Shulkin out, Admiral Ronny Jackson MD nominated for VA head

You’re Fired! Dr. David Shulkin is out the door as VA Secretary as of Wednesday evening. US Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, MD has been nominated for the position. In the interim, while confirmation takes place, Robert Wilkie, currently the Undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, will move to VA as Acting Secretary.

Dr. Shulkin’s downfall was an Inspector General report last month that criticized his personal actions on a recent Europe trip (e.g. gratis Wimbledon tickets), actions (too much time spent on personal travel/personal time for the funding of the trip), and the poor way he handled the publicity around the report. Other issues centered on internal turmoil as he attempted to reform VA practices. As late as Tuesday, things were looking up based on White House statements, though Chris Ruddy of Newsmax was far less sanguine last Sunday on ABC. Our extensive coverage on Dr. Shulkin’s tenure at the VA is here. Our Readers who are engaged with US telehealth knew him as an IT ‘maven’, but from this Editor’s perspective, the rocky process of contracting in the Home Telehealth area and the downgrading of the program in recent years was dismaying.

Dr. Shulkin’s subsequent appearances in the pages of the NY Times and on TV were also less than stellar, overly personal, and to this Editor, ill-considered, blaming privatization and stating he did not resign. 

The announcement was made yesterday evening from President Trump’s Twitter account. An (unnamed) White House official said the embattled Shulkin was no longer effective in his role, saying his “distractions were getting in the way of carrying out the President’s agenda.” according to CNN. 

Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson moves from being personal physician to both President Trump and previously for President Obama. It is a White House tradition that personal physicians are from the Navy. He has combat medicine experience, having been deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in charge of resuscitative medicine for a forward deployed Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon in Taqaddum, Iraq. In 2006, during President G.W. Bush’s administration, he joined the White House Medical Unit. (more…)

News roundup for Tuesday: room at the top at VA? (updated), Philips integrates teleradiology. 3rings Care premieres Amazon Echo service

Updated. Who’s the Leader? At the Veterans Administration, the soap opera plot accelerated on the continued tenure of Secretary David Shulkin who, after a strong start (and coming from within VA’s tech area), has stumbled over charges of inappropriate spending and staff turmoil since the beginning of the year. Journalist Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax, who speaks regularly with President Trump, indicated in an interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that Dr. Shulkin will likely be the next Cabinet departure. The fact that VA Choice 2.0 did not make it into the huge ‘omnibus’ budget bill indicated a disillusion with him on Capitol Hill. The lack of closure on replacing VistA with Cerner is also not in favor of a longer stay. The replacement may come from the VA House committee, the defense contractor community, or DoD. Why it’s important? VA is the largest purchaser of telemedicine and telehealth in the US, and has set the pace for everything from EHRs to info security. And there are those 9 million veterans they serve. Stay tuned. POLITICO Morning eHealth…..

By the next morning, a press secretary was saying “At this point in time though, he [President Trump] does have confidence in Dr. Shulkin. He is a secretary and he has done some great things at the VA. As you know, the president wants to put the right people in the right place at the right time and that could change.” But one of Dr. Shulkin’s biggest thorns-in-side at the VA, Darin Selnick, shuffled off last year to the Domestic Policy Council, will return to a post at the VA.

HIMSS continued to support VA’s and Dr. Shulkin’s efforts to increase veteran patient record sharing through changing the consent requirements authorizing the VA to release a patient’s confidential VA medical record to a Health Information Exchange (HIE) community partner. Letter.

Philips has entered the integrated teleradiology field by combining Philips’ Lumify portable ultrasound system and Innovative Imaging Technologies‘ (IIT) Reacts collaborative platform. It combines a compatible smart device that enables a two-way video consult with live ultrasound streaming. How it works: “clinicians can begin their Reacts session with a face-to-face conversation on their Lumify ultrasound system. Users can switch to the front-facing camera on their smart device to show the position of the probe. They can then share the Lumify ultrasound stream, so both parties are simultaneously viewing the live ultrasound image and probe positioning, while discussing and interacting at the same time.” Release

Following up on 3rings and their integration into the Amazon Echo virtual assistant system [TTA 18 Oct], Mark Smith from their business development area has told us that they have formally launched this platform earlier this month. The person cared for at home can simply ask Alexa to alert family and caregivers that they need help via voice message, text or email. Care staff or family can also use Echo to check through the 3rings platform by simply asking Alexa if that person is safe and OK. 3rings is now actively seeking to partner with innovative health, housing, and social care organizations. Overview/release.

VA moves closer to doing Cerner EHR deal, real Choice for veterans (updated)

The Cerner EHR deal with the VA edges closer to closing. Another VA contractor, MITRE, reviewed the agreement and recommended 50 changes that, according to POLITICO Morning eHealth’s source, address many of the interoperability-related usability features “that irritate EHR users” such as reconciling data coming from outside sources (Home Telehealth, perhaps?–Ed.). VA officially updated the status with Congressional Veterans Affairs staff on Tuesday. The deal could be inked as early as next week, but never bet on this when the Secretary seems doubtful of the agreement date. In any case, it will be a decade before VA is fully transitioned from VistA. Speaking of the Secretary, Dr. Shulkin’s crisis of last week seems to have passed with a White House vote of confidence. He can ‘cashier’ his critics and according to him, everyone’s on board with a clear direction. We’ll see. 

Updated. Well, it’s 2 March and still no word on closing the Cerner contract. Meanwhile, the VA ‘revolt’ continues, with either true or false reports of demands for Dr. Shulkin’s resignation. It’s exhausting, and meanwhile who pays? Staff and veterans. See POLITICO from 1 March here.

Modern Healthcare reported that important reforms in the VA Choice legislation are closer to reality with the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. They are proposing changes, supported by the White House, that would open up VA Choice eligibility to nearly all veterans by “making VA facilities responsible for meeting access standards set by the VA secretary. If a facility can’t, the patient can seek out a community provider if both patient and a VA provider or an authorized provider in the community working closely with VA deem that a better option than a VA facility.” This is a step beyond the earlier proposed access standards which would have given the VA Secretary discretion to relax restrictions to community care provision. Currently the VA Choice program is used by only 1 million veterans who have to prove that they are facing wait times of 30 days or more, or 40-mile travel time to a VA clinic. While the tone in the article is slightly disparaging, firm standards and opening the VA to limited market pressures to this Editor is a good thing–and getting effective care faster to veterans, many of whom live in exurban or rural areas, is beyond all considerations, absolutely necessary. How this affects veterans monitored by telehealth programs–and interoperability of their records–are open questions.

Updated–Rounding up this week’s news: VA budget, Shulkin’s troubles, ATA’s new CEO, Allscripts’ wheeling-dealing, Roche buys Flatiron, Nokia out of health?, NHS Carillioning?

click to enlargeHere’s our roundup for the week of 12 February:

VA wins on the budget, but the Secretary’s in a spot of bother. Updated. Last week started off as a good week for Secretary Shulkin with a White House budget proposal that increased their $83.1 billion budget by 11.7 percent, including $1.2 billion for Year 1 of the Cerner EHR implementation in addition to the agency’s $4.2 billion IT budget which includes $204 million to modernize VistA and other VA legacy IT systems in the interim. While the Cerner contract went on hold in December while record-sharing is clarified, the freeze is expected to be lifted within a month. POLITICO  Where the trouble started for Dr. Shulkin was in the findings of a spending audit by the VA’s Inspector General’s Office of an official European trip to Copenhagen and London which included unreimbursed travel by Mrs. Shulkin and free tickets to Wimbledon, at least partly justified by a doctored email. This has led to the early retirement of the VA Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson and also an investigation of hacking into Wright Simpson’s email. It also appears that some political appointees in the VA are being investigated for misconduct. CNBC, FierceHealthcare.

Updated: POLITICO doesn’t feel the love for Dr. Shulkin in today’s Morning eHealth, linking to articles about the supposed ‘internal war’ at the VA, with veterans’ groups, with the Trump Administration, and within the VA. It’s the usual governmental infighting which within the 16 Feb article is being whipped by POLITICO and co-author ProPublica to a fevered pitch. Dr. Shulkin comes across as doctor/tech geek who underestimated the politicization of and challenges within an agency with the mission to care for our veterans. It’s also an agency having a hard time facing the current demands of a dispersed, younger and demanding veteran group plus aging, bureaucratic infrastructure. As usual the ‘privatization’ issue is being flogged as an either/or choice whereas a blend may serve veterans so much better.

Digital health entrepreneur named CEO of the American Telemedicine Association. A first for ATA is a chief from the health tech area who is also one of the all-too-rare executive women in the field. Ann Mond Johnson, who will be starting on 5 March, was previously head of Zest Health, board chair and advisor to Chicago start-up ConnectedHealth (now part of Connecture), and had sold her first start-up company Subimo to WebMD in 2006. She began her career in healthcare data and information with The Sachs Group (now part of Truven/IBM Watson). Ms. Johnson replaces founding CEO Jonathan Linkous, who remained for 24 years before resigning last August and is now a consultant. ATA release, mHealth Intelligence. ATA relocated in January from Washington DC to nearby Arlington Virginia. And a reminder that ATA2018 is 29 April – 1 May in Chicago and open for registration.

Allscripts’ ‘Such a Deal’! Following up on Allscripts’ acquisitions of Practice Fusion for $100 million (a loss to investors) and earlier McKesson’s HIT business for $185 million [TTA 9 Jan], it hasn’t quite paid for itself, but came very close with the sale of McKesson’s OneContent, a healthcare document-management system, for a tidy $260 million. Net price: $25 million. Their CEO is some horse trader! Some of the savings will undoubtedly go to remedying the cyberattack in January that affected two data centers in North Carolina, shutting down EHR and billing applications for approximately 1,500 physician practices, which have launched a class action lawsuit. FierceHealthcare 

Flatiron Health acquired by Roche. (more…)

What’s up with Amazon in healthcare? Follow the money. (updated)

Updated–click to see full page. Amazon is the Scary Monster of the healthcare space, a veritable Godzilla unleashed in Tokyo, if one listens to the many rumors, placed and otherwise, picked up in mainstream media which then are seized on by our healthcare compatriots.

According to CNBC’s breathless reporting, they have set up a skunk works HQ’d in Seattle. When they posted job listings, they were under keyword “a1.492” or as “The Amazon Grand Challenge a.k.a. ‘Special Projects’ team.” In late July, these ads for people like a UX Design Manager and a machine learning director with experience in healthcare IT and analytics plus a knowledge of electronic medical records were deleted. Amazon has separate initiatives on selling pharmaceuticals and building health applications to be compatible with Echo/Alexa and other smart home tech. Both have come up in the context of the CVS-Aetna merger, where buying up state pharmacy licenses cannot be kept secret (see end of our 8 Dec article) and that efforts to extend Alexa and Echo’s capabilities aren’t particularly secret.

A quick look at Bezos Expeditions, Amazon supremo’s Jeff Bezos’ personal fund, on Crunchbase reveals several healthcare investments, such as GRAIL (cancer), Unity Biotechnology (aging), Rethink Robotics, and Juno Therapeutics (cancer). Not really things easy to sell on Amazon.

Last week, Amazon reportedly hired Dr. Martin Levine, who ran integrated primary health Iora Health’s Seattle-based clinics, according to CNBC and Becker’s. They met with Iora, Kaiser, and the now-defunct Qliance about a year ago on innovative healthcare models. More breathless reporting: they are hiring a “HIPAA compliance lead.” 

What does this all mean? It may be more–or less–than what the speculation is. Here’s what this Editor believes as some options:

  • Alexa and Echo are data collectors as well as assistants–information that has monetary value to healthcare providers and pharma. To this Editor, this is the most likely and soonest option–the monetization of this data and the delivery of third-party services as well as monitoring.
  • Amazon now employs a lot of people. It is large enough to create its own self-funded health system. It’s already had major problems in the UK, Italy, and even in the US with healthcare and working conditions in its warehouses. Whole Foods’ non-union workers are prime for unionization since the acquisition (and also if, as rumored, robots and automation start replacing people).
  • A self-funded health system may also be plausible to sell  (more…)

Iron Bow’s uncertain future with $258 million VA Home Telehealth contract

Iron Bow Technologies’s setback with their VA contract confirmed. Iron Bow, which partnered last year with Vivify Health to provide telehealth services to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, received an unfavorable ruling on the US country of origin of the Vivify Health system that essentially stops the contract implementation.

Under Title III of the Trade Agreements Act of 1979, Federal suppliers must produce their products in the US or substantially transform the components in such a way that it becomes a product of the US. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), makes this determination. Vivify Health contended that their Vietnam-produced tablet, because of their US-produced Vivify Health Pathways software and further US-based modifications to convert it into an FDA-regulated medical device, was transformed into a US product. In August, the CBP determined that the end product did not meet the transformation standard based on decades of precedent and the country of origin remained Vietnam. Transformation, yes, but not enough or the right kind for the CBP. Federal Register 8/22/17

An interesting Federal regulatory disconnect is that the FDA considers the Vivify tablet a regulated medical device. CBP considers it a communications device as the tablet transmits data from other medical devices but does not take those measurements itself. 

Vivify Health has publicly used in implementations with health organizations Samsung tablets. It is not known if the tablet reviewed by the CBP is manufactured by Samsung.

Both Iron Bow and Vivify Health were asked by this Editor for comments. Iron Bow’s response:

We have received an unfavorable ruling from United States Customs and Border Protection (“Customs”) regarding our proposed solution for the Home Telehealth contract. We respectfully disagree with the findings by Customs and have appealed the matter to the United States Court of International Trade. We are currently in discussions with our customer regarding the possible options for a path forward.

Vivify has not responded to date. 

Certainly, this is a sizable financial loss to both Iron Bow and Vivify if they cannot go forward with the VA, whether through a court decision or a different procurement process for the tablet to qualify it as US origin. Last February, we reported that the VA awarded the billion-dollar five-year Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Home Telehealth contract to four providers: incumbent Medtronic, Iron Bow, Intel Care Innovations, and service-disabled veteran-owned small business 1Vision. The award amount for each was $258 million over a five-year period, re-establishing the VHA as the largest telehealth customer in the US. All four awardees had in common that they were prior Federal contractors, either with the VA or with other Federal areas [TTA 1 Feb 17].

Medtronic and Care Innovations had long-established integrated telehealth systems but Iron Bow and 1Vision, as telemedicine and IT service providers respectively, did not have vital signs remote monitoring capability. In the solicitation, Iron Bow partnered with Vivify [TTA 15 Feb 17]. For 1Vision, it took nearly one year to announce that their telehealth partner was New York-based AMC Health, an existing provider of VA health services. It was also, for those in the field, a Poorly Kept Secret, as AMC Health had been staffing with VA telehealth veterans from the time of the award. (The joint release is on AMC Health’s site here.) The reason for the announcement delay is not known. AMC Health does not use a tablet system, instead transmitting data directly from devices or a mobile hub to a care management platform. They also provide IVR services.

Vivify has moved forward with other commercial partnerships, with the most significant being InTouch Health, which itself is on a tear with acquisitions such as TruClinic [TTA 19 Dec 17].

Hat tip to two alert Readers who assisted in the development of this article but who wish to remain anonymous.

OnePerspective: VA shows how technology can improve mental health care

Editor’s note: This inaugurates our new series of ‘OnePerspective’ articles. These are written by industry contributors on issues of importance to our Readers and are archived under ‘Perspectives’. For more information on contributing an article to our OnePerspective program, email Editor Donna.

click to enlargeBy: Gigi Sorenson

The shortage of mental health professionals in the U.S. is becoming more acute for two reasons: 1) more health professionals are encouraging their patients to seek treatment, and 2) more people now have health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act.  A December 2016 assessment showed that over 106 million Americans live in areas where there are not enough mental health providers to meet the need. Because of this provider shortage, as well as the stigma attached to behavioral health treatment, roughly half of mental illness cases go undiagnosed or unaddressed.

However, telehealth could fill much of this gap, and the beginnings of this trend are already evident. A growing number of psychiatrists and psychologists are using video and audio teleconferencing to treat patients remotely. Patients have access to this “telemental health” either in clinics and medical centers or, in some cases, through their Internet-connected personal devices. Studies of telemental health have found that it is effective for diagnosis and assessment in many care settings, that it improves access and outcomes, that it represents a portable, low-cost option, and that it is well-accepted by patients.

VA Program Sets the Pace

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began to deploy telemental health in the early 2000s, and the VA now has the largest and most sophisticated such program in the U.S. In 2016, about 700,000 of American’s 22 million veterans used VA telehealth services. In 2013, 80,000 veterans used telemental health services, and over 650,000 veterans took advantage of those services in the previous decade.

The VA system has trained more than 4,000 mental health providers in evidence-based psychotherapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.  It has expanded the use of telemedicine at its 150 medical centers and its 800 outpatient clinics.  It is relying increasingly on telemental health to serve its beneficiaries, partly because nearly half of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan live in rural areas. Mental health professionals are often unavailable in these regions, and it can be difficult for these veterans to travel to metropolitan areas where VA clinics and medical centers are located.

Telemental health can address these issues.

(more…)

VA’s Secretary Shulkin wants more private care options for veterans as part of reforms

Released days before our Thanksgiving turkey (or steak, or lasagne), the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal (paywalled), stated his aims to increase veteran access to private care without having to rely on the VA to approve or coordinate it. This is in the direction of the recently signed bill with $2.1 bn in funding for the Veterans Choice program that targets veterans living in areas without ready access to VA facilities, or who are told they cannot get an appointment within VA within 30 days.

“The direction I’m taking this is to give veterans more choice in their care and be the decision maker for their care, which I fundamentally believe is a concept that has to be implemented,” Shulkin said. He admitted that opening the VA to private care programs will be gradual. Mentioned in the article were commodity, non-urgent services like podiatry and audiology.

For instance, the Veterans Choice program started in 2014 after wait times exploded in multiple regions, delaying care past 30 days for over half a million veterans for years well into 2015. Veterans died after waiting for care or follow up for months, notably at the Phoenix VA, creating a massive and rightfully political problem. 

Dr. Shulkin’s drive for reform and speed of care is also increasing the pace telehealth expansion with programs such as Anywhere to Anywhere which would allow cross-state consults and care that published their Federal proposed rule last month, and the rollout of VA Video Connect [TTA 9 Aug]. Earlier this year, four companies were awarded a total of over $1 bn to provide Home Telehealth over five years, reviving a fading program and updating it to not only smaller in-home tablets, but also to mobile and laptop devices. As noted in our OnePerspective article on telemental health deployment, the VA has the largest program in the US, dating back to the early 2000s.

While some veterans organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, have been critical of moves towards integrating private care, this Editor cannot see where the problem truly is. Healthcare Dive, The Hill 

Telemedicine comes to Saint Lucia–and the Caribbean

click to enlargeThe wide world of telemedicine! It’s hard to get away from the internet (see The Telegraph’s digital detox list of countries and areas with little to none, like North Korea), but your Editors have found that telemedicine is reaching far away places like the small, volcanic Windward Island of Saint Lucia. For those who are considering a winter holiday or are resident in this eastern Caribbean Commonwealth-member island with a dual French and British history, you can take advantage of Bois d’Orange’s Easycare Clinic‘s telemedicine services. These include real-time video consults, answers to healthcare questions, creation and maintenance of PHRs, vital signs tracking, and full access to a health network. Registration is free at www.easycare-stlucia.com along with the app. St. Lucia Times

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, a report from the Bahamas tells us that that the Princess Elizabeth Hospital A&E department is now covering Fresh Creek Community Clinic in Andros and Marsh Harbour in Abaco (the ‘family islands’). According to Edward Stephenson, a healthcare consultant in the Caribbean, telemedicine has been established privately in Turks & Caicos, Haiti, Dominican Republic and St. Vincent. The VA’s Home Telehealth program was established in Puerto Rico and the USVI, although in what present condition after two hurricanes is unknown. The University of the West Indies has had a telehealth program for Trinidad and Tobago since 2004 and works with The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto in a program that includes that country as well as the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

ATA has had a long-standing Latin America and Caribbean Chapter (ATALACC) which also is affiliated with the University of Arizona’s well-known Arizona Telemedicine Program–which in turn is affiliated with Panama’s Proyecto Nacional de Telemedicina y Telesalud. Readers’ updates welcome on this subject!

Proposed rule issued for ‘VA Anywhere to Anywhere’ telehealth cross-state care

The Department of Veterans Affairs ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’ program, which would enable VA doctors to treat VA patients across state lines via telehealth and telemedicine, yesterday (2 October) published in the Federal Register the required Federal proposed rule. There is a mandated 30-day comment period (to 1 Nov). In the Federal government, these rules move faster than any legislation. From the rule: “VA has developed a telehealth program as a modern, beneficiary- and family-centered health care delivery model that leverages information and telecommunication technologies to connect beneficiaries with health care providers, irrespective of the State or location within a State where the health care provider or the beneficiary is physically located at the time the health care is provided.” PDF of rule.

VA Home Telehealth has both doctor-to-patient telemedicine and vital signs remote monitoring components. While VA is fully able to waive state licensing requirements if both the physician and the patient are in a VA clinic, because of state telemedicine laws they have not been able to provide the same care for veterans at home. VA also has a care distribution problem, with many veterans living in rural areas, at great distances from VA facilities, or with limited mobility. What this will enable is VA hiring in metro areas primary care and specialist doctors to cover veterans in rural or underserved areas and the expansion of mental health care. It also will facilitate the rollout of the VA Video Connect app for smartphones and video-equipped computers now in use by over 300 VA providers [TTA 9 Aug].

The VETS Act (Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017, S. 925) would permanently legislate this, but in the US system this type of Federal rule, in this circumstance, moves faster.  Fierce Healthcare, Healthcare Finance, mHealth Intelligence 

VA EHR award to Cerner contested by CliniComp (updated)

See update below. CliniComp International, a current specialized EHR vendor to some Department of Veterans Affairs locations and to the Department of Defense for clinical documentation since 2009, has filed a bid protest in the US Court of Federal Claims on Friday 18 Aug, saying that VA improperly awarded a contract to Cerner in June [TTA 7 June] without a competitive bidding process.

At the time, VA Secretary David Shulkin moved the award via a “Determination and Findings” (D&F) which provides for a public health exception to the bidding process. Without this, competitive bidding could take six to eight months, as Dr. Shulkin stated to a Congressional committee after the award–or two years, as DoD’s did–and would have further slowed down the already slow adoption process. Even if all goes well, the transition from VistA to Cerner will not begin at earliest until mid-2019 [TTA 14 Aug]. The Cerner MHS Genesis choice was also logical, given the Federal demand for interoperability with DoD. In June, the House Appropriations Committee approved $65 million for the transition, provided that VA provides detailed reports to Congress on the transition process and its interoperability not only with DoD’s but also private healthcare systems.

CliniComp objected to all that, saying in the protest that VA had enough time for an open bidding procedure, that the failure to do so was “predicated on a lack of advance planning,” and that awarding it to Cerner without it was “unreasonable”. “As shown by the nine counts set forth below, the VA’s decision to award a sole-source contract to Cerner is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and violates the CICA and Federal Acquisition Regulations,” according to the suit.

According to Healthcare IT News, “CliniComp said it filed an agency-level protest to contest the sole source award shortly after the announcement, according to the complaint. But the VA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition denied the protest on Aug. 7. In doing so, the VA violated the Competition in Contracting Act of 1978, the company claims.”

This is not CliniComp’s first bid protest. Before one dismisses the bid protest as sour grapes picked by a minor vendor, this Editor discovered via Law360 that CliniComp was successful in a VA bid protest in August 2014. In this case, VA had a $4.5 million contract for computer systems at several intensive care units for saving patient waveform biometrics. The VA’s award to Picis in October 2013 was overturned because the Court of Federal Claims found that in clarifying the CliniComp bid, VA never had official discussions with CliniComp, only informal requests for clarifications. The court found that the two bids were not evaluated the same way–and that likely both were acceptable, with CliniComp’s bid preferable because it was lower. (More on CliniComp and its 30-year history here)

Update. Arthur Allen in POLITICO Morning e-Health also did his homework and found the same Law360 article on CliniComp’s 2014 bid protest win, adding the following:

  • DoD and VA officials have complained that CliniComp’s software is not compatible with legacy systems. However, some IT experts have noted that neither DoD nor VA can provide platforms which can be interoperable with Cerner. (Circular firing squad?)
  • Oral arguments are set for 2 October, if necessary, after motions are filed next month. Cerner joined in the defense against the protest as of Monday. 

Will the brakes be put on Cerner’s work while the protest wends its weary way through the Federal Claims Court? The bid protest is high-profile embarrassing for VA, though the D&F is completely legal. Stay tuned. Also Modern Healthcare, KCUR, Healthcare Dive

Can unused “TV white spaces” close the rural and urban broadband–and telehealth–gap?

click to enlargeThe digital divide comes one step closer to closing. Microsoft’s release of its white paper proposing an alternative to the expensive build-out of the US broadband network deserved more attention than it received in July. The Rural Broadband Strategy combines TV white spaces spectrum (the unused UHV television band spectrum in the 600 MHz frequency range which can penetrate through walls, hilly topography, and other obstacles) with fixed wireless and satellite coverage to economically deliver coverage to un/under-served areas versus fiber cable (80 percent savings) and LTE fixed wireless (50 percent).

34 million Americans lack broadband connection to the internet. Some of these are voluntary opt-outs, but 23.4 million live in rural areas without access, with huge economic consequences estimated in the hundreds of billions. TV white spaces can also expand coverage in small cities and more densely populated areas, including usages such as within buildings. This effort also presses the FCC, which in turn has pressed for broadband for two decades, to ensure that at least three channels below 700 MHz are kept unlicensed in all markets in the US, with more TV white spaces for rural areas.

The first part, the Rural Airband Initiative, builds on Microsoft’s present 20 programs worldwide, and is planned to connect 2 million people in by July 4, 2022, with 12 projects across the US running in the next 12 months. Much of the connectivity is dedicated to nonprofit efforts like 4-H’s digital literacy program and ‘precision agriculture’ in New York State and Washington. Microsoft is also granting royalty-free access to 39 patents and sample source code related to white spaces spectrum use in rural areas.

A positive move for telehealth’s spread. Rural healthcare providers pay up to three times as much for broadband as their urban counterparts. Telemedicine increasingly connects for consults between hospitals in rural areas and city-based health systems for specialty coverage and to provide assistance in specialized medical procedures. Telemedicine and telehealth remote monitoring has difficulty spreading with poor internet coverage; this has already been a barrier to patients in rural ACOs who can be 1-2 hours from the doctor’s office and notably for the VA in providing rural veterans with home telehealth support. Paramedics increasingly rely on internet connections and dropped connections lead ambulances to go to hospitals at a greater distance. If the FCC cooperates and Microsoft’s partners can find a way to profitably execute, broadband can finally achieve that promise about closing the ‘digital divide’ made back in the Clinton Administration. A Rural Broadband Strategy: Connecting Rural America to New Opportunities  The Verge, mHealth Intelligence, Becker’s Hospital Review

More creepy monitoring: USAA collecting health information from patient portals

Veteran health reporter Anne Zieger has uncovered another instance of data mining that could be a benefit–or not. USAA, a financial services company for military and veteran families, has started to collect health data via electronic records from life insurance applicants at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense. They have streamlined the health records process in the application by developing with Cerner a feature called HealtheHistory that retrieves the data via the patient portal from the applicant’s EHR after consent. It cuts application time by 30 days, but the implications raise some alarms. In Ms. Zieger’s view, we should consider this carefully before huzzahing this type of data sharing:

  • Is an insurer going to care much about HIPAA compliance on PHI? In her view, not likely.
  • Is it a good idea to give an insurer full access to health data? There is the case of an otherwise healthy woman who tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene which indicates that the carrier has an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, who was turned down for insurance by USAA. To not disclose would be fraud, but the nuance is risk, not the condition.
  • Will the information be shared within USAA for judgment on other financial instruments, such as mortgages–regardless of legality?

EMR and EHR  Our previous look at data gathering on medical conditions run amok is here 

VA’s Shulkin: Cerner rollout start by mid-2019?

An interesting short (free) article on POLITICO Morning eHealth today was an interview with VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD on the Cerner transition, stating that if all went well with negotiations later this year, VA clinicians could be using the Cerner system by mid-2019. “There’s a lot of understandable concern about whether the Cerner EHR will have the same functionality as VistA, which has evolved to the physician’s needs over the past 35 years.” One of the problems with VistA was that it wasn’t one system, it was 130 systems, which is echoed in many EHRs. POLITICO goes on to quote Dr. Shulkin: “I don’t hear as many concerns about that as I do relief about finally making a decision because people felt this was the slow death of a system that they have poured their hearts and souls into. Knowing we’re committed to doing a transition as well as we can is reassuring to people.” Sadly, the rest of the interview is paywalled on POLITICO PRO. Earlier analysis: VA says goodbye to VistA, hello to Cerner. We wonder what the involvement and engagement of the four Home Telehealth winners of the 5-year contract will be.

VA unveils several ‘anywhere’ new telehealth services for veterans

The new Veterans Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin, has wasted no time since his appointment in introducing several technology and mobile-based services at the VA, all of which are long overdue in this Editor’s estimation:

  • Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care will authorize telehealth consults and cross-state care for veterans no matter their location and regardless of local telehealth restrictions. VA is already the largest provider of telemedicine services (called VA Telehealth) in 50 specialties to 700,000 veterans annually. This new regulation will enable VA to hire primary care and specialist doctors in metro areas to cover veterans in rural or underserved areas. 
  • Rolling out nationally over the next year is the VA Video Connect app where veterans can use their smartphones or home computers with video connections to consult with VA providers. At present 300 VA providers at 67 hospitals are using it.
  • The Veteran Appointment Request (VAR) app will also roll out from its test. It will enable veterans to use their smartphone, tablet or computer to schedule or modify appointments at VA facilities nationwide.

Dr. Shulkin advocated these programs while undersecretary, especially ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’, which required advice from the Justice Department. VA’s technology is also being supported by the American Office of Innovation to improve care transitions between the Defense Department and VA. 

President Trump participated in the announcement with Dr. Shulkin and sat in on between Albert Amescua, a 26-year Coast Guard veteran at a VA clinic in Grants Pass, Ore., and Brook Woods, a VA internist in Cleveland. VA announcement with videos, POLITICO Morning eHealth, HealthcareITNews

Cerner DoD deployment on time; Coast Guard EHR shopping; Air Force, VA sharing teleICU

The US Department of Defense announced that the deployment of Cerner’s EHR MHS Genesis at the Naval Hospital in Oak Harbor, Washington is on time for later this month. It’s a little unusual that anything this big and in the government is actually on time. It’s also meaningful for VA, as they are adopting MHS Genesis in an equally, if not longer, rollout [TTA 7 June]. Healthcare IT News

Less well known is the Coast Guard‘s dropping its costly six-year deployment of the Epic EHR last year and reverting to paper. They are not in the MHS Genesis rollout because the CG is part of the Department of Homeland Security, despite its service roots and structure similar to the US Navy. This has led to much speculation that their final choice will be DoD’s Cerner platform, although the OpenEMR Consortium has already answered their April RFI.

And even less noticed was the late June announcement that the US Air Force Medical Operations Agency and the VA are implementing a tele-ICU sharing arrangement, giving the USAF access to the VA’s capabilities at five AF locations: Las Vegas; Hampton, Virginia; Biloxi, Mississippi; Dayton, Ohio; and Anchorage, Alaska. The VA central tele-ICU facility is in Minneapolis. Doctors there can remotely consult, prescribe medications, order procedures and make diagnoses through live electronic monitoring. Becker’s Hospital Review, VA press release