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Key Articles in Health IT from 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on January 2, 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.

This article provides a retrospective of 2017 in Health It–but a retrospective from an unusual perspective. I will highlight interesting articles I’ve read from the year as pointers to trends we should follow up on in the upcoming years.

Indubitably, 2017 is a unique year due to political events that threw the field of health care into wild uncertainty and speculation, exemplified most recently by the attempts to censor the use of precise and accurate language at the Centers for Disease Control (an act of political interference that could not be disguised even by those who tried to explain it away). Threats to replace the Affordable Care Act (another banned phrase) drove many institutions, which had formerly focused on improving communications or implementing risk sharing health care costs, to fall back into a lower level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, obsessing over whether insurance payments would cease and patients would stop coming. News about health IT was also drowned out by more general health topics such as drug pricing, the opiate crisis, and revenue pressures that close hospitals.

Key issues

But let’s start our retrospective on an upbeat note. A brief study summary from January 4 reported lower costs for some surgeries when hospitals participated in a modest bundled payment program sponsored by CMS. This suggests that fee-for-value could be required more widely by payers, even in the absence of sophisticated analytics and care coordination. Because only a small percentage of clinicians choose bold risk-sharing reimbursement models, this news is important.

Next, a note on security. Maybe we should reprioritize clinicians’ defenses against the electronic record breaches we’ve been hearing so much about. An analysis found that the most common reason for an unauthorized release of data was an attack by an insiders (43 percent). This contrasts with 26.8 percent from outside intruders. (The article doesn’t say how many records were compromised by each breach, though–if they had, the importance of outside intruders might have skyrocketed.) In any case, watch your audit logs and don’t trust your employees.

In a bracing and rare moment of candor, President Obama and Vice President Biden (remember them?) sharply criticized current EHRs for lack of interoperability. Other articles during the year showed that the political leaders were on target, as interoperability–an odd health care term for what other industries call “data exchange”–continues to be just as elusive as ever. Only 30% of hospitals were able to exchange data (although the situation has probably improved since the 2015 data used in the study). Advances in interoperability were called “theoretical” and the problem was placed into larger issues of poor communication. The Harvard Business Review weighed in too, chiding doctors for spending so much money on systems that don’t communicate.

The controversy sharpened as fraud charges were brought against a major EHR vendor for gaming the certification for Meaningful Use. A couple months later, strangely, the ONC weakened its certification process and announced it would rely more on the vendors to police themselves.

A long article provided some historical background on the reasons for incompatibility among EHRS.

Patients, as always, are left out of the loop: an ONC report finds improvements but many remaining barriers to attempts by patients to obtain the medical records that are theirs by law. And should the manufacturers of medical devices share the data they collect with patients? One would think it an elementary right of patients, but guidance released this year by the FDA was remarkably timid, pointing out the benefits of sharing but leaving it as merely a recommendation and offering big loopholes.

The continued failure to exchange data–which frustrates all attempts to improve treatments and cut costs–has led to the question: do EHR vendors and clinicians deliberately introduce technical measures for “information blocking”? Many leading health IT experts say no. But a study found that explicit information blocking measures are real.

Failures in interoperability and patient engagement were cited in another paper.

And we can’t leave interoperability without acknowledging the hope provided by FHIR. A paper on the use of FHIR with the older Direct-based interoperability protocols was released.

We’ll make our way through the rest of year and look at some specific technologies in the next part of the article.

Make The Busy Patient’s Living Room Their Waiting Room

Posted on December 14, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Chelsea Kimbrough from Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

Chelsea Kimbrough

Patients are busier than ever before. Between the hours of eight to five, a majority have only limited availability to reach out to their healthcare providers. And after the day’s work is done, other responsibilities – such as their children’s after-school activities or errands – reign supreme. Providing easy-access avenues to securing care is the key to acquiring these patients’ loyalty.

In many ways, I’m the busy patient described above. And when I recently came down with a stubborn cough and began looking for an urgent care that could quickly see me, I experienced what I already knew: many healthcare organizations are unequipped to provide care that caters to digitally-minded patients. There were three key problems with my experience.

Problem: Limited Information Available Online
When initially searching for a local urgent care, I struggled to learn more about what a typical experience looked like at various locations. As a first time, admittedly nervous urgent care patient, I wanted to make an informed decision about where to receive care. However, I found that many websites did not offer the insight I sought. Without more information to go off of, I made my decision based on the health system’s good reputation.

Solution: Beef Up Your Web Presence
Ensuring your website has information for all patient types – especially those who may be less familiar with what your unique experience may include – will provide greater peace of mind, set accurate expectations, and enhance patient satisfaction.

Problem: Inability to Reserve Estimated Treatment Time Online
For many, leaving work to sit in a waiting room isn’t a viable option. And without an easy way to reserve an estimated treatment time or insight regarding how long the wait time may be, making time to seek valuable care can be a challenging task. While I was able to leave work early and spend the afternoon at my chosen urgent care, many others don’t have the same flexibility in their positions.

Solution: Introduce Urgent Care Digital Check-In
Enabling patients to reserve their place in line from wherever they may be creates a more seamless patient experience, enhances their sense of access, and creates greater operational efficiency within your facility.

Problem: Forced to Wait in Waiting Room
Though I was lucky be able to leave work early and wait for care at the facility, I would have much rather waited at home. Unfortunately, the urgent care only allowed patients to wait to be seen from within the waiting room with little way of entertainment; leaving would forfeit the patient’s place in the queue. As someone who has been spoiled with this capability across numerous restaurant, veterinary, and mechanic experiences, I was disappointed to find this feature wasn’t readily provided by the healthcare facility.

Solution: Automatically Notify Patients When It’s Time to Be Seen
More patients than ever have access to convenient communication tools. By digitizing your check-in process, you can enable patients to wait from the comfort of their home and notify them when it’s nearly time to be seen via an automated text message or voice call.

In all, my urgent care experience took over two hours. Had the facility provided access to more information regarding what my experience could include, the ability to reserve an estimated treatment time online, and a convenient reminder when my time to be seen neared, I could have saved over an hour spent sitting in the waiting room. If I had access to these capabilities, I could have spent this time completing important work tasks while relaxing (and keeping my germs) at home.

To learn more about how busy, consumer-minded patients are driving the need for omnichannel experiences in the healthcare industry, check out our recent e-book, OmniWhat?!

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services. Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Evolving Message Systems Learn To Filter And Route Alerts For Health Care Providers

Posted on December 11, 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.

Because health care is a collaborative endeavor, patients can suffer if caretakers don’t get timely notifications. At the same time, the caretakers suffer when they are overloaded with alerts. Threading one’s way through this minefield (“Communications are complicated,” Vocera CMIO, Dr. Benjamin Kanter told me) was the theme of November’s Healthcare Messaging Conference and Exhibition at the Harvard Medical School. Like HIMSS, the major conference in health IT, something of a disconnect existed here between the conference and the exhibition. The speakers in the sessions implicitly criticized what the vendors were offering, information overload being the basic accusation.

Conference speakers told story after story of well-meaning installations of messaging systems that almost literally assaulted the staff with dozens of messages an hour. Kenny Schiff of CareSight reported seeing boxes full of expensive devices stuffed into closets in many hospitals. Dr. Trey Dobson reported research suggesting that 85% of standard hospital alarms require no intervention at all. He speculated that messaging has similar wasteful effects. In his facility, the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center at Dartmouth, they determined which lab results need to be delivered to the physician immediately and which could wait. They greatly reduced the number of messages sent about labs, which in turn decreased delivery time for important messages from an average of 50 minutes to only 7 minutes. These stories show both the benefits and drawbacks of current messaging systems.

State of the science
We all remember the first generations of pagers. Modern messaging systems, as represented by the vendors at the Healthcare Messaging Exhibition, offer a much sleeker experience, including:

  • Knowledge about who is responsible for a patient. No longer should messages be delivered to the nurse who left his shift an hour ago. The technical mechanism for tracking the role played by each clinician is group membership, familiar from the world of security. All clinicians who share a responsibility–such as working on a particular ward or caring for a particular patient–are assigned to a group. The status of each clinician is updated as he or she logs into the system, so that the message is delivered to the doctor or nurse currently on duty. A clinician dealing with one urgent situation should also not be interrupted by messages about another situation.

  • Full tracking of a message throughout its lifetime. The system records not only when a message was sent, but whether and when it was read. A message that goes ignored after a certain period of time can be escalated to the next level, and be sent to more and more people until someone addresses it.

  • Flexibility in delivery medium: mobile device, pager, computer, WiFi link, cellular network.

  • Sophisticated auditing. If a hospital needs to prove that a message was read (or that it was never read), the logs have to support that. This is important for both quality control and responses to legal or regulatory actions.

  • Integration with electronic health record systems, which allows systems to include information about the patient in messages.

  • HIPAA compliance. This essentially requires just garden-variety modern encryption, but it’s disturbing to learn how many physicians are breaking the law and risking their patients’ confidentiality by resorting casually to non-compliant messaging services instead of the ones offered at this exhibtion, which are designed specifically for health care use.

  • Cloud services. Instead of keeping information on devices, which can lead to it becoming lost or unavailable, it is stored on the vendor’s servers. This allows more flexible delivery options.

Although some of these advances generate more informative and useful messages, none of them reduce the number of messages. In fact, they encourage a vast expansion of the number of messsages sent. But some companies do offer enhancements over the common traits just cited.

  • Vocera has been connecting health care staff for many years. The company formed the subject of my first article on health IT in 2003, and of course its technology has evolved tremendously since then. Their services extend beyond the hospital to the primary care physician, skilled nursing facilities, and patients themselves. Dr. Kanter told me that they conceive of their service not simply as messaging, but as a form of clinical decision support. Their acquisition of Extension Healthcare in 2016 allowed them to add a new dimension of intelligence to the generation of messages. For instance, the patient’s health record can be consulted to determine the degree of risk presented by an event such as getting out of bed: if the patient has a low risk of falling, only the patient’s nurse may be alerted. Location information can also be incorporated into the logic, so that for instance a nurse who is already in the patient’s room will not receive an alert for that patient. Vocera has a rules engine and works with hospitals to develop customized rules.

  • HipLink has a particularly broad range of both input and delivery devices. In addition to all the common devices used by clinicians, HipLink can convert text to voice to call a plain telephone with a message. CEO Pamela LaPine told me it also accepts input not only from medical sensors, but from sensors embedded in fire alarms, doors, and other common props of medical environments.

  • OnPage helps coordinate secure communications through the use of schedules, individual and group messaging, and message tracking. For instance, the end of an operation may generate a message to the nursing staff to prepare for the arrival of a post-op patient. A message to the cleaning staff might be generated in order to prepare a room. All the necessary messages are presented to a dispatcher on a console.

  • 1Call, which provides a suite of innovative and integrated scheduling and communication applications, includes prompts to call center staff, a service they call Intuitive Call Flow Navigation. For a given situation, the service can help the staff give the information needed at the right point in each call. The same logic applies to the automated processes carried out with 1Call’s integration engine and automated notification software, which can also consolidate messaging based on rules, be customized to each organization’s needs, and improve efficiency throughout the organization.

Michael Detjen, Chief Strategy Officer of Mobile Heartbeat, laid out the pressures on messaging companies to evolve and become more like other cutting-edge high-tech companies. As messaging become universal through a health care institution, workflows come to depend on it, and thus, patient lives depend on it too. Taking the system down for an upgrade–or even worse, having it fail–is not acceptable, even at 2:00 in the morning. Both delivery and successful logging must be guaranteed, both for quality purposes and for compliance. To achieve this kind of reliability, developers must adopt the advanced development techniques popular among the most savvy software companies, such as DevOps and continuous testing and integration.

Looking toward the future
In his presentation, Schiff described some of the physical and logistical requirements for messaging devices. Clinicians should be able to switch devices quickly in case one is lost. They should be able simply to run their ID card through a reader, pick up a new device, and have it recognize them along with their message history (which means storing the messages securely in the cloud). Login requirements should be minimized, and one-hand operation should be possible. Schiff also looks forware to biometric identification of users.

Shahid Shah pointed out that the burden current messaging places on caregivers amounts to a form of uncompensated care. If messages are sent just to reassure patients, doctors and nurses will treat them as annoyances to be avoided. However, if the messages improve productivity, staff will accept them. And if they improve patient outcomes, so much the better–as long as fee-for-value reimbursements allow the health care provider to profit from improved outcomes.

To introduce the intelligence that would make messaging beneficial, Shah suggests more workflow analysis and the automation of common responses. A number of questions regarding patients could be answered automatically by bots, leaving only the more difficult ones for human clinicians.

The message regarding messaging was fairly consistent at the Healthcare Messaging Conference. Messaging has only begun to reap the benefits it can provide, and requires more analytics, more workflow analysis, and more integration with health care sites to become a boon to health care staff. The topic was a rather narrow one for a two-day conference, perhaps the reason it did not attract a large audience in its first iteration. But perhaps the conference will help drive messaging to new levels of sophistication, and become true life-savers while reducing burdens on clinicians.

Healthcare messaging and communication is also one of the focuses of our conference Health IT Expo happening May 30-June 1, 2018 in New Orleans. If you’re in charge of your hospital messaging systems, join us in New Orleans for an in depth look at best practices, hacks, and strategies for hospital messaging and communication.

Communication Strategies Must Include Caregivers, Too

Posted on November 9, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Chelsea Kimbrough from Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

Chelsea KimbroughMillions of healthcare-centric communications occur every day between providers, doctors, professionals, patients, and caregivers. These communications are often focused on the patient. This is a great thing, as the patient is the individual in need of care. Frequently, however, communication strategies are developed to meet patients’ needs and don’t truly consider how to best engage caregivers.

At one point or another, most of us will act as a caregiver for a child, spouse, or parent. We may even be responsible for coordinating multiple patient journeys at once. And should that responsibility come, we’ll likely find the best experiences with healthcare organizations that not only provide excellent patient care, but convenient communications.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 48 percent of caregivers are 18 to 49-years-old. And as this population ages and more young individuals step into the caregiver role, more caregivers will have been raised in homes with Internet access, smartphones, and more. In order to create caregiver-friendly experiences, healthcare organizations should ensure their communication strategies are mobile-optimized, technology-driven, and readily accessible.

Already, caregivers are seeking out ways to simplify communications with healthcare organizations. Instead of making a telephone call to schedule an appointment, many are opting to schedule appointments on behalf of patients online. By providing an easy-to-use online scheduling platform, healthcare organizations can not only ensure busy caregivers can quickly secure an appointment, they can help drive new patient acquisition.

Likewise, appointment reminders – especially those delivered via text message, which are read in the first three minutes by 90 percent of recipients – can be incredibly beneficial for both patients and healthcare organizations. By sending out a strategically timed reminder in a way caregivers are sure to see, healthcare organizations can decrease no-show rates. Here at Stericycle Communication Solutions, we’ve seen no-show rates drop by as much as 80 percent once our appointment reminder solution was implemented – a figure that impacted both the organization’s population and financial health.

A few other ways healthcare organizations can ensure they are ready to meet caregivers’ evolving needs include:

  • Implementing a website that is mobile-friendly and up-to-date
  • Communicating the same information no matter the tool, technology, department, or professional someone may interact with
  • Ensuring the entities listed above have access to the information they need to provide consistent, reliable experiences
  • Answering all phone calls with a live, friendly voice prepared to meet their every need

Caregivers and patients alike want predictable and repeatable experiences no matter the communication channel they choose to interact with. Dubbed “omnichannel” experiences across commercial sectors, healthcare organizations should implement communication strategies and infrastructure that can keep pace with evolving technology and communication preferences. Healthcare organizations that are readily able to introduce new communication channels will be best positioned to secure loyalty and success.

To learn more about how consumer-minded patients are driving the need for omnichannel experiences in the healthcare industry, check out our recent e-book, OmniWhat?!

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services. Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Where Patient Communications Fall Short?

Posted on October 12, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Bennight, Marketing Strategist for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

We are constantly switching devices to engage in our daily lives. In fact, in the last ten minutes I have searched a website on my desktop computer, answered a phone call, and checked several text messages and emails on my cellphone. Our ability to seamlessly jump from one device to the next affects our consumer behavior when interacting with places of business.

Today, we can order coffee and groceries online, web chat with our internet service company, and research store offerings before ever physically walking into a building. Traditionally, healthcare consumers had mainly phone support until the 2014 Meaningful Use 2 rule dictated messaging with a physician and patient portal availability. Recently, online scheduling and urgent care check in has been an attractive offering for consumers of health wanting to take control of their calendars and wait times.

Healthcare is certainly expanding functionality and communication channels to meet consumer demand. But where are we falling short? The answer may be relatively simple: data integration. Much like the clinical side of the healthcare business, integration is a gap we must solve. The key to turning technological convenience into optimal experience is evolving multichannel patient interactions into omnichannel support.

Omnichannel means providing a seamless experience regardless of channel or device. In the healthcare contact center, this means ensuring live agents, scheduling apps, chat bots, messaging apps, and all other interaction points share data across channels. It removes the individual information silos surrounding the patient journey, and connects them into one view from patient awareness to care selection, and again when additional care is needed.

In 2016, Cisco Connect cited four key reasons a business should invest in omnichannel consumer experiences, but I believe this resonates in the healthcare world as well:

  1. A differentiated patient and caregiver experience which is personal and interactive. Each care journey is unique, and their initial experiences should resonate and instill confidence in your brand. We now communicate with several generations who have different levels of comfort with technology and online resources. Offering multiple channels of interaction is crucial to success in the competitive healthcare space. But don’t stop there! Integrated channels connecting the data points along the journey into and beyond the walls of the care facility will create lasting loyalty.
  2. Increased profit and revenue. The journey to finding a doctor or care facility begins long before a patient walks in your door. Most of these journeys begin online, by interviewing friends, and checking online reviews. Once an initial decision is made to visit your organization, you can extend your marketing budget by targeting patients who might actually be interested in your services. When you know what your patients’ needs are, there is a greater focus and a higher chance of conversion.
  3. Maintain and contain operating costs. Integrating with EMRs is not always the easiest task. However, your scheduling and reminder platforms must be able talk to each other not only for the optimal experience, but also for efficient internal process management. For example, if a patient receives a text reminder about an appointment and realizes the timing won’t work, they can request to reschedule via text. Real time communication with the EMR enables agents currently on the phone with other patients to see the original appointment open up and grab the slot. Imagine the streamlining with the patient as well in an integrated platform. Go beyond the ‘request to reschedule’ return text and send a message says “We see that you want to reschedule your appointment. Here are some alternative times available”. Take it one step further with a one-step click to schedule process. With this capability, the patient could immediately book without a follow-up phone call reminder or staff having to hunt them down to book.
  4. Faster time to serve the patient. When systems and people communicate pertinent data, faster issue resolution is possible. Healthcare can be scary, and when you address patient and caregiver needs in a timely manner, trust in your organization will grow. In omnichannel experiences, a patient can search for care in the middle of the night online, and when they don’t find an appointment opening a call could be made. Imagine the value of already knowing that a patient was searching for a sick visit for tomorrow morning with Dr. X. With this data in mind, you are able to immediately offer alternatives and keep that patient in your system before they turn to a more convenient option.

You can see how omnichannel experiences are going to pave the way for the future of the contact center. Right now, the interactions with patients before and after treatment provide an enormous opportunity to build trust and further engagement with your organization. By integrating the data and allowing cross-channel experiences that build on each other, the contact center will extend into the main hub of engagement in the future. The time to build that integrated infrastructure is now, because in the near future new channels of engagement will be added and expected. Are you ready to deliver an omnichannel experience?

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Eliminate These Five Flaws to Improve Asset Utilization in Healthcare

Posted on October 4, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Mohan Giridharadas, Founder and CEO, LeanTaaS.

The passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act accelerated the deployment of electronic health records (EHRs) across healthcare. The overwhelming focus was to capture every patient encounter and place it into an integrated system of records. Equipped with this massive database of patient data, health systems believed they could make exponential improvements to patient experiences and outcomes.

The pace of this migration resulted in some shortcuts being taken — the consequences of which are now apparent to discerning CFOs and senior leaders. Among these shortcuts was the use of resources and capacity as the basis of scheduling patients; this concept is used by hundreds of schedulers in every health system. While simple to grasp, the definition is mathematically flawed.

Not being able to offer a new patient an appointment for at least 10 days negatively impacts the patient experience. Likewise, exceeding capacity by scheduling too many appointments results in long wait times for patients, which also negatively impacts their experience. The troubling paradox is that the very asset creating long wait times and long lead times for appointments also happens to perform at ~50 percent utilization virtually every day. The impact of a mathematically flawed foundation results in alternating between overutilization (causing long patient wait times and/or long delays in securing an appointment) and under-utilization (a waste of expensive capital and human assets).

Here are five specific flaws in the mathematical foundation of health system scheduling:

1. A medical appointment is a stochastic — not deterministic — event.

Every health system has some version of this grid — assets across the top, times of the day for each day of the week along the side — on paper, in electronic format or on a whiteboard. The assets could be specific (e.g., the GE MRI machine or virtual MRI #1, #2, etc.). As an appointment gets confirmed, the appropriate range of time on the grid gets filled in to indicate that the slot has been reserved.

Your local racquet club uses this approach to reserve tennis courts for its members. It works beautifully because the length of a court reservation is precisely known (i.e., deterministic) to be exactly one hour in duration. Imagine the chaos if club rules were changed to allow players to hold their reservation even if they arrive late (up to 30 minutes late) and play until they were tired (up to a maximum of two hours). This would make the start and end times for a specific tennis appointment random (i.e., stochastic). Having a reservation would no longer mean you would actually get on the court at your scheduled time. This happens to patients every day across many parts of a health system. The only way to address the fact that a deterministic framework was used to schedule a stochastic event is to “reserve capacity” either in the form of a time buffer (i.e., pretend that each appointment is actually longer than necessary) or as an asset buffer (i.e., hold some assets in reserve).

2. The asset cannot be scheduled in isolation; a staff member has to complete the treatment.

Every appointment needs a nurse, provider or technician to complete the treatment. These staff members are scheduled independently and have highly variable workloads throughout the day. Having an asset that is available without estimating the probability of the appropriate staff member also being available at that exact time will invariably result in delays. Imagine if the tennis court required the club pro be present for the first 10 and last 10 minutes of every tennis appointment. The grid system wouldn’t work in that case either (unless the club was willing to have one tennis pro on the staff for every tennis court).

3. It requires an estimation of probabilities.

Medical appointments have a degree of randomness — no-shows, cancellations and last-minute add-ons are a fact of life, and some appointments run longer or shorter than expected. Every other scheduling system faced with such uncertainty incorporates the mathematics of probability theory. For example, airlines routinely overbook their flights; the exact number of overbooked seats sold depends on the route, the day and the flight. They usually get it right, and the cancellations and no-shows create enough room for the standby passengers. Occasionally, they get it wrong and more passengers hold tickets than the number of seats on the airplane. This results in the familiar process of finding volunteers willing to take a later flight in exchange for some sort of compensation. Nothing in the EHR or scheduling systems used by hospitals allows for this strategic use of probability theory to improve asset utilization.

4. Start time and duration are independent variables.

Continuing with the airplane analogy: As a line of planes work their way toward the runway for departure, the controller really doesn’t care about each flight’s duration. Her job is to get each plane safely off the ground with an appropriate gap between successive takeoffs. If one 8-hour flight were to be cancelled, the controller cannot suddenly decide to squeeze in eight 1-hour flights in its place. Yet, EHRs and scheduling systems have conflated start time and appointment duration into a single variable. Managers, department leaders and schedulers have been taught that if they discover a 4-hour opening in the “appointment grid” for any specific asset, they are free to schedule any of the following combinations:

  • One 4-hour appointment
  • Two 2-hour appointments
  • One 2-hour appointment and two 1-hour appointments in any order
  • One 3-hour appointment and one 1-hour appointment in either order
  • Four 1-hour appointments

These are absolutely not equivalent choices. Each has wildly different resource-loading implications for the staff, and each choice has a different probability profile of starting or ending on time. This explains why the perfectly laid out appointment grid at the start of each day almost never materializes as planned.

5. Setting appointments is more complicated than first-come, first-served.

Schedulers typically make appointments on a first-come, first-served basis. If a patient were scheduling an infusion treatment or MRI far in advance, the patient would likely hear “the calendar is pretty open on that day — what time would you like?” What seems like a patient-friendly gesture is actually mathematically incorrect. The appointment options for each future day should be a carefully orchestrated set of slots of varying durations that will result in the flattest load profile possible. In fact, blindly honoring patient appointment requests just “kicks the can down the road”; the scheduler has merely swapped the inconvenience of appointment time negotiation for excessive patient delays on the day of treatment. Instead, the scheduler should steer the patient to one of the recommended appointment slots based on the duration for that patient’s specific treatment.

In the mid-1980s, Sun Microsystems famously proclaimed that the “network is the computer.” The internet and cloud computing were not yet a thing, so most people could not grasp the concept of computers needing to be interconnected and that the computation would take place in the network and not on the workstation. In healthcare scheduling, “the duration is the resource” — the number of slots of a specific duration must be counted and allocated judiciously at various points throughout the day. Providers should carefully forecast the volume and the duration mix of patients they expect to serve for every asset on every day of the week. With that knowledge the provider will know, for example, that on Mondays, we need 10 1-hour treatments, 15 2-hour treatments and so on. Schedulers could then strategically decide to space appointments throughout the day (or cluster them in the morning or afternoon) by offering up two 1-hour slots at 7:10 a.m., one 1-hour slot at 7:40 a.m., etc. The allocation pattern matches the availability of the staff and the underlying asset to deliver the most level-loaded schedule for each day. In this construct, the duration is the resource being offered up to patients one at a time with the staff and asset availability as mathematical constraints to the equation (along with dozens of other operational constraints).

Health systems need to re-evaluate the mathematical foundation used to guide their day-to-day operations — and upon which the quality of the patient experience relies. All the macro forces in healthcare (more patients, older patients, higher incidence of chronic illnesses, lower reimbursements, push toward value-based care, tighter operating and capital budgets) indicate an urgent need to be able to do more with existing assets without upsetting patient flow. A strong mathematical foundation will enable a level of operational excellence to help health systems increase their effective capacity for treating more patients while simultaneously improving the overall flow and reducing the wait time.

About Mohan Giridharadas
Mohan Giridharadas is an accomplished expert in lean methodologies. During his 18-year career at McKinsey & Company (where he was a senior partner/director for six years), he co-created the lean service operations practice and ran the North American lean manufacturing and service operations practices and the Asia-Pacific operations practice. He has helped numerous Fortune 500 companies drive operational efficiency with lean practices. As founder and CEO of LeanTaaS, a Silicon Valley-based innovator of cloud-based solutions to healthcare’s biggest challenges, Mohan works closely with dozens of leading healthcare institutions including Stanford Health Care, UCHealth, NewYork-Presbyterian, Cleveland Clinic, MD Anderson and more. Mohan holds a B.Tech from IIT Bombay, MS in Computer Science from Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA from Stanford GSB. He is on the faculty of Continuing Education at Stanford University and UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and has been named by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of the top entrepreneurs innovating in healthcare. For more information on LeanTaaS, please visit http://www.leantaas.com and follow the company on Twitter @LeanTaaS, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LeanTaaS and LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/leantaas.

The Subtle Signs of Sepsis Infographic

Posted on September 27, 2017 I Written By

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

Sepsis has been a major challenge in healthcare for a long time. This was highlighted really well on the Wolters Kluwer Nursing Center website:

Throughout my experience in health care over the past 30 plus years, the diagnosis of sepsis has been one of the most challenging. Sepsis affects millions of people worldwide and one in four of the people affected will die. The way we recognize and treat sepsis has changed over the years, and in January 2017, the International Guidelines for Management of Sepsis and Septic Shock: 2016 was published. This update to the 2012 guidelines, emphasizes that patients with sepsis should be viewed as having a medical emergency, necessitating urgent assessment and treatment.

According to the Advisory Board, the average direct cost per case for a primary sepsis diagnosis is $18,700, yet the typical Medicare reimbursement for sepsis and sepsis with complications is just $7,100-12,000. It’s no wonder so many hospitals are worried about sepsis.

I’ve been impressed with the way technology has been used to address the problem of Sepsis. I’ve seen a lot of companies working to use analytics to predict sepsis or identify it in real time as it’s happening. I recently saw where Wolters Kluwer partnered with Vocera to be able to connect the Sepsis risk analysis data with the providers, carrying Vocera badges, who can make the proper diagnosis and start treatment in the early stages when Sepsis is most treatable.

This kind of collaboration between healthcare IT vendors is the only way we’re going to make a dent in major healthcare problems like Sepsis. So, I applaud these two companies for working together.

For those that don’t know, September is Sepsis Awareness Month. As part of this month long recognition of Sepsis, Wolters Kluwer put together an infographic that shows the subtle signs of sepsis. While technology can certainly help with Sepsis identification and treatment, there’s still an important human element as well. This infographic highlights the signs that healthcare providers can and should look for and methods of treatment.

What efforts have you seen effective in identifying and treating sepsis in your healthcare organization?

Create Happier Healthcare Staff in 3 Easy Steps

Posted on September 14, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Chelsea Kimbrough from Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Chelsea Kimbrough
Creating excellent patient experiences is the focus of nearly every healthcare organization. To do this, providers are increasingly turning to new patient engagement tools and technologies. It’s important to note, however, that patient experience woes cannot be mended with technology alone. The healthcare professionals facilitating communications and care will always play an integral role in patients’ overall satisfaction and loyalty.

Unfortunately, those providing in-person care are often distracted from important patient-facing responsibilities by front office tasks. Thankfully, many modern engagement tools are able to create more seamless operational workflows for healthcare professionals in tandem with enhanced patient experiences. But with the market growing increasingly competitive, it’s important to pick the tools and technologies that best serves both populations.

Outlined below are three steps healthcare organizations can take to create a more enjoyable workplace for their staff and what key capabilities are necessary to ensure the greatest ROI.

  1. Lessen the number of phone calls
    If the phone isn’t demanding attention, healthcare professionals are better able to focus their talent and effort on the patients and people in more immediate need of their expertise. This ability drives better health outcomes, operational efficiencies, and patient experiences.

    Telephone answering solutions and technology help achieve these results. However, it’s important whoever is answering your phones is prepared to handle any question, task, language, or call volume. Unfortunately, many internally-run call answering solutions are unable to swiftly manage fluctuating call volumes. By partnering with a third-party telephone answering service, healthcare organizations can ensure every call is met with exceptional care.

    When searching for a call center solution, healthcare organization should seek:

    • Flexible call answering solutions
    • Multilingual live agent support
    • Control over call flow & scripting
    • Proven experience & expertise
  1. Automate appointment reminders
    Patients crave convenient experiences – and so do healthcare professionals. Automating informational messages to patients, such as appointment reminders, population health notifications, and relevant event announcements, removes part of this communication responsibility from staff, directly enabling them to focus on in-person care.

    It’s important, however, that this particular service is able to integrate with the health systems’ EHR or EMR. This ability enables the health system to target a patient’s contact method of choice when sending automated messages, seamlessly enhancing their experience. And by communicating every interaction with the health system, staff members are kept informed and prepared to meet patients’ needs should they choose to reach out.

    When searching for a messaging solution, healthcare organization should seek:

    • Email, voice, and text messaging capabilities
    • Patient-specific customization
    • Easy message deployment
    • EHR/EMR connectivity
  1. Optimize patient scheduling
    Patients of all ages can benefit from a smoother appointment scheduling processes – and for many patients, online scheduling is the answer. By eliminating the need for a timely phone call, online scheduling better fits into the digitally-driven lives of today’s patients.  And when implemented properly, online scheduling can directly benefit both telephone answering and automated messaging, too.

    Because scheduling an appointment should be a pain-free process, healthcare organizations should simplify it by sending an automated reminder with a unique, secure link to digitally schedule an appointment from their phone, laptop, or other internet connected device. By choosing a tool that automatically communicates this information with the health system’s EHR, patients can call about their appointment and receive consistently accurate information no matter what healthcare employee answers the phone. What’s more, this particular patient engagement tool lessens the appointment scheduling burdening from staff, enabling them to provide better in-person care.

    When searching for an appointment scheduling solution, healthcare organization should seek:

    • Intuitive, user-friendly tools
    • Accurate appointment availability
    • Easy message deployment
    • EHR/EMR connectivity

When the right communication tools and technologies are implemented, entire healthcare organizations thrive. With the above three strategies and the technologies associated with them in place, healthcare professionals can better focus on patients with the reassurance their phones are answered by trained professionals, important messages are promptly delivered, and schedules are being filled.

Healthcare organizations that implement communication tools and technologies that benefit both patients and staff are better positioned to have happier, more satisfied team members. And with a happier staff tending to patients’ healthcare needs, organizations can better safeguard patient loyalty for years to come.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services. Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Our Final 2017 #HIT100 List

Posted on July 28, 2017 I Written By

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

Much like social media, the #HIT100 is never without a few challenges, but I’m also happy to say that this year’s #HIT100 exhibited an extreme amount of gratitude and appreciation from and for thousands of people in the healthcare social media community.

I’m impressed by the number of people participating in the #HIT100. Symplur calculated that the #HIT100 hashtag generated 42 million impressions across 6195 tweets and 1852 participants (some just used the hashtag for discussion and not a nomination). Those are impressive numbers.

As I mentioned, I don’t intend to publish a ranked list of the #HIT100 as has been done in past years since I think ranking on the #HIT100 can be easily gamed and therefore ranking on the list has little meaning. However, I think a list of 100 social media accounts that many in the community recognize as valuable is something worth sharing. It’s a great way to discover new accounts, be reminded of accounts you haven’t seen in a while, and find new sources of information and insights into the industry. This year we had quite a few people I’d never seen before and what seems like a larger international group than previous years.

I’d hoped to find a way to publish the final 2017 #HIT100 list where it would list the top 100 accounts in random order that changed on every refresh. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time available to really flesh this out. So, I’ve resorted to publishing the #HIT100 list in reverse ABC order (because the A’s always get first and so why not the Z’s this time?).

Over time I hope to publish other interesting insights and charts from the nominations including popular hashtags, other engagement stats, those only nominated by one person to the #HIT100, those who weren’t on previous #HIT100 lists, etc. For now, take a minute and browse through this impressive list of people who largely care about using technology to improve healthcare.

Finally, a big thank you to Joe Warbington (@JWarbington) from Qlik for providing a pretty amazing tool for me to analyze all the #HIT100 nominations and Dennis Dailey (@_hitshow) who suggested I work with them. I’d seen Qlik work on EHR data, but I didn’t realize it could so easily collect and analyze Twitter data as well. Thanks to them for providing the tool I could use to analyze all the nominations.

Data Disclaimer: We made an effort to ensure the data was as accurate as possible for this list. However, since we see this just as a fun activity of social discovery and appreciation, we didn’t go to great lengths to ensure the accuracy and won’t be publishing the “rank” on the list. In fact, we’re sure it’s not 100% accurate. If that’s an issue for you, we welcome you to pull the data from Twitter and do your own analysis. We welcome any and all to take the nominations and use them however they may. The beauty of the #HIT100 is that it’s all available to anyone to assess, slice, dice, interpret, and use however they see fit. If people publish 20 different #HIT100 lists, great. More discovery of new and interesting people for everyone involved. The following is our quick and dirty analysis of the nominations.

#HIT100 Twitter Accounts
@womenofteal
@wareFLO
@vishnu_saxena
@VinceKuraitis
@VictorHSW
@ukpenguin
@tweettiwoo
@Tony_PharmD
@TextraHealth
@techguy
@stacygoebel
@smithhazelann
@ShimCode
@ShereesePubHlth
@SeanSaid_
@sarahbennight
@rtoleti
@Resultant
@Respond_Rescue
@ReginaHolliday
@realHayman
@RBlount
@RasuShrestha
@R1chardatron
@PointonChris
@PharmacyPodcast
@PharmacyEdge1
@PatientVoices
@pat_health
@orpyxinc
@nrip
@nmanaloto
@nickisnpdx
@natarpr
@NaomiFried
@MMaxwellStroud
@mloxton
@mikebiselli
@MichelleRKearns
@Michael81082
@MelSmithJones
@melissaxxmccool
@Matt_R_Fisher
@markwattscra
@maria_quinlan
@marcus_baw
@MandiBPro
@lynnvos
@Lygeia
@LouiseGeraghty5
@lisadbudzinski
@klrogers5
@KenRayTaylor
@JWarbington
@justaskjul
@jotaelecruz
@JoinAPPA
@JohnNosta
@JoeBabaian
@Joan_JJ_Mc
@Jim_Rawson_MD
@JennDennard
@JBBC
@jaredpiano
@janicemccallum
@JamieJay2
@jameyedwards
@jamesfreed5
@innonurse
@healthythinker
@HealthData4All
@HealthcareWen
@gnayyar
@ginaman2
@GilmerHealthLaw
@GeriLynn
@ErinLAlbert
@endocrine_witch
@EMRAnswers
@ElinSilveous
@ebukstel
@DrTylerDalton
@drstclaire
@drnic1
@drlfarrell
@DmitriWall
@dirkstanley
@dflee30
@dchou1107
@dandunlop
@CTrappe
@Colin_Hung
@CoherenceMed
@CancerGeek
@burtrosen
@BunnyEllerin
@btrfly12
@Brian_Eastwood
@Brad_Justus
@billesslinger
@BGerleman
@BFMack
@BarbyIngle
@AllanVafi
@AinemCarroll
@ahier
@2healthguru
@_FaceSA

A big thank you to everyone who participated in the #HIT100 this year. Let’s keep sharing the good and showing appreciation for the people who influence our life for good.

Past #HIT100 Lists:
2016 #HIT100
2015 #HIT100
2014 #HIT100
2013 #HIT100
2012 #HIT100
2011 #HIT100

Best Practices for Patient Engagement

Posted on July 13, 2017 I Written By

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

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby, Marketing Strategist for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
Knowledge is power… so the saying goes.  When it comes to patient engagement, it couldn’t be more true. Being “in tune” is the key to unlocking the ultimate patient experience. Knowing what your patients need and want allows you to close the gap and deliver on those desires, while developing a deeper connection through effective patient engagement.

Here at Stericycle Communication Solutions, we are a group of individuals with all different types of needs and wants as patients. Below are some of the best practices that we preach to our doctors and healthcare providers when it comes to patient engagement and the patient experience:

Connect with meaning – Reach us where we spend most of our time. Roughly two-thirds of us own a smartphone, meaning we have access at our fingertips.  We expect an interactive and omni experience with our healthcare providers. We are looking for simple ways to connect with our doctors, schedule appointments, and prepare for important appointments.  By engaging on these terms, healthcare practices can be sure to connect to patients on a deeper level and encourage repeat visits to their health system.

Engage through multiple and preferred channels – We expect our healthcare experience to fit seamlessly into the rest of our lives. This means integrating with the technologies that we prefer including online, in person, and on our devices.

Did you know that:

  • 91% of us email daily
  • 77% of us set up appointments with their primary care provider via phone call
  • Text messages have a 98% open rate

These simple touch points, enables you to effectively engage using more than one mode of communication, ensuring you connect with us the right way each time!

Get personal! – Patients are no different than the everyday consumer.  We love personalization. In fact, 47% of us said we wanted “personalized experiences” when it comes to our health. Communicating based on our specific needs and wants gets noticed and evokes action! This allows providers to not only connect on a more personal level with us, but also empowers us to take an active role in own healthcare.

Involve Us! – Keep us in the loop! We are more involved in our own health than ever before.  Use of health apps and wearables have doubled in the last two years. We want to play an active role when it comes to important healthcare related moments.  Both US consumers (77%) and doctors (85%) agree that the use of health apps and wearables helps patients engage in their health. We want to be involved; take advantage!

To learn more about effective patient engagement, download this patient engagement whitepaper.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms