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Population Health Management and Business Process Management

Posted on June 13, 2014 I Written By

Chuck Webster, MD, MSIE, MSIS has degrees in Accountancy, Industrial Engineering, Intelligent Systems, and Medicine (from the University of Chicago). He designed the first undergraduate program in medical informatics, was a software architect in a hospital MIS department, and also VP and CMIO for an EHR vendor for over a decade. Dr. Webster helped three healthcare organizations win the HIMSS Davies Award and is a judge for the annual Workflow Management Coalition Awards for Excellence in BPM and Workflow and Awards for Case Management. Chuck is a ceaseless evangelist for process-aware technologies in healthcare, including workflow management systems, Business Process Management, and dynamic and adaptive case management. Dr. Webster tweets from @wareFLO and maintains numerous websites, including EHR Workflow Management Systems (, Healthcare Business Process Management ( and the People and Organizations improving Healthcare with Health Information Technology ( Please join with Chuck to spread the message: Viva la workflow!

This is my fifth and final of five guest blog posts covering Health IT and EHR Workflow.

Way back in 2009 I penned a research paper with a long and complicated title that could also have been, simply, Population Health Management and Business Process Management. In 2010 I presented it at MedInfo10 in Cape Town, Africa. Check out my travelogue!

Since then, some of what I wrote has become reality, and much of the rest is on the way. Before I dive into the weeds, let me set the stage. The Affordable Care Act added tens of millions of new patients to an already creaky and dysfunctional healthcare and health IT system. Accountable Care Organizations were conceived as virtual enterprises to be paid to manage the clinical outcome and costs of care of specific populations of individuals. Population Health Management has become the dominant conceptual framework for proceeding.

I looked at a bunch of definitions of population health management and created the following as a synthesis: “Proactive management of clinical and financial risks of a defined patient group to improve clinical outcomes and reduce cost via targeted, coordinated engagement of providers and patients across all care settings.”

You can see obvious places in this definition to apply trendy SMAC tech — social, mobile, analytics, and cloud — social, patient settings; mobile, provider and patient settings; analytics, cost and outcomes; cloud, across settings. But here I want to focus on the “targeted, coordinated.” Increasingly, it is self-developed and vendor-supplied care coordination platforms that target and coordinate, filling a gap between EHRs and day-to-day provider and patient workflows.

The best technology on which, from which, to create care coordination platforms is workflow technology, AKA business process management and adaptive/dynamic case management software. In fact, when I drill down on most sophisticated, scalable population health management and care coordination solutions, I usually find a combination of a couple things. Either the health IT organization or vendor is, in essence, reinventing the workflow tech wheel, or they embed or build on third-party BPM technology.

Let me direct you to my section Patient Class Event Hierarchy Intermediates Patient Event Stream and Automated Workflow in that MedInfo10 paper. First of all you have to target the right patients for intervention. Increasingly, ideas from Complex Event Processing are used to quickly and appropriately react to patient events. A Patient Class Event Hierarchy is a decision tree mediating between low-level events (patient state changes) and higher-level concepts clinical concepts such as “on-protocol,” “compliant”, “measured”, and “controlled.”

Examples include patients who aren’t on protocol but should be, aren’t being measured but should be, or whose clinical values are not controlled. Execution of appropriate automatic policy-based workflows (in effect, intervention plans) moves patients from off-protocol to on-protocol, non-compliance to compliance, unmeasured to measured, and from uncontrolled to controlled state categories.

Population health management and care coordination products and services may use different categories, terminology, etc. But they all tend to focus on sensing and reacting to untoward changes in patient state. But simply detecting these changes is insufficient. These systems need to cause actions. And these actions need to be monitored, managed, and improved, all of which are classic sterling qualities of business process management software systems and suites.

I’m reminded of several tweets about Accountable Care Organization IT systems I display during presentations. One summarizes an article about ACOs. The other paraphrases an ACO expert speaking at a conference. The former says ACOs must tie together many disparate IT systems. The later says ACOs boil down to lists: actionable lists of items delivered to the right person at the right time. If you put these requirements together with system-wide care pathways delivered safely and conveniently to the point of care, you get my three previous blog posts on interoperability, usability, and safety.

I’ll close here with my seven advantages of BPM-based care coordination technology. It…

  • More granularly distinguishes workflow steps
  • Captures more meaningful time-stamped task data
  • More actively influences point-of-care workflow
  • Helps model and understand workflow
  • Better coordinates patient care task handoffs
  • Monitors patient care task execution in real-time
  • Systematically improves workflow effectiveness & efficiency

Distinguishing among workflow steps is important to collecting data about which steps provide value to providers and patients, as well as time-stamps necessary to estimate true costs. Further, since these steps are executed, or at least monitored, at the point-of-care, there’s more opportunity to facilitate and influence at the point-of-care. Modeling workflow contributes to understanding workflow, in my view an intrinsically valuable state of affairs. These workflow models can represent and compensate for interruptions to necessary care task handoffs. During workflow execution, “enactment” in BPM parlance, workflow state is made transparently visible. Finally, workflow data “exhaust” (particularly times-stamped evidence-based process maps) can be used to systematically find bottlenecks and plug care gaps.

In light of the fit between complex event processing detecting changes in patient state, and BPM’s automated, managed workflow at the point-of-care, I see no alternative to what I predicted in 2010. Regardless of whether it’s rebranded as care or healthcare process management, business process management is the most mature, practical, and scalable way to create the care coordination and population health management IT systems required by Accountable Care Organizations and the Affordable Care Act. A bit dramatically, I’d even say business process management’s royal road to healthcare runs through care coordination.

This was my fifth and final blog post in this series on healthcare and workflow technology solicited by John Lynn for this week that he’s on vacation. Here was the outline:

If you missed one of my previous posts, I hope you’ll still check it out. Finally, thank you John, for allowing to me temporarily share your bully pulpit.

Do Hospitals Need an EDW to Participate in an ACO?

Posted on July 29, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and 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 Dana Sellers, Chief Executive Officer of Encore Health Resources. Dana’s comments are in response to my post titled, “Skinny Data Solves Specific Problems While BIG DATA Looks for Unseen Problems.” For more context, also check out my post on Skinny Data in Healthcare, and my video interview with Dana Sellers.
You did a great job of nailing down the kinds of problems our industry can tackle with BIG DATA on the one hand and smart, skinny data on the other in your blog last Thursday, “Skinny Data Solves Specific Problems While BIG DATA Looks for Unseen Problems.” We here at Encore Health Resources were particularly intrigued when you asked whether skinny data would be enough for ACOs, or whether hospitals will need full enterprise data warehouses – EDWs – to meet the demands of ACOs.

I’d love to take a shot at that. As I’m sure lots of your readers know, an EDW is a collection of enterprise data based on the best guess of what an organization thinks it will need over the long run. So it’s bigger than skinny data (only what we know we need now) but smaller than Big Data (every bit of data available). So now we get to your question…do hospitals need an EDW to meet the demands of participating in an ACO?

If you’ve got one, great! In large part, we know what measures ACOs want a hospital to report. If you already have a mature, well-populated EDW — fantastic! Pull the needed data, calculate the required measures, and go for it.

If not, start with skinny data. Many organizations find that they are jumping into ACOs before they have a mature EDW. So this is a great example of where skinny data is a great idea. The concept of skinny data lets you focus on the specific data required by the ACO. Instead of spending a long time trying to gather everything you might need eventually, focus on the immediate needs: quality, readmissions, unnecessary ED visits, controlling diabetes, controlling CHF, etc. Gather that quickly, and then build to a full EDW later.

Think about a skinny data appliance. One of the problems I’m seeing across the country is that organizations are rarely talking about just one ACO. These days, it’s multiple ACOs, and each one requires a different set of metrics. I talked with an organization last week that is abandoning its current business intelligence strategy and seeking a new one because they didn’t feel the old strategy was going to be able to accommodate the explosion of measures that are required by all the ACOs and commercial contracts and Federal initiatives coming down the road. The problem is that you don’t have to just report all these measures- you actually need to perform against these measures, or you won’t be reimbursed in this new world.

One way to deal with this is to establish a sound EDW strategy but supplement it with a skinny data appliance. I doubt that’s an official term, but my mother never told me I couldn’t make up words. To me, a skinny data appliance is something that sits on top of your EDW and gives you the ability to easily extract, manipulate, report, and monitor smaller subsets of data for a special purpose. As the demands of ACOs, commercial contracts, and Federal regulations proliferate, the ability to be quick and nimble will be critical — and being nimble without an army of programmers will be important. One large organization I know estimates that the use of a smart skinny data appliance may save them several FTEs (full time equivalents) per year, just in the programming of measures.

Bottom line – I believe skinny data will support current ACO requirements. Eventually, an EDW will be useful, and skinny data is a good way to get started. Many large organizations will go the EDW route, and they will benefit from a skinny data appliance.

John, as always, I love talking with you!

Are We Ready For ACOs? Security, Process Issues Abound

Posted on June 13, 2012 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.

Accountable Care Organizations are starting to emerge and solidify, though they still seem to be mostly the efforts of large integrated health systems dancing with large medical groups and partner hospitals with very strong IT departments.  In other words, ACOs don’t seem to be for the weak or poorly funded, at least not yet.

The business issues these entities face (aligning physicians with global goals, most particularly) are complicated and taxing enough. Once you’ve gotten those initiatives in motion, it’s time to interoperate and share data. After all, you have a better chance of accomplishing them if your group shares health data freely and uses advanced functions of EMRs to track collective clinical progress.

The thing is, even big, mature IDNs with a tightly-knit ACO group are still struggling with physician alignment and, as we all know, getting what they need from their EMR and health data exchange.

Given how hard creating consensus and sharing interoperable data is, it’d be nice to end the critique right there. But the truth is, shared goals and shared systems are just one layer of the problem.

One thing I don’t hear much of is serious discussion as to the security issues that open up when you share data across the porous borders of ACO partner organizations.

Now, I am neither a lawyer nor an engineer (IANALOE), so I’m not going to attempt to articulate any long list of specific security problems. But just because IANALOE doesn’t mean I can’t see the obvious:  Data shared widely is data exposed, unless you’ve got some great solutions in place.

Moreover, data shared among even partnered ACO organizations will pass through some organizations that have trained their staff effectively in HIPAA compliance, and others where the training was minimal or didn’t take.  This is a problem that must be faced by HIEs in any event, but even  more when providers need to manage at the case level, doing deep dives into patient records rather than skimming summaries and drug lists.

I’m not suggesting that ACOs don’t work — actually, I think they can perform very well — but I am suggesting that we aren’t taking the process and security issues as seriously as we should.  I do hope solutions to these problems emerge as ACOs refine their business models.  If not, I see some serious crashes in the future.

Can a Patient Focused EHR Sell?

Posted on March 2, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In one of my many recent conversations or readings about EHR, I had this really interesting question come into my mind:

Can a Patient Focused EHR Sell?

At the core of this question is another question: Why do doctors buy and implement EHR software?

As I process these two questions, I’m once again faced with what I call a perverse set of incentives in healthcare. Turns out that these perverse incentives are all to common in healthcare and they make me sick when I think about them.

I’m sure many out there would argue that none of the EHR software out there are patient focused. We could argue that point (particularly the word none), but let’s just assume for a second that the EHR software out there today isn’t patient focused. Is the EHR vendor responsible for not making patient focused EHR software or are they just meeting the requests of doctors and clinics.

As I scan through my 6+ years of experience living and breathing EHR, I’m trying to remember a case where a doctor chose to go with EHR based on improving the care of the patients. I can think of a few incidents where patient care had a subtle after thought. By far, the most common reasons for implementing an EHR have been about the impact to the doctor and/or clinic. Most of the reasons are financial or lead to financial implications.

Which EHR sounds better to doctors?
-Improved Efficiency
-Increased Reimbursement
-Better Patient Care
-Improved Clinical Outcomes

We could certainly argue some indirect benefits to patients by doctors being more efficient and practices doing better financially. However, in healthcare patients are rarely the direct beneficiaries of any efficiencies that are gained. The doctor, the clinic, and/or the insurance companies usually take those benefits.

I’ve written before about one of the major challenges is that patients: 1. don’t have good ways to differentiate and measure the quality of the medical care they receive and 2. some don’t have a choice of physician because it’s the only physician in that area. These two factors make it so that the quality of patient care (at least within some reasonable norm) has little impact on the number of patients that visit a certain doctor.

This is a challenging question that I don’t have the answer to, but it seems clear to me that the EHR market is delivering the solutions that people are asking them to create. I wish there was a way we could adjust the market to create more patient focused EHR. Maybe the ACO movement will help us get there.

Quick Disclaimer: While this describes general economic motives in the EHR market, I have known a number of people and even some companies in the EHR world that want to do what’s best for the patient regardless of the bottom line. As one EHR vendor CEO told me, “We’ve left money on the table.” I just wish that market forces could be turned to do what’s right for healthcare so everyone would be incentivized to do good.

Connecting Wireless, Mobile and the Future of Healthcare: Healthcare Honchos Address Issues Head-on

Posted on April 23, 2011 I Written By

There are tons of conferences out there relating to healthcare, and an increasing number are related to technology and specifically to mobile healthcare.  This conference focuses specifically on taking advantage of the opportunities that wireless and mobile healthcare provides.  Plus, it is in San Diego so you can’t really miss there.

Convergence Summit Runs May 10-12, 2011 in San Diego

How will advances in mobile technology improve access to healthcare in the U.S. and globally? What role will wireless technology play in improving productivity in healthcare? Will the new regulations outlined recently by the Health and Human Services department regarding Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s) play a role? Wireless and mobile healthcare may well form the basis for new methods of healthcare delivery—for instance, “to treat an individual patient across care settings—including doctor’s offices, hospitals, and long-term care facilities” (CMS Office of Media Affairs).

These and other wireless healthcare issues are to be the star subjects of the Convergence Summit, a three-day event to be held May 10-12, 2011 in San Diego, hosted by the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA) and its partner TripleTree, LLC.

Featured speakers include:

  • Paul Jacobs, Ph.D, CEO of Qualcomm, who is slated to give the opening-day keynote on May 10, 2011;
  • Bill McGuire, M.D., the former CEO of United Healthcare, who is to open the second day of the summit on May 11, 2011;
  • Harry Greenspun, M.D., chief medical officer at Dell, kicks off the final day on May 12, 2011.

A post-lunch keynote on May 12 is to feature Dan Buettner, the New York Times best-selling author of, most recently, Thrive: Finding Happiness in the Blue Zones Way (National Geographic, 2010).

The Convergence Summit is an exclusive gathering of executives, investors, developers and policy makers who come together annually to address issues of advancing innovations in wireless and mobile healthcare technology. Other speakers include John Kelliher, The Marwood Group; Richard Migliori, Optum; Preetha Reddy, Apollo Health Systems; and Tien Tzuo, Zuora.

“Wireless coverage is nearly ubiquitous within the U.S. and many parts of the world. This opens up opportunities for advancing healthcare globally in ways we haven’t even dreamed of,” says TripleTree senior director and chief marketing officer Chris Hoffmann.

WLSA organizers devote each day to a forward-looking theme about uniting wireless and healthcare. Conference themes for this, the sixth annual Convergence Summit, include “Defining a global platform for wireless and mobile health” (Day 1), “Best approaches for streamlining patient-doctor interactions” (Day 2) and “The convergence of mobile and cloud, and the simplification of healthcare solutions” (Day 3). Day 2 also features the presentation of the third annual I Awards, sponsored exclusively by TripleTree, for innovation in wireless healthcare.

Several lively forums dovetail with the conference themes; the forums are open exchanges, with executives, innovators, investors and others brainstorming the topics. No PowerPoint presentations allowed!

Conference participants for the three days of forums include representatives from large and small companies on the cutting edge of the convergence of wireless and healthcare. A sampling of participating companies includes Appirio, Ascension Health, AT&T, Banner Health, CareFusion, Dell, EmpowHER, Healthagen, InstyMeds, WhiteGlove House Call, Johnson & Johnson, Jitterbug, Mental Workout, Optum, Procter and Gamble, RehabCare, Teladoc and Telcare. A total of 300-400 participants are expected to attend the summit.

“When we put all these people in the same room—innovators and users, entrepreneurs and HMO chiefs, technology wizards and policy wonks—the mix is exhilarating,” TripleTree’s Hoffmann says. “The future of healthcare swirls into shape before your eyes.”

The WLSA is an international nonprofit think tank that puts CEOs from the world’s most innovative wireless and mobile health companies together with global leaders in healthcare and technology and financial sponsors.

TripleTree, LLC, a founding member of the WLSA, is an independent investment bank and strategic advisor providing growth companies in healthcare and other technology-enabled vertical industries with merger and acquisition, private capital and principal investing services.

For more information about the 2011 WLSA Convergence Summit, go to

Healthcare IT an Important Component of New ACO Program

Posted on April 5, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

John’s Note: The following is a guest post by Mark Segal talking about the recently announced ACO program and it’s relationship to EHR, meaningful use, and healthcare IT. I also love the insider look at rule making.

The long-awaited proposed rule on Medicare’s Shared Savings Program (SSP)/Accountable Care Organization (ACO) program is out. These 429 pages outline how the Administration plans to transform U.S. health care delivery from fee-for-service to a value-based emphasis on accountability for quality and efficiency of care provided for populations. Following a final rule later this year, the program is to start January 1, 2012, with additional January 1 annual starts by ACOs, and a special optional start possible for July 1, 2012 given the tight timing this year.

CMS solicits comments on program design areas. The final rule will certainly track the proposed rule in key aspects, but there could be important changes based on comments – although revisions must be within the scope of proposed rule options because CMS cannot add new concepts in the final rule.

Care coordination, patient centeredness and evidence-based medicine are major priorities. As expected, therefore, health information technology (HIT) and electronic health records (EHRs) will be central to ACO success.  In some cases, HIT is cited explicitly; for example at least 50 percent of ACO primary care physicians must be meaningful users of EHRs in an ACO’s second year.

In other cases, CMS, focusing on patient engagement, care coordination, and care transitions, highlights HIT capabilities an ACO should address in its SSP application. For example, CMS calls out using EHRs and health information exchange (HIE) to send care summaries at care transitions.  In addition, CMS flags HIT areas like telehealth and remote monitoring, evidence-based medicine, and measuring physician performance across practices and using measurements to improve care and service. Also, HIT will be central to the need to report on and achieve desired levels (after year one) of many of the 65 quality measures.  For example, HIT could help reduce levels of healthcare-acquired conditions.

CMS’s HIT approach is non-prescriptive.  An ACO must address, in its application, how it would address such requirements as care coordination (including use of HIT) but CMS does not dictate technology tools or specific features.   Fundamentally, CMS is outcomes-focused, looking at up-front plans and then focusing on ACO ability to meet quality metrics and overall efficiency goals.  Such flexibility contrasts with meaningful use, which is highly prescriptive.  ACOs will have flexibility to design and deploy their HIT strategies.  Overall, such flexibility should also be considered as the HIT Policy Committee, ONC and CMS consider requirements for Stage 2 of meaningful use, especially for newer areas of HIT use.

Finally, of concern, and relevant also to the need for multi-year meaningful use roadmaps, CMS reserves the right to annually change the SSP during three-year ACO agreements.  Although CMS excludes some areas from such annual changes, this uncertainty is worrisome given the substantial investments and organizational changes that must be made by ACOs.  Three years is a blink of the eye in care transformation; ACOs need regulatory stability and predictability to plan and invest with confidence and to succeed at the change management that will underlie ACO success.

So read carefully and submit timely comments!

Mark Segal is the vice president of government and industry affairs at GE Healthcare IT.