Monday, May 18, 2015

Six Lessons in Health IT Innovation

I speak frequently on the intersection of HIT and Innovation.. especially around how can we be more innovative in using the HIT we already have in place via human centered design thinking ("ask, observe, think and feel" about what the end user has to deal with).  At a recent healthcare conference, I spoke about this topic based on a combination of my own professional experiences as well as learnings from the book I wrote about the intersection of HIT and Innovation (see this post and check out  I didn't realize that a reporter was in the room, but was pleasantly surprised a few days later when a nice article came out summarizing my "Top 6 Lessons in HIT Innovation".   A listing of these lessons is below, along with some expanded thoughts and examples: 

1. Identify the minimal viable innovation. Don't be afraid to borrow ideas from other people. "Fail early, Fail fast, Fail often and Fail cheap."  I often give the story of three organizations in the book all talking about the same issue (how to use their EMR to automate and delegate some routine preventive maintenance and disease management care).  Each organization had a different EMR and a different workflow, but the end result was similar- they figured out how to use the EMR to empower their staff to do more, resulting in a more efficient system with better quality.  The idea thus is not to exactly copy what any one of them did, but to understand the essence, and figure out how you can make it work at your organizations. 
2. People and processes are more important than the IT. Do not except technology to be a silver bullet. The people and processes behind the technology will be the forces that drive innovation.  So many of my best "innovations" are the result of creating some content and workflows to take advantage of having a single communication tool (the EMR) that links everyone in an organization and allows for creation of consistent templates and routing... which allowed us to set up a care coordination system all the way back in 2008 which resulted in better experiences for patients and providers along with better, faster and cheaper care (we even published on this data).  In the book, we hear other examples, such as how Children's National used their EMR to identify signals that indicated an "adverse events" had happened the night before (e.g. a low glucose, use of Narcan)... that was the easy part.  The more important solution was having a dedicated nurse reviewing that data every day, tracking down what happened, and working with a team to minimize it from every happening again... with spectacular results.  Another story involves the use of a ubiquitous technology Skype) to enable multiple hospitals across California to enable the concept of "virtual translators" across their disparate systems.  So even though these were all separately owned, the hospitals could "borrow" translators from each other and thus all ensure they had enough of the right language.  The innovation was less in the technology, and more in the idea- as well as the business agreement they had to set up.
3. You can start small. Innovation in health IT does not have to mean something big and radical from day one; In other words, little bets make for big wins. For example, we used a pilot of 5 iPads on the inpatient oncology floor to explore what happens if we offer free use of them while patients are "confined".  We immediately learned about workflow (how to distribute and track and clean the devices), as well as network issues we had to address as the top use of the iPads was to use FaceTime or Skype with friends and relatives... a use case we did not realize would be so popular.  The result immediate patient satisfaction as well as a much better understanding of what it will take to roll out a bigger effort in the future. 
4. Apply new innovations to old problems. This is about using some established innovation methodologies to really rethink how we practice healthcare.  I said "We are cutting the cost curve, but not as much as we need... and we must innovate or we will lose." An example I gave was use of "Video Ethnography" to better understand poorly controlled diabetics.  Working with gravitytank, a local innovation consultancy, we spent 2 hours with 8 separate patients and were able to understand this population in a whole new way.  We condensed their videos into a 20 minute summary which was used as a kick off for a half-day brainstorming session that created a slew of ideas that resulted in new ways to educate both patients and providers about diabetes (we moved away from trying to scare them and towards simplifying the message). 
5. Try different ideas and technologies that have found success in other industries. Thought leaders consistently point out that healthcare is fell behind so many other industries when it comes to technology and innovation. Try ideas from the airline or retail industries; perhaps one of these will spark rapid innovation in your organization.  I'm a big fan of "Innovation Safaris", also called analogous observations, in which we spend time in another industry to understand how they view quality or satisfaction or efficiency... and see what we can learn and bring back to healthcare.  I am fortunate to be part of a group (The Innovation Learning Network) in which we do this together every 6 months.. here is good write up of what it can be like. 
6. Embrace the power of physician happiness. Physicians can be both the source and users of innovation, but without them technology cannot go very far. "There is no quality without use" is a quote I've been using for many years in explaining that creating super-complicated systems might look good on paper, but they will not provide any real benfit if your end users are not using them in everyday practice.  Rather, we need to think about how we can use HIT to "Make life easier for physicians, while also making it better for patients". 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Perspectives on the Future of Healthcare and IT.. a Video Interview

I was recently "Video-interviewed" about my thoughts on the future of healthcare and IT.  These types of interviews are usually quick - two questions, five minutes... hopefully some value!  Here are my two questions and a summary of my answers:

Where is the healthcare industry headed?
I believe healthcare is currently a runaway train with an unsustainable model.  But there is hope if we can adapt reimbursement models to incentivize value over volume, and use HIT to simplif, automate and delegate all the care that needs to be done.  With respect to HIT, since over 80% of physicians have an EMR in place, we now an infrastructure or platform on which to build "EMR Extender Tools" which allow for better EMR functionality, efficiency, and effectiveness.  Furthermore, we need to focus HIT efforts on Population Health, Virtual care, and Workflow Efficiency to meet the increasing demands for care that are upon us.  With respect to population health; ACOs and other types of volume-based to value-based reimbursement changes will make it easier and financially viable to really manage the health population well - but we need the right HIT tools to risk stratify the population and then manage them more easily.  Meanwhile, we should see a rapid expansion of virtual care as technologies and demand sync up. Lastly, as physicians (and staff) are burning out quickly, using HIT to create workflow efficiency by simplifying, automating delegating care, is vital to the performance of doctors, as well as the health of patients (which is why I helped found healthfinch to build software solutions that allow medical groups to redesign care more efficiently and effectively). 

What is an HIT Innovation you would like to see happen soon?
I think we are getting closer and closer to “ubiquitous monitoring.” Wearable devices are available, but right now these are often just used by the “healthy and wealthy.” Although this is a good starting point, there is a need to develop patient monitoring tools that are fully ubiquitous - so that collecting biometric data becomes a simple byproduct of everyday life.  These may start as being embedded in smart phones, and now we are seeing them woven into in clothes, but soon we will have watches, patches and even injected nanotechnologies. As these evolve, doctors will be able to receive regular, real-time monitoring of their patients. From there, one can feed data into a rules engine to notify doctors (or even patients themselves) if something is medically wrong. This portends a fantastic future for remote monitoring so that doctors do not have to rely on patients to manually input data all the time and wait for them to come into the office to explain there is a problem.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Three Keys to Solving our Healthcare System are Getting SAD, FAT and Innovative!

I was interviewed by a new magazine called Healthcare Innovation News for their September 2014 issue and they asked a lot of interesting questions - so below (a slightly editedversion) to learn about the following: How did my career path wander from engineer to doctor to entrepreneur; Why the future of the EMR rests on innovators; Why healthfinch is called The Doctor Happiness company & why we started with automating the medication refill workflow; and finally - What are the three key components to solving our healthcare system (hint - getting SAD and FAT are two of them!).

Q:   Did you plan to become involved in healthcare technology when you entered medical school? What was the impetus and what does it take for a physician to become a health information technology (HIT) entrepreneur?
A: I liked both medicine and computers growing up, so I studied Biomedical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, where I wound up programming and working with a variety of PhDs and MDs. When I went to the University of Illinois College of Medicine, I was fortunate to have a mentor in Arthur Elstein, PhD, who had founded the Society for Medical Decision Making and created our med school's initial Informatics Department.  I became his research assistant, worked on a variety of informatics projects and realized that I wanted this to be part of my career. 

Over the years, in addition to being a PCP, I accumulated a diverse set of technology and business experiences, from serving as the Medical Director of IT for a large primary group to starting a consulting company to serving as the Chief Medical Officer for two publicly traded companies in the IT space. Then in 2008 I was able to merge technology and innovation when I received philanthropic funding to start the SzollosiHealthcare Innovation Program at Northwestern, and have been able to learn a whole new skill set of design thinking and methodologies.

Over the years, I also advised a number of startups, but eventually realized that to make the biggest impact (and have the most fun), I should be starting companies myself.  I knew I could bring an interesting variety of real world clinical, IT, Innovation and business skills to certain healthcare problems, but quickly learned that the key to success is always finding great people that can execute on a vision… and I've been very fortunate in finding the right people with which to partner.

For physicians interested in being entrepreneurs, my advice is to try and get a good variety of experiences, and then become part of a team so that you don't have to give up your "day job" of seeing patients.  You will find that keeping your day job will help financially during the early times, will allow you to add in more real world flavor to your company, and will satisfy a part of your soul that only taking care of patients can do.

Q:  Do you still believe that the electronic medical record is dead and that instead, innovation in HIT rests on apps?
A: I do believe that "EMR version 1.0" is dead, in the sense that this early vision of the EMR was mainly focused on putting data into electronic media for legibility and easy access, with an overall bias towards billing and compliance rather than making clinical care easier and better.  And while those were important building blocks, the result has been difficult to use EMR systems, especially in the primary are arena. 

So now we are evolving to EMR 2.0, where the classic EMRs become the platforms upon which innovators can build an amazing variety of apps that fulfill every doctor (and patient's) dreams!  Imagine what might happen if thousands of programmers were able to easily build "EMR Extender Tools" on top of (or within) all the EMRs which are deployed… how many great apps might we see that would never come from the traditional vendors because there are simply too many ideas and not enough time

Already we have seen a surge in EMR Extender Tools which provide content, decision support, and analytics programs.  And we are now starting to see apps that focus on truly improving the workflow of care to create both major efficiency and quality improvements. Ideally, future EMR Extender Tools should have enough flexibility to adjust for multiple styles and types of care, whether supporting a Cardiologist in California, a Rheumatologist in Rhode Island, or a Neurosurgeon in Nebraska.. 

We are also seeing that some EMR vendors have started to readily embrace this concept of being an open platform, while others have been slower.  But I suspect all will come along because in the history of technology, a well known truism is that "closed wins early, but open wins late". 

Q:  Why did you decide to focus on medication refills when creating your company healthfinch? How does streamlining the process affect population health?
A: We wanted to start with a workflow which affected the majority of primary care doctors, but one they would happily "give up" because losing it was non-threatening both clinically and financially. The medication refill process was the perfect scenario for us - it is a constant chore for any PCP, with the average doctor getting around 15-20 requests a day, which takes up to 30 minutes of their time to properly manage, and they never get paid for it!

We thus created RefillWizard as a workflow automation tool that intercepts any incoming refill, reviews it in a cloud-based rules engine, routes it to the appropriate person (e.g. RN, Pharm tech, MA) and instructs them on how to handle it.  With this tool supporting care redesign, the doctor then only needs to be involved in the 10-20% of refills where their judgment is truly required.  This made for easy adoption since it actually decreased the amount of work for physicians.  Additionally, we found that that the quality of care could actually improve due both to the speed of answering refills and the consistent use of evidence based rules. 

Our philosophy is actually a very different take on population health.  Rather than focus on computerizing the 20% of care which is most complex, we instead focus on building tools to automate and delegate the 80% of care that is relatively routine. This has two implications for population health. First, since physician time is a HUGE commodity for population health programs, freeing up their time from routine, repeatable tasks allows doctors to take care of a higher volume of patients, focus more on high risk patients, and/or simply catch their breath and keep their sanity. Second, by using the med refill process as a model for how to centralize and standardize certain workflows, we help create the type of team-based infrastructure and culture that will be needed in the future to efficiently manage large populations. Refills first, then other workflows later!

Q:   Why is healthfinch called the “Doctor Happiness” company?
A: In other industries, it has become clear that making the front line workers happy invariably results in better products and service to the customers (think Southwest Airlines, Google, or read Shawn Achor's "The HappinessAdvantage").  Healthcare should learn from these lessons, and we strongly believe that by focusing on creating tools which make doctors happy, the patient will invariable benefit as well.  In fact, a recent article (From Triple to Quadruple Aim: Care of the Patient Requires Care of the Provider) strongly suggests that we should expand the Triple Aim to include physician & staff satisfaction as soon as possible.

We believe in this deeply, and so one of healthfinch's driving mantras is to Save our Primary Care Physicians, and we do this by waking up every day thinking about how to use HIT to make life easier for physicians and better for patients.  In other words, this is not your normal healthcare software company.  Our first goal is to literally improve doctor happiness (without hurting quality of course). And at the same time, we believe we can "sneak in" a variety of quality improvements by helping to ensure consistent use of evidence based guidelines in routine workflows (and ps, doctors are happier when quality goes up as well).

I think that EMRs have gotten a bad rap as always creating more work for physicians.  Of course, that should be no surprise as the traditional EMR vendors are understandably focusing on functionality that is mandated by various regulations (i.e. documentation and billing and MU) over holistic usability.  And that is a problem since no matter how good a function might be, there is no quality without use, and there is no use without usability.  However, I believe that the Golden Era of using HIT to lessen the workload for physicians is just around the corner!  . 

Q:  What are the three key HIT strategies physicians should adopt to improve healthcare delivery?
A: First, we need to optimize our use of HIT to make doctors much more efficient and happier.  I call this Get SAD to Make Doctors Happy:
  • Simplify their interaction with EMRs, such as by minimizing their direct hands on experience (e.g. scribes, voice recognition, Google Glass) or using data visualization to help make the cornucopia of data easier to view and understand
  • Automate as much of the workflow as possible
  • Delegate the things that can be delegated to the appropriate person on their team
Second, we need to better manage large populations of patients. I call this Get FAT to make the Population Healthy:
  • Financial incentives need to be aligned around volume rather than value
  • Analytics will be used to risk stratify and understand our populations better
  • Team based care which will spread the workload appropriately across all the members of the team.
Third we need to devote time and resources to being more innovative. I call this The Three EEEs of  Innovation:
  • Explore new technologies and thinking to get some insight and ideas on what you might do and how you want to prioritize
  • Experiment by building prototypes and pilots to test new ideas, care models and technologies.  Iterate often until you have both a good clinical use case and business case.
  • Expand the innovation to the rest of the organization
If we can do these three things effectively, we will find that we don't really havea shortage of physicians, just a shortage of using them efficiently. And the future will be one where the typical physician sees less patients face to face, but is able to take care of more patients every day using an IT empowered, team-based approach that utilizes everyone to the top of their license and improves the quality and experience of care for both patients and providers.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hacking to Innovate and Engage: Why Hackathons Will Change Healthcare for the Better

In today’s post-reform world, we hear time and time again that there is (or soon will be) a physician shortage due to a variety of factors.  For example, with the millions of people who now have access to healthcare services due to the Affordable Care Act and the growing aging population (with their increased risks and needs) – it’s no surprise a potential physician shortage is a regularly addressed topic.  However, I still strongly believe that we do not have a shortage of physicians, just a shortage of using physicians efficiently (see past blog).

As a PCP who has been taking care of patients for over two decades, I know firsthand that the amount of hours in a day is never enough to accommodate all we want to do (we often get caught up in fire drills, and can't get to all the preventive and chronic care management we would ideally address).  Fortunately, I do believe that by combining technology, innovation and teamwork, the potential to simplify, automate and delegate care for a more efficient care delivery process exists, even if it’s not always easy to accomplish.

In this blog, I want to touch on what some consider a surprising way to simplify the equation and make better use of physicians and their limited time: A motivated and engaged patient. Care coordination can be achieved when patients and physicians are aligned throughout the care continuum, creating a more succinct care delivery process. Studies show an empowered patient can lead to better outcomes – and potentially lower costs – so the better we are at equipping patients with the proper care plan, the more we can alleviate some of the burden providers face caring for nearly 20 patients per day.

I recently participated in the Intel-GE Care Innovations Patient Engagement Hackfest as the closing keynote speaker and a judge. The purpose of the event was to solve one of the biggest hurdles in healthcare today: connecting patients to their health and healthcare providers through better engagement. Not an easy feat. The major challenges I see are: 
  •          Behavior change is hard
  •          Incentives are misaligned
  •          Information overload
  •         Patients spend most of their time outside of the office or hospital setting

 That last point may be the most important to any physician out there. The disconnect is real, and the ability to influence overall health is limited. So how do we – healthcare leaders, physicians, innovators and disrupters alike – continue to push the envelope further for a more connected healthcare system? In writing a book on the intersection of HIT and Innovation, I found some pretty consistent themes on how to innovate in a healthcare environment, which I would summarize as follows: 
  •          Have a champion with passion and knowledge
  •          Listen to and observe the front line
  •          Start with crazy, out of the box ideas, then make them realistic
  •          Fail Fast, Fail Small, Fail Cheap
  •          Figure out a sustainable business plan
  •          Spread your idea with the IT systems in place

Hackathons incorporate many of these concepts in a tightly focused and concentrated manner. They are a fertile ground for giving life to innovative concepts and inspiring people to develop healthcare’s next generation of solutions. The Intel-GE Care Innovations Patient Engagement Hackfest brought together passionate and inspiring people – from entrepreneurs to programmers to clinicians – who shared ideas and resources to make the patient the most important part of the care team. And that’s a worthy cause to get behind.

Be on the lookout for a hackathon near you! 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Defining Healthcare Innovation

In my recent post at Clinical Innovation + Technology, I tackled the issue of defining "Healthcare Innovation".  I decided to do it by answering the typical questions I often hear, and so hope this helps you in explaining to others!  Below are my answers, with a bonus answer for my blog :)

One of the most common questions asked these days is “What is healthcare innovation?” Like the story of the blind men touching different sides of an elephant and each describing something separate, you will hear a wide variety of answers to this question based on whom you ask.
The following is a way to address the common questions on this topic so you can start organizing innovation in your mind and within your organization.
First, should the focus of innovation be on innovative information technologies, devices, workflow processes, care models or business models? Obviously, it can be any or all of the above. In the past, it is fair to say the majority of innovation work was in the devices arena since there was a clear financial return to the organization if a new device was widely adopted.  However, in a world changing to value-based reimbursement, we are seeing that process and care model innovations will likely be leading the charge, with information technology being an enabler of those innovations.
Second, how is an innovation project different than an improvement project? The short answer is that an improvement project is done to improve something, while an innovation project is done to blow up the current process or tool and create a new one. A classic example of this is polio: improvement experts would focus on designing a better iron lung, while innovation experts would consider how they might create a vaccine to stop this disease in the first place.
Third, is there a science or methodology to doing innovation well? Yes, similar to how improvement projects may use techniques like Lean and Six Sigma, the world of innovation relies on the concept of “Design Thinking” which has a different set of methodologies. The typical innovation project involves three main phases: discovery, incubation and acceleration. In the discovery phase, a problem is studied and observed and then various brainstorming techniques are used to create potential solutions. In the incubation stage, rapid cycle prototyping and piloting are done to quickly and cheaply find what fails and what works. In the acceleration phase, the successful pilot is spread using a variety of educational and other techniques.
Fourth, do all innovators need to use this formal science of innovation to succeed? It’s fair to say that many of the innovations we see in healthcare were done without formal innovation methods.  Rather, innovation started with a passionate individual or team trying to solve a problem with which they had a deep understanding. They would try various iterations until they got something that worked and then maybe spread it to others. However, the creation of an innovation culture and infrastructure to support a formal process of design thinking is likely to help identify more of these projects and make them more successful.
Fifth, what helps make up a successful healthcare innovation? First, it always starts with a passion for making something better plus some time and resources to focus on the project.  Second, it needs to have a real-world business model to keep the innovation sustainable. Third, the innovation needs to be well integrated into information technologies and clinical workflows so that it can be easily spread. Not surprisingly, it is this last part which is always one of the hardest and yet most important pieces. And it is why this intersection of information technology and innovation remains critical to the success of evolving our healthcare system to meet its potential.
Bonus question: What is the difference between a sustainable and a disruptive innovation? Sustainable innovations are those which sustain the current business model (e.g. things that promote volume in a FFS environment) and/or which add on features/functions with an increasing cost (e.g. the new MRI machine). Disruptive innovations are going to change the business model, often by offering same or less features, but at a much lower cost (e.g. TeleDerm visits, Nurse-managed protocols for Diabetics, a hand-held cardiac ultrasound which gives you just the heart information you need to make a clinical decision).  A recent article from the Clay Christenson Institute reviews Why EHRs are Not (yet) Disruptive.

Clinical Innovation & Technology Article Link: Defining Healthcare Innovation

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Hat Trick: Physician + Informatics + Innovation

Looks like June is Q&A month for me!
Here are three recent interviews and articles where I answer questions about Healthcare IT and Innovation:

When Health IT Meets Innovation: Q&A With Dr. Lyle Berkowitz of Northwestern Memorial Hospital (Becker's Hospital Review)
This interview focuses on lessons learned from my book (Innovation with Information Technology in Healthcare) - so I review the history of the book, mention a few of the stories, discuss the biggest "takeaway" (get inspired by others, but modify innovations for your own organization), and explain how to start innovating right now!

5 Questions For… Dr. Lyle Berkowitz (The Intel Health Blog)
This interview is more broad-based and we talk about how to change an organization's culture towards innovation, more lessons learned from my book, where healthcare innovation is heading in the coming years, and What is the Szollosi Healthcare Innovation Program.

The Hat Trick: Physician + Informatics + Innovation (Clinical Innovation and Technology)
This is my monthly article as "Innovator in Chief", and I talk about one of the most common questions I am asked - how to balance clinical care, informatics and innovation.  Full text is below:

I am a practicing physician with extra responsibility for informatics and innovation. I love being able to do multiple things in my day, but I do often hear “How do you juggle all those roles?”  The simple answer is that I truly treat them as synergistic—they feed and support each other. My first love is being a primary care physician and taking care of my patients. Yet I also am constantly thinking about how I might do my job easier and better.
Sometimes there is an informatics answer, such as creating new content, alerts or reports within our EMR. Other times there are more innovative answers, such as creating a new process which helps delegate work across my team. But increasingly, there is a combined answer, such as creating a new workflow within our EMR or finding an innovative IT tool and figuring out how it fits into our system’s infrastructure.
Physician informaticists also ask me is how they can be more innovative. The good news is that most informatics doctors are perfectly set up to expand into the innovation space. They already have an appropriate skill set, such as an interest in new technologies and workflows, excellent problem-solving talents, an ability to work with a wide range of personnel, and an innate desire to constantly improve the current system. The trick is whether they have the time and resources to make these changes happen, so here are some thoughts to help you blaze this trail at your organization.
First, start small and let things evolve. In fact, a well-known innovation mantra is “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap, and Fail Often.” In other words, you should embrace piloting and the concept of an “n of 1,” often where you can and should be your own guinea pig and ground zero for your innovations. This means signing up for the many new apps, websites and technologies you see out there, healthcare related or not. Try them all for a little to see what they feel like and think about how they might apply to healthcare. Maybe come back to them at another time if you don’t see the value at first. Be the first to try new EMR functions to determine how well they might work in your system’s current workflow, or if they warrant a new workflow.
You will fail. A lot. That is okay, because each mistake is a golden piece of information which will help lead you to a better place. By starting small, you don’t need a lot of time, resources or permission to try something new.
Second, always make time to observe. Just watching your colleagues and staff in their day to day lives will help you quickly see bottlenecks and gaps. For example, I was approached by our hospital nursing executives recently as they were trying to be innovative with the discharge process. We formed two teams of three people each and went to the floors to observe and talk to the frontline staff—the nurses and other caregivers on the floor. We used a classic innovation method called “Love/Wish,” where we ask folks what they love about a process and what they wish would change to make it better. An hour later our two groups met and found we had a robust list of opportunities that involved improvements and innovations to both workflow and IT utilization.  
Being a physician informaticist gives you a unique platform upon which to innovate, so keep your eyes and mind open and help make a better system for all of us.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Call to Action for HC Innovators: Do the Easy First (and then Google Glass)

At HIMSS in March, I loved hearing Dr. Eric Topol's keynote talk about the Creative Destruction of Medicine, and how future technologies like genomics and nanotechnology will make diagnosis and treatment so much better and easier.  And then last month, I read Travis Good's HISTalk story about "The Power and Hype of Google Glass", and searching online, I found many more:

It got me to thinking that there are so many cool and futuristic things we can (and should) be doing in healthcare.  However, if all the best thinkers are focusing on the "future" - who will be focusing on the present?  By always coming out with new technologies, we seem to have created a "time-shift brain drain", which means we may not be focusing on how to improve or innovate with the stuff we have RIGHT NOW.  It might not be as fun to optimize the slow, clunky "EMR 1.0" we use today, but it is important, and will help free up time for doctors and others to actually take a breath and do what they are good at (e.g. higher order thinking) rather than the rote, repeatable tasks which have to be done every day (e.g. med refills, reviewing every single lab, documenting every single action...)!  And this is especially important as a new study illustrates how "time constraints make it harder for physicians to solve the medical mysteries that confront them".

So it led me to write my May "Innovator at Large" column in Clinical Innovation + Technology, it's called "Do The Easy First"... which is a "Call to Action" for healthcare innovators everywhere to start thinking about both the present and the future... as it will be much easier to evolve our healthcare system if we make sure it does not go extinct first!

Do the Easy First (April 24, 2013)

I love reading about advanced technologies that have the potential to help with our most complex patients. It will be a fantastic future where natural language processing mixed with big data analytics will help diagnose difficult cases and suggest novel management strategies.
A future where Google Glass will help doctors more easily recognize dermatological manifestations of systemic diseases while also providing patients with a video of their visit to the physician. And where a nanotechnology sensor floating in the bloodstream can identify DNA changes related to early cancer or heart disease and send an alert to let patients and their providers know to start intervention quickly.  
However, I am also a pragmatic physician and know that while all of this may eventually happen, I have to live in the here and now of technical and financial limitations. Currently, we still struggle to get reasonably accurate data into EMR systems, doctors are not paid extra to identify anything early and most physicians feel they are running out of steam as they spend half their time doing non-clinical, or certainly non-advanced, duties.  
I believe some innovators need a wake-up call. Instead of focusing all your time trying to figure out the hardest and most complex issues, how about figuring out the easy stuff first? For example, many physicians spend a big chunk of their day documenting what they just did, filling out administrative paperwork, trying to keep everyone up to date on preventive care and disease management protocols, and answering the same questions over and over again.
In other words, physicians are not being used at the highest level of their abilities and, thus, we have created an artificial shortage of doctors. Furthermore, physicians are not great at taking care of all this routine care and administrative paperwork, resulting in decreased quality and patient satisfaction. It’s no wonder our healthcare system is the costliest and not the most effective in the world.

But who says doctors should be doing all this work? State laws on scope of service need to be respected (or at some point reviewed for best practice). But ironically, the current use of IT has often shifted more work onto the physicians than ever before due to poorly created IT systems which were built for a physician-centric setting rather than a team-based setting.  
What if we started applying our innovative technologies and thinking to help streamline the routine and repeatable workflows which clog up a physician’s time? What if we could use automation to cut down on the unglamorous paperwork chores which are slowly strangling our physicians? What if we used HIT to empower a physician’s team to manage a large chunk of their stable patients remotely based on the doctor’s electronic care plan? What if we saved physicians one, two, even four hours a day of this drudgery so they could spend that time focusing on their truly complex patients? What if we could have a future where care could be delivered in a safer, cheaper and more efficient manner and doctors could focus their time on tasks for which their abilities are best matched?
Maybe they’d even have some time to try out that new Google Glass!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Population Health or Bust!

My April editorial post for Clinical Innovation + Technology is called "Population Health or Bust!".   The premise is that we know reimbursement models are changing from "Volume-Based to "Value-Based care", which may range from gain-sharing to bundled payments to full capitation... And thus we need certain types of tools to better manage our populations of patients.  So I defined what these population management tools should do and what to consider when purchasing them:

First, population health management means that you (1) define a specific population and (2) manage that population in the most efficient, cost-effective and highest quality manner possible.  In other words, instead of treating everyone the same, you provide the right care to the right people in the right time and in the right format. This helps to ensure that we focus our limited resources on the people who need them most, while using innovative strategies and technologies to leverage care for others.
Second, be on the lookout for some key functionalities when choosing your population management tools. These include risk stratification, impactability analysis, care gap identification, outreach capabilities, care coordination dashboard, patient engagement systems and analytics reporting.
Third, population health tools are everywhere right now, including offerings from your EHR vendor, your insurance companies and various third parties. Factors to help guide your decision will include not just the strength of their offering, but their ability to integrate into your workflow, their ability to work with multiple data sources, and their future visions. Additionally, we are starting to see interesting gain-sharing business models that may make initial investments free or cheap.
I ended my post explaining why I believe that when dividing populations into "Low, Medium, and High" risk, that the really cool innovations (e.g. mobile monitoring, telehealth, automated care) will be in the Low and Medium categories, rather than the High risk ones.  And furthermore, that this will hopefully open up more free time for physicians to spend with the "High risk" patients who needs more of the face to face care we consider traditional right now.  Said another way... let's automate the easier stuff so we can allow for more time, critical thinking and compassion for the tougher stuff! 
Companies in the Population Health Space (at least a partial list)
·         Advisory Board Company:
·         CareMerge (focus on elderly):
·         Care Team Connect:
·         Clairvia http:
·         Click4Care:
·         Clinigence:
·         Curaspan (SAAS – Handoffs):
·         Essence HC:
·         EvolentHealth (UPMC + ABC):
·         GSI Health (Lori Evans) (CC Platform):
·         Healarium (Mobile Pt Activation Apps):
·         Humedica (bought by Optum 1/13):
·         Intelligent Healthcare:
·         Lumeris (ACO for hospitals):
·         Medventive (bought by HBOC 2012):
·         Outcome Advantage:
·         Patient Point:
·         Pharos (Dz mgt, Randy Williams):
·         Phytel:
·         RipRoad:
·         See Change (Insurance and Systems for Employers):
·         Symphony (ACO Software):
·         TCS:
·         US Health Centric (Dx/Wellness mgt):
·         Valence Health:
·         Vital Health:
· (Checklist based Workflows for Discharges):
·         Wellcentive:
·         xG Health Solutions (Geisinger Spin-off): 

I will edit this list over time - but it gives one a sense of how many companies are already in the space in one form or another (and this does not even include all the EMR vendors and their offerings).

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

HIMSS 2013 Review

Some thoughts on the HIMSS 2013 Conference in New Orleans (March 3-7)

Pre-Conference Advice
I wrote a short column on "Innovators at HIMSS" - my advice on how to Find, Share or Sell Innovation - by breaking down the conference into three chunks:  Educational Sessions, the Exhibit Hall and Networking.

Overall Impression of the Conference
I still love New Orleans as a city and as a convention spot (not an opinion shared by everyone)!  Of course I did have a hotel within walking distance.  I also liked that the "exhibit floor" was constrained and thus the vendors had smaller booths… but it seemed they all had plenty of room.  With that said, I felt more rushed than ever trying to see everything on the vendor floor, and for the first year ever, I didn't even have time to attend many of the educational sessions.  Is HIMSS becoming more vendor fair than educational?  Not necessarily, when you have 35,000 people - there are different needs and I still think the educational sessions are important for different people in different roles in different stages.  But this year, my role was more about exploring - especially in the population health arena, of which EVERYONE seemed to have an answer.

Personal Highlight
Getting to meet and talk with Dr. Larry Weed, who gave a brilliant closing keynote at the Physician Symposium on Sunday... he is a hero and legend to many of us in the healthcare informatics field.  He developed the concept of organizing the medical record in the SOAP format, created one of the first computerized medical record systems, and has been a long-time voice in helping doctors learn how to "think better" in taking care of our patients.  I plan to write an expanded blog on his talk in the near future, but here is what I've said in the past.

Hot Topics
I think there were two clear camps:  (1) Meaningful Use: finishing up stage 1, getting ready for stage 2; and (2) Population Health tools: understanding who were the players, what do they do, what are the business models, etc.

Population Health Companies
Here are some I saw and/or I think have good relevance in this space (and it is far from complete):

Some Assorted Cool Things I Saw
HealthCatalyst:  An analytics company with a really good story of what they do… They start with an analysis of high cost and high volume activities which also have a high variance in your health system.  After mutually agreeing on where to focus and how much money might be saved by reducing variance closer to the mean scores, they help you determine why the variance is high (via more in-depth analytics) so you can correct it.  Concept is simple, but the execution is the critical part and they seem to have captured some secret sauce that makes them very good at this.  And they've got some great people, including all start CIO Dale Sanders.  An interesting "telemedicine in a box" concept... where they will build a self-contained telemedicine "box" wherever you want it (e.g. a pharmacy, a company's warehouse, an underserved youth center, etc.).  A patient goes in the box, fills out some computerized forms, and they then have a live video feed with a doctor.  But the key is that they also have access to a variety of "tools" which they can use on themselves to show the doctor everything they need to see - including a stethoscope, and devices to look at eyes, ears and skin at visual magnifications greater than one could even get in the office!  A medical assistant staff person can help if there is confusion.  The MA also does basic clean-up, and there is some automated UV-light cleansing as well.  Is this better than Skype and buying the tools separately... not sure, but it's something to consider. 
ReadyDock:  A simple little "iPad Dishwasher" which stores, charges and sterilizes handheld computers, such as the iPad.  I think we will be seeing more iPad use in hospitals, by both providers and patients… so this could be a really good idea.  I do wonder if just having a plastic "cleanable" cover over these iPads might be a simpler, cheaper idea... this is something that has to be tested out.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The HIT Productivity Paradox - It's Gonna Be OK!

The NY Times published another article recently with a negative vibe about EMRs... implying that spending money on EMRs is a waste since the benefits are not obvious, and questioning the ethics of EMR vendors for asking the government to help subsidize these systems.

Really?  It seems like that is incredibly backward thinking which was also likely used against the stethoscope, anti-sepsis, penicillin, cars, planes, TVs, computers and the Internet when they first started out. I get it, change is hard and technical progress is slow - but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, let's give it a chance to grow up!  And, of course, what is even more interesting is that like so many media cycles, the media happily built up how great healthcare IT would be, and then gladly tear it down when it does not happen right away.

Glen Tullman (HIT entrepreneur and former Allscripts CEO) had some great thoughts on this issue in a recent Forbes Editorial he wrote Why Haven't Electronic Health Records Made Us Healthier?  He essentially said that we are a lot further along than when we started, but certainly still have far to go.  I especially liked that he reminded us of Amara’s Law: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

SIDE NOTE:  I did a little research to find out that Roy Amara was a Stanford Systems Engineering PhD who was President of the Institute for the Future.  I also found that his law was one of Four Geeky Laws that Rule Our World, the four together are:
  • Amara's Law:  "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."
  • Brooks' Law:  "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later."
  • Thackara's Laws:  "If you put smart technology into a pointless product, the result will be a stupid product."
  • Reed's Law:  "The Value of a Network Increases Dramatically When People Form Subgroups for Collaborations and Sharing."

So I wrote a little reply to the NY Times article as well and the wonderful folks at HISTalk published my piece at: 
I actually received a lot of positive feedback on this - so here it is: 

Fair enough - are EMR's worth it, was MU worth it?
I've said before that I don't think I would have spent the $30-40 billion that way (remember, they use the $19 billion figure because they assume $10-20 billion in savings).  I would have focused on mandating standards and trying to push for a uniform data model platform upon which vendors could then build their more external facing products.  However, I will happily admit that MU has done it's job - it has stimulated the adoption of EMRs… it won't be the 80+% they were hoping, but it's still got a lot of people off their asses and moving.

So next question - Will they provide all the great things we are hoping for?   
Certainly we've got some issues - EMRs are still not mature, nor is our understanding on how to best use them. But no technology, from cars to computers, started out perfect.  I've been reading "The Signal and the Noise" - and very early on it reminds readers of "The productivity paradox" which helped explain why the early computer age (1970s-1990s) actually saw a LOWER productivity as everyone was figuring out how to build them well and how to use them!  Sound familiar?

From WikipediaThe productivity paradox was analyzed and popularized in a widely-cited article[1] by Erik Brynjolfsson, which noted the apparent contradiction between the remarkable advances in computer power and the relatively slow growth of productivity at the level of the whole economy, individual firms and many specific applications. The concept is sometimes referred to as the Solow computer paradox in reference to Robert Solow's 1987 quip, "You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics."[2] The paradox has been defined as the “discrepancy between measures of investment in information technology and measures of output at the national level.”[3] It was widely believed that office automation was boosting labor productivity (or total factor productivity). However, the growth accounts didn't seem to confirm the idea. From the early 1970s to the early 1990s there was a massive slow-down in growth as the machines were becoming ubiquitous. (Other variables in country's economies were changing simultaneously; growth accounting separates out the improvement in production output using the same capital and labour resources as input by calculating growth in total factor productivity, AKA the "Solow residual".)

So if and how can this best be applied to healthcare IT?  
Well, it turns out that some smart authors actually addressed this exact issue in a June, 2012 NEJM article entitled: Unraveling the IT Productivity Paradox — Lessons for Health Care.   In this article, they explain that sure, we are seeing problems with HIT… but it is as expected - just like every other new industry has to evolve.  They conclude with the following paragraph:
The resolution of the original IT productivity paradox suggests that current conclusions about the value of health IT investments may be premature. Research suggests three lessons for physicians and health care leaders: invest in creating new measures of productivity that can reveal the quality and cost gains that arise from health IT, avoid impatience or overly optimistic expectations about return on investment and focus on the delivery reengineering needed to create a productivity payoff, and pay greater attention to measuring and improving IT usability. In the meantime, avoiding broad claims about overall value that are based on limited evidence may permit a clearer focus on the best ways of optimizing IT's use in health care. 

Clearly we are not at perfection - HIT can affect efficiency and quality in both good ways and bad.  But rather than try to create some artificial polarization that it is all good or all bad… let's continue doing our job (for the medical informatics professionals reading this) to keep making HIT better serve our providers and patients, while educating those who get freaked out every time a new stat or story comes out pointing out its imperfection.