Healthcare Technology

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What Motivates You, May Not Motivate Me

At Wellpepper our goal is to empower people to be able to follow their care plans and possibly change their behavior, so we think a lot about how to motivate people. Early on when working with Terry Ellis, Director of the Boston University Center for Neurorehabilitation, wanted to make sure that our messages to patients that may struggle with adherence were positive. She works with people who have Parkinson’s disease, and stressed that while they may improve symptoms they would not “get better.”

Last week I had a similar conversation with an endocrinologist about diabetes care plans. People with chronic diseases are often overwhelmed and may take a defeatist attitude to their health. Feedback and tools need to be non-judgmental and encouraging. Ideas like “compliance” and “adherence” may not be the way to look at it. Sometimes the approach should be “something is better than nothing.” And humans, not just algorithms need to decide what “good” is.

Am I good or great?

Here’s an example, non-healthcare related of algorithmic evaluation gone wrong. Rather than applauding me for being in the top tier of energy efficient homes, the City of Seattle, says I’m merely “good.” There’s no context on my “excellent” neighbors, for example are they in a newly built home compared to my 112 year old one, and no suggestions on what I might want to do to become “excellent. (Is it the 30-year old fridge?) I’m left with a feeling of hopelessness, rather than a resolve to try to get rid of that extra 2KW. Also, what does that even mean? Is 2KW a big deal?

Now imagine you’re struggling with a chronic disease. You’ve done your best, but a poorly tuned algorithm says you’re merely good, not excellent. Well, maybe what you’ve done is your excellent. This is why we enable people to set their own goals and track progress against them, and why care plans need to be personalized for each patient. It’s also why we don’t publish stats on overall adherence. Adherence for me might be 3 out of 5 days. For someone else it might be 7 days a week. It might depend on the care plan or the person.

As part of every care plan in Wellpepper, patients can set their own goals. Sometimes clinicians worry about the patient’s ability to do this. These are not functional goals, they represent what’s important to patients, like family time or events, enjoying life, and so on. We did an analysis of thousands of these patient-entered goals, and determined that it’s possible to track progress against these goals, so we rolled out a new feature that enables patients to do this.

Patient progress against patient-defined goal

Success should be defined by the patient, and outcome goals by clinicians. Motivation and measures need to be appropriate to what the patient is being treated for and their abilities. Personalization, customization, and a patient-centered approach can achieve this. To learn more, get in touch.

Posted in: Behavior Change, chronic disease, Healthcare motivation, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, Outcomes, patient engagement, patient-generated data

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Disruptive Innovation, Sparks of Light, or the Evolution of Care: Recap of Mayo Transform Conference

In what has been a roller-coaster year for healthcare legislation, it’s the annual touchstone of the Mayo Clinic Transform Conference provided a welcome opportunity to reflect on where we are. This conference, sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation attracts powerhouse speakers like Andy Slavitt and Clayton Christensen, and yet manages to fly under the radar. This year’s theme was about closing the gap between people and health, so the social determinants of health were a key topic, as was whether disruption alone would solve the problem.

Dr Robert Pearl

This was my third year attending, and second year speaking at the conference, and I’ve noticed a trend: the conference starts by articulating the problem, and building up solutions and creative ways to reshape the problems over the course of the two days. This year the conference was deftly moderated by Elizabeth Rosenthal, MD,Editor-In-Chief of Kaiser Health News and author of “An American Sickness.” Rosenthal, an MD herself, and former NYTimes journalist, peppered her moderation with real-world examples of both waste and inefficiencies and effective programs based on her investigative journalism.

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post for a while that riffs on the theme of “You Are Here” trying to outline where we are in the digital evolution in healthcare, but it’s clear that we don’t know where we are, digital or otherwise: too much is currently in flux. There are points of light with effective programs, and things that seem very broken. The panel I was on, was titled “Disruptive Innovation” and I’m afraid we let the audience down, as while we are doing some very interesting things with health systems, we are not turning every model on its head. We work with providers and patients to help patients outside the clinic. Truly disruptive innovation would work completely outside the system, which leads to the question, can health systems disrupt themselves or will it come from entirely new entrants like say Google, Apple, or Amazon?

Dr. David Feinberg of Geisinger reads from debate opponent Dr. Robert Pearl’s book

Clayton Christensen, the closing keynote speaker, likens hospitals to mainframe computers, and basically says they will be overtaken by smaller more nimble organizations, much like the PC and now smartphone revolution. Organizations like Iora Health who holistically and preventatively manage a Medicare Advantage population are the epitome of these new entrants, and we’ve seen some hospitals struggle this year, but will they go away entirely? The answer to this question may lie in the excellent debate session “Is The US Healthcare System Terminally Broken” hosted by Intelligence Squared and moderated by author and ABC News Correspondent John Donovan.

 

Shannon Brownlee, senior VP of the Lown Institute and visiting scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Robert Pearl, MD, and former CEO of the Permanente Medical group were arguing that the system is broken, vs Ezekiel Emmanuel, MD, Senior Fellow Center for American Progress, and David Feinberg, MD, CEO of Geisinger.

While prior to the debate the audience favored the idea that the system is irreparably broken, by the end, they had come around to the idea that it’s not, which would point to the ability for healthcare to disrupt itself. The debate

Is Healthcare Terminally Broken

The final audience vote

was ridiculously fun, partially from the enthusiasm of the debaters, and because the topic was so dear to all attendees. You can listen to the podcast yourself. However, the posing of the question set up an almost impossible challenge for Pearl and Brownlee: they had to argue the patient is terminal, but without any possible solution. No one in the room wanted to hear that, and so when Emmanuel and Feinberg were able to point to innovative programs like the Geisinger Money Back Warranty or Fresh Food Pharmacy that just needed to find scale, the audience latched onto the hope that we can fix things, and we all have to believe in these points of light, to face each new day of challenges.

Posted in: Health Regulations, Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Legislation, Healthcare Policy, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation

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Alexa Voice Challenge for Type 2 Diabetes: Evolving An Idea

For the past couple of months some of our Wellpepper team, with some additional help from a couple of post-docs from University of Washington, have been working hard on a novel integrated device, mobile, and voice care plan to help people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as part of our entry in the Alexa Diabetes Challenge.

Team Sugarpod

This challenge offered a great opportunity to evolve our thinking in the power of integrating experiences directly into a person’s day using the right technology for the setting. It also provided the opportunity to go from idea to prototype in a rapid timeframe.

Our solution featured an integrated mobile and voice care plan, and a unique device: a voice powered scale that scans for diabetic foot ulcers, a leading cause of amputation, hospitalization, and increased mortality, and is estimated to cost the health system up to $9B per year.

During the challenge, we had access to amazing resources, including a 2-day bootcamp held at Amazon headquarters during which we heard from experts in voice, behavior change, caring for people with type 2 diabetes, and a focus group with people who have type 2 diabetes. We also had 1:1 sessions with various experts who had seen our entry and helped us think through the challenges of developing it. After the bootcamp, we were assigned a mentor, an experienced pharmacist and diabetes educator, who was available for any questions. Experts from the bootcamp also held office hours where we explored topics like

Early Prototype Voice Powered Scale & Scanner

how to help coach people in what they can do with an Alexa skill, and how to build trust with a device that takes pictures in your bathroom.

As we evolved our solution, we were fortunate to have support from Dr Wellesley Chapman, medical director of Kaiser Permanente Washington’s Innovation Group. We were able to install the device in a Diabetes and Wound Clinic. We used this to train our image classifier to look for foot ulcers, and compare results to human detection, and also to test the voice service. We used an anonymous voice service as Alexa and the Lex services are not currently HIPAA-eligible.

We gathered feedback from diabetes educators, clinicians at KP Washington, and across the country, and from people with Type 2 diabetes. While not everyone wanted to use all aspects of the solution, they all felt that the various components: voice, mobile, and device offered a lot of support and value. As well, we determined that there is an opportunity for a voice-powered scale and scanner in the clinic which could aid in early detection and streamline productivity. Voice interactions in the clinic are a natural fit.

Judges and Competitors: Alexa Diabetes Challenge

The great thing about a challenge is the constraints provided to do something really great in a short period of time. We’re so proud of the Sugarpod team, and also incredibly impressed with the other entries in this competition ranging from a focus on supporting the mental health challenges faced by people newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes to a specific protocol for diet and nutrition, to solutions that helped manage all aspects of care. We enjoyed meeting our fellow competitors at the bootcamp and the final, and wish we had met in a situation where we could collaborate with them. We also appreciated the thoughtful feedback and questions from the judges, and would definitely have a lot to gain from deeper discussions with them on the topic.

Stay tuned for more on our learnings through this challenge and our experiences with voice.

Posted in: Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, M-health, Managing Chronic Disease, Outcomes, patient engagement, patient-generated data

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Patient Experience Versus Patient Engagement

As a volunteer session reviewer for the Patient and Consumer Engagement track for HIMSS 2018, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between engagement and experience, and also what it means to deliver connected health. While Wellpepper is a platform for patient engagement, a session based on Boston University’s study using Wellpepper with people with Parkinson disease actually suited the definition of Connected Health better and was submitted in that track.

As I’ve been reviewing sessions submissions for the track, I noticed that quite a few focus on patient experience rather than engagement. The difference really is about commitment and action. Patient experience is what happens when someone engages with a health system or physician office. Patient engagement is what happens when someone actively participates in their own care as a patient. You could argue that patients can’t help but be engaged because whatever is happening is happening to them, but it’s a bit more than that. (Also that argument gets a bit existential.)

Both engagement and experience are important. With a crappy experience then people may not engage with you, your system, or their own health. This can be as simple as not being able to find parking. Good experience is the pre-requisite for engagement, but it is not engagement on its own. Engagement happens when you empower the patient and treat them as an active participant in their care.

There’s a continuum from experience to engagement, and often the same digital tools represent both, although both also include the physical experience, and both will help you attract and retain patients but more importantly engagement will also help improve outcomes.

If you’re interested in this topic, this article in NEJM Catalyst from Adrienne Boissy, MD of Cleveland Clinic does much better job than I do of explaining it.

Posted in: Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, M-health, patient engagement, Patient Satisfaction

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But Will It Fly? What Airlines and Healthcare Organizations Have In Common

What do airlines and healthcare systems have in common? Quite a lot it turns out, from a recent power breakfast featuring Rod Hochman, CEO of Providence St. Joseph Hoag Health system, and Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines. In addition to the Pacific Northwest roots of both organizations, both have also undertaken mergers to gain market share and increase physical territory. Both serve a large cross-section of the population, and both are in highly-regulated industries that are not necessarily known for customer service that are grappling with new always connected user experiences and expectations.

The wide-ranging discussion included early inspiration for Hochman and Tilden’s early careers, how to motivate and engage a wide range of employees, and how to deal with competition and lead change. Both leaders had early influences on their career direction. Hochman knew he wanted to be a doctor at 16 when assisting on surgeries (!), and Tilden grew up beside Seatac airport watching planes while his peers were watching girls. Tilden grew his career at Alaska, while Hochman is a practicing rheumatologist, who has worked his way from small clinic to major system. Hochman joked that a rheumatology specialty is much more suited to success in administration than say surgery, equating running a hospital to the patient required in managing chronic diseases.

Airlines and health systems have similar challenges with employee experience. Both types of organizations have highly skilled staff, pilots and physicians, who demand a lot of autonomy. Mistakes in both professions can cause loss of life. The difference is that aviation has moved a lot faster in instituting standard procedures and checklists to improve safety and outcomes. Tilden frequently referenced an Alaska Air crash 17 years ago that impacted their approach to safety, and talked about the ways pilots and co-pilots double check settings. Hochman talked about his hope for quality improvements and better collaboration from the younger generation of physicians who have grown up in a world of checklists and standardization, and said that the ones who only care about being left alone to make decisions will retire.

They also have large teams of people who “get stuff done.” Hochman has banned the term ‘middle management’ since he sees those people as the ones who are making things happen, instead he calls them “core team”, a term that Tilden quipped he’d also start using.Rod Hochman & Brad Tilden

Customer experience was also top of mind for both execs. Tilden talked about Alaska adopting Virgin’s mission of being the airline people love. While he seemed to find some of Virgin’s approach to be a bit edgy compared to Alaska, he said you couldn’t find a better mission. Both grappled with the ease of sharing bad experiences on social media, and indicated that social media monitoring has become a key tool in managing consumer expectations. Hochman, also noted that it all comes back to the individual experience when he described that his staff hate when he has his own annual physical, because his expectations as a patient are much higher than what he experiences, especially with respect to convenience and information flow.

Both are optimistic and passionate leaders who genuinely care about the consumer and employee experience, and had as good a time interviewing each other as the audience did listening to them. This event was sold out, so if an opportunity like this comes up again, sign up early.

Posted in: Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, M-health

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Introducing Sugarpod by Wellpepper, a comprehensive diabetes care plan

We’re both honored and excited to be one of five finalists in the Alexa Diabetes Challenge. We’re honored to be in such great company, and excited about the novel device our team is building. You may wonder how a team of software folks ends up with an entry with a hardware component. We did too, until we thought more about the convergence happening in technology.

We were early fans of the power of voice, and we previewed a prototype of Alexa integration with Wellpepper digital treatment plans for total joint replacement at HIMSS in February 2017. Voice is a great interface for people who are mobility or vision challenged, and the design of Amazon Echo makes it an unobtrusive home device. While a mobile treatment plan is always with you, the Amazon Echo is central in the home. At one point, we thought television would be the next logical screen to support patients with their home treatment plans, but it seems like the Echo Show is going to be more powerful and still quite accessible to a large number of people.

Since our platform supports all types of patient interventions, including diabetes, this challenge was a natural fit for our team, which is made up of Wellpepper staff and Dr Soma Mandal, who joined us this spring for a rotation from the University of Georgia. However, when we brainstormed 20 possible ideas for the challenge (admittedly over beer at Fremont Brewing), the two that rose to the top involved hardware solutions in addition to voice interactions with a treatment plan. And that’s how we found ourselves with Sugarpod by Wellpepper which includes a comprehensive diabetes care plan for someone newly diagnosed, and a novel Alexa-enabled device to check for foot problems, a common complication of diabetes mellitus.

Currently in healthcare, there are some big efforts to connect device data to the EMR. While we think device data is extremely interesting, connecting it directly to the EMR is missing a key component: what’s actually happening with the patient. Having real-time device data without real-time patient experience as well, is only solving one piece of the puzzle. Patients don’t think about the devices to manage their health – whether glucometer, blood pressure monitor, or foot scanner – separately from their entire care plan. In fact, looking at both together, and understanding the interplay between their actions, and the readings from these devices, is key for patient self-management.

And that’s how we found ourselves, a mostly SaaS company, entering a challenge with a device. It’s not the first time we’ve thought about how to better integrate devices with our care plans, but is the first time we’ve gone as far as prototyping one ourselves, which got us wondering which way the market will go. It doesn’t make sense for every device to have their own corresponding app. That app is not integrated with the physician’s instructions or the rest of the patient’s care plan. It may not be feasible for every interactive treatment plan to integrate with every device, so are vertically integrated solutions the future? If you look at the bets that Google and Apple are making in this space, you might say yes. It will be fascinating to see where this Alexa challenge takes Amazon, and us too.

We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us before the final pitch on September 25th in New York. If you’re interested in our progress, subscribe to our Wellpepper newsletter, and we’ll have a few updates. If you’re interested in this overall hardware and software solution for Type 2 diabetes care, either for deploying in your organization or bringing a new device to market, please get in touch.

Read more about the process, the pitch, and how we developed the solution:

Ready When You Are: Voice Interfaces for Patient Engagement

Alexa Voice Challenge for Type 2 Diabetes: Evolving a Solution

 

Posted in: Behavior Change, chronic disease, Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, M-health, Managing Chronic Disease, patient-generated data

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In Defense of Patient-Generated Data

There’s a lot of activity going on with large technology companies and others trying to get access to EMR data to mine it for insights. They’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to crawl notes and diagnosis to try to find patterns that may predict disease. At the same time, equal amounts of energy are being spent figuring out how to get data from the myriad of medical and consumer devices into the EMR, considered the system of record.

There are a few flaws in this plan:

  • A significant amount of data in the EMR is copied and pasted. While it may be true that physicians and especially specialists see the same problems repeatedly, it’s also true that lack of specificity and even mistakes are introduced by this practice.
  • As well, the same ICD-10 codes are reused. Doctors admit to reusing codes that they know will be reimbursed. While they are not mis-diagnosing patients, this is another area where there is a lack of specificity. Search for “frequently used ICD-10 codes”, you’ll find a myriad of cheat sheets listing the most common codes for primary care and specialties.
  • Historically clinical research, on which recommendations and standard ranges are created, has been lacking in ethnic and sometimes gender diversity, which means that a patient whose tests are within standard range may have a different experience because that patient is different than the archetype on which the standard is based.
  • Data without context is meaningless, which is physicians initially balked about having device data in the EMR. Understanding how much a healthy person is active is interesting but you don’t need FitBit data for that, there are other indicators like BMI and resting heart rate. Understanding how much someone recovering from knee surgery is interesting, but only if you understand other things about that person’s situation and care.

There’s a pretty simple and often overlooked solution to this problem: get data and information directly from the patient. This data, of a patient’s own experience, will often answer the questions of why a patient is or isn’t getting better. It’s one thing to look at data points and see whether a patient is in or out of accepted ranges. It’s another to consider how the patient feels and what he or she is doing that may improve or exacerbate a condition. In ignoring the patient experience, decisions are being made with only some of the data. In Kleiner-Perkin’s State of the Internet Report, Mary Meeker estimates that the EMR collects a mere 26 data points per year on each patient. That’s not enough to make decisions about a single patient, let alone expect that AI will auto-magically find insights.

We’ve seen the value of patient engagement in our own research and data collected, for example in identifying side effects that are predictors of post-surgical readmission. If you’re interested, in these insights, we publish them through our newsletter.  In interviewing patients and providers, we’ve heard so many examples where physicians were puzzled between the patient’s experience in-clinic or in-patient versus at home. One pulmonary specialist we met told us he had a COPD patient who was not responding to medication. The obvious solution was to change the medication. The not-so-obvious solution was to ask the patient to demonstrate how he was using his inhaler. He was spraying it in the air and walking through the mist, which was how a discharge nurse had shown him how to use the inhaler.

By providing patients with useable and personalized instructions and then tracking the patient experience in following instructions and managing their health, you can close the loop. Combining this information with device data and physician observations and diagnosis, will provide the insight that we can use to scale and personalize care.

Posted in: Adherence, big data, Clinical Research, Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Research, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, Interoperability, M-health, patient engagement, patient-generated data

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Consumerization Is Not A Bad Word

When you say consumerization, especially with respect to healthcare, people often jump to conclusions about valuing service over substance. There’s a lot of confusion over the meaning of consumerization, whether it’s possible in healthcare, and whether it’s happening. I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Washington State Health Exchange’s Annual Board Retreat on this topic. (Perhaps you saw it, the event was live-streamed to the public. 😉 ). The Health Exchange is pondering questions of how to attract new users, how to better serve their needs, and how to make the experience more useful and engaging. And, this my friends is consumerism, or at least one facet of it: user focus, better service, understanding needs. Doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? In fact, it sounds like something any good service or organization should be doing for its customers.

Consumer-centered pain scale. Baymax from Disney's Big Hero Six

Consumer-centered pain scale. Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero Six

And there’s that word, customers. That’s the debate. Are patients really customers? Not really, often they don’t have a choice, either because of their insurance coverage or from the necessity of an emergency where decisions are often made for patients. However, patients, and everyone else for that matter (except people in North Korea), are consumers, and they judge healthcare experiences both service delivery and technology as consumers. Think of it like this, your patients will judge your experiences through the lens of any other service they’ve interacted with. Fair or not, they will do that. Why do they do this? It’s human nature to remember positive experiences and try to seek them out. Although there’s another reason: high-deductibles are also driving people to examine where they are spending their healthcare dollars, and they evaluate based on outcomes, convenience, and the overall experience.

Since healthcare technology is my area of expertise, let’s stick to that rather than critiquing hospital parking, food, or beds. (Although these are often things that impact HCAHPS scores.) Consumerization when applied to health IT means that patients have an expectation that any technology you ask them to engage with, and especially technology you ask them to install on their own devices, will be as usable as any other app they’ve installed.

Consumerization also impacts internal health IT. Doctors were the first wave, when they pushed using their own devices to text with other providers within the hospital setting. (In IT this is often referred to as “bring your own device.”) The pager became obsolete and replaced with our own always on, always connected mobile devices. (Sadly, the fax machine, like a cockroach, keeps hanging in there.)

Patients are also bringing their own devices, and using them in waiting rooms and hospital beds. We’ve had patients reporting their own symptoms using Wellpepper interactive care plans from their hospital beds. This presents an opportunity to engage, and at a low cost: they are supplying the hardware. The final wave of consumerism will happen when clinicians and other hospital staff also demand convenient, usable, and well-designed tools for clinical care.

Consumerization is late to arrive in healthcare IT. Other industries have already reached tail end of this wave, and have already realized that technology needs to be easy to use, accessible, interoperable, and designed with the end-user foremost. However, consumerization is coming, both from internal staff demands and patients. Technology, healthcare IT, and the people that build and support it are facing scrutiny, being held to higher standards, and becoming part of the strategic decision-making healthcare organizations. This is a great thing, as it will result in better clinician and patient experiences overall, because at its core consumerism is about expecting value, and ease and getting it, and who doesn’t want that?

Posted in: Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, Interoperability, M-health, Outcomes, Patient Satisfaction

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Mary Meeker’s 2017 Healthcare Trends Report Shows Opportunity

An annual highlight of Recode’s CodeConf is Mary Meeker’s internet trends report. Last year, I had the pleasure of hearing her in person, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a presentation with so much good data, presented so quickly. This year, I wasn’t able to attend, but she also ran out of time for some of the most important slides for a healthcare entrepreneur like me. Based on a quick run-through of the deck, these three slides struck me. (If you want to see the full section on healthcare, it starts at Slide 288.)

Not surprising that consumers expect digital health services, or that Millenials lead in most categories. It’s also not surprising that Boomers have sought the most remote care–they have probably sought the most care overall. It might be interesting to see this pro-rated by care usage. That Boomers are not looking at online reviews is very interesting given how much attention the surgeons we work with give to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even with all their consumer device troubles, Samsung squeaks above Apple, and Facebook and Amazon both with a tremendous amount of data about you, are still reasonably well trusted. Both Microsoft and Google have tried and failed previously to own your personal health record, but they are well positioned to do so. What would also be interesting is to see these trust levels against traditional healthcare companies like GE or Johnson & Johnson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EHR adoption is not surprising since it was mandated through meaningful use. It’s a bit depressing to look at the 2004 stats, and think back to which parts of your life weren’t digital in 2004, and compare that to your medical records. However, the biggest opportunity we see in this slide is dramatically expanding the data points available by tracking patients outside the clinic. Physicians are making decisions with only a few data points when there is so much richer information available through patient-entered and patient generated data.

Posted in: Healthcare Research, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation

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Comprehensiveness + Comprehension: effect of technology on discharge instructions

Whether patients are leaving the emergency department or being released from an extensive hospitalization, they need discharge instructions in order to solve their initial problem, better self-manage, and coordinate the appropriate follow-up. These instructions are typically written and are also articulated to the patient. We know that due to varying levels of health literacy, or the degree to which individuals have the capacity to process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions [1], a patient is especially vulnerable during the process of discharge in terms of overall understanding and appropriate follow through. Can technology empower patients operating from a position of weakness in this transition?

  • According to the 2013 study entitled Information Technology Improves Emergency Department Patient Discharge Instructions Completeness and Performance on a National Quality Measure, researchers were able to show that electronic discharge instructions were more complete than paper-based information. The electronic discharge instructions had 97.3% compliance to a CMS quality measure while the paper-based discharge instructions were at 46.7%. This compliance is more than doubled with electronic discharge documentation (relative risk 2.09, 95%CI 1.75-2.48) [2]; however, there were no statistically significant differences in documentation of patient care instructions nor diagnosis between paper-based and electronic formats.
  • In a 2015 study entitled Readability of patient discharge instructions with and without the use of electronically available disease-specific templates, patient readability of a web based discharge module, which has diagnosis-specific templated discharge instructions, was assessed. Patients had better readability with electronic templated discharge instructions than those that were clinician-generated (p< .001). Furthermore, the primary reason doctors created discharge instructions by themselves was due to lack of disease specific template availability.

The most exciting time in medicine is now, where the application of information technology during vulnerable transitions can provide a patient more complete information that he/she can actually act upon. Taken together, these studies suggest enhancement of both comprehensiveness and comprehension; the former very important for the primary care physician who will assume care of this patient status post hospitalization and the latter important for the patient’s overall health literacy necessary for improvement. The next logical extension is to have web based applications assist a patient in the transition from the hospital to the outpatient setting, something that innovative companies like Wellpepper are doing.

References

  1. Nielsen-Bohlman, L.; Panzer, AM.; Kindig, DA. Health literacy: A prescription to end confusion. National Academies Press; Washington, DC: 2004.
  2. Bell EJ et al. Information Technology Improves Emergency Department Patient Discharge Instructions Completeness and Performance on a National Quality Measure: A Quasi-Experimental Study. Appl Clin Inform. 2013; 4(4): 499–514.
  3. Mueller SK et al. Readability of patient discharge instructions with and without the use of electronically available disease-specific templates. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2015; 22(4): 857-63.

Posted in: Healthcare Technology, Patient Satisfaction

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Falls Challenge

How might we enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls? We have entered a challenge with AARP and IDEO to bring our proven falls solutions to the masses. Along side our partners at Harvard and Boston University, we believe that using mobile technology to enhance and scale a proven falls prevention program will lead to better life by increasing access to care and decreasing costs.

The challenge started with over 220 submissions and recently weeded down to the top 40. We’re thrilled to have made the first cut. Our method is proven and we invite you to participate in the next round to refine our idea and help achieve greater impact.

Click here to check out our entry!

 

 

Posted in: Aging, Clinical Research, Healthcare Technology, Outcomes, Physical Therapy, Research, Uncategorized

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Home Sweet Home

Our goal at Wellpepper has always been to make sure patients have a top-notch experience with our Partners. What better experience can patients have than being in the comfort of their own home while rehabilitating from a joint replacement? An article was recently published in the New York Times that really hits home for us. Not only is in-home therapy more cost-effective than inpatient rehabilitation, but it significantly decreases the risk for adverse events.

More and more studies are showing that patients are generally happier and actually prefer being at home during their recovery from a joint replacement. A study published earlier this year in Australia found that inpatient rehabilitation did not provide an increase in mobility when compared to patients participating in a monitored home-based program.

Don’t get me wrong, inpatient rehabilitation is extremely valuable to have. In fact, we are starting to see more patients interact with their Wellpepper digital treatment plans in an inpatient setting and then continuing once discharged home.

Rehabilitation is not a one size fits all solution and much depends on a patient’s general health and attitude. The ability to be flexible and innovative in providing treatment is crucial when evaluating a patient’s needs for rehabilitation. With Wellpepper digital treatment plans, we enable health systems to bring the expertise and personalization of inpatient rehabilitation to their patient’s mobile devices, so that they may recover from their surgery in the comfort of their own homes.

Posted in: Behavior Change, Healthcare motivation, Healthcare Technology, patient engagement, Patient Satisfaction, Physical Therapy

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T2 Telehealth aka ATA 2017 aka ATA 23: Part 2, How Did We Get Here and Where Are We Going?

This was my second trip to Orange County Convention Center this year, so it was hard not to compare and contrast the annual American Telemedicine conference to HIMSS, the biggest health IT conference. As well, it was my third time at the ATA conference, back after skipping in 2016, and the gap made it easier to reflect on previous years as well.

The ATA annual is almost 10 times smaller than HIMSS, which makes it a lot less exhausting and easier to focus. There’s not a feeling that for every second you’re talking to someone you’re missing out on talking to someone else equally as interesting and valuable. (There is no shortage of interesting people, just a more manageable group.) The size also makes it a bit easier to talk to people as they’re not rushing off to walk a few miles across the convention center to the next session.

The first year I attended, 2014, the tradeshow floor was full of integrated hardware and software solutions, and Rubbermaid was even a vendor selling telemedicine carts. It was almost as though the iPad hadn’t been invented.  It was the year that Mercy Virtual launched their services as a provider of telestroke and telemonitoring for other health systems. A provider as a vendor caused a bit of a stir on the tradeshow floor.

By the next year, the integrated hardware and software vendors were dwindling, but talks were largely still given by academics and were focused on pilot projects that while showed success, talks often ended with a plea for thoughts on how to scale the program.

ATA evolved out of an academic conference and that’s still quite prevalent in the presenters who are often from academic medical centers, and reporting on studies rather than implementation. Data was important in all sessions, but measurement of value was inconsistent. In addition to academic medical centers, most leaders in telehealth seemed to be faith-based not-for-profits, like Mercy and Dignity, and as well as rural organizations where the value was clear.

That said, a welcome addition to this year’s content was two new tracks on Transformation and Value. I spoke in the Value track at ATA, along with Reflexion Health and Hartford Healthcare about the value of telerehab in total joint replacement, and we were able to share data points from real patient implementations, in addition to clinical studies. (If you’re interested, in the Wellpepper segment, get in touch.)

Although, harkening back to the day 1 keynote, the definition of value depended on the business model of the telemedicine platform being implemented. There’s no question that telestroke and neurology programs, and telebehavior programs deliver value especially in rural areas without direct access. At Wellpepper, we’ve seen definite results in post-acute care, both in recovery speed and readmissions.

In other sessions the value was not as clear and no one was able to fully refute the study that when offered the choice, patients used telemedicine in addition to in-person visits, thus driving up costs. In fact, the director of telemedicine for a prominent healthcare organization confirmed that patients were using televisits for surgical prep when they could have just read the instructions given to them. (Or interacted with a digital care plan like Wellpepper.)

As with every technology conference the voice of the patient was absent, with the exception of head of Mercy Virtual Randall Moore, MD who started all his presentations by introducing us to patient Naomi who was able to live out her life at home, attend bingo, and enjoy herself due to the benefits of the wrap-around telemedicine program that Mercy put In place. Oh, and it cost a lot less than the path of hospital admissions she’d been on previously. Sounds like triple aim, and what we all need to aspire to.

So, based on the keynotes, the sessions, and the show floor, I’d characterize this year’s conference as a world in flux, like what’s going on elsewhere. There was a sense of relief that the ACA had not been repealed. HIMSS took place before the proposed repeal and replace plan died, and there was a lot more fear and uncertainty. Vendors and providers alike are looking to strengthen the value chain. Unlike HIMSS, there was a lot less hype. Machine learning and AI were barely mentioned except in keynotes possibly because telemedicine is still largely a world of real-time visits, and extracting meaning from video is a lot harder than from records. We see promise, people want to do the right thing, but it’s not clear which direction will help us ride out the storm.

 

Still trying to figure out what this has to do with Telemedicine. Look better on realtime visits?

Posted in: Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Legislation, Healthcare motivation, Healthcare Policy, Healthcare Technology, M-health, Prehabilitation, Rehabilitation Business, Telemedicine

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Telehealth 2.0: Our picks for Orlando

File-2016-3478-2017_ATATradeshow_1920_25I am really looking forward to heading to Orlando for the American Telemedicine Conference, aka Telehealth 2.0. Seattle has been under a rain cloud this entire year, and I want to see the sun. I’m also looking forward to sharing our findings in using asynchronous mobile telehealth for remote rehabilitation with patients recovering from total joint replacement. I’ll be speaking with our colleagues from Hartford Health, Reflexion, and Miami Children’s Hospital on Sunday during the first breakout sessions. Hope to see you there!

In addition to the topics about legislation and regulations, it’s great to see these sessions on value, quality, and new treatment models. Here are some of Wellpepper’s picks for the conference.

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Now with all this great content, networking and a talk to prepare, when will I see the sun?

Posted in: Adherence, Behavior Change, Health Regulations, Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Legislation, Healthcare Policy, Healthcare Research, Healthcare Technology, patient engagement, Telemedicine

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EvergreenHealth: Evolving Care Outside The Clinic for Better Outcomes

In 2016 we formally announced our collaboration with EvergreenHealth to deliver interactive care plans for Total Joint Replacement.

“Across our organization, we strive to be a trusted source for innovative care solutions for our patients and families, and our partnership with Wellpepper helps us deliver on that commitment,” said EvergreenHealth CEO Bob Malte. “Since we began using Wellpepper in 2014, we’ve seen how the solution enhances the interaction between patients and providers and ultimately leads to optimal recovery and the best possible outcomes for our patients.”

EvergreenHealth is an integrated health care system that serves nearly 1 million residents in King and Snohomish counties in Washington State, and offers a breadth of services and programs that is among the most comprehensive in the region. More than 1,300 physicians provide clinical excellence in over 80 specialties, including heart and vascular care, oncology, surgical care, orthopedics, neurosciences, women’s and children’s services, pulmonary care and home care and hospice services. With expansion into more rural areas, and a catchment area that serves Seattle’s ‘eastside’ home to Microsoft and other major technology companies, delivering virtual care is both an imperative for an an expectation of EvergreenHealth patients.

Since our initial announcement, we’ve seen thousands of patients complete care plans and outcome surveys, and expanded within the musculoskeletal service line to include preventive care, spine surgery, and general rehabilitation.

User Experience

EvergreenHealth has a white labeled version of the Wellpepper patient application called MyEvergreen and available in Android and Apple App Stores. Clinicians use the Wellpepper clinic portal, and receive alerts to their email inbox if patients report any issues or unexpected outcomes.

EvergreenHealth has deployed care plans based on their own clinical best practices. 

Outcomes

  • Thousands of patients have used Wellpepper interactive care plans at EvergreenHealth
  • Interactive care plan users show higher scores on standardized outcome reports than those tracking outcomes without an interactive care plan
  • EvergreenHealth patients show a higher engagement level than Wellpepper’s overall 70% engagement

I would not want to have another knee surgery without the app. I was 81 and it wasn’t hard for me at all!

Total Knee Replacement Patient at EvergreenHealth

Technology

This deployment used a white labeled Android and iOS application for patients, and a clinic portal for clinicians. Patient invitation is synched with the Cerner medical records software using an ADT feed. Clinicians are notified of patients requiring additional help with an email alert. Wellpepper’s entire HIPAA secure platform was leveraged for this implementation, and EvergreenHealth deployed custom care plans based on their own best practices. They continue to add innovative features as they are added to the Wellpepper platform.

Posted in: Exercise Physiology, Healthcare costs, Healthcare Technology, HIPAA, Interoperability, M-health, Outcomes, patient engagement, Prehabilitation, Seattle

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Wellpepper attends Episodes of Care Summit at Cambia Grove

Last week, Wellpepper CEO, Anne Weiler and I attended a half-day Episodes of Care Summit put on by Cambia Grove. It was great to see payers, providers and technologists come together to focus on initiatives that directly impact the patient experience. Here are some of our takeaways:

Horizon BCBS of New Jersey is an episodes of care pioneer

Focus on retroactive bundles before proactive. Episodes of care and bundled payments are often used interchangeably. An episode of care typically refers to a payment made retrospectively while a bundled payment typically refers to a payment made prospectively. Horizon BCBS of New Jersey first launched retrospective pilots in 2010 (total hip and total knee replacements). In this model, savings are shared with the physician or practice once quality benchmarks and patient experience thresholds are met and costs come in below budget. After 7 years of scale and success, Horizon is now launching more immediate, risk-based, prospective initiatives in 2017.

Drive success through quality. Horizon piloted with over 200 quality metrics with member-specific, risk-adjusted financial targets. Metrics are key in driving success. Identify 3-5 standard quality metrics and 2-4 episode-specific metrics.

Community involvement is imperative

It’s great to see continued focus on community involvement in innovation and healthcare. The Bree Collaborative is an excellent example of bringing together community and industry leaders to identify and promote strategies that directly impact patient outcomes, quality and affordability. Wellpepper firmly believes in the work that the Bree Collaborative is doing. In fact, our total joint and lumbar fusion care plans follow Bree recommendations.

The Episodes of Care Summit held breakout sessions that mapped out the ideal episode of care/bundle experience through the lens of people, process and technology. Think of people, process and technology as a three-legged table. Remove one leg and the table falls. If the three legs are not the same size, the table does not function properly. Effort needs to be allocated equally across people, processes and technology to drive behavior change. Reimbursement seemed to take a precedence in every conversation rather than the patient’s needs or the provider’s care. Until this mindset is fixed, it’s hard to focus on what healthcare is really about. Dr. Hugh Stanley, from the Bree Collaborative did an excellent job bringing the focus of the conversation back to the patient.

Memorable quotes from breakout sessions:

  • “Patients need to be at the center of episodes of care.”
  • “We need to capture patient satisfaction in real time.”
  • “I’m blown away I can get more info on a dog bed than a provider.”
  • “We need to rebuild the patient deductible and copay mindset.”
  • “The payer community has a responsibility to share information to publicize data that drives provider readiness.”
  • “Creating episodes vs bundles benefits providers and ultimately patients.”

Posted in: Healthcare Policy, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, patient engagement, Patient Satisfaction, Uncategorized

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Using AWS with HIPAA-Protected Data – A Practical Primer

When we started building the Wellpepper platform four years ago, we thought carefully about how to build for privacy and security best practices as well as HIPAA compliance, since we work with customers in the healthcare industry. We chose to build the system entirely on Amazon Web Services (AWS), and learned a few things in the process about building HIPAA compliant applications on AWS. Hopefully this will be helpful to others considering AWS as the home for their healthcare online service, whether you’re a software company hoping to sell to healthcare systems (as a “Business Associate” in HIPAA terminology) or an internal development team at a health system (a “Covered Entity”).

It’s Not Rocket Science

As you probably already know, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is made up of several parts. Usually when IT people talk about “HIPAA compliance”, they are talking about the Title II Security Rule which governs privacy and security practices for electronic protected health information (ePHI).

Many of the requirements in the HIPAA Security Rule are simply best practices for security and data privacy that have been written into law. Things like encrypting traffic travelling over a network. Anyone building good, secure software, should be following these principles anyway. You need to be informed of the requirements, and you need to make sure you establish ongoing practices for maintaining security and privacy, but it’s not rocket science. In fact, your health system (or healthcare customers) may actually have more stringent or additional data security requirements to what is required by HIPAA.

Our experience is that HIPAA isn’t a major departure from what we would have built anyway.

Stay Up To Date

HIPAA was established in 1996, with the final Security Rule being published in 2003. In some cases, the guidance has not kept up with current threats and practices in 2017. If you are developing healthcare software, you should be applying industry best practices in combination with the HIPAA requirements. Your ultimate goal needs to be protecting patient data, not just regulatory compliance. Invest in training yourself and your team and staying current. Some resources we found helpful:

Take Responsibility

Compliance usually isn’t at the top of an engineering team’s list of fun things, so it’s tempting to look for solutions that can abstract away the responsibility. There are a few online healthcare platform-as-a-service hosters that make claims in this direction. Be wary of these. No service can remove your responsibility for compliance.

We decided that using AWS infrastructure services was the best level of abstraction. This let us build new services, host data, and install 3rd party applications in our VPC with high confidence that we were living up to our promises to protect patient data.

In addition to thinking about your software solution, compliance also covers your business practices and policies for things like training, background checks, and corporate device security – securing your people. These are often overlooked areas that are really important, since security researchers complain that people are the weakest link in the security chain. As with your software design, the application of commonsense practices and good documentation will go a long way.

There is no single group that certifies systems as HIPAA compliant. However, HHS can audit you at any time, whether you’re a covered entity or a business associate. You should do your own internal assessments against the HIPAA Security Rule both when you are building new capabilities, and on an annual basis. Augment this with external third party reviews. You’ll want to be able to show summarized reports of both your internal process and a stamp of approval from an external auditor.

HHS produces a tool called the SRA tool which you might find useful in performing security rule assessments: https://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/security-risk-assessment-tool. We used this for a couple years, but now just use an Excel Spreadsheet to evaluate ourselves. Bonus: this is probably what your auditor will want to see.

This Risk Toolkit from the HIPAA Collaborative of Wisconsin is a good starting point, and looks very similar to the spreadsheet we use: http://hipaacow.org/resources/hipaa-cow-documents/risk-toolkit/ (look at the Risk Assessment Template).

Share the Responsibility

AWS certifies a subset of their services for HIPAA compliance. This includes restrictions on how these services are used, and requires that you enter into a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with AWS. This agreement establishes the legal relationship needed to handle ePHI, and ensures that you’ll be notified in the unlikely event that there is a data breach.

When you sign a BAA, you enter into a shared responsibility model with AWS to protect ePHI. AWS largely covers physical security for their facilities and networks. You can view their SOC audit results on request. You own the security for your applications and anything else from the OS on up. For example, if you use Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances, it’s your responsibility to keep those instances patched.

AWS occasionally adds new services to their HIPAA-certified services, so you’ll want to check occasionally to see if there are new services you might be able to take advantage of.

Draw a Bright Line Around Your ePHI

At any time, you should be able to quickly say exactly which parts of your system (which servers, which network segments, which databases, which services) have or store ePHI. These systems are inside your bright line defense perimeter, are subject to HIPAA regulations including breach notifications. That means if you lose data on one of these systems, you need to notify your patients (or if you are a Business Associate, notify the Covered Entity so that they can notify the patients).

EC2, Simple Storage System (S3), Elastic Load Balancing (ELB), when used in accordance with guidelines can be HIPAA compliant. Make sure you read the guidelines – there are usually certain restrictions on usage in order to be covered. Many of AWS’ platform-as-a-service offerings are currently not offered under the AWS HIPAA umbrella (for example Kinesis and Lambda). You can still use these services, just not with ePHI.

Many modern systems designs make use of 3rd party framworks and SaaS offerings for things like analytics, monitoring, customer support, etc. When you are holding and conveying ePHI, you will need to be careful about which dependencies you take. For example, in one of our recent product updates we were considering using an external web & mobile analytics platform to better understand our traffic patterns. We walked through our use cases and decided that while none of them required us to send any ePHI to the analytics platform, the risk of accidentally sending some piece of protected data was too high. So we came up with a different plan that allowed us to keep PHI within our safe boundary and under our direct control. Many of your decisions will be grey-area tradeoffs like this.

Secure at Rest and Over the Wire

This is often the first question we see on any healthcare IT security review. How do you protect data at rest and over the wire? Use strong SSL certs with robust SSL termination implementations like ELB. If you terminate your own SSL connections, they need to be well patched due to evolving threats like Heartbleed, POODLE, etc. You may choose to do further application-level encryption in addition to SSL, but SSL should usually be sufficient to satisfy the over-the-wire encryption requirements.

For at-rest storage, there are many options (symmetric/asymmetric) that will depend on what you are trying to do. As a baseline, AWS makes it incredibly easy to encrypt data with AES-256 both in S3 or in the Elastic Block Store (EBS) drives attached to your EC2 instances. There’s almost no reason not to use this, even if you are using additional encryption in other layers of your architecture. AES-256 is usually the “right answer” for IT reviews. Don’t use smaller keys, don’t use outdated algorithms, and especially never try to roll your own encryption.

Good guidance in this area is easy to find:

Logging and Auditing

A key HIPAA requirement is being able to track who accessed and changed patient records and verify the validity of a record. Even if you don’t make this available through a user interface, you need to log these actions and be able to produce a report in the case of an audit or a breach. Keeping these logs in encrypted storage in S3 is a good way to do this. You’ll want to restrict who has access to read/write these audit logs as well.

In addition to automatic audit trails generated by your application-level software systems, remember to carefully keep track of business-process events like granting someone access to a system or revoking access. AWS CloudTrail can help track system changes made to AWS resources like servers, S3 buckets, etc.

Authentication

All healthcare applications will need a way to identify their users and what permissions those users have. HIPAA is not specific about authentication systems beyond being “reasonable and appropriate” (164.308(a)(5)(ii)(D)), but does require that you have good policies in place for this. Here you should follow well-established security best practices.

For starters, you should try not to build your own authentication system. In purpose-built systems, you may be able to integrate into an existing authentication system using oAuth, or SAML (or maybe something more exotic if you’re plugging into some legacy healthcare application). In patient-facing applications, you may be able to integrate with a patient portal for credentials – this is something that will probably show up on your requirements list at some point anyway. If neither of these apply, you may be able to use another identity provider like AWS’ Identity and Access Management (IAM) system to manage user credentials. We briefly tried using consumer-facing oAuth using Facebook, but quickly found that consumers are (rightly) worried about privacy and chose not to use this method.

If you find that you need to build an authentication system, be sure to follow current best practices on things like how to store passwords securely, as well as other tricky areas like password resets.

Since Wellpepper is often deployed standalone before being integrated into other back-end systems, we offer a built-in username + password authentication system. One silver lining to building this ourselves is the ability to build meaningful password complexity rules, especially for patients. Some of the traditional healthcare systems have truly draconian rules that are not only user un-friendly, but actively user-hostile. Thankfully, the best practices in this area are changing. Even the draft NIST password recommendations, updated in August 2016, trade some of the human-unfriendly parts of passwords (multiple character classes) for more easily memorable, but still secure ones (length). Also, consider the difference between health-system password requirements for clinicians with access to thousands of records and those for patients who only access a single record.

Once your users are authenticated, they will need to be authorized to access some set of resources. As with authentication, if you can delegate this responsibility to another established system, this is probably the best approach. If you are adding unique resources with unique access control rules, you will need to make sure that your authorization mechanisms are secure and auditable.

Conclusion

Creating a HIPAA-compliant service doesn’t have to be a big scary problem, but you do want to make sure you have your ducks in a row. If you’re reading this blog post (and hopefully others!), you’re off to a good start. Here are some additional resources that we found handy:

Posted in: Data Protection, Health Regulations, Healthcare Policy, Healthcare Technology, Uncategorized

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