Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How to say no ... 2017 Edition

RochesterBestiary detail Griffin

Thanks goes out to Brett Marquard for suggesting this update!

Negation has always been a beast of a problem.  In 2011 I described a bestiary of negated concepts used in CDA, and how to relate them using the standard.  As time goes by and the standard becomes more widely used, our understanding of the best practices also changes.

So here is the original bestiary with links to examples to the CURRENTLY ACCEPTED best weapons for slaying these beasts when known and provided by the CDA Examples task force.  And I'll be posting a link to this post in the original.

  1. Patient is not on THIS drug.
    Example pending, check back in a bit
  2. Patient is not on ANY drugs.
    No Medications.
  3. Patient does not have THIS ailment.
    No Known Problems
  4. Patient does not have ANY ailment.
    No Known Problems
  5. Patient does not have THIS allergy.
    Example pending, check back in a bit
  6. Patient does not have ANY allergy.
    No Known Allergies
  7. Patient does not have ANY MEDICATION allergy.*
    No Known Medication Allergies
* New in this edition

Examples for all of the above and more can be found at


The subtle differences between data needed for different use cases

As a patient, I want to be able to look back at my medical history and understand what the situation was as I saw it at the time.  When I'm referred to another provider, I really only want to talk to them about the situation that I'm experiencing in the now, and for the most part, they only want to see the relevant and pertinent parts of my historical situation as it relates to now.

This creates subtle differences in the views needed to create clinical documents for these two use cases.  The HL7 Continuity of Care Document using CCDA 2.1 can work for both use cases, but the content to include varies.  Preset document formulations will almost always break for some use case.  Customization is essential.

Resolved issues and completed medications are LESS likely to be relevant in the referral case, than the historical view. In the historical view, I want to see the medications that were being used at that time (e.g., metaprolol).  In the referral case, we are likely to only be talking about my current medications (amlodipine/benzapril).  In the historical view, I'll be looking at resolved problems (cervical radiculopathy) as well as those that are still currently active (e.g., my hypertension), but for the referral, we'll probably only be discussing what is current.

What is relevant and pertinent? It depends on your use case, and it means that you have to pay attention to it closely.  It even varies according to the reason for referral.

It gets even more challenging once you start to bring payers into the picture.  What can you share with a payer?  While minimum necessary is the guard rail, there's NO crisp white line.  Can historical data be shared that preceded the payer's relationship with the patient?  I've heard arguments for both sides of that case.

Dynamic query through FHIR based interfaces can help a great deal in these scenarios.  The requester can simply ask the questions (remember Query Health?) they need answered.


Monday, November 27, 2017

It's not real

I took a doctor to task over the weekend after he admitted that he didn't believe in a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.  I told him it didn't matter to the patient what the problem was called, it was real and of concern to them, and that he needed to read up on it and learn more.  That, as an ED doc, he wasn't qualified in the appropriate specialty to make the determination about the reality of the disease, and that he needed to focus on what was happening to his patient, not what someone calls their disease.

He actually thanked me.  I hope he actually does something about it.

--   Keith

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Data Philosophy and Game Theory

It's Dirk Stanley's fault.  He asked on FB:

#CMIO #CNIO #Informatics #HealthIT and other #ClinicalJedi, need your help : Philosophically, which is more important? 
1. Data in
2. Data out 
3. Both are equally important 
All opinions welcome.

My response was pretty straightforward:
Data in, else we would not be where we are today. We need data to act, and can always get it ourselves, and trust it better when we do. But, if all are playing for optimal payoff, it could be viewed as a zero sum game, and so best view is both.

But at the same time it needs a heck of a lot more explanation.

Data sharing as presently practiced by healthcare organizations is in some ways a zero sum game, and in some ways not.  

It's not a zero-sum game for healthcare organizations. The lack of accessible data used in healthcare decision making results in efforts to obtain data. With current practice (fee-for-service), the healthcare organization will do what is necessary to obtain that data (order the test, do the assessment, et cetera).  And it will get paid to do it, so there is little to no additional cost.  For some of the testing, there is little gain (many lab tests are low-margin, commodity items), and others substantial gain.  For example, an MRI can cost $1-3K or even more, and when all is said and done there is definite value going to the creators of the data.

The data, thus gathered, also becomes an asset of the healthcare organization which gathered it, which has value to the organization when they use it, but could help a competitor in some way if they share it.  Sharing that data with a competitor has a cost. The organization has little to gain by the sharing of that data, and something to lose (potentially) if they access data shared by another party.

Victor Dubreuil - 'Money to Burn', oil on canvas, 1893There's a money to burn in this system. Between healthcare organizations, it isn't a zero sum game. The patient (or their payer) is continuously pumping in cash to the system to fill the data needs of the healthcare organization, and which supports the care of that patient when they stay within the same organization.  As soon as the patient moves to a different healthcare organization, they lose the value of that data, that ultimately, they (or their employer) paid for.  

Where the zero-sum part comes from is that what the provider gains with regard to acquiring data, the patient (or their payer) loses. As long as that remains the case, there's little incentive to reduce duplicate testing.  I watched this recently as a young person I know went through a month repeating almost the same tests they had gone through previously to diagnose a chronic illness because more than 3/4 of the way through that process she was forced to change healthcare providers (due to a forced change in health insurance).  There was NO reason for them to refuse the additional testing (getting the diagnosis is critical to their health), and no value for their new healthcare provider to use the previously performed tests. Their payer was out the money for the repeated testing, even though those tests had been done previously.

In the rest of the world of business, when I pay for something to be done, I own that thing. If it a work of intellectual property, I paid for it, I own it, and I have easy access to use it. In healthcare, when a patient pays for a test (or a payer pays on their behalf), the data is treated as if it is owned by the organization that ordered the test (gathered the data), and as the patient I don't always have easy access to it.  I can only benefit from it as long as I maintain a relationship with that healthcare organization.

I can see how game theory could be applied to this situation, such that a system of value-based care could be designed where the greatest value is when there are incentives for data sharing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Understanding and addressing technical debt

Architects and accountants have something in common, which is that they need to understand their organizations assets and liabilities.  For an accountant, these are fairly understood.  For an architect, one might think that they are as well.  Your assets are you IP and processes that add value, that enable your organization to out-pace its competition.  And your liabilities are those that don't.  We have a special word in architecture for IP liabilities: it's call technical debt.

Technical debt is a great opportunity for architects to benefit their organization, and here's why: it's something that is already costing your organization in terms of resources and credibility.  You can probably count the defects in the package, the tech support calls raised, the number of open customer issues that  are due to technical debt. You can put a very clear value on it, which makes it a great candidate for reducing cost.  It isn't free, but it is often quite worthwhile.

How do you do it? It's pretty simple -- pick a mess and clean it up.  I don't just mean pick the stuff up off the floor either, like your teen would clean their room.  At the very least, polish it like a fourth year recruit at West Point.  At best, remodel, and I mean completely remodel or rebuild -- like Grahame Grieve did for HL7 Version 3 creating FHIR.  The corollary to "if it ain't broke don't fix it" should be "if it keeps breaking, stop fixing it and replace it."  When car repairs exceed the cost of payments, it makes sense to get a new car (unless you are talking about something like a 69 Pontiac LeMans*).

It's painstaking work.  Usually messes like this accrue because code becomes fragile, knowledge gets lost, nobody knows quite how that works (or doesn't).  And yet there is still some underlying value to the code because it does something important and cannot be otherwise expunged, so some extra effort is needed.  It's like the antique in the attic that just needs the right refinishing to become an awesome heirloom.  This is frustrating work, often risky, and sometimes it's downright boring  and tedious (ever read through nearly a thousand different logging messages).  On the other hand, the value of the work can be made very clear and well defined.

The biggest challenge you will run into in trying to take on work like this are people who are concerned about the risks you are taking on. The biggest tool you have to combat risk is knowledge, and sometimes that means making the time to obtain more. The most fragile software components are usually the ones where the least is known about them. Go learn it. In the end, you'll be glad you did, even though getting it finished wasn't the most glorious thing you've ever done.

  -- Keith

P.S. As a teen, I spent the better part of a winter replacing an engine in a 69 Pontiac. It was cold, it was hard, it sucked.  It was my ride to school, and I learned a ton.  It looked something like the picture below, but was black.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HL7 FHIR Proficiency Exam

Take the HL7 FHIR Proficiency Exam and get acknowledged by HL7 to be:

Prove your proficiency with the HL7 STU3 FHIR Specification.  Become identified as an individual with FHIR proficiency.  Employers, vendors and providers, help HL7 to influence the quality of the FHIR workforce.

Note: This is Proficiency exam rather than  a professional implementation credential.  HL7 is in the planning stages of a full professional certification

Competencies Tested

It's about breadth rather than depth:

  • FHIR fundamentals
  • Resource Concepts                                                        
  • Exchange Mechanisms (includes RESTful API)     
  • Conformance and Implementation Guidance     
  • Terminology
  • Representing healthcare concepts using FHIR resources
  • Safety and Security
  • The FHIR Maintenance Process
  • FHIR licensing and IP      

Do you want to be part of the pilot?

The test is currently being piloted, and is currently available for a limited time to a limited number of individuals.  Space is very limited, so get it fast.

  • Help HL7 improve the test
  • Be one of the first to be certified
Registration and logistics

Pilot Test: What to Expect

  • Online   at test centers, or remote.
  • Closed book
  • 2 hours to complete 50 questions
  • Multiple choice, multi-select, and true/false.
  • No penalty for guessing.
  • Passing score (for the pilot) 70%
  • Cost $20 for members, $40 for non-members (for the pilot only).

How to prepare

Obtain HL7 FHIR Proficiency Study Package

Study FHIR STU3!

This test was made possible by:
Grahame Grieve
Brett Marquard
Brian Postlethwaite
Bryn Rhodes
David Hay
Ewout Kramer
Eric Haas
Virginia Lorenzi
James Agnew
Josh Mandel
Lloyd McKenzie
Rob Hausam
Simone Heckmann
Viet Nguyen
Mel Grieve

Monday, November 13, 2017

On evaluating abilities

When one ponders all the various evaluations of interoperability, you need to look at multiple factors.  A key component of this word, as for many other non-functional requirements of systems is the word "ability".  It denotes a capability, or capacity to achieve some desired goal with some level of effort.

The same is true for other non-functional requirements: Reliability, securability, accessability, usability, affordability.  In each of these, the measure is of degree, rather than a "yes vs. no" evaluation.

When headlines make claims about the existence or non-existence of "interoperability", they most often make the assumption that it exists or it does not.  However, when other evaluations of non-functional requirements are done elsewhere in industry, there's an assumption of degree, where achieving a particular score might assess a product as having one of these "abilities".  Consider the term "drivability" in the automotive industry for example.

When you hear that group believes that product isn't, does that mean that it isn't?  In my world, no.  What it actually means is that product doesn't meet group's goals with respect to ...ability.  Unfortunately, without stating what group's goals are, there's precious little that can be done with that reporting other than to investigate further.

Were early cell-phones usable? It depends.  Did you live in an area where you had coverage?  Could you afford to use them?  Did it make and receive the calls that were important to you?  If your answers to those questions were yes, moderately, and mostly, you might say that they were somewhat usable.  If the answers were no, yes, and no, you would say no.  When I worked in the city, my answer was yes.  When I had to travel to a rural destination my answer was no.  These were the goals that warranted my purchase of a bag phone two decades ago.

Determine the goals.  Assess whether the capability meets those goals.  Only then can you assess whether the capability is sufficiently present or not.  TODAY.  Tomorrow the expectations will be different.

The bag phone I evaluated above would certainly be considered to be barely usable today, even though twenty years ago is was more than moderately useful.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Shifting into Sixth Gear

  1. Standards are like toothbrushes.  Everyone needs one, and everyone wants to use their own.
  2. Standards are like potato chips.  You cannot have just one.
  3. And then there's simply XKCD 927 (a well worn, perhaps even "standard" image in standards circles).

And if you look back to late 2012 and early 2013, you can see some of the discussions I had in this space around a battle between two competing standards from the same organization, one for Clinical Decision Support and the other for Quality Measurement.

What rarely happens in this space is that something new arises from the mess that actually solves two different problems ... in this case though they were two different sides of the same coin. The conditional: If (X) then (Y), and the measure: [patients for whom Y is relevant]/[patients for whom X is true].

What happened?  Clinical Quality Language is what happened.  And in the words of its inventor, "we started with an evaluation environment ... we already had the ELM infrastructure ... and we added an execution language".

Yes, I'm crediting one person for the invention because I watched how this played out, and while every standards effort is a corporate (little-c) one, this one was very much driven by one person which assistance from a cast of dozens and input from many more.  Much in the same way as FHIR was originally driven forward by Graham Grieve, but became an effort backed by many.

In fact, recently, CQL was recently recognized by CMS in the following fashion:

CMS Announces Transition of Electronic Clinical Quality Measures to Clinical Quality Language for the CY2019 Reporting/Performance Periods

So, for changing the paradigm in a big way, in fact, for being to CDS and Quality Measurement what Grahame Grieve was to FHIR, I'm awarding this Ad Hoc Harley as follows:

This certifies that  
Bryn Rhodes

Has hereby been recognized for changing the paradigm in Clinical Decision Support and Quality Measurement

P.S. Bryn and I are working two different tracks yesterday and today at the Digital Quality Summit in DC hosted by HL7 and NCQA.  It's no accident that I chose today to award this particular accolade, but Bryn's award was pretty much in the bag last month when I realized how long it had been since I issued one of these, and looked back at who I had missed.