Health IT Pulse

November 10, 2017  1:55 PM

Winners of ONC’s Patient Matching Algorithm Challenge announced

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee
algorithmic, Interoperability

Patient matching has been an important issue in health IT and healthcare specifically as it relates to interoperability. More specifically, the inability to match patients to their health data, no matter where it resides, has been a huge barrier to interoperability and has also resulted in patient safety risks as well as decreased provider efficiency, a press release by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) said.

This is why ONC launched their Patient Matching Algorithm Challenge. This challenge, an ONC spokesperson said via email, was meant to educate those in healthcare about the performance of existing patient matching algorithms, spur the adoption of performance metrics for developers, and positively impact other aspects of patient matching including deduplication and linking to clinical data.

The winners of this challenge were recently announced and, in addition to acknowledging these winners, valuable insights were revealed about the algorithms currently being used in patient matching, the ONC spokesperson said.

The winners of the Patient Matching Algorithm Challenge included Vynca, a company that offers advanced care planning solutions, PIC-SURE, a patient-centered information commons, and Information Softworks, a company that specializes in enterprise data architecture, data warehouse design and implementation, and process automation

“Many experts across the healthcare system have long identified the ability to match patients efficiently, accurately, and to scale as a critical interoperability need for the nation’s growing health IT infrastructure.  This challenge was an important step towards better understanding the current landscape,” said Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology at ONC, in the release.

Don Rucker, ONC

Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology

This was an important step because the patient matching algorithms each competitor, and winners, used was different. For example, some used machine learning techniques while others a significant amount of manual adjudication.

“PICSURE used an algorithm based on the Fellegi-Sunter (1969) method for probabilistic record matching and performed a significant amount of manual review,” the release said. “Vynca used a stacked model that combined the predictions of eight different models. They reported that they manually reviewed less than .01 percent of the records. Although Information Softworks also used a Fellegi-Sunter-based enterprise master patient index (EMPI) system with some additional tuning, they also reported extremely limited manual review.”

ONC plans to hold a webinar soon that will focus on their current patient matching efforts.

October 27, 2017  5:01 PM

At Connected Health patient experience in healthcare is emphasized

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee
Data access, patient engagement

At this year’s Connected Health Conference in Boston, one main focus was on the patient experience in healthcare. While all the technology that comes with engaging the patient is important – such as mobile apps, wearables, remote technologies, etc. – one expert urged the crowd to empathize with the patient.

Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic Health System in Ohio, implored the audience to think of the patient when they’re developing health technologies and/or choosing which technologies to use.

She aimed to get the audience to put themselves in the patient’s shoes. When a patient is trying to fight an illness, such as cancer, the healthcare system should make it as seamless as possible for them to get the care and the information they need when they need it.

She asked the audience to empathize with the patient experience in healthcare. She asked the audience to imagine what it would be like to have a serious illness and not be able to schedule the appointment you need when you need it. She asked the audience to imagine what it would be like to be fighting cancer, receiving the necessary treatments, not knowing costs up front and finding out later that now a hefty bill needs to be paid.

Boissy explained that technology could very easily solve these issues when it comes to the patient experience in healthcare today. However, it could also pile on more suffering to an already suffering patient. Some of the suffering that patient may be experiencing is unavoidable, such as chemotherapy. But some of the suffering that patient is experiencing is avoidable, she said. And it comes down to choosing the right technologies to provide the right services and the right information.

To Boissy, the technologies that would help achieve this would include technologies that allow patients to self-schedule and to access their data anytime, anywhere, and from any device.

It also means making the physicians’ job easier so they can fully engage and care for the patient such as voice recognition or remote scribes to reduce data entry and the number of clicks a physician makes, and increase face-to-face time with the patient.

October 23, 2017  1:51 PM

Telehealth laws expanded, updated in nearly every state

Tayla Holman Tayla Holman Profile: Tayla Holman
telehealth, Telemedicine

Almost every state in the United States and the District of Columbia has updated their telehealth laws, not only expanding access to services but also clarifying how those services can be provided, according to a report by healthcare law firm Epstein Becker & Green.

In particular, the report examines how the states have updated their telehealth laws to include telemental and telebehavioral health in the past year.

According to the report, telehealth is a good fit for mental health services “because mental health providers rarely have to lay hands on their patients, even in the context of conventional face-to-face care encounters.” Therefore, “providing the same services remotely using telehealth technology is not viewed as far removed from the way these services are provided in the in-person context,” the report said.

Telemental and telebehavioral health services can also fill in the gaps for mental healthcare providers in rural areas or areas where there is a shortage of those providers. New technologies such as mobile health apps are also driving the growth of telemental health services, the report said.

According to the report, several states modified their telehealth laws to allow physician-patient relationships to be established via audio and visual telehealth technologies. Previously, many states prevented physicians from providing medical advice without first performing a physical examination.

Telehealth on display at ATA 2016

The only two states that did not update their telehealth laws were Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, in 2015, Connecticut passed a law that required commercial health insurers to cover telehealth services the same as in-person visits. Massachusetts does not have a parity law but, according to state law, private health insurers may reimburse physicians for telehealth services with certain provisions.

A 2016 report by the American Telemedicine Association found that 31 states and the District of Columbia had telemedicine parity laws, but it was expected that Medicaid programs in every state would cover some form of telehealth or telemedicine beginning this year.

October 12, 2017  12:33 PM

PEW urges ONC to improve safety of pediatric EHR software

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee
EHR, Regulations

In a letter to the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT’s National Coordinator, Don Rucker, the Pew Charitable Trusts (PEW) as well as several other healthcare organizations urged ONC to “consider and incorporate improvements to safety” — especially with pediatric EHR software – as they implement provisions from the 21st Century Cures Act.

EHRs can contribute to medical errors, especially with children, for several reasons, the letter said.

One example is that a child’s weight affects the dose of medication prescribed and taken by the pediatric patient.

“EHR design may influence how clinicians order weight-based doses of medications, and could contribute to children receiving incorrect drug doses,” the letter said. “In a well-known example, the weight-based dosing usability of an EHR contributed to a 16-year old receiving 39 times the intended dose of a medication.”

EHR system

Healthcare clinicians review patient EHR data.

The letter emphasizes that correctly tracking a pediatric patient’s height, weight and other vital indicators is not only necessary to make sure children are within normal ranges, but to also ensure that clinicians don’t make care decisions with a negative impact.

The 21st Century Cures Act can help

ONC requires EHR developers to test their product to ensure certification requirements are met. However, ONC’s certification requirements are not specific to the pediatric population, the letter said.

“The development of voluntary certification criteria for pediatric EHRs—as required by Section 4001 of the 21st Century Cures Act within two years (end of 2018)—offers ONC an opportunity to focus on improving the safety and usability of these health record systems,” the letter said.

Through this voluntary program, the criteria developed should include provisions to detect potential safety concerns before an EHR system is installed and used, and also after implementation to identify any challenges, the letter said. These challenges would also include the need for customization depending on the healthcare facility.

The letter suggests ONC look to standards, measures and testing and assessments laid out by the National Quality Forum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of healthcare in the U.S., and The Leapfrog Group, an organization dedicated to safety, quality and affordability of healthcare in the U.S.

The voluntary certification criteria for pediatric EHR software means that ONC has an opportunity to improve safety of children, the letter said. “We urge ONC to promptly begin work on the pediatric EHR certification criteria and to include provisions that monitor and test for safety through all of the stages of EHR development.”

October 6, 2017  2:24 PM

VA telehealth proposal would expand care access for veterans

Tayla Holman Tayla Holman Profile: Tayla Holman
telehealth, Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing a new rule that would standardize telehealth for veterans.

The VA telehealth rule would increase the availability of general clinical care, mental health and specialty services for veterans. The agency is the largest integrated healthcare system in the U.S. and provides care to 9 million veterans across the country.

The proposed VA telehealth rule would amend the current regulations to provide telehealth to veterans no matter where they are located. This means a provider in one state would be able to provide services to a veteran in another. The agency is making the change to combat the lack of expansion for telehealth programs due to state laws; in the proposal, the VA says many of its physicians have refused to practice telehealth because they are afraid to lose their medical license.

The rule would also override existing state laws, rather than the agency asking each state to remove its licensure restrictions to expand telehealth for veterans.

telehealth system

A telehealth system on display at the American Telemedicine Association 2016 conference.

“By providing healthcare services by telehealth from one State to a beneficiary located in another State or within the same State, whether that beneficiary is located at a VA medical facility or in his or her own home, VA can use its limited healthcare resources most efficiently,” the agency said in its proposal.

The proposed VA telehealth regulation would also allow the department to “waive the imposition or collection of copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits.”

Healthcare providers would still have to maintain the credentials required by their specialty to continue practicing in the VA.

The deadline to comment on the VA telehealth rule is November 1, 2017.

The VA recently announced initiatives that would provide telehealth services in more than 50 specialties, such as intensive care and dermatology. The agency also rolled out an app called VA Video Connect that would provide telehealth for veterans via a mobile phone or PC.

September 28, 2017  11:30 AM

ONC updates Health IT Certification Program to support efficiency

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee
certification, ONC

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) recently announced in a blog post two changes that will be made to the agency’s Health IT Certification Program.

According to the blog post, those two changes to the Health IT Certification Program are:

  • Approving more than 50% of test procedures to be self-declaration.
  • Exercising discretion for randomized surveillance of certified health IT products.

These changes apply to ONC-Authorized Certification Bodies (ONC-ACBs) as well as ONC-Authorized Testing Laboratories (ONC-ATLs).

Self-declaration of test procedures

This change to the Health IT Certification Program means that health IT developers can now self-declare their product’s conformance to 30 out of 55 certification criteria without having to do any testing.

Before, testing usually included either a visual demonstration of the product’s functionality or providing documentation that confirms the required functionality is there.

The blog post notes that the Health IT Certification Program criteria that are now self-declaration are functionality-based certification criteria.

“By making this change, ONC enables ONC-ATLs and health IT developers to devote more of their resources and focus on the remaining interoperability-oriented criteria, aligning with the tenets of the 21st Century Cures Act,” the post said. “In addition, health IT developers are still required to meet certification criteria requirements and maintain their products’ conformance to the full scope of the criteria. Any non-conformity complaints received and associated with these certification criteria would continue to be reviewed and investigated by ONC-ACBs.”

Discretion for randomized surveillance

When it comes to ONC-ACBs conducting randomized surveillance, ONC is using enforcement discretion. This means that ONC will not audit ONC-ACBs for compliance with randomized surveillance requirements or take administrative action or any other action to enforce compliance requirements until further notice.

“In addition, we will not consider lack of implementation of these requirements by an ONC-ACB to be a violation of an ONC-ACB’s compliance requirements under the Principles of Proper Conduct, nor will it impact an ONC-ACB’s good standing under the Certification Program,” the post said.

ONC said this will allow ONC-ACBs to devote their resources to certifying health IT to the 2015 Certification Edition which will hopefully support greater availability of certified health IT products to providers participating in CMS’ Quality Payment Program.

September 14, 2017  9:52 AM

3D printing in healthcare to become more prevalent

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee
3D Printing, personalized medicine

Although 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, advances in software and hardware are changing the way 3D printing is being used. Especially 3D printing in healthcare, a Wall Street Journal article said.

Gartner, a research firm, predicts that by 2019, 10% of people in the developed world will be living with 3D printed items on or in their bodies, the article said. Furthermore, Gartner also predicted that 3D printing will be a central tool in more than one-third of surgical procedures involving prosthetics and implanted devices.

The article cited another research firm, IndustryARC, which predicts that the overall market for 3D printing in healthcare will grow to $1.21 billion by 2020. That’s up from $660 million in 2016.

Anurag Gupta, vice president of research at Gartner, told the Wall Street Journal that 3D printing in healthcare “could have the transformative impact of the Internet or cloud computing a few years ago.”

One area where 3D printing in healthcare may hold particular promise is in the manufacturing of drugs, the article said. 3D printing could help with the dose and the shape of the medication that would be best suited to certain groups of patients.

This plays into the rise of customized and personalized medicine, the article said, as more and more patients and doctors look for customized medical devices, surgical tools and, as stated, drugs.

Printing whole organs, the article said, is the Holy Grail. However, this is still more than a decade away, the article said.


Despite all the promise 3D printing holds for healthcare, there are some expensive challenges. For example, industrial 3D printers for hospitals can range from $10,000 to $400,000, the article said.

There is also a “hidden cost” of operating 3D printers, Jimmie Beacham who leads GE Healthcare’s 3D printing strategy, told the Wall Street Journal. He explained that engineers are required to transform dense digital images from an MRI or CT or ultrasound scan into information that can be printed into a 3D model.

Furthermore, the article pointed out that printing a 3D object takes time — a lot of time. For example, it took 60 hours for the Mayo Clinic to print a patient’s pelvis and subsequent tumor, the article said.

September 8, 2017  4:07 PM

Physicians, patients need more training on secure electronic messaging

Tayla Holman Tayla Holman Profile: Tayla Holman
Secure messaging

Secure electronic messaging can help patients be better informed about their healthcare and improve access to healthcare providers, but the authors of a new study say more education is needed to improve the quality and efficiency of secure communication.

Researchers analyzed 1,000 threads – defined as strings of related messages – from two Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. Patients initiated an overwhelming majority of threads (90.4%), while caregivers began 4.1% of threads on behalf of a patient. Primary care team members initiated 5.5% of threads.

Patients and clinicians also used secure electronic messaging for different purposes.

Patients most often initiated messages to ask for a medication renewal or refill (47.2%). Patients also used secure messaging for scheduling requests (17.6%), medication issues (12.9%) and health issues (12.7%).

The majority of clinician-initiated threads (32.7%) were sent to report test results, followed by medication issues (21.8%), scheduling issues (18.2%) and medication renewals (16.4%).

Although some providers have expressed concern that patients would use secure electronic messaging for urgent medical issues, the researchers found that only 0.7% of patient-initiated messages contained content deemed clinically urgent.

Overall, patients viewed the use of secure messaging as an alternative to unnecessary in-person visits. It was also convenient and enabled easy, round-the-clock access to clinicians. Secure messaging also enabled patients to discuss potentially embarrassing topics.

The authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, concluded that both patients and clinicians could benefit from further education and training on the uses of secure electronics messaging. Most current guidelines for secure messaging focus on the technical and administrative areas, and not the potential use cases.

August 30, 2017  1:44 PM

The four most interesting findings from the 2017 HIMSS cybersecurity survey

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee
Cloud Security, cybersecurity, Data-security

From April through mid-May 2017, HIMSS North America commissioned a survey on the topic of healthcare cybersecurity. The HIMSS cybersecurity survey received feedback from 126 information security professionals from a variety of U.S. healthcare organizations. Survey participants consisted of healthcare CISOs and HIMSS cybersecurity community members.

The survey asked participants to share information about how their healthcare organizations are allocating money to cybersecurity efforts, what security frameworks are being used, thoughts on cloud security and more.

Here are the four most interesting findings from the HIMSS cybersecurity survey:

Budget allocation

The majority of healthcare organizations are dedicating portions of their budgets towards cybersecurity, the survey found. Of the respondents, 71% said their healthcare organization was allocating a specific amount of their budget to cybersecurity.

The survey found that 40% of respondents are allocating 1% to 2%, 32% of respondents are allocating 3% to 6%, 17% of respondents are allocating 7% to 10%, and 11% of respondents are allocating more than 10%.

Essentially, about 60% of respondents are allocating 3% or more of their budget, while 7.9% of respondents said they are not allocating any of their budget to cybersecurity.

Security frameworks

Security frameworks are being used widely among healthcare organizations, the HIMSS cybersecurity survey found. Of the respondents, 86% said their organization uses at least one or more security framework. Respondents could choose more than one in the survey.

The top security frameworks being used by healthcare organizations include:

Furthermore, 12% of respondents said their healthcare organization is not using any security framework.

Medical device security

The survey asked respondents: What is your greatest concern about medical device security at your organization?

Respondents’ top concerns included:

  • Patient safety (32%)
  • Data breach (26%)
  • Spread of malware (20%)
  • Device loss or theft (4%)
  • Intellectual property theft (1%)
  • Liability concerns (3%)

Patient safety is the top concern among senior information security leaders because insecure medical devices have the potential to do real harm to a patient, the survey report said.

“A hacked insulin pump may deliver a fatal bolus of insulin to a patient. A ‘connected’ pacemaker may deliver a fatal shock to a patient,” the survey report said. “The technical know-how and skill set exists among cyber adversaries to compromise these devices. Unfortunately, it is a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if.’ This is not a theoretical problem.”

Cloud security

Although some experts believe the time for cloud in healthcare is now, the survey found that healthcare security experts still have some trepidation about the technology.

The top four concerns the HIMSS cybersecurity survey found include:

  • Ownership of data: Healthcare security professionals are concerned about what happens to the organization’s PHI at the end of the contract or business relationship with the cloud provider.
  • Lack of cybersecurity: Due to reports of breaches and cyberattacks affecting cloud service providers, as well as the concerns around insider threats and lack of transparency, security professionals at acute care providers are hesitant to move to the cloud.
  • Insider threat: Whether intentional or unintentional.
  • Lack of transparency: Cloud service providers are sometimes perceived as not being very transparent about their cybersecurity practices and operations.

August 25, 2017  2:07 PM

EHR adoption rates increased with passage of HITECH Act

Tayla Holman Tayla Holman Profile: Tayla Holman
EHR adoption, HITECH Act

After the passage of the HITECH Act in 2009, EHR adoption rates for eligible hospitals rose from 3.2% to 14.2% and EHR adoption rates for ineligible hospitals rose from just 0.1% to 3.3%, according to a report in the journal Health Affairs.

Unlike other incentive programs, the HITECH Act paid hospitals and physicians for having and using an infrastructure — in this case, an EHR. The authors of the report said the results suggest the HITECH Act could “serve as a model to drive the adoption of other valuable technologies.”

The authors used data from 2008 to 2015 from the Annual Health Information Technology Supplement Survey of the American Hospital Association to determine the rates of EHR adoption before and after President Obama signed the HITECH Act into law.

Prior to the HITECH Act, EHR adoption rates were low and increasing slowly, the report says.

According to a 2009 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, before the HITECH Act was passed, roughly 17% of doctors and 10% of hospitals had a basic EHR due to the cost of implementation and a perceived lack of ROI. At the time, Congress believed that health IT could improve the quality of healthcare and the efficiency of healthcare systems. The law received bipartisan support, but whether it has achieved its primary goal has yet to be seen.

The report concludes that the increase in EHR adoption can be directly attributed to the HITECH Act. The report does point out, however, that it is unclear how EHR adoption rates would have increased without the financial incentives of the HITECH Act.

However, the increase in EHR adoption rates may have had an unintended consequence. According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, EHRs could be causing physician burnout. More than half of the doctors surveyed (63%) said EHRs have failed to improve efficiency, and 41% disagreed or strongly disagreed that EHRs have improved patient care.

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