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Top 5 Technology Trends for Healthcare

Top 5 Technology Trends for Healthcare | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

It's been a challenging year for the healthcare industry - new payment models and regulatory changes combined with big data and tech innovations have forced healthcare providers to rapidly adapt their practices at all levels of healthcare management and delivery. With big changes on the horizon and uncertainty everywhere, one thing providers can count on is that technology will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in health care services and delivery in the coming year.

 

In a shaky regulatory environment, the healthcare providers that survive and thrive will be the ones that quickly adapt to the needs of the patient by adopting the latest innovations. With healthcare premiums set to rise across the country and growing transparency regarding service costs, patients will be raising their expectations for quality of care in 2018, giving the upper hand to facilities that invest in infrastructure that meets patient engagement requirements and improves business processes.

 

In this article, we've highlighted our picks for the top 5 healthcare technology trends of the year. In our view, these should be major areas of concern for healthcare IT departments. How will your healthcare facility address these trends over the next 12 months?

 

Telemedicine an Expanding Service Area for Healthcare Providers


Telemedicine will play a bigger role in our healthcare systems than ever before. With increasing life expectancy, treatment for the elderly and those who may face issues with mobility or feasibility of transportation is heavily supported by telemedicine solutions that allow physicians and specialists to interact with their patients remotely, using video conferencing technology.

 

Although telemedicine saw significant adoption throughout 2017, growth drivers for the future include a rise in leaner and more expensive health care plans and the growing prevalence of value-based compensation for healthcare providers. Telemedicine helps to minimize external and incidental costs associated with obtaining health care, enhancing patient engagement at a time where growing premiums for health care insurance are threatening access to health care services for at-risk groups.

 

Cloud Computing Grows in Importance for Healthcare Facilities


A study conducted by Black Book, a leading research firm in healthcare information technology, found that 55% of hospital Corporate Information Officers (CIOs) expressed confidence in their cloud application strategies, but that many had not yet invested in cloud storage for disaster recovery.

 

Other studies have estimated that 65% of interactions between patients and healthcare facilities will take place via mobile devices in 2018. 80% of doctors are already using smartphones and medical applications, while 72% use smartphones to access drug data on a regular basis.

 

It's clear that mobile data and communications will play a big role in the modern hospital, and those who invest in cloud infrastructure that adequately supports the volume of interactions that take place in a healthcare setting will benefit from improved performance and patient satisfaction.

 

Big Data Solutions for Population Health Management


New technology continues to unveil new possibilities in the world of medicine, and healthcare facilities are starting to understand how a robust cloud infrastructure and real-time EHR tracking can be used to facilitate population health management. Nearly all hospitals with 200 beds or fewer say they're not adequately capturing all the information needed for actionable population health analytics, according to Black Book.

 

How will hospitals solve this problem? Electronic data warehouses that capture data from thousands of EHR updates per day and use risk modeling to assess population health are the way of the future, and it's likely that they will be adopted on a large scale by the largest hospitals. Still, those with large-scale data monitoring solutions still face difficulties in effectively storing and managing EHR data along with financials, labor, and supply chain information.

 

Improvements Coming for EHR and Interoperability


The EHR mandate has seen widespread adoption throughout our healthcare system, especially in hospitals and larger healthcare facilities, but it's crucial that EHR vendors continue to adapt to new requirements.

 

For example, the new Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act 2015 (MACRA) may not be supported by all EHR vendors, and many EHRs do not support the level of record keeping that would be required for meaningful application of pay-for-performance reimbursement structures. These structures require features that most EHRs just don't have today, like the ability to track contractual payment agreements or assess the contribution to care.

 

Facing pressure from many sides, interoperability is becoming a concern for facilities that want to upgrade their infrastructure and data analytics, but require support from EHR vendors and other service providers, and regulatory relief while making the required upgrades. The successful healthcare facility of the future will effectively integrate EHR records, big data analytics, population health management, and a robust cloud infrastructure that supports it all, and this will require extensive cooperation and collaboration between healthcare providers, EHR vendors, insurance firms, and other stakeholders.

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) Could Change Everything


Are big innovations in the Internet of Things on the horizon for healthcare facilities? We definitely think so, and it's the facilities that upgrade their computing capabilities that will be set to take advantage as medical device companies roll out an increasing number of products that can plug into the hospital's internal networks for tracking and operation.

 

Wearable devices that allow physicians to receive real-time emergency updates on patient welfare and respond accordingly will impact patient expectations for standards of care in the coming years, and hospitals with monitoring systems that leverage the IoT will find business systems improvements at every turn.

 

Patients could be empowered to test their own vitals, using wearable devices to measure their heart rate and pulse, or even to conduct an ECG whose results can be transmitted automatically to healthcare providers through the hospital's cloud storage system. This could improve healthcare outcomes and positively impact labor costs, but only for those who invest in the infrastructure and interoperability measures to support it.

 

Conclusion


Healthcare is undergoing a period of significant change in many ways. While it's unclear how healthcare insurance and accessibility will look in the coming years, pressures like increasing cost transparency and pay-for-performance will force hospitals to continue finding cost-savings and efficiency through adopting the latest technologies and working with vendors to continue meeting the needs of an aging, and increasingly more demanding, patient population.

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Five Digital Health Imperatives for Patient Safety

Five Digital Health Imperatives for Patient Safety | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

The most discussed issues in healthcare today are cost savings and access to care.  There is no denying their rightful preeminence in the public discourse.  Something which has received more attention in the past but has been surpassed by the aforementioned topics in both lay and healthcare policy press has been patient safety. Perhaps the best definition of patient safety is that of the World Health Organization. Simply put, it is “…the prevention of errors and adverse effects to patients associated with health care.” Patient safety initiatives have taken many forms. Most are aware of public awareness (ex. healthcare worker hand washing) and regulatory clinical requirements (ex. wrong site/procedure/ person surgeries) publicized in the past. Digital tools now present opportunities for unprecedented improvements in patient safety. I would like to highlight a few.

 

  • Improving health literacy. Health literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health  What does health literacy have to do with patient safety? People who do not know their diagnoses when they leave an office visit or hospital (some estimates are 60%) or do not know the reasons for each medication they are prescribed are much more likely to be non-adherent to medical advice or recommended treatment regimens. In fact, low health literacy is related to higher mortality rates. In a post I wrote here in 2012, I discussed some of the implications of low health literacy. In one study last year examining the extent of use of digital health tools in relation to health literacy, it was found that those subjects with low health literacy used these tools less. Though there is much to be desired regarding the analysis in this study, the authors are to be commended for the number of participants (>5000) and for highlighting how health literacy and digital technology can affect each other.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, only 12 percent of US adults are health literate. Improving health literacy via digital tools is not only an opportunity it is necessary. The 15 or 20 minute office visit does not afford even the best physician to explain a diagnosis or proposed treatment plan in a digestible way a patient and caregiver deserve. Language barriers compound the health literacy dilemma. There is a well-established legal framework for language access. The cost to providers and inaccessibility outside of the clinic or hospital make mainstream language translation technology insufficient to close gaps in care.  Mobile non-human digital language translation tools will hopefully soon become the preferred alternative.

 

  • The use of AI in workflow. There’s been a lot of buzz about artificial intelligence (AI). The present popular conversations surrounding AI involve speculation whether AI will replace humans in every possible aspect of healthcare. There are even statistics bantered about as to percentage of physicians, nurses, and others who will lose their jobs to AI technology.  That aside, AI can have a significant role in improving patient safety.  Medtronic, Masimo, and others are working with the Patient Safety Movement Foundation by sharing de-identified data from medical devices in designing predictive analytics programs with the ultimate goal of improving patient safety. Many software platforms exist which claim they improve patient safety but evidence is scarce.  In advertizing their software, many companies equate hospital readmissions with a patient safety metric though strictly speaking it isn’t by the definition above unless it is related to a complication of treatment rendered during the prior hospitalization. Predictive analytics and other AI may however be relevant to patient safety by gathering data from the patient’s EHR (and heaven help us one day from data sets of other systems) to predict both minor and major preventable adverse events. AI platforms have the opportunity to make all the data about a patient come to life, integrate and provide a real-time picture of what is happening to the patient and provide alerts which might change treatment. AI is technology which needs to be incorporated into workflows which themselves are designed with maximum patient safety in mind. In this manner, the human aspect in patient safety is still important.

 

  • The use of digital tools for inventory and other tracking. Inventory tracking in both the enterprise and ambulatory clinic is an important patient safety issue.  Equipment servicing schedules, drug, medical device, patient and personnel tracking and other logistical considerations are important in patient safety. RFID and other advanced digital technologies have been developed to help in this regard.

 

  • Improving the electronic medical record (EHR). A 2016 study published in the Journal of Patient Safety demonstrated a 17-30% reduction of in-hospital adverse events in patients with cardiovascular diagnoses, pneumonia or a diagnosis leading to surgery when a fully electronic EHR is used. Specifically the adverse events included hospital-acquired infections, adverse drug events (based on selected medications), and post-procedural events. As this studied playing field has leveled today with the vast majority of institutions utilizing completely electronic records, there exist yet more opportunities for improving patient safety with EHR associated technologies. One hot button issue is that of matching of patients with their own EHR record. The challenge lies in the strong legislative opposition to a unique national patient identifier.  To this end the Office of the National Coordinator has launched a Patient Matching Algorithm Challenge.  Other ways in which the EHR can improve patient safety involve the use of AI (see above). Input from patients in reviewing their records via the patient portal is arguably the first place to start.

 

  • IT security. IT security is a direct and indirect threat to patient safety. This has been demonstrated with cardiac implantable electronic devices and recent global IT hacking which involved hospital systems. A technology called blockchain was developed in 2008 and has found its biggest interest in the financial industry. The use of blockchain in healthcare has been discussed for a number of years.  However there exist significant challenges in the utilization of blockchain for patient records.

 

While popular discussions focus on health insurance coverage, shortcomings of EHRs and the health system in general, we must never lose sight of what should be the focus of care itself, patients.  Healthcare must be accessible, affordable, efficient, of high quality with good outcomes and most of all as safe as possible. Patient safety should always be a metric of good care and new programs and technologies.

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Could Apple Store-like digital health retail stores be popular? 

Could Apple Store-like digital health retail stores be popular?  | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

Here’s why I think the time is right. Rumour has it that CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, and many other pharmacies carrying digital health and wearables product draw in-store customers. If that’s the case, could we drive more sales of telemedicine, remote monitoring, chronic care apps, and other digital health products by creating specialty stores in which we had trained sales people that knew how to combine products, services, and solutions from a variety of companies and educate consumers, caregivers, and patients about their use? What if some smart pharmacies, smart health insurers, and smart health systems got together and put together healthcare management retail stores in malls, similar to an Apple Store or a Microsoft Store?

 

In a fee for services (volume-driven) world, selling healthcare products and services to individual institutions is certainly time-consuming but reasonably straightforward. In an outcomes-driven (fees for value) world driven by shared risks and shared rewards, selling healthcare solutions across multiple disciplines, multiple stakeholders, and multiple institutions is much harder and even more time-consuming. That’s because there’s no easy buyer to identify. Population health is all the rage but our current 3+ trillion dollar healthcare industry was never devised nor incentivized to work together as a team for a long-term patient or population benefits (it’s reimbursed mainly for episodic care).

 

Our country’s healthcare industry is more about sick care and episodic transactions rather than longitudinal care. But, since we are moving to population and outcomes-driven care where the patient is more responsible for their own care management and payment, it would seem patient education and digital health tools are more important than ever. So, perhaps we need to get together and innovate around how we’re going to present next-generation solutions from across multiple innovators and showcase them to patients and their caregivers.

 

Using the Apple Store as a model, let’s imagine a Digital Health Store where we can have computers, wearables, tablets, phones, medical devices, remote monitoring, care quality, and other cool devices sitting in one place where shoppers can see how things work together and salespeople are trained to talk about chronic care. Even Amazon, who basically killed the large bookstore retail model, is giving retail bookstores a shot.

 

If the Digital Health retail store idea is reasonable, we could even think about allowing people to shop for insurance — on existing insurance exchanges — through a guided expert in store. There are tons of way of monetizing these stores.

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Health IoT creates huge opportunities for public health and software companies 

Health IoT creates huge opportunities for public health and software companies  | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

Connecting smart biological sensors to the internet is not a new idea. There are already dozens of products in the market that continuously monitor blood glucose and heart function, for example, and enable secure remote management for clinicians and caretakers. The safety of life implications are enormous, and the commercial opportunities untold. Some analysts predict a $100 billion-plus market for the healthcare segment of the “internet of things” (IoT).

 

What is new and emerging is the physical scale of the devices on the one hand, and the need to aggregate, reconcile, and consolidate those data streams for downstream clinical care services. Advances in semiconductor device manufacturing will relentlessly drive down the price and the size of these electrophysiological sensors, literally to the nanometer scale, which will ultimately be able to do more than detect, they will be able to intervene. At the same time, our ability to make sense of the torrents of information is catching up to our ability to create them.

We believe that these are tremendous opportunities for public health and software companies like ours. It is why we are investing so much of our own resources to promote the open design, secure exchange, and value-added analysis of health data systems. Perhaps the largest inhibitor to a promising future of longer, healthier, less expensive life are the software merchants and device manufacturers who still and astonishingly insist on keeping data closed, isolated, and trapped in proprietary systems. We believe this is about to change too.

 

The interoperability troubles with electronic medical records are legion, and we won’t waste our page space or your attention lamenting the deeply ignorant and the nearly criminal. The immortal words of Forest Gump’s assessment about doing dumb things find purchase here.

 

What we can do, however, is find clever ways leverage of IoT as yet-another, and maybe decisive, the fulcrum of connected care. For what is today true in isolation – progressive plans, concerned parents, engaged patients – will soon-enough be more the ubiquitous standard of coordinated care; that coordination will reach deeply into pocketbooks as well as bodies.

We know that there are legitimate concerns about individual privacy and device safety and that some people would literally rather die than compromise on either. We respect that, even as we actively promote more automation and digital services in health care.

 

Some of us believe that the existential benefits of independence and longevity outweigh the potential risks of intrusion and malfunction, some of us don’t. The point is that everyone should have the choice and that no one should be coerced or manipulated into choosing one side of the argument. Fear mongering (about privacy) and fabrication (about intrusion) are forms of manipulation. In the case of health care, they cost lives and money.

 

Let’s, instead, imagine a world of seamless, secure, and reliable health data interoperability. Let’s find a better way to safely liberate data at its source – labs, pharmacies, hospital and clinics, insurance claims, as well as implantable and wearable devices – pass it through hygienically sealed pipes, and receive it in places where it does the most good. That may be during a clinical care or remote telemedical encounter (to give you the best possible advice based on evidence and your personal health history), it may be when you pick up your medicines (to check for interactions with other medicines), or it may be to help your insurance company help you (because they have always had a bird’s eye view of your services, and they can’t kick you out for pre-existing conditions anymore).

 

Because of changes in the law, it may be with a loved one or trusted caretaker. It may be you.

The data could be as simple as a reminder message about an upcoming appointment, a warning message that a clinical value seems out of range, or an answer to a securely-texted question to your doctor. We have imagined that future and it is, as Ray Kurzweil likes to say, near.

 

There are two challenges, and they are slowly receding.

The first is that the data holders are still reluctant to share, even though it isn’t “their” data.  This will become less of a problem, as forward-looking providers like VA and DoD have shown, as well as payers like CMS, Aetna, and HCSC among many others have demonstrated.  All are outspoken supporters of the Blue Button program, now in its fifth year, and still growing.

 

The second falls squarely on our shoulders:  we need to make the user experience attractive, convenient, and useful.  The health IT community has made terrific strides recently – we-two have worked on the InCircleand a soon-to-be-announced medication management app, for example –  and there are many companies that target data-driven patient-provider interactions, including AmericanWell and covers health.

 

The beautiful thing is that IoT fits so neatly into this conversation. The goal, of course, is to help us achieve our best-possible health. The best way to do this is with data. And the best data is coming at us in ever more granular packages, from patient-hosted sensors that monitor, detect, interact, and intervene. Weaving those into the tapestry of your personal health history is the next vanguard of coordinated and managed care.

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Empowering Patients through Decentralized Information Governance 

Empowering Patients through Decentralized Information Governance  | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

Health care will be transformed if we empower patients and physicians through access to information. Don Rucker is right to focus attention on APIs to enable the transformation. A year and a half into the new administration and the massively bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is having to navigate between the shoals of highly unpopular Meaningful Use regulations and the apparent need for regulation to undo the damage of market consolidation that they caused. From my perspective, it looks like HHS is doing a good job.

Prediction is a dangerous game but it’s necessary for investments that depend on health information technology. Nowadays, pretty much everything in healthcare depends on information technology, particularly if we need effective quality measures to enable transition to value-based healthcare.

Based on Verma’s most recent remarks, it’s safe to predict that HHS will use the power of the $900 Billion purse as a way of avoiding regulation as it tries to break down the oligopoly of the consolidated “integrated delivery networks” and their even more consolidated EHR vendors. What’s more interesting is to anticipate how Rucker’s recent remarks about Persistent Access will be translated into decision support information for patients and physicians that will actually drive the practice innovation Verma is talking about.

 

Today, the information available to physicians and patients at the point of care is centrally governed by hospitals and by EHR vendors. A service seeking to present a piece of information such as therapeutic alternatives, quality ratings, out-of-pocket expenses, and research or clinical trials opportunities, must run a gauntlet of censorship by both the hospital and the EHR vendor. A thoughtful paper on how preemptive genomic testing has significant impact on subsequent treatment decisions shows the evolving connection between medical science and information governance.

The barriers to providing independent decision support when it matters most, during the physician-patient encounter, are immense. Let’s list some of them.

An independent information service

  • Must be “certified” by the hospital even if a particular physician wants to get it
  • Must be “certified” by the EHR vendor before it’s even accessible to the hospital certifiers
  • Involves up-front certification costs that are incompatible with open source or other non-profit information sources
  • Can’t access the complete patient’s record in the EHR
  • Requires the physician to sign-in to a separate system with a separate password
  • Is not covered by insurance, or, if covered, is subject to pre-certification delays that the physician won’t put up with
  • Is unaffordable because each EHR and each hospital presents a different integration challengecan’t get investors because the EHR vendors will demand unspecified rent on access to the physician-patie t relationship or, in many cases, actually demand access to the intellectual property itself.

The task ahead for HHS is formidable. Regulation that drives patient empowerment at the point of care (when the physician is about to sign that order that drives $3.5 Trillion of healthcare costs) is inconceivable under the US healthcare system and out of reach for even the nationalized health systems in other rich countries. The proprietary EHR vendor business model means EHRs must control the “app store” as the driver of future growth. Separately, the Accountable Care Organization business model for hospitals drives them to control their physicians and restrict access to “out-of-network” providers regardless of what’s best for a particular patient.

But there is hope, particularly if CMS, ONC, and maybe even the VA orchestrate their actions. The hope lies in the upcoming definition of “information blocking” as mandated by 21stC Cures.

HHS can and should define information blocking in terms of independent decision support at the point of care.

Access to independent decision support at the point of care is an outcome rather than a process. It’s easy to tell if it’s blocked without resort to heavy-handed regulation of the API technology. No new legislation is required because HIPAA, HITECH, and 21stC Cures already enable patient-directed information sharing via API at no significant cost. Patient-directed APIs are also directly accessible to the physician, subject to patient consent.

Technically, what’s required is that *every* API of an EHR be supported as a patient-directed API. That’s not much to ask since the EHR vendors are already building the APIs to use in the app stores they need to stay competitive. What’s also required is what Rucker calls Persistent Access which is what FHIR calls Refresh Tokens and is already widely implemented in the Apple Health APIs. Finally, what’s needed is the ability for a patient to direct information anywhere we choose, without censorship or delay, via the API. (Note that patient-directed exchange is different from patient access rights that require information to flow through personal health records. PHRs have largely failed in the marketplace.) Under HIPAA, patients have this right to patient-directed use for in-person requests to send patient records using paper forms, but this right to uncensored patient-directed exchange needs to be made accessible via the patient portal and linked to the FHIR API. The technical term for this is Dynamic Client Registration and it’s a unimplemented security capability of the FHIR API.

Patient-directed APIs can impact the physician-patient encounter in real time when one or both parties have a smartphone, although ideally the independent decision support will also be available in the EHR as long as the physician and the patient approve.

I’m calling this prescription for empowering patients Decentralized Information Governance. It’s completely consistent with both Verma’s and Rucker’s vision. Because it’s also consistent with current law, it can be implemented by Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and All of US immediately by joining the Health Relationship Trust (HEART) workgroup and implementing our profiles in the VA BlueButton 2.0 and CMS MyHealthEData projects.

The key is for all of us to reject calls for centralized governance of information services by government, academic hospitals, or global corporations (Facebook, Google, etc…) that have all proved resistant to regulation in the digital age. We must also reject the idea that new information governance bureaucracies like DirectTrust, or CARIN Alliance, or some government-controlled Recognized Coordinating Entity can be invented to ensure that our incredibly valuable health information drives open medical science. Decentralized information governance explicitly gives each patient the power to choose which patient interest groups, community organizations, or congregations one trusts to control access to his or her health records for both clinical and research uses.

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Getting Started with Digital Transformation in Healthcare

Getting Started with Digital Transformation in Healthcare | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

The phrase digital transformation has been a big buzz word in healthcare and across other industries. The words digital transformation likely bring two questions to mind: what is it and what does it mean to me? Although it seems like a catchphrase, digital transformation is a business imperative even for healthcare organizations. Organizations that delay transformation or ignore it will risk becoming irrelevant.

 

What is Digital Transformation?
Trends analyst Altimeter defines digital transformation as “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touch point in the customer experience lifecycle.”

 

What does it mean for Healthcare Organizations?|
The technology and market research firm Forrester believes all companies will become digital predators or digital prey by 2020. Furthermore, as consumers in other industries like retail, patient and member demands are escalating and their customer experience expectations are based on the experiences that companies like Amazon are providing. Today’s competitive markets demand that organizations evolve faster, become more efficient, and focus on memorable customer experiences.

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Health risk assessments may benefit elderly

Health risk assessments may benefit elderly | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

When healthy elderly people fill out health risk questionnaires and get personalized counseling, they have better health behaviors and use more preventive care, according to a new study.


Eighteen percent of firms ask working-age employees to complete health risk assessments, but the use of these tools in older persons is relatively new, said lead author Andreas E. Stuck of University Hospital Bern in Switzerland.


The personal health risk assessments covered multiple potential risk factors relevant in old age, and participants received individualized feedback and health counseling, lasting two years, Stuck said.


“Thus, prevention in old age is likely effective, but only if risk assessment is combined with individualized counseling over an extended period of time,” Stuck told Reuters Health by email.


In his team’s study, conducted in Switzerland between 2000 and 2002, 874 healthy adults over age 65 filled out questionnaires and received individualized computer-generated feedback reports, which were also sent to their doctors.


Additionally, for two years, nurse counselors visited patients at home and called them every three to six months to reinforce what health behaviors they should be pursuing or preventive care they should be obtaining based on their individualized reports.


About 85 percent of those assigned to the health risk assessment group returned their questionnaires, the researchers reported in PLoS Medicine.


Counselors identified the most important risk factors for each person, and the interaction between risk factors was taken into account. For example, for a person with low physical activity who was having pain, the first step was to intervene on management of pain, then on physical activity, Stuck said.


At the end of two years, the researchers compared the risk assessment group to another 1,000 similar adults who did not get the questionnaires or counseling.


Seventy percent of those who completed the health-risk assessments were physically active and 66 percent had received a seasonal flu vaccine, compared to 62 percent and 59 percent of the comparison group, respectively.


Long-term outcomes like nursing home admission or functional status were not available, but the researchers estimated that almost 78 percent of the adults in the health risk assessment group were still alive after eight years, compared to almost 73 percent in the comparison group.


The health assessment, data entry and individualized feedback report takes patients about one hour to do and costs about $30, Stuck said, not including the cost of individualized counseling by the nurse counselor or a primary care physician.


Health risk assessment should be offered to all older people starting between age 60 and 65, he said.


“The authors report promising evidence that a complex intervention might improve longevity and functioning in older adults,” said Evan Mayo-Wilson of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not part of the new study.


“The team provided many services in addition to standard care, and we cannot tell if all of those services were important or if only certain activities would be necessary to achieve good outcomes,” Mayo-Wilson told Reuters Health by email.


But only half of the people assessed for the trial were enrolled, while many weren’t eligible or refused, and some who were assigned to the health risk assessments didn’t return their questionnaires or otherwise didn’t engage with the program, he noted.


“We should be cautious in interpreting the results of this study because previous studies found inconsistent effects of mortality and other health outcomes,” Mayo-Wilson said.

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Helping Patients Understand Insurance Benefits is Key

Helping Patients Understand Insurance Benefits is Key | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

Over the past several weeks, I've had the task of helping my own dad through some health issues. The biggest issue that we have run into multiple times is insurance challenges.


I know that I typically give you hints and tips to help lower your accounts receivable, get you paid on time, and manage your billing staff. But I'm going to take a different tack this week; focusing on the patient's viewpoint.


Before I get into the details of our struggle to help dad see the appropriate specialists, I feel it's most important to note that you and I are healthcare professionals. We do this job, everyday. We are immersed in professional jargon that sounds foreign to the typical patient. We understand (for the most part) that the laws are in place to protect the patient. We have to learn how to play nice with the insurance companies so that our practices get paid. Our patients don't really see this. From a patient's standpoint, they simply buy an insurance plan; they ask the practice to file a claim; and the insurance company pays what the practice is due. However, you and I know this is certainly not the case.


There is a huge gap between reality and what the patient thinks happens with their insurance plan. They do not understand that not only is it a plan they purchased, but they must also understand the nuances of that plan. Is outpatient physical therapy a covered benefit? Does the plan have a deductible? Is there a copay or coinsurance associated with some visits and not others? Is the doctor in network? The typical patient is truly not aware that this type of information is their responsibility to know.


So, that said, let me share my story. My dad has a Medicare replacement plan. He still thinks he has Medicare primary and UnitedHealthcare as a secondary insurance. So, lesson one when explaining patients' benefits prior to being seen is that they understand if they have a replacement plan, and not Medicare with a secondary.

Next, his primary physician referred him to a specialist. The specialist was 50 miles away. I'm not kidding. Dad gets to the appointment, and the office manager took him aside and said they do not accept his insurance; but he could pay the $3,000 out-of-network rate if he wanted to. No phone call, no warning about the physician's out-of-network status, nothing. Dad walked out and drove back 50 miles to his house and called me a few hours later. The next morning, Dad and I did a conference call with his medical group. I asked them why there wasn't a specialist in their group that he could see? I also said that if there isn't a physician that fits the requirements of Dad's care, they would have to provide the authorization to see an out-of-network physician, as that was not Dad's problem they didn't fill up their network. A few hours later poof! They found a doctor only 10 minutes from his house that was just credentialed that day. Shocking, I know.


So, the medical group contacted the doctor's office and set up an appointment. They called us back on another conference call and let us know everything was taken care of. I asked, "Okay, I have my pen and paper, can you please provide the authorization number for this visit?" There was silence on the other end of the line. There were four people telling us seconds ago that everything was set up and ready to go and no one could provide the authorization number. They asked for a few minutes to call us back. The phone rang, an authorization for three visits was provided, I took names, phone numbers, etc.


My dad was so frustrated and completely confused about why things are so complicated, and wondered how was he supposed to know all of this?! Technically, he is supposed to know these things, but honestly, there is no way he would ever have been able to get this figured out without my help.


I suppose my point is when you have a patient that needs an authorization, or does not understand the difference between in-network and out-of-network status, please take the time to work with them. Be patient. Be kind. They are in pain or sick, and the last thing they want to worry about is their insurance plan.


It would be ideal if the insurance company took the time to explain plan details and teach patients how best to utilize their plan benefits. We know this will never happen, as it would be very costly for the insurance company.


Take it easy on your patients and find it in your heart to spend the necessary time with your patient; remember this likely someone's dad, mom, sister, or brother.

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Could On Demand Medical Services Be Good for Doctors?

Could On Demand Medical Services Be Good for Doctors? | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion lately about the peer sharing economy and how it applies to healthcare. Some people like to call it the Uber of healthcare, but that phrase has been applied so many ways that it’s hard to know what people mean by it anymore. For example, is it Uber bringing your doctor to your home/work or is it an Uber like system of requesting healthcare? There are many more iterations.


I’ll to consider doing a whole series of posts on the Peer Sharing Economy and how it applies to healthcare. There’s a lot to chew on. However, most recently I’ve been chewing on the idea of on demand medical services. In most cases this is basically the Skype or Facetime telemedicine visit on a mobile device. These models are starting to develop and it won’t be long until all of us can easily hop on our mobile device and be in touch with a doctor directly through our phone. In some cases it will be a telemedicine visit. In other cases it might be the doctor coming to visit you. I’m sure we’ll have a wide variety of modalities that are available to patients.


Every patient loves this idea. Every insurance company is trying to figure out the right financial model to make this work. Most doctors are scared at what this means for their business. Certainly there are reasons for them to be concerned, but I believe that this new on demand medical service could be very good for doctors.


In our current system practices do amazing scheduling acrobatics to ensure that the doctor is seeing a full schedule of patients every day. They do this mostly because of all the patient no shows that occur. This makes life stressful for everyone involved. Imagine if instead of double booking appointments which leads to all sorts of issues, a doctor replaced no show appointments with an on demand visit with a patient waiting to be seen on a telemedicine platform. Basically the doctor could fill their “free time” with on demand appointments instead of double booking appointments which then causes them to get behind when both appointments do show up.


I can already hear doctors complaining about them being “mercenaries” and shouldn’t they be allowed free time to grab a coffee. I’d argue that in the current system they are mercenaries that are trying to fill their schedule as full as possible. The current double booking scheduling approach that so many take means that some days the doctor has a full schedule of appointments and some days they have more than a full schedule of appointments. If doctors chose to back fill no-shows with on demand appointments, then their schedule would be more free than it is today. Plus, if they didn’t want to back fill a no show, they could always make that choice too. That’s not an option in the double book approach they use today.


In fact, if there was an on demand platform where doctors could go and see patients anytime they wanted to see patients, it would open up a lot more flexibility for doctors much like Uber has done for drivers. Some doctors may want to work early in the morning while others want to work late at night. Some doctors might want to take off part of the day to see their kid’s school performance, but they can work later to make up for the time they took off (if they want of course).


Think about retired doctors. I’m reminded of my pharmacist friend who was still working at the age of 83. I asked him why he was still working at such an advanced age. He told me, “John, if I stop, I die.” I imagine that many retired doctors would love to still see some patients if they could do it in a less demanding environment that worked with their new retirement schedule. If there was an on demand platform where retired doctors could sign in and see patients at their whim, this would be possible. No doubt this is just one of many examples.


Currently there isn’t an on demand platform that doctors could sign into and see a patient who’s waiting to be seen. No doubt there are many legal, financial and logistical challenges associated with creating a platform of this nature. Not the least of which is that doctors are only licensed to practice in specific states. This is a problem which needs to be solved for a lot of reasons, but I think it will. In fact, I think that legal issues, reimbursement changes, and other logistical challenges will all be solved and one day we’ll have this type of on demand platform for healthcare. Patients will benefit from such a platform, but I believe it will open up a lot more options for doctors as well.

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Google Glass Shown Beneficial for Bedside Toxicology Consults

Google Glass Shown Beneficial for Bedside Toxicology Consults | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

Although Google Glass may have been pulled as a product for the masses, Alphabet plans on continuing to develop the device for professional applications. And it’s certainly proving itself useful in medicine, as a new study in Journal of Medical Toxicology has shown that it’s useful and effective for tele-toxicology consults. The project involved emergency medicine residents who wore Glass during evaluations of poisoned patients while toxicology fellows and attendings in a remote location participated in the consults via a video connection. They essentially set back and reviewed the findings of the emergency docs, offering advice as necessary.


The study looked at how everyone involved accepted the use of the communication medium, as well as how it affected the care provided. Interestingly, the toxicologists changed their opinions of how to treat the patients in 56% of cases after using Glass. In six cases the antidote that was prescribed was accurately selected only after using Glass. In 11 of cases the connection was too poor for usability, but that can probably be attributed to the network used.

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Hospitals work on allowing patients to actually sleep

Hospitals work on allowing patients to actually sleep | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

It's a common complaint — if you spend a night in the hospital, you probably won't get much sleep. There's the noise. There's the bright fluorescent hallway light. And there's the unending barrage of nighttime interruptions: vitals checks, medication administration, blood draws and the rest.

Peter Ubel, a physician and a professor at Duke University's business school, has studied the rational and irrational forces that affect health. But he was surprised when hospitalized at Duke -- in 2013 to get a small tumor removed -- at how difficult it was to sleep. "There was no coordination," he said. "One person would be in charge of measuring my blood pressure. Another would come in when the alarm went off, and they never thought, 'Gee if the alarm goes off, I should also do blood pressure.'"

"From a patient perspective," he added, "you're sitting there going, 'What the heck?'"

As hospitals chase better patient ratings and health outcomes, an increasing number are rethinking how they function at night — in some cases reducing nighttime check-ins or trying to better coordinate medicines — so that more patients can sleep relatively uninterrupted.

The American Hospital Association doesn't formally track how many hospitals are reviewing their patient-sleep policies, though it's aware a number are trying to do better, said Jennifer Schleman, an AHA spokeswoman.

And, though few studies specifically link quality of shut-eye and patient outcomes, doctors interviewed said the connection is obvious: patients need sleep. If they get more of it, they're likely to recover faster.

    Traditionally, hospitals have scheduled a number of nighttime activities around health professionals' needs — aligning them with shift changes, or updating patient's vital signs so the information is available when doctors make early morning rounds. Both the sickest patients and those in less serious condition might get the same number of check-ins. In some cases, that can mean patients are being disturbed almost every hour, whether medically necessary or not.

    "The reality for many, many patients is they're woken up multiple times for things that are not strictly medically necessary, or...multiple times for the convenience of staff," said Susan Frampton, president of Planetree, a nonprofit organization that encourages health systems to consider patient needs when designing care.

    Changing that "seems like kind of easy, low-hanging fruit," said Margaret Pisani, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine. She is working with other staff at the Yale hospital to reduce unnecessary wake-ups, using strategies like letting nurses re-time when they give medicines to better match patient sleep schedules, changing when floors are washed or giving nurses checklists of things that can and should be taken care of before 11 p.m.

    Not only is the push for better patient sleep part of a larger drive to improve how hospitals take care of their patients, but it is fueled in part by measures in the 2010 health law tying some Medicare payments to patient approval scores. As more hospitals try to improve those numbers, experts said, more will likely home in on improving chances for a good night's sleep.

    "There's a movement toward patient-centered care, and this is definitely a part of it," said Melissa Bartick, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

    That focus makes sense, since federal patient approval surveys specifically ask about nighttime noise levels. A number of hospitals initially struggled to get good scores on that, said Richard Evans, chief experience officer at Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital.

    His hospital instituted quiet hours -- a couple of hours in the afternoon and between six and eight hours at night, depending on the hospital unit, in which lights are turned low and staff encouraged to reduce their noise levels. It also encourages staff members to consider whether patients really need particular care at night before waking them. "We're trying to [increase awareness] that patients need to rest, and we need to structure our care as much as possible to allow that to happen."

    It's hard to delineate the degree to which such efforts have affected patient approval scores, Evans said. Anecdotally, though, patients have expressed appreciation, he added.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System is taking this concern even further. In addition to quiet-time restrictions, in which they try to reduce the use of noisy equipment, staff chatter and things like phone volume, patients can opt to have lavender oil sprayed in their rooms or an evening cup of herbal tea to facilitate sleep.

    All of these kinds of changes can help, said Planetree's Frampton. But they don't get at the real problem for most patients.

    "Low scores on quiet-at-night [questions on patient suarveys] are not because it's overly noisy...but because patients are woken up repeatedly," she said. "Their sleep is disturbed so they're lying awake."

    To address that, hospitals may need to look at less obvious questions. At New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, doctors are rethinking when they prescribe medicines as well as what kind, said Rosanne Leipzig, a professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine and who practices at the hospital. For instance, some antibiotics can be given at six-hour intervals rather than four-hour intervals, reducing the need for nighttime interruptions. And some drugs usually given every six hours can instead be given four times a day during the hours patients are usually awake.

    The hospital is also working to develop a system to classify patients who need repeated checks from the medical staff, such as those who might face imminent health threats or are at risk for serious infections such as sepsis. For those patients, frequently checking vitals is important, even if patients sleep less, Leipzig said. But not every patient's condition requires that they be roused every four hours, she added.

    About half of all patients woken up for vitals checks probably don't need to be, according to a 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study suggests waking those patients may contribute to bad patient results and dissatisfaction, and could increase the odds of patients having to come back to the hospital.

    Another study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, looked at efforts to encourage patient sleep — particularly by rescheduling activities, nighttime checks and overnight medication doses so as not to wake patients. That paper, co-written by Bartick, the Harvard professor, found a 49% drop in the number of patients who were given sedatives. That can have the added benefit of improving patient outcomes, since sedatives are associated with dangerous side effects such as falling or hospital delirium or confusion.

    "Sleep disruptions are actually not benign as far as patients are concerned," said Dana Edelson, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and an author on the 2013 study. "We're putting them at unnecessary risk when we're waking them up in the middle of the night when they don't need to be." And possibly making the recovery a bit more difficult.

    "Patients will tell you, 'I was so exhausted, I couldn't wait to get home and go sleep,'" said Yale's Pisani.

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    National Quality Forum Urges Providers Forward on Data and Analytics in Healthcare

    National Quality Forum Urges Providers Forward on Data and Analytics in Healthcare | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    On Aug. 6, the Washington, D.C.-based National Quality Forum released a white paper, “Data Needed for Systematically Improving Healthcare,” intended to highlight strategies to help make healthcare data and analytics “more meaningful, usable, and available in real time for providers and consumers.”


    According to a press release issued on that date, “The report identifies several opportunities to improve data and make it more useful for systematic improvement. Specific stakeholder action could include the government making Medicare data more broadly available in a timely manner, states building an analytic platform for Medicaid, and private payers facilitating open data and public reporting. In addition, electronic health record (EHR) vendors and health information technology policymakers could promote “true” interoperability between different EHR systems and could improve the healthcare delivery system’s ability to retrieve and act on data by preventing recurring high fees for data access.”


    The press release noted further that “The report identifies actions that all stakeholders could take to make data more available and usable, including focusing on common metrics, ensuring that the healthcare workforce has the necessary tools to apply health data for improvement, and establishing standards for common data elements that can be collected, exchanged, and reported.”


    The report emerged out of an initiative supported by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and spurred by a 2014 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that called for systems engineering approaches to improve healthcare quality and value.


    The press release included a statement by Christine K. Cassel, M.D., president and CEO of NQF. “Data to measure progress is fundamental to improving care provided to patients and their outcomes, but the healthcare industry has yet to fully capture the value of big data to engineer large-scale change,” Dr. Cassel said in the statement. “This report outlines critical strategies to help make data more accessible and useful, for meaningful system wide improvement.” 

    Following the publication of the report, Rob Saunders, a senior director at the National Quality Forum, and one of the co-authors of the report, spoke with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland about the report and its implications for healthcare IT leaders. Below are excerpts from that interview.


    What do you see as the most essential barriers to moving forward to capture and correctly use “big data” for clinical transformation and operational improvement in healthcare?

    There are sort of two buckets we looked at through this project. We looked at the availability of data, and we’re seeing more availability of electronic data. Interoperability remains a major challenge. But it wasn’t just about interoperability between electronic health records, but also being able to link in data from elsewhere.


    Does that mean data from pharmacies, from medical devices, from wearables?

    Some of these may be kinds of data from community health centers, or folks offering home-based and community-based services. So, getting a broader picture of people’s health, as they’re living their lives in their communities. And there are exciting things on the horizon, too, like wearable devices. But the first barrier we heard about was just getting more availability of data. Perhaps the harder problem right now is actually using more data, and turning that raw data into meaningful information that people can use. There’s so much raw data out there, but it so often is not actionable or immediately usable to clinicians.


    So what is the solution?

    That is an excellent question. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet. We’ve looked at a wide range of possible solutions, but it will take action from healthcare organizations trying to improve their internal capacity, for example, creating more training for clinicians to use data in their practices, or even state governments taking action. I think it will require a lot of action from all the stakeholders around healthcare to make progress.

     

    The white paper mentioned barriers involving information systems interoperability, data deidentification and aggregation, feedback cycles, data governance, and data usability issues. Let’s discuss those.

    I think one of the challenges with all of those is that there are some big strategic issues around all of those, and some large national conversations around all of those, esp. interoperability, but there are also just a lot of large technical details to iron out. And unfortunately, that’s not something we can just solve tomorrow. But there’s opportunity with these new delivery system models, and that will hopefully be helpful.


    How might all this play out with regard to ACOs, population health, bundled payments, and other new delivery and payment models?

    What we’ve heard is that those new models are becoming increasingly more common, and because of those, clinicians and hospitals have far more incentive to look far more holistically at the entire person, and think about improvement, and to really start digging into some of this data.


    Marrying EHR [electronic health record] and claims data for accountable care and population health is a very major topic for our magazine and its readers right now. Let’s talk about those issues.

    We didn’t necessarily go into great depth on that particular challenge. But clearly, that’s one of the big issues in trying to link all these different data sources together, and it also speaks to the challenge in getting this data together.


    Is there anything that healthcare IT vendors need to do better?

    And we actually called out healthcare IT vendors and EHR vendors, because they’re a really important sector here. Promoting interoperability speaks to both policy and technical challenges.


    Are you also concerned about data blocking?

    Yes, that’s how ONC and HHS have characterized it. But yes, we’re really talking about data access. Clearly, that’s a barrier. And then there are still some technical pieces here around how to create APIs that can really start to allow more innovative ways to analyze the data that’s already in a lot of these EHR and health IT systems, and that will allow some customization and capabilities.


    What’s your vision of change for the use of data in healthcare?

    There are a number of folks doing really exciting work using data for systemic improvement. So we showcased Virginia Mason as a model. And some of their work involves manual collection of data. And that can produce really remarkable results; and as you become more sophisticated, you’re able to incorporate that data collection into the EHR [electronic health record]  and other systems. That speaks to what we said earlier, that availability of data is a good thing, but it’s the use of data that seems to be more of an issue. Premier Inc. has done some really good things, collecting data through some of their groups, to share; and oftentimes, that was data people didn’t even have before.  You can also activate clinicians’ professional motivation—many physicians, nurses, really want to make care better for their patients. And data really can make a difference in that.

    And the last point is the fact of the important role that brings this down to patients and consumers, involving the broader public in this. What we’ve talked about so far has been very technical. But patients have a lot of data about themselves, and they’re also able to help out with a lot of this.

     

    So you’re talking about patient and consumer engagement in this?

     

    Yes, I am, but it’s not just that. I’m also talking about patients as an untapped data resource, and an untapped resource in general of folks who are highly motivated and who want to make care better, if they have the tools available and are able to do so.

     

    The “blessed cycle” of data collection, data analysis, data reporting, the sharing of data with end-users and clinician leaders for clinical and operational performance improvement, and the re-cycling into further data collection, reporting, etc., is very important. Any thoughts on that concept?

     

    We didn’t necessarily talk about that concept per se, but we did talk about the general idea of this all being a process. And improvement needs to start somewhere, and oftentimes, you need to start small. And your data will be rough and dirty when you start; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The real pioneers in this area started out with rough, dirty data, and learned by using that data, and were able to increase their sophistication over time. So that’s part of the issue—bringing data together, oftentimes, you don’t know what data you need, until you start to use it.

     

    So what should CIOs, CMIOs and their colleagues be doing right now, to help lead their colleagues forward in all these activities?

     

    We really want to encourage more organizations to start doing this type of system improvement work. There’s more that can be done, so we want to encourage that. And the second message that permeated the entire project was not only making sure that more data should be made available, but also building up use, and to encourage more folks to get into systematic improvement.

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    lucy gray's curator insight, August 17, 2015 11:35 AM

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    Study Links Polluted Air in China to 1.6 Million Deaths a Year

    Study Links Polluted Air in China to 1.6 Million Deaths a Year | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    Outdoor air pollution contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people in China every year, or about 4,400 people a day, according to a newly released scientific paper.


    The paper maps the geographic sources of China’s toxic air and concludes that much of the smog that routinely shrouds Beijing comes from emissions in a distant industrial zone, a finding that may complicate the government’s efforts to clean up the capital city’s air in time for the 2022 Winter Olympics.


    The authors are members of Berkeley Earth, a research organization based in Berkeley, Calif., that uses statistical techniques to analyze environmental issues. The paper has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One, according to the organization.


    According to the data presented in the paper, about three-eighths of the Chinese population breathe air that would be rated “unhealthy” by United States standards. The most dangerous of the pollutants studied were fine airborne particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can find their way deep into human lungs, be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause a host of health problems, including asthma, strokes, lung cancer and heart attacks.


    The organization is well known for a study that reviewed the concerns of people who reject established climate science and found that the rise in global average temperatures has been caused “almost entirely” by human activity.


    The researchers used similar statistical methods to assess Chinese air pollution. They analyzed four months’ worth of hourly readings taken at 1,500 ground stations in mainland China, Taiwan and other places in the region, including South Korea. The group said it was publishing the raw data so other researchers could use it to perform their own studies.


    Berkeley Earth’s analysis is consistent with earlier indications that China has not been able to successfully tackle its air pollution problems.


    Greenpeace East Asia found in April that, of 360 cities in China, more than 90 percent failed to meet national air quality standards in the first three months of 2015.


    The Berkeley Earth paper’s findings present data saying that air pollution contributes to 17 percent of all deaths in the nation each year. The group says its mortality estimates are based on a World Health Organization framework for projecting death rates from five diseases known to be associated with exposure to various levels of fine-particulate pollution. The authors calculate that the annual toll is 95 percent likely to fall between 700,000 and 2.2 million deaths, and their estimate of 1.6 million a year is the midpoint of that range.


    The Chinese government is sensitive about public data showing that air pollution is killing its citizens, or even allusions to such a conclusion. Though the authorities have gradually permitted greater public access to air quality readings, censors routinely purge Chinese websites and social media channels of information that the ruling Communist Party worries might provoke popular unrest. In March, after a lengthy documentary video about the health effects of air pollution circulated widely online, the party’s central propaganda department ordered Chinese websites to delete it.


    Much of China’s air pollution comes from the large-scale burning of coal. Using pollution measurements and wind patterns, the researchers concluded that much of the smog afflicting Beijing came not from sources in the city, but rather from coal-burning factories 200 miles southwest in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province and a major industrial hub.


    Promises to clean up Beijing’s air were a centerpiece of the nation’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun, championed restrictions on vehicles in the city, and state news media outlets lauded projects to replace coal-fired heating systems in urban areas with systems that use natural gas and generate far less particulate pollution.


    “We will improve the air quality not only for the Games, but also for the demand of our people,” said Shen Xue, an Olympic gold medalist and ambassador for the 2022 bid, according to a report last month by Xinhua, the state news agency.


    The Berkeley Earth paper showed, however, that to clear the skies over Beijing, mitigation measures will be needed across a broad stretch of the country southwest of the capital, affecting tens of millions of people. “It’s not enough to clean up the city,” said Elizabeth Muller, executive director of the organization. “You’re going to also have to clean up the entire industrial region 200 miles away.”

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    The Biggest Areas of Opportunity for Digital Health

    The Biggest Areas of Opportunity for Digital Health | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    Digital health is unquestionably becoming part of healthcare lexicon and fabric. Electronic health records (EHRs) and personal fitness trackers have helped create awareness through use.  The entrepreneurial enthusiasm for the healthcare space is evident by the volume of digital health incubators, medical school innovation centers,  and angel investors.  Though there has been significant sector investment, the road to success of adoption in the healthcare enterprise has been challenging.  I’d like to discuss what I believe are five areas of significant opportunity for quality technologies.

     

    • EHRs. According to most recent statistics from the Office of the National Coordinator,use of EHRs has increased from 20% in 2004 to 87% in 2015. EHRs were designed as documentation centers for billing and regulatory purposes. Relevant clinical patient management data workflow was not a priority and remains a major pain point for clinicians today. According to a study in the American Journal of Emergency MedicineER physicians spend only 28% of their time in direct face to face patient contact and can go through 4000 computer mouse clicks in one shift.  From a provider standpoint. the regulatory and billing data entry should be performed by someone else and relegated to an (almost) invisible part of the EHR.  We need EHRs which are clinically oriented with good user interfaces. Interoperability [defined by the federal Office of the National Coordinator for health information technology (HIT) as the ability of information systems to exchange patients’ electronic health information and use information from other EHR systems without any special effort from the user] is another major pain point that needs to be addressed. .Six years into Meaningful Use we have yet to achieve any significant interoperability of EHRs. There are hospitals within the same healthcare system in many places with disparate EHRs which do not talk to each other or exchange information.  Increasing healthcare consolidation of hospitals has exacerbated the problem of lack of interoperability. Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) have been woefully underfunded and have fallen short of their vision. There remain many opportunities for technologies to assist in achieving true interoperability.

     

    • Clinical trials. CIOs are constantly inundated with requests to purchase new technologies which will “save money, improve patient satisfaction and outcomes and decrease readmissions.” What is in fact lacking in most cases is evidence for these claims.  The hesitation of many entrepreneurs to embrace the intuitive adoption requirement of proof of claim (which needs to be said should not differ from the adoption of product in any field of endeavor making claims) is the misconception that time-consuming large costly randomized clinical trials are what I am referring to. This should not however translate to “take my word for it” is all you need. I agree that traditional trials are neither practical nor necessary for most tools. Even the FDA has now recognized with thoughtful and cautious restraint a role for ‘real world evidence’(defined by the legislation as “data regarding the usage, or the potential benefits or risks, of a drug derived from sources other than randomized clinical trials,” including sources such as “ongoing safety surveillance, observational studies, registries, claims, and patient-centered outcomes research activities.” in the approval process of drugs. Thus, the opportunity for trials utilizing digital registries, mobile clinical trial platforms, quality communications and analytics tools is significant.

     

    • Artificial Intelligence (AI). One early definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in medicine (1984) was “…the construction of AI programs that perform diagnosis and make therapy recommendations. Unlike medical applications based on other programming methods, such as purely statistical and probabilistic methods, medical AI programs are based on symbolic models of disease entities and their relationship to patient factors and clinical manifestations.” Today a broader definition may be applied: “the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning (the acquisition of information and rules for using the information), reasoning (using the rules to reach approximate or definite conclusions), and self-correction.” The use of artificial intelligence in medicine has been the subject of intense and rapidly growing interest in medical, computer science, and business arenas.  The market growth of AI is based on its projected impact on both technology and non-technology sectors. There have been arguments for and against the inevitability of replacement of physicians by AI technologies for a while now. The debate continues. BASF declared “We don’t make the household product, we make the product better.” An analogy can surely be made with AI. It runs in the background of technologies already in use but will make them run faster and more importantly will add a dimension of relevance of incoming data.

     

    • Personalized medicine. The National Cancer Institute’s definition of personalized medicine is “a form of medicine that uses information about a person’s genes, proteins, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease…” Personalized medicine is medical care directed in whole or part from information specific to an individual.  Discoveries in the area of the genetics of cancer have resulted in the development of drugs no longer targeted towards an anatomical location but a specific genetic marker. A landmark clinical trial in which drugs are given solely on the basis of genetic markers identified in the cancer tissue itself is the NCI-MATCH Trial (Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice). “Patients with advanced solid tumors, lymphomas, or myeloma may be eligible for MATCH, once they have progressed on standard treatment for their cancer or if they have a rare cancer for which there is no standard treatment.” The role of personally derived connected data (from sensors external or internal to the body) will also facilitate personalized medical care. Opportunities thus exist for life sciences and technology companies to develop products for this new therapeutic approach.

     

    • Social Media. An early observational study of synergistic impacts of healthcare and social media demonstrated that personal experiences and not data drive social media healthcare discussions. One early survey of physicians on their use of social mediafound that “85% of oncologists and primary care physicians use social media at least once a week or once a day to scan or explore health information. Sixty percent said social media improves the care they deliver.” The potential for social media to disseminate information from published clinical trials, the exchange of professional education among peers, and discussions surrounding disease states is invaluable.  To be sure there exist professional and regulatory guidelines for the use of social media for providers, vendors and other healthcare stakeholders.  Social media open platforms in healthcare have proven successful for patients, caregivers and others.  Examples areTreatment Diaries, patientslikeme, and WEGOHEALTH.  Potential opportunities here involve recruitment of patients for clinical trials, gleaning real world evidence data from discussions.

     

    By no means is this a complete discussion of opportunities for digital health. These are what I consider the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ ones doable today. I look forward to comments and the sharing of experiences from others. As a consultant I am amazed on a daily basis at the high quality clinical, financial and personal experience energies devoted to the development and advocacy for digital health tools. Bring it!

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    How blockchain can address the two biggest challenges in healthcare IT

    How blockchain can address the two biggest challenges in healthcare IT | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    A recent study on blockchain adoption in health care by Blackbook Market Research indicated that a large percentage of payers surveyed, and a small but growing percentage of providers, were either considering deploying or were in the process of implementing, some blockchain solution sets. Blockchain appears to have moved from the awareness and education phase to actual deployment of solutions.

     

    “Blockchain can solve two of the biggest problems in health care today," says Lidia Fonseca, CIO of Quest Diagnostics, a leader in lab testing services. She is referring to the gnarly issues of interoperability and data quality. While data quality has long been an issue in health care, the interoperability challenge is a legacy of the massive digitization of patient medical records over the past eight years which have left us with proprietary electronic health record (EHR) systems that don't "talk" to one another. The result is inefficiency and waste, as stand-alone information systems slow down processes and create redundant work. 

    Taking a look at the healthcare blockchain pioneers

    Some technology solution providers, including IBM and Change health care, along with a number of other companies listed in the Blackbook Research study, have made initial moves in establishing blockchain capabilities and launching solutions. Federal agencies such as FDA and CDC have expressed interest in applying blockchain to find solutions for public health issues.

     

    Amazon, with its long-awaited entry into health care, recently announced the launch of blockchain templates for health care, aimed at making it easier for developers to create blockchain-based projects and deploy blockchain networks via open source frameworks. In a sense, Amazon has started the democratization of the blockchain-enabled application development, something we saw before with machine learning algorithms in the wake of the big data and analytics hype a few years ago.

     

    A group of large healthcare enterprises, including large payers such as Humana and United Health Group (UHG), along with Quest Diagnostics, UHG subsidiary Optum, and Multiplan Health recently came together to launch a blockchain pilot program to solve for one of the most significant data challenges in health care today – provider data management. Provider data, a fundamental enabler for all manner of healthcare transactions, is a key building block for processing claims and maintaining up-to-date provider directories. Today, most provider data is stored in siloed and independent databases. Provider data quality is estimated to be a $2.1 billion problem today, according to a report by CAHQ, a non-profit alliance focused on creating shared initiatives to streamline the business of health care. By streamlining the inefficiencies in provider data maintenance, participants can have a "single source of truth." It is estimated that up to 75 percent of provider data management costs can be eliminated using blockchain solutions.

    What it will take for blockchain initiatives to succeed

    While blockchain is coming of age in health care, we’re still in the early stages of the hype cycle for blockchain. The initial mania around bitcoin, the very first use case for blockchain, is now giving way to more carefully considered use cases for business with tangible benefits. Healthcare, a sector that generally lags in the adoption of technologies, is currently in a wait-and-watch mode; notwithstanding the high levels of interest among payer organizations, the Blackbook survey also points to low levels of interest among health systems, citing the undetermined cost of blockchain solutions as the major issue that stops health system executives from committing to a timeframe for deploying the technology. Our best hope is that the early pilots will bring tangible proof points and provide more confidence to the industry in the technology.

     

    Health care is a team sport and so is blockchain. The more participants there are in a blockchain network, the better it is for the network and the industry. Pilot programs such as the provider data management initiative by Quest Diagnostics and others will need a much higher level of participation across the industry to reap the benefits of the network effects.

     

    As with most transformative technologies, the big challenge is usually not the technology; it’s managing culture and workflow changes, driving collaboration, and an execution focus. In blockchain, there is an added dimension of a commitment and willingness to work across company boundaries, which is an entirely new paradigm for most health care enterprises.

    In a unique development, a group of health care industry executives has come together to launch a peer-reviewed blockchain journal to share both the positive and the negative experiences with blockchain in health care.

     

    The potential for blockchain to improve health care operating efficiencies is significant. High-value use cases include revenue cycle management, supply chain, clinical trials, and provider data management. The initial pilots will need to demonstrate the real benefits of the technology and lead to higher adoption of blockchain in the coming year.  

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    Digitally managed clinical trials will accelerate results and reduce costs 

    Digitally managed clinical trials will accelerate results and reduce costs  | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    Digitally managed clinical trials have the potential to accelerate results report and reduce costs but workflow questions and regulatory questions remain. In many facets of our lives, digital data collection has improved services, eliminated errors, and reduced waste in time and resources. Think about the ticketing and check-in process at airports ten years ago vs. today: when airlines put the information in our hands we were able to do the check-in, seat selection, and other work for them. Plus, we were happy to do it. Also consider ATMs, online banking, and retail banking for how we are able to move money, get cash, and get loans by providing data ourselves and get immediate services. When we think about the medical industry, though, very little of the kind of automation created by self-service digital data collection exists. While we can see some patient portals and self-service triage apps appearing in limited uses, large-scale use seems very far away. One specific area that digital data collection can, potentially, literally save lives is in clinical research. The use of digital collection tools, primarily mobile devices, in clinical studies, is nascent but growing. Evidence indicates that these tools have the potential to significantly improve the quality of research outcomes and reduce the costs associated with such research, but there are still questions about how exactly these tools will work and some of the issues surrounding electronic data collection. To help answer some common questions, I spoke with James Emerson, who is a director of clinical research and helps run a variety of clinical trials.

    How are mobile devices being used for digital data collection in clinical research?

    For several years now, IT in the enterprise has been moving toward consumerization; that is, people are bringing their own devices to work and many of the same applications are used outside of the office. Clinical researchers have realized that same consumerization of IT that is revolutionizing the way that we work can do the same for research. Trial participants using clinical trial research technology are able to use their own smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, which makes it much more likely they will comply with the requirements of the study.

    Essentially, depending on the setup of the study, patients simply need to input information into an application, eliminating the need for paper journals or surveys.

     

    While research indicates that most patients actually prefer this technology over other forms of data collection, in particular, voice response systems, there are still some challenges. One thing that researchers need to overcome are the differences among devices themselves, and how applications actually function on different devices.  Training trial participants — and providers — in the use of the application is an important task. Connectivity issues are also a concern, as is privacy. Protecting sensitive personal information is of paramount importance, and researchers are cognizant of the need for data protection protocols and security, both in terms of protecting the devices themselves and in the transfer of data.

    Why are digitally managed clinical trials ideal for clinical research?

    Digital data collection has many significant benefits. For starters, it reduces costs. Major clinical studies often have thousands of participants, all of whom need to be trained in how to record data and submit it to their providers. That data also needs to be collected and analyzed, often manually. Digital data collection reduces or eliminates the need for many of those expensive tasks. When clinical trial participants are allowed to use devices that they already own and are familiar with, the complexity of the training and on-boarding decreases and compliance increases.

     

    The simplified data collection process also has a significant impact on the overall quality of the study. Again, compliance is a major benefit. Studies have shown that patients vastly prefer mobile data collection over other options like paper journals or interactive voice response systems. It’s simply much easier to input your data into your mobile device and move on with your day than it is to navigate a complex menu of voice response options or fill out a paper questionnaire.

     

    The accuracy of the data collected also improves; when patients use paper journals, for instance, they have a tendency to add additional extraneous information or skip questions, which can affect how the data is analyzed. Not to mention, when the researchers have access to real-time data, they can identify compliance issues earlier on and monitor patient safety more efficiently, improving the overall outcome of the trial.

     

    While digital data collection can improve the accuracy of the data collected, there are some obstacles to overcome. Digital data collection protocols require that researchers consider facets of study design that they might not have otherwise. For example, what happens if a device is lost or stolen? How can we protect that data and the integrity of the study? We need to use a technology infrastructure that complies with regulatory protocols, but that is also easy for subjects to use.

     

    Many researchers are also concerned about equivalence among the devices being used. In other words, are all of the subjects having the same experience when using the application, and how do differences affect outcomes? These are all questions that researchers are considering in their study design.

    Can digitally be managed clinical trials really save that much money?

    The short answer is yes. In 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report estimating that using mobile technologies in clinical trials has the potential to save clinical research organizations (CROs) tens of millions of dollars. The greatest savings come in the later stages of trials, but even in the early stages, mobile saves money.

    Are there regulatory issues related to the use of digital collection tools that CROs face?

    The FDA is actually encouraging CROs to do as much electronically as possible. That being said, yes, there are some stringent regulations that CROs must adhere to that ensure the accuracy and protection of the data. The FDA has issued guidance on how CROs can capture and use data to maintain those protections.

    Are there times when digital data collection isn’t ideal? What about barriers to participation?

    While it might seem like everyone on the planet has a smartphone these days, the fact is that there are some people who either do not have access to the technology necessary to participate in a research study via a mobile device or have the skills to do so correctly. It’s important to carefully assess the target population of the study to determine whether digital data collection is appropriate or if more traditional methods would be a better choice.

     

    For example, many older adults either do not have or do not use smartphones and aren’t interested in learning how to use the application to participate in the research. For someone who isn’t a digital native, using an application to record data could be intimidating or confusing.

     

    Another issue is a lack of access to the internet or cellular service. In many rural areas of the country, access to broadband is still limited, and cell service is limited or nonexistent. Relying solely on digital data collection via smartphone has the potential to exclude viable candidates from research studies, simply because they cannot provide data efficiently. We need to be very careful in how we design studies, and the technological requirements, or risk inadvertently creating disparities within the study population based on economic or geographic situations.

     

    And of course, not all studies lend themselves to self-reporting — and as with any self-reported data, there will always be a margin of error. Researchers need to carefully consider their reasons for choosing digital data collection, and evaluate whether they are ideal for an individual study.

    Are digitally managed clinical trials really the future of clinical research?

    Yes, we believe so. The fact is, the old ways of doing things are no longer infallible. Using digital tools has the potential to solve many of the long-standing problems within clinical research, including low study recruitment numbers, gender bias, accuracy, compliance, and more. By incorporating digital tools, new, more effective treatments can get to market faster while keeping patients safe and improving their overall health.

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    A Path to Putting Patients at the Center 

    A Path to Putting Patients at the Center  | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    I remember when visiting a city required paper maps and often actual guidebooks. Today, I tap on a map app on my phone, enter my destination and review options for getting from point A to point B. In recent years, these applications have expanded to integrate ride-sharing, bike-sharing, and public transit information. Map apps provide two key real-time data points to help me compare the different options: the time it will take to get to my destination and the cost.

    Behind those data points are elegant algorithms that analyze traffic patterns and conditions, as well as the real-time data exchange between multiple apps through modern, Representational State Transfer (RESTful) application programming interfaces (APIs). What makes our smartphones so powerful is the multitude of apps and software programs that use open and accessible APIs for delivering new products to consumers and businesses, creating new market entrants and opportunities. There is nothing analogous to this app ecosystem in healthcare.

    ONC’s interoperability efforts focus on improving individuals’ ability to control their health information so they can shop for and coordinate their own care. While many patients can access their medical information through multiple provider portals, the current ecosystem is frustrating and cumbersome. The more providers they have, the more portals they need to visit, the more usernames and passwords they need to remember. In the end, these steps make it hard for patients to aggregate their information across care settings and prevent them from being empowered consumers.

    Just as consumers can see the time to destination and costs using their map apps, they should be able to see quality indicators and costs of their care. As Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Azar recently stated, “putting the healthcare consumer in charge, letting them determine value, is a radical reorientation from the way that American healthcare has worked for the past century.” I certainly recognize that issues around pricing for healthcare services and measuring quality are complex, but I am confident that ONC’s efforts will complement new policies across HHS to encourage transparency, leverage Medicare and Medicaid to drive value-based transformation, and reduce regulatory burden on the health system.

    As part of ONC’s role in coordinating health information technology (health IT) nationally, we are working with innovators to develop modern APIs that support the use of mobile apps to help individuals manage their own health or the health and care of a loved one. A robust health app ecosystem can lead to disease-specific apps and allow patients to share their health information with researchers working on clinical trials to test a drug or treatment’s efficacy, or monitoring outcomes like those in the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program.

    ONC took a practical step to accelerate the use of APIs in healthcare with the 2015 Edition of the certification criteria adopted as part of the ONC Health IT Certification Program. Specifically, the 2015 Edition includes updated technical requirements that were not available in the prior edition and—to the benefit of the provider and the patient—to support further innovation in APIs and interoperability-focused standards. The 2015 Edition includes “application access” certification criteria that require health IT developers to demonstrate their products can provide application access to core medical and patient information via an API.

    The 21st Century Cures Act (Cures) builds on ONC’s 2015 Edition and calls for the development of APIs that do not require “special effort” for developers to access and exchange health information. ONC will address this requirement through rulemaking expected to be issued later in 2018. Ensuring that APIs in the health ecosystem are standardized, transparent, and pro-competitive are the central principles guiding our work. These goals should allow new business models and tools that will expand the transparency of all aspects of healthcare. New tools should allow patients to comparison shop for their healthcare needs like they do when hailing a ride.

    In recent years, the health IT industry has made positive strides. The HL7 Argonaut Project, a private sector initiative, has been developing a core set of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) implementation specifications. These specifications will enable expanded information sharing for electronic health records and other health IT solutions based on modern computing standards (i.e., REST, Javascript Object Notation (JSON), and FHIR). Boston Children’s Hospital Computational Health Informatics Program and the Harvard Medical School Department for Biomedical Informatics have been leading the development of SMART Health IT, an open, standards-based technology platform that already is showing success in enabling innovators to create apps that seamlessly and securely run across the healthcare system.

    The convergence of these actions, the new authorities granted to ONC by Congress in the Cures Act, and efforts by HHS, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the National Institutes for Health (NIH), and the Veterans Administration (VA) with the MyHealthEData initiative are helping promote more consistent data flows, inject market competition in healthcare, and return individual control of their care to the American public.

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    Will Wearable Devices Change Patient Outcomes? | Blog

    Will Wearable Devices Change Patient Outcomes? | Blog | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    Nine months ago, I started wearing an activity tracker, and it’s completely changed the way I approach health and fitness. And I’m part of a major trend. Whether you want to measure heart rate, activity level or caloric burn, there’s an ever-growing number of devices that do the job. Both non medical and medical companies are trying to get in the game, from theNike Fuelband to Fitbit to Apple’s new iOS Healthbook.

     

    In a perfect world, a single tracker would do everything, à la the Star Trek Tricorder. But in real life it doesn’t work that way. The resultant explosive growth — a potential multibillion-dollar market — has left us with fragmented solutions that aren’t engaging the patients who account for the greatest share of healthcare spend.

    Nine months ago, I started wearing an activity tracker, and it’s completely changed the way I approach health and fitness. And I’m part of a major trend. Whether you want to measure heart rate, activity level or caloric burn, there’s an ever-growing number of devices that do the job. Both non medical and medical companies are trying to get in the game, from theNike Fuelband to Fitbit to Apple’s new iOS Healthbook.

     

    In a perfect world, a single tracker would do everything, à la the Star Trek Tricorder. But in real life it doesn’t work that way. The resultant explosive growth — a potential multibillion-dollar market — has left us with fragmented solutions that aren’t engaging the patients who account for the greatest share of healthcare spend.

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    CMS Finalizes 2016 Medicare Payment Rules for Physicians, Hospitals & Other Providers

    CMS Finalizes 2016 Medicare Payment Rules for Physicians, Hospitals & Other Providers | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued final rules this week detailing how the agency will pay for services provided to beneficiaries in Medicare by physicians and other health care professionals in 2016 that reflects the administration’s commitment to quality, value, and patient-centered care. Payment rules for the 2016 calendar year for End-Stage Renal Disease Prospective Payment System, the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System, Home Health Prospective Payment System, and the Physician Fee Schedule were all finalized this week.


    “CMS is pleased to implement the first fee schedule since Congress acted to improve patient access by protecting physician payments from annual cuts. These rules continue to advance value-based purchasing and promote program integrity, making Medicare better for consumers, providers, and taxpayers,” said CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt. “We received a large number of comments supporting our proposal to allow physicians to bill for advanced care planning conversations and we are finalizing this rule accordingly.”

    Key policies finalized in the 2016 payment rules include:

    • Finalizing the Home Health Value-Based Purchasing model. This model, authorized under the Affordable Care Act, is designed to improve health outcomes and value by tying home health payments to quality performance. All Medicare-certified home health agencies that provide services in Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee will participate in this model starting January 1, 2016. Compared to the proposed rule, the maximum payment adjustment in the first year of the model was reduced from 5 percent to 3 percent. This was part of the Home Health Prospective Payment System final rule.


    • Finalizing updates to the “Two-Midnight” rule. The rule clarifies when inpatient admissions are appropriate for payment under Medicare Part A. This continues CMS’ long-standing emphasis on the importance of a physician’s medical judgment in meeting the needs of Medicare beneficiaries by providing clearer guidelines and a more collaborative approach to education and enforcement. This was part of the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System final rule.
    • Finalizing the End-Stage Renal Disease Quality Incentive Program. The End-Stage Renal Disease final rule will apply payment incentives to dialysis facilities to improve the quality of dialysis care. Facilities that do not achieve a minimum total performance score with respect to quality measures, such as anemia management, patient experience, infections, and safety, will receive a reduction in their payment rates. 
    • Beginning the new physician payment system post the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and supporting patient- and family-centered care. This is the first final Physician Fee Schedule final rule since the repeal of the SGR formula by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). Through the final rule, CMS is beginning implementation of the new payment system for physicians and other practitioners, the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System, required by the legislation.
    • Finalizing provision to empower patients and their families regarding advance care planning. Consistent with recommendations from a wide range of stakeholders and bipartisan members of Congress, CMS is finalizing its proposal that supports patient- and family-centered care for seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries by enabling them to discuss advance care planning with their providers.
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    How Physicians Must Practically Prepare for Retirement

    How Physicians Must Practically Prepare for Retirement | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    In a broad survey of U.S. physicians by Merritt Hawkins in 2014, nearly 42 percent of those surveyed aged 46 and older said they plan to accelerate their retirement due to current changes in the healthcare industry. In the same survey, more than 55 percent of physicians reported their current morale as somewhat or very negative.


    Numbers like those suggest some physicians could be rushing for the exits before their retirement ducks are in a row, which can lead to some regrettable outcomes, experts say. Among them: nest eggs that are too small or too heavily invested in risky assets, missed opportunities for disposing of practice assets, and depression resulting from a lack of purpose once work ends.


    Ophthalmologist Arnold Pearlstone retired nearly five years ago at age 80, not because he failed to plan for retirement, but precisely because he planned so well for so long.


    He and his practice partners started up a 401(k) plan decades ago when the concept was still new, and Pearlstone learned all he could about investments.


    "We were all pretty conscientious about saving and we really had a pretty good amount put away, so we didn't have to worry," he says.

    What did concern him was how he was going to spend his time in retirement. He loved practicing medicine and knew he wanted to do it as long as possible.


    And so 23 years ago, about the time many people start retiring, Pearlstone and his wife, Marion (now deceased), established a foundation they called Eye Care for the Underprivileged. Through that foundation they received donations in addition to their own and established a clinic in Jamaica while Pearlstone was still actively practicing.


    "I didn't limit the foundation's scope to Jamaica, because I thought I might one day need it for other clinics I wanted to open," he says. "I didn't know what I was going to be doing, so when I set up the fund I left it open-ended in case later on I wanted to volunteer and needed to purchase equipment."


    Sure enough, as Pearlstone finally started winding down his practice, he contacted AmeriCares, a humanitarian aid organization. He began working at an AmeriCares free clinic in Bridgeport, Conn., two weeks after he retired in 2010, taking most of his office equipment with him and donating it to the clinic. Later, he used money from his foundation to add equipment to other AmeriCares clinic locations. He keeps his Connecticut medical license current with 50 hours of continuing medical education every two years.


    "My advice is to not just quit when you retire," he says. "Find someplace to use those skills where they can make a difference. It's good for you to keep the brain going."


    Practical Planning


    As for the more practical aspects of retirement planning, getting going on those is equally important, experts say.


    "Start early, because everything seems to take longer than you think it will," says Roy Bossen, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, with experience in medical office sales and acquisitions.


    Increasingly, finding a junior partner willing to buy you out and continue the practice as it was is a rare find, Bossen says. Instead, you might have to consider a multi-year process where you join a hospital network for a few years at the end your career.


    "If a hospital really wants a physician, it will often assume the lease or buy the building as part of the transaction," says Bossen. "They won't pay more than fair-market value," but having that obligation off your plate before you retire could be worth it if finding and keeping a tenant is difficult in your market, he says.


    "These are issues you want to resolve going into a lease, not out, but if you're in a lease, for example, be aware that you may have to go to a condo board to get a tenant approved," he says, which can mean more delays and missed opportunities.


    Near the end of his career, Pearlstone was the last of four partners in his office. He assumed the patient records of two colleagues who were retiring, closed down the office, and rented a new space from a friend who had another practice nearby for the last few years of practice. That doctor then paid Pearlstone a small fee for the patient records, which offset a portion of his rent, he says.


    Preparing your nest egg to begin pumping out income at retirement is also a process that can take some time. A significant market correction in the first few years of retirement could doom an income system that relies on an initial withdrawal rate with automatic yearly increases — the oft-cited "4 percent" rule.


    Be aware that because of stock market valuations and the low-yield bond market, projections for returns in coming years have market experts saying a more realistic safe withdrawal rate could be more like 2.5 percent to 3 percent.


    If you're concerned you might not have saved enough to make it through retirement with just a systematic withdrawal plan, longevity insurance — or fixed deferred annuities — are beginning to be introduced for retirement accounts by insurers including The Principal and MetLife.


    Recent federal regulations paved the way for these policies, called qualifying longevity annuity contracts (QLAC). Inside retirement accounts, the annuities allow owners to defer required minimum distributions on the amounts invested in the annuities.


    Also, think strategically about how you want to receive Social Security income. You can now get an 8 percent bump-up in monthly benefits for every year you delay claiming benefits past full retirement age, up to 32 percent at age 70. Do this first before purchasing longevity annuities because it's the cheapest annuity available, many financial advisers say.


    It's important to reconsider your risk tolerance now that retirement is looming. A decade before he retired, Pearlstone says he began shifting his savings to more fixed-income investments and away from stocks.


    "Today I'm about two-thirds in income investments and one-third in equities," he says, noting that he spent considerable time throughout his career learning about financial planning and investments.

    If you haven't put in that much time and don't expect to, at least thoroughly check out the financial adviser you plan to use to help tap your nest egg. Online financial management services such as Personal Capital and Betterment are beginning to offer retirement spend-down strategies.  They do so for a fraction of what traditional advisers charge — and they won't approach you with obscure land deals only available to "accredited" investors.

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    How one health system tightened security

    How one health system tightened security | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky has added security muscle targeted at its network-connected medical devices by rolling out technology that monitors the devices for cyber vulnerabilities.

    The health system tapped Tenable Network Security for nonstop network monitoring via the company's SecurityCenter Continuous View, which makes it possible to keep watch over the devices without taking them offline.


    Through this deployment, hospital executives say, St. Elizabeth's IT security team has tackled one of the biggest security challenges in the healthcare industry – securing "smart" medical devices that cannot be interrupted for active vulnerability assessments.


    "Everything we do at St. Elizabeth, including our security program, is based on the principle of putting patients first," Harold Eder, director of IT infrastructure and security at the hospital, said in a news release. "CT scanners, MRIs, smart IV pumps – any of these endpoint devices may be running on outdated systems that leave the entire network vulnerable to attack, but you can't perform traditional vulnerability assessments because taking the systems offline is risky and could diminish patient care."


    St. Elizabeth's security team uses Tenable's SecurityCenter CV to gain complete visibility into medical device security and overall network status through a combination of active and passive scanning as well as advanced analytics. With the technology, Eder and his team assess 9,600 IP addresses and more than 300 medical device endpoints across five main campuses and more than 60 remote facilities.


    Continuous network monitoring gives Eder a better understanding of cyber risk for the entire St. Elizabeth enterprise,  and it gives him the opportunity to focus his security team on the tasks that will have the most impact, he added.


    With guidance from HealthGuard Security, a cyber risk management provider and a partner that St. Elizabeth has worked with for more than 10 years, Eder said he chose the platform for St. Elizabeth because it delivered the right combination of advanced analytics, real-time reporting and increased visibility into the health system's hard-to-see medical devices.


    "When I looked at the challenges St. Elizabeth faced, I knew they needed a comprehensive solution that would help with HIPAA compliance, improve visibility into critical systems and deliver high-level analytics and reporting capabilities," said Apolonio Garcia, founder and president, HealthGuard Security, in a statement. "After seeing the success of Tenable's products with many customers over the years, SecurityCenter CV was clearly the right fit and the best product for St. Elizabeth."


    The platform, as Eder continued, "gives me a much more holistic view into what my priorities should be, so I spend less time figuring out the problems and more time fixing them," he said. "The best part is that as our network evolves and our security program matures, we will continue to get additional value out of (the platform) along with the continued assurance that our infrastructure and patients are well protected."


    St. Elizabeth Healthcare operates six major facilities throughout Northern Kentucky and more than 110 primary care and specialty office locations in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. 

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    Readmissions Penalties Get Very, Very Real

    Readmissions Penalties Get Very, Very Real | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    It was quite bracing to read the August 3 Kaiser Health News report entitled “Half of Nation’s Hospitals Fail Again to Escape Medicare’s Readmission Penalties.” As Jordan Rau wrote in the article, “Once again, the majority of the nation’s hospitals are being penalized by Medicare for having patients frequently return within a month of discharge—this time losing a combined $420 million, government records show. In the fourth year of federal readmission penalties,” Rau reported, “2,592 hospitals will receive lower payments for every Medicare patient that stays in the hospital—readmitted or not –starting in October. The Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, created by the Affordable Care Act, was designed to make hospitals pay closer attention to what happens to their patients after they get discharged. Since the fines began,” he added, “national readmission rates have dropped, but roughly one of every five Medicare patients sent to the hospital ends up returning within a month.”


    What’s more, Rau noted, “Some hospitals view the punishments as unfair because they can lose money even if they had fewer readmissions than they did in previous years. All but 209 of the hospitals penalized in this round were also punished last year, a Kaiser Health News analysis of the records found.”


    As hospital executives already know, the fines for failure to meet the criteria of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) focus on five conditions: heart attack, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as elective hip and knee replacements, and are based on readmissions between July 2011 and June 2014.


    And these reimbursement cuts are everywhere—indeed, the penalties will be assessed on hospitals in every state except for Maryland, as that state has a special payment arrangement with Medicare. And the cuts will affect three-quarters or more of hospitals in the following states: Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.


    What’s more, the readmissions-driven reimbursement cuts are hitting hospitals on top of cuts coming out of the mandatory value-based purchasing program and the mandatory healthcare-acquired conditions (mostly hospital-acquired infections) program.


     Meanwhile, the average penalties by state are being found to vary tremendously. Nationwide, 54 percent of hospitals (2,592 organizations) are being penalized, with an average Medicare pay cut of 0.61 percent. But those nationwide averages encompass huge variations. On one end of the spectrum, in North Dakota, where only three hospitals, or seven percent of the state’s hospital organizations, are being penalized this year, the average penalty is just 0.14 percent of Medicare payments. But in Kentucky, where 62 organizations, representing 65 percent of the state’s hospitals, are being penalized, the average penalty amounts to a full 1.19 percent of Medicare revenues—that’s an 850-percent spread.


    And as everyone knows, many not-for-profit community hospitals in the U.S. are surviving on operating margins of between 1 and 3 percent; and for those with a majority of their revenues coming from Medicare reimbursement, a penalty of more than 1 percent could potentially be devastating.


    Five years ago when the U.S. Congress passed he Affordable Care Act, and President Obama signed it, I predicted that the mandatory readmissions program would be one of the healthcare system reform provisions in the ACA that would be one of its most impactful; and it already has been. As we all know, ten years ago, if you were talk walk into the office of the average CFO in the average inpatient hospital in the U.S. and were to ask that CFO what her/his hospital’s average 30-day readmissions rates were for patients with documented congestive heart failure, diabetes, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), s/he could likely not have told you. Now, that CFO needs to know that number—and needs to be working with all levels and disciplines of leadership in her/his hospital to reduce that number.


    What’s more, private health insurers are absolutely moving forward to implement similar programs in their hospital contracts, since, as is nearly always the case with such things, once the Medicare program, the U.S. healthcare system’s proverbial 800-pound gorilla, moves forward in an area, all the major private health insurers quickly follow Medicare’s lead and design their own versions of the same initiative.


    Industry experts have long noted that many, if not most, readmissions that occur within 30 days are relatively easily predicted. Research, and the experiences of pioneering hospital organizations, have found that the key gaps in this area have to do with care management on multiple levels—ensuring effective discharge planning, including really robust patient and family member education; and then, very importantly, case manager/care manager nurse follow-up with the discharged patient in a day or two at most following discharge, via phone communication, which must involve the scheduling of a follow-up primary care physician appointment; and then of course, that follow-up PCP visit, along with further coaching, education, and care management.


    And all of those processes must be strategically directed, excellently executed, and very strongly facilitated by robust information systems run by hospital and health system leaders with commitment to strategic goals and to success over long periods of time and across large groups of patients. Now, clearly, the leaders of many patient care organizations are moving forward with alacrity to develop accountable care organizations (ACOs), either under the aegis of one of Medicare’s ACO programs, or in collaboration with private health plans; as well as implementing population health management programs, and developing patient-centered medical homes.


    But here’s the thing about the Medicare readmissions reduction program: because it’s mandatory, it is forcing action on the part of every hospital that receives regular Medicare payment, regardless of whether or not that hospital is also pursuing ACO, population health, or PCMH strategies, or not.


    So the same “blessed cycle” of performance improvement is called for on the part of all regular U.S. hospitals receiving Medicare reimbursement, at this point. And that means creating really good data collection and reporting mechanisms, reporting the data, developing continuous clinical performance improvement processes to reduce predictable 30-day readmissions, making those improvements, and continuously sharing with clinicians, clinician leaders, and administrative executives and managers the ongoing results of those efforts, for further improvement work.


    In other words, we’re talking about a continuous learning system in U.S. healthcare. And guess what? It’s no longer optional.

    The reality is that healthcare IT leaders are playing and will continue to play, an extremely important role in all of this work; indeed, their contributions will be vital to success, at the data and information level, the process improvement level, and the strategic level, organization-wide. The one thing that neither healthcare IT leaders nor any other leaders can do is to sit any longer in denial about what is happening. Because, along with the mandatory value-based purchasing program under Medicare, and to a lesser extent as well, the mandatory healthcare-acquired conditions reduction program under Medicare, continuous clinical performance improvement is in effect now a core component of federal policy.


    In other words, folks, this is happening.


    The good news is that leaders at the most pioneering hospitals and health systems are lighting the way for others to follow. The bad news is that anyone waiting for further “clarity” on all this is going to be waiting so long as to potentially endanger the future of their hospital organization. So as the readmissions reduction program under Medicare—and inevitably under many, if not most, private health insurers as well—expands and ramps up, it will be incumbent on healthcare IT leaders and on all healthcare leaders to get ahead of the curve, because the penalties are only going to get more and more real—and won’t ever be reversing.

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    7 ways physicians can improve health care quality

    7 ways physicians can improve health care quality | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    Patients want to receive health care that is of the highest quality. Physicians want to provide it. But what is “high-quality health care?” On that, few agree.


    Ask most Americans and they’re unsure where to find it. They know they want to be kept healthy, have rapid access to personalized care whenever they need it and be charged only what they can afford.

    Ask the leaders of the national medical and surgical societies, and they are likely to define quality as having access to the latest — and often the most richly reimbursed — procedures, diagnostic imaging, and genetic testing.

    Ask physicians themselves and, well, they’re already overwhelmed by the exponential growth in clinical measures of quality developed for public and private pay-for-performance formulas.


    Even so, medicine is coming closer to a definition of high-quality health care — and also to a system for evaluating how physicians and medical groups perform. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), a highly regarded independent organization established by Congress to advise on health care issues — the gold standard on improving our nation’s health – recently released a report: “Vital Signs: Core Metrics for Health and Health Care Progress.”


    The IOM panel of experts identified 15 measures, narrowed down from hundreds, with the best potential for improving health, including reducing the overall rate of preventable deaths.The consensus: If the U.S. systematically raises its performance in each of these 15 domains, the quality of life for millions would improve dramatically.


    This IOM report is important, even though it received surprisingly scant media attention. It should serve as a starting point and a road map about how clinical practice can most effectively lift the quality of care delivered to patients.

    But let me come back to the report itself in a minute.


    The quality conundrum


    A little context about the issue of quality might help here. At last count, the number of health care quality measures in place was in the thousands. The Joint Commission has 57 just for inpatient care at hospitals. The Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set has about 81. The National Quality Forum currently endorses more than 630. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has no fewer than about 1,700.


    That may explain why keeping track is such a challenge for all parties involved.


    Perceptions of quality are of course subjective. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, quality is “how good or bad something is; a characteristic or feature that someone or something has; a high level of value or excellence.” The Oxford Dictionary says quality is “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something” It cites this example: “The hospital ranks in the top tier in quality of care.”


    The upshot here is a paradox: a definition that is itself ill-defined – and as such, leaves plenty of uncertainty and doubt.


    7 actions physicians can take


    That’s why the IOM report is so valuable and welcome. It cites 15 “vital signs,” but let’s focus on the seven that relate to direct health care delivery and better care for patients.


    1. Overweight and obesity. Physicians should help their patients exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and maintain their weight within a normal range. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Specifically, physicians can make diet and weight management a vital sign and counsel every patient on the options available.


    2. Addictive behaviors. Eliminating smoking and alcohol abuse, along with reducing the percentage of people who are overweight, would dramatically lower the incidence of diabetes, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Physicians should engage and educate patients about approaches to take to quit smoking and alcohol abuse, and provide advice and resources toward that end. Today, addiction to nicotine, alcohol, opiates and other psychoactive drugs continues at unacceptably high rates.


    3. Preventive services. Physicians should urge patients to take the recommended screening tests and stay current on their vaccinations. Preventive screenings alone could dramatically lower the risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, and strokes.


    Combining this with smoking cessation and exercise could help avoid 200,000 heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. each year, and reduce the mortality from cancer by tens of thousands yearly, based on an internal analysis done by The Permanente Medical Group’s Division of Research.


    Screen for colon cancer in fewer than 50 percent of patients, rather than in 80 percent to 90 percent, and you double the chances of dying from an invasive adenocarcinoma. Smoke at the national average of 18 percent, rather than at under 10 percent, and you dramatically increase lung cancer, emphysema, and heart attacks.


    Preventive services present a valuable opportunity for both improving health and reducing health expenditures.


    4. Patient safety. Physicians and nurses can, through rigorous practice, help patients avoid hospital-acquired infections, pressure ulcers, medication errors and wrong-site surgery. Even a decade after the 1999 IOM report, “To Err is Human” — with its estimate that 100,000 patients die each year from medical errors, the equivalent of a jetliner crashing each day — these so called “never events” still occur too frequently.


    And when patients develop infections like sepsis, or suffer an adverse drug reaction, they face a higher chance of dying in the hospital, and experiencing problems long after hospital discharge. Avoiding harm has been a core value of the medical profession from the time of Hippocrates, and is “first among equals” when it comes to the principal responsibilities of the health care system. Yet medical errors with adverse outcomes are still far too common.


    5. Unintended pregnancy. Physicians should take the opportunity to focus on ensuring the health of an expectant mother in order to increase the chances for a healthy baby and safe delivery, whether a pregnancy is unintended or the result of careful planning.


    An estimated 50 percent of pregnancies in the US are unplanned, and occur in women across the spectrum of child-bearing years, and among women in every socioeconomic demographic. Unintended pregnancy results from social, behavioral, cultural, and health factors, including — and perhaps most especially — women’s lack of knowledge about and access to tools for family planning.


    Research has demonstrated that medical care soon after conception is critical, and identified ways to reduce the risks of a maternal or fetal complication. Good nutrition, along with avoidance of drugs, alcohol and cigarette smoke, are essential. After birth, comprehensive medical care and early diagnosis of problems can prevent longer-term health problems and future complications.


    6. Access to care. Access to health care is one of the most powerful determinants of clinical outcomes. The ability to access care when needed is a vital precondition for a high-quality health system.

    Physicians in integrated, multi-specialty practices have advantages in ensuring patients get all the care needed thanks to comprehensive electronic health records. But in today’s fragmented health care system, with close to 15 percent of the population still uninsured, health care still remains beyond the reach of all too many Americans. Policy makers are relentlessly pursuing affordable access.


    7. Evidence-based care. Physicians should see to it that patients receive medical care based on the most current scientific evidence for what is appropriate and effective, rather than on an anecdote or an “in my experience” approach. Physicians working in hospitals with electronic health records can do so, deciding about care according to scientifically validated protocols for complex problems like heart attacks, strokes, and hip fractures.


    In the not-too-distant past, when physicians lacked many of the current diagnostic tools and access to sophisticated information technology, medical practice was far more art than science.


    Even today, variation in how physicians treat patients with the same problem is unwarranted, and leads to system-wide under performance and less-than-optimal clinical outcomes.


    Fortunately, medical practice today is far more science than art.


    What patients should do


    The best quality, then, according to the IOM, is not based on using a robot, providing transplantation or completing genetic sequencing. The reality is that, contrary to what some might assume, these often advertised technologies have minimal impact on mortality.


    And quality is not a result of individual technical excellence in performing procedures such as heart surgery, neurosurgery or hip replacement surgery. The variation from surgeon to surgeon is far less than people assume. In fact, many health care experts now perceive overuse of these high-intensity surgical interventions to be a problem that sometimes results in associated complications and minimal improvements in clinical outcomes.


    The list, in short, is more practical than exotic or “sexy,” offering the interventions which have the greatest impact on human life.

    The IOM committee concluded that leadership “at nearly every level of the health care system” will be required to adopt, implement, refine and maintain these core measures. And among the many stakeholders, physician leadership will be key.


    Patients should make health choices based on these 15 vital signs from the IOM. They enable people to distinguish the most important quality measures from all the “noise” about what are the newest and most exotic tools and approaches available. More specifically, patients would be wise to select a personal physician or medical group whose practice philosophy incorporates these approaches — and whose clinical results in each area are superior.


    We physicians are obligated to heed the IOM recommendations on behalf of our patients, the better to fulfill health care’s promise of easing suffering and extending lives. This is where American health care should invest its efforts. The IOM is a gift to both physicians and patients. Taking our eyes off what will most impact the health of all would be a mistake our nation can ill afford.

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    Health insurers working the system to pad their profits

    Health insurers working the system to pad their profits | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    One of the reasons the health insurance industry worked behind the scenes in 2009 and 2010 to derail Obamacare was the fear that changes mandated by the law would cut their Medicare Advantage profits. Medicare Advantage plans are federally funded but privately run alternatives to traditional fee-for-service Medicare. 

    Although the industry’s biggest trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said repeatedly that insurers supported Obamacare, the group was secretly financing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s TV campaign against reform. Among the companies most concerned about the law were those benefiting from overpayments the federal government had been making to their Medicare Advantage plans since George W. Bush was in the White House.  


    Bush and other Republicans saw the Medicare Advantage program as a way to incrementally privatize Medicare. To entice insurers to participate in the program, the federal government devised a payment scheme that resulted in taxpayers paying far more for people enrolled in the Medicare Advantage plans than those who remained in the traditional program. The extra cash enables insurers to offer benefits traditional Medicare doesn’t, like coverage for glasses and hearing aids, and to cap enrollees’ out-of-pocket expenses.


    When the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, the payments to Medicare Advantage plans exceeded traditional Medicare payments by 14 percent. To end what they considered an unfair advantage for private insurers, and to reduce overall spending on Medicare, Democrats who wrote the reform law included language to gradually eliminate the over-payments.  So far, the 14 percent disparity has been reduced to 2 percent.  The final reductions are scheduled to be made next year.


    Despite that decrease, the fears by Republicans and insurance company executives that the reductions would lead to a steady decline in Medicare Advantage enrollees have proved to be completely unfounded. In fact, the plans have continued to grow at a fast clip.

    In March 2010, the month Obamacare became law, 11.1 million people were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans—one of every four people eligible for Medicare. That was an increase from the 10.5 million Medicare Advantage enrollees in March 2009. Since then, Medicare Advantage membership has grown by more than 8 percent annually. Now 17.3 million—one in three people eligible for Medicare—are enrolled in private plans.


    As Center for Public Integrity senior reporter Fred Schulte has written over the past year, many insurers have discovered that even though the overpayments are being reduced, they can boost profits another way: by manipulating a provision of a 2003 law that allows them to get additional cash for enrollees deemed to be sicker than average.


    A risk-coding program was put in place by the government primarily because insurers were targeting their marketing efforts to attract younger and healthier—and thus cheaper— beneficiaries. Under the risk-coding program, insurers are paid more to cover patients who are older and sicker; the idea was to encourage the firms to cover those folks by offering a financial incentive. They get more money, for example, to cover someone with a history of heart disease than they do for someone with no such risk.  Last week Schulte uncovered whistleblower accusations that a medical consulting firm and more than two dozen Medicare Advantage plans have been ripping taxpayers off by conducting in-home patient exams that allegedly overstated how much the plans should be paid.

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    Could Well-Implemented IT Help Reverse Primary Care Physicians’ Skepticism Over the New Healthcare?

    Could Well-Implemented IT Help Reverse Primary Care Physicians’ Skepticism Over the New Healthcare? | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

    It was fascinating to read a new issue brief from the New York-based Commonwealth Fund published August 5, on primary care providers’ (both primary care physicians’ and mid-level practitioners’) perceptions of new payment models in healthcare.


    The Commonwealth Fund, a “private foundation that aims to promote a high performing healthcare system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults,” had issued the brief, entitled “Primary Care Providers’ Views of Recent Trends in Health Care Delivery and Payment,” based on a survey of 1,624 primary care physicians and 525 mid-level clinicians (nurse practitioners and physician assistants).


    The abstract to the issue brief notes that “A new survey from The Commonwealth Fund and The Kaiser Family Foundation asked primary care providers—physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants—about their experiences with and reactions to recent changes in health care delivery and payment. Providers’ views are generally positive regarding the impact of health information technology on quality of care, but they are more divided on the increased use of medical homes and accountable care organizations. Overall, providers are more negative about the increased reliance on quality metrics to assess their performance and about financial penalties. Many physicians expressed frustration with the speed and administrative burden of Medicaid and Medicare payments. An earlier brief focused on providers’ experiences under the ACA’s coverage expansions and their opinions about the law.”


    The core findings of the survey were that primary care physicians, far more than mid-level practitioners, expressed considerable skepticism about the new healthcare delivery and payment models, in particular the two that were asked about specifically—accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes; though those PCPs who had worked under ACO or PMCH arrangements were far more likely to agree that they offered the potential for improving the quality of care delivery to patients being cared for under those types of arrangements.


    As to why a strong plurality of primary care physicians have negative perceptions of the potential for the value-based outcomes measures embedded in ACO and PCMH arrangements to improve quality and efficiency, Melinda Abrams, The Commonwealth Fund’s vice president for delivery system reform, told me, “To be honest, we don’t know why they don’t like the quality measures; we only know there’s a fair bit of dissatisfaction with the quality measures. When we asked physicians whether they thought the increased use of quality measures was impacting their ability to provide high-quality care, 50 percent were negative on that, and only 22 percent were positive. We also asked, are you receive quality incentive-based payments? That reflected the entire group, but even among those receiving incentive payments based on quality, 50 percent felt it was negative, and only 28 percent felt it was positive.”


    Still, as the issue brief’s abstract noted, “The survey results indicate that primary care providers’ views of many of these new models are more negative than positive. There are exceptions: health information technology gets mostly positive views and medical homes receive mixed opinions with a positive tilt. With regard to HIT, our study indicates that primary care providers generally accept the promise of HIT to improve quality of care even if previous research shows they dislike the process of transitioning from paper-based records.8 Our survey results also may reflect clinicians’ earlier exposure to certain models and tools. National adoption of electronic health records received a boost from the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of the federal stimulus package of 2009, while the four primary care specialty societies announced a joint statement regarding medical homes in February 2007, several years before passage of the Affordable Care Act.”


    “Our results show that 50 percent of primary care providers say that healthcare IT is improving the quality of care they provide,” Abrams told me. “And what we’ve learned from other studies is this: other studies have found that providers generally accept the promise of HIT as a concept, even as they dislike the process of transitioning to electronic from paper. Our specific question was on the impact of their ability to provide high-quality care to their patients. It’s a more general question than about the transition. We weren’t asking about the transition. So half of physicians and two-thirds of mid-level providers see the advance of health IT as having a positive impact,” she noted.

    What is inevitable is that clinicians, but most especially primary care physicians, will be demanding a great deal from the clinical and other information systems that are being implemented now to facilitate accountable care, population health management, and patient-centered medical home-based care.


    As Abrams put it to me, “There’s nothing in the survey findings that would indicate that increased success with IT would improve their views of ACOs and medical homes; our findings don’t show that. But I would suspect that, to fulfill the promise of ACOs and PCMHs requires ease of use of IT and the data from that technology, the more they learn to use technology effectively to optimize patient care, yes, I believe they will become more positive about ACOs and patient-centered medical homes, yes. And more pieces will help them embrace ACOs and PCMHs.”


    So such interpretations of survey data only help to reinforce what seemed apparent already: that healthcare IT leaders are facing a gigantic opportunity/risk proposition ahead of them, when it comes to clinical and other information systems supporting accountable care and population health management. Physicians, and primary care physicians in particular, are looking to those systems to carry them to the “promised land” of greater clinical effectiveness and practice efficiency, and to help them master the intricate challenges of succeeding in carrying out risk-based contracting in a high-pressure, high-stakes environment.


    And this is in an environment in which we all know that the IT solutions offered by vendors, both major and smaller, still leave some things to be desired, and that tremendous amounts of customization are being required to make population health, analytics, clinical decision support, and other systems needed to make pop health and accountable care work, are being poured into those systems.


    So the next few years inevitably are going to be filled with tension for healthcare IT leaders, as healthcare IT professionals work to get all the foundations, and the details, right, with those systems. But the light at the end of the tunnel is this: that, as primary care physicians become adept at using the increasingly-adept solutions that will be applied to population health- and accountable care-based clinical practice, primary care physicians’ perceptions not only of those tools, but of value-based care delivery and payment itself, will get better over time. And that will definitely significant for all of us, as we pursue the new healthcare in earnest.

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