conditions such as COPD or congestive heart failure.

In addition, the program uses social tools such as private social groups and guided workouts. The idea here is to help participants make behavioral changes that support their health goals.

All this is supported by the new Fitbit Plus app, which improves patients’ communication capabilities and beefs up the device’s measurement capabilities. The Fitbit app allows users to integrate advanced health metrics such as blood glucose, blood pressure or medication adherence alongside data from Fitbit and other connected health devices.

The first customer to sign up for the program, Fitbit Care, is Humana, which will offer it as a coaching option to its employer group. This puts Fitbit Care at the fingertips of more than 5 million Humana members.

I have no doubt that employers and health systems would join Humana experimenting with wearables-enhanced programs like the one Fitbit is pitching. At least, in theory, the array of services sounds good.

On the other hand, to me, it’s notable that the description of Fitbit Care is light on the details when it comes to leveraging the patient-generated health data it captures. Yes, it’s definitely possible to get something out of continuous health data collection, but at least from the initial program description, the wearables maker isn’t doing anything terribly new.

Oh well. I guess Fitbit doesn’t have to do anything radical to offer something valuable to payers, employers and health plans. They continue to search for behavioral interventions that actually have an impact on disease management and wellness, but to my knowledge, they haven’t found any magic bullet. And while some of this sounds interesting, I see nothing to suggest that the Fitbit Care program can offer dramatic results either.

 

Open Source Software and the Path to EHR Heaven (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on September 20, 2018 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 explained the challenges faced by health care organizations and suggested two ways they could be solved through free and open source software. We’ll finish the exploration in this segment of the article.

Situational awareness would reduce alert fatigue and catch errors

Difficult EHR interfaces are probably the second most frustrating aspect of being a doctor today: the first prize goes to the EHR’s inability to understand and adapt to the clinician’s workflow and environment. This is why the workplace redounds with beeps and belches from EHRs all day, causing alert fatigue and drowning out truly serious notifications. Stupid EHRs have an even subtler and often overlooked effect: when regulators or administrators require data for quality or public health purposes, the EHR is often “upgraded” with an extra field that the doctor has to fill in manually, instead of doing what computers do best and automatically replicating data that is already in the record. When doctors complain about the time they waste in the EHR, they often blame the regulators or the interface instead of placing their finger on the true culprit, which is the lack of awareness in the EHR.

Open source can ease these problems in several ways. First, the customizability outlined in the first section of this article allows savvy users to adapt it to their situations. Second, the interoperability from the previous section makes it easier to feed in information from other parts of the hospital or patient environment, and to hook in analytics that make sense of that information.

Enhancements from outside sources could be plugged in

The modularity of open source makes it easier to offer open platforms. This could lead to marketplaces for EHR enhancements, a long-time goal of the open SMART standard. Certainly, there would have to be controls for the sake of safety: an administrator, for instance, could limit downloads to carefully vetted software packages.

At best, storage and interface in an EHR would be decoupled in separate modules. Experts at storage could optimize it to improve access time and develop new options, such as new types of filtering. At the same time, developers could suggest new interfaces so that users can have any type of dashboard, alerting system, data entry forms, or other access they want.

Bugs could be fixed expeditiously

Customers of proprietary software remain at the mercy of the vendors. I worked in one computer company that depended on a very subtle feature from our supplier that turned out not to work as advertised. Our niche market, real-time computing, needed that feature to achieve the performance we promised customers, but it turned out that no other company needed it. The supplier admitted the feature was broken but told us point-blank that they had no plans to fix it. Our product failed in the marketplace, for that reason along with others.

Other software users suffer because proprietary vendors shift their market focus or for other reasons–even going out of business.

Free and open source software never ossifies, so long as users want it. Anyone can hire a developer to fix a bug. Furthermore, the company fixing it usually feeds the fix back into the core project because they want it to be propagated to future versions of the software. Thus, the fixes are tested, hardened, and offered to all users.

What free and open source tools are available?

Numerous free and open source EHRs have been developed, and some are in widespread use. Most famously is VistA, the software created at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and used also by the Indian Health Service and other government agencies, has a community chaperone and has been adopted by the country of Jordan. VistA was considered by the Department of Defense as well, but ultimately rejected because the department didn’t want to invest in adding some missing features.

Another free software EHR, OpenMRS, supports health care in Kenya, Haiti, and elsewhere. OpenEMR is also deployed internationally.

What free and open source software has accomplished in these settings is just a hint of what it can do for health care across the board. The problem holding back open source is simple neglect: as VistA’s experience with the DoD showed, institutions are unwilling to support open source, even through they will pay 10 or 100 times as much on substandard proprietary software. Open Health Tools, covered in the article I just linked to, is one of several organizations that shriveled up and disappeared for lack of support. Some organizations gladly hop on for a free ride, using the software without contributing either funds or code. Others just ignore open source software, even though that means their own death: three hospitals have recently declared bankruptcy after installing proprietary EHRs. Although the article focuses on the up-front costs of installing the EHRs, I believe the real fatal blow was the inability of the EHRs to support efficient, streamlined health care services.

We need open source EHRs not just to reduce health care costs, but to transform health. But first, we need a vision of EHR heaven. I hope this article has taken us at least into the clouds.

Open Source Software and the Path to EHR Heaven (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on September 19, 2018 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.

Do you feel your electronic health record (EHR) is heaven or hell? The vast majority of clinicians–and many patients, too, who interact with the EHR through a web portal–see it as the latter. In this article, I’ll describe an EHR heaven and how free and open source software can contribute to it. But first an old joke (which I have adapted slightly).

A salesman for an EHR vendor dies and goes before the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter asks him, “Would you like to go to heaven or hell?”

Surprised, the salesman says, “I didn’t know I had a choice.”

Saint Peter suggests, “How about this. We’ll show you heaven and hell, and then you can decide.”

“Sounds fair,” says the EHR salesman.

First they take him to heaven. People wearing white robes are strumming harps and singing hymns, and it goes on for a long time, till they take him away.

Next they take him to hell. And it’s really cool! People are clinking wine glasses together and chatting about amusing topics around the pool.

When the EHR salesman gets back to the Pearly Gates, he says to Saint Peter, “You know, this sounds really strange, but I choose hell.”

Immediately comes a clap of thunder. The salesman is in a fiery pit being prodded with pitchforks by dreadful demons.

“Wait!” he cries out. “This is not the hell I saw!”

One of the demons answers, “They must have shown you the demo.”

Most hospitals and clinicians are currently in EHR hell–one they have freely chosen, and one paid for partly by government Meaningful Use reimbursements. So we all know what EHR hell look like. What would EHR heaven be? And how does free and open source software enable it? The following sections of this article list the traits I think clinicians would like to see.

Interfaces could be easily replaced and customized

The greatest achievement of the open source movement, in my opinion, has been to strike an ideal balance between “let a hundred flowers bloom” experimentation and choosing the best option to advance the field. A healthy open source project encourages branching, which lets any individual or team with the required expertise change a product to their heart’s content. Users can then try out different versions, and a central committee vets the changes to decide which version is most robust.

Furthermore, modularization on various levels (programming modules, hooks, compile-time options, configuration tools) allows multiple versions to co-exist, each user choosing the options right for their environment. Open source software tends to be modular for several reasons, notably because it is developed by many different individuals and teams who want control over their small parts of the system.

With easy customization, a hospital or clinic can mandate that certain items be highlighted and that safe workflow rules be followed when entering or retrieving data. But the institution can also offer leeway for individual clinicians and patients to arrange a dashboard, color scheme, or other aspect of the environment to their liking.

Many of the enablers for this kind of agile, user-friendly programming are technical. Modularity is built into programming languages, while branching is standard in version control systems. So why can’t proprietary vendors do what open source communities routinely do? A few actually do, but most are constrained in ways that prevent such flexibility, especially in electronic health records:

  • Most vendors are dragging out the lifetime of nearly 40-year old technology, with brittle languages and tools that put insurmountable barriers in the way of agile work styles. They are also stuck with monolithic systems instead of modular ones.
  • The vendors’ business model depends on this monolithic control. To unbundle components, allow mix-and-match installations, and allow third parties to plug in new features would challenge the prices they charge.
  • The vendors are fundamentally unprepared for empowered users. They may vet features with clinically trained consultants and do market research, but handling power over the system to users is not in their DNA.

Data could be exchanged in a standard format without complex transformations

Data sharing is the lifeblood of modern computing; you can’t get much done on a single computer anymore. Data sharing lies behind new technologies ranging from the Internet of Things to real-time ad generation (the reason you’ll see a link to an article about “Fourteen celebrities who passed out drunk in public” when you’re trying to read a serious article about health IT). But it’s so rare in health care–where it’s uniquely known as “interoperability”–that every year, reformers call it the most critical goal for health IT, and the Office of the National Coordinator has repeatedly narrowed its Meaningful Use and related criteria to emphasize interoperability.

Open source software can share data with other systems as a matter of course. Data formats are simple, often text-based, and defined in the code in easy-to-find ways. Open source programmers, freed from the pressures on proprietary developers to reinvent wheels and set themselves apart from competitors, like to copy existing data formats. As a stark example of open source’s advantages, consider the most recent version of the Open Document Format, used by LibreOffice and other office suites. It defines an entire office suite in 104 pages. How big is the standards document for the Microsoft OOXML format, offering roughly equivalent functionality? Currently, 6,755 pages–and many observers say even that is incomplete. In short, open source is consistently the right choice for data exchange.

What would the adoption of open source do to improve health care, given that it would solve the interoperability problem? Records could be stored in the cloud–hopefully under patient control–and released to any facility treating the patient. Research would blossom, and researchers could share data as allowed by patients. Analytical services could be plugged in to produce new insights about disease and treatment from the records of millions of people. Perhaps interoperability could also contribute to solving the notorious patient matching problem–but that’s a complicated issue that I have discussed elsewhere, touching on privacy issues and user control outside the scope of this article.

The next segment of this article will list three more benefits of free and open source software, along with an assessment of its current and future prospects.

Epic to Hold Startup Competition at App Orchard Conference

Posted on September 14, 2018 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.

I know it’s Friday and we usually do a Fun Friday post, but while this might look like a joke I assure you it’s not. Epic has recently announced to their App Orchard community that they’ll be doing a startup competition. The prize is $5k and “an opportunity to share their pitch with a senior Epic executive to get feedback and advice, and bragging rights.”

The startup competition is being held at the Epic App Orchard Conference happening Oct 24-26th at Epic’s headquarters in Verona. For those not familiar with App Orchard, it’s basically Epic’s partner program. The Founder or CEO of the startup is required to be there to be part of the Startup Pitch competition.

The contest is a little confusing because all tiers of App Orchard members are eligible to participate. However, companies don’t have to have to have an app in the app store yet. This would have been even more interesting if they opened it up outside the App Orchard community as well. However, given the short time frame to submit and then be on stage at the conference, I have a feeling this was a kind of last minute idea that they’re making happen and so they wanted to keep it simple.

Who would have thought that Epic would hold a startup competition? Is Epic finally seeing that there’s a lot of value to them and more importantly to their customers to have a more open approach to working with partners? Ok. A startup competition is a small step, but it feels like a huge one for Epic given past history.

The deadline to apply for the competition is Sep 28th, so it might be tight for companies that aren’t already a member of App Orchard to become a member and take part, but I’d be interested to hear if any company tries. I’ll be interested to hear what companies choose to take part in the competition and what ideas they pitch. Epic is currently displaying 111 apps in their App Orchard gallery.

Times are a changing at Epic. What’s next for Epic? They’re going to start acquiring companies? Let’s not get too crazy.

Execs Say Silicon Valley Has The Jump On Healthcare Innovation

Posted on September 12, 2018 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.

Lately, it’s begun to look as though the leading lights of Silicon Valley might bring the next wave of transformation to healthcare. But can they work big changes in the industry on their own, or are they more likely to succeed by throwing their extremely considerable muscle behind existing healthcare players? That’s one of the many questions at issue as companies like Google, Amazon (Yes, I know they’re in Seattle), and Facebook shoulder their way into the business.

According to a new survey by Reaction Data, many healthcare execs think Amazon, in particular, has the potential to change the game.  When asked which outside entrants were most likely to disrupt the healthcare industry, two-thirds of respondents said the that the online retailing giant topped the list. “Amazon is ahead of the game in many ways compared to the other companies,” a chief nursing officer told Reaction Data.

There’s little doubt that there’s an opening for a company like Amazon to solve some pressing problems. As an industry outsider – unless you count its recent big-ticket acquisition of PillPack, which happened about a minute ago – Amazon may be able to bring fresh eyes to some of healthcare’s biggest problems. For example, what health exec wouldn’t kill to benefit from the e-retailer’s immense logistics capabilities? The mind boggles.

Facebook and Google aren’t making as many healthcare headlines, but they too are moving carefully into the business. For example, consider Google’s partnership with Stanford aimed at creating digital scribes. The digital scribe initiative may not seem like much, but I wouldn’t underestimate what Google can learn from the effort and how effectively it can operationalize this knowledge. It isn’t 2010 anymore, and I think the search giant has come a long way since its Google Health PHR effort collapsed.

Facebook, too, has made some tentative steps toward building a healthcare business, such as its recent agreement to collaborate with the NYU School of Medicine on speeding up MRI scanning using AI. The social networking giant hasn’t shown itself capable of much diversification to date, but I wouldn’t count it out, if for no other reasons than the massive profits to be made. Even for Facebook, we’re talking about serious money here.

If you’re wondering what these companies hope to accomplish, it’s not surprising. There are so many possibilities. One place to start is rethinking the EHR. Maybe I’m a starry-eyed dreamer, but I agree with observers like Dale Sanders, an executive with HealthCatalyst, who argues that Silicon Valley disrupters might be poised to bring something new to the table. “I keep hoping that the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the world will quietly build a new generation EMR,” Sanders writes in a recent column.

EMR transformation is just one of many potential targets of opportunity for the Silicon Valley gang, though. There’s obviously a raft of other goals healthcare leaders might like to see realized, The truth is, though, that it matters less what the Silicon Valley giants do than the competitive scramble they kick off within the industry. Even if these behemoths never succeed in leading the charge, they’re likely to spur others to do so.