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January-19-2012

18:48
You may have seen it on the national news. The past few days, much of Western Washington state has been slammed by a series of snow and ice storms.  The snow (one to two feet in some areas) was bad enough.  Today a very unusual ice storm is...(read more)

January-17-2012

10:49
On our newest episode of Microsoft Health Tech Today , we connect with a prominent physician educator at  University College London .  Professor Peter Hindmarsh is affiliated with University College London’s developmental endocrinology research...(read more)

January-13-2012

13:38
This week I’ve been in Las Vegas. I traveled here to meet with Microsoft customers and partners at a CES side event called LEAP at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.  I also did a presentation on health industry tech trends for the UnitedHealth Group in their...(read more)

January-10-2012

17:28
I wanted to pass along this important announcement about the call for nominations for the annual Microsoft Health Users Group (Microsoft HUG) Awards.  Please see below for full details. Call for Nominations It’s that time of year again for the members...(read more)

January-9-2012

10:14
Last Thursday and Friday I traveled to New York City to participate in an event organized by Virginia Mason Medical Center (VMMC) in Seattle.  The CEO Health Care Summit, held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel , drew together a select group of business...(read more)

January-4-2012

9:35
There was a time when telemedicine services could only be provided by very large clinics, academic medical centers or government health organizations.  Telemedicine required big bulky equipment and expensive dedicated landlines or satellite connections...(read more)
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MedTech and Devices

Medical Connectivity

January-4-2012

12:37

I received several items in my email regarding different organizations’ proclamations for 2012.  Most of them predict that 2012 will be the year for mHealth to ‘break-out.’  Here are 5 examples:

  1. HIMSS 2012 is focusing on mHealth with several sessions and will have a kiosk on the vendor floor which features speakers on the mobile aspect of healthcare
  2. AAMI has published in their IT World column a synopsis of mHealth (requires login credentials)
  3. Here in Europe, the Mobile World Congress, Barcelona Feb 2012, sponsored by the GSM Association, has a track devoted to mHealth (filter for Mobile Health), a day of demonstrations and a specific plan on embedded mobile medical functionality.
  4. Additionally, the FDA has come out with draft guidance and has promised final guidance regarding mobile medical apps.  The European Commission has entered into an MOU with the HHS to work together on the regulatory aspects of healthcare.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out with similar regulatory guidance regarding mHealth as that promulgated by the FDA.
  5. Lastly, from a market perspective, “The mobile health market has a year-over-year growth rate of around 17% since 2010 and is estimated to be worth $2.1 billion at the end of 2011. The report also said the mobile health market is expected to grow …. nearly 22% from 2012 to 2014.”

One might ask, what is mHealth?  It has many different definitions and from a product offering perspective could range from texting information on a mobile phone to a provider and/or specifying a provider geographical location to a patient to bi-directional interaction with a medical device to/from an electronic medical record application via mobile phone or telecommunications frequencies (or the medical device could be embedded with the mobile telecommunication appliance).  As with the traditional Healthcare industry, as one progresses up the interaction functionality chain, the design and interoperability gets more complex.  Most of the latest news items I read about successful mHealth applications describe the ‘easier’ applications:  texting, scheduling, location, etc.  There is still growth and development in the marketplace for interactive medical-device integrated/connected products.  Additionally, from a market perspective, most of the current product offerings are proprietary in nature and vertically integrated.

Mobile telecommunication vendors are keenly interested in providing for the healthcare market.  They are closely watching as well as working to influence the regulatory environment.  From a provider perspective, this means adding another large player to the mix.  You may already provide some internal mobile telecommunications support, but providing healthcare monitoring over that infrastructure changes the rules of the game.  In addition, the mobile telecommunications market plays to the consumer market, which has faster turnaround times, and higher customer expectations.  The consumer market expects the ability to smoothly transition service when changing a ‘product provider.’  In addition, with social media, the pressures are higher; witness the recent policy and product turnaround of Verizon to a charge for customers using a specific billing mechanism.  The healthcare provider is not used to this type of oversight or pressure yet.

Down in the healthcare provider trenches, testing remote monitoring and the use of mobile telecommunications offerings continues.  Here in Europe there are two larger projects that are interested in demonstrating the efficacy of remote monitoring.  One, the Whole System Demonstrator based in England and their National Health System (NHS),  has just published its preliminary results.  Another, Renewing Health, is based on a nine European country pilot for remote monitoring of chronic diseases. In the case of the Whole System Demonstrator, initial results have been very positive for the clinical outcomes regarding the use of remote monitoring models for chronic disease management with a “15% reduction in A&E visits, a 20% reduction in emergency admissions, a 14% reduction in elective admissions, a 14% reduction in bed days and an 8% reduction in tariff costs” along with a “45% reduction in mortality rates.”

Renewing Health is still in its trial period, however, the initial technical results have been published.  A basic summary of the technical aspects of the nine solutions follows:

  1. All pilots sites used proprietary solutions,
  2. The most widely used standards were protocol and telecommunication standards, but even with some of those standards, there were issues with product development and rol-lout.  This has resulted in some technology system re-design as well increased expenditure on patient education.
  3. Moreover, the market has dealt some variables, by either not continuing distribution of a mobile phone model or changing the implementation of a medical device transport protocol.  Additionally, intermittent wireless coverage and/or limited bandwidth for a teleconferencing function have led to design changes or required infrastructure upgrades.
  4. The market has a dearth of standards-based products for purchase.  In Europe this is complicated by language requirements (most of the countries have healthcare systems which specify that products be purchased which have markings and documentation in their national language – this is for ease of use as well as cultural preservation goals).
  5. Another big issue is system ergonomics with respect to patient cohort.  Mobile phones with small screens and small input interfaces (small mobile phone keyboards) don’t work well with more elderly patients.

This project will be ongoing until 2013 and at the end the results are hoped to strengthen the hypothesis that well designed remote monitoring programs for chronic disease management is as or more effective than care delivered in the traditional manner.  There should also be some interesting results from a technical perspective.  The market is slowly moving towards providing more standards-based products, however, for the purposes of this project, timing did not allow more adoption of those types of products.

So, with all of the activity described above what should healthcare providers do?  I suggest the following:

  1. Keep current on the mobile telecommunications arena both in product offerings and regulatory oversight.  With the MDDS and the draft mobile medical apps guidance, the FDA has signaled they will be interested in regulating some aspects of healthcare delivery.   If you as a healthcare provider adopt mHealth solutions, this will increase the complexity of providing and servicing/maintaining healthcare products from the provider.  You control your enterprise, but as the information goes outside the enterprise to the shared infrastructures, you lose that control.  Therefore, you may not be able to guarantee the types of performance or response that may be the norm within your enterprise.  Agreements with the third party infrastructure entities will become paramount to ensure good performance and in the end good relationships with your customers:  the patients and clinicians.  Moreover, in light of the recent FDA guidance, understanding the infrastructure path of your mHealth solutions so that you meet any regulatory burden will become even more important as you embark outside of your enterprise.
  2. Consider specifying standards for data and communication across each interface (example: Continua Guidelines, IHE-PCD) in your acquisition documents.  As with traditional medical device connectivity in your enterprise, the more you can decouple the medical device choice from the other parts of a connectivity solution, the more flexibility you have to make decisions based on the quality of the different parts of the system.  In the future, this may avert having to redesign, augment and/or replace the whole system from medical device to electronic medical record application due to a technology refresh of one of the manufacturers in the system.
  3. Providers are under a lot of pressure to control healthcare costs in all parts of the world.  As remote monitoring pilot results become more prevalent, it will be expected that providers adopt some of these mobile health solutions.  Timing of your adoption will become very important as this is a fast moving train.  The product cycles for mHealth can be 6 months to 1 year.  This is much faster than your usual IT infrastructure refresh cycle which is already faster than your medical device/technology refresh cycle.  Although many of the traditional medical device companies are migrating to a software based solution and a refresh cycle similar to that in the IT industry, they may not be as ready for the mHealth refresh frequency cycle.  This may slow down in the US and Europe due to more regulatory oversight, however, the development outside those areas of the world does not have as much regulatory oversight, so some of the more interesting products may be developed outside of the geographical areas we’ve become accustomed to in the US and Europe.  If you have a ‘wandering clinician’ or patient, they may be the one who introduces or demands a specific functionality to your enterprise from their wanderings.
  4. If your mHealth solution implementation is successful, be prepared to expand.  It is estimated that 80% of healthcare costs are borne by 20% of the population and most of this is due to the management of chronic diseases.    Remember, as with most endeavors, more is demanded of you once you succeed.

So is 2012 the year of mHealth?  Perhaps.  If anything, it will be another exciting year for mobile technology and the convergence of the consumer and healthcare industries.  It will be bumpy, but in the end, it should be better for the consumer who usually also happens to be the patient.

Bridget A. Moorman, CCE, is president of BMoorman Consulting, LLC, providing consulting to healthcare providers, standards promulgation organizations and medical device and information technology companies regarding their medical device integration strategies.  She can be reached via email  or at her website.

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December-18-2011

15:15

A recent Class I recall (not pictured) of a medical monitor with a hospital network connected central station stimulates some generalities about software, “fixes”, and connectivity. (Class I recalls are defined by the FDA as  a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.)

The use of the product in question was given as:

  • a networked solution system used to monitor a patient’s vital signs and therapy, control alarms, review Web-based diagnostic images, and access patient records. The number of monitored vital signs can be increased or decreased based on the patient’s needs

Curiously only one customer was identified as having received the product, or at least this particular version of the product. While the manufacturer and product in question is a matter of public record, and available at the link, I chose not to include it here because my objective is not to repeat the recall information, but to suggest the reasons for the recall, an associated labeling issue, and offer some general lessons.

The reason given for the recall had two seemingly separate parts. The first is that “The weight-based drug dosage calculation may indicate incorrect recommended values, including a drug dosage up to ten times the indicated dosage”. This sounds like a software problem yet the fix was not to “upgrade” the software but to suggest a workaround. (I love the term upgrade to when applied to fixing something that doesn’t actually work!)  According to the FDA the firm’s letter stated that “users should enter the patient’s weight by way of the admin/demographics screen to ensure the drug dosage is calculated as intended.” (I did not find the firm’s letter on its website, but it might be one of those hidden page situations since I did find, with a struggle, two other recalls, though using the search term “recall” produced no results). Again speculating, the workaround sounds like a user dependent way to do something that was supposed to happen automatically. At least part of the value of automation is largely diminished, and opportunities for use error increased, when such additional demands are placed on the user.

The second reason given for the recall was that there may be a 5-10 second delay between the electrocardiogram and blood pressure curves (waveforms) at the central station.   This is an interesting technical issue that may be related to software and/or communication protocols. In either case it illustrates that multiple data streams may only be useful if they are properly timed stamped, and then properly aligned at the receiver. Out-of-sync data when subsequently processed either by eye, or automatically, can give erroneous and misleading results that might appear to be correct, i.e. the results could be in the category of erroneous but believable.

For one or both reasons the FDA found that, “This product may cause serious adverse health consequences, including death.” Yet it should be noted that this was a voluntary recall, as most recalls are, despite the fact that people who surely know better reported this as “FDA recalls…”

The FDA announcement goes on to say that the company pointed out that the instructions for use state that: ”For primary monitoring and diagnosis of bedside patients, use the bedside monitor. Use the…Central Station only for remote assessment of a patient’s status.” This sentence seems to be illustrative of the fundamental problem of remote information receivers and integrators that carry a disclaimer that in sum says that you shouldn’t rely on them. But isn’t the ability to rely on it exactly why you bought it? Moreover, promotional materials available on the web do not appear to echo this disclaimer. For example it is stated that ”Applications…enhance patient care management by providing rapid assessment, decision support and clinical reporting.” Does that sound like it isn’t for primary diagnosis? Or does “Data accessible from the…Central Station includes real-time waveforms” sound like those waveforms shouldn’t be used for primary monitoring? For one more example it is said that “arrhythmia events are detected with an unprecedented degree of accuracy.” Accuracy is certainly a good thing, but detecting arrhythmias at the central station when only the beside monitor is to be used for “primary monitoring and diagnosis” appears to be less than highly useful.

Furthermore the statement that the central station is only for remote assessment seems both definitional and contradictory. It is obviously for remote assessment–because it is a central station and thus remote! But then what does “assessment of the patient’s status” mean if not monitoring and diagnosis?

The disclaimer game has been addressed in these pages before. Here it seems to involve a product that is being marketed, sold and bought for exactly the reasons that the manufacturer is saying it shouldn’t be used. I didn’t spot the disclaimer language in any of the promotional materials, but maybe it is there somewhere.

So, we have here an apparent example of software driven miscalculations, network transported data that is not time synchornized, and a reminder not to use the central station for primary assessment. Important examples to remember as we charge ahead with software driven networked solutions.

[The products in the photo with this post above are not associated with the recall discussed, and are for illustrative purposes only.]

William Hyman is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He recently retired and has moved to New York City where he continues his professional activities.

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November-9-2011

18:57

The   issue of the EHR relative to safety and effectiveness has again made the news with the November 7, 2011 pre-publication (and downloadable) release of an Institute of Medicine report on EHR safety, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This report expands the discussion beyond the EHR (used henceforth for both EHR and EMR) to include other related electronic information tools collectively called health IT.

Health IT Risks

The potential for health IT to improve both the quality and efficiency of medical care has been much noted to include more complete and timely records, ready exchange of information between providers, clinical decision support, and in turn a reduction in errors associated with the quality and availability of patient information. Efficiencies may arise from electronic capture of data which would eliminate manual entry, and time savings in accessing and reviewing patient information, and perhaps in passing information to third party payers. Additional public health value might accrue from the enhanced searchability of electronic records with respects to trends, treatments and outcomes. These benefits assume well designed, user friendly, compatible systems not withstanding that the U.S. model is to allow for numerous independent products that may or may not be able to exchange information nor display it in a consistent manner. Not surprisingly the report notes that the IT imperative will likely not be fruitful without associated attention to the people and the clinical system they work in.

However there is also the potential for health IT to add to, rather then reduce complexity; misplace, lose or garble patient information, and to provide clinical decision support that is incorrect or unreliable. Thus health IT itself has risks that the IOM found have not yet been adequately addressed or monitored. The IOM also cites the lack of an effective health IT problem reporting system compounded by contractual language that may actually impede such reporting. In addition some vendors include disclaimers as to their responsibilities even for software defects and errors. The latter suggests the all purpose liability disclaimer language: “Notice-this product may be badly designed and therefore not suitable for its intended purpose.” Alternatively one could try: “Due to software defects the information in this EHR may or may not be complete and/or may not pertain to  the patient of interest. Do not use this information for medical treatment”. The value of such disclaimers will no doubt be tested.

Of course it is not only coding defects that can make heath IT less than effective. The well established issue of usability, or user friendliness, lives on, as does interoperability, training and workflow design. In this regard it might be noted that user friendly features such as pull down menus also facilitate quick but erroneous entries. Thus while an IT product might be theoretically capable of being used properly and effectively, whether it will achieve that goal in the real environment of use, when used by real people, is a separate matter. In this regard when faced with use issues and adverse events vendors will want to say that their product could have provided the correct functionality if only it had been used correctly–and don’t forget our disclaimer. The counter argument is that it was badly designed to the degree that “correct” use was predictably not likely to consistently occur. There are many anecdotes in this regard. A favorite of mine was an order entry system to which was added a physical sticky note on the monitor that read “Do not press Enter to Enter”.

Actual health IT hazards are at least in part separate from the questions of privacy, hacking and other mischief.

It must also be remembered that quantitative data (e.g. lab results and other medical device data), or reasonably well standardized data (e.g. images) are potentially much easier to capture, transmit and display than narrative information. The selection and arrangement of information on a display can also be a significant challenge with respect to density, utility and how many pages the clinician has to look at to get all the information needed–and you can’t spread those pages out. There is also a significant issue with the lack of standardization of “look and feel” factors. In this regard it must be remembered that clinicians of various types, working in multiple environments, might see multiple systems during even a single day. This is analogous to the reality of nurse use of infusion pumps. Ask the nurse if they know how to use an infusion pump and they will most likely say yes (and be insulted). But then ask them if they know how to use a particular infusion pump and they might say, no, I’ve never seen one of those before. In this regard a health IT application may be plug-and play, but that isn’t the same as plug-and-effectively-use.

IOM Report Recommendations

The report has several specific recommendations:

  • A comprehensive effort to asses safety and risk
  • Vendors should support the free exchange of information about health IT experiences and issues and not prohibit sharing of such information, including details (e.g., screenshots) related to patient safety
  • HHS should make comparative user experiences publicly available
  • A new Health IT Safety Council should be funded by HHS to evaluate criteria for assessing and monitoring the safe use of health IT and its ability to enhance safety
  • The registration and listing of products from all vendors
  • Specification of the quality and risk management process requirements that health IT vendors must adopt, with a particular focus on human factors, safety culture, and usability
  • Establishment of a mechanism for both vendors and users to report health IT related deaths, serious injuries, or unsafe conditions
  • Establishment of an independent federal entity for investigating patient safety deaths, serious injuries,or potentially unsafe conditions associated with health IT
  • Regular monitoring and reporting of health IT safety by HHS, and the FDA should be charged with developing applicable regulations
  • HHS should support usability research

Readers familiar with the FDA regulation of medical devices will recognize many of these items as standard fare. These include registration and listing, quality systems, and problem reporting. However since the FDA has not asserted that EHRs are medical devices, and the IOM elected not to make that specific recommendation.

Record-type health IT products remain in a regulatory vacuum–except with respect to acquisition funding subject to the meaningful use requirements. In this regard the report includes a dissenting statement from Richard Cook, MD (director of the Cognitive Technologies Laboratory at the University of Chicago) who asserts that health IT products should not only be declared to be medical devices, but that they should be Class III, the most stringently regulated device classification. In this regard he includes the following quote: “Medical and diagnostic devices have produced a therapeutic revolution, but in doing so they have also become more complex and less easily understood by those who use them. When well designed, well made, and properly used they support and lengthen life. If poorly designed, poorly made, and improperly used they can threaten and impair it.” While this quote could appear in nearly any one of the posts here, it actually dates to 1976 as part of President Gerald Ford’s signing statement for the Medical Device Amendments that ushered in the modern era of medical device regulation. While these amendments are often thought of as the beginning of  FDA medical device regulation, such regulation actually stems from the 1930′s. What did start in 1976 was before-marketing restraints as opposed to the FDA’s prior post market authority. (And no, 1976 is not ancient history. Some of us actually remember it.)

Health IT is caught in the corn maze of promise vs usability and hazards. With quality design and thoughtful implementation the exit may be found before nightfall. Without it someone is going to have to call 911.

William Hyman is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He recently retired and has moved to New York City where he continues his professional activities.

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October-27-2011

15:48

A recent NY Times article reported that hotel Wi-Fi capacity was again being challenged, this time by iPads and other tablets, or more specifically, tablet users.  The Times notes that these users may have a smart phone and laptop going at the same time they are sucking up streaming video. The high bandwidth demand of these devices, or more specifically, their uses,  is said to be reducing download speeds back to the good old days of dial-up connections. A likely solution will be a tiered charge structure, similar to the newest cellular data plans, with the result that you can waste bandwidth if you don’t care what it costs.  A more general report on current and future wireless demand versus capacity has been produced by the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California San Diego. A less foreboding report on medical uses of Wi-Fi has been produced by the Wi-Fi alliance.

Smart phones have a prior history of  overwhelming cell phone networks, such that in dense environments someone can’t make a phone call because too many other people are watching reality show reruns and bad movies. Now some cellular devices have been looking at switching to Wi-Fi when it is available, as explained here. This leads to the conflict ridden situation of cellular wanting to use Wi-Fi to solve its capacity problems at the same time that Wi-Fi is being over loaded by other devices.   Cellular resistant building structures, which are increasing, also can create a desire to shift to Wi-Fi.

Now think about hospitals. Tablets are surely making inroads here as well, along with smart phones and in house wireless VoIP. Medical devices are also increasingly wireless as has been noted in these pages before here and here. There is also the smart phone wireless app arena (which may or may not be regulated medical devices) as discussed here and here.

Certainly the public access side of a hospital’s wireless network can be limited and segregated. However prioritizing between multiple medical applications is far more challenging both clinically and technically. It must also be remembered of course that lost medical data or lack of clinical telephony can be life threatening, as opposed to merely annoying.

In this demanding arena few wireless medical systems are at least initially tested in a fully functioning environment. Yet there is a vast difference between whether the wireless capability (as well as the wired) is able to function when tested alone, and whether it is capable of functioning around the clock and throughout the year in an actual hospital when static and when roaming. In the latter case when roaming across access points, drop-outs may result in data loss and may not respond well when access is restored. While the link may recover critical information such as which patient is involved may not be available.

In addition it may be possible to add one wireless application today that works in the current environment, but which may not work when the next one or ten or 100 other wireless applications are added later, and perhaps not much later. In this regard vendor assurance, if ever fully believable, cannot be accepted outside the context of the wireless system and devices  currently deployed. (By way of bad analogy, such an assurance are like a car salesperson telling you that with this car you won’t have to worry about highway traffic.)

In this regard the effective hospital application has been summarized as requiring  ”assurance” which includes coverage, signal strength, capacity, and certainty. The “utility” analogy is often used here, i.e. the wireless service  should operate in the background and  be something I don’t ever have to think about, just give me more and more wireless devices and they will all play nicely together. (Those who have been through electrical blackouts and brownouts may have a different perspective than others on the reassurance provided by the utility analogy.)

It is clear that wireless and wired capacity have to both be actively controlled and monitored. Besides being totally logical, this is consistent with IEC 80001 (discussed here) which addresses hospital network risk management. This active control requires a centralized coordinator who has the authority, knowledge and system resources to not allow any new wireless application to be deployed without specific consent based on appropriately rigorous tests. There must also be complete  inventory of all approved wireless users so there is a record of who is using the system. New systems or upgrade designs must also take capacity seriously (see here for example).

Certainly wireless, using Wi-Fi or otherwise, offers advantages in health care, although perhaps not, wireless will need to be limited to those applications that really need it. In any case, capacity is a challenge that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Pictured above are Philips’ Intelliview Cableless Measurements wireless SpO2 sensors that use the same ISM band frequencies as Wi-Fi. This photo was taken at the Philips booth at HIMSS 2010 with their permission.

William Hyman is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He recently retired and has moved to New York City where he continues his professional activities.

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August-19-2011

16:08

Today I was contacted by a social media marketing firm working for a major MDDS vendor with an offer to contribute content that’s on topic for this site (that last part is important). I’m interested, and I imagine a lot of this blog’s readers will be too. As I will likely take them up on their offer, I want everyone to understand that there’s not any favoritism that plays into who gets to post on this site. So, the following describes the ground rules, the benefits of contributing, and issues an open invitation to contribute posts.

We’ve been fortunate to have a number of terrific contributing authors over the years, and some of them have written posts that continue to be popular to this day. On the About This Site page is a long standing open invitation to anyone who wants to climb up on the soap box and spout off contribute to the conversation about medical device connectivity. I’ve also made contributing author offers personally to many folks on both the provider and vendor sides of the table. There are so many people who have incredible knowledge and experience to share. And most of these people don’t have the time or inclination to create their own blog. Now you have an outlet.

Increasingly companies are adopting social media policies that establish ground rules for employees posting to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Besides benefiting your employer, contributing posts also benefits the writer personally with increased awareness and respect among your peers. Contributors also get an author’s bio like this one for current contributor, William Hyman:

William Hyman is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He recently retired and has moved to New York City where he continues his professional activities.

Writers that want to remain anonymous can do so, to a degree. You can be anonymous like the blogger Tim at HIStalk. He doesn’t disclose his identity on his site, but he is not legally anonymous. This means that you can chose to not disclose who you are (or your employer), but if I’m legally compelled to disclose your identity I will. Some employers will appreciate this kind of anonymity because there’s little chance the writer’s opinions will be associated with the employer. Of course many employers, especially the smart ones, will want that employee-employer association to be known so that all the insight and intelligence the contributor demonstrates in their posts will rub off on them!

In the connectivity segment of the market, there are a lot of new entrants and many established companies flying under the radar of broad market awareness. Contributing blog posts about your experience or perspective (nothing too commercial please) is a great way to establish credibility and get the word out. The most effective use of blogging is engaging in a long term conversation with your readers. Most of my consulting business comes from this blog, in addition to the usual word of mouth and repeat projects. You put your content out in the blog, and readers come back with questions and requests for help with problems, advice, referrals to fill new positions, you name it. And I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to meet people at customer sites or events who are readers of this blog.

Unlike a magazine article, press release or white paper, contributing to a blog is typically not a one shot deal. A series of blog posts that address a body of topics or frames an issue gets read when it’s published – and after that – via search engine queries (that’s why it’s important to identify and use the right key words in your blog posts). Ideally, potential contributors will look at this as an extended conversation, or at least a series of posts that will span several months, if not indefinitely. Individual contributions are welcome, but they will have to be particularly thought provoking, entertaining and/or informative.

Why contribute posts to this site? Well, the site gets about 300 unique visits per day (less on weekends) and has  hundreds of subscribers to the RSS feed (the funny orange square icon on the right). Readership is evenly split between providers and manufacturers. As a contributor you will get access to the sites statistics where you can see how many times your post is accessed and by who (or at least their IP address or domain name).

So, if you’re interested in contributing, let me know. And if you’re a reader, here’s your chance to leave some feedback – what would you like to read more or less of on this site?

As an aside, if you’re interested in the blogs and news sites that I read, keep an eye on the Connectologist’s Shared Items box in the right hand bar. This is a list of shared items from my Google Reader. If you’ve got a blog or news site to suggest to me or your fellow readers, leave it in a comment to this post.

[Flickr photo of Selma by Netzanette]

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August-17-2011

13:01

The fact that connectivity, and perhaps wireless connectivity in particular, allows for hacking for mischief, theft, politics, social protest and other forms and varying degrees of evil should surely come as no surprise. In turn, that a wireless medical device might be hackable should be somewhere on the mind of developers, users, and regulators. Thus the report from the recent Black Hat conference that someone hacked an insulin infusion pump, and in so doing was then able to alter its settings, should also not be particularly shocking, but should serve as yet another reminder, that security associated with connectivity has been and continues to be an issue, as was addressed by Tim back in 2006.

The report in this instance came from Jay Radcliffe who hacked his own insulin delivery equipment. In this instance the hacking avenue was the wireless remote that was part of the device. Perhaps the idea that a wireless remote could be emulated is even at the ultra low end of surprise.  More generally, the multiple discussions of this report (e.g. here and here) have suggested that the technology being used by at least some medical device manufacturers does not offer an adequate array of security safeguards. Or the manufacturers haven’t fully utilized what is available in terms of alternate hardware, or they havn’t fully utilized the security features that were available even in the hardware that they were using.

Not surprisingly medical device manufacturers have downplayed the risks of hacking. The manufacturer of the pump in question, Medtronic, responded through a diabetes oriented web site, but apparently not through an actual press release of its own. The responses included that Medtronic does take device security seriously (would you expect them to say otherwise?), and that no real-life events have ever reported. Of course a problem with the later is that stealth hacking, as opposed to announced hacking, could cause harm while going unreported. This is to not say they have, but only to note that “reported” is a limiting case.

Medtronic is quoted further as saying “Our job is to incorporate information security measures into our designs, vigilantly monitor potential threats and to always be proactively finding ways to make our devices more secure for you. That is what we have done and what we will continue to do.”

A curious post in response to this expected response from Medtronic was “Security violations are caused by sloppy implementation. The systems themselves are very secure.”  I’m not sure how much better that is supposed to make us feel. Equally curious was that this response referenced RSA as a security authority, with other posters then pointing out that RSA was itself hacked.

Hypothetically (that means I made up the following) assorted glitches and could-not-duplicate service events could be the result of hacking, i.e. if the hacker hacked, and then stopped hacking, whatever the effect of the hacking was could well stop also, and therefore be un-findable. Which reminds me of a hospital wireless interference anecdote I heard about bursts of interference, almost always during the night, and almost always for one or two minutes. The culprit was an old leaky microwave being used in quick mode. And why only at night? Because the cafeteria was closed then and therefore the microwave was a primary food resource.

The bottom line is that security is an ongoing issue that must be rigorously addressed by manufacturers, and in turn by the FDA who has to at least ask the what-have-you-done-about-connectivity-security, and insist on a firm answer. Further, I will ask the question that I asked about the challenges of hospital networking at an AAMI session last June in San Antonio. My question was, “Is the problem getting easier or harder?” The answer was a laugh.

[Thumbnail photo above (used with permission) shows the various sites used to inject insulin over a period of time - one month if I recall correctly. In the lower right corner is the Medtronic insulin pump dangling from a tube. - Ed.]

William Hyman is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He recently retired and has moved to New York City where he continues his professional activities.

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Neil Versel's Healthcare IT Blog

January-18-2012

18:31

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, or so the saying goes.

My controversial piece on Silicon Valley missing the point of healthcare last summer doesn’t seem so controversial now, as I recently got some validation from others closer to the action than I am. First, reDesign Mobile analyst Rocky Agrawal wrote in VentureBeat that Silicon Valley might be “too smart for their own good,” building products more suited for highly educated techies than for the masses. Last week, former Apple and PepsiCo CEO John Sculley suggested at the Digital Health Summit at 2012 International CES that technology for its own sake is rather useless if you don’t understand the market you’re targeting.

“”The thing that is missing is getting the people with the domain expertise aligned with the people with technological know-how to turn ideas into branded services,” Sculley said, as I report in InformationWeek Healthcare and in tomorrow’s MobiHealthNews.

After raking Rock Health over the coals in my commentary last summer, I offered qualified praise to the San Francisco-based investor/business accelerator for healthcare start-ups last month on this blog. “I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the 15 companies are aimed at either healthcare providers—an important constituency largely missing from the first Rock Health class—and on treatment of truly sick patients.” I wrote.

“I never thought I would say this, at least not before the end of 2011, but kudos to Rock Health for making a real effort to figure out the complex healthcare industry and to add some substance to what heretofore had been all style.”

Tomorrow, I am planning on attending the kickoff event for Healthbox, a similar healthcare business accelerator that differs from Rock Health in at least one key way: it is not in Silicon Valley, but right here in down-to-earth Chicago. Does that make a difference? Well, the kickoff isn’t at a hotel ballroom or Healthbox’s office, it’s in an artsy space called the Ivy Room, in the heart of River North, an area usually populated by more tourists than locals.

I sure hope I’m not in for an over-the-top extravaganza that will highlight cool, direct-to-consumer apps with a snowball’s chance of catching on with the entities that actually pay the bills for healthcare. I want to believe there’s something real here, which is why I’m giving up at least a couple hours of my time to see the presentations. Please tell me that Chicago isn’t becoming a Silicon Valley clone, but rather the hub of health IT innovation it could be.

For what it’s worth, here is the list of companies scheduled to present tomorrow: UnitedPreference, DermLink, SwipeSense (“a comprehensive hand-hygiene solution,” whatever that means, The Coupon Doc, CareWire, Iconic Data, PaJR-Patient Journey Record (helping hospitals avoid 30-day readmissions, potentially making it a Big Deal), CareHubs, Corengi (linking diabetics to clinical trials) and PUSH Wellness. I see real potential in at least four of those, possibly more.

 

Related posts:

  1. Join the discussion on substance vs. style in healthcare innovation
  2. Rock Health seems to be learning
  3. Someone else takes a swing at Silicon Valley hype


January-9-2012

0:31

Other locales may get more press in this industry,  but the Chicago area has a surprisingly strong community of health IT vendors.

It is well known that Allscripts is headquartered at the Merchandise Mart. GE Healthcare, while based just outside Milwaukee, maintains a large IT center in northwest suburban Barrington, Ill. CDW, based in Vernon Hills, Ill., runs its healthcare division from a downtown Chicago office. Numerous smaller vendors dot the area, too. And then there is Merge Healthcare, a medium-sized firm that historically has specialized in software for medical imaging.

Last week, I visited Merge’s home office in the Aon Center, an iconic skyscraper previously known as the Amoco Building and, before that, the Standard Oil Building. There, CEO Jeff Surges gave me a history of the company and talked about changes in the company and in the health IT field in general. Then, I turned on my video camera so Surges, sporting an orange necktie, could explain why Merge has adopted orange as its company color.

Following my interview with the CEO, Gilbert Gagné, also wearing an orange tie, gave me a demo of Merge iConnect Access, an image viewing system than works through any Web browser. I got the iPad portion of the demo on video, too.

I shot this in 720p high definition, but only uploaded it at 360p to save time. Let me know if you want HD so the iPad screen appears a little sharper.

Related posts:

  1. Merge Healthcare opens its code
  2. Video: Overview of mobile healthcare technologies
  3. Video: athenahealth’s Jonathan Bush at HIMSS11


December-30-2011

13:09

As I first mentioned in August, John Lynn and I had the thought that it would be great if Twitter co-founder and HIMSS12 keynote speaker Biz Stone would show up at John’s 3rd annual New Media Meetup. Stone didn’t respond to our halfhearted attempt back then, but now the conference is less than two months away, and I have to imagine he will be making his plans soon, if he hasn’t done so already.

HIMSS social media guru Cari McLean also would love for Stone to meet and greet conference attendees at the HIMSS Social Media Center after his keynote on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 21, per her tweet in response to one of mine:

@ Agreed! We are hoping @ also stops by the #HIMSS12 #SM Center for a meet and greet post his morning keynote. ^CM #BizatHIMSS12
@HIMSS
HIMSS

That means that now is the time to put social media to work to get Stone to make a couple of appearances. Stone’s Twitter handle is @Biz. Tweet away, using the hashtag #BizatHIMSS12 and perhaps add #hcsm (for healthcare social media). Blog about this effort. Post on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Plus. I may even make a YouTube video. Let’s impress Stone with the power of social media and get him to mingle with the masses in Las Vegas.

 

Related posts:

  1. Get Biz Stone to come to New Media Meetup at HIMSS12
  2. Twitter founder Biz Stone to speak at HIMSS12
  3. Confusion with HIMSS12


December-29-2011

18:51

Have you made your reservations for HIMSS12 yet? If you’re just starting to plan, you might not have noticed some quirks with the schedule and the venue this time around.

For one thing, the mega-health IT conference in Las Vegas is not at the massive Las Vegas Convention Center, but rather at the Sands Expo Convention Center and the adjacent Venetian hotel. Remember, the 2012 HIMSS conference was supposed to be in Chicago, but the organization switched it to Sin City a couple years ago after vendors complained about high costs at Chicago’s McCormick Place for HIMSS09. (The defection of HIMSS and one other large trade show actually prompted the Illinois General Assembly to legislate changes to some of the work rules at McCormick Place, after which HIMSS agreed to hold its 2015 and 2019 conferences there.)

The last-minute nature of the relocation is changing a lot of the dynamics.

I know that HIMSS has outgrown most of the convention centers in the country, to the point that only Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans and Orlando can accommodate it, but the Sands was a surprising choice. Believe it or not, the Sands-Venetian claims to be the third largest convention facility in the nation, with 1.8 million square feet of exhibition and meeting space. However, many exhibitors will be put in Hall G, on the lower level, a 380,000-square-foot space with just a 13.5-foot ceiling height. The upper halls have 32.5-foot ceilings, so I’m guessing the downstairs space is going to seem awfully claustrophobic.

(On the other hand, the Venetian is a lot more luxurious than your typical conference hotel. Plus, I once saw Chuck Norris and his brother playing craps there. He graciously did not injure me.)

Also, HIMSS12 ends on Friday, Feb. 24, instead of the usual Thursday. When I booked my travel last week, I thought this meant HIMSS was adding an extra day to what already has become an endurance test. But I looked again today and noticed that everything has been moved back a day. The freakshow otherwise known as the vendor exhibition runs Tuesday-Thursday instead of Monday-Wednesday, and most of the preconference events, typically held on the Sunday prior to the start of the main conference, are set for Monday, Feb. 20. Alas, I’ve already booked my travel to arrive Saturday, and who knows what it will cost to change my plans? On the other hand, it gets me out of Chicago for an extra day in the winter.

Does anyone have any insight about this scheduling shift? Is it because of the venue change, or a result of the fact that Vegas hotels normally jack up the rates on Friday and Saturday nights?

Of note, though, the HIMSS travel service is a better deal in 2012 than in most years, based on my experience. Go through the official channel and you won’t pay more for staying a weekend night. You also won’t have to pay any resort fees at the many properties now adding this mandatory charge, and they’ll throw in free Internet access, too. That sealed the deal for me.

 

Related posts:

  1. Let’s get Biz Stone to attend New Media Meetup at HIMSS12
  2. Twitter founder Biz Stone to speak at HIMSS12
  3. Get Biz Stone to come to New Media Meetup at HIMSS12


December-20-2011

18:06

My first impression of healthcare startup incubator/accelerator Rock Health was not a favorable one. I wrote in MobiHealthNews last July that the San Francisco-based organization founded by some hotshot, young Harvard MBAs demonstrated “yet another example of Silicon Valley arrogance.” I said that Rock Health was mostly targeting the young end of the market with cool, fitness-oriented apps, not the elderly and chronically ill who account for the bulk of the nation’s $2.5 trillion annual healthcare spend. That group wants things that are easy to use rather than fun and hip.

Needless to say, I was not invited to Rock Health’s Christmas party. I did share a quick “hello” nod with Managing Director Halle Tecco when I saw her in a meeting room at the mHealth Summit last month, though.

Even then, I wondered if Rock Health had changed its attitude at all, seeing that even the executives were outfitted in company t-shirts in the buttoned-down world of (just outside) Washington, D.C. (I once had a Capitol Hill press pass early in my career. The rules require members of the media to conform to the same dress code as members of Congress. That means a coat and tie for men, while women have to have jackets if they choose to wear slacks. An unwritten rule of D.C. in general calls for women to wear stockings if they go with a skirt, even if it’s 95 degrees and humid, which it frequently is in the summer.)

Today, though, I saw a clear sign that Rock Health is starting to learn from its earlier mistakes. MobiHealthNews reported on the incubator’s class of 2012, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the 15 companies are aimed at either healthcare providers—an important constituency largely missing from the first Rock Health class—and on treatment of truly sick patients. One startup, for example, helps people being treated for breast cancer prepare for doctor visits, while another produces an EHR for home-health agencies. Good stuff in my critical eyes, though really, enough with the social networking to get people to exercise. There are too many of these platforms and apps already.

I never thought I would say this, at least not before the end of 2011, but kudos to Rock Health for making a real effort to figure out the complex healthcare industry and to add some substance to what heretofore had been all style.

Related posts:

  1. Learning from others’ mistakes
  2. Post-HIMSS Health Wonk Review is heavy on health IT
  3. Health Wonk Review, unadorned but chock full of health IT


December-19-2011

10:39

Now it makes sense.

A couple weeks ago, I got the latest update from fictional EHR vendor Extormity:

Extormity to Federal Health IT Leaders – ‘Take a chill pill, fellas.’

Brantley Whittington, fictional CEO of make-believe electronic health record vendor Extormity, is urging Aneesh Chopra, Farzad Mostashari and Todd Park to tone down their optimism and exuberance about the clinical benefits and cost savings associated with implementing health information technology.

Whittington, speaking to reporters from the offices of a K Street lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., expressed dismay at the unbridled enthusiasm exhibited by White House, ONC and HHS officials. “For years, vendors like Extormity have worked hard to cultivate a healthcare IT culture that combines complexity with closed-mindedness, creating a pervasive and stifling sense of futility.”

“Instead of the sober and staid leadership we are accustomed to, these gentlemen are inspiring new models of industry development,” added Whittington. “The Direct Project is a great example of supercharged public/private collaboration designed to simplify the flow of health information without spending a dime of taxpayer money. This may benefit patients and providers, but the lack of convoluted infrastructure does little for the Extormity bottom line.”

“While I have been known to muster up some counterfeit fervor for shareholder meetings, the consistent passion and zeal demonstrated by these officials is proving disruptive to those of us dedicated to proprietary and expensive solutions,” added Whittington. “I suggest dialing back the levels on the gusto meter to preserve the status quo, stifle meaningful innovation and ensure consistent and sizable returns to a handful of large healthcare IT vendors.”

Chopra, Mostashari and Park are exuberant, that’s for sure. The first time I saw Park and Chopra share a stage together, I labeled them the “anti-bureaucrats.” I have since added Mostashari to that category. But it was only over the weekend that I learned that Mostashari and Chopra were getting down to the “Meaningful Yoose” rap from Dr. Ross Martin at a recent ONC meeting.

Here is the video of that spectacle, courtesy of John Lynn. (Unfortunately, I cannot find an embeddable version.)

Perhaps this is why Mr. Whittington wants the anti-bureaucrats to tone it down. Or perhaps (more likely) extormity feels threatened by innovation. Yeah, let’s go with the latter.

N.B. I am writing this while 33,000 feet above northeastern New Mexico, just about to cross into the Texas Panhandle, on a flight from Tucson to Chicago. I love me some Wi-Fi in the sky!

Related posts:

  1. ‘Meaningful Yoose’ rap?
  2. Mostashari named new national HIT coordinator
  3. Here’s the rule for meaningful use


Blog url: 
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HealthNex

September-21-2010

12:39

The Social Traffic Conundrum: An IBM vPanel Interactive Dialogue 

Date: Wednesday, September 22, 4pm ET 

Location:  The IBM New Intelligence Video Studio, http://www.livestream.com/newintelligence

Description: For Social Media Week 2010 — taking place simultaneously across five cities — IBM is bringing together four thought leaders from around the globe via a webcam-based virtual panel to discuss the challenge of urban traffic and how human behavior and social media can help remedy it.  

Panelists:

  • Shaun Abrahamson, Founder and CEO, Mutopo
  • Naveen Lamba, Industry Leader, Smart Transportation, IBM
  • Sarah Goodyear, Cities Editor, Grist.org
  • Richard MacManus, Founder of ReadWriteWeb
.

July-16-2010

9:32

 (via IBMLabs)

IBM is enlisting some of the company’s leading scientists and technologists to help medical practitioners and insurance companies provide high-quality, evidence-based care to patients. As part of this initiative, IBM is collaborating with clinicians in numerous medical institutions and hiring medical doctors to work alongside its researchers to develop new technologies, scientific advancements, and business processes for healthcare and insurance providers. 


Dedicating $100 million over the next three years, the initiative will draw on IBM’s leadership in systems integration, services research, cloud computing, analytics and emerging scientific areas — such as nanomedicine and computational biology — to drive innovations that empower practitioners to focus their efforts on patient care


May-27-2010

11:01
GoLocalProv | Health | National Implications for Rhode Island’s 
Focus on Primary Care Physicians
Rhode Island is at the epicenter of a powerful new concept in patient 
care garnering attention from Washington D.C. and across the country
Anthony Morettini, IBM Senior Location Executive

GoLocalProv | Health | National Implications for Rhode Island’s Focus on Primary Care Physicians

Rhode Island is at the epicenter of a powerful new concept in patient care garnering attention from Washington D.C. and across the country

Anthony Morettini, IBM Senior Location Executive

April-16-2010

13:34



IBM Smarter Healthcare 

Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey is using IBM’s real-time location services to keep track of more than 2,000 pieces of medical equipment (think heart monitors, infusion pumps, ventilators) at a moment’s notice.

March-30-2010

10:06
Over the course of 2009, IBM opened centers in Berlin, Beijing, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington D.C.  to advance the frontier of analytics: namely turning big data into new intelligence, predictive capabilities and insight. Healthcare is one area where analytics holds great promise.

To support thoseavcblog physical solution centers we launched the Analytics Virtual Center (AVC) at the start of 2010, and welcome you to visit it, especially as we come up on the one year anniversary of the launch of our business analytics initiative.

The AVC underscores a central tenet of Smarter Planet — how digital and physical worlds — databases and drydocks,  petabytes and powerplants — are weaving themselves together. Through it, people can extend their physical presence, voice and ideas to a new digital dimension that isn’t constrained by geography.

Simply Easy

The AVC is a web-based and voice-enabled collaboration complex that we built on the web.alive platform, which is now part of IBM partner Avaya’s portfolio. It features a simple set of intuitive controls, quick avatar customization and 3D spatial audio. Many of the hundreds of visitors have  found the environment easier to use than other virtual worlds. In fact, most people find themselves “in world” and talking naturally with others within minutes.

While the environment’s navigation and architecture are purposefully minimalist, the facility supports some sophisticated tools, including a full-function “web surface” that can display any web content, including video, animation and Web-based services such as writeboards. Additional wall surfaces can display presentations, documents, photos and graphics.

In addition to an auditorium and six meeting rooms that can be made private for confidential discussions, the AVC includes a rooftop “garden” with six kiosks for different displays, projects or topics.  We’re also using the rooftop for an “innovator in residence” program that is open to analytics-related projects or initiatives from academia, startups,  NGOs and other organizations seeking to innovate around analytics.

Of course, the AVC is also available for business development and client meetings. And we expect to also put it work as a vehicle for recruiting new talent to IBM, especially for people with expertise in various areas of analytics, simulation, predictive modeling and other aspects of “big data” innovation in areas including energy, smarter cities, healthcare and transportation.

To discuss or schedule a tour, meeting, event, the innovators-in-residence program or how you might like to work with us via the Analytics Virtual Center, we’ve set up a tool with the new Tungle.me appointment service.

You can also leave us a voicemail via Skype.

Leave me voicemail

March-18-2010

10:24
Enabling Smarter Healthcare.


The following is a guest post from Lonne Jaffe, Director, Public Sector Solutions, IBM Software

This Smarter Health video describes some of the benefits of connecting electronic medical record systems with each other and with other healthcare software systems. Technology like the IBM Health Integration Framework that brings all these systems together can enable a better patient experience, improve treatments, lower costs, and allow scientists to confidentially use data for disease research. That’s health information working together.

As healthcare software becomes more sophisticated, security and privacy remain a priority. IBM helps protect patient information and helps healthcare organizations comply with government privacy regulations while achieving the extraordinary benefits of smarter healthcare.

Blog url: 
http://healthnex.typepad.com/

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