From the category archives:

Information technology

Health care data tsunamiIsrael Green-Hopkins, MD, is a second-year fellow in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a fierce advocate for innovation in health information technology, with a passion for design, mobile health, remote monitoring and more. Follow him on Twitter @israel_md.

A few months ago, I spent 15 minutes filling out a detailed health data form at the doctor’s office. The paper form contained multiple questions about my health, family history, medications and basic demographic information. I assumed that an administrative specialist would code it into the practice’s electronic medical record (EMR) to be put to use. So it came as a surprise when I spent another 5 minutes reviewing the form with my physician, who then proceeded to type this information into the EMR herself. I’m confident neither my physician nor I felt enabled by the experience.

Countless people have had a similar experience—or worse, filled out a form with no sign that any clinician ever saw the information. Though the industry has made outstanding progress in adopting EMRs, the practice of data acquisition from patients remains cloudy. Patient-generated health data (PGHD), a term encompassing all forms of data that patients provide on their own, is a relatively new concept in health care. It falls into two broad groups: historical data and biometric data. Full story »

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An empty restaurant table. Can measuring restaurant cancellations tell us something about flu outbreaks?You wake up feeling like someone has taken a jackhammer to your head. You’re feverish, aching all over and your stomach is doing somersaults. There’s no doubt about it: You have the flu.

You also have reservations for dinner tonight. So after a mug of tea and an ibuprofen, you grope for your phone and cancel the reservations you’d made through OpenTable.

That cancellation might be a signal to public health officials of a flu outbreak. Because, according to a study by HealthMap’s John Brownstein, PhD, and Elaine Nsoesie, PhD, reservation data from OpenTable could offer another view into the seasonal spread of the flu. Full story »

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Google logo with applesAlexandra Pelletier is the Digital Health Program Manager in the Innovation Acceleration Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. She manages the FastTrack Innovation in Technology Award, an initiative to accelerate, rapidly develop and deliver innovative clinical software solutions to improve patient experience and operational efficiency.

When the largest and most innovative technology companies in the world invest, radical disruption follows. Google and Apple, multibillion-dollar companies operating across the globe, are already deeply embedded into most of our lives. They now want to bring their network and reach to health care.

Their new investments could completely transform how patient data are captured and how information is shared. Through their big data capabilities, they’re well placed to rapidly evolve health care delivery processes. In the very near future, I expect we will see connected sensors or “smart” devices of all kinds begin to integrate into our lives, weaving a web of quantified data into actionable health information and changing how patient and care providers engage together.

Consider some recent events. First, there was Google’s buzz-generating meeting with the FDA. Full story »

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3D reconstruction of an influenza virus

A flu virus. (CDC)

Disease surveillance has long been the purview of state public health departments, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies that collect reports from doctors, clinics and laboratories.

That disease control model is being turned on its head by projects like Boston Children’s Hospital’s HealthMap, which scours the web for information related to disease outbreaks. HealthMap’s Flu Near You goes a step further by encouraging people to report their own flu-related symptoms and help track flu emergence and spread.

To date, though, efforts like these have been limited to the digital sphere—part of the growing field of digital epidemiology. They don’t rely on blood, spit and mucus to get their data—it’s all in bits and based solely on symptoms.

But even that is changing, thanks to a new Flu Near You initiative called GoViral. GoViral brings everyone directly into the flu surveillance process by allowing them to not just report how they’re feeling, but to test themselves for flu at home and submit their results. Full story »

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An early prediction of telemedicine

The TeleDactyl, as depicted on the cover of Science and Invention magazine in 1925.

Shawn Farrell, MBA, is Telemedicine and Telehealth Program Manager at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Back in the 1920s, when medicine was more an art than a science and doctors made home visits, a publishing and radio pioneer named Hugo Gernsback predicted the future of telehealth. As described on Smithsonian.com, he wrote of a device called the TeleDactyl: “a future instrument by which it will be possible for us to ‘feel at a distance’”—dactyl, from the Greek, meaning finger.

Since that time, the practice of medicine has changed dramatically. Our understanding of the human body has advanced beyond our wildest dreams, producing drugs, devices and procedures that have made hospitals a place for healing and curing. At the same time, home visits were abandoned in favor of the office visit, making doctors more efficient. Almost 100 years later, several converging forces are making the home visit popular again, increasing the likelihood of seeing Gernsback’s vision become a reality.

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which will add millions of new patients to the health care system, comes at the same time that we have a shortage of primary care doctors, specialists and other care providers. Full story »

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Roulette_wheel2013 saw an accelerated crumbling of borders and boundaries in health care, fueled by technological and scientific advances. Boundaries between high-tech Western medicine and global health practices have begun blurring in interesting ways, as are those between home and hospital, patient and doctor and even a patient’s own body and the treatment used for her disease.

Last year also saw a fierce political fight over the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—aka Obamacare—ending in some six million people crossing the boundary from uninsured to insured, according to HMS, if you count Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibles.

What does all this portend for 2014? This year, Vector asked leaders from all walks of life at Boston Children’s Hospital to weigh in with their predictions. Full story »

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A water tap. It's time to tap electronic medical records for data that can help advance health care.Last month, we told you about cTAKES, which can read notes from clinical records and turn them into structured data that can be used for research on drug interactions, risk factors, clinical phenotyping and much more.

One of the key challenges with cTAKES, though, is getting access to the data in the first place. Electronic medical records (EMRs) generally run on proprietary platforms built for record keeping, and it can be difficult to extract data for research purposes. In addition, hospitals’ processes and controls around patient privacy usually don’t readily lend themselves to data mining.

Now mind you, when we talk about EMR data, we’re not just talking about notes, but also about the structured data gathered with every clinical visit and inpatient procedure, such as diagnosis, lab values and prescriptions. Those data could open up the taps for all kinds of clinical innovation—if researchers could get to them.

So what’s the solution? How do we make clinical data locked in EMRs work for research while keeping confidential information confidential?

Vector sat down with Jonathan Bickel, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital’s senior director of Clinical Research Information Technology (CRIT) and director of Business Intelligence, to learn what he thinks should be done. Full story »

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medical_records_shutterstock_116827537My mother often says that my handwriting is so bad I should have been a doctor. Luckily, digital systems like electronic medical records (EMRs) and computerized pharmacy ordering systems have largely taken the legibility factor out of medicine, especially when it comes to doctors’ and nurses’ notes.

Those notes—attached to millions of patient records—have the potential to do so much more than simply capture clinical observations. Within them lies a treasure trove of data about disease burden, risk factors, drug interactions and more, waiting to be mined for new insights that could dramatically impact research and care.

If the data can be extracted, that is.

The difficulty is that, to a computer, clinical notes are “unstructured” data. There are no standard entries, no numbers to be plugged into a field—just text in a box. And not every doctor or nurse uses the same words to describe the same thing.

So, how can we make the unstructured structured?

Full story »

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A nightly family signout not only helps families of hospitalized children sleep better, but also empowers them to play an active role in patient safety.

A nightly family signout not only helps families of hospitalized children sleep better, but also empowers them to play an active role in patient safety.

Alisa Khan, MD, is a pediatric hospitalist and health services research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital. She and Christopher Landrigan, MD, MPH, research director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Inpatient Pediatrics Service, recently received a Community/Patient Empowerment Award at the National Pediatric Innovation Summit sponsored by the hospital.

Miscommunications are a root cause of more than 70 percent of sentinel events, the most serious preventable adverse events in hospitals, according to data from the Joint Commission and the Department of Defense. As Vector reported yesterday, a bundle of interventions focused on improving patient “handoffs” during clinician shift changes, piloted at Boston Children’s Hospital, resulted in a 46 percent reduction in medical errors and a 54 percent reduction in preventable adverse events. What’s now known as I-PASS is now being implemented at 10 children’s hospitals across the U.S.

While I-PASS has greatly improved patient safety and communication between medical providers, it does not currently involve the family. Yet families play a pivotal safety role, advocating for their children and monitoring their progress through acute illness. Full story »

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A bundled "handoff" program reduced medical errors in a study reported in JAMA.Medical errors are a leading cause of death and injury in America, and an estimated 80 percent of serious medical errors involve some form of miscommunication, particularly during the transfer of care from one provider to the next. However, a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrates that standardizing written and verbal communication during these patient “handoffs” can substantially reduce medical errors without burdening existing workflows.

The study followed 1,255 patient admissions to two separate inpatient units at Boston Children’s Hospital—half occurring before a new verbal and written handoff program was introduced (July to September 2009) and half after (from November 2009 to January 2010).

After implementation, providers spent more time communicating face-to-face in quiet areas conducive to conversation. There were fewer omissions or miscommunications about patient data during handoffs. And medical errors decreased 45.8 percent. Full story »

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