Trick or Treating for State Healthcare Innovation Treats

When I was a wee lad, I loved to go trick or treating each Halloween. Nothing was better then dressing up in a great costume and walking door-to-door to get my plastic orange pumpkin filled up with candy. My favorite was those little root beer barrel hard candies … YUMMY!

I think my best costume was the year I went out dressed as Elvis. Imagine a 12 year old dressed as Vegas Elvis, with the white jumpsuit, big lapels and the mutton chop sideburns. I got alot of root beer barrels that year. This year I went to the 27th Annual NASHP Conference in Atlanta dressed as a confused IBM Executive.

As part of my role in IBM Smarter Care, I have recently been focused on understanding the government healthcare transformation strategies of the US States in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.

What a better place to get the goodies then the NASHP Conference. The event attracts a “who’s who” of state healthcare policy people who also drive the content and focus of the conference. I may have gone confused but came back armed with answers (my treats).

My plastic pumpkin was filled with goodies by the end of the pre-conference on the first day. The best treat (for me) was the keynote delivered by Dr. Elizabeth H. Bradley from Yale University. Her keynote was based on her new book The American Health Care Paradox: Why Spending More is Getting Us Less. Her point of view asserts that when you combine social services spending with healthcare spending you can achieve more. Our archaic division of health and social services, and our allergy to government programs, is hurting us. The book offers a unique and fresh perspective on the problems the Affordable Care Act won’t solve.

There were other treats as well. The pre-conference on care coordination was led by NASHP Program Manager, Dr. Barbara Wirth. It featured an all-star line-up of state executives sharing how they were using CMS Innovation Funding to improve state healthcare outcomes on behavioral health, infant mortality, long-term care and supporting services using care models such as Patient Centered Medical Homes, Health Homes and more.

The one treat that I really wanted … I didn’t get (and it wasn’t root beer barrels).  It was an understanding of the technology being used to help achieve the outcomes being cited in the sessions. Software is essential to enabling care models where patients are crossing care settlings, caregivers, locations and even care programs. There is no way this can be done economically using the good old fashioned way of paper, folders, faxes and phone calls.

Realistically, it’s too early for many of these new programs to expect a lot of detail on this. On the other hand, the omission(s) makes me scared (get the pun) that this may not be on the radar screen of those making policy decisions … and those responsible for rolling out these innovative programs.

Healthcare reform is not just about innovative payment models, policy design and care delivery models. It must also include innovative technology to deliver on the promise of consistent quality, scalable delivery and affordable care. The use of big data (not just EMRs), analytics and care coordination software all help enable the benefits Dr. Bradley spoke about where social programs and healthcare come together to enable better outcomes at lower costs. Dynamically linking these technologies to health policy is where innovation can and will happen. Not linking them may cause your programs end-up like an old Haunted House where dust and cobwebs cover up ghoulish and ghastly looking programs (ok, really sorry for the pun).

Maybe next year I’ll pull out my Elvis costume when I go to NASHP in Dallas (October 19-21, 2015) even though I know it’s far too small for me.

In the mean time, I’ll urge NASHP to push this technology agenda, along with all of those implementing reform through government healthcare transformation. Start thinking and planning for the technology that will power your initiative now.

For me, Halloween comes twice this year. The IBM Health and Social Programs Summit is being held October 20-21st in Washington, DC. This event convenes a global network of thought leaders, industry experts and practitioners to discuss industry trends and directions, and compare best practices and leading technology innovations in the fields of Health and Social Programs. I will be speaking, as will Dr. Barbara Wirth from NASHP, along with The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy, Dr. Paul Grundy, Dr. Stephen Morgan and many more. I hope to see you there … and bring some root beer barrels!  There will be plenty of treats for you too.

Amputations or Analytics … a Call to Action for Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Alike!

Doctor George Shearer practiced medicine in central Pennsylvania from 1825 to 1878 (in the Dillsburg area). He was a pillar of the community and is believed to have been an active surgeon during the Civil War. He was 61 at the time of the Gettysburg battle.

According to the National Library of Medicine, the exact number is not known, but approximately 60,000 surgeries, about three quarters of all of the operations performed during the Civil War, were amputations. Although seemingly drastic, the operation was intended to prevent deadly complications such as gangrene. There were no anti-biotics during this era.

Back then, amputation was the recommended treatment for major injuries, such as damage from gunshots or cannonballs. These amputations were performed with a handsaw, like the one Doctor Shearer used (shown below). During the war, surgeons prided themselves in the speed at which they could operate, some claiming to be able to remove a leg in under one minute. Ouch! Literally!

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(Photo: Doctor George Shearer’s Actual Surgical Kit)

Keep in mind that local anesthetics were not invented until the 1880s and many procedures were performed without ether or chloroform … the only real anesthetics during the era.

In 1861, this was the best standard of care for those injuries. I think we can reasonably conclude that better treatment options (and outcomes) exist today.

Recently, The Mayo Clinic published an eye-opening report entitled, A Decade of Reversal: An Analysis of 146 Contradicted Medical Practices. The report focuses on a published medical practices and how effective they are. Things must have improved since 1861 … right?

The report examines published articles in prominent medical journals of new and established medical practices (such as a treatment guidelines or therapies), over a recent 10 year period (2001-2010). 2044 medical practice articles were reviewed. The findings are fascinating but one section of the report jumped off the page at me. Of the 363 articles that tested an existing standard of care, 40.2% reversed the original standard of care … and only 38.0% reaffirmed the original standard of care. The rest were inconclusive.

In other words, (in this case study) the current published medical standards of care are wrong MORE then often then they are correct. Wow!

I do feel obligated to point out that this is a very limited slice of the overall published standards of care … but still. It is just me … or is this mind-blowing!

I am not talking about gulping down some Jack Daniels so I don’t feel my leg being sawed off. This is researched and tested medical standards of care within the last 13 years. And yet … over 40% of the time, it’s WRONG. In fairness I should point out that they were right 38% of the time. No wonder the US Healthcare system checks in as the 37th best worldwide despite outspending everyone else by a huge margin (per capita).

It’s 150 years later, has the standard of care improved enough? We may not be sawing legs off at the same rate these days, but maybe it’s time for a new approach. Why are other industries so much farther ahead in leveraging their data with analytics to improve quality, reduce costs and improve outcomes? What could be more important then saving life and limb?

Years of data have been piling up in electronic medical records systems. Genomics is not new anymore. Isn’t it about time we brought analytics to this set of opportunities?

Some leading organizations already are … innovative solutions and companies are popping up to meet this opportunity. Entrepreneurs like Scott Megill, co-founder and CEO of Coriell Life Sciences, is a great example. Coriell Life Sciences is an offshoot of the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, a 60-year-old non-profit research organization. In 2007, the Institute launched an effort to bring genomic information to bear on health management. Coriell Life Sciences was established to commercialize the results of that research. Vast amounts of genetic information about individual patients has been available for a number of years, but it has been difficult to get at and expensive. “This company bridges the gap,” said Dr. Michael Christman, the Institute’s CEO.

Coriell’s approach is so innovative, they recently walked away with the coveted “IBM Entrepreneur of the Year” award.

Intrapreneurs at IBM have been busy commercializing the breakthrough innovation, IBM Watson – that originally debuted on Jeopardy! in 2011. Watson is based on a cognitive computing model.

Grabbing a few less headlines is IBM Patient Similarity Analytics, which uses traditional data driven predictive analysis combined with new similarity algorithms and new visualization techniques to identify personalized patient intervention opportunities (that were not previously possible).

These are a couple of obvious examples for me, but in reality we are just at the beginning of leveraging big data. New analytics and visualization tools must become the “handsaw” of today. We need these tools to be at the root of today’s modern standards of care.   If Dr. Shearer were alive today, you can bet his old surgical kit would be on the shelf, having been replaced by analytics that he could bring to the point of care.

For many Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs, the journey is just beginning, but there is a long way to go. A 2011 McKinsey report estimated that the healthcare industry can realize as much as $300 billion in annual value through analytics. Yowza!

What are you waiting for?

As always, leave my your thoughts below.

How Do Data Loopholes Slow Down the Treatment of Breast Cancer?

Considering it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the timing of this post is hopefully helping a very important cause.  For reasons I won’t go into here, I’ve recently become more familiar with breast cancer then I would have otherwise.  When confronted with a new topic of interest, it’s my nature to dig in and learn everything I can about it.

The National Cancer Institute provides a wealth of information on breast cancer but being a “software guy” … the way a mammogram results combined with a clinical breast exam can detect early signs of cancer stood out to me as an important information issue.

I began to wonder where that information was captured and stored (after the test and examination) … and how it was ultimately used in follow-up care with the patient.  I didn’t expect to learn what I did.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) has established a uniform way for radiologists to describe mammogram findings.  The system is called BI-RADS and includes standardized structured codes or values.  Each BI-RADS code has a follow-up plan associated with it to help radiologists and other physicians manage a patient’s care.  These values are often used to trigger notifications of the findings or other follow-up steps.  This makes perfect sense to me except there is a (big data loophole) problem.

The BI-RAD findings (or values) are typically found on a text based report … or determined by the examining physician.  They are then captured or manually transcribed in the EMR as free text notes that are added to the medical record as text … unstructured data living in a structured data environment.  This is the loophole!  It’s technically there but not able to be used.

Sometimes this step can be missed completely and the results are not put into the EMR system at all (human error) … or, more likely, the BI-RAD value is not transcribed in the right place as a structured data field.  There are just two of the reasons reasons this loophole can be caused.

You may not be aware, but an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system is generally optimized for structured data.  Most EMRs don’t leverage text based unstructured data (test results, physician notes, observations, findings, etc.) in ways that they could.  It’s a known weakness of many of today’s EMR systems.

To net this out … it’s entirely possible that cancer is detected using the BI-RADS value but the information does not find it’s way into the right place in the EMR system because it’s text based and the EMR cannot recognize it.  This EMR system limitation has no way of determining what the text based information is, or how to use it.

The impact of this is staggering.  Let’s think about this in terms of timely follow-up on cancer detection.  A system that is not able to use the BI-RAD value could mean patients are not being followed-up on properly (or at all) – even though they are diagnosed with breast cancer.  Yes, this  can actually happen if the value is buried in the text and not being used by the EMR.  The unstructured data loophole is a big deal!

Don’t take my word for it.  University of North Carolina Health Care (UNCH) has announced new findings from mining clinical data to improve the accuracy of its 2012 Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) measures, achieving double digit quality improvements in the areas of mammogram, colon cancer and pneumonia screening.  They are taking steps to close data loopholes.

The new findings indicate mammogram values are present in structured data 52% of the time … and present in unstructured data 48% of the time.  Almost half the time the unstructured data is not presented with the rest of the structured data.  Ouch, that’s a big data loophole.

The new findings also indicate CRC screening (colon cancer) values are present in structured data just 17% of the time … and present in unstructured data 83% of the time.  As a man of a certain age, this scares me in words that can’t be published.  Another big data loophole.

Thankfully leading organizations like UNCH are closing these data loopholes today with solutions that understand unstructured data and can “structure it” for use in EMR systems … pasted from an IBM press release dated today:

Timely Follow-up of Abnormal Cancer Screening Results:  Follow-up care for patients with abnormal tests is often delayed because the results are buried in electronic medical records.  Using IBM Content Analytics, UNCHC can extract abnormal results from cancer screening reports such as mammograms and colonoscopies and store the results as structured data.  The structured results are used to generate alerts immediately for physicians to proactively follow-up with patients that have abnormal cancer screening results.

This is an example of what IBM calls Smarter Care … where advanced analytics and cognitive computing can enable more holistic approach to individuals’ care, and can lead to an evolution in care delivery, with the potential for more effective outcomes and lower costs.  If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, an ounce of perspective extracted from a ton of data is priceless in potential savings.  IBM Content Analytics is part of the IBM Patient Care and Insights solution suite.

I’ve written several previous blogs on related topics that you might find interesting:

I am also speaking at the PCPCC Annual Fall Conference next Monday October 14th at 10am and will be discussing Smarter Care, UNCH’s findings and more.  Hope to see you there.

As always, leave me your feedback, questions and suggestions.

Healthcare Data is the New Oil: Delivering Smarter Care with Advanced Analytics

It has been said that “data” is the new “oil” of the 21st century.  That is certainly true in healthcare where a unique opportunity exists to leverage data – as fuel for better health outcomes.  Everything that happens with our health is documented … initially this was on paper … and more recently, in the form of electronic medical records.

Despite billions of incentive dollars being dolled out by the federal government to purchase Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems and use in meaningful ways, there continues to be significant dissatisfaction with these systems.

In a recent Black Book Rankings survey, 80% surveyed claim their EMR solution does not meet the practice’s individual needs.  This is consistent with my own observations, where many express frustration that “the information goes in … but rarely, if ever, comes out”.

If the information never comes out, or it’s too hard to access, are we really maximizing its value?

It all boils down to our ability to leverage years and years of longitudinal patient population data to surface currently hidden insights … and put those insights to work to improve care.

It’s incredibly powerful to combine years of clinical patient population data (longitudinal patient histories) with other types of data such as social and lifestyle factors to surface new trends, patterns, anomalies and deviations.  These complex medical relationships (or context) trapped in the data are the key to identifying new ways to achieve better health outcomes.  Some organizations are already empowering physicians with these new insights.

Context can be critical in a lot of situations—but in healthcare, especially, it can be the difference between preventing a hospital readmission or not. It’s not enough, for example, to know that a patient has diabetes and smokes a pack of cigarettes each week. These factors are only part of the whole picture. Does she live on her own, with family or in a care facility? Does she have a knee injury that prevents her from an active exercise program? Has she been treated for any other illnesses recently? Did she experience a recent life-changing event, such as moving homes, getting a new job or having a baby? Is she able to cook meals for herself, does she rely on someone else to cook, or does she frequent cafeterias, restaurants or take-out windows?

All of these things and more can—and should—influence a patient’s care plan, because these are the factors that help determine which treatments will be most successful for each individual. And as our population grows and ages, a greater focus on individual wellness and increasing economic pressures are forcing providers, insurers, individuals and government agencies to find new ways to optimize healthcare outcomes while controlling costs.
Today’s data-driven healthcare environment provides the raw materials (or “oil”) to fuel this kind of personalized care, and make it cost-effective as well. But it takes savvy analysis to turn that data into the kind of reports and recommendations providers, patients and communities need to make informed decisions.

The good news: IBM is uniquely positioned to help organizations and individuals achieve these goals. The IBM® Smarter Care initiative draws on a comprehensive portfolio of advanced IBM technologies and services to help generate new patient insights that can improve the quality of care; facilitate collaboration among organizations, patients, government agencies and other groups; and promote wellness through a range of public health and social programs.

IBM Patient Care and Insights is a key component of the Smarter Care initiative. By incorporating advanced analytics with care management capabilities, Patient Care and Insights can produce valuable insights and enable holistic, individualized care.

Advanced analytics: Leading the way to Smarter Care

Several leading healthcare organizations are already on the path to Smarter Care and demonstrating the real-world benefits of advanced analytics from IBM. For example, in St. Louis, Missouri, BJC HealthCare—one of the largest nonprofit healthcare systems in the United States—is using natural language processing (NLP) and content analytics capabilities from IBM to extract information from patient records that are valuable for clinical research. By tapping into unstructured data, such as text-based doctors notes, BJC HealthCare is surfacing important social factors, demographic information and behavioral patterns that would otherwise be hidden from researchers.

BJC HealthCare is also using IBM technologies to reduce hospital readmissions for chronic heart failure (CHF). The organization is analyzing clinical data such as ejection fraction metrics (which represent the volume of blood pumped out of the heart with each beat) to better predict which patients are most likely to be readmitted. These insights enable providers to implement tailored interventions that can avoid some readmissions.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) Health Care is using Patient Care and Insights for three new pilot projects. First, UNC is employing NLP and content analytics on free-text clinical notes to discover predictors of hospital readmission, identifying patients at risk and improving pre-admission prediction models.

UNC is also using IBM technology to empower patients. IBM NLP technology is helping to transform clinical data contained electronic medical records (EMRs) into a format that can be presented to patients through an easy-to-use portal. Streamlined access to information will help patients make more informed decisions and encourage deeper participation in their own care.

Finally, UNC is using NLP to help generate alerts and reminders for physicians. With NLP, the organization is extracting key unstructured data from EMRs, such as abnormal cancer test results, and then storing this data in a structured form within a data warehouse. The structured data can then be used to produce alerts for prompt follow-up care.

This is just the beginning. As organizations continue to launch new projects that capitalize on advanced analytics, case management and other technologies from IBM, we expect to see some very innovative approaches to delivering Smarter Care.

Learn more about IBM Smarter Care by visiting:

ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/smarter_care/overview/

For more about IBM Patient Care and Insights, visit:

ibm.com/software/ecm/patient-care/

As always, share your comments or questions below.