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Using Mobile Technology To Overcome Jurisdictional Challenges To A Coordinated Immunization Policy


November 14th, 2014

On March 20, 2014, the Government of Canada and the federal Minister of Health announced the release of ImmunizeCanada (ImmunizeCA), a smart phone application (app) designed to both provide accurate information on immunization for Canadians and allow them to track their and their family members’ immunizations. Based on a prototype developed for parents in Ontario and in partnership with the Canadian Public Health Association, our development team received funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada to build a national immunization app. Our task was to build an Apple- and Android-compatible app, containing all 13 provincial/territorial schedules and vaccine information from each jurisdiction in both Canadian official languages (French and English).

The application uses demographic information entered by the user and the most recent recommended provincial vaccination schedule to create a custom profile for multiple family members. It allows parents to track and carry their children’s immunizations records on their mobile device. The application also permits the creation of adult-specific schedules and includes information on travel vaccines. It is also possible to sync the app with your smartphone calendar, generate appointment reminders, print or share an immunization record by email, and access answers to common questions.

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Health Care Accelerators: An Innovative Response To Federal Policy Mandates


November 12th, 2014

Health-focused startup “accelerators” are a new approach to developing solutions to problems in health care. An accelerator serves as a short-term incubator for startups to build innovative new businesses through funding, mentorship, network access and coaching.

Accelerators have been a critical part of the technology economy and innovation ecosystem since the 2006 launch of YCombinator. Health care-focused accelerators emerged in 2011, largely as a result of changes in national health care policy–including the HITECH Act and the Affordable Care Act–and the perceived new opportunities these changes created. Since that time, there has been tremendous growth in accelerators across the nation supported by a diverse set of stakeholders, part of a larger innovation economy that has formed in response to federal policy making.

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ONC’s 10-Year Roadmap Towards Interoperability Requires Changes To The Meaningful Use Program


November 3rd, 2014

When I first started using an electronic health record (EHR) almost 20 years ago, many policy makers misunderstood how EHRs worked. They assumed that care was somehow made better just by having an EHR, and thus began to build the case for policy aimed at supporting EHR adoption. Fortunately as the HITECH Act of 2009 makes clear, a maturation of thinking has occurred; it is not the mere presence of technology, but good technology used in meaningful ways that can improve care.

Magical thinking about EHRs has disappeared, but a similar irrational belief has taken its place– this time around the concept of interoperability, the ability of systems to communicate with each other. Today there are two widely held concerns about the current state of interoperability. The first concern is that the Meaningful Use program, the federal EHR incentive program created by the HITECH Act, was doomed from the outset because it did not begin with the requirement that EHRs be capable of communicating with each other.

The other is that while it was acceptable not to have required full interoperability at the outset; now it is the single most important task at hand. By this account, interoperability must be put on a fast track, because the American people will be unlikely to reap any benefits from health information technology without it. I strongly disagree with both of these positions.

First, if the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) had conditioned the start of Stage 1 of Meaningful Use on full interoperability of EHRs, I believe that the already slow rate of EHR adoption would grind to a halt. Vendor development and purchase decisions would go on indefinite hold awaiting final interoperability specifications. But by moving forward with the status quo of partial interoperability, most providers, nurses, clinical, and nonclinical staff now have at least basic if not reasonably good health IT functionality and literacy. For example, the majority of prescriptions for non-controlled substances are now sent electronically — not a complete remedy for medication errors, but an important move away from those errors due to illegible handwriting. And more importantly, many tens of millions of patients have received (many for the first time) summaries of their health care visits and hospitalizations that provide a list of their active problems, medications, and medical allergies, not to mention written instructions.

Secondly, many providers and provider systems have gone ahead, even where interoperability is limited to laboratory data, with quality improvement programs that leverage their EHRs for analytics, point-of-care decision support, and patient education and engagement tools. As an example, in 2012 the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, together with the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association launched Million Hearts® – a program of education, screening, and treatment – with an end point of preventing one million new heart attacks and strokes over 5 years.

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Ebola And EHRs: An Unfortunate And Critical Reminder


October 28th, 2014

The Dallas hospital communication lapse that led to the discharge of a Liberian man with Ebola symptoms is an example of the failure of American health care system to effectively share health information, even within single institutions. It is not possible to know whether a faster response would have saved Thomas Eric Duncan’s life or reduced risk to the community and health workers.

What is clear is that rapid sharing of information is one of the elements critical to halting the spread of Ebola. Had all members of the initial care team known of the patient’s recent arrival from an Ebola-stricken country and acted appropriately to quarantine Mr. Duncan, this would have limited the chance of exposing the public and enabled faster preventive protocols for treating personnel.

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Examining The Present And Future Of The Health Spending Growth Slowdown


September 3rd, 2014

Each year, Health Affairs publishes national health spending projections for the coming decade by authors at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary (OACT). The articles provide important documentation of past trends and insight about future spending, using transparent, vetted assumptions.

In this year’s study, Andrea Sisko and coauthors reveal that the recent slowdown in health care spending growth has continued. Specifically, the authors report that national health care spending in 2013 is predicted to have increased by only 3.6 percent — the fifth consecutive year of spending growth below 4 percent. [Editor's note: Health Affairs also publishes annual retrospective health spending reports from OACT -- the journal expects to publish OACT's final numbers for 2013 spending in December.]

When interpreting the data, it is important to distinguish between the spending growth driven by increased spending per beneficiary and growth driven by increases in the number of beneficiaries. This is particularly relevant for Medicare (which is experiencing an influx in baby boomers) and Medicaid (which is experiencing Affordable Care Act (ACA) driven enrollment growth). Certainly, aggregate spending is an important statistic. The budgetary implications of rapid Medicare spending growth due to growth in the number of beneficiaries are similar to the implication of spending growth driven by growth in spending per beneficiary.

Yet the normative interpretation of spending growth will depend dramatically on the cause. We should celebrate aging baby boomers, increases in longevity and wellbeing. Similarly, higher Medicaid enrollment was the intended outcome of the ACA and, at least in many circles, is considered a good thing (relative to growth in the number of uninsured). Of course, such an increase in enrollment creates pressure on public budgets.

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Rescue Me: The Challenge Of Compassionate Use In The Social Media Era


August 27th, 2014

The Development of Brincidofovir and its Possible Use to Treat Josh Hardy

Last March 4, seven-year old Josh Hardy lay critically ill in the intensive care unit at St Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee with a life-threatening adenovirus infection. His weakened immune system was unable to control the infection, a complication of a bone marrow stem cell transplant he needed as a result of treatments for several different cancers since he was 9 months old.

His physicians tried to treat the adenovirus with an anti-viral agent, Vistide (IV cidofovir), but had to stop due to dialysis-dependent renal failure. They were aware of another anti-viral in Phase 3 clinical development, brincidofovir, an oral compound chemically related to Vistide. In earlier clinical testing brincidofovir had shown the potential for enhanced antiviral potency and a more favorable safety profile.

Chimerix (where one of us, Moch, was CEO), a 55 person North Carolina-based biopharmaceutical company, had previously made brincidofovir available to more than 430 critically ill patients in an expanded access program for the treatment of serious or life-threatening DNA viral infections, including adenovirus as well as herpes viruses (such as cytomegalovirus) and polyomaviruses.  This program started in 2009 as a series of individual physician-sponsored emergency INDs — investigational new drug exemptions issued in physician-certified compassionate use situations.

The program evolved via word of mouth to the extent that brincidofovir was made available under emergency INDs for more than 215 patients. During 2011, Chimerix received funding from Health and Human Service’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to provide brincidofovir to an additional 215 critically ill patients for the purpose of gaining insights into the potential use of brincidofovir as a medical countermeasure against smallpox. (Department of Health and Human Services Contract No. HHSO100201100013C.  For further information on brincidofovir Study CMX001-350, see ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier NCT01143181.)

When BARDA funding ended in 2012, Chimerix stopped accepting new requests for compassionate use under its expanded access program. Although requests continued from physicians around the world, the company decided that it was in the best interests of the greatest number of patients to devote its limited human and financial resources to the clinical development pathway necessary for FDA approval of brincidofovir.

This post examines the implications of the ultimately successful campaign waged by Josh Hardy’s family to obtain access to brincidofovir for their son. We discuss several issues raised by the Hardy case, including the overarching question of whether it is fair for social media or influence of any form to play a role in determining which patients get access to experimental treatments; whether rescuing individual patients in need can be reconciled with an evidence-based regulatory approval process for new therapies; and whether there is a duty to “rescue” terminally ill patients by paying for access to experimental therapies.

Finally, we propose a new framework for regulating access to experimental treatments.

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It’s Hard To Be Neutral About Network Neutrality For Health


August 18th, 2014

Network Neutrality (NN) has been in the news because the FCC is considering two options related to a neutral Internet: Either regulation forcing NN, or an approach that creates a “fast lane” on the Internet for those content providers that are willing to pay extra for it.

Network Neutrality reflects a vision of a network in which users are able to exchange and consume data, as they choose, without the interference of the organization providing the network basic data transport services. The second option, preferential service, entertains the possibility that the Internet could become what the National Journal describes as “a dystopia run by the world’s biggest, richest companies.”

However, the problem of network neutrality is more complex. Full network neutrality could also lead to a tragedy of the commons in which application developers compete for the use of “free” bandwidth for services to win customers while clogging networks and lowering performance for all. Key stakeholders providing basic transport Internet service such as Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T, and large Internet savvy content providers like Google have a clear understanding of the debate and what they stand to gain or lose from network neutrality.

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Health Affairs Web Firsts: Two Studies Find Mixed Results On EHR Adoption


August 11th, 2014

Since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted in 2009, Health Affairs has published many articles about the promise of health information technology and the challenges of promoting broad adoption and “meaningful use.”

Last week, on August 7, the journal released two new Web First studies, “More Than Half Of US Hospitals Have At Least A Basic EHR, But Stage 2 Criteria Remain Challenging For Most” and “Despite Substantial Progress In EHR Adoption, Health Information Exchange And Patient Engagement Remain Low In Office Settings.” These studies focus on the latest trends in health information technology adoption among U.S. physicians and hospitals. Both studies, which will also appear in the September issue of Health Affairs, show that while basic electronic health record (EHR) adoption plans have moved forward, more significant implementation remains a daunting challenge for many providers and institutions

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Health Policy Brief Updates


July 22nd, 2014

In the first half of 2014 Health Affairs has released seven new Health Policy Briefs and also has provided updates of five previously released briefs, in order to reflect continuously changing and evolving health policy issues and perspectives.

The following Health Policy Briefs were updated in 2014:

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Lessons Learned: Bringing Big Data Analytics To Health Care


July 14th, 2014

Big data offers breakthrough possibilities for new research and discoveries, better patient care, and greater efficiency in health and health care, as detailed in the July issue of Health Affairs. As with any new tool or technique, there is a learning curve.

Over the last few years, we, along with our colleagues at Booz Allen, have worked on over 30 big data projects with federal health agencies and other departments, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and the Veterans Administration (VA), along with private sector health organizations such as hospitals and delivery systems and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

While many of the lessons learned from these projects may be obvious, such as the need for disciplined project management, we also have seen organizations struggle with pitfalls and roadblocks that were unexpected in taking full advantage of big data’s potential.

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The Era Of Big Data And Its Implications For Big Pharma


July 10th, 2014

Editor’s note: For more on the topic of big data, check out the July issue of Health Affairs In addition to Marc Berger, Kirsten Axelsen and Prasun Subedi also coauthored this post. 

Health care research is on the cusp of an era of “Big Data” — one that promises to transform the way in which we understand and practice medicine.

The Big Data paradigm has developed from two different points of origin. First, significant efforts to digitize and synthesize existing data sources (e.g., electronic health records) have been driven by policy and practice economics. Second, a wide range of novel ways to capture both clinical and biological data points (e.g., wearable health devices, genomics) have emerged.

The era of Big Data holds great possibility to improve our ability to predict which health care interventions are most effective, for which patients, and at what cost.

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ACAView: New Findings On The Effect Of Coverage Expansion Since January 2014


July 9th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Josh Gray, Iyue Sung also coauthored this post. 

Together, athenahealth and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have undertaken a new joint venture called ACAView, as part of the foundation’s Reform by the Numbers project, a source for timely and unique data on the impact of health reform.

The goal of ACAView is to provide current, non-partisan measurement and analysis on how coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is affecting the day-to-day practice of medicine. athenahealth provides a single-instance, cloud-based software platform to a national provider base.

Any information that our clients enter using our software is immediately aggregated into centrally hosted databases, providing us with timely visibility into patient characteristics, clinical activities, and practice economics at medical groups around the country.

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New Health Affairs July Issue: The Impact Of Big Data On Health Care


July 8th, 2014

Health Affairs explores the promise of big data in improving health care effectiveness and efficiency in its July issue. Many articles examine the potential of approaches such as predictive analytics and address the unavoidable privacy implications of collecting, storing, and interpreting massive amounts of health information.

Big data can yield big savings, if they are used in the right ways.

David W. Bates of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and coauthors analyze six use cases with strong opportunities for cost savings: high-cost patients; readmissions; triage; decompensation (when a patient’s condition worsens); adverse events; and treatment optimization when a disease affects multiple organ systems.

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Health Affairs Event Reminder: Using Big Data To Transform Care


July 7th, 2014

The application of big data to transform health care delivery, health research, and health policy is underway, and its potential is limitless.  The July 2014 issue of Health Affairs, “Using Big Data To Transform Care,” examines this new era for research and patient care from every angle.

You are invited to join Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil on Wednesday, July 9, for an event at the National Press Club, when the issue will be unveiled and authors will present their work.

WHEN:
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

WHERE:
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW

Twitter: Follow Live Tweets from the briefing @HA_Events, and join the conversation with #HA_BigData.

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Request For Abstracts: Health Affairs Health Care And Medical Innovation Theme Issue


June 5th, 2014

Health Affairs is planning a theme issue on health care and medical innovation in early-2015. The issue will span the fields of medical technology and also cover public policy and private sector innovations that promote improvements in the delivery of care, lower costs, increase efficiency, etc. We plan to publish 15-20 peer-reviewed articles including research, analyses, and commentaries from leading researchers and scholars, analysts, industry experts, and health and health care stakeholders.

We invite interested authors to submit abstracts for consideration for this issue. To be considered, abstracts must be submitted by June 25, 2014. We regret that we will not be able to consider any abstracts submitted after that date. Editors will review the abstracts and, for those that best fit our vision and goals, invite authors to submit papers for consideration for the issue. Invited papers will be due at the journal by September 2, 2014.

More information on topics and themes for this issue, as well as process guidelines and timetables, is available below and on the Health Affairs website.

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Connected Health Opportunities For Medicaid’s Most Vulnerable Patients


April 22nd, 2014

The February issue of Health Affairs features a series of articles on connected health and highlights the potential for telehealth and telemedicine to reshape how health care is delivered, consumed, tracked, and even paid for.

With funding support from Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit, the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) recently conducted a series of focus groups that showed how one key Medicaid population — medically and socially complex, low-income individuals — stands to gain from these advances.

The four focus groups were designed to better understand the issues driving these individuals’ health care utilization, their current level of comfort with technology, and how technology might be able to help them better manage their challenges. Participants were actively receiving services from of one of four case management/care coordination programs in New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Philadelphia, and all were Medicaid beneficiaries with multiple medical and/or behavioral health conditions.

According to a recent Health Affairs article by John Billings and Maria Raven, these individuals frequent emergency departments and have a high incidence of chronic disease. They typically have chaotic, unstable, and socially isolated lives, and many lack permanent housing, live on the street, or in homeless shelters.

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Recent Health Policy Briefs: Mental Health Parity And ICD-10 Update


April 3rd, 2014

The latest Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examines the issue of mental health parity. The push to make coverage for mental health treatment equal to that of physical health has been on legislative to-do lists for some time, both in Congress and in state houses. This brief looks […]

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New Health Policy Brief: Transitioning To ICD-10


March 20th, 2014

A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at an important change expected in the American health system later this year: the transition to the ICD-10 coding system by all health providers for diagnoses and inpatient procedures. ICD stands for the International Classification of Diseases, which is maintained by the World Health Organization. The ICD system, which began in the nineteenth century, is periodically revised to incorporate changes in the practice of medicine.

While the most current version, ICD-10, has been used in most countries since its initial adoption in 1990, the United States has until now limited its use to the coding and classification of mortality data from death certificates. This brief examines the debates that have accompanied the broad conversion in this country to ICD-10, set to take place on October 1, 2014.

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Exhibit Of The Month: Virtual Visits On The Rise


February 27th, 2014

At Health Affairs Blog, we’re excited to introduce a new regular feature. Each month, Health Affairs editors will review all the tables, charts, graphs and maps that have run in the latest print edition of the journal. After deliberating in a dark, but smoke-free, backroom, we’ll emerge to crown the most compelling, creative or surprising exhibit as our Exhibit of the Month!  Readers who’d like to highlight other noteworthy exhibits from the same issue are encouraged to make their pitch in the comments section below.

This exhibit shows how, within the Kaiser Permanente Northern California system, the number of virtual physician visits grew from 4.1 million in 2008 to 10.5 million in 2013.

According to Pearl, “In 2008 KPNC implemented an impatient  and ambulatory care electronic health record system for its 3.4 million members and developed a suite of patient-friendly Internet, mobile, and video tools.”  Among these tools is a system that allows patients to send secure e-mail messages to their primary care physician.  KPNC physicians are now expected to respond within 24 hours of receiving the message.  This system builds on the 10-15 minute physician telephone visits that KPNC has offered patients for more than a decade.

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Doctors Without State Borders: Practicing Across State Lines


February 18th, 2014

Note: In addition to Robert Kocher (photo and bio above), this post is authored, by Topher Spiro, Vice President, Health Policy, Center for American Progress ; Emily Oshima Lee, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress; Gabriel Scheffler, Yale Law School student and former Ford Foundation Law Fellow at the Center for American Progress with the Health Policy Team; Stephen Shortell, Blue Cross of California Distinguished Professor of Health Policy and Management and Professor of Organization Behavior at the School of Public Health and Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley; David Cutler, Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University; and Ezekiel Emanuel, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the United States, a tangled web of federal and state regulations controls physician licensing. Although federal standards govern medical training and testing, each state has its own licensing board, and doctors must procure a license for every state in which they practice medicine (with some limited exceptions for physicians from bordering states, for consultations, and during emergencies).

This bifurcated system makes it difficult for physicians to care for patients in other states, and in particular impedes the practice of telemedicine. The status quo creates excessive administrative burdens and like contributes to worse health outcomes, higher costs, and reduced access to health care.

We believe that, short of the federal government implementing a single national licensing scheme, states should adopt mutual recognition agreements in which they honor each other’s physician licenses. To encourage states to adopt such a system, we suggest that the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) create an Innovation Model to pilot the use of telemedicine to provide access to underserved communities by offering funding to states that sign mutual recognition agreements.

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